By Zipporah Osei, political columnist
By most accounts, the Democratic Party is flailing. After presenting Hilary Clinton as its golden candidate, the party lost the election to perhaps the least qualified and most divisive Republican candidate in recent history. The Democrats have lost the House and the Senate, and they were unable to secure a liberal majority in the Supreme Court. With Barack Obama out of office and Hillary Clinton licking her wounds somewhere in the woods of Westchester, the Democrats are seemingly without a leader. Democratic representatives and loyal voters around the country are looking to the next four years grimly and asking themselves, “What’s next?”
It’s clear that there is a growing desire among American citizens for a change in the way politics are done. President Donald J. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” and his refusal to conduct himself like a traditional politician is in large part why he has such a strong base of supporters. The popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during the primaries showed us that this desire was not isolated to the right. The amount of support Sanders’ progressive revolution drew came unexpected and unwelcome to the Democratic National Committee, whose refusal to ride the current of change sweeping through the party led to Clinton’s nomination. In the face of change, the party clung to tradition—and it lost them the Oval Office.
As we ready ourselves for the next four years of a Trump presidency, it’s time the Democratic Party accept that many voters are not looking for more Hillary Clintons or Joe Bidens but for new, progressive leaders.
The fervor for Sanders during the early days of the election cycle was undeniable. The independent from Vermont excited the younger demographic and refreshed even seasoned Democratic voters. While he didn’t become the party’s nominee, Sanders has continued to fight for the progressive policies he proposed during his campaign. He has been vocal in his criticism of Trump in regards to the Affordable Care Act, the Dakota Access Pipeline and immigration. But perhaps more importantly, he has shown himself to be dedicated not to party politics, but to what he feels is best for the American people. He stated that he would be “delighted to work with” President Trump to improve trade deals for American workers. For many Democrats tired of politicians who seem to care more about politics than people, Sanders continues to deliver.
While Sanders seems content to do his work for the American people from the Senate, some speculate that other big-name Democrats are already thinking about 2020. Two favorites are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Both have denied any interest in the presidency, so this may be nothing more than wishful thinking, but if they are planning a 2020 run, they are setting themselves up to be progressive candidates.
While he was still the mayor of Newark, Sen. Booker said in an interview, “There’s nothing in that realm of progressive politics where you won’t find me.” He is pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and in favor of increased government spending on welfare programs. Most recently, he made headlines as the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow sitting senator for a Cabinet position—a move that brings him closer to becoming a household name.
Opposition to Trump has benefited the public image of Sen. Warren as well. Her forceful questioning of Trump’s cabinet picks Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos became a highlight of both hearings. She brought the same energy to the Women’s March on Boston, where she delivered a speech filled with progressive rhetoric to a more-than-enthusiastic crowd.
Whether these lawmakers are dedicated to progressivism remains to be seen. In the past month, both Warren and Booker have faced backlash from liberals: Booker, for voting against an amendment proposed by Sanders that would allow pharmacists to import cheaper prescription drugs from other countries—an amendment that was supported by even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)—and Warren for voting to approve Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development after she herself stated that he was unqualified for the job.
Liberals were quick to criticize these senators for falling into the patterns of the Democrats before them. Many took to Twitter to tell Warren she should be “ashamed of herself.” Vox published a piece called “How Cory Booker went from progressive hero to traitor in under 2 days.” Whatever the reasons for the decisions they have made, it is becoming increasingly obvious that it is no longer enough for Democratic representatives to talk broadly about change without a continued commitment to action. The shady politics that have become associated with this party will no longer go unnoticed. A lack of trust and transparency cannot be tolerated.
The response from liberals is, if anything, a clear indication of the full embrace of progressivism many are looking for. If the Democratic Party hopes to find itself stronger at the end of these four years, its members must make the decision sooner rather than later to show that commitment to their supporters. An establishment opposition to Donald Trump did not work during the election, and it will not work during his presidency.
Photo courtesy Alex Hanson, Creative Commons