There is no doubt that the nation is on a precipice right now. No matter which wing of which party you are a member of, you know that this is a turning point. And for the Progressive left this is a moment in which we can feel our power within the broader leftist movement growing. For many, it is invigorating and exciting. Yet, it is important we are smart about how we engage in the coming months because there is push back from many angles. We are not just pushing against a wall to move left, we are breaking out of a cage of false expectations and pessimism. The comfort of counting the Democratic establishment as begrudging allies to be thrown overboard when the tasks were done is now replaced with a much more present and urgent realization that they are, many of them, betrayers. We can no longer simply turn our attention far to our right where our most bitter enemies are. We must be very distinctly aware that we fight a two-front war. While we defeat the truest ideological opponents to leftist ideals, we must also realize that in the Democratic party itself, if we are to make something of it, we are surrounded by enemies.
In the left, the tide has only begun to turn. We can see that Bernie Sanders was immediately put into the Democratic leadership committee after the elections. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton faded into infamy, not even to show up at the Women’s March, even though she ran a campaign emphasizing her gender as the major selling point for her candidacy. All while Keith Ellison rose onto the scene as a hopeful change in the future of the Democratic National Convention leadership, proposing Bernie’s ideas along with his endorsement. And although neither of these events was without its own controversies and brawls amongst the left, they both marked that the Democratic party can see; the high-water mark has been washed away.
Democratic operatives scramble to get Bernie Sanders’ all precious e-mail list, knowing that this list is a coalition of people who were so engaged and passionate that they catapulted him into viability in the primaries. “Who are these people?!” the establishment Democrats seem to be shouting at the top of their lungs, because the people that vote for them have become so disengaged and disappointed that those Democratic leaders have not seen great passion in recent memory. The passion for Bernie was a bizarre anomaly to them, something to be explained away with some grumbling about moocher mentality or naïve Bernie Bros characterizations. But Democratic presence in Congress is at one of its weakest in modern political history. I say, of all times you could choose to utterly transform a political party into one which represents your interests, it is indisputably right now. We can feel that the time is here. This is that movement that goes in history books. This is that movement that the books could read:
The coalition of Progressive leftists which created Bernie’s presidential run used displeasure with the election of Trump to change the composition of the Democratic Party. This new surge of Progressive leftists ousted the Neoliberal Democrats. The overly corporatized nature of Neoliberal Democrats made them unable to enact progressive reforms. As a result the modern Democratic Party is more focused on the civil rights of its citizens, freedom from poverty, and a more equal Democracy.
These enemies on the left have long enabled the ascendance of right-wing ideologues serving the interests of their donors over those of the populace. Not only do they fail to show up to fight for actual leftist values, many of them cannot even stomach stiff opposition to Trump’s regime. By what measure can you call them allies? How much do one’s political views have to differ from yours, such that you would no longer call it a ‘purity test,’ but would instead consider it a matter of definition? If someone doesn’t think that corporate influence should be reined in and that unions should be empowered, that is not leftism. If someone thinks that government should be moderate in its interaction with the economy, because the economy prospers all by some natural law of self-organization, they are not a leftist. If someone thinks that the government should be timid in taking over essential services to their community, they do not believe in the ideals of leftism. And yet, while many Democrats would say they are on the leftist side of these issues, they will concede these positions to their opponents on the right at a moment’s notice, while curiously, always to the benefit of their donors. Insofar as they have any principles, they are secondary to the interests of the powerful establishment coalitions which organize and fund their party. Neoliberal Democrats have utterly sold the soul of leftism to the highest bidder and the ones who won the bid were corporations.
This last election cycle we saw the ideological weapons of Neoliberal Identity politics brought to full force. And as a counter-balance, we saw the terrible culmination of the alt-right’s fascistic political scheme. The types of people who now lead this country are: Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, and Scott Pruitt, just to name a few. The insane and often illegal zeal with which they lie, break laws, circumvent rules and regulations, and openly admit how they will gut the social contract seems horrifying and unprecedented. And it is certainly the first of those two, but, I contend, not the latter. The praxis of their political ideology is not a new thing to the American political system. No, it is their shamelessness to conceal the psychopathic tendencies of that ideology that is so shocking.
Our politicians were ones who thought that widespread respectability and air of dignity and resolve were the most important optics. What was done behind that face was then concealed and not spoken of. But I contend that these names I gave above are the true face behind the visage of the caring corporation, of the hard-knock individualist Republican, and yes, even the Neoliberal Democrat. The corporate coalition with governmental actors has become so thorough, so seamless, that we have one of the greatest robber barons of the modern American real-estate market as our president. For so long the political actors in both parties wanted to do just what you see in this circus right now. They show us what they are without pretense and we, as a nation, recoil. We see before us a corporate plutocracy, abstracted of all empathy for humans or regard for the social contract. It refuses to wear a mask any longer and it looks like Donald J. Trump.
At this point, I know so many are saying “that’s insane to claim the Democrats and the Republicans are equally bad.” That is, in fact, not the substance of this thesis. Indeed the Democrats are on the right side of more issues than the Republicans. When it comes to civil rights, even establishment Democrats don’t seem overly willing to capitulate on those fundamental values. And although there are many examples where they have failed on this account, and utterly betrayed those values, it can be said that some good faith effort is usually made by Democratic actors to improve the civil rights of the citizenry. As a note: I would argue that the desire for civil rights does not have a particular bearing on the Left-Right dichotomy. Although Ron Paul Libertarians are horrifically wrong about the economy, they would agree with our coalition that the freedom from discrimination is a fundamental and paramount human right. Although, it should be said that their social critique sometimes does not reach far enough. But the statement still stands that the Democrats are not leftists. And unfortunately, this aspect, being the sole difference between the two parties, has been made to utterly dominate the discussion.
The rise of Identity Politics is actually an attempt to weaponize these issues to the benefit of ultra-powerful corporate interests. The Democrats know that the discussion must stay within the realm of freedom from discrimination, because should the discussion wander into the means of greater systemic oppression, people would find them to be just as vile as their opponents. So yes, on the matters of personal freedoms, they are better. But in the state of rapid decline that our country faces, these issues (with no intent to trivialize) are essentially asking to not be beaten and bound in a burning house with locked doors. One should clearly not want to be beaten and bound, and that is an injustice, but if we do not put out the fire, we will all die nonetheless. The only solution in which justice can be achieved is when there are no more beatings and the house fire is put out. The intersection of our struggles is the only path to victory and we must pursue them simultaneously. Anything else will only play into the hands of the rich and the powerful.
I want to address an old adage that I hear all the time, from all circles of people. It goes something like this: “well every few years you’re choosing between malignant cancer and getting stabbed. But at least you can just get some surgery for getting stabbed and heal up. Malignant cancer will probably kill you!” And perhaps this is even metaphorically accurate. In fact, worst of all, in this metaphor one can see that either will probably lead to a deterioration in health that would kill either of them anyway. If someone were regularly stabbed, it would probably shorten their lifespan, even though they might survive it in the immediate term. Eventually, it might even kill them flat out if it hits them somewhere vital. In the same way, our nation is the one bleeding out. She is not the victim of a knife, but of the rollback of the Voting Rights Act, of the Citizens United decision, of the passage of the NDAA, of the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and so many more. After so many years of it, the wounds are piling up. Our democracy is nearing death and we can no longer wait to change the rules of this game. There is no doubt that this is a distressing and disempowering metaphor. Indeed, it serves a purpose to those in power. The profusion of this metaphor can be weaponized to create apathy, to give an excuse for disengaging with politics until at an arm’s reach and only at convenience. It makes people think “if it’s all so bad, surely it doesn’t matter what I do.”
But there is a path forward. The Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress movements are fundamentally altering this metaphor. Instead they say: “we want to replace the knife with ‘enacting social equity’.” And make no mistake, that path will take a lot of hard work, but it is a path to escape from the cycle of the lesser of two evils and the deterioration of our nation’s health. Even more, it says that we can alter the fundamental nature of our options. That is precisely why the Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress propose to run against Democrats. The purpose of both of these organizations is to fill our government with progressive Democrats, to transition away from evils and toward actual goods. There is finally a means with which to act against the enemies amongst you. That means is to participate in your democracy. Do not think it can only be you. Do not think we have time to wait for the system to naturally work itself out. We must build and grow coalitions that are too large to defeat and we must act now.
We must recapture and refocus the energy that we saw for Bernie’s campaign. Because, these projects are more important and have more hope for change than Bernie’s one-person campaign. The presidential elections are exaggerated in their importance. Your state representatives in Congress make more changes in your daily life and those of the people you love more than any president who will be elected. Furthermore, the battles for our Congress will begin in less than two years. The filing deadlines for candidacy will be in only a matter of months in some cases. The battle against Trump will last for the next four years. And insofar as the president is the captain of a ship, know that if we are to elect a better captain, they will need support from Congress. If another Bernie comes along, we cannot have a situation in which they must struggle against Congress hopelessly, achieving nothing. We cannot afford for any president who has their priorities straight to be made a lame duck. It is time to get to work fixing this system and rejecting despair. All cycles can and will be broken in time and it is time for this cycle to end.
If we are to succeed in the resurgence of the Roosevelt Democratic party ideals, we must internalize a very important fact; we cannot place lasting priority on either front of our war. In a two front war, resources must be allocated carefully and wisely. If a general orders all his resources to one front, the opponent on the other front will rush in and take advantage. Both fronts present horrifying existential dilemmas both for our party and for the future of the American people. Although, it is true that the most present danger is the administration of Donald Trump, if we focus all of our energy and attention on that administration, we will play right into the hands of the betrayers among us. This is their age old game. Displeasure with weak Democrats reaches a height and this results in the election of their opposition. But instead of discussion about what took place, they divert attention, pointing their finger at that Republican opposition. They implore us to fetishize unity, something which implicitly places them back into the seats of power, so that we may achieve victory. Most of all, they want the campaign to oust their interests to be ignored, for our short attention spans to be focused away from their cancerous presence in the party.
Do not be deceived and do not be distracted by emotions of outrage and disgust for your worst enemies. The weakness of the corporate Democrats as an opposition party is what allowed the administration of Trump. Know this; the establishment Democrats care only about keeping their jobs, not actually stopping the rise of Fascism. They have been providing material aid to that rise for decades and if we become wholly distracted with the sneering visage of Trump and his incompetent, greedy allies, we will have perpetuated a cycle. A cycle which has led to the degradation of American democracy and the weakening of the true opposition to Fascism. In our war, the resources are time, attention, and motivation. We must not squander these resources, but instead strategize their usage as the wise general might do. The fate of our nation depends on it.