As Donald Trump has passed his 200th day in office, many Americans are already sniffing out his 2020 Democratic challenger.
Kamala Harris, the newly-elected Democratic senator from California, has quickly floated to the top. Somewhat predictably, the Left has already turned into somewhat of a catfight over Harris’s liberal bona fides.
At issue is a report from January in which it was revealed that OneWest Bank had repeatedly broken foreclosure laws under the tenure of Steven Munchin, whom Donald Trump had recently nominated as treasury secretary.
A leaked document showed that California state prosecutors wanted to file a civil enforcement action against OneWest for “widespread misconduct.” Harris, California’s attorney general at the time, overruled that recommendation and declined to prosecute—she has yet to justify this or give a reason.
Make no mistake: OneWest should have been prosecuted. But, unfortunately, this case is far from unique. Illegal and immoral banking practices resulted in over 9.3 million people losing their homes.
That this case—and countless others—failed to be prosecuted is infuriating. That the men and women who broke the law to fill their pockets helped to trigger the Great Recession simply got to walk away from the rubble is maddening. That millions of ordinary Americans had to foot the bill is appalling.
But to focus this anger on Kamala Harris shows that the Left is repeating some of the behaviors that make problems like this harder to address.
The problem with a political outlook that focuses on the foibles of individual politicians is that it turns structural problems into personal problems.
The problems our country faces are not due to individual politicians’ failings, but due to widespread, entrenched, systemic rot.
That Harris failed to prosecute the rich and powerful despite clear evidence of wrongdoing doesn’t speak so much to Harris’s character, but to the deeply flawed system that make decisions like hers the default.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be criticizing leaders for their mistakes. It’s more to say that the focus should not only on personalities, but also on issues.
Sadly, politics is (to a degree) a zero-sum game. Every breath spent on criticizing a certain politician is a breath that can’t be spent battling deeper underlying issues.
If we’re focused on the problems of a single individual’s past, we aren’t focused on finding solutions to the underlying issues that enabled those individual flare-ups to arise.
This is, in a sense, the mistake the Right made with Donald Trump. Trump is defined by a politics of personality—issues are almost never front and center.
Instead of centering his campaign on issues, he built his campaign on how Hillary Clinton (and an endless line of other politicians) were corrupt, weak, incompetent, etc.
While it’s easy for liberals to be unbothered that the issues of conservatives weren’t made front and center, the lesson crosses political lines.
Many of Trump’s supporters aren’t getting what they hoped for from his presidency. He avoided focusing on issues by instead focusing on other politicians’ (real or not) shortcomings.
The politics of the messiah simply won’t work. The problems our nation faces are far too systemic for any single politician to take them on singlehandedly. Furthermore, because the problem is so pervasive, even politicians with the purest intentions are unlikely to reach the highest levels of government without becoming tarnished by the dirtiness of the overall system.
So, yes, we should demand a system in which politicians like Harris consistently stand up for the American people. (And fortunately, we have some promising politicians—like Kamala Harris—who often do stand up for the majority of us.) But we should also remember that focusing on an individual’s failings obscures the structural issues at play.
Politics depends on both idealism and pragmatism. If the Left wants to win, it will eventually have to embrace both.