Most Democratic presidential candidates have learned nothing from 2016. Rather, they remain committed to a leftward march and elitist mentality, while the country remains, stable, to the right.
While it is inarguable that candidates such as Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, or Amy Klobuchar are liberal, they appear remarkably moderate in contrast to Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Someone like Joe Biden now belongs to a party which no longer exists, and which no longer wants him. Should one of the Democrats considered more moderate prevail by the convention, it may be one of the last, if not the last, such occurrence.
This is nothing new. It is the sort of realignment to the left which has occurred before. In 1968, the Democratic Party was, like today, riven by ideological division. The traditional liberals and moderates who had populated the party since the era of the New Deal found themselves struggling against new liberals, anarchists, hippies, radicals, socialists, so-called “democratic socialists,” and others in the mold of Sanders.
The divergence was so sharp — and violent by the time of the Democratic convention in Chicago — that even the very conservative Republican writer and intellectual William F. Buckley, was moved to defend the moderates and old liberals against the new excesses. The Kennedy-Johnson years were, in effect, the last outpost of the old Democratic Party.
It was that dramatic shift to the left that later helped ensure the conservative counterrevolution of the Reagan years — a national reorientation that remains to this day. President Trump has, in most areas, led and advocated as a conservative; and his policies, especially with respect to the economy, have been very successful. This is reflected in the numbers, both in everything from the low unemployment rate to the president’s majority-positive approval rating.
As the Democratic primaries continue, the theme of electability — someone who can “beat Donald Trump” — still circulates on the left, but it has lost much of its appeal in the wake of the impeachment debacle. In light of the improving state of the nation, what else is there to really contest, except ideas and ideological purity?
So the Democratic candidates have largely lost sight of Trump as they have refocused on each other. Tuesday night’s debate was, in effect, a shouting rumble about leftist fidelity. How will they justify such liberal conformity in a general election when most of the country is neither liberal nor Democrat? How can they speak of national unity if they cannot even tolerate each other personally? True, primaries are often combative, but there is more than mere policy dissent at play here.
Over the last few decades, the Democrats had settled into an uneasy liberal truce, which has since 2008 disintegrated. If the Kennedy-Johnson years were a finale of the old liberal order, the Obama years were a conclusion to the counterculture that had influenced the party since — and, again, liberals like Biden and Klobuchar seem startlingly moderate, now.
But this was always the goal — to keep pushing the party left. Sanders has emerged as a Robespierre-like figure among a renewed, and more extreme, push. As has been argued before, Sanders’s success isn’t an isolated outlier or temporary: it is an existential challenge to the identity of the Democratic Party.
The extremists continue to denigrate normal Americans, calling them “uneducated” on ideas like socialism. But it doesn’t take a degree to read a real history book, or listen to the accounts of survivors of actual socialist systems to recognize that, no matter how romanticized or intellectualized something like “democratic socialism” might be made, the truth for open eyes is unavoidable.
And, as socialists have contended, only they, not the average person, know the true, “authentic voice” of the average person. Socialism (or some form of it), they say, is what average Americans need.
This is the same kind of elitist disdain that is generally common among even those like Bloomberg, translated into his comments supposing he can sow a crop or man the factory floor — once more dismissing the average American. And yet, the Democrats contend that they, not “the billionaire Trump,” speak for the common man.
This is how Trump got elected in 2016. Most Americans really don’t care about how much money he has — but they do care about their families, their lives, and their country. They want a genuine president who recognizes and hears their voices.
Trump has never pretended to be anything other than what he is. Relatability is often found in that kind of genuine understanding of others as human beings (and their stories), in a common spirit and set of beliefs, and in a sense of compassion, self-worth, and purpose. This is how a New York billionaire resonates with a Southern farmer, a city retail worker, or a Midwestern factory foreman, and they with him.
In other words, relatability doesn’t require the exact same set of circumstances or experiences. It requires a little respect.
Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.