After four chaotic years under former President Donald Trump, a new US administration promises to bring unity to the country and work for all Americans. Democrats want to believe this is the end of Trumpian politics but that is unlikely to happen after Trump himself hinted at a new party – the Patriotic Party – made up of GOP exiles.
This party could motivate other candidates waiting in the wings, hellbent on sowing division and discord in our nation’s democracy, to attempt to assume the power of the presidency. Our economic situation: stagnant wages, devastation on the working and middle class, and runaway inequality, are crushing problems for millions of Americans vulnerable to the promises of Trump-like figures.
Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric was not the only reason he rose to power, but it did help a frustrated white working class find someone to blame for their economic desperation. Democrats have a chance to beat back a future Trump presidential bid and regain voters by delivering on a progressive economic agenda.
Americans want economic change because even before COVID-19, things were not going well for them. In 2019, some 69 percent of Americans had $1,000 or less in savings; 40 percent made less than $15 per hour; one in five with student debt had defaulted on their loans; and tens of millions of Americans had no retirement savings.
This bleak economic reality has led to most Americans becoming convinced that their children will be worse off than them.
Democratic Party leaders prefer to believe radical conservatives gave rise to Trump but the reality is his rise was also fuelled by Democratic leaders who spent the last 30 years bending over backwards to please Wall Street and big business, selling out the labour movement, and supporting free trade agreements that sent millions of jobs overseas.
This convinced many Americans that the Democratic party no longer represented their needs. Now, Democrats have the opportunity to reverse this belief and make millions of American voters identify with and vote Democratic.
Moments of crisis – such as the one we are living now with the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession and climate change – can also be opportunities to move forward long overdue bold policy changes. With Democrats holding the power of the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives, there is nothing standing in their way (but their own disorganisation) to take on the power of big business and the ultra-wealthy who have seen their wealth and power grow over the last 30 years while the vast majority of Americans have seen their net worth decline.
Lessons from the election and economic crisis of 2008 should be a critical point of reference for Democrats on how to proceed at this moment. Back in 2008, Democrats also controlled the presidency, Senate and House of Representatives and were facing economic collapse triggered by the greed of Wall Street and big bankers.
But instead of bailing out Main Street, Wall Street and big banks were rescued, which enraged millions of Americans. Additionally, Democratic leaders wasted precious time trying and failing to win over moderate Republicans to their agenda.
President Barack Obama’s two terms should teach us that now is not the time to negotiate with Republican party leaders. These are the people who held hostage Obama’s authority to name a new Supreme Court justice, refused to raise the minimum wage, and gave billionaires and the largest corporations in the world one of the biggest tax breaks in our nation’s history.
Now is the time to push for the economic change Americans need, take the pressure off middle-class and working-class families, and help pull our economy out of its current recession. To do so, Democrats have to take the following steps.
First, they have to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which would give tens of million American workers a much-needed raise, increase spending, and grow our economy. Some 67 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to this level.
Second, they have to cancel student debt, which would allow millions of Americans to purchase a home, start a small business and help grow our economy.
Third, they have to establish universal child care, which would support tens of millions of working families and put thousands of dollars back into the hands of families. In most states, it costs more to send your infant to daycare than to pay for their college education.
Fourth, they have to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would guarantee the right of American workers to join a union. Historically, nothing has proven more fundamental to growing the middle class than a strong labour movement.
These economic policies are supported by the majority of Americans who are desperate to see real change. Taking power in Washington needs to be the first step in dismantling Trumpian politics and the divisions he has sown.
Creating unity requires delivering on a broad economic agenda to change the lives of Black, brown and white Americans. Nothing would make Republicans like Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz more worried about their political futures than Democrats delivering the bold economic change the American people need.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.