Friday, January 3, 2020
January 3, 2020: 2019 in Review: The Democratic Primary
[2019—it’s been real, it’s been good, but it ain’t been real good. Actually, I’m not even sure I’d say it’s been good, but it has definitely been eventful. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of major 2019 stories I haven’t been able to cover on the blog, leading up to a few predictions for what’s likely to be an even more eventful 2020.]
On what’s unquestionably historic about the presidential primary, and why the story doesn’t end there.
The campaign for the Democratic nomination for president has been going on for at least a year (although it feels like much, much longer than that), and for much of that time I’ve publicly and frequently proclaimed that it was too early to think about the November 2020 election. I meant it, and I think my psychological and emotional health for much of 2019 were greatly improved by not focusing too much on a still very early campaign and specifically on the sniping and infighting that are perhaps inevitable (and perhaps necessary, in moderation anyway) but also unquestionably frustrating elements of such a campaign. But even I have to admit that January of a presidential election year is very much primary season, not just because the first primaries and caucuses will soon take place, but also and more importantly because it’s time for each and every one of us to figure out who and what gives us the best chance to defeat this historically horrific administration (provided he hasn’t been impeached by the time this post airs—and with a recognition that, as I’ve said quite a bit over the last few months, I would vote for the soap scum that has hardened around my shower drain if it were running for president against Donald Trump).
I’m not going to get into my own current preferences for the nomination in this post, as I don’t think that’s what this space is for (feel free to follow me on Twitter if you want to see a bit more of that conversation, although even there I mostly implore the candidates’ uber-fans to stop with the constant circular firing squad). But I will make a couple more overtly AmericanStudies type points about the primary thus far. For one thing, this has been without question the most diverse group of candidates (that’s as of late October, so I’m sure it’ll be different by the time this post airs) fielded by a major party in American history: five women (with three still in strong contention as of this writing); four candidates of color, including the first prominent Latinx and Asian American candidates (and with all four still in contention as of this writing); and the first openly gay major party candidate, among other milestones. At the end of my second book on a new definition of American identity I described President Barack Obama as, in purely symbolic terms (the representation and embodiment of that national identity) that nonetheless matter a great deal, “the first American president”; and along those same lines, I would say that this has been the first inspiringly American presidential primary. May they all be at least this diverse from here on out!
If we are fortunate enough to have future presidential primaries, that is. Because the other unquestionable thing about the 2020 Democratic primary is that the stakes have quite literally never been higher (I’d say they were as high in 1864, and that’s about the only competition). That doesn’t mean that the idea of its symbolic value is insignificant, as I think part of the stakes—and not a small part, either—is replacing the worst possible representation of the nation in this highest office with an individual who embodies some of the best of who and what we are (and I think that applies to just about every person included in the categories above, with the definite exception of Marianne Williamson; it also applies to Bernie Sanders who is not part of those categories). But along with such symbolic value, and along of course with the candidates’ platforms and views, primaries also represent an opportunity to asses which candidate has the best chance of defeating the incumbent. That’s a difficult (if not in some ways unknowable) question, and one for which we certainly shouldn’t be too quick to accept easy narratives of “electability” or the like. But however and whenever we answer that question, there’s no way around the fact that defeating Donald Trump is the most vital electoral goal of any of our lifetimes.
2020 predictions this weekend,
PS. What do you think? 2019 stories you’d highlight?