Kazin: The Democratic Party must embrace a “new politics of economic justice”

How does the Democratic Party move forward in the post-Trump era? Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, who is writing a new history of the Democrats, offers some thoughts in a recent piece at The New Republic. Here is a taste:

The Saturday afternoon following Election Day 2020 felt like a holiday Democratic voters feared would never happen. In cities across the country, interracial crowds, united in masked joy, rushed out of doors as soon as the major networks finally called the presidential race for Joe Biden. Where I live in deep-blue D.C., honking cars clogged the streets, and strangers cheered one another as if the home team had just come from behind to win a World Series or a Super Bowl. In the park across from my house, a bluegrass trio offered a decent rendition of the Hank Williams classic “I Saw the Light” before a cluster of happy residents who struggled to remember the words. It reminded me of the night a dozen years before when Barack Obama cruised to victory, and his party won healthy majorities in both the House and Senate.

Yet what occurred last November was simply relief, not redemption. To many left-leaning Americans in 2008, the election of the first Black president had seemed the triumph of a social movement—an outburst of audacious hope that Obama’s gauzy rhetoric and racial identity encouraged. But Joe Biden won in 2020 largely because he was the sole alternative to the most wretched president and administration in living memory. What else but the prospect of four more years of Donald Trump could have persuaded Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky to back the same ticket that John McCain’s campaign manager and Mitt Romney’s top strategist had? The Democrats’ depressing down-ballot performance—shrinking the party’s House majority and, thanks to Black voters in Georgia, winning the narrowest possible control of the Senate—has left the new president with little hope of leading the fresh era of bold reform the United States and the world so urgently need.

At the state level—where GOP dominance had already yielded a set of gerrymandered districts and voter-suppression measures that helped to entrench Republican rule—the returns were bleaker still for the forces of liberal revival. The violent invasion of the Capitol on January 6 may loosen Donald Trump’s vise grip over the Republican faithful. But America has lacked a dominant party since the downfall of the New Deal coalition at the end of the 1960s; the partisan standoff has lasted longer than any such period in history and shows no sign of ending.

What can Democratic politicians and activists do to gain the upper hand in electoral combat? How might they become, again, a force that can win consistently, govern effectively, and help bring about the more egalitarian and climate-friendly society Biden and Kamala Harris advocated on the virtual campaign trail?

Like most adherents of left egalitarian politics, I believe the only path to such a future lies in adopting a populist program about jobs, income, health care, and other material necessities, while making a transition to a sustainable economy. And Democrats have to convey their goals in language that a majority of Americans can understand and endorse.

Read the rest here.