The watershed election of 2020 is now less than 16 months away, but the all-important primaries for the Democrats will start in the “key states” in less than eight months.

In the past going on three years, Donald Trump and his populist, reactionary allies have made a shamble of the post-World War II world of liberal democracy that saved us from Nazism and Communism.

Lies, bombast and bullying have been part of the attack on our social institutions. The values of truth, transparency in government, and the independence of courts at home, and on our alliances abroad, are traduced. Nepotism and conflicts of interest are flaunted while telling daily lies is a new normal.

Trump is a purposely divisive anti-establishment force, a potentially lethal threat to our democracy, yet with a solid base of support in the electorate at large.

The Republicans control the legislatures in 26 states. The Supreme Court, with two partisan Trump appointees (giving the court four certain and one likely conservative vote on nearly every issue), has recently endorsed state-sponsored voter suppression by leaving the creation of grossly undemocratic gerrymandered congressional districts to the states.

Further, we can certainly anticipate continued and aggressive Russian interference in our elections. The Fox News propaganda machine, Breitbart and its related spawn, will continue to pump out “fake news.” A “Jill Stein” phony campaign calculated to draw off misled progressives is likely.

a deeply conflicted Mitch McConnell will continue to frustrate all efforts to pass anything approaching desperately needed legislative action on Social Security, security infrastructure, immigration reform, or to deal with health care, pharmaceutical pricing or suffocating student debt.

Trump will continue to enjoy the ephemeral but nevertheless very real power of the incumbency and the “Bully Pulpit” it provides.

It is in this context that the Democrats will have to struggle if they hope to reclaim the soul of the nation. They are severely handicapped by their own inability to focus on the main chance.

Jonathan Haidt, in “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” points out that conservatives have an inherent advantage over liberals in that they tend to coalesce on issues and resist change while liberals tend to diversify their concerns and collective efforts while pursuing often radical change.

Today’s liberals — more often identifying themselves as “progressives” — extol their diversity as a good thing in itself, but it is a terrible burden when you are trying to win an election against a monolithic and determined adversary.

Emboldened by their partial electoral success in 2018 (taking a majority of the House, but not the Senate), the Democrats, with progressive voices in the fore, seem to be blind to the strength of the Trump-led right. The Democrats have moved “progressively” to the left.

We, the Centrists, are deeply concerned that this shift ignores the realities of the basic concerns of the public at large, and the difficulty of bringing about substantial social and economic change. The risk is that they will alienate the very people who are looking for competent moderates who will listen to and realistically address the people’s broad and immediate concerns.

The Democratic Party and its independent allies, however, seem incapable of speaking with one voice on at least the basic issues. Instead, every radical change is now cast in absolute terms of all or nothing: free college tuition, with no well-thought-out alternatives; forgiveness of student loans, with no middle ground, etc.

the polls clearly show that, while the public has a solid sense of fairness and overwhelmingly approves of steps toward social and economic equity, they are very concerned with costs, and with what is often seen as idealistic overreaching, and “identity” politics pitting one deserving group against the others.

As an example of this kind of naïve political thinking, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, all argue that in one way or another, “reparations” should be paid by the federal government specifically for the descendants of African slaves. The assertion of this issue raised in the context of defeating Trump is simply to flirt with political suicide.

Almost nothing could be more divisive or play more perfectly into the GOP battle plan — splitting the opposition with demands for special needs and preferences. Yet this issue may become a litmus test for any Democratic presidential candidate.

The need, however, is for the Democrats to focus time, money and political energy on issues that will appeal to the majority of likely voters for 2020. Beyond the obvious corrupt incompetence of Trump and associates, Democrats must avoid Hillary’s mistakes in 2016 and speak to the issues that call together the broadest cross-section of the voting population with common concerns for security, equity and a fair chance.

The Democrats’, and the country’s need, is not to be morally right on every issue, but to win, and to depose Trump and his corrupt cohorts. There are numerous groups with compelling claims for reparations, including descendants of African slaves, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Japanese internees. etc. Perhaps more subtly, but with equally devastating effect on individuals and families, particularly Jews, Italians, Irish and southern Europeans have compelling claims.

The commonality among these claims is the call for justice and fairness in the right to participate in American society and economic life. Some rough approximation of such justice was achieved by the creation of the Fair Labor Practices Act of 1938, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and, after centuries of the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow denial of human dignity, by establishment of the voting rights acts of 1964, 1969 and 1975.

These are the types of general benefit for all the people that constitute evenhanded reparations for all.

The foundation of progressive legislation has always been broad-based acceptance by the people that justice demanded these reforms. The political pressure on Congress and the executive to insist on these reforms is a pre-condition to success, and an effective response to these historic injustices. To end the current and continuing distress experienced specifically by descendants of African slaves, we must address the extraordinary social and economic inequities of our economic system broadly: stagnant wages, student debt, medical costs, the power of the 1 percent, the collapse of the infrastructure, the hollowing out of the working class, etc.

This means the ranks of the exploited, the oppressed and those suffering from past and present inequities must be motivated to unite, to replace the reactionary, corrupt and retrograde government that has been inflicted on us, in large part, by that misguided and alienated portion of the working/middle class Trump has been able to convince that their disappointments, stagnant economics, alienation and loss of meaningful opportunities are due to “liberals,” immigrants and free trade proponents.

Trump thereby seeks to divide, literally splinter, the electorate into “us” and “them.” 

Thus, the demand for slavery reparations, by seeking “justice” or fairness to a portion of the people, is being raised by Democrats at a time when so many other groups perceive that their own problems are the result of the “unfair” advantages or privileges held by others, or are due to changes that diminish the value of being “native born,” “white” and (especially) “male.” 

the only real hope for achieving justice for all — or even for most — is the elimination, or at least the substantial mitigation, of the source of those injustices: incompetent, corrupt and treasonous governance.

If the Democrats truly seek redress of historical injustice, their efforts must ultimately have one focus: the exposure of Trump for what he is, his removal from office and his replacement with a capable, balanced and effective governance.

Currently, an overweening demand for reparations for descendants of slavery does not advance that goal, but in fact mitigates against it. As cited in an earlier article, and repeatedly, and most recently restated by Tom Friedman and others, Pogo had it right: We have met the enemy and he are us.


The Centrists are Allen Horsley and Ed Frey of Stowe and Marc Segal of Jackson, Wyo. Email letters to news@stowereporter.com.

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