Progressives Are Finally Ready to Be the Culture Instead of the Counterculture

Various commentators, including Joe Klein and Jonathan Chait, have noted that the Democratic convention is much less about what’s wrong with America, whether that’s rising income inequality or the climate crisis or police violence or our foreign policies, than it is about the progress we’ve made during the Obama administration and more generally over the last century or so.

Part of this is simply that Donald Trump isn’t your typical Republican and there’s a huge opening and also a basic responsibility to disqualify him from holding the highest office in the land. But part of it is that the Obama administration really has been enormously successful and the Democratic Party has become much more ideologically coherent during his presidency.

The progressive coalition is feeling confident, not least because they’re celebrating the nomination of a woman as a major party candidate. The LGBT community has enjoyed a stunning string of successes in the Obama years. People of color have never had more of a presence on the stage, nor have they ever had their concerns more seriously respected in the platform or in the mouths of top Democrats. Tim Kaine didn’t worry about who he’d alienate by speaking Spanish during his speech last night. Even the ideological left represented by Sanders has never been as influential, as seen by the ways the Clinton campaign has bent over backwards to accommodate them and adopt chunks of their agenda as their own.

I’ve written a lot over the years about the need for progressives to grow out of their countercultural roots and ingrained suspicion of power. This convention is the first time I’ve seen this transformation really start to take form. The new progressive coalition doesn’t want to tune in, turn on, and drop out. They’re not too cool for school or too pure to engage in major party politics. They’re ready to be the culture rather than simply be cynical cranks and moral scolds.

It’s not complete, of course. Sanders decision to leave the Democratic Party is a discordant note that shows he’s as stuck in the past as his most “ridiculous” supporters. Overall, though, he pushed this process along even if he’s going to retreat back into the counterculture at the very moment of the counterculture’s transformation into the mainstream.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.