Thinking beyond a one-term president

Read Disclaimer.

Consider the following premise: Mr. Trump will be a one-term president succeeded by a Democratic nominee, unless the Democratic Party self-implodes.

Many of us, I suspect, find this premise likely. Furthermore, we find it both comforting and disquieting. The premise is comforting because we have a president who divides and weakens America, and compromises the sustainability of Earth and humanity. It is a relief to have mechanisms to limit the damage, and is reassuring that they emanate from the same Constitution that the president so often seeks to by-pass.

The premise is disquieting in part because the choice of the next president should not be limited to whom the Democratic Party nominates. A broader range of viable choices would better represent the country. We would gain from presidential campaigns being productive and stimulating debates of ideas, unconstrained by over-simplistic labels and partisan constructs. We would benefit from electing the person (Republican, Democrat or otherwise) who unambiguously garners more than fifty percent of the votes, even if it takes us two rounds of voting (or a clever democratic process such as ranked choice) to get there.

Yet, pragmatism is essential in times of crisis. Broadening our choices beyond red or blue is a fair (and, for me, as an independent, important) goal for 2024, as is the associated rethinking of our electoral system. But both are dangerous distractions for 2020.

What is thus most disquieting in 2020 is the possibility of the Democratic Party self-imploding, by reasons such as:

  • damaging the nominee via a divisive primary;
  • nominating someone unelectable, perhaps too extreme or ethically compromised;
  • pushing an agenda out of touch with the American reality, or focused on issues that are hopelessly divisive;
  • underestimating Mr. Trump’s ability to weaken political rivals;
  • mishandling independents, who form a numerous, complex and heterogeneous group;
  • ignoring those moderate Republicans who can be allies rather than foes; or
  • creating the conditions for a just-disruptive-enough run by an independent or third party candidate.

Paradoxically, self-implosion can also come from overly concentrating on defeating Mr. Trump. Defeating the incumbent should not be the ultimate goal, but rather a (critical) step towards making us the country that we can be, and the world needs us to be: Powerful yet caring, competitive yet tolerant, strategic yet inclusive, visionary yet pragmatic.

There will be a broad and diverse field of Democratic candidates disputing the primaries. From such a field, we should demand healthy and constructive debate, leading to innovative ideas, energized constituencies and novel synergies within and outside the party.

At no time should any of the Democratic candidates, or their supporters, forget that the desired outcome is a nominee with a powerful vision, enriched by drive, empathy and skill. A nominee ultimately empowered by broad popular support to bring the vast majority of Americans together around solutions to the major challenges (and opportunities) facing our nation, internally and externally.

— Antonio Baptista


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