Columnist John Sheirer: What do Democrats stand for?

  • In this Jan. 30, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP PHOTO/Susan Walsh

Published: 2/11/2019 9:04:36 AM

“Democrats don’t stand for anything. They’re just anti-Trump.”

This sentiment has become a mantra for political pundits, social-media mavens, and watercooler philosophers. They repeat it so often that some people think of it as a “truism” or “conventional wisdom.” In fact, there’s nothing true or wise about this lie.

This 2018 midterm election was definitely a rebuke of Trump’s corruption, incompetence and terrible policies. But that election went far beyond a simplistic anti-Trump statement. It was a strong endorsement of Democratic initiatives.

Democrats across the country won the midterms because they campaigned on many important issues: improved access to health care; minimum wage increases; gun-safety regulation; smart border security; humane immigration policies; equal pay; infrastructure and manufacturing support; college affordability; education funding and reform; fair tax systems; Wall Street reform; jobs and job-training programs; diplomacy over war; support for veterans; criminal justice reform; LGBTQ rights; reproductive choice; drug law reform; support for Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare; promotion of small business over corporations; a strong social safety net; health and safety regulations; and conversion to clean/green energy.

Considering that Trump and his supporters are either actively opposed to many of these initiatives or haven’t done anything productive to support them, being anti-Trump also means favoring the Democrats’ viewpoint. As J.M. Sorrell pointed out in her excellent recent column, other than feeling victimized and lashing out at liberals, today’s “conservatives” haven’t expressed a coherent viewpoint.

One of the biggest issues for Democrats is making government more accountable to the people. That’s why Democrats in the House of Representatives are proposing their first major bill, HR1. The bill expands voting rights, cleans up campaign finance laws and strengthens government ethics.

The part of HR1 that has gotten the most attention is the proposal to make Election Day a national holiday. Anyone who has rushed to vote or even skipped voting due to the demands of their job can relate to this proposal. But HR1 doesn’t stop there. It also includes provisions for automatic voter registration, expanded early voting, prohibiting purging of voter rolls, recruiting and training more poll workers to cut down on voting wait time, and providing more election security, especially from attacks by foreign powers. Most importantly, HR1 puts redistricting in the hands of independent commissions to eliminate the partisan gerrymandering that Republicans have used to sway elections for a decade.

HR1’s campaign finance improvements include greater transparency of political contributions, ending “dark money” secret funding of super PACs, and prohibiting coordination between campaigns and super PACs. The bill would also ensure transparency of donations by government contractors, as well as the disclosure of funding for political ads on social media. Another focus is reducing corruption by rewarding candidates who raise money through small donations rather than huge corporate funding. And to aid in the actual enforcement of election laws, the bill calls for decreasing the membership of the Federal Elections Commission from six to five as a way to prevent partisan tied votes that lead to enforcement inaction.

And the ethical components of HR1 actually address the corrupt government “swamp” that Trump has made far swampier despite his campaign promise to the contrary. Presidential and vice-presidential candidates would be required to release 10 years of tax returns, codifying a tradition that Trump defied. HR1 would strengthen the Office of Government Ethics, provide greater oversight of lobbyists and foreign agents, and end the reprehensible practice of taxpayers funding employment discrimination settlements against Congress members. The bill would also meet a long-overdue need by establishing a code of ethics for the Supreme Court, a branch of government that has never had a formal ethics structure.

How have Republicans responded to HR1? One byproduct of the Trump/Republican government shutdown has been a delay in work on any legislation. Republicans are happy to slow down any common-sense reforms proposed by Democrats.

Republicans have long made no secret of their contempt for government. Ronald Reagan himself infamously said, “Government is the problem.” Their contempt for government extends to contempt for voting rights because they know that when more Americans vote, Democrats do better in elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the common-sense reforms of HR1 a “power grab” and a “sprawling proposal to grow the federal government’s power over Americans’ political speech and elections.” McConnell’s claims make no sense, unless he is afraid of putting power into the hands of voters. McConnell and his Republican colleagues should be required to explain to the American people why they don’t fully support our right to vote.

The next time Republicans claim that Democrats don’t have any ideas, please keep in mind that they’re simply trying to distract from their own party’s incoherence and terrible proposals. Yes, Democrats are anti-Trump, but that’s because we are in favor of returning control of the government to voters instead of corporate donors, billionaires, lobbyists and foreign adversaries. That’s a position shared by most of the country, and it must terrify Trump and his enablers as they desperately try to hold onto power. The best way to make their worst fears come true is to vote for the Democratic agenda in 2020.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Florence. His most recent book is “Donald Trump’s Top Secret Concession Speech.” Find him at And find links included in this article online at

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