The purpose of the social democratic movement is to claim the future rather than avenge the past. The incumbent in the 5th District, Mike Quigley, is focused on investigating Russian intervention in the 2016 election rather than on the future. I have no reason to doubt that Trump colluded in this intervention—he publicly called for such intervention on July 27, 2016—but even if there is enough evidence to force impeachment, it is highly unlikely that two-thirds of the Senate will vote to convict. The result will be to rile Trump’s base—which already loves to present him as a “victim” of the “deep state”—leave him in office, with all the powers of incumbency, and make the hard work we need to undertake to win in 2020 more difficult. That work centers on advancing the kinds of social democratic programs and policies that Bernie Sanders has championed for a lifetime and that I have sought to advance in my campaign: a single-payer universal healthcare system in which healthcare is a right and not a privilege, a Marshall Plan for America of massive investment in our nation’s infrastructure and a commitment to “decarbonize” our economy, a Freedom Budget for the 21st century that seeks to begin to abolish poverty with investments in public education, housing, job creation, and job training. In addition, we must respect the national sovereignty of the native peoples of America, and indeed of all the peoples of the world, and seek to advance the global common good and not merely the “interests” of the United States. It is that kind of social democratic platform that will win in 2020 and which everyone who is seeking to be elected as a Congressperson—and claims to be a progressive—should be championing.
Unlike all of my opponents, I canvassed door-to-door for Bernie Sanders in Iowa and Wisconsin last year and I whole heartedly embrace Bernie’s call for a nonviolent political revolution to save the country. Unlike all of my opponents, my training is as an historian—Yale PhD 1996—one who believes that we can draw from our common past to build a shared future. As I see it, we are in a battle for the soul of the country between competing visions of what our nation is all about and what will best serve to improve our common life together. We can only win that fight by rediscovering the most progressive ideals of America’s founding generation and building on the work of the many generations that have since sought to see those ideals more fully realized.
Unlike all of my opponents, I have been a social democrat for more than thirty years. The record of my published work speaks for itself. Whether writing about American support for the postwar land reform in Japan that benefited millions of small farmers, or American support for democratic working-class movements in Latin America in the 1940s, or the failure of the United States to respect tribal sovereignty that culminated in the genocidal Trail of Tears and Death in the 1830s, I have consistently championed the cause of social justice and sought to help us understand what helps and what hurts that cause so that we can do better in the future.
When Ronald Reagan said in his inaugural address in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” he was mistaken. If he had meant to say that there are more important things in life than politics, and that politics cannot solve our most important problems, that would have been correct. Love, compassion, and civility enter our lives independently of the government. But that was not what Reagan said. For more than a generation—under the spell of Reagan’s antigovernment rhetoric—we have pursued policies that have neglected America’s roads, bridges, water systems, railways, mass transit systems, airports, public schools, and public infrastructure generally, while favoring the 1%. Instead of arguing from first principles and replying to Reagan’s nonsense with Abraham Lincoln’s observation about the purpose of government—that “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities”—the Democratic Party has tended toward a Republican “lite” that was more civil and humane but did not really challenge the drift of the country as the goalposts moved ever rightward and the situation of the country deteriorated.
Trump did not emerge from a vacuum. He emerged from the failure of American politics since Reagan, a failure in which many Democrats have been complicit by their unwillingness to champion social democratic programs and policies. 81 percent of American households experienced flat or falling incomes between 2005 and 2014. Nearly half of all Americans, according to a recent Federal Reserve study, couldn’t cover an emergency expenditure of $400 because they have so little in savings. Ninety percent of the children born in 1940 ended up higher in the ranks of the income distribution than their parents, barely forty percent of those born in 1980 have done so. In part this reflects the weakness of the American labor movement, which must be strengthened, but more fundamentally it reflects privileged treatment for the rich for more than a generation in the form of preferential tax cuts, preferential bailouts, and preferential access to credit generally. As a result, the take home income of the 1% has gone from about 10 percent of the total of the country in 1980 to more than 21 percent of the total in 2015—more than doubled. This represents a concentration of wealth and power in our society that is incompatible with our democracy. It is an essential part of the milieu from which Trump emerged.
Trump’s claim in his inaugural address that it is “the right of all nations to put their own interests first” is exactly wrong. The first obligation of all nations, as of all individuals, is to respect the moral and legal order under which the rights of every nation and every individual are to be upheld.
Putting “interests” before morality led to the Trail of Tears and Death and other genocidal actions against the Indian nations, putting “interests” before morality led the South to secede from the Union in an effort to maintain slavery, putting “interests” before morality is currently leading us to maintain an inhuman detention and deportation system and leading many people to view immigration as a threat to the nation rather than as one of its greatest resources. It is undermining who we are as a people.
The simple fact of the matter is that we, the American people, are all in this together. As my favorite revolutionary, James Wilson, wrote of the spirit behind American progress in 1790: “All will receive from each, and each will receive from all, mutual support and assistance: mutually supported and assisted, all may be carried to a degree of perfection hitherto unknown; perhaps, hitherto not believed.” We must rebuild the hope-filled moral consensus on which our country’s progress rests—the consensus that James Wilson and Bayard Rustin and Bernie Sanders and countless others have championed—and transform our politics and our economics to serve the common good rather than the 1%. If you are willing to help in this endeavor, I hope you will consider giving me your vote.