In order to succeed, Democrats need to be the party of ideas. We don’t have to agree on every idea, just the belief that we should present something better than the ability to say no. The path to party unity isn’t reliant on a single idea or brand message, but the willingness to agree on the premise that we can do better.
By David Todd McCarty | Monday, August 12, 2019
It’s often said that the greatness behind America isn’t the Constitution, or its institutions, or even its people, but the very idea of America. That men with seemingly prescient foresight, actually put into the founding documents, the idea that America was to be founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That all men were created equally and inherited certain unalienable rights from their creator.
America has been responsible for countless acts of evil in the course of our history, from the original sin of slavery, to countless wars, the abuse of our own people and the meddling in the affairs of others. Yet until recently, we were still seen as a beacon of hope around the world. That there was a country where merit counted more than class, that personal freedoms were considered sacred, and that justice and the rule of law mattered.
Trump isn’t singularly responsible for our fall from grace, but he has certainly been responsible for showing the cracks in our facade and has been especially adept, however unwittingly, at shining a light on the fallacy of our exceptionalism narrative.
Grand ideas have always been central to America’s understanding of itself. Some ideas have weathered better than others. After the Great Depression, America came together as a community and put the common good over individualistic desires. Americans made sacrifices. Since World War II, we have turned increasingly inward and created a new narrative—that of the noble individual. The Cowboy became the national ideal: Rugged. Trustworthy. Independent. Self sufficient. The cowboy didn’t need anyone or anything, but instead relied on his own wits, bravery, constitution and determination in order to succeed. We were self-made men, who charted our own futures.
And from this came the modern notion of The American Dream. The idea that if you worked hard, and persisted against the trials and tribulations of life, there was nothing you couldn’t achieve. It’s a powerful narrative and it served us well for decades. Everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and if you didn’t it was a failure of character.
In 1940, there were 132 million Americans living in this country. Today there are nearly 340 million. In 1940, just over 50% of Americans lived in what would be considered urban areas. Half the country still lived in rural America. Today, less than 20% of America lives in rural areas. Suffice it to say that things have changed in America and our government hasn’t done a very good job of keeping up with these dramatic shifts. From the electoral college to the Senate, rural states with low populations have an undue influence on the national debate on everything from guns to education, pay equity to the environment.
From the Civil War until the 1930’s, the party of Lincoln was the party of black America. The Democrats permitted no blacks to attend conventions in any official capacity until 1924, and even the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 did little at first to change things. It wasn’t until the 1960’s and the civil rights movement led the Republican Party to target Southern states in an effort to lure white voters disenfranchised by a party they saw as embracing Blacks and turning their backs on whites. This in turn pushed the Republican Party further to the Right and opened the door to also enlist the Evangelical community in the 1970s by making abortion, something that wasn’t even on most church’s radar, a pivotal issue going forward.
The Democratic Party would become the party of the working class, supporting farmers and union workers, immigrants and factory workers and throughout the 20th century, the parties went back and forth with national control fairly evenly.
But somewhere along the way, Democratic strategists abandoned unions and working class America in exchange for college-educated white suburban voters. For awhile it worked, since most laborers were loyal to the party, it made sense to expand the base into the more liberal, educated neighborhoods of affluence and privilege. As industrialization increasingly turned to automation, robotics and cheap foreign labor, rural, industrial America crumbled and the party forgot about the people there. White collar tech jobs were the focus now, and Republicans deftly moved in to take advantage, in much the same way they did in the South during the Civil Rights era.
What’s ironic perhaps, is that even while the Republican Party was busy weakening unions and deregulating businesses, they were extremely effective in stoking the fears and anger of rural, white voters by blaming coastal elites (college-educated whites), the welfare state (blacks) and globalization as the cause of their misery. The country had abandoned them.
The Republican Party is much more monolithic by nature in that the proportion of white men has risen to 90% of the party, compared to 38% of white men for Democrats. Women are split nearly fifty-fifty between the parties and 84% of blacks identify as Democrats. Whites account for over 70% of the population and with so many white men aligning themselves with the Republican Party, Democrats have no other option than to build a coalition of college educated whites, women, Blacks and Hispanics. These are four groups that have no more in common than their rejection of the Republican Party, so building a coalition is no easy task. Each group has wildly different priorities and candidates who support them.
How do you unify the Democratic Party?
The world heterogeneity comes from mid the 17th century (derived from medieval Latin) and is defined as the quality or state of being diverse in character or content. It’s the idea that a single entity can contain a multitude of diversity.
That’s what the Democratic Party needs to embrace in order to lead America back to a traditional ideal of equality, freedom, and the American Dream. We need to become the party of big ideas; electing leaders willing to take risks. This is actually what made America great in the eyes of the world. A melting pot—not just of cultures, ethnicities and religions, but of ideas.
Democrats need to unify in the big idea that we can change. The very definition of Progressive versus Conservative is the concept of change. To move forward, and believe that there is always a better way. Conservatives resist change and want to move slowly, if at all.
In business this would be known as being risk averse. These people are managers, working harder to not fail, than to succeed. Entrepreneurs take risks and bet big, and when they win, they change the world. Managers maintain the status quo.
If we can become the party of ideas, then all ideas are worth considering. It’s not your idea, or my idea. It’s how many good ideas can we come up and then implement? Let the best ideas rise to the top. The bad ideas will fall away naturally because they didn’t work. That’s truly a merit based philosophical ideal. Unlike Republicans who continue to try to push trickle down economics as a way to convince poor people that rich people have their best interest at heart, even though it’s been disproven over and over again.
No one ever succeeded in doing anything great without dreaming big. No one ever dreamt of making it halfway up Mt. Everest or finishing sixth place. America really is unique. Our optimism, some might say delusion, is what allows us to shoot for the stars. We have many faults as a nation, both historically and culturally, but no one can accuse us being without hope.
Dream big. Campaign hard. Speak out. Be vocal. Fight with abandon. Then come together as the only party willing to dream for a better tomorrow, and vote for our candidate.
That’s the American Dream.