Trump offers a message for Democrats

Published December 24, 2020

By Thomas Mills

Last night, Donald Trump gave the speech he should have been giving all year. If he had, he would have won. It wasn’t long, but it attacked government spending priorities and called out Congress for short-changing American families and businesses. It was the theme that got him elected in the first place, but, like so much of what he says, it was just words with no meaning. 

In particular, Trump demanded $2,000 stimulus checks for everybody instead of the paltry $600 Congress approved. That got everybody’s attention. Nancy Pelosi tweeted that she was ready to go back to the bill and get that done. Lindsay Graham, in his perpetual suck-up role, commended the president and said he agreed. It will almost certainly never happen, but the idea brings broad support. 

While the stimulus checks got the most attention, Trump also blasted Congress for the spending bill they passed. We’re sending money to countries all over the globe before we are investing in people suffering here at home. Pundits were quick to point out that he got a lot of things wrong, but what he got right is the sentiment that the government is not doing enough for the people it’s supposed to represent. It’s a broad-reaching populist message that crosses ideological lines. It’s the message on which he ran that got him elected four years ago. 

 Trump, of course, is no populist. He’s a grifter and he abandoned that message as soon as he won, shifting his focus to help enrich his family and friends. He also left the economic populist part of his message behind and embraced the cultural one that animated the right and alienated the left. Nevertheless, last night, he said what a lot of Americans think.

Trump is offering more of a lesson to Democrats than Republicans. The cultural wars he fought divided the country to the point that people began talking about a civil war as roving bands of armed and violent extremists took to the streets. The message he gave last night is unifying. Democrats need to embrace some of his economic populism and refocus their message on the kitchen table issues that affect most Americans. They can build a bigger tent offering help for working families that includes better health care, higher wages, and financial support to help families and businesses get through this trying time. Republicans, in contrast, will be railing against the deficit they created with tax cuts for the rich.