The Two Left-Wings

The one thing everyone in American politics agrees on is that Democrats are moving left. When you dig beneath that somewhat generic statement though, you get to a sort of major detail question: what does that mean? “Moving left” to a populist progressive who voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016 means something different than “moving left” might to a more “identity” driven liberal. In some cases the two might overlap, but if you listen to the rhetoric, the two aren’t aligned very closely right now.

It’s really hard to keep the American “left” together, and frankly it’s probably not necessary. The idea that you’re going to “unify” the entire left behind a specific policy agenda might sound very good, but liberals and progressives come to politics for different reasons. Someone coming to left-wing politics because of a concern about civil rights may not be particularly passionate about taxes. You can be anti-war and not particularly motivated by pro-choice politics. Immigration reform activists can clash with labor. The American left is really a patchwork of interest groups that come together as much out of necessity as anything else. They may not agree on everything, but it stands to reason in the era of Donald Trump that they would at least all “row in the same direction.”

The good news is that all of these groups overlap enough, particularly against the current administration, and I believe this will lead to the Democrats winning the House. The bad news is that won’t in-and-of-itself heal the current Clinton-Sanders divide beneath the surface. The good news on that is that the 2020 election is less than a year away, and the new race will re-define the party. The bad news? The last time the Democratic Party was this fractured was after the 1968 and 1980 losses, both of which were followed by blowout losses. The Democratic Party in a fractured state tends to lurch further left and nominate uninspiring candidates to the nation at-large. Donald Trump’s approval may stink, but this generation’s McGovern won’t beat him. Democrats would be well advised in 2020 to not indulge their deepest desires too much, and rather to nominate someone who can appeal to voters they don’t already receive votes for.

Otherwise it won’t matter which left wins.

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