The 2016 general election made something abundantly clear: business as usual in the world of politics is now a thing of the past. It’s only been three years since Donald J. Trump was inaugurated, but people in the media and democratic establishment seem to have completely forgotten what made Trump the 45th president of the United States.
A sizable chunk of the general public feels that Washington is not on their side. To them, politics is no longer a tool meant to address the challenges they face in everyday life. They feel disenchanted, and they are ready to vote for whomever they view as a catalyst for change. In 2016 Trump represented that change. Now, I would agree that the current president has done nothing tangible to “drain the swamp”. In fact, I would say the swamp is now overflowing. Relatives in key (and paid) government posts, industry leaders overseeing regulatory policy, diplomats staying at the Trump Hotel just a few blocks away from the White House… The list goes on and on. But don’t be fooled. To the disenchanted public all of this means absolutely nothing. Why? Well, ask yourselves this simple question: Who has been telling the public about all the awful things Trump has done as president? The media. And for many Trump voters the media has lost all credibility. As progressives we need to understand this. Under normal, business-as-usual circumstances, Trump would have been ousted long ago, and rightly so. But there is nothing normal about the current political dynamics. To Trump’s base he remains the outsider, the anti-establishment figure who will set everything right. If democrats want to beat Trump in 2020, they are going to need their own anti-establishment figure.
Bernie Sanders is the antithesis of Donald Trump, but he shares one key characteristic with the current president: Sanders can appeal to millions of Americans who no longer believe that politicians are on their side. That kind of appeal was the key to Trump’s victory nearly four years ago, and remains very much relevant today. I am convinced that if the Democratic Party nominates yet another establishment figure to “play it safe”, four more years of Trump await. And to me, that is the most amazing thing. It is incredibly hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that the democratic establishment seems to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned in 2016. Back then the party went out of its way to nominate Hillary Clinton because they believed her to be the safest choice. Today, democrats are on their way to making the same mistake. And for what? Is keeping the party intact more important than removing Trump from office? Has the democratic establishment forgotten every racist, anti-environmentalist, anti-LGBT policy enacted by the current administration? Whatever their motivations, failing to reflect on what happened in 2016 is incredibly reckless and irresponsible.
There is no easy path to the nomination for Sanders. The man is taking on the entire political machine of the Democratic Party, making new enemies along the way. Sanders cannot do this on his own. He needs allies. He needs new voices that will vouch for him on the national stage. He needs visible figures who will validate his message. Every democrat who calls themselves a progressive should get behind Bernie’s campaign, but Bernie stills needs political support from the likes of, say, Elisabeth Warren. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but remember: campaigning for political office is a nasty business. At the end of the day, Bernie is Warren’s closest ideological ally in the Senate and certainly in the democratic race. They are both representative figures of the party’s progressive wing and share many of the same policy goals.
In a matter of days (maybe today) Warren will end her campaign and be asked to make her position clear, just like her former primary opponents have done. I’m hoping she will stand by her principles and endorse Bernie Sanders, a move that would honor her. Anything other than an endorsement of Bernie would, once again, call Warren’s commitment to a progressive agenda into serious question.
Sanders needs Warren’s endorsement to give his campaign a much-needed boost after a disappointing Super Tuesday performance, but he will need other prominent democratic leaders to come to his aid if he is to secure the nomination. But the question remains: are democrats ready to accept the lessons 2016 taught us?