Election 2016: The Progressive Wilderness Ahead

Option 1: Continue to Pursue the Establishment Democratic Party Status Quo 

clinton-crowd

Clinton speaking to voters in 2016.

The first option, and perhaps the most pragmatic, is to embrace the current status quo within the Democratic Party, essentially doubling down on the legacy and policy agenda of Obama and Clinton. This is what many Establishment Democrats and Democratic leaders appear to believe is the correct way forward. This is a tempting option for a number of reasons. It requires almost nothing of progressives; they do not have to do anything in the next two years except show up to vote for Democrats. It also does not threaten current donor relations (that saw Clinton out-raise Trump significantly) that might be upset by change or progress in the Democratic party. It also relies on the infrastructure and candidates in place that people are familiar with; new faces and new names would mean a potential dip in voter confidence as people generally hate Congress but also fear change and anything new. Some may also see problems with the Democrat status quo, but see it as clearly favorable to the alternative GOP status quo. However, there are a number of problems with this approach.

Right out of the gate the Democratic Party’s status quo is not that progressive. While I openly admit many major progressive reforms over the years have happened with Democratic support, and Democrats are generally more progressive than the GOP on wedge issues, they are also ways in which they are regressive or fail at being consistent in their values. For example, they may be clearly better than the GOP at defending women’s rights at home, but many women (minority women, undocumented women, women living in countries hurt by Democratic foreign and economic policy, etc.) are left out or hurt and exploited by Democratic policy and actions. Maybe this could be highlighted in a basic way by looking at the two major candidates of the party in recent years.

Obama was the first black President and it is hard to envision a GOP that would have ever set this precedent. But Obama was also the first black President to shield banks from punishment, escalate the extrajudicial dronestrike assassination program, assassinate U.S. citizens, deport a record number of undocumented immigrants, see the expansion of for-profit ICE detention facilities/concentration camps, be at war for every day of his presidency, expand the draconian surveillance state, wage a war on whistle-blowers and leakers, etc.

Clinton was the first female candidate for President from a major party and it is likewise hard to envision a GOP that would ever have set that precedent. However, Clinton would have been the first female President with a cozy and dubious relationship with large financial interests that has not just donated to her campaigns but enriched her family personally, a hawkish foreign policy stance that increases the chance of interventions and war (despite saying women are the primary victims of war and being regarded as a feminist), approved billions in arms sales (often to very repressive governments that target minority groups many progressives try to protect) as the Clinton Foundation received donations from the impacted parties, supported and defended past Dem policy that doubled extreme poverty in the U.S. and contributed to the mass-incarceration crisis in the U.S., has categorically supported Israel regardless of what they did to Palestinians, was willing to use Trump as a cudgel to make the GOP more extreme and use Trump as a threat to get people to vote for her despite any valid reservations they had about her candidacy, etc.

These unjust and regressive policies and decisions are part of the Democratic status quo. They are part of “business as usual” for Democrats in D.C. If progressives approve of this they are knowingly co-signing these problems and signaling to the Democratic party that these are acceptable. So even if this option “worked” and Democrats gained enough political power to resist Trump or even enough to pursue their status quo agenda, we could still end up stuck with many problems.

Additionally, from an economic standpoint, I agree with the assessment that while the Democrats have continued to claim to be the advocate for the poor and working class, they have essentially abandoned these groups as constituents. Since the 90’s Democrats have pursued a “liberalism of the rich.” If the GOP is the party of the 1%, then the Democrats have become the party of the top 10%; they have consistently delivered for wealthy elite, many of who are liberal in their sensibilities, but have consistently failed and even harmed the poor and working class with their policies. The wealth gap between the poor and rich has widened in the last eight years globally and at home, with most of the income gains going to the top 1%. Many minority households have seen no recovery and as of 2014, for them the recession never ended.  People have seen the Obama admin refuse to hold bankers accountable and the Democrats roll out rhetoric that “America is Already Great” while experiencing stagnant or worsening economic conditions. The reality that Democrats are failing to deliver for the majority of their base economically is increasingly apparent and impossible to deny, and it is part of the underlying reason why the Democrats are losing rural, poor, and working class voters.

Even if one disagrees with these points, or insists that the Democratic status quo is the most feasible option and they are at least better than the GOP, embracing the Democratic status quo should be off the table for anyone looking forward to 2018 and 2020 for one simple reason: the Democratic Party’s status quo has delivered a losing streak that Clinton’s loss to the least favorable candidate in history is an exclamation point at the end of. To suggest that the Democratic Party can pursue “business as usual” and expect a dramatic turn around to its fortunes and win big enough in 2018 is wishful and uncritical thinking. Democratic turnout indicate a party base that, for whatever reason, is less excited and willing to support their party, even when faced with the likes of Trump. The Democratic party needs to consider why that is the case and what changes they need to make or the losing streak will continue.

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About Speakfaithfully

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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One Response to Election 2016: The Progressive Wilderness Ahead

  1. skyewinspur says:

    Very good essay. The second wilderness image is provocative and well-chosen.

    There is ample time now for progressives (at least middle-class ones) to examine their own lives and think about how they may be quietly enabling the kinds of tyranny they deplore. Movements to boycott Wells Fargo and US Bank (over the DAPL pipeline) are promising, I think. And we should not forget holidays tailor-made for resistance like International Workers’ Day on May 1st.

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