Six months into the political era of Donald J. Trump, what does it mean to be a Democrat?
If the only thing that comes to mind is #Resist, then I fear we have a problem. Yes, resistance and protests are critical to stopping terrible things from happening (#KillTheBill), but Democrats can’t just be the party of “no.” And if we are simply the party of resistance, we will not earn the respect and trust of voters – nor will we be worthy of their votes.
While keeping up the pressure on our elected officials, we must also present a vision for our country with the policies and messages to back it up. As a political donor advisor, I have sought answers from Democratic leaders on what it means to be a Democrat and why voters should support our candidates. While I find inspiration in local-level efforts and victories (go New Hampshire, New York, and Oklahoma!), one look at www.democrats.org reveals the challenges we face as a party: it’s outdated, uninspiring, fragmented, and doesn’t present a compelling vision for our country.
The reality is that, as Democrats, we’re not ready for prime time yet.
Yes, we are adjusting to this new political landscape where Republican leaders and right-wing institutions brazenly attack truth and our trust in institutions critical to a functional democracy. And yet, we must do better and work harder than ever before. We owe it to our country and party.
I get that it’s easier to criticize our friends than to do the tough work of engaging new or disaffected voters. That’s not my point. Circling firing squads are about as useful now as polling from October 2016. Instead, I offer this as a call to action.
So, what does it mean to be a Democrat?
Democrats believe that our best days are ahead of us – and to say that our best days are behind us is both offensive and self-fulfilling. America is great because we are creators and innovators and hard-working dreamers.
It also appears that Democrats are the party with a memory. We remember the false promises of failed policies like “trickle-down economics.” (Have you ever met anything that you want trickled down on you? No, ma’am. No, thank you.) In contrast, Democrats believe in expanding opportunities and leveling the playing field for all – not just the powerful. We know those hard-working dreamers can do more if they have a sturdy safety net – and the ladder of opportunity to move up in life.
As the “party of memory,” Democrats also know what it’s like to hit a rough patch in life and believe one accident or burst pipe shouldn’t leave you without a home or jobless. As someone whose dad died when I was young, I am disgusted by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R) willingness to gut the very social programs that helped his family after his dad died.
In this way, being a Democrat also means being compassionate and empathetic. We don’t need to be homeless to understand that we have an obligation to end homelessness. We don’t need to have a health scare to get that everyone should have access to quality health care. We don’t need to have a family member come out as LGBT to unequivocally oppose discrimination.
As a Christian, I believe the Democratic Party is more Christ-like than the GOP. Furthermore, Democrats value both the role that faith and religion can play in public life, and the importance of freedom of religion – including preventing discrimination based on personal beliefs.
We believe in the commonality of our shared experience, while not being afraid of – and even seeing the value in – diversity and difference. That’s because we believe that collective is better than individual – that we can achieve more if we’re united. We believe that the middle class is the backbone of America, and collective bargaining and labor unions are the ligaments that hold it together.
Democrats are proud that we’re the most powerful and one of the wealthiest counties in the world – which is why we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. This drives us to passionately and relentlessly fight to improve our government – from our education and judicial systems to the way we honor our veterans and our seniors. The answer is to use our collective wisdom to find solutions, not “starve government” with an “every man for himself” mentality.
We’re the party that not only believes in science and measurable data, but also thinks it’s pretty screwed up and immoral to choose corporate profits over clean air and water. Democrats want American companies to succeed – and think it’s both un-American and insane to claim you’re based in Ireland or the Cayman Islands while lobbying our elected officials to gut regulations that protect our planet and our children.
To be a Democrats is to believe in opportunity, to have empathy, to provide security, to value diversity, and to find strength in our collective wisdom. So, yes, let’s keep up the resistance, but let’s also find strength in and proudly stand up for what it means to be a Democrat.
If we do this, Democrats will not only win landslide victories in 2017 and 2018, but we will truly be worthy of inspiring people to turn out at the polls for years to come.