Twenty candidates, three moderators, two nights of debate, and a partridge in a pear tree. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the state of politics, and the second presidential debate, hosted by CNN, didn’t do much to alleviate that stress.
From the network’s embarrassing lead-in, a spectacle better suited for a WWE match than a political debate, to the fact that one of the candidates believes you can positive-think away cancer, it was hard not to see the last two nights as a direct response to Donald Trump’s presidency. So much felt crass and surreal.
More so than any bizarre theatrics, it was candidates’ insistence on appealing to “the middle” that revealed Trump’s lingering shadow over the Democratic primary. Again and again over the course of two nights, the CNN moderators and candidates alike insinuated that fighting for real change — like “Medicare for All” — would alienate moderates who don’t like Trump. This, despite the fact that the vast majority of the country supports these policies.
Politicians and pundits need to get over the idea that the middle will save us. White supremacist terrorism is going largely unchecked, states are trying to make abortion punishable by prison time, and we are running large-scale baby jails and concentration camps on the border. There’s no such thing as moderates anymore — only those who can tolerate these injustices, and those who can’t.
Besides, it’s Trump’s extremism that the American people don’t like. The majority of people polled by Quinnipiac University this week think Trump is a racist; another poll showed that most Americans felt his disparaging tweets about members of the “squad” of four Democratic congresswomen of color were overtly racist.
Why are we letting the Republicans who would support such a person set the terms of the debate?
Democrats need to let the fact that we can’t predict what’s going to happen in 2020 free us to fight for what the country actually needs.