The Triumph of the NostalgiacratsBreaking News
tags: Democratic Party, Joe Biden, DNC, 2020 Election, Kamala Harris
Democrats enter the 2020 convention more united on questions of public policy than perhaps at any other time in modern history. Democrats nominated probably the most conservative major candidate in the field, but he’s running on the most progressive agenda of any nominee in generations. The limiting factor of what can be achieved if Democrats beat Donald Trump will be decided almost entirely by the outcomes of tough Senate races in states including Arizona, Maine, Alabama, North Carolina, and Iowa, rather than the identity of the nominee.
But in another sense, they remain a party bitterly divided.
Two camps have emerged in how they define their opposition to President Trump. A restorationist wing, clearly identified with former Vice President Joe Biden and exemplified on a grassroots level by the kind of people who pass around photos of former first lady Michelle Obama sharing candy with former President George W. Bush, believes that Trump took the sheen off a United States that really was a shining city on a hill. A revolutionary wing sees Trump’s rise as a symptom of a much larger problem in America — the result of dark forces that were far too powerful already.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’s promise of a “political revolution” was the ultimate articulation of the revolutionary vision, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “big structural change” also carried this meaning; in a different way, so have many of the Black Lives Matter protest marches across America.
During the 2020 primaries, debate on the merits of restorationist political themes tended to get flattened into a simplistic ideological debate. Either you went all-in with a total lack of political caution (associated with the left’s embrace of middle-class tax raises and decriminalizing unauthorized border crossing), or you went all-in on an anti-populist politics of elite consensus.
But the sense that the system isn’t working and that corrupt forces need to be brought to heel for the public good hasn’t been the exclusive province of the far left. A large and growing bloc, including many Americans without college degrees, simply sees the world in more zero-sum, more moralistic, and less optimistic terms than the kind of college-educated professionals who mostly run political campaigns and the media.
Yet having gone to great lengths to placate the left on the level of policy working groups and white papers, Democrats are doing little to give a voice or a face to these populist sentiments in either their left or more moderate forms. Rather than try to present fresh faces who are working to bring change to Washington, Democratic officials are letting former President Bill Clinton extend an unbroken streak of Democratic National Convention speaking gigs that goes back to 1980. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will speak, but only for one minute.
The party is celebrating its past more than its future, and, in so doing, making a very strong pitch for nostalgia. With double-digit unemployment and thousands dying per day of a new disease, there’s obviously something to be said for turning back the clock. But as the country faces swirling tides of discontent from multiple directions and historically low levels of trust in social institutions — and each other — there’s also a real danger in this path.
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