Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Chelsea Manning’s campaign announcement ad shows America on the brink of ruin. The video cuts from protesters clashing with police to white supremacists brandishing their infamous TIKI torches. It’s the real-life apocalypse that rightfully keeps leftists up at night. The footage is littered with chromatic aberration and static effects, giving it a sinister feel. Manning dramatically declares, “We live in trying times… times of fear… of suppression… of hate.” The whole production sits precariously on the edge of chilling efficacy and overblown theatrics. The only thing that keeps the ad from collapsing under the weight of its own self-serious doomsaying is the terror of the opening images.
Another well-known politician uses similar rhetoric: the president. Manning’s stance on issues is wholly opposed to Donald Trump’s, and that’s unquestionably for the best. She’s taking a radical approach to upholding civil liberties, while he does the exact opposite. But their campaign strategies share a populist attitude. I have to imagine that, for whatever reason, the image of a crowd of refugees is almost as bone-chilling to Trump supporters as footage of white supremacists rallying in public is to me.
With Trumpism infecting the Republican Party, it’s worth questioning whether Manning could start an opposing movement among the Democrats. But first, she has to win. I think she stands the best chance of a primary victory if she follows three simple steps from Trump’s playbook:
Step One: Put populism above practicality.
Manning has already started to outline her unique brand of left-wing populism. She rejects raising millions of dollars in campaign funding and supports free college tuition and healthcare, as well as a universal basic income. She proposes cutting military funding to pay for at least some of these programs. Someone more cynical than I might suggest it’s the progressive version of building a wall and having Mexico pay for it. But that bold optimism is part of the populist appeal. Manning should continue to focus on the ideals behind her policies rather than their implementation if she wants to invigorate the leftist vote.
Step Two: Blame the elites.
Manning has already pulled this trick off brilliantly in her campaign announcement ad. She opposes a sinister, faceless “them” — referring nebulously to political elites. “They” can’t be trusted because “they” don’t understand “us.” Trump supporters call this sentiment “draining the swamp.” If Manning can convince voters that her opponents are out-of-touch elites, she might also convince them that a new wave of left-wing leadership is the solution.
Step Three: Above all else, never apologize.
Apologies are for losers. Trump infamously noted that he would “apologize sometime in the hopefully distant future if I’m ever wrong.” Of course, Trump’s refusal to admit wrongdoing is partially an extension of his toxic embodiment of white, male privilege. However, it also helps him back up otherwise comically impractical policies with an air of confidence. That’s the kind of bravado Manning will need if she wants to convince Marylanders to join her revolution.
If Manning follows these steps, she may stand a chance of defeating incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin. By tapping into the populist currents that put Trump in office, she could invigorate the Democratic party and progressives alike. Her rhetoric may seem impractical, but it could push political discussion back to the left. For better or worse, Trumpian politics are here to stay. Chelsea Manning could use them for good.
Nate Rogers is a freshman physics major. He can be reached at email@example.com.