Something for Democrats to Run On

A terrible premonition dawns on my Democratic friends: Their party could fail to win either the House or the Senate this November.

An even darker vexation follows: Trump is re-elected in 2020 (after winning the Nobel Peace Prize).

My wife, shaken by this foreboding, challenged me to think of something the Democratic Party can do to stop this train wreck. It’s not enough, she says, for us just to be against Trump. We need to be FOR something.

I usually vote Democratic as an old family tradition. I’m more loyal than liberal.

But this doesn’t work for most voters. And being appalled at what we have now isn’t good enough.

So I came up with something.

I’m thinking of a busy community college campus full of people of all ages, high school dropouts, single mothers, blue-collar workers. They are struggling and sacrificing for a better future, not just for themselves but for family and that deep American impulse to rise a notch or two.

This is not like the elite university where I teach, Washington and Lee, but is much more common and important for America’s future. Take, for instance, Surry Community College, with a campus in Mt. Airy, N.C.

One of our sons, after four years in the Marines, just completed his training at SCC on the GI Bill for three types of metalworking. The school asked him to come back and teach welding. He has taken out a mortgage to buy a farm and is waiting for his first child to be born.

A few years ago, after fighting in Iraq, he was hopping trains, Dumpster-diving and protesting police oppression. But there’s something about the future that calls us all, at some point, to improve our position, to plant fruit trees or raise children, to do something not only for others, but for our own not-yet-born.

The Democratic Party should claim this. It should be the party that honors the American will to build and plant and sacrifice for our future. It should point out the contrast between this impulse and the live-for-the-moment hedonism that, oddly enough, has become the Republican brand.

Yes, Trump promised rebuilding infrastructure. But since his actual plan is such a disappointment, the Democrats should re-claim it, 10-fold. Better roads and bridges, yes, but also public transportation.

Democrats have an opening here. They should face the disaster of traffic in cities like my own  hometown Atlanta by being smart about the future, finding the good balance between preservation, recycling and engineering.

Today’s technology is neither good nor bad in itself, or rather, both very good and very bad. We don’t know what kind of future it will bring. But Democrats can talk about making it good, with time horizons going out 50 years and more.

I don’t have a slogan as catchy as Make America Great Again, but I have this idea: invest in the future beyond our selfish, crazy present. Creating a huge deficit on tax cuts that feel good, temporarily, is not future thinking. Supporting children and ordinary people’s drive for education and health is future thinking.

Seeing global alliances as an investment and not squandering our privilege as the world’s last super power, that’s future thinking.

Spending on Medicare and Social Security is related. It’s keeping a promise made by our future-thinking (Democratic) forebears.

The GOP agenda seems to be driven by a fear of the future and a reliance on TV’s emotional present tense.

I understand that. The future is scary and the present is stimulating, like Reality TV.

But the future is also something Americans have always believed in. That was the genius of the Founding Fathers. It’s why we fought a savage Civil War. Robert Frost liked to say in lectures that we don’t just believe IN the future – we believe the future IN.

We don’t control it, of course. This is not about a five-year plan or the perfectibility of man, but about actionable belief – planning and trusting at the same time.

In his poem “Carpe Diem,” Frost jokes that “seize the moment” was a hoax imposed by old poets who liked to imagine young love that way. But in reality, the poem says, life lives in the past and in the future. The present, he says, is too confusing, too much for the senses.

If Democrats could steer their party toward the future, in rhetoric and in faith, then the tail winds of the GOP breakdown will get them somewhere for sure.

This ran in the blog on Southern culture and politics “Like the Dew.”



About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s