The Trump election debacle demonstrates the bankruptcy of the current leadership of the Democratic Party. Faced with a foe who has engaged in serial bankruptcy as a business strategy, is a notorious know-nothing bully with a very sensitive ego, and is best known as the red-faced guy on reality TV who says “You’re fired”, they could not come up with a candidate and story to retain their core voters in the old rust-belt states. Despite putting up a woman who should have attracted a sizeable following among her sex just on the basis of the lure of breaking the glass ceiling of the presidency, many women voted for Trump. Many Trump voters reported that they were willing to overlook his obvious flaws because he is speaking to and for them, Clinton simply did not have the style and program to allow people to say the same thing in their minds when they stepped into the voting booth.
This is as good a time as has appeared in the last forty years to wrest the Democratic Party from the hands of those who are more interested in raising big money in NYC, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley than addressing the real concerns of the vast majority of Americans. This cabal of politicians is more concerned about being palatable to their fat cat donors than coming up with policies that can reverse the damage done to the jobs and communities where most Americans live. In fact the Clintons led the part of the Democratic party that sold out to the free-market, trickle down policies that the Republicans put in place under Reagan. It is this wing of the party that Bill Clinton represented when he said in his 1996 State of the Union, “the era of big government is over”, followed shortly with his signing of welfare “reform” accompanied by, “this ends welfare as we know it”. And his signing of the financial deregulation bills in 1999 led directly to the further ballooning of the financial sector and its disastrous bursting in 2008.
In this election year Bernie Sanders laid to rest the argument that Democrats need big money donors from Wall St., Hollywood, and Silicon Valley. He built a message that engaged large masses of people and they responded with more than enough small donations to make him competitive against the big money Democrats. Progressives need to build on this lesson. Long term we need to reverse Citizens United and get big money out of our political system, but meanwhile we should focus on building a broad-based politics that can overwhelm big money at the polls.
Above all progressives need to insist that the Democratic Party start speaking the truth.
We can fix our healthcare system so that it doesn’t cost 50% more than other developed countries while delivering under-developed country results.1 We can fix our educational system so that everyone who wants an education, including the chronically un- and under-employed, can get the education and training they need without taking on unsustainable debt. We can fix our infrastructure that everyone knows is worn out and dangerously close to collapse, literally, in the case of bridges, dams, and the electrical grid. We can fix the segregation of our schools and communities. We can have universal day care and pre-school education for our children. We can develop a less militarist foreign policy and put that money to more productive uses. We don’t need more wars like the ones that have dominated our lives for the last fifty years and produced terrible harm all around the world. We can address our responsibility to reduce all forms of pollution and over use of the earth. We can have a tax system where the rich and corporations pay taxes instead of profiting from the tax system.
We are an incredibly rich country with an even richer resource in our people. We have an economy that is amongst the most flexible and productive in the world. We need to build on that. We need a politics that will provide the environment and tools for people to flourish. All of these objectives are achievable. We need to build an organization that can make these the priorities of our country instead of the priorities of the last forty years that have led to the greatest concentrations of wealth in the modern era and stagnation or poverty for the rest.
A critical step is for progressives to be more aggressive about the role of government. The present form of capitalism we are living in is unnecessarily unstable, unequal, and destructive. It will not reform itself; it cannot reform itself because these features are inherent in its functioning; in the absence of external controls capitalism produces these results. Government policies can, and have in the past, ameliorated the inequality, avoided the catastrophes of bubbles and depressions, and limited the destructive pollution and over use of land and people. For the last forty years free market dogma (neoliberalism in academic talk) has dominated with its fanciful ideas about how capitalism works. It is only the rich and corporations who have cynically benefited from promoting these ideas. Time to forcefully rebut this religion.
Another critical step is to ready people for the onslaught of opposition from the rich and corporations. We need to be clear that in this struggle those in power will not give up their privileges readily. This means we have to learn in depth how the existing structures work and who benefits and how. This will arm us to resist the lies and mystification that are now embedded in our discourse and will only intensify in the future.
Some will say that the Democratic Party is too ossified with a leadership that will not get out of the way or reform itself. This might argue for the construction of a real 3rd party. Perhaps the Green Party? Just be clear that the task in front of us is not an election cycle task. It will take a decade to accomplish the job of creating a Democratic Party or a 3rd party that really represents the interests of the vast majority of Americans.
Who might be the leaders of this progressive movement? I have no obvious and compelling suggestions. Perhaps others can speak up?
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren come to mind. They can and should participate but we need to identify younger leaders for the long run.
But what are the organizations that might blossom?
- Progressive Democrats of America
- Green Party
- Congressional Progressive Caucus
- Bernie Sander’s Our Revolution
- Progressive Change Campaign Committee
There are doubtless others.