This November, progressive voters must compromise: either abandon their moral and policy convictions, or accept another four years of a damaging Trump presidency. If anything, the recent Democratic National Convention made this dilemma more poignant than ever before.
Signaling no desire to convince undecided progressives to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during its recent convention, the Democratic Party appears to have opted to repeat its 2016 campaign strategy. Biden vs. Trump differs only ever so slightly from Clinton vs. Trump: this time around, voters know firsthand President Trump’s handling of office. Unlike in 2016, the Trump administration’s dangers to core pillars of the left’s agenda are not mere threats but instead are cold hard reasons for progressives to vote him out of office. Likewise, his recent decision to wage war on what he labels the “radical left”—alleging Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris remain captive to Bernie Sanders’s socialist bloc of the Democratic Party—continues to frighten progressives speculating as to what a second-term Trump presidency may entail. With both a worrisome record from his time spent thus far in the Oval Office and the complete abandonment of the populist rhetoric that led him to his 2016 election, President Trump has unwittingly paved Democrats a golden path towards recapturing Capitol Hill.
Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic establishment continue to follow a losing strategy. Adamantly repeating the same rhetoric used throughout Clinton’s 2016 campaign—that Trump poses an existential threat to the United States’ democracy, let alone the nation’s moral and global standing—Democrats appear confident that this time around, those same non-substantive messages will resonate with undecided voters. In fairness, with the recent scandals involving the USPS, for which President Trump admitted wanting a reduction in funding to decrease voting by mail in the 2020 election, the Democrats’ fear mongering may indeed sway enough voters to vote for Biden. On the other hand, the Democratic establishment already appears to have laid groundwork for blaming a loss on racism and sexism with the addition of Kamala Harris to the ticket. Progressives know very well that even if they bite the bullet and vote for Biden as many did in 2016 for Clinton, Pelosi and her constituents will blame them for Biden’s loss before they point the finger at anyone else. Somehow, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will manage to convince her intelligentsia audience that the progressive left failed to support Biden enough and could not stomach voting for a black woman, and that Putin conspired with Trump once again to rig the election.
Despite knowing they remain ready targets for baseless smear campaigns by establishment Democrats in the possible case Biden loses, many progressives still intend to vote for the Biden ticket. So why must Pelosi and the mainstream Democrats make it increasingly difficult for progressive voters to accept voting against their long-term interests in order to protect those a second Trump presidency threatens in the immediate future? Why must the Democrats insist on giving a platform to moderate republicans like John Kasich and Susan Molinari? Why must they give a platform to neoliberal foreign policymakers such as John Kerry and Colin Powell? Why must they, in an era when we must believe and embolden survivors, give a platform to men like President Bill Clinton and 2020 presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, both of whom face severe sexual harassment allegations? Why must they limit Congresswoman and modern progressive icon Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech to 90 seconds? The answer is clear: because they disdain leftist populism and those who ascribe to it.
In their view, populism seeks to dismantle all the unnecessary institutions of government that currently empower Pelosi and her constituents. Populism reminds voters how political leaders must function as public servants rather than mere placeholders of public office. Populism promotes enacting into policy popular opinion, also referred to as the will of the people, rather than policy based on how far politicians prove willing to compromise. Populism fosters a sociopolitical atmosphere wherein the public shames those in office for inaction rather than vice versa. Why would any Democrat or Republican seek to capture power from above and disperse it to those below them? Especially knowing how attempting to do so requires ousting oneself and battling fellow party members for a seat at the table?
Yet, more and more progressive left candidates are winning local elections against long-standing establishment incumbents. The Democratic Party can only hold them off for so long. Pelosi’s endorsement of Joe Kennedy over Ed Markey in the Massachusetts Senate Primary, a violation of party norms barring endorsements for candidates challenging incumbents in primaries, reflects this reality. Moreover, that Biden chose Harris as his running mate reflects how grave a threat this reality poses to establishment Democrats. With an abysmal record as California’s “top cop” district attorney—locking up nonviolent marijuana offenders, suppressing critical evidence towards defendants’ innocence, inexcusably criminalizing truancy—Harris may be establishment Democrats’ last hope that a candidate’s identity can adequately distract voters from his or her regressive policy records. This holds especially true given the recent mass anti-police movement sparked by George Floyd’s tragic killing. Harris, who remains the presumed Democratic presidential candidate in 2024 if Biden wins this election, reflects the Democratic establishment’s standing hope towards continuing former President Barack Obama’s institutionalist yet performatively populist-progressive political legacy. That Biden served as Obama’s VP is a cherry on top.
Had 2020 not brought with it the Covid-19 pandemic, it is unlikely that an identity-based campaign and poor incumbent approval ratings would suffice for a 2020 Democratic win. Even after more than 185,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and a questionable response from the Trump administration, a Biden landslide, or even a win, remains up in the air. Still, the Pelosi-led Democratic party feels confident in retaking the loser’s path to victory, which in 2016 led to one of the biggest upsets in American political history.