This is part one of a two-part series on how sensible and thoughtful people should respond to the increasingly chaotic and scandal-prone Trump administration. This week I’ll be talking about the Democrats, next week about the Republicans, so look out for that!
In theory, Democrats should be cheery at the moment, at least from the perspective of electoral prospects. Their prediction that a Trump presidency would harm America’s reputation on the world stage and prove divisive at home has come true. Far from uniting America, the country is more divided than ever, with Trump suffering from record-low approval ratings for a president at this stage of his tenure. Even on the Republicans’ own terms, the administration has been ineffective at getting things done. While it’s true that a Supreme Court justice has been nominated, the Trans-Pacific Partnership cancelled and some Obama-era regulations repealed, the two big issues for the GOP- healthcare and tax reform- remain unaddressed. If both were as urgent as Republicans have been telling us for years, then they should have drafted legislation and agreed upon it, ready to be made law upon a Republican electoral victory. Their failure to plan has made a mockery of both themselves and the wider conservative movement.
So if Trump and his Republican Congress are such obvious failures, then why aren’t Democrats more popular? Partly because they’ve failed to learn the lessons of Hillary Clinton’s defeat. They still assume that attacking Republicans will be enough to win. But Democrats need to put policies of their own that command popular support, or else continue to be irrelevant. The problem with Clinton’s campaign is that it seemed so content with the status quo, only promising minor tweaks when America is desperately in need of major reform. Such complacency ought to have been purged from the Democratic ranks, yet to this very day it stubbornly remains.
Take for instance, healthcare. For years, the Republicans have been opportunistically taking advantage of Obamacare’s shortcomings- high deductibles, high premiums, people who still lack insurance. But the fact is, none of those issues can be addressed by the federal government without more taxes and regulations, which Republicans are ideologically opposed to. This has been clear ever since the Affordable Care Act became law, yet most Americans didn’t realise it until now. However, many Democrats seem content to only propose minor adjustments to the ACA now that it enjoys majority support. This simply isn’t good enough. Voters’ concerns about the ACA were perfectly legitimate, even if some of them were wrong to propose repealing the law in its entirety. As I’ve proposed in detail here (http://hanrott.com/blog/what-americans-can-learn-from-the-nhs-and-what-britons-can-learn-from-american-healthcare/), any American should be able to buy their way into Medicare, by giving up a higher proportion of their income to the government, thus guaranteeing health insurance to everyone using an existing and largely popular mechanism. The Democrats should be united in their support for this, yet from many we hear very little.
Healthcare isn’t the only area where Democrats lack ambition. Social security is another. It’s clear that America has a poverty rate far too high for a country with that high a GDP per capita. It’s also clear that the incomes of the wealthiest Americans have risen at a far faster rate than for the general population. So why not reform the welfare system and the tax system at the same time, by introducing a negative income tax. It’s a complex proposal and the specifics would have to be figured out by experts. But in layman’s terms, its essentially a form of wealth redistribution, where everyone earning below the tax threshold gets paid a lump sum, depending on how much they earn below that threshold- the less they earn, the more the government gives them. It would have the double advantage of both drastically reducing poverty and simplifying the tax code, rather than the mess of deductions and credits that currently exists. But I’m yet to hear any Democrats talk about it.
Although Democrats should be bold and radical in their proposals, they should shy away from some of the more crass class warfare rhetoric that was very prominent in the 2016 Democratic primary, particularly from Bernie Sanders. I won’t for a moment defend any illegal or immoral behaviour committed by anyone in the financial sector. But if the Democrats are to win businesses over, they must demonstrate that they aren’t the enemies of wealth. Rather than rant about how terrible some rich people are, they should talk about the benefits of Democratic policies for everyone, the rich included. For instance, spending more on the education system will give employers a better educated workforce. Repairing and upgrading the country’s infrastructure will be good for business. Moreover, the Medicare for all plan would mean that employers would no longer have to feel as if they have to provide healthcare for their employees. This would represent a major saving for them.
Finally, I think the Democrats at the federal level should be honest and realistic about what they can achieve. America’s federal system is a wonderful thing, but it limits the power of the federal government. Instead, Democrats need to utilise the state and local governments more, particularly in times like these when the federal government is so ineffective and hostile. If federal environmental regulations are repealed, reenact them at the state level. If the federal government won’t build new roads or railways, then the states should do them, using local taxes and private investment. The downside of all this is that most governors and state legislatures are Republican. The Democrat obsession with the presidency has come at the expense of smaller but equally important elections. Democrats should fight much harder in these, including ensuring that the currently embarrassing rates of voter turnout improve.