In Preparation for the Apocalypse, Weigh Your Options Carefully

Jessie Garbeil, Scarlet Staff

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Eighteen Democrats are seeking the presidential nomination in 2020 – they come from across the country and even into the Pacific, are career politicians or self-styled political outsiders, and promise a vast range of elaborate policy plans on hot-button issues. They are united by a desire to be the candidate to take down Donald Trump, but in a nation increasingly polarized, this is not nearly as important as what divides them – idealistic progressivism versus centrist prioritization of “electability.” 

There is a stark divide and a stark hostility between the most progressive candidates’ promises of Medicare for All and student loan debt forgiveness and the more restrained policy proposals of Midwestern moderates. We are by nature a sensationalist nation, and the era of Donald Trump’s presidency is clearly the golden age of political spectacle; Democrats are more motivated to vote than ever in recent history, and are driven increasingly to the left by their hatred of the inhabitant of the White House and his party’s blind loyalty to him. It is unsurprising, then, that Democrats have turned to bold and supposedly “radical” policy proposals. 

There is no nobler reason to pursue a political career than a desire to genuinely change the world and improve lives, but the 2020 election is not, in fact, the time for idealism and dreaming. It is the time for a harsh reality check and an unfortunate reminder that a majority of the nation does not share the progressive ideals of young Democrats. Instead, most voters want a return to the norm; Donald Trump won in 2016 because of his promises to destroy the political machine of Washington and take down the political elites, to provide drastic change and a voice to a demographic of voters largely white, male, and bitter after eight years of a Democratic presidency. Trump has failed to deliver on these promises, instead creating a culture of corruption, political chaos, and a Washingtonian circus. There is little doubt, regardless of partisan views, that Donald Trump has created a radical upset to the American political norm, but now more than ever, a majority of voters want it back. 

This does not mean that a progressive candidate is either doomed to fail or ill-suited for the race against Trump. However, progressive candidates would be wise to remember that winning the Democratic primary is only the beginning, and unfortunately enough, it is a very different race than a general election campaign against Donald Trump. The Democratic base is mobilized enough by the visceral fear of four more seemingly apocalyptic years of a Trump presidency; the voters that matter most in a general election are far more moderate and even conservative. Donald Trump is a polarizing figure in American politics, but the race will neither be decided by his loyal base nor his vehement opposition, but by suburban America, by undecided voters, by deeply unsatisfied 2016 Trump voters. As such, in order to preserve some semblance of electability in a fierce general election race, Democrats must ground their progressivism in reality and keep in mind that compromise, difficult as it may be, is necessary. 

In the debate between progressiveness and electability, it is essential to remember the final goal of Democratic voters; a White House absent of Donald Trump. The electability argument is entirely valid and legitimate, but, at the same time, electability should not come at the price of a Democratic president who fails to accurately represent an evolving party where young voters are increasingly involved. A balance between the two factors is entirely possible and viable. There is no need to sacrifice personal ideals when casting a Democratic primary vote, but Democrats would do well to think strategically as well as ideologically.