There’s a necessary and creative tension between the Democratic Party and the growing anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ evidenced by the massive outpouring of energy in the streets, airports, and Town Hall meetings since his election.
If there was ever any doubt that the Resistance and the Democratic Party are not the same thing, it was made crystal clear by the victory of the establishment choice, Tom Perez, as Democratic National Committee chair over the change candidate, Keith Ellison.
This represented the last gasp of a broken neoliberal Democratic establishment that would rather maintain its institutional power than make the changes demanded by the grassroots necessary to begin winning again.
The DNC’s pick of Perez was made even more galling by its vote to reject a resolution supported by Ellison which would have reinstated an Obama-initiated ban on corporate PAC contributions to the Party. This ban had been quietly lifted by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, along with a ban on contributions from lobbyists. The DNC also rejected a ban on DNC chair Perez appointing lobbyists as at-large DNC members.
All in all, it was a narrow but decisive win for the Democratic Party’s status quo, which had anointed Hillary Clinton, the least electable Democrat, as its nominee and lost the Senate, the House, governorships and state legislatures.
The public faces of the national Democratic Party in the near future will thus be the uninspiring Perez along with Chuck Schumer, the 66-year-old Senator from Wall Street who has served in Congress for 38 years, and the 76-year-old Nancy Pelosi, who has served in Congress for 35 years.
As I recently pointed out, the average age of the Democratic Congressional leadership is older than the Soviet Politburo in the age of Brezhnev, shortly before the fall of communism.
But beyond personalities, there’s a vital struggle between the last gasps of neoliberal corporate Clintonism, which has led the Democratic Party into the political desert, and a rising social democratic and inclusive populism which is the only viable answer to Trumpism’s hateful white nationalism.
As Kevin Baker wrote in Harper’s Magazine early in the Obama administration,
“Obama internalized what might be called Clinton’s ‘business liberalism’ as an alternative to useless battles from another time…Clinton’s business liberalism, however, is a chimera…a capitulation to powerful and selfish interest. ..a ‘pragmatism’ that is not really pragmatism at all, just surrender to the usual corporate interests…”
Or as David Brooks wrote at the time,
“[Obama and Clinton] Democrats learned never to go to war against the combined forces of corporate America. Today, whether it is on the stimulus, on health care, or any other issue, the Obama administration and the Congressional leadership go out of their way to court corporate interests, to win corporate support and to at least divide corporate opposition.”
Clintonism is an exhausted force waging a last-ditch effort to hold onto the Democratic Party machinery. Democrats will not win against Trump’s right-wing populism unless it abandons corporate Clintonism for a strong progressive populism which challenges the power for the corporate oligarchy.
The energy to resist
Meanwhile, the political energy to defeat Trumpism is not in the DNC’s meeting rooms. It’s with the Resistance – in the Women’s March, the spontaneous airport demonstrations against Trump’s Muslim ban, and in the raucous citizens’ actions at the town hall meetings of both Republican and Democratic representatives.
It’s with grassroots organizations outside the Democratic Party like Indivisible, Peoples Action, MoveOn, Working Families Party, Our Revolution, Black Lives Matter, United We Dream, and progressive unions like National Nurses United.
Already, the Town Hall meetings have given Republican lawmakers pause in their Quixotic quest to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
The Resistance’s next focus should be on forcing recalcitrant “moderate” Democrats to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of the smooth-talking, good-looking Neil Gorsuch, who’s endorsed by the Federalist Society, which has waged a 30-year long campaign to stack the judiciary with pro-corporate right-wing judges.
But the Resistance can’t ignore the Democratic Party either. Unfortunately, the winner-take-all American political system makes it all but impossible to form a third party that functions as anything but a spoiler.
So the Resistance needs an outside/inside strategy towards the Democrats. Its strength comes from the streets. But it must also work to transform the Democratic Party into a people’s party and not one beholden to the corporate donor class.
If necessary, it must scare recalcitrant corporate Democrats with primary challenges, as the Tea Party did with establishment Republicans. A good place to start would be by making it clear that any Democratic Senator who does not filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court will be “primaried,” or challenged at the primary level the next time he or she is up for election.
Long-standing social, political, and economic institutions are being disrupted, not the least of which are the political parties. The most encouraging part of this disruption is the emergence of the Resistance movement, many of whose members have never been politically active.
It must Resist not only Trumpism, but neoliberal corporatism in the Democratic Party.