If you thought that Donald Trump’s victory would impel the Democrats to de-emphasize identity politics and social liberalism and pivot even modestly toward the center, think again. At the local level, Democratic politicians are under tremendous pressure to double down on the whole menu of positions favored by the party’s increasingly militant progressive wing. Governing magazine reports:
Betsy Hodges is running for re-election as mayor of Minneapolis this year on a fairly progressive record. She’s devoted some $40 million to affordable housing, put an emphasis on care for young children and signed an ordinance mandating that employers provide paid sick leave.
Nonetheless, Hodges faces several serious challengers running to her left. Hodges has opened herself up to progressive criticism due to her shifting positions on a prospective minimum-wage increase and handling of a high-profile police shooting.
“Even though she’s the most progressive mayor in Minnesota, most of her rivals are to the left of her,” says Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. “There’s no doubt there’s a kind of Robespierre moment in the Democratic Party, where if you’re not sufficiently pure, you’re suspect.”
Some of the leftward march seems to be motivated by the sense that Hillary Clinton’s tepid center-leftism was a dud and the conviction that Bernie Sanders or someone like him might have had a better shot against Trump. This analysis may or may not be correct, but it is too one-dimensional. In fact, Bernie Sanders was to Clinton’s right on many cultural issues, including gun control, feminism, immigration, and identity politics. If you want to drive a Berniebro crazy, you could even argue that Sanders is the reason Clinton lost—that she couldn’t compete with his left-wing economic populism, so she moved even deeper into boutique academic/PC liberal territory to compensate, and that this was ultimately what did her in. And yet, the new generation of Democrats seems to be retreating to hard-line liberal positions in all areas, economic and social alike.
If Trump’s approval rating remains stuck in the low 40s—and especially if it ticks downward even further, as seems increasingly plausible—the Democrats are well-positioned for a major comeback in Congress and the statehouses in 2020. But they could easily blow this opportunity, just as they blew the last one, by learning the wrong lessons from the Age of Trump. Of course, the real loser here is not one party or the other, but the country at large, which seems to be locked into a self-reinforcing cycle of minority-party radicalization under presidents of both parties that is annihilating the vital center.