Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Rebuke GOP’s Vision for the Future

As the 2020 presidential election nears, we can expect prognostications and forecasting to go into overdrive. The majority of Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump, with many simply eager to be rid of his personage from national life. Trump’s racism has put America’s fraught history of racial struggle to a new test, begging the question: if Trump loses, what will be the hallmark of new leadership? And, not insignificantly, what will our new leadership look like?

The Republican Party has consistently made its position clear: it endorses a view of a white, preferably male-led, and privileged America. Donald Trump is an extreme and shameless representative of this position, endorsing the white supremacy and patriarchy which will be challenged in the next election. In 2020, what will Democrats offer to challenge the opposing party and its degenerate moral position?

There are currently 16 Democratic politicians who have announced or are expected to announce a run for president. The amount of presidential hopefuls is not unusual — the GOP fielded a similar number in 2016 — but the composition of this current slate is interesting. The Democratic hopefuls who have officially entered the race include one Black woman, two Black men, one Asian man, four white women, five white men, and one Latino man vying for the Democratic nomination. The diversity in candidates invites us to reflect on what the Democratic Party augurs for the future of racial politics in America.

The current Democratic slate is magnitudes more diverse than either of the two 2016 presidential election run-ups, and is the most diverse slate for a major American political party in US history. Although the Republicans fielded 16 candidates in 2016, there was only one Black man and one Black woman among them. Of the 14 men, two were conservative light-skinned Latinos, and 12 were white men. The 2016 Democratic field was less crowded with just six candidates — five men and Hillary Clinton.

It’s hard to not see the diversity of Democratic presidential hopefuls as a direct criticism of the racism and misogyny of the GOP generally, and of Donald Trump in particular. Democrats and their supporters are looking at a more representative cross-section of America; when one looks at any image where portions of the GOP are gathered together, one only sees a vision of past white male dominance. The rebuke the current Democratic slate represents is necessary and urgent; it rejects the return to a past the GOP has long hoped to sustain in American politics, which the slogan of #MAGA unabashedly aspires to achieve.

However, the 2020 presidential slate could also be a self-reflective rebuke to the 2016 group of Democratic candidates which could just have easily passed itself off as a GOP-engineered group. In some ways, this was more damning for the Democrats given that Barack Obama had delivered consecutive electoral victories in the preceding two elections. Through the lens of history, the 2016 Democratic slate will be viewed as the result of a party whose often shallow commitment to racial and gender progressivism was shaken by the virulent ignorance expressed to the one historically different candidate it did put forth. While Obama failed to be the social progressive many assumed he would be, he nevertheless endured a constant torrent of vitriol and animus from the right wing of American politics.

While Donald Trump has been found to have committed adultery with little rebuke from his base, Barack Obama could barely wear a tan suit without criticism. From this angle, the group of 2016 candidates expressed a desire to avoid the race debate while playing the gender angle, safely endorsing the most establishment woman the party could offer. The American people have been made to pay for that cynicism and cowardice in the form of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Yet, we should not feel overly optimistic about what the 2020 candidates represent. As of this writing, Joe Biden will likely enter the fray though his chances of making it far in the race are not especially strong. However, the fact that Biden has the hubris to look at the 2020 battle and think that two senior citizen white men should ultimately lead America into a future is both perplexing and frustrating. Maybe more frustrating is that the Democratic establishment that would welcome his candidacy. Should Biden join the race, his presence would flesh out a picture of a Democratic party in flux and unsure of itself: should it commit to the future or is the past still clouding a vision of progress?

There is hope in the realization that the Democratic party is itself under a kind of progressive siege. Leaders like Stacey Abrams and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have made it clear that the time for compromising with racism and economic inequality is over. I believe the current group of candidates represents a significant and potentially historical battle within the party that will, in turn, shape the future of racial politics in America. Andrew Gillum is set to enter the race, and his entry suggests that there are some who will not let the Bidens of the party have the last say about who is entitled to participate and who deserves America’s full consideration.

About the Author

Chris Lebron is the associate professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and a senior writer for The North Star. He specializes in political philosophy, social theory, the philosophy of race, and democratic ethics. His work has focused on bridging the divide between analytic liberalism and the virtue ethics tradition. He is the author of The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice In Our Time (2013) and The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of An Idea (2017).