The Democrat Party is divided because of the wounds of 2016. There was Clinton on one side and Bernie on the other. There were some policy differences, yes, but nothing that should have divided us this much, because we have so much in common, especially when you look at the other side, at the threat of Trump and the unhinged right-wing. But you know how these things go: people hold grudges and they can’t move beyond the hurt feelings. The main problem now, is to unify the Party, and maybe with the recent Democrat wins, we can do just that.
I wish that I could say that this were all true. I wish that it were that easy. I wish that the prior paragraph was true. Of all the folks out there who want change, who hope and pray for a better world, I’ll be the first to say that I wish that what we needed politically was to put aside our hurt feelings, unify the party, and move forward — but something so much deeper going on here, and it’s been going on for a long time.
The problem with the Democrat Party is not one of personalities or even one of policy, it’s a crisis of confidence. People no longer have faith in the party. They no longer believe that the party represents their interests. This is true for the working class, and it’s true for most of the party’s base
The crisis of confidence: How did we get here?
Let’s recap the recent history, and let’s start with Bernie.
Rather than conduct an entirely free and fair primary to democratically choose a representative, the money and information flow were largely dictated by the Clinton campaign, which had already started with a huge head start in the race, with “super delegates” lined up ahead of time to vote for Clinton, often in the face of overwhelming pro-Bernie support in their state.
Next came the Clinton pick for a running mate. This was perhaps the key moment, when Clinton could have united the party by tapping Bernie as a running mate. Not only would this have unified the party, it would have been a smart political move, as Bernie was and remains the most popular politician in America. Clinton by contrast, was one of the least popular. But rather than tap Bernie, Clinton choose a party insider, Tim Kaine. This was a very calculated decision.
Then came the 2016 disaster: Democrats lost at every level — Presidential election, both houses of congress, they lost at the level of governor races, and they lost in terms of the total tally of the state legislature races. And they lost to a Republican party led by mentally unstable billionaire, a Republican party that had been on the verge of a split during the primary.
In the wake of this disaster came the choice of who was going to be head the party and organize the Democrats going forward into the future. All the momentum was behind the progressive Keith Ellison, but in the end it was once again the party insider who prevailed.
Perez then immediately created a #2 position for Ellison, and at the time it seemed like this might represent a move to unite the party, but most recently Perez carried out a purge of those who supported Bernie and Ellison, unilaterally removing officials from their positions inside the DNC and replacing them with Clinton supporters and with corporate lobbyists and those friendly to corporate interests. There’s a reason for this.
And then there’s been the big bombshell
Former chair of the Democrat Party, Donna Brazile, wrote a tell-all book about the disastrous state of the party. It’s worth noting that Brazile was once fully behind Hillary Clinton, but in her new book, she spills the beans on the Clinton takeover of the DNC, and Brazile goes further still, speaking candidly about the financial woes of the party and the lack of energy and enthusiasm from the old guard who pulls the strings. Rather than engaging Brazile, as would be fitting, the Democrat true believers responded with attacks. There’s a reason for this too.
(In response to Brazile, true believers criticized Brazile as wanting to cash in and sell books, and I even saw one tweet reducing all of Brazile’s honest and well-articulated assessment as being yet another sexist attack on Clinton. Brazile’s response to these lame attacks was classic: “go to hell” she said. “I’m not Patsey the slave,” Brazile said, referring to a character in the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave.)
Are you sensing a pattern here?
None of this is an accident
None of this is an accident. It’s part a pattern, and there’s a very important reason for the pattern: The Democrat Party doesn’t want to be a party that works from the bottom-up. For decades now the party has been controlled by leadership who believes in the idea of working with the rich and powerful, first and foremost, and then secondarily negotiating for benefits for the rest of us.
A truly progressive movement represents a fundamentally different approach to power and to politics. If Bernie and other progressives succeed, it’s game-over for the old way of doing politics, and it means that a lot of party insiders are out of business, because they’ve built their entire careers around having access to the people and corporations with the big money.
Clinton didn’t pick Bernie to be her running mate because if Bernie and other progressives have their way, then it’s game over for the old guard. Whatever other motives the DNC may have had for their recent purge of Bernie supporters, they are sending a clear message to the big money donors that the progressives will not control the party and that the Democrats are going to continue to work from the top-down.
The internal conflict on the left is real. It isn’t superficial. At it’s core, it’s about democracy. It’s about whether we can truly speak truth to power and have a truly grassroots movement.
Where to go from here?
At the national level, it’s a bit of a stalemate. Progressives have been shown their place. The DNC has gone all-in with big donors, and if they can succeed in becoming financially stable, then they’ll keep going, business as usual.
To me, this struggle isn’t a shocking thing. I’ve been around for a little while. As a general rule, people in power fall in love with their power, they cling to power, and they don’t give it up until you pry their fingers away from it. This can get ugly, as Donna Brazile is finding out.
Still, there’s reason to hope. Donna Brazile’s honesty illustrates that even insiders can change, and the next generation is decidedly in the progressive camp, entirely disillusioned by the top-down approach of the old guard.
In the meantime, we continue to fight, to work at the grassroots: donating time to the causes and issues we believe in, supporting progressive candidates in Democrat primaries, and getting involved at the local level. The struggle inside the party is a fight for the soul of the party, at the deepest and most basic level. It’s not merely a matter of patching up some differences and hurt feelings.