“People don’t really care about labels.”
Images by Gage Skidmore and Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons.
America and the world may be stuck with President Trump for now, but that doesn’t mean progress is entirely on hold.
For many, the obvious approach is to fight Trump and his Republican allies each step of the way. But one of the progressive left’s most outspoken voices says that even in the age of #Resist, there are still opportunities to pass meaningful legislation — even if that means handing symbolic legislative victories to Trump.
At least that’s the view of Secular Talk host Kyle Kulinski, a popular figure in progressive politics, who says voters shouldn’t completely abandon the Trump presidency, even as they plan to support their own slate of candidates in 2018 and 2020.
Image via Kyle Kulinski/YouTube.
“When Donald Trump needs to be opposed, we will do everything to block hideous legislation from getting through,” Kulinski tells GOOD. However, the 29-year-old pundit who supports a growing roster of anti-corporate candidates under the Justice Democrats banner said there are several major issues where progressives can successfully lobby Trump, rather than simply oppose him.
On issues like infrastructure and trade, Trump made promises that — at least on paper — were music to progressive ears. The question now: Can and should activists like Kulinski lobby Trump in the hopes that he’ll get behind a popular idea like rebuilding the nation’s bridges and roads? Is it worth the time and energy to work with a president who has pushed back on so many other issues?
“Of course you work with him on those issues,” Kulinski says. “That’s the kind of bipartisanship the American people are behind.”
According to Kulinski, the problem is less about Republicans vs. Democrats and more about the bipartisan influence of corporate campaign donations and their alleged influence on public policy. Kulinski argues that the Democratic Party has fallen out of touch with the heart of its working class and progressive base by aligning with big business interests. It’s a debate that was at the heart of the Democratic primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and continues within the party today.
Three days after Trump’s inauguration, Kulinski and his Young Turks colleague Cenk Uygur teamed up with former members of the Sanders presidential campaign to launch Justice Democrats, a political action committee that supports congressional candidates who refuse to accept corporate campaign donations. The group’s ambitious mission statement is to build "a unified campaign to replace every corporate-backed member of Congress and rebuild the [Democratic] party from scratch," beginning with the 2018 midterm congressional elections.
It’s been called the left’s equivalent to the Tea Party movement that launched a number of conservative Republicans into office during the 2010 midterm elections. So far, they’ve raised over $1 million in small-donor contributions and have an elected Democrat in their ranks: Rep. Ro Khanna (California). Although a reporte from The Center For Responsive Politics named then-candidate Khanna as one of the top five candidates “most reliant” on Wall Street money. Kulinski calls that label “massively misleading,” noting that Khanna is only raising money from individual workers, rather than corporate entities. Khanna has placed both a $2,700 cap on individual contributiosn and says he has refused to accept donations from corporate sources or PAC money.
Rep. Ro Khanna. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
“The corporate wing is a house of cards, an illusion of successful politicians,” Kulinski says. “The proof is in the pudding. What are the results? Trump is president, Republican control in Congress. The Democrats have basically been wiped out at every level.”
However, it remains unclear whether the left has the same kind of organized passion — and anger — that drove Tea Party activists to the polls.
Since Trump took office, there has been a handful of races where Democrats seemed primed to steal a congressional seat from a previously safe Republican. In each of those races, political analysts and Democratic leaders argued that such an upset would foreshadow larger losses for Trump and Republicans in the 2018 midterms. However, the Republican candidates have managed to squeak by in each of those races so far. Nonetheless, Kulinski says, candidates like Rob Quist show that an energized base is alive and well.
“There was a colossal closing of a gap that no corporate Democrat would have been able to close,” he says. “Bernie is the most popular politician in the country. You have these ideas that are wildly popular, like a living wage, universal health care, and free college, but for a long time, the Democratic Party hasn’t fought for them.”
Ultimately, Kulinski says the key is for progressives to focus less on labels and more on broadly appealing issues in order to win over a majority of voters. In a sense, that’s what worked for Trump, albeit with a very different approach: playing on voter resentment about jobs, free trade, and military interventionism.
Kulinski says this approach can work with someone like Sanders leading a new wave of Democrats committed to core principles. And with a little luck and lots of hard work, maybe they can even bring Trump along to support some of their more popular reform proposals.
“People don’t really care about labels,” Kulinski says. “People listen to Bernie talk about those issues, and even though they describe themselves as conservatives, they find themselves agreeing with him on the issues.”