Democrats haven’t been this progressive in decades… And Republicans have never been more fascist

It's time we tell the truth about how truly different the Democrats and the Republicans are today, especially with both democracy and the rule of law at stake this November.

Political Symbols

ne common refrain among people disenchanted with politics is that both parties are the same. And there are indeed a few key similarities between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump: Both are very old, with Biden in his early eighties and Trump in his late seventies. Both are unfortunately on the side of Israel’s far-right Netanyahu regime even as it continues its atrocities against Palestinians in retaliation for the October 7 attacks. Both are rich white men with problematic adult children. Both have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But the similarities basically end there — in fact, there’s a yawning chasm between them on nearly everything else.

Using surface-level observations to deem Biden and Trump as too similar to care about which candidate will win what may be the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes is intellectually lazy. Writing both parties off as the same masks both the remarkably progressive turn Democrats have made with Biden at the helm, and the menacing, vengeful, openly cruel politics the Republicans have totally embraced since it became the cult of Trump. 

In fact, there couldn’t be two more contrasting presidential candidates in 2024. Journalists have a responsibility to plainly tell the truth about how truly different the Democrats and the Republicans are today, especially with both democracy and the rule of law at stake this November.

Democrats haven’t always been this progressive

Saying that today’s Democratic Party is the most progressive it’s ever been would be a disservice to Democrats in the past who got monumental reforms like the New Deal and Great Society programs passed and signed into law. But those bills alone don’t tell the full story of how much Democrats have evolved as a whole since then.

Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson both enjoyed significant Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress that made the passage of landmark legislation possible. For example, in the 73rd US Congress — in which a bulk of the New Deal was passed — Democrats had 62% of all US Senate seats and 72% of all House seats. And in the 74th US Congress, when bills like the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act became law, Democrats grew their majorities to 75% of the US Senate and 73% of the House. Johnson’s majorities (66% of the Senate and 58% of the House in the 88th US Congress, and 66% of the Senate and 67% of the House in the 89th US Congress) weren’t as large but still significantly bigger than even the strongest majority Democrats had this century.

And still, for all of FDR and LBJ’s progressive bona fides, they both also had their legacies tarnished by actions that would be deal-breakers for any Democrat running today. FDR’s New Deal became law only after he brokered a compromise with Southern Democrats (also known as “Dixiecrats”) to exclude African Americans from the bulk of the legislation’s programs. 

This resulted in Sen. Huey Long (D-Louisiana) turning on the president he once endorsed and trashing the New Deal as too conservative. As the University of Houston documented, Sen. Long instead proposed the “Share Our Wealth” program in 1934, which coupled massive new taxes on the richest Americans with significant investments in social safety net programs accessible to all regardless of race. FDR also notably rounded up and forcibly interned Japanese Americans at remote detention camps amid racist furor during World War II.

And despite LBJ converting his assassinated predecessor’s New Frontier program into his Great Society program and implementing Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and the Peace Corps among other achievements, he was also roundly criticized for his foreign policy. In October of 1963, shortly before President John F. Kennedy was murdered, Kennedy issued National Security Action Memo 263, which began the drawdown of US troops from Vietnam. However, his successor ignored it and had a markedly different approach to the East Asian conflict. 

Johnson significantly escalated US troop presence in Vietnam in response to the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August of 1964, which was later proven to be fabricated. LBJ was suddenly caught up in an expensive, unpopular, casualty-heavy war with no end in sight. This was coupled with domestic crises at home, as the Tet Offensive of 1968 collided with the assassinations of high-profile figures like Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King II. Johnson’s domestic legislative wins seemed a distant memory, and he was so unpopular that he declined to run for reelection. After leaving the White House, Johnson died a few years later on his Texas ranch. 

For all of the criticism Biden gets due to his age, he has refreshingly youthful politics compared not just to FDR and LBJ, but even to Barack Obama. Given that he was elected by wide margins in both 2008 and 2012 with a mandate of broad, generational change, Biden’s Democratic predecessor was remarkably conservative. Yes, the 44th president of the United States was able to pass major bills like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Affordable Care Act, and the Dodd-Frank Act. But more conservative-leaning Democratic legislators like Sens. Max Baucus (D-Montana), Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas), Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), and Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania) meant Democrats’ majority —  58% of both the US Senate and the House in the 111th US Congress — was much less powerful than it seemed.

During his eight years in office, Obama permanently extended nearly all of George W. Bush’s tax cuts that primarily benefited the richest Americans, and drastically increased the number of US ground troops in Afghanistan from roughly 30,000 to more than 100,000. He repeatedly entertained narratives about federal spending that favored austerity over investment — like the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission (also known as the “cat food commission” in reference to what Social Security recipients would have to eat after their benefits are cut). His healthcare reform law was also modeled after the far-right Heritage Foundation’s market-based solution, which then-Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney implemented during his tenure. In an address to the Wharton School of Business in 2009, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman criticized ARRA as too conservative to meet the moment.

“It’s helpful, but it does not cover even one-third of the gap, so it’s disappointing,” Krugman said, adding that out of the $789 billion approved, only about $600 billion is an actual stimulus. “You’ve only got $600 billion to fill a $2.9 trillion hole.”

Biden deserves credit for his progressive turn

To contrast, Biden’s presidency has been by far the most progressive administration since at least LBJ’s and arguably the most progressive when looking at how Biden has approached judicial appointments, along with racial and LGBTQ+ issues. 

Despite the Supreme Court striking his student loan cancellation program, he’s already forgiven over $150 billion in student debt and continues to seek out ways to cancel billions more. His Inflation Reduction Act is the largest-ever climate change-related bill in history. His $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law is the largest single infrastructure package ever passed in US history — even larger than Eisenhower’s interstate highway bill. His CHIPS and Science Act was one of the largest investments in the American manufacturing sector in history, and positions the US as a global leader in the semiconductor industry, whereas East Asian countries effectively had a monopoly before. 

Like Obama, Biden also took office facing a massive global crisis that required a significant legislative response. But unlike the ARRA of 2009, Biden’s 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) largely met the need created by the Covid-19 pandemic, and ended up putting in place many of the policies that have led to today’s economic boom. 

“The data show that his fiscal policies directly accelerated job growth, with the ARPA leading to the creation of 1 million to more than 4 million additional jobs since it went into effect,” the Center for American Progress wrote in 2022. “Thanks to this jobs boom, the labor market is now nearing its pre-pandemic level… This experience taught policymakers that the risk of doing too little comes with enormous pains for ordinary Americans. But with a more effective response, the current labor market is recovering at an unprecedented speed.”

When viewing his approach to organized labor, Biden has also shown a significantly progressive evolution on his part. Prior to his election, Guardian opinion contributor Gabriel Winant noted that Biden’s record as a US senator from Delaware and as vice president for eight years was unabashedly pro-corporate and championed policies that harmed workers.

“[Biden] voted for Nafta and supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He authored the punishing 2005 bankruptcy bill, a reward to creditors and punishment to debtors,” Winant wrote. “Worse still, he has been one of the main legislative architects of mass incarceration, a regime that has devastated the heavily policed and punished American working class.”

But since his election, Biden has been arguably the most pro-union president since FDR. He was not only the first sitting president to walk a picket line, but he’s the first occupant of the White House to make the upholding and protection of organized labor a major plank of his foreign policy, as well. Under his leadership, Biden has overseen the membership of labor unions grow steadily since they dropped off precipitously in the wake of the 2008-2010 recession. And despite formerly representing the state where roughly two-thirds of Fortune 500 corporations are headquartered, Biden has taken an ardent stance against corporate consolidation and has put trust-busters in key decision-making roles in his administration.

Unlike other pro-union Democratic presidents, Biden is remarkably more progressive on abortion. While Biden — a practicing Catholic — has said in the past that he personally doesn’t support abortion, his reelection campaign has doubled down on expanding abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022. This is a significant evolution for a man who, as senator, said in 1974 that Roe “went too far.”

And on judicial appointments, Biden is, again, a progressive leader on diversity of both background and legal experience compared to his previous Democratic counterparts. As of February 2024, Biden had appointed 175 federal judges, 65% of whom are women and people of color. And while most federal judges have been former prosecutors and corporate litigators, Biden has elevated numerous public defenders and civil rights attorneys to lifetime federal judgeships. NBC News’ Sahil Kapur observed that throughout Obama’s entire eight-year presidency, he appointed just five public defenders to the federal bench. Biden appointed that same amount just in his first nine months in the White House. 

The American left has – adequately – pointed out that Biden remains a stalwart cheerleader for Israel and has not been shy about calling himself a “zionist” who openly sides with far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But he’s even starting to evolve on that issue as well. Following Israel’s deadly airstrike that killed seven aid workers from celebrity chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, the Associated Press reported that Biden directly told Netanyahu that the next package of US aid would come with conditions on how civilians and aid workers are to be treated. This is a huge development — no prior president, whether Democrat or Republican, has ever put conditions on US aid to Israel.

The GOP has never been more fascist than it is today

Biden’s embrace of progressive policies is a sharp contrast to Trump — and the Republican Party by default — embracing fascism and far-right Christian nationalism as its central guiding philosophies. The 2024 election is quite literally between a progressive New Dealer and a blatantly racist, corrupt, violent autocrat who would permanently reshape the US government for decades, if not permanently. 

As the New York Times magazine reported in April, Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign stump has taken a decidedly darker turn in the 2024 cycle compared to his 2016 and 2020 bids for the White House. In the article, author Charles Homans noted that Trump has, since the onset of the current election cycle, used dehumanizing terms for his opponents like “vermin,” and has rooted his campaign around vengeance for all perceived wrongs. 

The former president’s claims about immigrants “poisoning the blood of our country” has brought out comparisons to Adolf Hitler, who wrote in his manifesto Mein Kampf that the world’s greatest cultures died out because of “blood poisoning.” And as the Boston Globe’s H.D.S.Greenway wrote in 2022, Trump encouraging his supporters to march to the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 was a callback to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini calling on his private army of “blackshirts” to do the same thing in 1922. But Argentinian political scientist Federico Finchelstein told Homans that Trump’s 2024 campaign is more in the mold of Juan Perón.

Perón, who led Argentina in the decade following World War II, notably granted safe haven to some of the most notorious Nazi war criminals, including Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. Homan wrote that Perón — who intensely studied and admired Mussolini’s government — knew that fascism was unpopular in the aftermath of World War II. So rather than attempt to implement it outright, he sought, as Homans characterized it, to conduct “authoritarian experiments in democracy.” This included jailing political opponents and journalists critical of his administration and shuttering newspapers that weren’t in line with his political viewpoint.

“Like the fascists, Perón redefined ‘the people’ as an exclusive, not inclusive, category: an us defined against a them. Where he differed, crucially, was in claiming the mantle of democracy — and presenting himself as its perfection,” Homans wrote. “In populism, the leader had arrived to beat back a threat to the will of the people that came from within the country’s democratic system — and that, absent the leader’s vigilant rule, would return to cause worse destruction. Perón’s enemies were not just Perón’s enemies; they were the enemies of democracy.”

In November of 2023, Trump gave a speech in Claremont, New Hampshire, in which he promised to “demolish the deep state” with his movement by his side. He pledged to “drive out the globalists,” to “throw off the sick political class that hates our country,” and “rout the fake news media until they become real.”

“The real threat is not from the radical right. The real threat is from the radical left. And it is growing every day. Every single day,” Trump said. “The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”

When Homans asked Finchelstein for his thoughts on Trump’s Claremont speech, his response was simple: “This is how fascists campaign.”

If Trump wins in November, we can expect that, at least on paper, America’s system of government will remain the same. There will still be elections, three branches of government, and a deference to the US Constitution. But like Juan Perón, Trump will conduct authoritarian experiments in democracy. He will jail political opponents — in fact, he has already pledged to “prosecute the Biden Crime Family” if he wins — and weaponize the government against political dissidents and unfriendly journalists.

Kash Patel, who was a national security official in Trump’s first administration, could potentially hold a high-ranking position in the DOJ or in intelligence in a second term. During an episode of former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s podcast, Patel vowed that if handed the reins of power once again in November, Trump would “come after the people in the media… we’re going to come after you.”

“Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out, but yeah, we’re putting you all on notice,” Patel said.

Each election, both sides tend to motivate their voters by promising that this would be the highest-stakes election of their lifetime. And it’s easy to tune out all-or-nothing rhetoric when it’s repeated ad nauseam. But the stakes in 2024 have truly never been higher. Voters will be given the chance to vote for a truly forward-thinking administration that could have the chance to build on successes like an increasingly progressive federal judiciary and transformational legislation if given a bigger majority in Congress. Alternatively, voters could also choose this November to elect a man who has promised tyranny, and who would be unbound by term limits, public opinion, and the rule of law. 

Writing off both parties as the same couldn’t be more irresponsible or inaccurate.


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