Moreover, the Democratic Party today, unlike earlier incarnations, has also gotten behind policies to promote growth (such as investment in infrastructure), the high-tech sector and, yes, free trade. During both the Clinton and Obama administrations, GDP climbed, unemployment fell and deficits shrank. Contrary to popular belief, government data show these policies helped even those in the bottom quintile. And Democrats combined all this with new freedoms for women, racial minorities, and gays and lesbians.
The calls for Democrats to become more “populist” seem to amount to a matter of tone — marshaling an emotionally satisfying us-against-them rhetoric that blasts banks, big business and the 1%. Democrats shouldn’t be shy about injecting their message with righteous indignation, but they shouldn’t ignorantly imply the whole system is rotten. Theirs is the reality-based party — respecting expert knowledge, balancing growth and social needs and putting practicality over purity.
To get much more “populist” would require compromising core liberal values. A more Trump-like immigration policy might create a tighter domestic labor market in some sectors and drive up wages, but at the expense of betraying the party’s historical openness to people seeking a better life. Trump’s jobs program rests heavily on expanding fracking, which is anathema to environmentalists. A move toward Sanders-style socialism — such as making all public colleges and universities free — would likely alienate moderate voters.