It’s hard to watch the Democratic debates and not feel like America has lost her way. The absence of an American pandemic team. The incessant infighting among Democratic candidates. Continued talk about Russian interference in our elections. Chaos in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Meanwhile, thousands of families have been separated at the border, racism runs rampant, millions of Americans lack health insurance, our criminal justice system is broken, student debt is rising, voters are being disenfranchised, and the global climate change crisis looms.
Voters are anxious. Despite all these pressing issues that need to be addressed by the next resident of the White House, the 2020 United States presidential election must be a referendum on how President Donald Trump has led America astray and how our republic can be salvaged. It is up to the final Democratic challenger to set the tone for the upcoming election.
The horse race reality of the Democratic primaries has seriously obfuscated the goals of this election. Wakeup call one: The nominee needs to beat Trump. Wakeup call two: America will lose if we remain divided.
For many, the wakeup call brings them to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The Daily Pennsylvanian Editorial Board has argued that Sanders is the person to beat Trump. A decisive win in Nevada has only further solidified his frontrunner status. But despite his domination of the early stages of the Democratic primary, we must be wary of his candidacy.
A day before the Nevada caucuses, Sanders tweeted “I've got news for the Republican establishment. I've got news for the Democratic establishment. They can't stop us.” It would be naïve to ignore the pervasive issues of elitism and narcissism that plague our country’s political establishment.
But such sentiment coming from a candidate who is running on a Democratic ticket is completely unacceptable. The "us versus them" ("them" being the Democratic and Republican establishment) attitude of Sanders and his supporters is not so different from Trump’s “I alone can fix it” comments.
But can Sanders fix it? Out of senators serving 10 years or more, Sanders ranks last in terms of bipartisan bill support. Compared to other presidential candidates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who ranks second in terms of bills signed with bipartisan support, Sanders’ record is less than desirable. Given the current state of partisanship under President Trump, it is worrisome to see a candidate so unwilling to reach across the aisle.
This divisiveness along with the tendency for Sanders’ policies to incite such discordant passions suggests that pressuring Congress to carry out his ambitious agenda would be especially challenging. Throughout Trump’s presidency, we have seen the American people attempting to pressure Congress by way of strikes, protests, and polls.
Congress simply refuses to be pressured. Two-thirds of Americans said the U.S. Senate should have called witnesses to stand during Trump’s impeachment trial. This is not what occurred. The disconnect between what the people want and what Congress wants has never been more prominent than during Trump’s presidency. That disconnect must be addressed by the next President, and given the current nature of the Sanders platform, it is unclear whether this can become a reality.
More concerning is the tendency of Sanders’ supporters to speak negatively about his opponents. At a New Hampshire rally, Cynthia Nixon, a prominent supporter of Sanders, had to shut down boos of Hillary Clinton. The Culinary Union of Nevada most recently accused Sanders’ supporters of cyberbullying them for criticizing Sanders’ healthcare proposals.
In an age where “Lock her up!” is a mainstay at Trump rallies, booing by supporters of candidates within the same party is unacceptable. A legion of supporters who are unable to engage with different perspectives respectively is unacceptable.
Why has Sanders’ campaign produced such toxic rhetoric? Democrats cannot expect to take the moral high ground in the upcoming election if we find ourselves reverting to tactics reminiscent of those we wish to expunge.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another presidential candidate, said: “The thing we have to ask as Democrats is whether there will be a broad, bitter rehash of the same old divides in our party, or whether we can find another way … we cannot afford to fall into factions. We can’t afford to squander our collective power. We win when we come together.”
Whether or not you agree with her campaign, the message behind her words rings true. Trump won in 2016 when he appealed to independents, moderate Republicans, and suburban women. Those same voters are the ones who swung for the Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections to flip the House. Listening to and respecting those voters allowed us to flip 40 seats. Now, those same voters must be retained to defeat President Trump.
At the end of the day, it is easy to look at Sanders’ numbers in the primaries and polls and feel as though he is destined to be the candidate. But Sanders’ political progressivism has never stood the test of the general public. By the end of this primary season, we need to be able to unite around a candidate.
It’s time for our generation to pay closer attention to intangible talents like electability and coalition building, to ponder other perspectives, and to listen to what other candidates are saying. The Pennsylvania primary is April 28, so let’s take some time to watch the process and educate ourselves as thoroughly as possible. The stakes are high—America is on the ropes and voters cannot afford to be uneducated.
AGATHA ADVINCULA is a College sophomore from Brooklyn, N.Y. studying Health and Societies.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.