Remember when elections were fun? Each candidate put on their game face and brought their best to the table in attempt to outwit one another on the campaign trail. Candidates promised voters the world — touting how they intend to help families, jobs, education and national security to name a few.
Those days are gone. The old dogs of the Democrat party, in particular, have become visibly cynical. President Biden sternly gazed over onlookers at a recent speech, warning that a vote for a Republican might as well be a vote for an election-denying political extremist. Donald Trump may out of office, yet the post-traumatic stress disorder rages on. Americans may have more pressing concerns — like how to afford their skyrocketing food, energy and housing costs — yet the MAGA-inspired fearmongering continues at MSNBC, CNN and in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. The social media echo chamber does its part to amplify our dire “reality” — which sets the stage for still more self-fulfilling political prophecies of the same.
America is in a funk. For the political establishment, the culprit is not inflation, crime, yet another COVID-19 variant, diesel shortages that threaten to plunge the Northeast into a deadly winter— or even the prospect of “nuclear Armageddon” in Ukraine. The real problem? Democrats refuse to share power with Republicans.
While it is not unusual for Americans to be subjected to hefty-dose of negativity in an election year, what has changed in recent years is that social-media saturated Americans endure election-year mudslinging 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is enough to make anyone cynical, with a majority of Americans convinced, according to a recent poll, that Democracy is in trouble. What is more, when politicians and pundits take to social/media year-around to peddle an endless stream of alarmism, it leaves very little room to raise the ante in the run-up to an election without straying into the weeds of the absurd and downright hysterical.
If nothing more, the Midterm 2022 elections will answer the $64,000 question: Will voters take the bait?
Judging by the furrowed brows and weary looks on the faces of those who have carried the Democratic party the longest, the jig may soon be up. Take, for example, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wide-eyed and sounding a familiar alarm: Republicans, she warned, “literally have a plan to steal the 2024 election”.
Even the formerly unflappable President Obama is not immune. The Barrack Obama many of us remember in the mid 2000s carried himself with optimism, flashed a million-dollar smile and transfixed voters with his knack for oration. The Obama of 2022 hit the campaign trail on behalf of Democrats with doom and gloom on the mind. The positive attitude that carried the former president over the electoral finish line not once but twice — financial crisis notwithstanding — has been replaced with a wagging finger. Like his former vice president and secretary of state, campaigning on behalf of 2022 Midterm election candidates has been less about “bringing out the vote” as opposed to an attempt to scare up the vote.
For Democrats, fear is apparently the only tool left in the toolbox.
If the transformation of “The Big Tent” to The Big Party Poopers has left you, too, shaking your head, you are not alone.
What the heck happened?
The economy, for one. But beyond that, Democrats’ devotion to identity politics has left the party fractured and at times incoherent. The DNC has left moderate Democrats, Independents, undecided voters, anti-war voters and faith-and-family-oriented Black and Hispanic voters behind as they battle for the loyalties of a tribalized constituency. Effectively, there is no fringe element within the Big Tent that the party refuses to appease. Nothing is off the table, be it proposals to give convicted felons and non-citizens the right to vote, to ghoulish proposals that go further than any Western country to allow “birthing persons” to abort full-term infants.
In the name of protecting transgendered rights, similarly, Democrats are blazing new trails — just not on behalf of adults. Democrats have instead set their sights on youth with gender dysphoria — with some lawmakers going so far as to argue that parents who refuse to support a child’s chemical or physical alteration should be charged with child abuse. Because Democrats’ default position is an apparent belief that parents cannot be trusted to help their children navigate their way to adulthood, the civil rights frontier in 2022 consists of things like championing the right of minors to adopt a different gender identity at school, under the affirming tutelage of teachers and administrators. So fearful are Democrats that parents do not have their child’s best interests, that progressives are working to enshrine into State, if not ultimately Federal law, the right of children to receive “gender affirming care” (hormonal/surgical gender transition) even without parental knowledge or consent.
In pursuit of what was once called political correctness — known today as “woke” — the modern Democratic party would appear to be in a race to the bottom in attempt to accommodate a never-ending list of diverse — yet nonetheless competing — identity groups. Democrats’ prevailing approach to politics and policy all but demands that anything and everything conservatives oppose, liberals must absorb into the Democratic fold with little thought as to whether or not such “inclusion” is politically advantageous. Americans, to cite another example, are under mounting pressure to redefine what constitutes a sexual predator. Those whom our society once readily and without controversy identified as deviants, creeps and pedophiles, irrespective of how we (or they) may vote, are quietly being rebranded as Minor Attracted Persons (MAP) — yet another fringe identity group that is hellbent on hitching a ride into the mainstream on the Democrat party’s broad coattails.
Trying to keep everyone in the Big Tent happy means, increasingly, keeping no one happy at all. Democrats, for instance, have begun to lose their most reliable supporters — feminists — many of whom object to biological females being knocked out of the running for scholarships, thanks to liberals’ fear of offending a “micro minority”: transgendered athletes. The very women/girls Democrats past fought to protect via Title IX of the Civil Rights Act are being elbowed out of the way, they argue, by new-and-improved transgender females who, among other things, have been given carte blanche access to women/girls’ sports — and locker rooms — even in the absence of gender transition surgery.
The woke wing of the party has backed mainline Democrats into a corner in which saying No for the sake of preserving credibility among mainstream American voters is off limits. Translating social justice objectives into action, for example, in practice means that prison populations must be emptied into the streets in the name of antiracism. Whereas criminal justice reform advocates started out by promoting sensible reforms — to reduce prison overcrowding and eliminate “three strikes” inspired penalties for nonviolent offenders, antiracism advocates, bound by an ironclad commitment to equity, have dedicated themselves to reform — if not abolition of the prison system entirely — at all costs. Tragically, proponents of such equity make little or no distinction between first-time offenders and repeat, violent felons who abuse their get-out-of-jail-free cards to kill family members and terrorize their communities — often within hours of release from police custody.
Progressive politicians and leftist district attorneys who prioritize ideology over real-world consequences have taken the Democratic party to a place that is not merely offensive to conservatives but unrecognizable to Independents and Blue Dog Democrats. How, for example, do we call it “social justice” if the marginalized communities the Democrat party claims to represent disproportionately stand to become victims of progressive soft-on-crime policies? Assuaging white guilt by vowing to end mass incarceration is no more a form of reparations than abolishing broken windows policing for petty offenses such as public intoxication has delivered on the promise to free up law enforcement to “go after the real criminals”.
However one may feel about these trends, this much is clear: Democrats risk shooting their electoral hopes in the foot by weighing in on ever-more complex, personal and private matters, thereby churning out an endless stream of social and political wedge issues. Agreed-upon aspects of the social contract — in which parents, not politicians, decide how best to raise their own children — have come under assault from the party that non-ironically insists that political extremism is the exclusive domain of the far Right. (One wonders, as an aside, if liberal politicians and pundits ever hear themselves talk? If one subscribes to “traditional values”, it generally translates to the status quo — as in refusing to abandon established customs and values — not attempting, as progressives and self-described radicals do, to re-imagine a litany of issues from law enforcement, gender identity and the nuclear family to any other number of legal and cultural fronts.)
If the far Left could be made to understand their policy failings as much as the far Right has been urged to understand theirs, a liberal epiphany might go something like this: Ideology, no matter how well intended, is not synonymous with progress. Refusing to accept observed, reproducible and irrefutable reality on its own terms — because academic theory and associated ideology are in the driver’s seat of progressive public policy — harms society to the extent it doggedly refuses to acknowledge when the effect (consequence) that follows from the cause (public policy) undermines the stated goal. If, say, the goal is to right the wrongs of systemic racism, dumbing down the public education system so that minority students “feel good” while receiving a lesser quality education in the belief that academic excellence is inherently “white” — effectively a whites-only pursuit! — amounts to an even more insidious form of institutionalized racism.
In short, Democrats have stretched the Big Tent so thin over the past three decades that it is now on the verge of a breaking point. And that begs a question:
How many elections are Democrats willing to risk before they appreciate that to embrace identity politics is to become beholden to everyone yet paradoxically answerable to none?
For liberals, the cost of enablement in the belief that “tolerance” is a political panacea has come home to roost: Not every fringe is worthy of inclusion. Not every academic theory should be mainstreamed. Not every crime should be decriminalized. Not every lifestyle is deserving of becoming the next civil rights battleground. If, for example, Americans overwhelmingly agree that child predators are pariahs, extending the diversity and inclusion umbrella to MAP proponents is hardly a hill worth dying on.
How do Democrats reclaim their party for the mainstream? It begins with reaffirming core principles. At its core, social and therefore political stability is derived from education, economic opportunity, personal integrity and intact marriage and family units. If instead of elevating society to a better place, decades of Democrat-dominated institutions and academia-inspired public policy experiments have paralleled rising levels of homelessness, crime and declining proficiency on the part of K-12 students, it is no longer reasonable, rational or responsible to project blame on political opponents.
Rather than double down in effort to save face, mainline Democrats must insist that their party return to the drawing board.
The American K-12 public education system is by no means a bit player in the downward spiral of poverty, crime, drug abuse and homelessness that has erupted from coast to coast. Accepting the status quo within failing inner-city public schools, arguably, is the single-most best example of systemic racism in 21st Century America. Absent a path out of poverty created by a fully accountable K-12 education system, taxpayers are effectively “investing” in the school-to-prison pipeline. To this end, broken homes do not arise, chiefly, as a result of mass incarceration — but the soft bigotry of low expectations in which at-risk children are thrown away by “the system” at the early stages of life, left with few resources by which to form intact families and thereby go on to enjoy the social mobility afforded by a stable, dual-income household later in life.
The institutionalized racism academic theory proposes as a root cause for mass incarceration and related social ills all but ignores the role of political cronyism and therefore fails to acknowledge the “culture of entrenched interests” as a factor not only in inequality and racism but the broader threat of national decline. “First principles” in effort to improve outcomes within marginalized communities remain unchanged, however, no matter how we assign blame: Community investment, safer streets, pro-family resources (after-school programs, churches, jobs training, etc.) and a fully accountable K-12 education system. These are commonsense objectives liberals and conservatives, alike, can and indeed must agree upon.
To reform a decades-old legacy of Wrong Outcomes, the first order of business, no matter who comes out on top November 8, must be to overhaul the K-12 public school system. Reform does not mean making new demands on teachers’ limited classroom time to promote the social justice objectives embedded in critical race theory and gender theory. It means, simply, first things first: Accountability for under-performing schools.
American political leaders, without fear or favor to status-quo defending interests, must insist that educational outcomes matter again.
The duality of patting schoolchildren on the back with one hand while simultaneously working against the interests of academic excellence to “flatten the academic curve” (racial inequalities) by discontinuing gifted programs and/or taking aim at Advanced Placement classes — if not also barring educators from suspending students who disrupt the learning environment — must be seen for what it is: A defense of mediocrity. And the new face of racism.
Rather than risk this if not future elections — while blaming Republicans for the hole in which they find themselves — Democrats must be willing to engage in serious soul searching. For starters, how is equity a noble social justice goal if the practical consequence of equity-driven public policy is to cement the disadvantages that under-served communities already contend with in the misguided belief that public safety and academic achievement are rooted in “whiteness” and therefore racism?
Liberals need to take a step back and appreciate, if nothing more, this much: Beyond the confines of ivory tower academia, diversity, inclusion, equity and antiracism-derived public policy measures have, collectively, begun to play to the broader electorate as an excuse for local, State and federal governments to work themselves out of the most basic functions of good governance: a functional criminal justice system, a functional public education system and an internationally-competitive economy.
The take-home message is not to deny that inequality and associated social ills exist, rather that woke policy solutions are often as flawed as the systemically racist practices they seek to replace. Is there anything more “systemic” about racism, after all, than the classist double standards for the prep-school offspring of the coastal elite in contrast to declining expectations for the children of the poor, Black, brown and the American middle class at large?
What happened to the Democrat party? The answer may be as far away as China — or as close as the nearest mirror. Republicans, to be sure, have their own problems with extremists among their ranks. But Democrats have some housecleaning to do of their own.