Democrats thinking about running for president in 2020 are dramatically changing the way the party talks about race in Donald Trump’s America: Get ready to hear a lot more about intersectionality, allyship, inclusivity and POC.
White and nonwhite Democratic hopefuls are talking more explicitly about race than the party’s White House aspirants ever have — and shrugging off warnings that embracing so-called identity politics could distract from the party’s economic message and push white voters further into Donald Trump’s arms.
While the 2020 primary will feature debates about Medicare for all and college affordability, the Democratic base also wants to know how candidates will address systemic racism and what they think it means to be an ally to people of color.
The shift is largely a response to Trump. His words and actions on issues infused with race — from NFL players protesting police violence during the national anthem, to proposing a ban on all Muslim immigration, to family separations at the southern border — have roused Democratic activists to demand a full-throated response, according to interviews with dozens of progressive activists and aides to several potential 2020 candidates.
“I think people on the left are really looking for someone that can take on corporate power and eradicate systemic racism,” said Karthik Ganapathy, who served as a spokesman for Bernie Sanders during his 2016 presidential run.
So with mixed results, white Democrats such as Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand are earnestly embracing the language of racial justice advocates. And potential candidates of color like Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Julián Castro are leaning into race in a way that Barack Obama did not — and felt he could not — throughout his first campaign and much of his presidency.
“Let’s just start with the hard truth about our criminal justice system: It’s racist,” Warren said this past summer. In another speech, Warren dismissed “the pundits” who argue that “Democrats have to choose between being the party of the white working class and the party of Black Lives Matter.”
After coasting to reelection this month in New York, Gillibrand declared in her victory speech that “it all started with the Women’s March — an intersectional moment when you could march with your sign — regardless of what it said — women’s reproductive rights, Black Lives Matter, clean air and clean water, LGBTQ equality.”
In a letter to her supporters, Gillibrand again nodded to intersectionality — a framework that considers overlapping prejudices people face — writing that “resistance is female, intersectional and powered by our belief in one another.”
And in Sanders’ forthcoming book, “Where We Go From Here,” the Vermont senator argues that “[s]everal years ago, the abominations of our criminal justice system were not widely discussed.” He goes on to credit Black Lives Matter and the ACLU for fighting a system “that was racist and that criminalized poverty.” It’s a shift in emphasis for Sanders, who said after the 2016 election that “[o]ne of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics.”
The embrace of inclusivity-focused politics on the left has been growing for years with the rise of groups like Black Lives Matter and Dreamers. But Trump has pushed it to the forefront of the progressive movement, especially among younger voters.