Progressives have tried over and over again to take over the Democratic Party and return it to the worker-oriented engine for economic justice that it was under FDR.
They have failed.
Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Jerry Brown, Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Howard Dean, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders – all our progressive champions were beaten, laid low by the Democratic establishment either during the Primaries or during the General Election (in the case of McGovern); or were compromised and turned into neoliberal moderates post-election (in the case of Obama).
We need to try a different approach, to find another Party to transform. And in a country ruled by a political duopoly, that means we need to take a good hard look at the GOP.
Before my friends on the left start condemning me as a heretic, let me say that I have been a die-hard Bernie Sanders supporter since 2015 and a democratic socialist for much longer than that. Indeed, my appreciation for social democracy stems from having spent half my adult life in western Europe, where I have witnessed first-hand how a decidedly capitalist economy can not only survive but thrive in a society that incorporates the ideals of democratic socialism.
Europe has taught me that the true enemy of progressivism is not capitalism, but neoliberalism, and that neoliberalism has found its true and lasting home not so much on the Right, with its tendency towards traditionalism and nationalism but rather in the Liberal establishment, with its emphasis on meritocracy and globalism. This fact is most profoundly exemplified in the emergence of the “New Labour” party of the UK under Tony Blair and the “New Democrat” party of the US under Bill Clinton.
These “Third Way” neoliberals gave up their Party’s moral and philosophical foundations in favor of “triangulation,” a method of cynical pandering to specific interest groups at specific inflection points solely in order to cobble together enough votes to win. They are interested only in obtaining and keeping power, and then utilizing that power to serve their corporate donors, enrich themselves and fund their future campaigns.
We must accept the truth about the Democratic Party
My 5-year heroic but bittersweet journey with Bernie has led me to conclude that it is impossible to wrest power away from the neoliberal Clintonite establishment. As I mention above, acquiring and keeping power is the only thing that the modern Democrats believe in, and consequently they are very good at it. All other priorities are ephemeral and will be instantly sacrificed if needed in order to maintain their wealth and positions in the DC firmament.
As the Kshama Sawant, the famed socialist firebrand, famously quipped:
“As long as we tie ourselves to a party that is tied to Wall Street, our movements will reach a graveyard in the Democratic Party.”
Obama’s intervention in the 2020 primaries proves beyond doubt that for the Democratic Party, their one overriding mission is to stop any leftist movement that could pose a threat to their donor and lobbyist-based financial interests – even if it means losing elections to the Republicans.
This willingness to lose is also revealed by the Democrats confrères in the UK, where recent leaks showed how the Blairites in the Labour Party worked to defeat their own candidate, Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 and thereby help Teresa may and her Conservatives win.
These two debacles are the latest examples of the futility of trying to beat a political Party that is not actually operating as a political party but rather as a corrupt criminal enterprise. You cannot win against a party establishment that is willing to literally help the other side win just so that they can stop you. It is like fighting with a suicide bomber. As soon as it looks like you might win, they blow themselves up.
The 2020 Primaries revealed the greater of two evils
In evaluating the two parties that dominate American politics, it is important to understand that in a duopoly both parties will be corrupt, both will be evil to a greater or lesser degree or in different ways.
The 2020 Primaries gave us a good example of what I consider to be some important differences between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
Of the 4 states that were scheduled to hold primaries on April 7, only one – Ohio – had the good sense to postpone the election in order to protect people from the Coronavirus. And it was a Republican Governor (DeWine) who made that call. The other states went ahead.
The DNC, Tom Perez and Joe Biden were all determined to push the primaries forward, regardless of the danger posed by COVID-19. They wanted to keep “Joementum” going and wrap up the Primary contest as quickly as possible, to cement Joe Biden as the nominee and preclude any resurgence from Bernie Sanders. And they knew that the longer the Primary campaign continued the more likely it was that Biden might make a gaffe or do something else to ruin his chances.
Even more telling, however, was how the DNC and Joe Biden pushed to hold the Wisconsin primary on April 7 – even as Bernie Sanders actively discouraged his supporters from voting in person. After the Primary was held, Sanders condemned the decision, saying that it “may prove deadly“. Indeed, many believe that Sanders’s decision to drop out so suddenly was in large part driven by the realization that the Democrats would continue to push for in-person Primaries to be held, risking the lives of voters, just to wrap up the Primary and deny Bernie any chance to mount a comeback. Sanders apparently told aides that this was the most ruthless political move he had ever seen, and I believe he felt he had to put an end to his campaign in order to save lives.
So the DNC and Tim Perez were willing to literally kill people just to crush a progressive challenger. THAT is what I call evil.
Understanding the structural differences between the Democrats and the GOP
A cursory study of history shows that the Democratic Party exists primarily to block anti-corporate, progressive, economically egalitarian advances from the Left. The DNC’s willingness to self destruct in pursuit of this goal was evident in 1968, when the party elites chose as their nominee Hubert Humphrey, a conservative Democrat who had not won even a single Primary contest. They chose Humphrey over Eugene McCarthy, a progressive who was enormously popular among the younger generation and who had won the most Primaries and acquired a large plurality of delegates to the convention. The 1968 DNC Convention thus became a bloodbath, riots broke out and the Democrats were seen to be in disarray, setting the stage for Nixon to win with an electoral margin of 50%.
To prevent such debacles in the future, the DNC agreed to form a commission to make the Primary process more open. The commission, headed by George McGovern, Ted Kennedy and other New Left Democrats, created the open caucus system, which would allow rank and file voters to participate.
As described in an article in conservative National Affairs, the Republicans followed the Democrats’ lead in adopting the new populist method of choosing a candidate:
“…the GOP’s process was never designed with conservative goals in mind. Instead, in a peculiar historical turn some four decades ago, Republicans adopted a process that was designed for the Democratic Party by its most liberal activists: New Left reformers who sought to wrest power from Democratic insiders in order to give it to their base. Shortly after the new Democratic primary process was put in place, Republicans emulated it in almost every detail.”
The Democratic elites, however, remained wary of the encroaching Left and so soon found a way to stymie any populist uprising that the new reforms might allow: in the early 1980’s they created the Superdelegates – a way for party bosses and insiders to exercise last-ditch control over the nominating process and provide a “fail-safe” against a too-progressive candidate.
But here’s the kicker: The Republicans never did anything similar.
That is why their nominating process is more open, with less of a heavy hand exercised by the Party establishment. Indeed, the main argument of the above-referenced National Affairs article is that the GOP nominating process is too open and too susceptible to outside influence. And after witnessing the rise of Trump and the vanquishing of the Bush dynasty in 2016, one can easily see how the GOP old guard would be exasperated.
Nonetheless, the fact remains: the Republican Party has a much more open nomination process, with much less establishment control.
As Nomiki Konst, famed ex-DNC member and whistle-blower, has pointed out, the DNC is unique in the way it concentrates completely unchecked power in the hands of the Chair. Just compare the relative power and stature of Tom Perez with that of Reince Priebus or Michael Steele or today’s RNC Chair, Ronna McDaniel.
In short, the GOP could never have done what Obama and the DNC did to derail Bernie. That is one reason Trump is President today.
This is not news, of course. Many pundits and even Democratic Party leaders have made this observation – cavalierly, smugly and openly. The Democrats are proud of the fact that they, unlike their GOP counterparts, have the ability to crush and thwart the will of their base. In fact, they consider it an obligation to prevent their own voters from choosing their leader. After all, what would happen if the Democratic Party actually became democratic? We could end up with a Bernie Sanders!
But what about social justice?
Prior to the 1980’s, the Democrats and Republicans were both champions of Labor and of Civil Rights. For example, most people know that Eisenhower was staunchly pro-union, and that the entire Bush family had been generous supporters of Planned Parenthood.
The 1956 Republican Party platform started with a preamble:
“We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs—expansion of social security—broadened coverage in unemployment insurance —improved housing—and better health protection for all our people. We are determined that our government remain warmly responsive to the urgent social and economic problems of our people.”
Other planks of that platform included:
- Assure equal pay for equal work regardless of Sex;
- Continue to fight for the elimination of discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry or sex;
- The protection of the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively is the firm and permanent policy of the Eisenhower Administration.
All through the 1960’s, the Republican Party was actually MORE in favor of civil rights than the Democrats. Remember, the Southern Democrats were the racists, and it was these “Dixiecrats” that LBJ had to do battle with to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. In fact, both those landmark bills were passed with more Republican support than Democrat support.
I am not saying that the pre-Nixon GOP was a perfect party for workers, women or people of color, but we should consider that, rather than trying to take the Democratic Party back to 1936, it may be more practical – and feasible – to take the GOP back to 1956.
Nixon as an example
Like Trump, Nixon was also seen as a divisive a figure at the time. Nevertheless, Nixon actually enacted several progressive milestones in his first term: establishing OSHA, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, passing the first Clean Air Act and proposing a new healthcare system to cover poor and working families that is actually more progressive than today’s Affordable Care Act.
Nixon did not do all these things because he was a dedicated progressive – far from it. But he was a practical Republican politician who know he had to have the people on his side. He was willing to bow to public pressure and activism in order to placate those he viewed as his constituents. Remember: Republicans fear and respect the base, Democrats have contempt and disdain for the base. And as a consequence, more progressive action was achieved under Nixon than any President since LBJ.
I believe that Trump has the potential to be like Nixon.
Let’s be clear: Trump is a narcissist and an egomaniac above all else. He has no real political convictions and he is completely protean in his pursuit of fame and fortune. He has been a Democrat and a Republican at various times, changing his affiliation as he felt it best suited his goals.
I believe Trump can and will do progressive things if he thinks those things make him more popular, more beloved or more famous in the eyes of history. Medicare For All, for example, could very easily be something that Trump would sign if it became popular enough to pass both Houses of Congress.
Biden, of course, has already promised to veto Medicare For All if it ever lands on his desk as President.
Why we should hope Trump is re-elected
I recently listened to Harry Shearer’s podcast Le Show and he had as a guest Stephanie Kelton, the high priestess of MMT (Modern Monetary Theory), who was also a chief economic advisor to Bernie Sanders. Prof. Kelton made a great case – albeit unwittingly – as to why progressives should look to the GOP and not the Democrats to save not just the working class but the entire economy itself.
Kelton explained that the Federal Govt will need to deficit spend during crisis, but once the crisis has passed, austerity awaits if Dems are in charge.
When Trump failed to even mention deficits in his SOTU speech, Republicans asked budget director Mick Mulvaney about that, and his response was that “nobody cares” about deficits anymore. That is not true, however: The Democrats do. They care VERY much.
Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are both deficit hawks and Pelosi is a devout acolyte of Pete Peterson, the famous Republican arch-conservative who invested his millions in pushing for a Balanced Budget Amendment and cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Pelosi was so enamored of Peterson’s right wing economic ideas, she even gave him a eulogy on the House floor when he died.
When Pelosi became Speaker in 2019, the very first thing she did was pass PAYGO (“pay-as-you-go”), a draconian austerity rule requiring that “all new spending to be offset with either budget cuts or tax increases, a conservative policy aimed at tying the hands of government.”
Republicans, however, have absolutely no qualms about deficits. Dick Cheney famously said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” Trump also adheres to this belief, and he has made several public pronouncements that indicate his understanding of fiat cur. As the great financial journalist David Dayen writes in The New Republic:
Trump’s statement sounds a lot like Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), a tenet of economists who believe in de-emphasizing the need for deficit reduction because the U.S. controls its own currency.
Trump’s comment that America can’t default on its debt, and can money-print its way out of trouble, shreds that Republican playbook. Deficit fear-mongering loses its punch if the GOP’s new leader dismisses an animating principle of how conservatives defend against social spending.
Dayen even goes on to explain Trump’s unique view in terms of policy argument in the Democratic Primary, between the Sanders and the establishment camps:
The intricacies of this argument can make you woozy, but suffice to say that the divide between Krugman and Bernie Sanders supporters on display in the presidential primary are also evident here, only in far more technical form.
Yes, the GOP runs “bad” deficits for ideological reasons (tax breaks for the rich), but I believe we could convince Trump and the Republicans to run them for “good” reasons (saving the working class) if it will serve their goals to acquire popularity and power.
Case in point: Medicare For All
Trump is especially susceptible to popular pressure. If Medicare For All continues to gain in popularity, I have no doubt that he will support it – indeed, he is already proposing M4A-like solutions, moving to use the Medicare system to have the government reimburse hospitals directly for treatment if uninsured COVID-19 patients.
The Democrats, by contrast, are proposing to make unemployed people buy private insurance through COBRA and then reimburse them in a complicated, means-tested solution. This way, their donors in the health insurance industry continue to real huge profits off the pandemic. It’s disgusting.
The enemy of my enemy
I believe Trump will do whatever it takes to get the economy going again and make the working class that elected him happy – deficits be damned.
I also believe that we, as progressives, have a duty to do
whatever we can to leverage this moment of crisis into lasting gains for working people.
We should support any policies by Trump that will help the poor and working class, while encouraging populist legislation proposed by Republicans such as Justin Amash and Josh Hawley who are way out in front of the dithering Democrats in terms of calling for speedy and direct government intervention to help working people. Just read what Josh Hawley, GOP Senator from Missouri, said about getting relief to working families:
“Struggling families need help, and they don’t have time to sort through confusing rules and mandates about who’s paying for what and how. They’re not sure what’s going to happen to mom’s or dad’s workplace during this crisis, or if their work can afford to keep everyone on payroll. Let’s not overthink this. These families need relief — now — to pay bills that are coming due, make those emergency grocery runs, and get ready for potential medical bills. Let’s get it to them.”
– Josh Hawley (R-MO)
We must stop demonizing the Republican Party and conservatives in general and instead look for ways in which we can work together and support each other to oppose the corporatist neoliberals who have taken over both parties in Washington.
We should also encourage and support Democrats who are willing to work with their GOP colleagues on areas of common interest. Yes, in other words, the “horseshoe theory” may actually have legitimacy – especially in these turbulent times of crisis and opportunity. Forget “Left” and “Right”. It is the 99% versus the 1%, and right now, the Democratic Party is the party of the one percent while more and more people who get paid weekly, who take their showers after work, are voting Republican.
As progressives, we must accept that fact and recognize that the answer may not be to pull working class voters back to the Democratic Party, or push them into a new third party, but rather meet them where they are and work to make the Republican Party itself better serve its working class constituents.
I believe this is something that needs to be done, and that many Republicans today would agree with me.
We must seize the moment, and the Democrats are not letting go
Ever since Mitt Romney first proposed making aiutomatic cash payments directly to working Americans, the Republicans – including Trump – have in many ways been way ahead of the Democrats in dealing with the Coronavirus crisis. Certainly the Republicans seem more open to thinking outside the box and , oddly enough, the GOP are more open to direct government intervention and spending.
It is the Democrats who remain mired in neoliberal dogma, complicating and slowing every relief program with conditions, limitations and means-testing, while prioritizing ways to let their corporate donors in the healthcare and other industries profit from the crisis.
So for the moment, amid this raging pandemic and the Great Depression that will be quick to follow, we must do all we can to prevent mass starvation, immiseration and death, and that means we should be open to supporting Trump and the Republicans s it may be the best thing we can do to help improve and even save the lives of working families in America.
As far as the “political revolution” is concerned, it may also be true that someday, after this crisis has had its eye-opening effect on American society, that such bold change may be much more possible in the GOP than in the Democratic Party, and we should not rule out the possibility of transforming the GOP and returning it to its pre-Reagan mindset.
In the meantime, let us realize who are true opponents are, who are the truly immovable objects in our path, and let us be vigilant in searching for the places where we can PUSH for change – even if we may find it in seemingly the most unlikely of places.
EuroYankee is a dual citizen, US-EU. He travels around Europe, writing on politics, culture and such. He pays his US taxes so he gets to weigh in on what is happening in the States.