The challenge of being Democrats in 2017

Jeff vonKaenel

The Democratic Party is in disarray. There are internal fights for leadership at the national, state and local levels. The party can’t agree on a political recovery plan. The Hillary and Bernie camps each blame the other for the last election.

This is no surprise. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of progressive activists who have dedicated much time, effort and money toward making a difference and making the world a better place. They did all the hard work of canvassing, voter registration and raising money to make change. Given the existing political landscape, they made practical, well-thought-out decisions.

As of 2016, however, the political reality has changed. In the new reality, campaign dollars have less power; instead, extreme and polarizing candidates are being propelled into office by the extreme anger of voters who have lost all faith in the system. The new reality is Trump.

I know many political activists who for decades have been working to help the poor, improve the environment, protect our freedom and support education. They are now in a state of confusion. The common wisdom about how to run a political campaign has been turned upside-down.

So what now? Many news stories have described the divisions between the Hillary and Bernie camps. But while that explains some of the conflict, the political differences between the Clinton and Sanders supporters are very small, compared to their differences with our new commander in chief or the Republican congressional leadership.

The differences among Democrats are less about the goals and more about the best ways to achieve these goals. Health care for all, reducing income inequality, lowering military expenditures and saving the environment are widely supported. But how to get there in today’s political climate is not clear.

Some establishment Democrats have not adjusted to the new reality. They want to continue using tactics that worked prior to 2016. But I believe most will adjust and will become excited to have a party that is more of a social movement than a technically sophisticated but soulless operation that sends out well-crafted, focus-group-tested messages to targeted audiences.

And there are the new Democrats with energy, with strong positions, with passion. Many of the young Sanders activists remind me of my fellow activists opposing the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. Then we learned that just because someone had the right position on the war, that person did not necessary make a good political leader or even a good colleague. We found that people who understood how the system worked, who had years of experience when they embraced the anti-war cause, were simply more effective than we were in getting stuff done. They did not dress like us. They liked different music. But they were great teachers and role models.

In 2017, we are in a new reality. We should celebrate the new activists who are willing to put their energy, passion and love into a cause to make the world a better place. I hope that these two camps of progressive activists can look at each other with compassion and respect and accept that we will only be successful together.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.