Many analysts of our current political landscape are seduced by the idea of a dichotomy of ideals, a polarized electorate neatly cleaved into two sides: conservatives versus liberals, as symbolized by the Republican-Democrat split. For progressives, that is supposed to translate into: “Everything that Donald Trump does is bad, and everything that his opposition does is good.” (For Trump supporters, it is reversed.) This works conveniently for both parties, and especially for Democrats who benefit from the wrath of Trump’s critics and revel in their position of representing the opposition against a deeply unpopular president and party. All that Democrats have to do is not be Trump and they can expect to sail to victory.
But every now and then, issues come up that jolt the good-versus-evil fantasy. North Korea is a case in point. For years there has been a bipartisan consensus on antagonizing North Korea through close military and economic cooperation with South Korea. Trump, taking advantage of the coincidental timing of peacemaker and South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s presidency (or perhaps because Trump truly “fell in love” with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un), has managed to usher in hope for Korean unity and peace between the U.S. and North Korea in a way no other recent president has managed to do.
Surely the Democrats would fall on the side of peace over war if their ascribed progressivism were sincere. Surely they would be urging Trump to do even better to ensure peace in the region instead of preserving the status quo of indefinite hostility. But some of the strongest howls of protest against peace with North Korea have come from Democrats. While there is much to criticize regarding Trump’s posturing with North Korea—chiefly, the whitewashing of a brutal dictator like Kim—the prize of cross-border peace and unity is seen by both Koreas as worth it.
Another issue is trade. Sensing deep dissatisfaction against the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Trump made the renegotiation of the deal one of his central positions on trade. Indeed, he has just strong-armed a new trade deal—albeit one that is deeply flawed—to replace the decades-old NAFTA. Surely Democrats ought to have been front and center in the trade debate, demanding a renegotiation of NAFTA on the basis of better labor and environmental protections for all three member nations. Instead, we heard the loudest critiques of NAFTA coming from Trump—a man who appears to have at best a rudimentary understanding of trade and international finance—while Democrats largely stayed out of it. And there are many other examples of dissonance between progressive ideals and the Democratic Party.