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Commentary & Opinion

Stephen Gottlieb: For The Left Wing Of The Party

Did you feel safer in the Biden-Trump debate with Joe, who spoke like a caring uncle, or Donald with the demeanor of a raging bull? We know enough about Trump’s admiration for Hitler, his bringing extremists into Republican politics, to realize that his coy remarks  about what his supporters could do with their “Second Amendment rights,” his calls to “Liberate Michigan”, “Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Virginia,” and to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” while intended to protect deniability, were in fact aimed at the extremists among his supporters, the Klan, Proud Boys, Nazis, white supremacists, and gun toting extremists, inviting them to keep Black and Brown people and others likely to vote Democratic away from the polls or at least prevent their votes from counting. That world’s not safe for any of us.

Defeating the bully in the White House isn’t all people like me want from elections. We want environmental action, action to bring police and prosecutors under control, nominations to bring the courts back to the side of justice for all. We want tax policy that doesn’t make you and I pay more taxes than billionaires like Donald Trump (who claims to be a billionaire) or Warren Buffet. Buffet had the grace to object.

Joe won’t get me all I want – no one could. I’ve been working for equal rights since I graduated from law school, walked into the office of the NAACP in New York City and worked as a full-time, unpaid volunteer on their legal staff. Joe wasn’t my candidate in the primaries but the American people weren’t ready for her, which means we have work to do. That’s about building support within the party and the public, not about tearing the house down around us. Go for it in the primaries: educate, explain, build. But building for the future in the general election requires grace, teamwork and joining with other party members in expressions of mutual respect.

We could seek purity if we had a parliamentary system which includes minority voices, and doesn’t force compromise candidates. But Big Donald makes clear the dangers of the presidency by concentrating power in his hands.

Our system has other ways to take account of minorities except where voters are so polarized that they shun candidates who merely try to take account of everybody’s needs. In such states, prejudice against Black and Brown Americans can leave them with zero influence in the legislature and every harm done to minorities wins applause, leading to the most hateful policies. That, thank God, is not the way it’s supposed to be. When lawyers could prove polarized voting, they often got courts to redesign voting districts so that minorities could elect candidates and get into legislatures. We’re not in heaven and have made mistakes but, yes, we’ve made progress.

I respect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others like them but they’re supporting Joe. There is no path to success by way of Donald Trump.

Obama never got the free hand that Mitch McConnell gave Trump with the help of white supremacists, gun-toting militias, Proud Boys, and the Nazis who rose from defeat by American soldiers in World War II.

No movement that could consistently defeat opposition candidates in primaries has taken over the Democrats. So Democratic leaders have to function as coalition builders. Those of us who want more should build and prepare to flex some muscle in future primaries. But electing the bully will cut off democratic alternatives. He and his supporters have no respect for democracy and will do their best to close it off. They want to rule like slave-owners and tyrants.

Parties respect and cater to people they can get to the polls. Sitting elections out doesn’t convey protest. Politicians read no-shows as apathy, lack of interest, people they don’t need to worry about. Let me make the point another way – the most extreme and violent people in the Republican Party are terrified the people will elect Biden and depose Trump. There’s a reason for that.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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