Being more progressive than Donald Trump does not a progressive hero make.
Hillary Clinton will likely never be a champion of the Left, but she showed during Monday night’s debate the ways that her campaign has been strengthened — by Bernie Sanders and, far more so, by the social movements of the last five years.
For a candidate who spent her political career championing the war on drugs, fracking, adventurism in the Middle East and expansive trade deals, Clinton’s performance showed a dramatic change of pace.
“We’ve got to address the systematic racism in our criminal justice system,” she said in a response to a question from moderator Lester Holt about the country’s racial divide.
Within the first 15 minutes or so — without prompting — she brought up clean energy and Trump’s denial of climate change. In the first half, too, came a takedown of “Trumped-up, trickle-down economics” from Clinton’s side of the stage.
“It got us into the mess we were in in 2008,” she said. “Slashing taxes on the wealthy didn’t work.”
Clinton still leaves plenty to be desired, and has a ways to go to connect with many of the people still skeptical of her campaign. But she showed a small preview for the best of what the Left might expect from her tenure in the Oval Office: A politician who knows how to pivot, apologize and respond to popular pressure.
If she won tonight’s debate, it was — in part — because Trump came off like a washed-out high school jock trying to make fun of his now-successful former classmate at a 5‑year reunion. Stumbling through answers to questions about his tax returns and birtherism helped Trump dig his own grave, as did interrupting Clinton 25 times in the debate’s first 26 minutes.
The Republican candidate showed himself for what he is: A weak, insecure orange mess without a coherent plan beyond some word salad about trade, ISIS and email servers, who’s deeply out of touch with the America he says he’ll make great.
Owed at least as much credit as Trump’s incompetence, though, are the movement for black lives, Occupy Wall Street, the climate fight, the battle against disastrous free trade deals and the many other popular uprisings that have managed to start refocusing the country’s conversation — and Clinton’s political priorities — on the issues that matter to ordinary Americans.
Kate Aronoff is a staff writer at The New Republic and author of Overheated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet — And How We Fight Back. She is co-author of A Planet To Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal and co-editor of We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Style. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff.