Elizabeth Warren is on a mission, and she will not fail.
The senator from Massachusetts is preparing to prosecute Donald Trump on the 2020 campaign trail. And if the Democratic ticket prevails, she will continue that prosecution in 2021 and beyond.
Speaking to a country that has “taken one gut punch after another” since Covid-19 hit, Warren pointed a finger of blame at the president of the United States, and then she indicted him. “Donald Trump’s ignorance and incompetence have always been a danger to our country. Covid-19 was Trump’s biggest test. He failed miserably,” said the senator who ran to challenge Trump this year but now supports the campaign mounted by the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
That support will be essential on the trail, along with the support of other speakers from a convention night when former president Barack Obama led the charge with a condemnation of Trump as a damaged man who has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
What will distinguish Warren’s support is her absolute determination to indict Donald John Trump for the deadly failures that have created a crisis in which “the devastation is enormous.”
“Today, America has the most Covid deaths in the world and an economic collapse—and both crises are falling hardest on Black and brown families,” Warren declared. “Millions out of work. Millions more trapped in cycles of poverty. Millions on the brink of losing their homes. Millions of restaurants and stores hanging by a thread.”
“This crisis is bad—and didn’t have to be this way. This crisis is on Donald Trump and the Republicans who enable him,” she concluded. “On November 3, we hold them all accountable.”
The 2020 election has to be about accountability. Harris knows that. The former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general accepted her designation as the party’s vice presidential nominee proclaiming that “as somebody who has presented my fair share of arguments in court, the case against Donald Trump and Mike Pence is open and shut.”
But the 2020 campaign can’t be the end of it.
If Biden and Harris beat Trump and his hapless running mate, Vice President Mike Pence, the new administration and its allies in the Senate will have a duty to examine the wrongs done by the Trump-Pence administration and to hold the wrongdoers to account—in courts of law, where possible, and in the court of history. That’s what Franklin Roosevelt did after winning the presidency in 1932.
FDR never let anyone forget the damage that had been by done his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, and the Wall Street–aligned Republicans who failed the American people during the first years of the Great Depression.
Roosevelt supported congressional investigations and legal inquiries. He championed regulation and reforms that were designed to end the systemic corruption of politics and governance by elected officials who had squandered the public trust and made themselves the feudal serfs of corporate power. He knew that a consistent focus on accountability was necessary to clear the way for the fundamental changes that the times required.
At the 1936 Democratic National Convention, FDR accepted a nomination for a second term by offering the delegates and millions of Americans who were listening via radio a lesson in economic and political history.
For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks, and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital-all undreamed of by the fathers—the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.
There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small business men and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer. Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their obligation to their generation, could never know just where they fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.
The 32nd president leveled with the American people, telling them that they had lost not just their economic liberty but their political liberty as well.
It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.
Roosevelt portrayed the 1932 election as nothing less than a revolution. “Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government,” he concluded. “The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people’s mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.”
Biden and Harris must promise a parallel end to the corruption not just of Trump but also the corruption that gave rise to Trump. Biden will be cautious, but Harris will be bolder. And Warren will encourage that boldness.
The pandemic has, indeed, been devastating. Warren recognized the whole of that devastation, with a speech that gave necessary attention to the need to support families, with a bold new program for early childhood education. She acknowledged, as she did during her own campaign, that “big problems demand big solutions.” And she pointed to Biden’s plans: “plans to bring back union jobs in manufacturing and create new union jobs in clean energy. Plans to increase Social Security benefits, cancel billions in student loan debt, and make our bankruptcy laws work for families instead of the creditors who cheat them.”
Then she put it all in perspective. “These plans reflect a central truth: Our economic system has been rigged to give bailouts to billionaires and kick dirt in the face of everyone else. But we can build a thriving economy by investing in families and fixing what’s broken. Joe’s plan to ‘build back better’ includes making the wealthy pay their fair share, holding corporations accountable, repairing racial inequities, and fighting corruption in Washington.”
That fight extends beyond elections—beyond election results. It is about what is done with the power that extends from those results. “We all need to be in the fight to get Joe and Kamala elected,” explained the senator. “And after November, we all need to stay in the fight to get big things done.”
Warren knows the great secret of American politics and governance: that the work of making the change always involves more than policy. It involves fearlessly and consistently identifying and indicting those who have corrupted our governance. And the work cannot end until the guilty men have been held to account.