Flawed Democratic idealism
© Greg Nash

The Democratic party appears to have recognized a need to shift in the wake of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE’s once-seemingly inconceivable Presidential victory. Truth be told, however, Trump’s stunning victory is only just the most obvious signal of Democratic failure, as the party’s national failure is and has been immense. The party now holds majorities in just 31 of the country’s 98 legislative bodies, while maintaining 19 of the nation’s governorships. These Democratic losses can be traced back to a partywide acceptance of idealistic reliance on social policy and identity politics.

Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHow a biased filibuster hurts Democrats more than Republicans Stephen Sondheim, legendary Broadway songwriter, dies at 91 With extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one MORE’s 2008 presidential campaign was based upon the pillars of national economic rejuvenation and social change. The contemporary Democratic party has quite clearly misinterpreted this victory. Democrats have focused on the social and identity-based aspects of Obama’s platform, neglecting issues including the economy and security. This is not the 50-state strategy needed to secure national legislative control.


Democrats have bought into an idealistic definition of human nature and have created a losing electoral strategy based upon it. This idealism defines man as naturally good and selfless, leading to the belief that the average American will vote on social progress for others, rather than on tangible, personal issues, like economics and security. Democrats misinterpret Obama’s victory as validation of this idealism. Instead, however, Obama’s election enabled this self-defeating policy of Democratic idealism.

The Democratic party, and many of its most adherent followers, have until now failed to see the nation in its true skin. Sure, the majority of the nation supports gay marriage choice. Support for gay rights and abortion – Democratic issue stalwarts – was not enough to indicate a vote for Clinton. Democrats and Republicans agree, listing terrorism, the economy, employment, and healthcare as the most important issues.

Social policy and identity-based issues occupy a secondary slot in the minds of voters – and, in order to win, it should for the Democratic Party as well. Americans do not vote sympathetically, we vote selfishly, on the issues that matter directly towards us; our money and our safety. Democratic idealism attempts to shift this reality, rather than deal with it.

Recent establishment coalescing around Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) as DNC Chair demonstrates the deep-seated belief in this idealism. The Democratic Party – as the party of progress and diversity – would obviously love to respond to Trump’s xenophobia by choosing a black Muslim to run the party. It would be the perfect emblem of resistance – not to mention the proclamation of our “better” values. Of course these identities do not disqualify Ellison from the job. They also should not be the reason the party chooses him.

It has been said that Ellison — as a black Muslim – cannot escape identity politics. This is true, as pieces of his identity, specifically his faith, have undeniably come under attack. “We will stand up for people of all races, religions, genders and sexual orientations to foster a more inclusive, fair society and create an economy that works for all Americans,” is the argument listed on Ellison’s platform. Ellison’s willingness to embrace identity politics as the prominent issues upon which to base his DNC chair campaign election-winning issues is an example of this failed Democratic idealism in action.

As Democrats, we believe that our social values are inherently better than those of the Republicans. I certainly do – I argued as such in The Huffington Post. This is also because I have a stake in social policy. In order to win elections, however, and implement this ‘better’ policy, Democrats need to secure the votes of those who don’t have a stake – as they don’t vote on these issues. Simply put, Democrats can no longer idealistically rely on the empathy of the average American. If we want to win and secure an acceptable, progressive future for our children, we actually need to win elections. Doing so means welcoming the average American into the fold through economics and security-based concerns.

Americans want what’s best for them individually, even if getting it means trampling on the rights of minorities. The average American, even if they believe in, say, transgender rights or diversity, will not vote on these issues. It’s not that they don’t care. It’s not that they don’t want a socially progressive nation. It’s just that economic stability and safety are more important.

Barack Obama won in 2008 by focusing upon the economy, in tandem with strong identity politics. Of course Obama’s racial background made identity politics inescapable. Our eventual president, however, also attached a strong set of economic plans upon which hope, change, and potential economic success was seemingly possible.

In 2008, security minded voters sided slightly with John McCain, while economic citizens voted substantially more for Obama. The importance of Obama’s economic message– cannot be forgotten. He did not win two elections by playing the diversity card up front. He did not win two elections by convincing Americans to save the suffering minority. He won because he promised the average American a better economic future. Democrats need to deal with this current political reality of individual selfishness and shift accordingly, rather than pretend we live in a country where social issues and racial equity are important to everyone.

Keith Ellison’s potential party is one centered around Leftist, redistributive economic policies, along with progressive social and identity politics. Without arguing the merits of these policies, it is quite clear that they do not satisfy the most inherent American wants: an increase in their disposable income and the promise of security. Keith Ellison, expecting to win back the nation based upon both altruistic Leftist economic policy and empathetic social progressivism is the most blatant example of Democratic idealism. The party will continue to hemorrhage legislative power as we accept idealistic definitions of human nature – and pursue the following identity-politics based electoral strategy.

Money and security. Money and security. Money and security. It’s worth repeating and drilling into the minds of Democrats and liberals nationwide. Although these are not the issues trending on liberal arts campuses, these are the issues facing not only “real Americans,” but the majority. If the Democratic Party continues to fall victim to failed idealism, in terms of human nature and the pursuant electoral strategy, we will fall off an electoral cliff, shrieking patronizing, identity-rooted slogans like “Love Trumps Hate” all the way down.

Charles Diringer Dunst is studying World Politics at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y . He can be followed on Twitter at @CDDUNST

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