Over the past year, something completely unexceptional has occurred within the Democratic Party. There was an election, and as such, Democrats and Dem-leaning voters were asked to make a choice between two candidates. One of those choices was a Senator from Vermont. A self-described Democratic Socialist and, at first glance, a complete curmudgeon who seemed to lack the charisma needed to drum up even a modicum of support. This candidate was also a party outsider, a fact voters were often reminded of throughout the primaries. The other choice was a classic insider. With deep ties to the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, she was a former Secretary of State and Senator, not to mention the wife of the 42nd President of the United States. This candidate was viewed by many to be the standard-bearer of Democratic values, a champion of women and children, and a candidate whose time had finally come.
Also completely unexceptional in this election was the division caused when one party asks its electorate to choose between two candidates. There was also nothing particularly unusual about the attacks that followed, attacks on policy and platforms, and personal attacks on the values and personalities of the candidates and their supporters. However, unique to this election may be the fact that more than eight months after the primaries, and nearly four months after the Democratic Party’s loss in the general election, the infighting between the two factions of this party is ongoing. Not just among the supporters of both candidates, but also among Democratic elites, former surrogates and staffers, media correspondents, politicians, and those supporters.
However, rather than determining what is actually at the heart of this division, the corporate media, along with Democratic politicians and their loyal backers, display near genius slight-of-hand by focusing all of the attention on “who” was responsible for the Democratic Party’s loss. The FBI, Russia, Facebook, fake news, propaganda, WikiLeaks, Twitter trolls, angry White men, disloyal women, and the electoral college are among the most notable scapegoats. However, what is not being discussed, and what might be less known to Clinton supporters, is that she was the most unpopular Democratic candidate in modern history.
To some extent, this sciolism is to be expected. While the corporate media pumped Clinton supporters full of biased information, polls conducted by Quinnipiac, NBC/Wall Street Journal, CBS/New York Times, Fox News, ABC/Washington Post, and many others during the primaries consistently showed that Clinton fared only marginally better against Trump in head-to-head general election match-ups. Instead of reporting these findings, the corporate media provided a steady flow of what can be best described as propaganda, or simply provided no information at all. Simultaneously, counterfactual information poured out through pro-Clinton PACs, surrogates, and paid internet trolls and was then bolstered by Clinton-friendly print and televised corporate media. Not surprisingly, all of these forces combined to convince Clinton supporters to ignore any evidence that was inconsistent with their agenda. Which was, of course, to get Clinton elected.
But again, this is not exactly an exceptional case in the history of American politics. Undoubtedly, the photo of Harry Truman holding up the Chicago Tribune’s November 3, 1948 issue with the headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman” is an iconic image that is burned into the consciousness of most Americans. That election is another example of how pundits, pols, and surrogates can mislead the voting public, intentionally or otherwise. Like most papers at the time, the Tribune had dismissed Truman and had even gone so far as to refer to him as a “nincompoop“ on its editorial page.
Similarly, Clinton supporters were bombarded with reports of her inevitability and simultaneously inundated with reports of Trump’s “nincompoopery,” and worse. In their minds, there was absolutely no way that she could lose, and, of course, because this was what Democrats wanted to hear, they did not seek out potentially contradictory evidence. Such is human nature; we simply prefer to hear information that confirms our own biases. Unfortunately, emboldened by this conveyed inexorableness, the oft-repeated message to Sanders’s supporters from Clintonites was, “we don’t need you” and “we can win without you.” But the fact remains that Democrats needed progressives then and they need them now.
So while Democratic politicians call for the party to “cull the fringe,” they are, to their great detriment, ignoring the fact that the Democratic Party has already been culled from more than 1000 seats in the last eight years. They are not only a minority in the House, the Senate, and among Governorships, they are a minority among registered voters. Democrats currently make up a mere 25% of the electorate. So what is a divided party to do when it cannot trust its leaders or the media to be honest and when neither of these groups seems genuinely interested in brokering unity? The first step is most certainly to determine whether the two factions can find common ground. From an outsider’s perspective, it would appear that progressives have a dogged loyalty to a set of commonly held values. Let’s be real, they weren’t swept up by the idea of electing yet another aging White man to the highest office in the land. And while Sanders is charming enough, he isn’t exactly Mr. Charisma. Progressives were okay with that; they saw the need for the party to make a drastic shift and he was the man with that platform.
Certainly, a great many Clinton supporters may also have been 100% in support of her platform. However, there is also a possibility that many others really didn’t give a shit what her platform was. For them, she was Democratic enough and they wanted to have a role in electing the first female POTUS. Unfortunately, when you have one group who is loyal to a set of values, and another who is loyal to a party or candidate that does not represent those values, division will always be the outcome. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that it is far easier to dislodge one’s self from a party than it is to abandon one’s core values. With that, it seems that the only way to determine if party unity is even a possibility is to determine whether or not Democratic Party-line voters and progressives actually have shared values.
Core progressive values are rather simple to outline:
- Universal healthcare, because good health is the least this society can promise its citizens
- Quality and equal education for all children regardless of socioeconomic status
- Affordable postsecondary education and freedom from burdensome student loan debt
- Economic security as a matter of right, a decent living wage, and the ability to live with dignity
- Tax reforms directed toward equitable distribution of income and wealth
- A fair sharing of the cost of government
- Policy that benefits society first
- Avoidance of policies which tend to concentrate wealth and stimulate higher prices
- The right to live in a safe and healthy environment
- An end to U.S. military expansion and global interventionism
Certainly, some of these are progressive values that must be shared by the average Democratic Party voter as well. In all honesty, these values are not all that different from those promoted by the Democratic Party platform. That is, if we are talking about the Democratic Party platform in 1972. Similar to today, the nation was in a state of upheaval 45 years ago. Anti-war protests and tensions had been boiling over across the country for years. POC and the Left were branded as dangerous threats to the country and were being targeted by the government for arrest, surveillance, and eradication. And, just as now, the environmental movement was picking up serious momentum. After years of Nixon’s economic policies, wages were down, costs for American families were up, and executive pay and the upward distribution of wealth were skyrocketing. Of course, all of this sounds very familiar to most of us.
In light of this turmoil, in 1972, Democrats proclaimed that Americans were beginning to “feel that the government is run for the privileged few, rather than for the many” and they admitted that the public was “right.” All of the “progressive” values that I listed above were core elements of the 1972 Democratic platform. Let that sink in for a second. Proposals deemed too far to the Left, too fringe, too much too soon just last year; were core elements of the Democratic Party platform 45 years ago. Along with the proposals listed above, guaranteed work for all Americans in the form of public service expansion, affordable housing, guaranteed safety nets for communities affected by offshoring of industry, recession insurance for states and cities in times of economic downturn, and a demand to turn the party toward ensuring economic and civil justice for all citizens were included in the ‘72 platform. The platform also embraced a clear anti-war position, it denounced government spying on its citizens, and declared “that government is the servant, not the master, of the people.”
In stark contrast to the 1972 Democratic Party platform, the 2016 Democratic platform sounded more like a benefits package for corporations than a promise to work toward improving the lives of Americans. For example, it proposed an executive order to leverage federal funds to employers who provide their workers a living wage, offered incentives to companies to build new affordable housing developments, offered incentives to private companies to take on infrastructure projects, and offered the promise of more affordable loans to small and medium businesses. While the platform spoke of reforming campaign finance, that promise primarily came in the form of offering more transparency, rather than rejecting big monied interests. The 2016 platform paid mere lip-service to issues of Universal Healthcare, tribal rights, and the minimum wage. The platform’s proposals on the environment were weak and primarily packaged as job creation. Furthermore, far from being an anti-war platform, modern Democrats called for increased military spending, and actually disparaged previous military spending cuts made by Republicans.
If the Democratic Party had one opportunity to win over independents and progressives, the 2016 platform would have been it. In fact, to ease inter-party tensions that arose from the sordid behavior of DNC members during the primaries, Sanders was offered five seats on the 15-member drafting panel. However, cutting through Democratic Party hokum has become second nature to most progressives. So when the 2016 platform was branded “the most progressive platform in Democratic history” by the Clinton campaign, progressives immediately called bullshit. When compared to the 1972 platform, which called for the government to use the resources we provide it to ensure the good of all citizens, the 2016 platform sounded more like a neoliberal fantasy made reality, with the expectation that progressives would just fall in line. So what do you do when “Democratic” proposals sound more like pro-business Reagan-era rhetoric? First, you question your party’s integrity and then you follow the money.
Not too surprisingly, several of the delegates to the platform drafting committee who were chosen by Clinton and Wasserman Schultz immediately stood out. Prominent among those drafting committee delegates was the ever-present Twitter propagandist and Democratic Party divider Neera Tanden. She, along with lobbyist Howard Berman, Wendy Sherman, and Carol Browner (who both work for the Albright Stonebridge Group), collectively voted down progressive amendments advocating for single-payer, proposals to halt climate change, amendments advocating a $15 minimum wage, and language critical of the occupation of Palestine.
Why? Because all of these delegates have deep financial ties to industry. Altogether, these individuals either do work for, or receive donations from, Walmart, Dow, Coca-Cola, Verizon, Pfizer, AT&T, Comcast, GE, Amgen, fossil fuel companies, biotech, health insurance providers, and medical device manufacturers. Tanden’s votes against the climate change planks showed her commitment to pursuing donor’s interests over a commitment to the environment. Additionally, the Center for American Progress (CAP), the organization that Tanden runs, has received enormous donations from Walmart, Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, Apple, Google, and many others who are staunchly opposed to the $15 minimum wage. Likewise, Sherman’s votes against single-payer showed a dedication to working on behalf of the companies his firm represents, rather than advocating for healthcare for all Americans.
It is understandable that Democratic politicians and Clinton supporters feel a bit salty that progressives refused to back their candidate and that they now refuse to back the party. What they do not seem to appreciate is that it is impossible for a person to watch the quality of their own life, their children’s lives, and their family and friend’s lives rapidly deteriorate before their eyes and expect them to vote for anyone other than the candidate they believe will address that suffering. During the height of the Primary race last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a paper declaring that neoliberalism, an agenda they have vehemently promoted, was tearing apart at the seams. The authors argued that government officials needed to consider redistribution of wealth to offset the real damage that income inequality, caused by neoliberalism, had done to huge swathes of the global population:
The evidence of the economic damage from inequality suggests that policymakers should be more open to redistribution than they are. Of course, apart from redistribution, policies could be designed to mitigate some of the impacts in advance—for instance, through increased spending on education and training, which expands equality of opportunity.
Clearly, that message fell on deaf ears among representatives of the “Party of the People.” At a time when Democratic politicians could have easily promoted that agenda, they instead chose to put their own financial interests and the financial interests of the corporations that prop them up, before the well-being of the human beings whose labor and taxes support them. Frankly, this is a betrayal that progressives are not capable of ignoring. In the real world, real people are struggling; they do not have decent paying work, they cannot pay their bills, they struggle to feed their children, they have no health insurance, they are buried in debt, they will never retire, and they are discriminated against or exploited in many aspects of their daily lives.
Many Clinton supporters and Democratic elites continue to admonish progressives, referring to them as the “all or nothing” faction of the Democratic Party. If unity is actually a goal, it would be prudent for them to understand why progressives feel that way. Over the past 35 years, the neoliberal agendas of both parties have created a permanent underclass, which before long, could include more than half of Americans. With that being said, it is very unlikely that progressives will align with a party that enthusiastically deflects responsibility and expends so much effort convincing its own voters that equitable policies are frivolous, impossible, selfish, and naive. In our eyes, the only thing keeping the Democratic Party from advocating and pursuing more equitable policies, policies that were once core Democratic values, is the people we have put in charge.