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Going on the Offensive: A State-Based Strategy for the Democratic Party

Democratic states can collectively seize this moment to flip the states’ rights strategy into a progressive one.

Having lost control of the White House, Congress and probably the Supreme Court, the Democrats appear consigned to a defensive, resistance-based role in the coming years. But this is only true in the federal arena. By thinking imaginatively about how to channel their very substantial support within many of the nation’s largest states into collective political action, the Democrats may actually be able to go on the offensive in presenting and carrying out a socially progressive, idealistic agenda in a way that they have not been able to do for decades in the gridlock of Washington politics.

To resist the Trump presidency effectively, Democrats have to go beyond the defensive posture of relying exclusively or even primarily on protests, demonstrations and other forms of opposition. Instead, Democrats must seek to establish an independent and strong political base from which to articulate an alternative vision for the country. One way to do this would be for the governors of the blue states — California, New York, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Connecticut and Colorado, to name some of the mightiest in numbers and weight — to form a very public council to articulate that alternative vision and publicly seek to make that vision a reality within their respective states: a vision that includes universal health care, strong support for labor unions, a humanitarian approach to immigrants and refugees, protection of the environment, among other morally necessary and compelling elements.

All of these objectives should be able to be supported and achieved, both legally and financially, through the use of independent state grounds not dependent on approval from the US Congress or the signature of Donald Trump. In other words, Democrats can seize on this historical moment to flip the traditional states’ rights strategy and give it a progressive rather than a conservative character, claiming the position traditionally held by the right that federal power is limited by the Constitution’s federalist framework and that the states are free to carve out their own vision and legal structure for what constitutes a good society. But in the strategic context proposed here, the point would not be to retreat into one’s state, but to form together into a group of states acting in concert and with a common agenda, a group representing a majority or near-majority of the national population.

This kind of public, collective assertion of a hopeful vision and practical plan by Governors Brown, Cuomo and others would be very different from the current discourse of merely resisting Trump’s reactionary initiatives, admirable and important though that resistance has been. This kind of public group stance by those representing the people who actually provided the popular vote majority for Hillary Clinton would be the assertion of a positive vision supported by a real political base to realize that vision. It would give people everywhere a sense of hope and strength from which to fight the larger national battle. And it would offer up a highly visible, positive alternative worldview to Trump’s dystopian picture of social reality that lacks any idealistic social elements.

Such a strategy would also lay the groundwork for the upcoming electoral battles nationally in 2018 and 2020, putting flesh on what the Democratic Party and progressives would be offering to the American people.

If a plan like this were actualized and “rolled out” with force and imagination, this kind of collective public stance by a blue state council of governors would be empowering and mobilizing for vast numbers of people currently seeking to become active in opposing Trump’s victory, but who are at present at sea as to what to do or how to gain a foothold in hope for the future. It would give people a new ground to stand on.

The Democrats currently lack visible leadership to speak for progressive Democratic ideals, and this council of governors of the states that gave Democrats their popular majority could both provide this leadership and seek to substantially carry out a shared cross-state agenda with the support of their Democratic state legislatures.

Democrats have the popular majority, they are developing the political vision, and in the states where they are supported by often large majorities of their citizens, they have the political base to actualize that vision through concrete, state-based policies. And through unified blue-state action they can demonstrate to the voters in other states — notably, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Florida that gave Trump his electoral majority — that Democrats can offer a better, more idealistic, more caring-for-one-another direction for the country than can the grim and fearful policies of the current administration and Congress.

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