the flog

Forget Trump

If the left has a prayer in 2018, it needs a better message than "not that guy"


The left wing of America encompasses a wide variety of interests and differing opinions, but it is nonetheless in full agreement on Donald Trump: Misguided reasoning and moral depravity have defined his rise to and time in the presidency. Consequently, some left-wingers may think it best to harness this shared resentment to fuel Democratic and otherwise left-leaning campaigns in the 2018 midterms, but it would be dangerous to do so. A Trump-centered midterm push would suggest that the left wing of America is merely the lesser of two evils, rather than a trustworthy group that can create meaningful progress for America. In order for the left to mobilize its base, it'll need to promote a message that points to a way out of the currently embarrassing and destructive political situation, instead of one that just laments it.

In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump invoked two particularly despicable features of the conservative wing: He ignored empirical fact in favor of self-promotion, and he demonstrated in far too many instances that he has little respect for anyone who does not offer him their full-fledged support. These behaviors, however, do not detract from the fact that Trump convinced people of the importance of voting for him-something that Hillary Clinton ultimately failed to do.

The left should recognize that, at the very least, Trump made political participation significantly more important. A great number of voters chose, consciously or not, Trump's apparent political philosophy: an elite-centered plan in which we ignore any socially inclusive agenda, embrace the advancement of the familiar, and give greater financial freedom to those who are already reveling in it. Trump identified his target base, came to understand its particular socio-political anxieties and then constructed a plan that addressed those anxieties head on. While this exploitation was largely unethical and self-furthering, it was, at its core, a basic political strategy: understanding the interests of the people whom you'll represent and creating an overriding vision that encompasses those interests.

Trump defeated Clinton in the 2016 election primarily because Clinton lacked a true connection with many parts of the American populace and, as a result, failed to create an encompassing or exciting vision. To compensate for this lack of vision, Clinton campaigned on opposition: She wasn't as bad as Trump, so you should vote for her. This strategy was largely uninspiring, though, and failed to mobilize enough voters to beat the overwhelming Trump support in rural areas, inspired by his apparently convincing plan.

Instead of focusing their energies on derailing Trump, as Clinton did in 2016, American progressives today need to outline their own political philosophy, one founded on economic inclusion and civil rationality. By running on such a philosophy, the left would promote their strongest, most inspiring beliefs: We are significantly stronger and smarter in collective deliberation and, by embracing inclusive growth, we will ensure success for many Americans.

This progressive philosophy stands in sharp contrast to Trump's, but is also inspiring in and of itself. Trump campaigned on abandoning the inclusiveness of recent decades in favor of empowering American elites and traditionalists. His campaign held that focusing on expanding equality hindered the empowerment of what is good for America, or at least for American elitists and traditionalists. This appealed to many far-right conservatives, especially those in rural areas feeling threatened by the expansion of minority rights, those who long for an authority figure with whom they feel most comfortable: a white male "strong" enough to enact "tough" policies and "brave" enough to say what he thinks. Such a leadership style, however, inevitably leads to the exclusion and disenfranchisement of anyone who becomes a target of the leader's "strength" and objects to the leader's blunt, often unsubstantial rhetoric. Almost everything the president does embodies this quasi-authoritarianism. His relentless attacks on the media, his countless efforts to bar Muslims from entering the country, and his gross incompetence dealing with North Korea, are among the more alarming manifestations. The proposed progressive philosophy for 2018 would contrast sharply.

First, by embracing economic inclusion, the left would send the message that it opposes the zero-sum thinking that defines Trump and his supporters. Trump fiercely advocates for an "America First" economic plan, in which we stop China and other newly industrialized nations from "beating" us and free up money these governments have taken from hardworking, deserving citizens. This message, while seemingly well-intentioned, is centered on the notion that someone has to lose in order to advance displaced Americans. The 2018 progressive push needs to outline why that's not the case. Economic growth, the message would hold, need not be winner-take-all; we can increase the sphere of prosperity and, in turn, promote even greater growth. By empowering more Americans, and world citizens, we can create a buzzing economy to give greater rewards to more people. Of course, this shouldn't be construed as an alternative to Trumpism, and it doesn't have to be. Instead, it should stand as a solution to widespread modern economic angst. The 2008 recession sparked economic trepidation among all, regardless of political affiliation, and that fear has been further accentuated by increasing globalization and income inequality. These factors create enough of an incentive for voters to search for a solution—Trump sold his plan as such a solution; the left now has to advocate for a better one. By emphasizing the potential of economic inclusiveness, the left can motivate voters with something more wholesome and beneficial than Trump's elite-centered economic nationalism.

In addition to identifying citizens' economic anxieties, Trump saw that people have become increasingly worried about the upheaval of social norms, particularly brought about by social media and a growing acceptance of diversity. In particular, Trump saw the wealth of information and differing opinions supplanted by the internet pushed many into a state of perplexity, not sure whom to trust or what to believe. Accordingly, Trump took it upon himself to fill the void. Now, his base looks to his daily tweets to guide how to think and what to value. The progressive philosophy would offer an alternative to his individual-based solution. By including a wealth of diverse and well-developed perspectives, we can rise above the troubling misinformation and countless unsubstantiated dialogues the new media has fostered and redirect our democracy to a place of rational discussion. Through these pluralist principles, we will come to the most informed, most agreed-upon decisions. This collective rationality would be far different from Trump's unprincipled, emotional cyber voice, and would be a step toward solving a lot of the problems his far-too-frequent Twitter rants have created. Still, the left's message need not directly reference Trump; civil discussion is appealing on its own and will help mend uncertainty and fear among all Americans.

The left ought to run on a non-Trump message in 2018 for reasons primarily related to Trump. If there's any evidence of collusion between the Trump administration and Russia in the 2016 election, Democrats need to be in the position to ensure the offending individuals are held accountable. Even if nothing substantial results from the investigation, Democrats need to take control in the 2018 midterms so they can work to prevent the Trump administration from enacting further harmful legislation. To mend Trump's troubling effect, liberal politicians must mount a convincing midterm push that goes beyond resentment of the president. It must be founded upon an original, forward-looking plan for America. By embracing inclusiveness, collective deliberation and respect for the processes and institutions of democracy, the left will motivate voters and make a significant step toward saving the integrity and ideals of our country.


Jacksonville native Carter Delegal is a University of Florida freshman.

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