How do you lose a presidential election? By harnessing Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A recent hubbub in Detroit offers Democrats an important lesson.

Several weeks ago, the promoters of Detroit’s AfroFuture Fest announced they would charge people of color an early-bird price of $10, whites $20. Discrimination? The $10 fee, said promoters, would make the festival affordable to people of color. Whites have money.

Are people of color really less well off than whites? Overall, yes. But the people color I know don’t need a discount from AfroFuture Fest any more than I and my codger friends need senior discounts at movies theaters or restaurants. Being over 60 or 65 does not automatically place someone at or near the poverty line. I’m an individual, not a stereotype.

One of the festival’s featured performers, the rap artist Tiny Jag (Jillian Graham), threatened to withdraw. She’s bi-racial. Maybe she’d be allowed in for the lower fee, but why should some of her relatives pay more? The festival backed off. Everyone would pay $10.

As to the campaign, defining people—and voters—in ethnic terms is nothing new. Donald Trump again spewed white nationalist rhetoric when he said that four Democratic Congresswomen—Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib—could go back where they came from. They came, respectively, from New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan. Trump’s ugly comments aroused pushback from people not embedded in his base. That’s good.

Not good: Progressives using Trump’s horrific comments to push the Democratic party to the far left—just where Trump, on the far right, wants voters to see it. This will distance the Democratic party from many who will decide the election—white liberals, middle-of-the-roaders and moderate conservatives in swing states. Of course, it’s not that simple.

The Times’Jamelle Bouie points out (7/18) that “African-Americans are the most heavily Democratic group in the country, with a large presence in many of the most competitive states. Small increases in their participation would have an outsize effect on the electoral landscape.” Democrats could falter by catering only to whites expressing doubts about Trump. I agree—with a caveat.

Many black, brown, yellow, red and other liberals and centrists remain wary of the progressive stance on eliminating private healthcare insurance (rather than making it optional alongside government coverage), refusing to discuss limits on abortion (I’m pro-choice; some limits may be reasonable) and responding to Trump’s “we’re full” immigration policies by advocating for virtual open borders (I love immigrants—my father was one; bad idea).

Could progressive politics cost Democrats the 2020 election? New York Times columnist David Brooks (7/17) notes that “… many of today’s young leaders, and their older allies, don’t want to work within the liberal system. They want to blow it up.”

Detroit demonstrates that we can’t fight injustice with injustice. “I want it all and I want it right now” may represent a moral position, but it can become immoral by undermining Democrats’ White House chances.

I hope progressives will think hard about the realities of this campaign and, while maintaining the moral high ground, convert self-righteousness into humility. Then we can send Donald Trump back under one of the gold-plated rocks from which he crawled.

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  1. Ron Laupheimer on July 19, 2019 at 6:31 pm


    Excellent column. I do not think enough progressives/liberals understand the truths you enunciated. Trump is very consciously playing (and I say brillantly) to his supporters and hopes to capture enough of the voters in the middle to just barely win once again. The late show hosts and commenators are correct—“Send them back” is merely the latest shorthand phrase to the “Lock her up” he used so well against Hillary to win in 2016. It is easily understood as to where he stands by his supporters and many others in this country. We may call it racist (which of course it is), but it accomplishes his goal (like advertising)—to easily rally his troops and hopeful reasonate with enough others in this country in strategic states to win. Trump is trying (and I would successfully so far) make immigration (not the economy, abortion rights or good healthcare) the rallying issue in the 2020 election, and the Democrats right now do not have any good response. Just criticizing Trump for his clearly racist remarks and administration actions will NOT achieve a 2020 election victory. Immigration has been a problem for decades (under both Republicans AND Democrats), and no real solution has been presented (or really discussed) and passed. But the issue raises real concerns and fears in a large majority of US voters, and that is what Trump is counting on to win next year.

    Thanks again for your column. It highlights the Democrates’ real 2020 election problems. They better solve them or we face another 4 years of Trump which is literally impossible to imagine. If we think the first Trump term is/was horrible, I cannot believe what another 4 years will be after his unbeleivable rhetoric and actions have been confirmed as being OK by enough voters in 2020 to win re-election!

    • David on July 19, 2019 at 7:25 pm

      Thanks, Ron. We are—though we don’t have to be—in agreement. Democrats have sound principles to support. Their policies should rally, not repel, voters from center-left to center-right. I believe that the Democratic nominee will take a center-left position. This won’t stop the nominee from falsely being called a socialist, a term most Americans don’t understand. But the Trump base remains a minority and can’t capture the election on its own. It’s up to progressives not to blow up the party’s chances. As to another four years of Trump—very possible to imagine and a disaster for the nation.

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