While I have criticized the Green Party and see our future under Trump and the GOP as very bleak, most of my anger from the election of 2016 is actually at the Democratic Party. The Democratic party claims to be the liberal, progressive party that takes care of the average person and is concerned about the fate of the marginalized. The Democrats were running against the least favorable presidential candidate of all time that voters from both major political parties had major reservations about. This election was theirs to lose as it appeared a ham sandwich could have run against Trump and won.
And yet by a mixture of their hubris, Machiavellian strategies, and corruption they lost the election. While the many reasons that led to this historic loss deserve consideration, I believe the fundamental reason the Democrats lost (and have lost big in the last eight years) is their defense of the status quo. By the “status quo” I mean both the present circumstances that exist in the U.S. and the current direction and speed the U.S. is drifting in as guided by neoliberal capitalism. The Democratic Party’s commitment to this status quo cost them the Presidential election for some fairly simple reasons. The status quo is miserable for many, anti-establishment sentiment was a strong factor in this election, and their chosen candidate could not have better represented business as usual in D.C.
The Status Quo is Horrible for Many Americans
People across the United States, from all kinds of identities, communities, and political leanings are upset about the status quo.
Liberals and progressives voted for Obama who ran on a “Hope and Change” platform. The Democrats have delivered very little of the change many liberals hoped for. However, most people, conservative and liberal alike, are upset for reasons closer to home: most worry about their own material conditions and financial futures. Exit polling showed that 52% of voters listed the economy as the most pressing challenge faced by the United States. Years after the recession of 2008, people are still very worried about their ability to provide for themselves, their families and pursue the American dream.
Democratic Party’s Allegiance to Capitalism Makes them Culpable in this Misery
Whatever they think about LGBT issues, immigration, women’s rights or multiculturalism, etc. Democrats are capitalists and this means that average people will be oppressed by the wealthy elite under any Democratic Party regime. The neoliberal capitalistic economics of the Democrats, adopted during the Bill Clinton years, is a form of “trickle-down-economics” they often mock the GOP for supporting. The deregulation of the banking industry under Bill Clinton rather directly enabled the 2008 recession. Democratic commitment to neoliberal capitalism hindered any real or half-hearted attempt to help the average U.S. citizen in the wake of the recession.
While the Democrats love to tout the jobs Obama added to the economy during his tenure, any analysis of the economy deeper than reading a meme on Facebook revealed things are very bad. 94% of the new jobs added under Obama were part-time and temporary jobs. Incomes for the 99% fell. As of 2014 statistics and analysis, the recession never ended for Black and Brown families. While Dodd-Frank was enacted, its ability to protect us from another financial collapse was debatable. (This is now a moot point to debate since it was repealed.) The banks were bailed out and banksters who looted the wealth of the world were protected by the Obama admin and walked free while average people lost their homes or were locked up for the smallest of infractions. Under Obama, health insurance costs rose year after year, as did college tuition. The middle class has shrunk and in a dramatic reversal of decades of precedent, the current generation of young adults will likely make less than their parents.
Understandable Anti-Establishment Fervor
Given these conditions, it is no surprise then that in the election season there was a strong anti-establishment fervor. Many citizens are sick and tired of the increasingly miserable status quo and yearn for someone who can bring change to our government and society. A majority of voters listed the ability to bring about change as the top quality they looked for in a President. People flocked to hear anti-establishment candidates like Trump and Sanders. Both candidates made it clear that they saw people’s suffering and wanted to bring change, but explained the root cause of their suffering and the proposed solutions differently. Trump played upon white anxieties, anti-immigrant sentiment, fears of terrorism, and racism to fuel his populist and nativist rise. Sanders identified the oppressors exploiting America as the wealthy elite, banks and corporate institutions that had rigged the system against the average person.
The Democratic Party Insisted on Defending the Status Quo
The Democratic Party intentionally disregarded people’s hatred for the status quo. While Democratic, Republican, Independent and unaffiliated voters were calling for radical change the Democratic establishment loudly and clearly said “no” by their rhetoric and choices in the 2016 election cycle.
The DNC/HRC Campaign argued that now was not the time for dramatic change in a more progressive direction . They argued that the status quo was already progressive “enough” despite clear economic indications it was not working for most citizens. They argued that Trump was such an existential threat to the nation that the party could not risk running Sanders, a candidate who railed against the status quo. The DNC claimed that it was far better to protect the way things are than to shoot for the moon and end up with nothing. Any proposals the DNC/HRC Campaign offered to address issues many citizens were concerned with were constrained by their commitment to neoliberal capitalism. Constrained by this ideological commitment these proposals, like their predecessors in the last eight years, fell far short of the dramatic change many increasingly see as necessary.
The Democratic Party Insisted on Running A Status Quo Candidate
The DNC also insisted on running Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the status quo. Clinton was appointed as the nominee long before any Democrat cast a vote in a primary and the DNC operated as an extension of the HRC campaign throughout the primaries. The DNC systemically undermined Sanders and favored Clinton, in violation of their own ethics and the democratic process of the primaries. Polling data made it clear that in a direct match-up Sanders would win over Trump and was far more popular than Clinton and yet despite claiming everything needed to be done to stop Trump, the DNC continued to insist on the candidate least likely to defeat Trump. Sanders’ wins in the Democratic primary in battleground states, despite the DNC’s bias towards Clinton, were clear warning signs that Clinton was vulnerable and her election was not inevitable. While it is not surprising that a DNC stacked with Clinton loyalists would favor Clinton, the unethical and corrupt lengths the DNC went to tilt the vote in favor of Clinton, and the fact that they did this despite the signs that this might cost them the election, is alarming.
While one might debate the merits of polling data, Sander’s potential in a general election, the benefits of hindsight and Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses, one thing cannot be denied: Clinton was and is an establishment candidate that represents the status quo. Clinton is a career politician, the wife of a previous President and a D.C. insider who has been personally enriched by her political power for years. This meant she was exactly the wrong type of candidate to capture the anti-establishment fervor of the past election season or run against it. While Sanders was far more electable than Clinton, and would have capitalized on this anti-establishment energy instead of running against it, the Democratic Party knowingly committed themselves to a far less feasible candidate because that candidate would preserve the status quo.
The Swan Song of the HRC Campaign
Perhaps the greatest example of Democratic Party’s devotion to the status quo under neoliberal capitalism was their adoption of the slogan, “America is already Great.” It was precisely at this moment in the campaign that I personally assumed a Trump presidency was likely if not inevitable. Elite, wealthy, comfortable Democrats were telling people suffering under the status quo, a status quo that Democrats had a hand in making and preserving, that things were already great. While there were more nuanced discussions about “work that needed to be done” this slogan broadcast to the American public that the Democratic Party was disconnected from their reality. Even worse, the Democrats viewed the grueling circumstances of average people as something to be celebrated as “great.” This incensed Trump supporters who already felt overlooked and discouraged Democratic voters who felt Democrats leaders were telling them to settle for what they desperately wanted to see changed.
Nevertheless, they persisted.
The status quo is increasingly miserable for most U.S. citizens, and we get that at a visceral level if not in a nuanced and well-thought out way. The Democrats know this. Polling data, economic data, and social data that Democratic strategist, think-tanks and leaders all have access to and obsess over make this abundantly clear. They are not ignorant. They did not “just miss” this. The Democrats know that continuing to preserve the status quo of neoliberal capitalism makes them increasingly unpopular. The Democrats know they must attempt to obscure these facts or find/create a greater evil to focus voters on in order to remain politically viable.
Nevertheless, they persisted (and continue to persist) in defending the status quo and attempting to distract from this underlying reality. This is probably due to the very simple reason that the status quo benefits the Democrats in many ways and they are more concerned about representing the financial interests that enrich them personally and fund their political campaigns than they are actually representing the interests of their constituents.
Sanders financial support from small donors proved that if politicians take the side of the people, the people will take care of the fundraising necessary. This means the Democratic loyalty to the status quo in D.C. is a choice, not a problematic necessity of U.S. politics. Additionally, the fate of the Democrats in the last eight years should make it clear that the coercive tactic of “lesser evilism” has lost its power. It appears the lives of many voters are so bad under Democrats the threat, “it would be worse under the GOP” has lost its edge. If the Democrats desire to remain a politically viable party, they need to attend to the needs of the people they claim to represent, not remain committed to an economic ideology that enables the exploitation of many and corrupts what is left of our democracy.