As the Times piece details, Democrats are wrestling with how to speak to those issues while also improving the party’s appeal to white voters who might feel left behind by the sort of cultural and demographic change that the party is indeed embracing. Many Democrats believe one key to this will be improving the party’s economic message and agenda so it cuts across cultural and racial lines — but without losing the party’s focus on the other issues that matter to core Democratic constituencies.
Figuring out how to do this is an important project, and one that will be argued over for years. But it seems to me that there’s something very important missing from this whole debate.
It’s this: No matter what, the Democratic Party isn’t going to back down from aggressively defending minority rights. It just can’t. That’s because in the near future, the Democratic Party is going to be in the opposition, which means it will inevitably be striking a posture of resistance to much of what President Trump and congressional Republicans do. That agenda is likely to feature a major assault on various constituencies that will simply require Democrats to mount an aggressive, sustained defense of them.
Trump campaigned on a platform that contained explicit vows of naked persecution of minorities. The Democratic Party has to organize itself to no small degree around resisting the implementation of those promises, should Trump make good on them — something that’s particularly urgent in an environment of resurgent reactionary sentiment and white backlash, which appear to be underway in the Era of Trump.
Just consider some of the specifics. If Donald Trump goes through with his immigration agenda — to rescind protections for the DREAMers and to vastly expand deportations of undocumented immigrants — this could precipitate a genuine humanitarian crisis. The Democratic Party is going to have to do all it can to resist this. That means mounting a major defense of the idea that undocumented immigrants are more than mere lawbreakers, and — by dint of many years of contributing to American life — have earned a chance to get right with the law, to assimilate, and to belong.
Or consider voting rights. Trump’s lie that “millions” voted illegally in the presidential election may signal that a major wave of voter suppression measures is coming — and such measures often restrict the voting rights of African Americans. Democrats are going to have to do all they can to resist these, too.
Or consider what Trump might do towards Muslims. We don’t know what this will look like. But during the campaign, Trump relentlessly demonized Muslim living in America with the lie that “thousands” of them celebrated 9/11, and openly proposed various measures (banning Muslims from entry into the U.S.; a Muslim registry; closing mosques; etc.) that raise at least the possibility of real persecution under a Trump presidency. This seems particularly plausible if — God forbid — there is a major terror attack at home. If this happens, the Democratic Party will have to step up and defend them. (Right?)
What this all means is that Democrats may find themselves in a position where they have to aggressively defend minority rights against an intensified threat to them. And that may require Dems to proceed from there to solving the problem of how to defend those rights while simultaneously broadening the party’s economic appeal to working class and middle class whites. None of this even gets into the additional point that many of the challenges facing minorities are also economic ones, which makes the whole debate over whether to embrace an economic message or a micro-targeted cultural one a bit of a false choice to begin with.
Now, obviously, individual candidates in the coming 2018 gubernatorial, Senate, and House contests will do their own thing, finding their own answers to these political challenges that they deem appropriate to the electorates they’re appealing to. But for the Democratic Party as a whole, if Trump does what he said he would do, adopting an uncompromising defense of minority rights will be a given.