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Trump may have made one thing 'great' after all: the Democratic Party

If Democrats are going to hold on to the momentum galvanized under Trump’s disastrous term, they need to deliver.
Photo illustration of a man wearing a hat with the donkey, the party symbol of the Democratic Party surrounded by stars.
Nothing like a little catastrophe to inspire self-improvement.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

President Donald Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again" turned out to be another one of his lies. (Unless he was just being sarcastic and we didn't get it?) Trump exits the presidency with one of the worst job records in modern history and as the first president to leave a smaller workforce than when he took power.

On all these counts, Trump has been an abject failure.

Worse, by far, is that our nation suffered at least 400,000 deaths from Covid-19 because of Trump's failed — and possibly criminally negligent — handling of the coronavirus, marked by lying about the risk it posed, mocking people for wearing masks and holding superspreader campaign rallies. Then, of course, there's the violent riots Trump incited at the Capitol to overturn the election in the hope of installing himself as president for another term.

On all these counts, Trump has been an abject failure. He has truly earned leaving office with the lowest average approval rating of any president since Gallup began keeping such records. (A poll showed him with 34 percent approval upon his departure, beating the previous lowest approval records of Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter.)

But there is one thing Trump made "great again" with his four years in the White House: the Democratic Party.

Just look at where the Republican and Democratic parties were when Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017, compared to today: In 2017, the GOP controlled the White House, the Senate and the House — a trifecta in terms of federal power. The Republican Party was even more dominant at the state level. When Trump put his hand on the Bible to be sworn in (and remarkably it didn't burst into flames), there were 33 Republican governors, compared to only a paltry 16 Democratic governors. Add to that that the GOP controlled more state legislatures than it ever had before.

Now look at where we are just four years later. The Democratic Party controls the White House, the House and, because of the two remarkable wins in the Georgia Senate runoffs this month, effectively the Senate.

At the state level, Democrats jumped from holding just 16 governorships to now controlling 24. Plus the Democratic Party was able to flip hundreds of state legislative seats on its way to gaining control of numerous state legislative chambers.

Now comes the hard part. Will the Democrats be able to hold on and see more success going forward?

But now comes the hard part. Will the Democrats be able to hold on and see more success going forward?

History tells us that the president's political party traditionally loses seats in the first midterm election. For example, in President Barack Obama's first midterm, in 2010, Democrats lost a whopping 63 House seats — along with control of the chamber — and six seats in the Senate.

That's especially troubling for Democrats today heading into the 2022 midterm, since they control the House by only 11 seats — the smallest majority in two decades — and the Senate is at 50-50.

Adding to the Democrats' challenges is the infighting we are already seeing between more moderate Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the very progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on issues like defunding the police — although Democrats' battling one another is nothing new.

But if Democrats are going to hold on to the success they reaped galvanized by Trump, they need to deliver for Americans. The most pressing issue is to address the Covid-19 pandemic, from rollout of vaccinations to economic relief, given that the economy is faltering again, with nearly 1 million new unemployment claims filed last week alone — the most since August.

Seventeen percent of American families with children face facing food insecurity, well above the pre-pandemic rate of 3.4 percent.

Seventeen percent of American families with children face facing food insecurity (which is well above the pre-pandemic rate of 3.4 percent), meaning more children are going to bed hungry. While Biden did sign 10 executive orders to address Covid-19 on Thursday, it will still take Congress' passing a robust economic package to assist Americans in need.

Then there are the more contentious issues that are likely to cause more Democratic infighting, from the Green New Deal to "Medicare for All." Given those, Republicans are likely salivating about a return to power in at least one, if not both, chambers of Congress come 2022. And in normal times, they might have reason to expect a win.

But the Democratic Party's success over the past four years wasn't won just by people voting against Trump and calling it a day. It was marked by the mobilization of people and communities that had not been politically engaged before. The comeback began with the 2017 Women's March, which filled the streets of Washington, D.C., and other cities around the country the day after Trump was sworn in. Activism like that fed into Democrats' not only winning the House in 2018 but also doing so with never-before-seen diversity.

The first two Muslim American women, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, were elected to Congress. The same year, the first Native American women were elected to Congress, and several states sent Black women to Congress for the first time. (The list goes on.)

I can say firsthand that my own community of Muslim Americans became far more politically active in response to Trump. Our community understood that we could choose to either sit on the sidelines and watch Trump demonize us and impose his "Muslim ban" or get more politically active. In 2019, Muslims won seats at the local level, from the state Senate in Virginia to a city council in Maine.

Trump is gone. But now comes the challenging part for Democrats: keeping people active so the Democratic Party truly can be great.