Reagan conspicuously inaugurated his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964. He went on to slash taxes on the rich, decimate the labor movement, deregulate banking and industry, cripple environmental regulation, demean feminism, ignore the AIDS epidemic, shred the social safety net, double the military budget, finance third-world despots and their death squads, and preside over the glorification of greed. His "base" was virtually indistinguishable from Tr*mp's: working class whites threatened by socioeconomic change. Tr*mpian appeals to nationalism and the restoration of an imagined golden age — once known as "Morning in America" — inspire in this old man a powerful sense of déjà vu.
Reagan did immense damage; and one institution that suffered spectacularly was the Democratic Party. Democrats responded to America's rightward lurch by empowering the Democratic Leadership Council, so-called "centrists" who led the party's stampede to the right during the Clinton years. Only by comparison with Bill Clinton can Barack Obama be considered "progressive." Obama came to power surrounded by the same Robert Rubin acolytes who guided Clinton era economics, and his social policy echoed rather than led cultural change that already was underway. In the meanwhile, Republicans crippled Democratic power in Congress and in the States.
Right now, Democrats are confronting an existential choice: either continue the disastrous course of the Clintonian establishment, or line up behind populist progressives like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Keith Ellison. The next Chair of the Democratic National Committee will be elected at the DNC's winter meeting, February 23–26. The leading candidates are the progressive wing's Keith Ellison and the establishment's Thomas Perez.
Only a genuinely progressive agenda can reclaim the support of the "Reagan Democrats" and revitalize the Democratic Party. I encourage serious activists to put aside their Sharpies and poster board long enough to make personal contact with Democratic leaders in their localities, and demand support for Ellison. "More of the same" no longer is a viable option.