So let me preface this essay and strategy thinkpiece with a bit of a (long) disclaimer.
I am not a Democrat. I am an American citizen, but I prefer to identify as a Cascadian of Anglo-Saxon descent, because heritage and local biome matter far more than a bit of dyed cloth ever could. It is my firm belief that the United States should and most likely will break up (in some form) in my lifetime, because its governing architecture has been captured by a privileged elite that has turned its laws and institutions against its people, which is simply not sustainable.
Further, the United States' endless wars represent a series of mounting atrocities that have stained the nation's honor beyond repair and made itself - and the wider world - systematically less safe. Where just twenty years ago the world was at the "End of History" and Great Power struggles were a thing of the past, now talk of a New Cold War and nuclear confrontations is once again the order of the day.
Americans never wanted any of this. The divisions tearing at the fabric of American society are a result of a generation of failed policies in DC. America must reform, must seek renewal, or it won't last for much longer.
But to be absolutely clear: I no longer believe it likely that any power can stop the coming unraveling. I think the USA is already across the cliff-edge, and Trump's people will manufacture "emergencies" while right-wing proxy groups terrorize neighborhoods in an attempt to suppress the vote.
Whether American democracy can withstand this is uncertain - it has never been tested in this way. And even if it does, the media normalization of Trump and Trumpism over the past four years has made it inevitable that other right-wing candidates will emerge to maintain his coalition after he is gone.
It is absolutely essential to combat this likely scenario starting now, before attempts to do so become overtly politicized. And because the Democrats really are the only established game in town (this is part of the broader problem in America, but you wage political war with assets you have available) the best chance of stopping Trumpism lies with the Democrats running someone in 2020 capable of turning out enough votes in the right states.
But here's the rub - anyone who has followed American politics since the 1990s knows that the Democratic Party has been colonized by a "Moderate" (Neoliberal) wing, mostly comprised of former moderate republicans who became disenchanted with the GOP. This tribe absolutely loathes identity politics, because it is disproportionately comprised of older and whiter members of the population, and works very hard to control the party' agenda and strategy both behind the scenes and in the major media outlets like the New York Times and The Atlantic. It is a tribe dedicated to maintaining the status-quo in America, largely because it is the tribe whose constituents (again, older and white than the average member of the population) happen to have the most (and deepest entrenched) power in elite circles.
This is Joe Biden's tribe, Hillary Clinton's tribe, and John Kerry's and Al Gore's. It is a tribe that consistently loses crucial elections to weak GOP candidates that worked as hard as it could to prevent Barack Obama from winning the nomination in 2008, just as it did Sanders in 2016. (And woe unto us all that they eventually captured his administration).
It is also the tribe most responsible for continuing America's wars abroad, against the will of the majority of the American people.
I don't have much hope left for American politics, and honestly believe that long-term we'll be better off if we break the country into six or so autonomous federal regions, so federal policy can be set and implemented more effectively to suit the needs of local Americans, however they determine them.
Which is really just to say that I'm not actually a total wackjob, and what follows is a set of progressive policy recommendations tailored to my assessment of the harsh realities of contemporary American political geography.
Pillar 1: An Honorable Foreign Policy
America's honor has been tarnished and the sacrifices of our forebears have been betrayed. The Forever Wars have consumed thousands of America's finest, indebted us by trillions, and have made all Americans fundamentally less safe. There is no more pressing moral cause than to end the era of interventions, securing a peace dividend that can be invested to secure America's future.
1. Cease all active military operations taking place without direct Congressional oversight and restore the Legislative Branch's Constitutional authority over the Executive Branch. Simultaneously, begin bilateral and multilateral negotiations with any party to a conflict where the United States or its allies have a clear stake, seeking a just resolution that ends the violence.
2. Commit to a 50% reduction from the proposed 2020 Budget of $750 Billion ($2,300 per American!) over ten years. This allows time for a drawdown of forces actively deployed abroad, coordination with allies, and planning for force reductions. Final reductions will be made contingent on the outcome of bilateral arms control talks to be held with leading powers like Russia and China, requiring their committment to spending limits and transparency.
3. Reform the forces to take advantage of America's core strengths - intelligence, electronic warfare, rapid deployment, logistics, command and control, and training - producing a smaller, leaner, elite force capable of meeting 21st-century security challenges. End wasteful Cold-War era procurement programs like the F-35 and Ford-class carrier, and focus on developing the next generation of military technologies.
4. Expand the Army and Air National Guard to absorb their Active-duty counterparts, and guarantee that all currently-serving Active-duty personnel can continue their career. In addition, we will create a two-tier service system, guaranteeing local service for those who cannot or choose not to deploy, preventing the possibility of another stealth draft like that experienced by many service members during the Iraq War.
Pillar 2: Restoring America's Dream
Inequality is tearing at the fabric of American society. Too many live on the edge of poverty, while a few live in ridiculous luxury, and everyone else is caught in the middle - what middle is left. While DC has played imperial games abroad, it has neglected to support basic infrastructure development at home. America has become socialism for the rich and savage capitalism for the rest.
This must be fixed by investing $1,000 per-American per-year, $325 billion in total annually, a peace dividend that will benefit all Americans, not just the well-connected and influential.
1. Rural communities will receive block grants, matching loans, and entrepreneurship support designed to build new green industries in America's heartland. In the West, the forests will be managed to reduce fire risk while providing carbon-neutral biofuels to heat area communities. In the Midwest, farmers will receive incentives to grow new and more environmentally sustainable crops, including next-generation biofuels.
2. Urban neighborhoods will receive similar block grants, loans, business startup support, and other proven community-oriented development programs. Renters who have demonstrated a committment to a community will be eligible for subsidized mortgages meant to help them purchase their own home, and those who sell to renters will receive benefits to encourage rent-to-own contracts, which give all residents of a community a stake in its future.
3. Every American will be guaranteed a free two-year degree through a community college, and anyone willing to sign a two-year service committment with their local National Guard or other qualifying public service organization will be granted a four-year expenses-paid scholarship to a public university of their choice. This will democratize access to higher education across the board, while instilling a committment to community service in a generation of Americans.
4. A new national health insurance plan will be offered to all Americans, free to anyone lacking insurance through their employer or another federal benefit. Healthcare is a basic human right and must be guaranteed to all, but we should remain flexibile when it comes to how best to achieve it. Further, medical and nursing school loans will become forgiveable after five years of licensed practice, encouraging more students to study and practice in that field, alleviating America's shortage of qualified medical professionals.
Pillar 3: A Green New Deal to Secure Our Future
Climate change represents an existential threat to global society, and many of America's most vulnerable communities are on the front lines of what will become one of the greatest challenges in our history. Make no mistake - without radical and immediate action on a global scale, storms will get worse, the seas will rise, droughts and fires will become more intense, and millions of people will be forced to move into climate refuge zones. America must do its part to transition to a global carbon-zero economy by 2050.
1. Offer incentives for community-based applied research projects that will identify new and innovative ways to build a green economy at the grassroots level, empowering local businesses and organizations to work together to slash carbon emissions while subsidizing the growth of new green industries across the nation, lowering energy and utility bills for Americans wherever they live.
2. Promote local-scale energy cooperatives capable of generating sufficient renewable energy and next-generation biofuels to meed local energy needs, insulating rural pruducers from rising energy prices while tying each and every American community to the green power grid. We will commit to a zero-carbon energy system by 2050, re-developing rural landscapes as green energy producers.
3. Embark on a total overhaul of America's transportation infrastructure, rebuilding bridges and roads while incorporating the latest technological innovations capable of reducing travel times and emissions, while embracing a completely hybrid and electric fleet by 2030. Further, safe and reliable autonomous vehicles will be deployed to guarantee that every community will have access to public transportation, reducing our reliance on owning our own vehicles.
4. Commit to fair international agreements that aim to reduce emission of carbon and other pollutants into the biosphere, doing our part in the global effort against both climate change and environmental degradation. Further, we will join wealthy nations like Norway and Germany in embracing international protocols allowing for the transfer of green technologies to developing nations in exchange for accelerating anti-poverty and environmental protection efforts.
Pillar 4: Rebuilding Our Society
Americans are being driven apart by the relentless changes now underway as a result of globalization and the internet. Hate crimes, racism, sexism, and all the other forms of violence that seem to be everywhere right now must be challenged.
1. Promote a culture of service in the upcoming generations by tying free public university education to a formal service committment through the revamped and appropriately funded National Guard. Restore the connection between America's citizens and civic institutions by allowing young Americans to work on service projects in their own communities in exchange for a free four-year education at a university of their choice.
2. Restore faith in American democracy by securing our elections against both foreign interference and the despicable efforts of some to prevent black and latino Americans from voting. Every electronic voting machine will produce a paper record of the voter's choice, and a dedicated task force will investigate every allegation of voter suppression to ensure that no one is able to select their electorate.
3. Reform America's criminal justice system to eliminate racial policing and the scourge of unjustified police killings. We will reverse the militarization of America's police, and require that police departments reflect the composition of the population they serve and protect, while improving police funding across the board to help end law enforcement practices that put officers at unnecessary risk.
4. Bring civility and dignity back into the White House, while working to reverse a half century of expanding executive powers, that have placed the Constitutional balance of powers in jeopardy under the Trump Administration. We will sponsor alternative social media and news services to Big Tech, while expanding regulation and anti-trust oversight of these companies to guarantee the principle of user ownership and control over their own data.
There is a deep truth to democracy, that most prefer not think acknowledge: People usually vote according to their sense of their own identity, and how their peers expect them to vote. That's not an opinion, that's a scientific evaluation based on a lot of academic research. Most policy preferences people express in surveys and polls are a function of their identity, not the other way around, and people's public behavior (and their votes) are heavily conditioned by whatever group they identify with.
Most conventional American political analysis pretend this isn't true in "advanced" democracies - read, white western democracies. They prefer their traditional model of the "rational voter" - the woman or man who knows what policies they value, and votes for candidates who will advance their policy interests. Identity may be relevant, but it competes with other things that are also valued, and so voters who exhibit behaviors indicating they are "Identity" voters are seen as an anomaly, people who simply value their identity above material factors.
This is the theoretical root of the myth of the "swing voter" - a hypothetical rational and moderate type who sometimes votes GOP, others DNC. While such people certainly do exist, their numbers aren't as large as you might think. The myth persists partly because it offers a conveniently simple media narrative, but also because of a bit of sleight-of-hand employed by mainstream political analysts, 538 included (especially, much of the time).
See, there actually isn't a lot of data that tracks actual voter behavior. Voting is secret, and you have to rely on exit polls and other proxy data to estimate the composition of who turned out and how they identify. This sort of work great for validating whether an election was free and fair in retrospect, but not so good at telling you what different cohorts of voters do from year to year.
When most analysts talk about "swing" voters, they're actually talking about swing electoral districts, where the actual vote count shows the district "flipping" between the parties from year to year. But what is actually happening, according to the data, is not necessarily the same group of voters going to the polls every year, and choosing the "optimal" candidate. IF you had close to 100% turnout, or at least a statistically representative sample of the population, in every election, you could impute the existence of these swing voters.
But you don't. All you have is the number of votes for each candidate, the share of eligible population voting, and some exit or post-election polls indicating (roughly) the composition of the electorate. From that, you can map out the districts by their vote count, and see which districts flipped from one party to the other. Analysts, however, knowing that the average person doesn't have the statistical training to spot the difference, have chosen to portray those district changes as indicating the existence of a group of moderate, non or bi-partisan voters.
What is actually a far simpler and more consistent explanation rooted in what the data can actually tell you, is that many voters - particularly those describing themselves as Independents - tend to show up at the polls only to support people they feel a personal connection with. And in the age of the internet, Obama, Trump, and O'Rourke have all shown that there are large populations of people who will only turn out to vote - but who will turn out - for someone who can appeal to their tribe.
As so many Pew Research reports show, America is composed of many political tribes, not just conservative and liberal, Republican/GOP and Democrat/DNC. These groups turn out to vote at different rates, they consume different political media, they share their own reality when it comes to how they feel about politicians and issues. The reason why we're all trained to think that American voters are composed of three groups - right, left, and moderate/swing - is largely down to the fact that the media amplifies the voices of the two biggest tribes at the expense of all the others, making it difficult to put together an electoral coalition.
In short, American politics is afflicted by bad theory and bad analysis, because this is profitable for the players involved. But the real, true nature of the beast is that people - and especially in the age of the internet - are tribal. Trump's people appear to have either figured this out, or stumbled on the truth, and that's why his approval ratings have not dramatically changed since 2017. Unless American can collectively figure out a way to escape the trap of the current two-party system, there is little hope of finding a way through the present crisis without formal political divisions.