The election of Donald Trump has pushed many people to ask how progressives should respond to his presidency. Should we critique and mock all of his actions and statements or should we try to give him the benefit of the doubt and work with him on common interests? I believe the proper response is to not only hold him accountable for his words and actions, but more importantly, we need to equate him with the Republic party. In other words, instead of seeing him as some oddity or anomaly in the political system, we have to show how he embodies the truth of the conservative counter-revolution.
One of the biggest mistakes the Clinton Campaign made and others continue to repeat is to separate Trump from the traditional Republican politicians. What we need to do is show how Trump exemplifies amoral capitalism, and this combination of selfish greed and a lack of morality has been driving the Republicans since the time of Reagan. What Trump helps to clarify is that behind all of the talk of religious values and fiscal responsibility, we find a small class of people trying to enhance their power and money at any costs. The fact that many Christian fundamentalists supported the blatantly amoral Trump shows that the Republicans don’t really care about religion or morality.
One problem is that even though Trump does not believe in most of the core conservative moral issues, he is still appointing people and supporting policies that will result in destructive restrictions of human rights and government support for those most in need. The problem is that he controls all of the branches of government, and he believes that his power resides in giving what he thinks his base is demanding. What progressives then have to do is try to convince Republican voters that Trump and his supporters in Congress really do not care about their values and issues. Progressives also have to make the case that not only their policies will help disgruntled Trump voters, but their values are more in line with the values of these voters.
As George Lakoff insists, Democrats have to focus on values over policies because this is what affects voters in a more direct manner. For instance, by always using the term “the Affordable Care Act” instead of “Obamacare,” the value of affordability is highlighted over the notion that a liberal president is forcing people to do things they do not want to do. Likewise, Lakoff insists that we should use the term “protections” instead of “regulations,” when we are discussing rules and laws that serve to fight against bad behavior by corporations and individuals.
Although we most continue to fight against racism, sexism, and homophobia, it is important to show how these modes of prejudice are related to economic issues concerning poverty and inequality. In terms of values, the stress should be on making things more fair and equal at the same time that individual rights are protected. Moreover, the problem with some versions of identity politics is not that they focus on discrimination and prejudice, but they can make it hard to build coalitions among different identity groups. What we need to do then is to always keep our eyes on the prize and seek to organize diverse groups to develop sustainable political power.
One problem that tis progressive agenda faces is that it may not be supported by many of the liberal institutions who are often focused on maintaining power and wealth and not creating a more just and equal society. This is why we have to fight to transform our own political parties, universities, unions, and media to make them more democratic and progressive.