A Glimpse of What Could’ve Been and Needs to be

May 3, 2020

By Alan Minsky, Executive Director – Progressive Democrats of America


On the last evening of the saddest April in memory, there was a virtual Town Hall that was most notable for going largely unnoticed. Had the same four participants done the exact same thing only four weeks earlier, it would’ve made global headlines – two months earlier, and it might have changed the course of history, 

Bernie Sanders facilitated the conversation with the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Rep. Mark Pocan, both of whom had endorsed Sanders for President this year. The fourth guest was the most conspicuous person never to endorse Bernie, his fellow Senator, Elizabeth Warren.

The subject of the Town Hall was “Shared priorities for COVID-19 Relief.” Across 46 minutes, the four progressive stalwarts describe the legislation they feel must be included in the next COVID 19 emergency relief package passed by Congress. Most, but not all of the bills mentioned, were introduced by one of the four participants. Everything they spoke about made perfect sense. They addressed the most pressing concerns of the American people during the crisis: about public health and safety, the economic collapse, how to protect small businesses and people’s jobs, and more much.  They described sound proposals that often were consciously modeled on the best practices from across the world.

None of which means much to Mitch – and so little, if any, of the progressive agenda will get passed. That fact, and all of its implications (many more people will die unnecessarily), is truly horrendous.  Combine it with the unreferenced tragedy that haunts the entire proceeding – namely, that the two best candidates for President, seen here in almost total unison, seriously wounded each other’s candidacies, and thus any hope for the systemic change that American society desperately needs – and what, on the surface, appears to be an inspiring event becomes something truly devastating: an object lesson, of Shakespearean proportions, in how the ambition of well-intended people can facilitate horror.

Surely, there must be something we can do with their proposed emergency legislation other than accept inevitable defeat. Isn’t there a way we get around McConnell’s, and then Trump’s, inevitable vetoes? 

In the short term, there’s no easy answer – given the GOP majority in the Senate and Trump in the White House.  Perhaps the only glimmer of hope is that there is an election in November. While there’s little we can expect from the guys at the top of the ticket, perhaps we can make demands of down ballot candidates. So, find out if the incumbent, or a challenger, in your district supports these five measures, all of which were featured in yesterday’s Town Hall:

– The Essential Workers Bill of Rights – by Senator Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna

– The Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act – by Senator Sanders and Rep. Jayapal

– The Paycheck Guarantee Act – by Rep. Jayapal and Senator Sanders et al

– Bill Banning Debt Collection during COVID-19 – by Senators Brown and Warren, et al

– Protect our Post Offices Act – by Rep. Joe Neguse

It’s all excellent legislation put forward by great legislators.  Yes, it’s depressing that the GOP, and even the moderate/milquetoast Democrats, have the upper hand over our fantastic four; but the only way to change that dynamic is to alert the public about proposed legislation that will directly benefit them – and when you’re done reminding them, remind them again. 

As for Bernie and Elizabeth, we have to learn the lesson from this past year. Within moments of Warren’s first answer during the Town Hall, the travesty of her not endorsing Bernie both in 2016 and in 2020 (after she dropped out), became glaringly apparent. These two speak the same language. On issue after issue they arrive at, or near, the other’s position – which is, invariably, miles away from their former rivals for the Democratic party nomination in 2020.  To make things even worse, I have a strong suspicion that combined they’d be even greater than the sum of their parts – that together they would have won.

Going forward, the American left can no longer be divided against itself. The stakes are just too high. The next time around a rule must be set in advance – perhaps by the array of national progressive organizations that endorsed either Sanders or Warren this time around – that the progressive who is behind after the first four states must commit to drop out and wholeheartedly support the leading progressive. 

Otherwise, brilliant Town Halls will continue to double as nightmares.