September 19, 2019 | 49° F

HINRICHS: Democratic Party should focus more on progressive values

Opinions Column: Unveiling the Truth


We stand at a crossroads. America is plagued by inequality. People feel stuck and trapped in their socioeconomic status, yet a wave of activism is crashing across the country. People are mobilized in an effort of progress and hope is present in many. Now is the time for the Democratic Party to assert itself as not just the anti-Donald J. Trump party, but also the party of the working class, of economic uplifting and of liberty and justice for all.

Times of racial unification of the diverse working class are times of growth and progress, but such times have been hindered by the maintenance of the power structure and establishment of political bases. 

Driven by a desire for progress, justice and abolition of their subordination, in 1891, the Colored Farmers Alliance, “the largest African-American organization of the 19th century,” united with a number of industrial and agrarian-based organizations, including the Southern and Northern Alliances, to form the People’s Party, also known as the Populist Party.

In defiance of the conservatives in the South, between 1892 and 1896, the Populists won a number of state governments. Populist achieved success by addressing the economic issues of the worse off, while also striding toward greater racial integration. But alarmed conservatives of a party inhabited by the elite undermined such progress.

Conservatives sent out rallying cries of white supremacy, leading to violent attacks and intimidation aimed at smothering the potent alliance between working class white and Black Americans.

Sociologist William Julius Wilson noted that, “As long as poor whites directed their hatred and frustration against the black competitor, the (ruling elite) were relieved of class hostility directed against them.”

Aggressive campaigns of white supremacy and the enforcement of segregation laws enacted to establish sentiments of superiority and power in lower-class whites strained the Populist Party and eventually broke its progressive coalition.

During the movements of progress in the 1960s, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. saw that the plight of the working class were interwoven with the struggles of persons of color. Reverend King recognized the potential for progress when economic pain was not used to divide, but rather unify behind a common purpose a lifting up of all.

In a speech to the Illinois branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations  (AFL-CIO) in 1965, King said, “Our combined strength is potentially enormous … If we make the war on poverty a total war; if we seek higher standards for all workers for an enriched life, we have the ability to accomplish it, and our nation has the ability to provide it.”

King had also said, “Negroes are not the only poor in the nation. There are nearly twice as many white poor as Negro, and therefore the struggle against poverty is not involved solely with color or racial discrimination but with elementary economic justice.”

The pervasiveness of this observed ubiquitous poverty remains the same today. There are approximately 17.5 million white Americans living in poverty, approximately 8.7 million Black Americans in poverty and approximately 11.25 million Hispanic Americans in poverty.

Divisions within the electorate are constructed with the sole purpose to manipulate and maintain power in prevention of economic justice. The planters and ruling elite of the 1890s designed social institutions and a racial hierarchy to disrupt and dissolve the threat of a unified working class. In the 1960s, conservatives used coded rhetoric to suggest that big government is simply a tool to help minorities at the expense of white working people. Former President Richard M. Nixon championed the Southern Strategy in which he tapped into feelings of economic instability and racial resentment, converting white Southerners to the Republican Party and radically altering the political coalitions in America.

President Donald J. Trump, in 2016, built on the Southern Strategy by bringing together an explicitly racist message and an economically conservative platform. After a year of Trump’s administration, the Democratic Party has yet to make the necessary changes to its flawed establishment. The party’s identity is uncertain, its values lack clarity and its inconsistency is alarming. Even though there was total disregard for truth or fact, the Trump campaign provided simple and clear promises that touched on the anger and uncertainty of many.

Incremental, tepid solutions to the deep, serious problems people are facing are inadequate. Bold, clear actions that address the economic troubles of the working class and the struggles of the targeted and victimized. 

We need not be pitted against one another, for our pain is shared, our poverty is mutual, our uncertainty communal and thus, our purpose must be common. There is an opportunity for fear to be extinguished and hate to be peacefully combated. The unification of the past can drive the progress of the future. The future of the Democratic Party rests on progressive values and the working class. 

Luke Hinrichs is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in political science and economics. His column “Unveiling the Truth“ runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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Luke Hinrichs

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