How Trump Bodes Well for Progressivism by Luke Perry
There is no doubt that a unified Republican government led by Donald Trump will seek to systematically dismantle much of what the Obama administration has accomplished. Nevertheless, there are many reasons for progressives to remain hopeful this week.
Donald Trump’s victory was so stunning because it was so improbable to so many. The campaign demonstrated Trump’s inability to take criticism, coupled with a willingness to attack everyone, even his own party leaders. Immediately after his elections some political observers, including David Brooks and Allan Lichtman, suggested Trump will resign or be impeached.
However improbable, Trump rose in remarkable fashion and may fall just as quickly. He takes office as the most unpopular incoming president ever and faces remarkable challenges in trying to fulfill a long list of campaign promises, manage unique conflicts of interest, and sell his unusual affinity for Vladimir Putin.
Even if he doesn’t, undercurrents from the campaign bode well for progressivism. There were no election protests in 2000, the last time someone lost the popular vote and won the electoral college vote. People are protesting because liberal values of diversity and tolerance are now norms.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders brought Democratic-Socialism to the forefront like no other modern political leader has been able to. He and his supporters will undoubtedly continue to press for progressive leaders and causes within the Democratic Party. Though the party will always be insufficiently progressive for some, the internal debate is over degree, not foundational beliefs. Trump’s election has only solidified this commitment.
At the same time, Trump has contributed to the demise of the Republican Revolution. He and Ronald Reagan were both actors, but differ in every other conceivable way, including background, experience, ideology, temperament, style, and strategy. Trump and Congressional Republicans can agree on tax cuts and deregulation. After that, the battle over the meaning of the party will continue to unfold. Meanwhile, Trump has shown little interest in repealing progressive advances from legalizing marijuana to marriage equality.
Conversely, Bill Clinton’s centrist Democratic Party is gone too. The country has clearly moved to the left under President Obama, enabling Democrats to unapologetically pursue the progressive agenda it has long desired. The party will deeply reexamine this campaign, as they should, but it would be a mistake to conclude that recent electoral success exclusively resulted from Obama’s political talent. The Democratic platform helped win three million more votes for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump.
Republican obstruction over the last six years will now be helpful. In the years to come, President Obama and future Democratic leaders will not have to awkwardly justify circumstantial compromises, like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the 1994 crime bill. They can seamlessly and purely advocate for expanding healthcare coverage, educational opportunities, LGBTQ rights, citizenship for undocumented workers and environmental protection.
The 2018 Midterms are not looking great for Democrats thanks to a tough Senate map. 2020 is another story. Republicans have only narrowly won presidential elections this century. After four years of Republican rule, a highly motivated Democratic turnout could flip both the Presidency and Senate as Republicans defend the bulk of the seats up for reelection.
If Democrats make significant gains at the state level, as Republicans did under Obama, they may not only regain the House, but draw favorable districts for the next decade. This would lay the groundwork for a new Democratic administration to serve as the book end to what President Obama began, much like the Great Society fully realized the New Deal.
To be clear, Donald Trump has exceeded all political expectations and should not be underestimated. There is a lot of work to be done. That said, the substantial progress of liberal political thinking should not be ignored either. Emotional support swept Trump to office, not better reasoned ideas or perspectives. Though powerful, emotions are fleeting.
Luke Perry, PhD, Chair and Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Utica College