Back in the fall, after the November elections when the Democratic party took the House, I was hopeful for the political future of this country. I don’t want to come across as naïve (I’m generally pretty pessimistic about political issues), but after two years of a Republican-controlled Congress, it was a relief to see the “blue wave” sweep the House. Although the diversity of the 116th Congress still fails to adequately represent the diversity of the nation–women, for example, still comprise just over a quarter of Congress, despite making up over half the electorate–women and people of color were elected to Congress in large numbers. It felt like maybe Washington had turned a corner.
Now, I’m not so sure.
The Democratic party is more divided than ever. We’re used to contention between the Democrats and Republicans, but now there’s discord between the progressive wing and the establishment liberals and centrists. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), left-wing figures who’ve dominated media coverage in recent months, represent only a fraction of the Democratic party. In fact, many Democrats would refer to themselves as being more “pragmatic” than their reformist counterparts.
So why, then, do the progressive Democrats make the news–albeit, usually in a negative light–so frequently? It seems like there are several flare-ups every month that get drawn out in the media in a way that makes the Democratic party look more divided than it truly is.
When Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) came under fire for allegedly anti-Semitic rhetoric, it was all the media could talk about. Media outlets amplified criticisms of Omar, only exacerbating the chasm between progressives and moderates within the party. The well-known Ocasio-Cortez frequently faces criticism and is described as “lashing out” in media headlines as her approval ratings drop steadily over time.
What has been lost in the barrage of media frenzy are the successes. Just recently, Democrats in the House managed to pass two major pieces of gun control legislation, the first of their kind since the 1994 assault weapons ban. This is something that should be widely celebrated by all Democrats, but instead, we—including the media—are focused on stories of conflict.
At the moment, the two types of Democrats have different desires. The establishment wing is prioritizing a victory over Trump in the next election and fighting back against radical right-wing ideas. While the progressives may want this as well, they seem to be struggling with getting their voices heard.Despite some of the more vocal freshmen Democrats getting major media attention, they aren’t necessarily being heard by the veteran members of Congress as they express their discontent with current happenings in Washington.
For instance, spokespeople for Ocasio-Cortez recently expressed frustrations with the new climate change committee announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Rep. Kathy Castor, the chair of the committee, has said they will use many ideas from Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, but Cortez’s people say it does not have enough significant legislative powers to be truly effective in combating climate change.
This tends to be a major source of conflict between moderates and progressives; while establishment Democrats do not necessarily disagree with progressive’s proposals, such as the Green New Deal, the progressives feel that the establishment Democrats do not do enough to support their more left-wing views. Because of the dichotomy between establishment Democrats and progressives, the establishment Democrats, who are typically older, veteran politicians with more congressional weight to throw around power, are being accused of not fully listening to the freshmen progressives.
While I personally identify more with the progressives in terms of policy and ideology, I side wholeheartedly with the desire to quell the contention between the two groups. Unfortunately, I believe that would be helped if the progressives were less aggressive with getting their voices heard.
However, it seems like this issue between progressives and establishment Democrats will not be going away any time soon, especially with politicians like Warren and Sanders–whose mere existence in the campaign process threatens to split the Democratic vote–running for the Presidency.
When the 2020 primaries arrive, Democratic voters will likely be faced with a choice between an establishment or a progressive candidate. Ultimately a candidate will prevail on one side or the other, potentially losing some Democrat voters to third-party candidates who aren’t happy with the outcome. This could cause the Democrats to lose the Presidency in the 2020 election. My biggest fear in the upcoming years is to see Trump re-elected as President, and if the Democrats cannot unify (even if it’s just for show!) they might as well say goodbye to any chance of winning the next presidential election.
Although it must be deeply frustrating for left-wing politicians to feel like they aren’t fully being heard by the more powerful, veteran politicians, I cannot stress enough that the last thing that the Democrats need right now is division, especially with the upcoming Presidential election. Projecting an image of strength and unity should be every Democrat’s top priority.
Sarah Kopp (’22) is a prospective political science and sociology major and the VPR’s Deputy Campus & Culture Editor. She has won several awards from the Long Island Press Club, Long Island University (LIU Post), and other local organizations.