“The Squad” is quickly becoming more recognizable to most Americans than the throng of hopefuls vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.
This outspoken female Congressional foursome, and their ongoing rhetorical beef with the president, is shaping up to become the story of the 2020 election. And that signals trouble ahead for the Democrats.
It’s not all their fault. Donald Trump has courted this conflict because he would rather run against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts than against the more moderate candidate the Democratic Party is sure to nominate.
And there has been a heavy assist from the mainstream media, which breathlessly amplify whatever Trump tweets, no matter how crude or stupid.
Sensible Americans can only grit their teeth as yet another act commences in our interminable national farce.
The Squad goads Trump at levels probably never achieved by any of his former wives. And for that they deserve credit. For Trump’s superpower in his long, tawdry career has been his imperviousness to scolding.
His lawless presidency has put this quality on amazing display. He obstructed his way out of the clutches of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And he has somehow convinced Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that impeachment proceedings — at this point, the only means of checking his lawlessness — would be a disaster for the opposition party.
Seldom before in history has an American leader so richly deserved a moral reckoning, and yet the Democrats’ institutional leaders seem content to temporize — as usual. This galls many among the party faithful, who have watched for decades as the GOP exploited every partisan advantage for power-grabbing while their own leaders have crouched.
It also explains the fire and fury of the party’s young leftists. They are articulating a fearless, unambiguous moral vision for their party. They’re gonna call ‘em as they seem ‘em — and damn the tut-tutting! They won’t back down. They fight back.
This is the quandary the Democratic Party faces. Without a unified moral vision, it will be difficult defeat Trump. And yet the strongest articulation of such a vision has come from a risky wing of the party.
Trump has figured this out. The rift between the Democratic old guard and left endures, and he plans to exploit it as he did in 2016.
So the Democrats need to get their act together, and quickly. Harmonizing opposing views within the party will not be easy, even with the stakes this high. There are egos galore.
I believe it’s up to the old guard to make the first move. Risk aversion and conflict avoidance has not served the party well. In the last presidential election, it was hard to say what the party stood for. In the midterm elections that followed, it stood for resistance to Trump and it won the House. Even so, it bled in Senate races, and therein lies a lesson as well. Resistance is not enough; the party needs to stand for policies that motivate voters.
Progressive Democrats have broad popular appeal on an array of key issues, from the minimum wage and health care reform to taxation and antitrust. They also have a realistic view of the institutional interests that neutered the Obama administration in its attempts at reform. They’re a lot less patient with party elders who caution prudence.
That’s why the party needs to come together behind a plan of action that involves all — and projects the moral purpose of the progressives.
Trump must be called out each time he reaches for misogyny, bias and prejudice as weapons to silence his critics. But there is a point of diminishing returns. Democrats need to shift the narrative, not simply reiterate it in their efforts to stand against it.
Americans see Trump’s vile rallies, and hear the vile chants, for what they are. Americans know Trump, and for the most part they don’t like him.
Now, what is the Democratic Party doing to offer an alternative to the vast middle of America’s political spectrum?
Independents, moderates and people who long for less volatility in politics are waiting. They will vote for the party that offers them prosperity, opportunity, fairness and good government. But they can also be motivated by their fears — and that is the Republicans’ hope.
The Democrats have a historic opportunity to turn the tide of American politics, but they won’t do it by being the same old weak party. And they won’t do it as a fractious collection of loose cannons. If they want the upper hand, they’ll have to take calculated risks. And they should to do so fearlessly.