Fighting Trump Isn’t Enough—We Must Also Wage War Within the Democratic Party

Absent our activism, the changing face of the GOP will continue to drag the Democrats further to the right.

Shaun RichmanNovember 16, 2016

This party needs to campaign on paycheck and civil rights issues, and needs to deliver real wins that put more money in people’s pockets and win them more dignity at work and in their communities. (Cliff/ Flickr)

What rea­son­able Amer­i­can does not feel some amount of bit­ter­ness about the stun­ning elec­tion win of the short-fin­gered vul­gar­i­an scion of an out­er bor­ough slum­lord, who squan­dered a bil­lion-dol­lar casi­no for­tune, and rein­vent­ed him­self as a real­i­ty TV star and racist demagogue?

"Let’s be clear: The majority of voters rejected Trump. Like Bush 16 years ago, he lost the popular vote. Unlike then, we should insist that Democrats reject the legitimacy of his LOSER administration and agenda and punish those corporate Democrats who don’t."

There’s plen­ty of acri­mo­ny to go around. The cadre of tech­no­crat­ic cam­paign­ers, poll­sters and pun­dits trained to cam­paign on promis­es of we’re not as awful as the oth­er guys” is already point­ing fin­gers at mil­len­ni­als, work­ing-class whites, old peo­ple and Jill Stein voters.

Then there are those of us who under­stand that we have a world to win and that we need to actu­al­ly ener­gize and moti­vate peo­ple to vote for some­thing. We’re pissed that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment — includ­ing union lead­er­ship — manip­u­lat­ed the pri­ma­ry process to guar­an­tee the human embod­i­ment of The Estab­lish­ment” would win the nom­i­na­tion because it was her turn.” And we’re pissed that she didn’t turn her cam­paign into a full-throat­ed denun­ci­a­tion of the last half-cen­tu­ry of Repub­li­can dem­a­goguery against minori­ties, immi­grants, women and the work­ing class because her get things done” fan­ta­sy involved doing shots with John McCain to craft bi-par­ti­san solu­tions to intractably par­ti­san controversies.

We need to fight Trump’s agen­da, but we arguably have a more urgent need to fight a civ­il war with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. This par­ty needs to cam­paign on pay­check and civ­il rights issues, and needs to deliv­er real wins that put more mon­ey in people’s pock­ets and win them more dig­ni­ty at work and in their communities.

Left, cen­ter or a third way?

I wrote in March about the ongo­ing realign­ment of our two major par­ties. As the Repub­li­can Par­ty cir­cles the drain of a toi­let bowl of eth­no-nation­al­ism and bor­der­line fas­cism, it becomes a mar­gin­al extrem­ist par­ty that can obvi­ous­ly do real dam­age when it wins. For­tu­nate­ly, their vot­ers are rapid­ly dying of old age. And let’s remem­ber, too: The major­i­ty of vot­ers have reject­ed them in six out of the last sev­en pres­i­den­tial elections.

But — absent our activism — the chang­ing face of the GOP will con­tin­ue to drag the Democ­rats fur­ther to the right. There are sim­ply too many stock­bro­kers and sin­gle-dig­it mil­lion­aires who enjoy rig­ging the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem to enrich them­selves at the expense of the rest of us, but also sup­port immi­gra­tion, gay mar­riage and gun con­trol. The GOP is no longer a com­fort­able home for them.

Hillary Clinton’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty wel­comed these exiles with open arms. Her Repub­li­cans for Hillary” efforts result­ed in a flag-wav­ing, mil­i­tary-salut­ing George W. Bush-style con­ven­tion, com­plete with a promi­nent role for bil­lion­aire Michael Bloomberg. Clin­ton brought (more of) the mon­eyed elite into the par­ty. The left has to orga­nize to kick them out.

Any­body whose 2016 cam­paign strat­e­gy involved low­er­ing vot­ers’ expec­ta­tions must be tossed onto history’s com­post pile like the moldy veg­eta­bles they are.

Look, I’m not above cast­ing a protest vote, or orga­niz­ing in earnest for a durable third par­ty alter­na­tive. In fact, I man­aged the Social­ist Party’s 2000 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. I recruit­ed the can­di­date, David McReynolds, and I got him on the bal­lot in — among oth­er places — Flori­da, where his more than 600 votes eclipsed the offi­cial mar­gin between Bush and Al Gore. A framed Palm Beach Coun­ty sam­ple bal­lot still holds a place of pride on the wall of my home office.

But our job now is to orga­nize the great­est pos­si­ble pro­gres­sive coali­tion, and third par­ty efforts tend to attract the least seri­ous and least skilled cam­paign­ers, result­ing in a mud­dle like the Stein cam­paign. I did not cast a vote for the Greens last Tues­day. Between dopey state­ments about vac­ci­na­tions and Clinton’s e‑mails, and the party’s peren­ni­al lack of a clear anti-cap­i­tal­ist mes­sage, it just wasn’t a coher­ent protest state­ment. So, after 16 years of resis­tance, I final­ly vot­ed for Hillary Clin­ton … on the Work­ing Fam­i­lies bal­lot line.

The Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty is cur­rent­ly the best-orga­nized left oppo­si­tion cau­cus with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. Hap­pi­ly, it is also struc­tured to take advan­tage of oppor­tu­ni­ties to break with cor­po­rate Democ­rats and run seri­ous third par­ty cam­paigns down-bal­lot now, and to build towards becom­ing a real third par­ty threat after the GOP has been van­quished. It is well worth pay­ing ten bucks a month to join, take a seri­ous role and push the par­ty to raise its ambitions.

Yes, com­rades, it is our bur­den to fix” the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. Like it or lump it, the project of cap­tur­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to orga­nize the largest pos­si­ble pro­gres­sive coali­tion to beat the fas­cists falls to us.

Tell-tale signs

While we’re sift­ing through this mound of horse­shit, fran­ti­cal­ly search­ing for a pony, I offer this: We were like­ly to face a reces­sion — pos­si­bly a glob­al one — in the first two years of whomever’s admin­is­tra­tion. If that reces­sion hap­pened on Clinton’s watch, the 2018 midterms would have been a blood­bath for the Democ­rats, and her 2020 re-elec­tion cam­paign would have faced an uphill bat­tle of his­tor­i­cal proportions.

Now Trump gets to own the reces­sion (which might be more severe, thanks to his bigly busi­ness savvy), and lose the House on his path to one-term ignominy. That’s as long as Democ­rats reject neolib­er­al­ism and run full-throat­ed Robin Hood-style cam­paigns to take from the 1% and give the rest of us uni­ver­sal health care, free pub­lic col­lege, afford­able hous­ing and wages we can live on.

Let’s be clear: The major­i­ty of vot­ers reject­ed Trump. Like Bush 16 years ago, he lost the pop­u­lar vote. Unlike then, we should insist that Democ­rats reject the legit­i­ma­cy of his LOS­ER admin­is­tra­tion and agen­da and pun­ish those cor­po­rate Democ­rats who don’t. Democ­rats should fil­i­buster Trump’s judi­cial picks and appoint­ments to the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board. Any roll­back of rights must be vig­or­ous­ly challenged.

Let’s also take heart from the fact that where pro­gres­sive issues were on the bal­lot, vot­ers sup­port­ed them. The min­i­mum wage was raised through bal­lot ini­tia­tives in Wash­ing­ton, Ari­zona, Col­orado and Maine. Vot­ers in Mass­a­chu­setts reject­ed a bil­lion­aire-backed effort to raise the cap on char­ter schools. San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, vot­ed for a fair sched­ul­ing law for retail work­ers. Wake Coun­ty, North Car­oli­na vot­ed to increase fund­ing for pub­lic transportation.

The les­son here is that we on the left should remain on the offen­sive and press to put pro­gres­sive issues — not debat­ably lib­er­al” per­son­al­i­ties — on the bal­lot. Here in New York, I’m in favor of the CUNY Ris­ing Alliance cam­paign to make the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York tuition-free and of vot­ing next Novem­ber to autho­rize a statewide con­sti­tu­tion­al con­ven­tion. Min­i­mum wage hikes, fair sched­ul­ing laws, rent con­trol and free pub­lic col­lege all seem like winnable issues in our biggest, most pro­gres­sive cities.

Sad­ly, union lead­ers are not like­ly to lead on this agen­da, as Mic­ah Uetrecht has bit­ter­ly not­ed. Most of the big NYC unions are lin­ing up against a con­sti­tu­tion­al con­ven­tion out of fear, just as they lined up against the most pro-work­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in decades: Bernie Sanders.

As we pre­pare to chal­lenge the next pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, we must gird our­selves for those moments when we might have to act in con­tra­dic­tion to offi­cial union lead­er­ship, and ask our­selves how we rebuild a move­ment that can­not be so eas­i­ly derailed by the per­son­al ambi­tions — or fears — of union lead­ers, but instead encour­age grass­roots protests that expand on the wants, needs and frus­tra­tions of the coali­tion that Barack Oba­ma built.

Shaun Rich­man is an In These Times con­tribut­ing writer and the Pro­gram Direc­tor of the Har­ry Van Ars­dale Jr. School of Labor Stud­ies at SUNY Empire State Col­lege. His Twit­ter han­dle is @Ess_Dog.
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