This article is the Bat-Signal beaming up into a darkened sky.
Just hours after his inauguration, Donald Trump filed his 2020 presidential candidacy with the FEC. Sitting presidents typically wait two years into their term to take this formal step in their re-election bid. But these are atypical times. Nothing about the start of Donald Trump’s presidential term has been normal, and the Left needs to dispense with normal politics, as well, if it wishes to stand against Trump’s assault.
The Left has been frantically trying to find its footing amidst the blitzkrieg of disgraceful cabinet appointments and contemptible executive orders. Protests, speeches, non-partisan judicial rulings — the Left has been dispersed into scattered cries of opposition, each day a new outrage and each day a new defensive maneuver. Small victories are gained here and there, but how can we even hope for anything more over these next four years?
There was a time last Spring when Facebook news feeds were brimming with inspiration and possibility. When auditoriums were filled with love. When a small bird landed on a speaker’s podium in front of 20,000 people. It was a time when an entire generation was ignited with passion and promise. It was a time when Bernie Sanders was campaigning to change the direction of this country.
Now we are swiftly headed in the opposite direction. “WTF” is the most elicited phrase from the daily news, and despair takes hold like a cancer.
The Left needs to regroup and form an offensive platform in order to reverse the political tide. For that, we need leadership, and Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have shown themselves obviously not up to the challenge.
We need Bernie back in a central role. He has the message and the following. He is the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, and we need him to assert his place and empower the Left to truly take on Trump.
All he has to do is follow Trump’s lead and declare his 2020 candidacy today.
Democrats need to change the narrative from “We Will Fight You!” to “We Will Replace You!” That will get Trump’s attention in a way we haven’t been able to yet. He’ll revel in having a real opponent to face, and America can only benefit from this re-direction of his energy.
Consolidating Voices, Empowering Leadership
Trump and President Bannon seem to relish torturing the Left with each increasingly abysmal and increasingly fascist policy spewed forth from the Oval Office. Each eruption of outrage and protest from the Left only seems to confirm the power they wield. For infantile narcissists, this is enticing provocation indeed.
Why would Team Bannon be deterred? The day after Trump’s inauguration, we saw the largest protests in US History. Who was there to pick up the mantle the day after? Only an enfeebled Democratic Party crushed under the weight of their own congressional minority, making impotent speeches to the deaf ears of a Republican majority determined to vote as a bloc. Protests of millions were whittled down to the procedural remarks of a well-mannered few. Very few.
If you turn on CNN or MSNBC, commentators and guests commiserate in incredulity, cry out for reason, and then report on the newest atrocity. Watching these stations, you would think the whole world is against Trump/Bannon, and maybe it is, but each individual voice has collectively amounted to very little in disrupting the Trump/Bannon agenda, while each stroke of Trump’s pen — to each parchment Bannon has penned — sends the entire country into disarray.
It’s a game of power, and Trump doesn’t even see the Left as players. You think Chuck Schumer scares Trump? Schumer can’t even get passed mid-level bosses, like Paul Ryan.
So let’s give Trump a player. Let’s allow Bernie to consolidate our voices as he did during his 2016 bid. If you’ve ever listened to one of his campaign speeches, Sanders has proven that he has the stamina and the scope to address a wide-range of issues with equal passion. From income inequality to mass incarceration to education to health care, Sanders embodies the litanies of our protests.
We know this because he’s there. He spoke at the Women’s March in Montpelier; he stood with Standing Rock in Washington D.C.; he joined the picket line with striking Verizon workers.
He wouldn’t even need to campaign in the normal way, at least not at first. He would just need to keep doing what he’s doing. Keep showing up. Keep giving speeches on the Senate floor. We’ll share the C-SPAN videos. There is a social media apparatus ready and willing to disseminate his message.
And the mainstream media even seems eager to help this time.
Compelling Media Coverage
Now that Trump is in office, the mainstream media has shown itself to be a very obliging mouthpiece of the opposition. Unlike during the Obama years, the news media are actually covering protests and reporting on them. This opens up a huge opportunity for Bernie, who was, at worst, treated like he didn’t exist and, at best, treated as a nuisance, during his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton.
Now that Bernie appears to pose no risk of getting elected, the mainstream media has cozied up to him hard. They can’t get enough. Suddenly, Bernie has a platform on all the major news shows and is being treated as a serious progressive spokesperson.
Yet the context of this coverage is not exactly uplifting at the moment. In fact, it’s quite distressing. The media is focused on the sensationalism of tragedy, and much of the news being reported takes the form of a eulogy for an America in decline.
The only thing the media savors more than tragedy is a horse race. Let’s give them that instead. If Bernie announced his candidacy at this stage, before any other candidate reasonably would, a head-to-head competition between him and Trump would immediately take shape in media talking points. Behind a central leader, especially a leader with such an inspiring and pinpointed message, a narrative of tragedy would quickly transform into a narrative of hope, possibility, and uplift.
Putting Trump Back on the Campaign Trail
Despite overwhelming opposition, Trump is unwilling to believe he’s unpopular or unloved. Wait until the media begins to pummel him with their polling obsession. Remember when the “liberal media” refused to acknowledge Sanders’ astoundingly favorable polling over Trump compared to Hillary’s? This time the media will take notice, and they’ll report it and report it and report it, and Trump’s monomaniac fixation will be forced to acknowledge his unpopularity when quantified behind a single opponent.
Criticism from Sanders will begin to sting. Trump will be forced to respond publicly. He’ll re-instate the “Crazy Bernie” nomenclature. He’ll defend his policies. He’ll return to his rallies, but this time wallowing in the swamp he has cultivated around him since being elected. No more “Drain the Swamp” cheers. No more “Lock Her Up” cheers. Words that ring so hollow now.
Hillary was an easy target. How will Trump/Bannon handle an opponent with so few skeletons in his closet? Anti-Semitism?
Bernie will scrutinize each and every move they make. He will keep them talking about policies, because that’s all he talks about, and expose the ruse of Trump’s kleptocratic, oligarchic, anti-working class policies. No politician is better positioned than Bernie to take that fight to Trump.
Rebuilding the Democratic Party
Likely the Trump/Bannon team will aim their personal attacks at Bernie’s age. This makes sense, and Bernie’s advanced years are definitely a practical consideration for the Left, as well. I imagine every reader, since the headline, has been thinking this exact thing. Bernie is 75 years old right now (Trump is 70). By the time of the next inauguration, Bernie will be 79. He might not feel up to being President at that point.
That could very well be the case. But he seems up to it right now. He is one of the most, if not the most, publicly active politicians today. While he has this energy and this attention, he should channel it into a compelling narrative of leadership and hope aimed directly at the White House.
His will be the rallying cry that brings people out for the mid-term elections. He’ll inspire new congressional and gubernatorial contenders and bring attention to the most progressive candidates. With the spotlight on Bernie, candidates will look up to him as the standard-bearer, and the corporate wing of the Democratic Party will hopefully think twice before undermining progressive candidates in local elections.
Even if Bernie doesn’t have the strength to follow through with his presidential campaign, which is a definite possibility, he can make a major difference in the Party on the way there. A whole wave of progressive voices will rise. Rather than having 2020 candidates seek his endorsement and he feel obliged to give it to the least offending one, the litmus test will be who gets behind Bernie the most earnestly.
Elizabeth Warren obviously has high-favorability among progressives, but her credibility suffered a lot of damage when she withheld her endorsement from Bernie and then backed Hillary so vigorously towards the close of the 2016 primary. If Bernie ultimately passes the torch to Warren, she’ll need to redeem herself by backing him first.
Bernie will set the ideological precedent for whomever may succeed him, but only if he sets that precedent forcefully. Rather than being one of many voices within the opposition party, Bernie has the potential to harness the opposition into something awesome and awe-inspiring.
Imagine if a Bernie Sanders presidential rally were held today. What the turnout could be! What the hope could be!
Everything would change.
This is a distress signal. Gotham needs its hero.