FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?

by

Photo by Cliff | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Cliff | CC BY 2.0

 

You would think that learning from experience is a common thing to do. But, for the Democratic Party’s leadership this seems not to be the case. After the landslide victory of Trump’s version of the Republican Party in the 2016 national election, it is fair to say that the Democratic Party is in big trouble. As Senator Bernie Sanders has observed, the party needs to reform. Among other things it needs to ensure that whoever is the head of the Democratic National Committee [DNC] is dedicated to growing the party in a pro-civil rights as well as populist way. The party also needs to break free of special interest money and do away with biased “super delegates” that subvert the nominating process. Sanders suggests a reform commission to look into implementing the necessary changes.

There are millions of local Democratic voters who agree with Sanders. I am sure that their local party officials have heard from a lot from them. However, to date none of this has transferred over to the party’s national scene. Indeed Democratic power brokers like Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, who should be discredited in the eyes of everyone who identifies themselves with the Democratic Party, are still in place calling the shots. And, it is almost certain that whoever becomes head of the DNC will be vetted by these obsolete leaders and will follow their lead. It is a formula for repeated political failure, but it has the sense of something inevitable nonetheless.

Contributing Factors

Why have things worked out this way? Here are some of the contributing factors:

— Both the Democratic and Republican Parties have evolved into bureaucratized organizations at once dependent upon the financial resources of special interests and mainly responsive to those interests’ needs. This has led both parties to pay more attention to the siren calls of powerful lobbies than the needs of local constituencies.

This fits with the fact that the United States is not a democracy of individuals so much as a democracy of competing interest groups. These interest groups range from conservative to liberal, and many play both sides of the ideological field by giving donations to both parties and their major political leaders.

— The concentration on special interests has been facilitated by the fact that, historically, many American citizens care little about politics. They know little or nothing about how the political system works, much less the issues and pressures to which it responds. Many do not vote. Those who do vote are only marginally more knowledgable than those who do not. This means the party system relies on relatively small populations of avid supporters.

The entrenched nature of the party bureaucracies and the traditional indifference of a large part of the citizenry make the system very hard, but not impossible, to reform.

— It is the Republican Party’s structure, and not that of the Democrats, that has suffered the strongest assault over the past couple of years. This is so despite the fact the Republicans have paid more attention to capturing state governorships, legislatures and even town councils than have the Democrats. The assault has come from the so-called Tea Party, which has its own local and regional organizations imbued with a strong sense of mission. That mission is to minimize altogether government involvement in society. The Tea Party had grown disappointed and estranged from the traditional Republican leadership and structure.

— The basis for Donald Trump’s success was partially laid by the Tea Party’s willingness to abandon their traditional support for the Republicans and place their faith in Trump. Ultimately, what now survives of the formal Republican Party are those elements which are willing to ally with Trump.

— In contrast, the Democratic Party survives intact, having marginalized Bernie Sanders’s liberal effort to restructure it. Ironically, its structural survival is its greatest weakness. As a consequence it will just plod along, stuck in its rut. All things being equal this might condemn the Democrats to minority status for a long time.

— The only thing that might alter this fate is the catastrophic failure of Trump and his Republican allies – failure to such an extent that the Democratic party, at least temporarily, again appears as an acceptable alternative to a population scared for its future.

Republican Failure?

Actually, catastrophic failure on Trump’s part may occur.

This is because Trump, his Republican allies in the House and Senate, and the Tea Party are all determined to destroy a good part of the federal government’s social and environmental programs, as well as radically deregulate the economy. To this end the very first bill the Republicans rammed through Congress (it happened on 4 January 2017) was “one designed to roll back a range of environmental and consumer regulations.” The bill was appropriately named the “Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017.” This bit of misguided legislation is only the beginning.

Regulations have a foundational reason for being, foundational because they serve as a check on the greed and larceny that, all too often, seem to lie at the heart of political and economic leaders. That does not mean that regulations should not be fair and efficient – carrying with them a minimum of red tape. However, to do away with them all altogether is, historically, stupid.

The economic and social history of 19th- and 20th-century American makes it abundantly clear that regulation is the sine qua non of modern societal stability. Don’t want discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and the like? Don’t want another economic depression? Don’t want adulterated food and drugs? Want safe transportation both on the ground and in the air? Want safe medical treatment? Want drinkable water and breathable air? Then you want, indeed you absolutely need, economic, environmental and social regulations.

Somehow President-Elect Donald Trump, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and their many rightwing associates are unaware of the historically established need for such action. In that part of their brains where the relevant historical facts should reside, these individuals have substituted neoliberal ideology – the same sort of outlook that brought you the 1929 Great Depression and other assorted woes. If our present crop of rightwing leaders get their way, then, sooner or later, we will be able to relive all that misery.

Then, without reforming themselves at all, the Democratic Party might once more win a national election — the hard way.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail