We are borrowing this post that has been circulating by e-mail because we think that it makes many points that are worth debating and because it expresses in plain language what we think needs to be heard by some local activists who are looking Left.
In spite of some tall hurdles, the opportunity is there for the Democratic Party to help transform society, at a time when the Republican Party is having trouble controlling a monster of its own making. The Democratic Party, though, must be willing to transform itself, requiring new strategies and an impassioned commitment to the sorts of reforms the Democratic Party has long dismissed as too radical. Some will argue that what we really need is a new political party, but I don’t see that as being a viable option, and for the purposes of this essay I’m not considering it. The Democratic Party will need to engage in outreach to rural Americans, as well as cynical or apathetic nonvoters. But not by appealing to a supposed centrism, or by being progressive only in rhetoric and not in deed. On the contrary, the Democratic Party must fully embrace a progressive populism. Frustration with the status quo, including incrementalism, is boiling over. We don’t have time for standard operating procedure, thanks in large part to climate change, nor is it capable of building the sort of broad support needed to, at long last, realize an egalitarian, just and humane society. Before diving into what exactly I think the Democratic Party should be doing, let’s consider some substantial impediments and how we got to where we are.
The US political system is, despite claims to the contrary, incredibly anti-democratic. Defending the US Senate by saying it represents the states and not individuals is disingenuous. As Hans Noel of Vox asks, "Why should it have a veto on any legislation that has nothing to do with states as states?" The US Senate also hands out lifetime appointments to those who rule on matters that affect individuals. It does so in a country that is vastly different than the one of 13 colonies and 2.5 million people. In the 18th century, there were no examples of population disparities that even remotely rival the disparity between California and Wyoming. The anti-majoritarian nature of our political system is only going to get worse, unless we expand who constitutes the majority. It has been estimated that by the year 2040, approximately two-thirds of the US population will be represented by just 30 US Senators. US residents are increasingly concentrated with more than half the US population living in just over 140 of the more than 3000 counties. More than 80 percent of the US population lives in urban areas, whereas only about half did so a century ago and only a fraction as many when the nation's constitution was written. It is now a consistent threat that the electoral college, a remnant of slavery, will be won by a presidential candidate who loses the popular vote by millions. Meanwhile, the supposed people's house, the US House of Representatives, is plagued by gerrymandered, winner-take-all single-member districts. State assemblies, such as the one in Wisconsin, suffer the same ills. If that wasn't enough, the US political scene is awash in dark money.
Those features of the US political system give aid and comfort to the Republican Party of the 21st century. Still, when Republicans saw the writing on the wall decades ago, they couldn't have liked what they were reading. Demographic shifts, social mores and scientific knowledge were all working against them, meaning an anti-majoritarian political system might not be sufficient to maintain plutocracy. It became imperative that the GOP create an alternate reality, in which the bulk of their base now resides. Trump or Trumpism didn't happen in a vacuum. 50 years of increasingly cruel, unhinged rhetoric and policy is what created a Republican Party that's now dominated by the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn, Jim Jordan, Steve King, Joni Ernst, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Louie Gohmert and some who openly subscribe to QAnonsense.
When people have a different take on the causes, effects and proper response to a given set of facts, a potentially constructive debate might ensue. When people deny facts and invent their own "alternative facts," no such potential exists. Various surveys have shown that a majority of Republicans disbelieve everything from climate science to evolution to Barack Obama's birth certificate to the results of the 2020 presidential election. A 2014 poll of Louisiana Republicans found that more respondents blamed Obama than blamed George W. Bush for the federal government's poor response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Such ignorance seems benign when considering that, at present, millions of people seem to believe Donald Trump and JFK, Jr. are leading an effort to prevent "Deep State" Democrats from eating babies in pizza shop basements. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has attributed wildfires to Jewish space lasers, and claims school shootings are false flag operations, yet all but 11 of her GOP colleagues were unwilling to strip her of committee assignments, much less demand her resignation. How in the world did we get here? Contributing factors include social media, the longstanding right wing dominance of talk radio and the 24/7 infotainment industry. The Republican Party itself, though, started laying the groundwork for this alternate reality long ago.
Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy took advantage of a backlash to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Powell Memorandum of the early 1970s served as a blueprint for the corporatization of a nation that, thanks in large part to FDR's New Deal, had seen a reduction in the wealth gap and substantial growth of a middle class. In the late '70s, Moral Majority was founded and worked diligently at turning hate into a family value.
Ronald Reagan, like Margaret Thatcher across the pond, would take the right wing revolution to new heights. Dog whistling, anti-government vitriol and deregulation have been just a few of the tools used. Long before Trump's big lie about the 2020 election being stolen or climate change being a hoax (while, mind you, he applies for a permit to build a giant seawall around his resort in Ireland), there was the big lie known as trickle-down economics, or what George H. W. Bush referred to as "voodoo."
At the same time profit and not the public interest became primary for an increasingly consolidated media, and the Fairness Doctrine was being repealed, the Republican Party sold another big lie when successfully implanting into the public consciousness the "liberal media" critique. It took the obscene egregiousness of Donald Trump and an insurrection for the infotainment industry to somewhat come to its senses regarding its habit of promoting false equivalencies, suggesting a warped sense of what constitutes fairness. Chris Cilliza, writing for CNN, quotes Rand Paul regarding his 2020 election fraud claims: "Historically what would happen is if I said that I thought that there was fraud, you would interview someone else who said there wasn't. But now you insert yourself in the middle and say that the absolute fact is that everything that I'm saying is a lie." Cilliza responds, "This is a classic appeal to both-sider-ism by Paul. His argument goes like this: I can say anything I want and it's not the job of the media to litigate whether it's true or not. Instead, there should be another guest on the show who says the opposite of what I am saying -- and then the viewers can decide who is right and who is wrong." Cilliza, to his credit, then adds a sad truth: "Paul is right that journalism, for far too long, worked like this." Indeed, for far too long, the media has been like the Discovery Institute with their "Teach the Controversy" campaign. I'm not confident that those days are over, as the profit motive remains in place.
That said, the two major political parties have not functioned as disparately as rhetoric suggests, though they have been moving apart of late. Most unfortunately, many in the Democratic Party establishment have also subscribed to neoliberalism, while maintaining a relatively progressive take on social issues. It is also undeniable that members of both parties have been and remain beholden to moneyed interests. Then-candidate Joe Biden assured wealthy donors at a private fundraiser that, if he becomes president, "No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change.” Disgust with corruption in Washington is not unjustified, even if those chanting "drain the swamp" have failed to see that their political heroes are themselves swamp creatures.
So, what is the Democratic Party to do, especially if the anti-democratic system within which it operates is virtually reform-proof? Simply put, Democrats and other organizations must help build the massive multiracial working class alliance that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Hampton and other '60s radicals were attempting to build, that Reverend William Barber is attempting to build today with his Poor People's Campaign. Such an alliance must include millions of rural Americans who currently either don't vote or vote Republican. The Democratic Party must abandon neoliberalism and assist in the development of class consciousness around support for universal programs like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, worker-owned cooperatives, campaign finance reform, and universal access to preschool and college via progressive taxation and a wealth tax. None of this is to say the Democratic Party shouldn't also concern itself with ending white supremacy and patriarchy. But framing matters, tactics matter and disingenuous prioritization is transparent.
Far too many members of the Democratic Party establishment seem more interested in ensuring that thirteen percent of hedge fund managers are black than in ending predatory capitalism, as if a lack of diversity is the utmost concern. In a 2018 article, Adolph Reed, Jr. writes, "Even when its proponents believe themselves to be radicals, this antiracist politics is a professional-managerial class politics. Its adherents are not concerned with trying to generate the large, broad political base needed to pursue a transformative agenda because they are committed fundamentally to pursuit of racial parity within neoliberalism, not social transformation. In fact, antiracist activists’ and pundits’ insistence during the 2016 election campaign that Bernie Sanders did not address black concerns made that point very clearly because nearly every item on the Sanders campaign’s policy agenda—from the Robin Hood tax on billionaires to free public higher education to the $15/h minimum wage, a single-payer health care system, etc. (Sanders for President)—would disproportionately benefit black and Hispanic populations that are disproportionately working class."
If we're to build an egalitarian, humane nation and world, having only 51 or even 60 percent of the people on board isn't going to cut it. Besides, it is unwise and demonstrates a lack of compassion to leave so many people feeling like they don't belong. But what will unite the masses? Getting money and its corruptive influence out of politics is a concept that people from all across the political spectrum can undoubtedly support. Quality, affordable health care and a living wage are things most everyone wants. With the right framing and persistent outreach, support for community-controlled policing can possibly be developed by tapping into the same desire many have for local control of schools. While many have bought into the notion that climate change is a hoax, those same individuals can understand the importance of breathing clean air and drinking clean water. The Green New Deal is a jobs bill as much as a climate change mitigation bill. Those working in the fossil fuel industry, in Wyoming and North Dakota and elsewhere, need some assurance that shutting down fossil fuel production doesn't mean destroying their livelihood. Green infrastructure projects are key. Another helpful move would be bringing back the Fairness Doctrine and encouraging educators to teach media literacy. The bottom line is that transforming society won't happen with a return to the pre-Trump "normal."
Above all, I'm advocating that the Democratic Party, along with other organizations, invest heavily in outreach and movement building, particularly in rural areas. And not just during election cycles but between election cycles. Pay people a living wage to knock on doors and hang out at diners and have conversations that uncover common ground. Not for the purpose of helping a candidate win or a ballot measure pass, but to build sustainable solidarity. Face-to-face interactions, once they become safe again, are ideal. The recruiting, planning and paid training can start right away, online or possibly in person. These solidarity organizers must be trained in diplomacy, in how to listen and respond as opposed to react. They should be armed with knowledge, but studies demonstrate that "facts backfire," so organizers must also understand that emotional appeals are vital. There may need to be some biting of tongues at times, not as a suppression of values but as a way to build bridges. Plant seeds that will hopefully take root in the minds of those who may have some detestable views, but do so gracefully, knowing there's more to people than their worst misconceptions. These outreach efforts should extend to the tens of millions of adults who don't vote, at least partly on account of feeling like politicians aren't making their lives appreciably better.
I'll close with a quote from Dr. King's brilliant 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech, when he called for something that has yet come to pass but still can. "I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing‐oriented' society to a 'person‐oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered…True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, 'This is not just.'...A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”