Message to Democrats: Don’t run away from race and class in 2018 and 2020 elections
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As we cross the six-month mark since the beginning of the Trump administration, nothing has changed for the working- and middle-class families that feel squeezed out of our economy and our democracy.

They continue to struggle to make ends meet, working in jobs that make paying bills a challenge, sending their kids to college a pipe dream and putting food on the table a challenge.

The Republican Party is missing in action on this front, offering nothing beyond tax cuts, deregulation and corporate cronyism. Trump’s rhetoric may promise nice things to people, like great health insurance, but his party won’t play along.

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This is an opening the Democrats must seize by unifying behind a bold economic agenda that will improve the quality of life for millions of Americans.

 

To succeed in 2018 and 2020, Democrats need to run campaigns that actually motivate people to get out and vote, especially 20-somethings and struggling people of all races.

One of the most underappreciated trends of our time is the decline in living standards for people with little beyond a high school education, who today earn less in real dollars than their parents a generation ago.

And the new ticket to the middle class?

Thanks to funding cuts, it’s no longer possible to work a part-time summer job and pay for college. Today, completing college means racking up over $30,000 in debt, on average. Finally, for parents trying to raise little kids, a helping hand in the form of paid family leave along with affordable and high quality child care is desperately needed.

The good news is voters want a change in direction—they want our government to do more to meet the needs of the people.

Demos commissioned a poll to help find out exactly what kinds of issues and policies are top of mind for the new working-class. The poll, which included the working class voters from the African-American, Latino and white working-class community whom turned from Obama to Trump voters, found that addressing pocketbook issues, protecting existing deals and fixing the inequality gap in our country rank among the top economic concerns. Thirty-nine percent of voters said revitalizing infrastructure was a top issue, 31 percent said raising the minimum wage and 25 percent said debt-free college.

And voters of all political backgrounds, ideologies and races are looking to the government to help solve those problems, with 52 percent saying the government should help meet the needs to people.

Importantly, our research tells us that voters don’t want a plan that moves us back to the center — as some have recently suggested — but rather offers bold new progressive ideas that are real life challenges: paying for prescription drugs, making a college tuition payment, affording good child care and earning a decent living from a job with good wages and benefits.

Running on a strong pocketbook agenda doesn’t mean abandoning issues of racial inequality — in fact, that would be a disastrous mistake. For too long, conservatives have used racial dog-whistles to undermine support for government among white voters.

Our last election took this strategic racism to a whole new level.

The Democrats must be a party of inclusion, and must be real with voters about how scapegoating immigrants and people of color is a tool used to divide working people while the top 1 percent rig the rules.

By pitting whites against blacks, men against women and everyone against immigrants, we let Wall Street bankers run our economy, oil companies stop clean energy, giant corporations ship good jobs overseas, and the rich give themselves tax breaks.

That’s not a deal most people would choose.

Our research also shows widespread support for the idea that our country cannot succeed unless we address the issues which have held some Americans back because of race — whether it’s white working class voters who supported Obama in 2012 then Trump in 2016, super-progressive people or working-class African Americans and Hispanics.

Of the voters we interviewed, 72 percent of progressives felt that having to choose between talking about race and talking about class is a false choice, as did 75 percent of working-class African Americans and 57 percent of working-class Hispanics.

And significantly, 44 percent of Obama-to-Trump voters agreed as well.

Democrats have an unprecedented opportunity to show the American people exactly what and who they stand for. And they need to take this opportunity to make it crystal clear that our economy’s true heroes are not the CEOs, corporate boards or investors but rather those who power our economy every day and currently do it with far too little appreciation, pay or perks.

That the heroes in the American economic story are the janitors, home health aides, teachers, warehouse workers and the like who work incredibly hard every day to power our economy but aren’t getting their fair share of the prosperity they help create.

Whose side is the Democratic Party on?

Who are the champions in its stories?

Who are the villains?

Winning over new voters and re-engaging lapsed voters demands an authenticity about our values, that for too long, have been triangulated or modulated in craven attempts to recapture some elusive white suburban or rural voter.

That means running unapologetically on the belief that inclusion and diversity is our nation’s strength, that government can and should ensure opportunity and a decent standard of living for its people and that democracy should work for the people, not just the wealthy and corporations.

Tamara Draut is vice president of policy and research at Demos and author of “Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America.”


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.