The Democratic Party is in a pickle. If their leading candidate, Bernie Sanders, wins the nomination, they’ll have to pray against all odds that a far-left socialist can be elected president of a capitalist country.
On the other hand, if Sanders loses the nomination, his rabid followers are likely to blame the Democratic establishment and forsake loyalty to the party altogether—as many of them did in 2016.
This is not mere speculation. In a chilling column last week in The New York Times, David Brooks reported that only 53% of Sanders voters say they will support whoever is the Democratic nominee. In the last election, he writes, they actually helped Trump in three key states:
“In 2016, in Pennsylvania, 117,000 Sanders primary voters went for Trump in the general, and Trump won the state by 44,292 ballots. In Michigan, 48,000 Sanders voters went for Trump, and Trump won the state by 10,704. In Wisconsin, 51,300 Sanders voters went for Trump, and Trump won the state by 22,748.
“In short, Sanders voters helped elect Trump.”
If you vote Democrat, as most Jews in America do, this is a serious conundrum. How did the party end up in such a lose-lose mess?
Here’s one theory: They got so hung up on bashing Trump they lost sight of the big picture.
The big picture is, first, that America doesn’t need an economic revolution. Trump may be a disaster, but he’s not an economic disaster. Even one of Trump’s biggest critics, economist Paul Krugman of the Times, acknowledged that fact in a recent column:
“Let’s be honest: The U.S. economy is running pretty hot these days. Growth in G.D.P. and employment has been good, though not spectacular; the unemployment rate is near a historic low … it is indeed a strong economy.”
That hardly sounds like a crisis situation. And yet, if you listen to Democratic candidates over the past year, you’d think the economy and the country were going to hell in a handbasket.
Why? For one, they hate Trump so much that they’re incapable of giving him credit for anything. So, since everything Trump has done must be bad, everything he’s done must be fixed—even the arguably good stuff.
That’s a lot of fixing.
But for independent swing voters who will decide the election, it’s not magical and transformational “fixing” they want. They’re sick and tired of vicious partisan battles. They’re tired of the hysterics. They want healing. They want simple, normal stuff without the useless drama.
They want a straight shooter who will level with them, someone to say: “Yes, our economy has improved, and I’m delighted about that. But there are still many areas that need strengthening. I will put forward reasonable, practical policies that meet our shared goals. I will seek compromise whenever possible. And I will tell the truth about the trade-offs of each policy.
“My priority will be to restore the dignity of the White House; to heal our collective wounds; to rebuild trust in government; to focus on what unites us; to encourage compassion for our fellow Americans; and to renew the sense that we’re all in this together. I will be the president of all Americans, even those of you who don’t vote for me.”
Those words can’t come from someone caught in the throes of war. In its relentless focus on taking down Trump, the Democratic Party has overlooked the power of a unifying message. Yes, the goal is to replace Trump—but how and with what? Bashing Trump is a tactic, not a strategy. And promising radical changes to the country and the economy is a strategy, but the wrong one.
The lesson of the Trump presidency is that character counts at least as much as policy. America doesn’t need a policy revolutionary. It needs decency. It needs a mensch in the White House. A mensch with the wisdom to hear all voices and the spine to make difficult decisions.
Bernie Sanders is no mensch. He’s a cranky idealist hell-bent on pushing his utopian socialist agenda—and “healing the country” is not on that agenda. He’s exploiting the rage at Trump to trigger the kind of class warfare that spreads even more animosity and division.
Sanders is just the most extreme expression of a phenomenon that has plagued the Democrats: They’ve allowed their fury at Trump to turn them into a crisis party. In their near panic at the prospect of losing another election, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink at Trump and the American voters hoping something would stick.
But in the process, they’ve missed the real crisis: We are a deeply divided nation in desperate need of a courageous leader who will embrace the challenge to Make America One Again.
I know: I’m dreaming. Being a dreamer these days is a dirty job—but somebody’s got to do it.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.