Gary Younge is a columnist for The Nation, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and an award-winning writer for The Guardian, where he wrote about the Democrats and Trump. His most recent book is Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jon Wiener: Return with us now to March 2016. Ten people are running for the Republican nomination, and Donald Trump is in the lead. The evangelical candidate on the far right is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Trump takes an unprecedented step in modern American politics and goes after Cruz’s wife Heidi with an insulting tweet. You wrote recently that this incident still has significance for our politics today, more than two years later—but not because of the tweet itself.
Gary Younge: That’s right. Deborah Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, sees this horror show unfolding, and says, “I want Donald Trump to talk every single day for the rest of this election.” Hillary Clinton has her own version, taken from The West Wing: “let Donald be Donald.” That was their line: The longer this man talks, the more likely he’s not going to win. He’s his own worst enemy. So let the man talk. Well, he did, and he won.
The significance today is that they are still letting him do it. The Democratic Party establishment has no message of its own. They are counting on the resistance to Trump. Four of the five biggest protest marches in American history have taken place over the last couple of years. The Democrats hope to be the beneficiaries of all of this anger, but they have formulated nothing as a coherent response to Trump’s actual policies. They’re in opposition insofar as they say, “We don’t like that guy. We’re against that guy.” But in terms of creating a positive alternative vision for what they would do, something that people could rally around, they offer nothing. They’re still letting him talk and thinking that’s enough.
JW: Of course, there is a positive alternative today: It’s personified by our new hero, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s the democratic socialist who defeated a leading establishment Democrat for the congressional nomination in the Bronx and Queens. She is going to become the youngest woman in history elected to the House of Representatives. How did she get elected?
GY: She fought a robust campaign with a series of basic, easy-to-grasp messages about free higher education, fully funded public schools, a universal-jobs guarantee, and Medicare for All, along with a strong environmentalist message. She said, “Look, if we have money for endless wars, if we have money for trillion-dollar tax cuts, then we have money to heal people and to educate people and to try to stop the planetary demise.” Very clear. Very basic. Not triangulating. Not trying to split the difference, but offering a clear message about what else is possible.