Primer for a Progressive President

It’s difficult to find anything good happening in the world at large, good consisting of anything not destroying the climate, engendering bigotry, killing of journalists, or tear gassing migrants. The world feels like it’s on fire literally and metaphorically. The United States has a role to play in putting that fire out, but right now it’s feeding the flames. The President installs serial sexual predators on the Supreme Court, defends and praises authoritarian governments, rails against the free press, and might be indicted before his term is up.

Let’s focus on that last bit — before his term is up. There is a timer on the Donald Trump presidency, and it’s ticking towards January 2021, when, if all goes well, he’ll be packing up his office and making his way back to Trump Tower. The challenge of course lies in the actual election of his successor. This is a man who has rallied populist fervor and seized upon something that energizes an enormous swath of the Republican base. Who could possibly defeat someone who, as the worst candidate in modern history, defeated the most qualified candidate in modern history two years ago? The anti-Trump can’t be as old, conservative or minimally appealing. The man’s approval rating is abysmal, he’s in his late 70s, and his rash brand of conservative politics is barely cohesive. I’m not the final word on the matter, but hopefully what I propose doesn’t seem too far off. The ideal Democratic challenger will be someone young who appeals to a wide cross-section of voters, with solidly progressive politics. 

Illustration by Annabel Driussi

A young candidate is crucial — young being relative to some of the big names almost certain to dive into the primary. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are well into their 70s. I am as big a fan of our friendly grandpas as any Democrat who came of age during the Obama years, but consider the timeline of their presidency. They wouldn’t take office until January 2021, and if victorious they could have eight years in office, and be well into their 80s by 2029. Their politics are, for the most part, a good thing for the country, but there are other candidates who subscribe to similar ideologies.

At the same time, there’s no doubt that a major attack on the right could hinge on the level of experience that a candidate has. Biden and Sanders have loads of experience, but Beto O’Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have the digital-era star power. Frankly, O’Rourke doesn’t have enough experience at a high level of politics to run a truly competitive campaign nationwide. Ocasio-Cortez isn’t even old enough to run for president, nor does she have any experience — I include her here only as a benchmark for the kind of fervor the candidate should be able to inspire in their constituents. Someone experienced but not close to being geriatric ought to be at the top of the ticket. 

Progressive politics are a winner. Young Democrats are voting for progressive candidates, and it’s obvious that unabashedly liberal politicians can be serious competitors in many states once thought to be almost entirely red. Going back to Beto O’Rourke — the man ran a competitive Senate campaign in Texas. Kansas elected a Democratic governor. Georgia probably would have elected Stacy Abrams if it weren’t for suspect election practices. It’s hard to reject an idea whose time has come like that of progressive ideology. Sanders ran as an unabashed democratic socialist, and came damn close to getting the nomination.

The point is that progressive politics are not only the best tool we have to course-correct the country, but they resonate with people. The rich should be taxed more; we should address climate change actively and aggressively; gun reform is necessary to protect people living their lives; people should have access to health care so they aren’t afraid of getting sick. At some level, these policies are just about making sure that everybody has some money in their pocket and have a chance to live safely in America. This barely scratches the surface of everything that we could reform and radically reshape, but we have to be able to stop the bleeding before we can really get at the heart of the problems facing our country. And it’s not going to happen with Republican thoughts and prayers. 

There’s no way that a candidate can coast by on charisma and progressive rhetoric alone. They have to describe how they’re going to address the issues that matter most to people, and convince us that they’re going to do the best job. The Democrats are wasting their time in trying to reclaim voters that are lost to them, and ought to mobilize demographics routinely ignored by the party. They’re not the party of the white working-class in the way they once were. There are still some people who can appeal to that demographic, like Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown, a “rumpled” political lifer with an outsider image and a victory in Ohio, a notoriously fickle state when it comes to electoral politics.

Brown, Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Governor Andrew Cuomo: each of these candidates have strong political pedigrees, and are serious contenders. They fit the basic criteria in a very general way, and this is far from an exhaustive review of what the next president ought to look like and how they can beat President Trump. But a young, progressive, and broadly appealing candidate is the only place to start, and there are some actual political figures who fit the bill. 

John Feigelson

John Feigelson

John Feigelson is an avid writer, reader, climber, skier, Swedish fish eater, comic book aficionado and New York Yankees fan. He is an organismal biology and ecology major from New York City, and loves the thrill of journalism.
John Feigelson

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