“The Trump presidency has brought a political awakening for American progressives. It began even before he took office, with the organizing for the Women’s March. Then came the citizen activists who protested at airports and later helped save health insurance for millions of people. Now high school students are trying to transform the gun debate.
In a new article in the journal Democracy, two academic researchers tell the story of the energized progressive movement. The leaders are most often suburban women alarmed by President Trump’s assaults on decency and the rule of law. The movement is more bottom-up than top-down, more face-to-face than virtual, more Middle American than coastal. It does not always identify itself with the Democratic Party, even if it supports almost exclusively Democrats.
The movement is “pervasively pragmatic,” write the researchers, Lara Putnam of the University of Pittsburgh and Theda Skocpol of Harvard. It spans “the broad ideological range from center to left” and (despite media coverage to the contrary, they argue) spends little time on Bernie-versus-Hillary fights. Above all, it is trying to elect progressives, including to oft-ignored local offices — and it’s now focused on the 2018 midterms.
That’s smart. Elections are precisely what progressives should be emphasizing. Protests can have an effect, as happened with Obamacare repeal and is happening on guns. But major progress on almost every issue — climate change, immigration, middle-class living standards and gun deaths — depends on electing people who want to make progress. Trump and the current leaders of Congress plainly do not.
Political movements have two main ways to win elections: persuasion and turnout. On persuasion, I think progressives’ best hope is an economic message that focuses the white working class on the working-class part of its identity, rather than the white part. But today I want to concentrate on turnout, because it has an even greater potential to change American politics.”