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In 2018, Progressive candidates and progressive ballot initiatives won across the nation. (Photo: Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In 2018, Progressive candidates and progressive ballot initiatives won across the nation. (Photo: Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Nobody Likes Trump, But He Could Still Beat a Centrist Democrat in 2020

Will just "veering" left be enough to inspire voters who have learned to ignore promises and platitudes?

John Atcheson

One of the most stunning numbers in politics is the fact that some 40 percent of those polled still approve of Trump.  Pundits, politicians and the media seem to walk around in a state of disbelief that this buffoon retains any support at all.

In reality, it’s no mystery.

Look, nobody actually likes Trump.  His base is composed of people who are angry at the Washington plutocracy which has been screwing them for decades. Trump is a virtual Molotov cocktail they throw into the system to signal their anger at the politicians from both parties who have left them behind in order to make it easier to beg campaign funds from the ultra-rich and corporations. And no, it doesn’t matter that Trump hasn’t drained the swamp – that he in fact has broadened and deepened it. His appeal isn’t based on what he does, so much as what he claims to be against.

There’s one statistic that shows how both parties have been creating a government of the rich, for the rich and by the rich. Between 1980 and 2015, the top .01 percent saw their income rise by 322 percent, while income for the bottom 90 percent rose by just .03 percent. No wonder people are angry.  This is why talk about full employment and a growing economy hasn’t changed people’s dim view of government.

Rural whites – the core of Trump’s base – are also upset about the startling changes they’ve seen in their communities.  Over the last five decades, non-metropolitan America has been dominated by the 3 D's: death, depopulation, and diversity.  In most non-metropolitan communities death rates exceed birth rates which has led to depopulation.  At the same time, diversity has skyrocketed as immigrants and minorities have moved into many rural areas.

Republicans have been skillfully exploiting the fear that minorities are “taking” our money and jobs for decades now; Trump’s evil genius was to scapegoat immigrants as well as minorities. That’s the whole point of the wall –it’s a symbol that keeps his base focused on who to blame for their decreasing prospects, rather than who’s responsible for them, and how they can be restored.  The reality is, their economic decline was a result of Republican policies that screwed the middle class and low-income earners in order to give the ultra-rich and corporations a bigger slice of the pie.

One of the reasons they’ve gotten away with it is because – until Sanders – Democrats didn’t take on the issue of radically increasing inequality, corporate favoritism, and the ceding of political power to the rich and corporations. In fact, the Democrats tendency to mouth progressive values around elections then govern for the powerful once elected, fed the anger and cynicism Republicans were trying to gin up.

That’s how Trump won.  A toxic mix of hypocrisy and corporatism on the part of the Democrats depressed their votes, while appeals to hate, blame, fear, racism, xenophobia and greed on the part of the Republicans fed an inchoate rage against “Washington insiders,” creating a cadre of passionately ignorant haters who never fail to turn out and vote on election day.

This whole Kabuki dance has played out for decades now because the press has been enabled it by replacing real reporting with a he-said, she-said semblance of stenography fueled by a commitment to “balanced” reporting.  Balance is a poor polestar for journalism.  One could pile a ton of horseshit on one side of the scale and a ton of gold on the other and achieve balance. In fact, on issue after issue, that’s precisely what most outlets do.  Even so-called liberal stations like NPR feature talking heads from one side and then the other, even though the “other” is often spouting anti-science, anti-Enlightenment claptrap.  And by other, I mean Republicans.  But it’s actually worse than that.  Until recently, there wasn’t a real other side representing reason and enlightenment.  For the most part, Democrats embraced a brand of middle-of-the-road memes designed to allow them to get campaign funds from the rich and powerful. 

But with Trump, the full insanity of the politics of hate and ignorance has reached its planet-wrecking zenith.  A guy who lounges around until noon watching Fox News and tweeting inane and insane comments; who seems intent on dividing us one against the other; a man who cavalierly uses a false emergency to subvert the constitution has roused such a sense of national loathing that the cynical and disaffected liberals who’ve been leaving the Democratic Party in particular and politics in general for decades have reengaged. 

However, it appears the party leaders didn’t get the memo. Since 2016, progressives and centrists have been battling for control of the party after Clinton and Sanders had squared off for the nomination.  It’s hardly been a fair fight.  The centrists have control of the party, the press, the public interest groups and think tanks and the rest of the punditocracy. But Sanders ignited people power and gave the progressive majority and those who wanted to wrest power from the monied interests a place to go and showed that progressive policies weren’t merely “happy dreams” but rather were extremely popular with most Americans.

In 2018, Progressive candidates and progressive ballot initiatives won across the nation. Even in solid red states, left leaning candidates came within a whisker of winning against conservative incumbents. The message should have been clear. Since the Democrats had embraced a DLC centrist back in the 1990’s, they’d been losing ground, and now they were gaining.

But those in power never relinquish their positions, nor the strategy that got them there. Moreover, there’s some persistent myths that stand in the way of people recognizing just how powerful a progressive platform could be.  Some of these myths were created by a well-funded campaign composed of the likes of Richard Scaife, the Koch brothers, the De Vos family, Rupert Murdoch, and a host of corporate donors – things like government can’t do anything right, or that the private sector will provide all good things by pure serendipity, or job creators, or trickle down/supply side chicanery. Shouts of socialism, communism, and big government are being used by these folks in an attempt to scare them away from acting in their own self-interest.

Incredibly, the Democratic Party seems ready to back Joe Biden, when, not if, he enters the race.  He’s a centrist in the Hillary Clinton mold. Most of the rest of the bulging field have a track record of taking centrist and corporate friendly positions, and most of them are trying to veer to the left.

Sanders and Warren have the best progressive credentials and would likely beat Trump.  The others might not.

Back in 2014, when Hillary began her run for the presidency, I wrote a series of articles explaining why Hillary Clinton would lose.  Even after the Republicans picked Trump, I warned that she was still likely to lose and explained why. Outside of Thomas Frank and Michael Moore there weren’t many folks who could see it coming.  The voters were tired of progressive populist rhetoric coming from people with a centrist corporate friendly track record back then, and they still are.

If the Democrats don’t figure that out, we might be in for four more years of Trump.  Hard to imagine, but we ignored the anger and alienation in the citizenry in 2016 enabling him to win, and now it looks like the Democratic Party leaders would like to try it again.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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