With majority control in the House of Representatives, Democrats have an enormous opportunity—and face a distinct peril. The opportunity is to lay out in hearings and in legislation a long-overdue change agenda for America. The peril is they’ll get caught responding to President Trump’s outrage a day, focus on pursuing his corruption, his taxes, his payoffs, his fulminations and unending lies. The latter fixates the media. The former serves the American people.
No doubt, Democrats have to defend the democracy, ensure that Trump is not able to obstruct the investigation of Russian interference. Democrats, however, have to walk and chew gum at the same time, and that requires laying down a clear agenda for change.
The needs for reform are apparent. Democrats gained popular favor running on extending and defending health care and on democracy reform, including reviving the Voting Rights Act, curbing big money in politics, automatic voter registration, ending gerrymandering and a rollback of the voter suppression techniques that have spread across the country.
The reform manifesto is far broader than that. Democrats should stand for raising worker wages: a $15 minimum wage, mandatory overtime for those earning $70,000 or less, labor law reform to protect workers right to organize. A major investment in a Green New Deal, generating good jobs while moving rapidly to meet the threat posed by catastrophic climate change and modernizing our decrepit infrastructure, needs to be detailed and pushed. Student loan debt continues to hit new records, even though enrollment in colleges has dropped.
A good public education from pre-K through college or advanced training should be available to every child in America. Democrats need a plan for reviving the impoverished ghettos and barrios of urban America and the devastated small towns and redlined regions of rural America. Simple steps for building equal justice for all are also needed.
Trump campaigned by rousing fears of a fake ‘invasion’ of immigrants, yet most Americans continue to believe immigrants are more beneficial to America than costly. Comprehensive immigration reform should be on the table, with the first easy steps to protect the DACA children (the children of undocumented workers raised here who know no other country) and to end the grotesque policy of putting babies in cages separated from their parents. Criminal justice reform (there was once a bipartisan accord on ending the imprisonment of non-violent offenders and on reforming discriminatory police practices) is long overdue.
The repeated mass shootings should, at the very least, allow the revival of the ban on the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons that were designed for military use.
Americans elected Trump to shake things up, after he promised that he would be the champion of working people. Then he larded tax cuts on the rich, creating deficits that Republicans use to justify cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
He turned his administration over to Wall Street executives and corporate lobbyists. They did not deregulate, then re-rigged the rules to favor their entrenched interests. With fires and floods wracking America, Trump cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is caused by humans. With mass shootings horrifying the nation, Trump sided with the gun lobby to block reforms.
With wages still stagnant, Trump opposed lifting the minimum wage and his Supreme Court nominee provided the deciding vote to gut unions for teachers, nurses, police officers and other public employees. Americans did not elect Democrats to harass Donald Trump personally. They elected them to hold his administration accountable to law and to push for reforms that will address the challenges they face in their lives.
Yes, Democratic reforms will likely be blocked by a Republican Senate or vetoed by the president. But they can show Americans that there is an alternative, if only Trump and the Republican Senate would get out of the way.