For some time, I have felt that the Democratic Party needs a new approach to politics. More progressive. More practical. Less partisan. The Democratic Party that used to champion bold ideas to advance the interest of working people – the party of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson – has come to feel like just another interest group to many voters.
The party that brought us Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the freedom to form unions and much more got too close to Wall Street and big corporations. We failed to stop the financialization of the economy, the growth of monopolies across many sectors, trade agreements that created a global race to the bottom, and the assault on unions, the organizations that workers create to defend our interests.
Income inequality and economic insecurity have become so extreme that low unemployment doesn’t indicate good times for working people any more. For too many, it means working two or three jobs with few benefits just to make ends meet. One and a half million Americans are not even looking for jobs any more because they have given up hope of finding well-compensated, meaningful work.
Workers’ standard of living flat lined long ago; two generations of Michiganders and Americans feel that their kids are not – and will not be – better off than we were.
Meanwhile, there is much hand wringing about the supposed tension between what people call identity politics and class politics. As if working people of different races, religions and cultures cannot stick together to fight for our common interest.
In this atmosphere, I believe many people misinterpret the results of November 2016. Donald Trump’s outrageous behavior and style distract us from accepting the fact that his election is actually the culmination of long-term trends. Rather than being an aberration, his presidency represents the culmination of 40 years of trickle down economics facilitated by 60 years of divide and conquer politics.
How will we respond? After Trump’s victory, we must organize a movement to restore the dignity and value of work and defend the rights of all. The key to our future is creating a politics uniting everyone who has to get up and go to work every day to demand that policy decisions focus on putting money in working people’s pockets.
We can transcend division by defending the human rights of every person while insisting on a new economy that provides meaningful work with just compensation for all who seek it; health care for every man, woman and child from birth to old age; and access to a great education for all.
I have concluded that my best contribution to this effort is not running for governor, but focusing on building the movement for economic and social justice closer to home. Based on intensive conversations with grassroots leaders in recent months, I believe we will surprise the world in November 2018. The supposed home of Reagan Democrats and Obama-to-Trump voters is, in truth, a place where hard working people want nothing more than an authentic avenue to achieve their piece of the American Dream.
In the months ahead, I will throw myself into the fight for economic justice for working people across the beautiful breadth of the American mosaic, as represented right here in southeast Michigan. We will show that when people see a path to dignity and prosperity, they will join together and fight for it. And a much more hopeful day will be born right here, in the cradle of the American middle class.
Andy Levin is president of Lean & Green Michigan and former leader of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.