The Long Death March of the Dismal Dollar Democrats

Photo by Mike Licht | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Mike Licht | CC BY 2.0


Listening to the reigning corporate media’s political reporting and commentary leading up the 2016 elections, you might have thought that the Republican Party was on the verge of collapse thanks to its internecine war over the outrageous Donald Trump. Hello? Look now: the GOP has won the White House, retained both wings of Congress, and will soon enough hold down the Supreme Court.  It also holds most of the state governments. If any of the two major parties is in its death throes, it is the Democrats.

The Democrats haven’t just lost the one branch of elected government where they seemed to hold the advantage to any old normal establishment Republican like, say a John McCain, Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush.  No: now it has given the oval office to a white- nationalist-arch-sexist racist and nativist climate change-denying quasi-fascist.

Ever the accommodating neoliberal conflict-avoider and lifelong Republican-enabler, Barack Obama has dutifully proclaimed his readiness to gracefully oversee a peaceful transition of power to the second President Elect in this century to gain the nation’s highest office without winning the popular vote (how about that U.S. Constitution, fellow citizens!) –  to a man who started his sick march to the presidency by questioning the national location of Obama’s birth and who announced that he wouldn’t accept the results of the election unless he won.

I confess that I did not think Lady Klynton Kissinger Sachs (as some on Wall Street revealingly labelled her last year) would fail in her power-mad quest.  I thought she would squeak out a demographically enabled and Establishment-financed victory.  What can I say?  I’m an election prognostication layman, I took the “experts” at their “social science” word.

Along with many other Left writers and activists, I’ve been a lot better on why Trump would win if he did (and I always held out the possibility that he could). The long death march of the dismal dollar-drenched Dems is nothing new. Part of it is the horrifically wooden and uninspiring presidential candidates it recurrently puts up – hopelessly uncharismatic sacks of stale flour like Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter (the 1980 model at least), Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are the obvious exceptions).

Another part is transparent moral depravity and corruption among two of its three top contemporary personalities: Hillary and Bill (he of the infamous crooked gubernatorial and presidential member) Clinton have in fact been “crooked” (Trump was sadly right about that) from the beginning of their political careers in Arkansas through the atrocious global “pay-for-play” Clinton Foundation and the related endless ongoing email scandal.  (The good family man Obama, like Jimmy Carter, seems to have avoided much of the personal and financial corruption that has afflicted the Clintons).

The bigger if related problem is the long rightward, neoliberal drift of the Democratic Party further away from any last commitments to social justice, democracy, peace, and environmental sustainability.  Trump may be appalling and dangerous on numerous levels, but he wasn’t wrong when he pointed out (in his usual clumsy manner) that the Clintons and other Wall Street-captive Democrats sold the nation’s “forgotten” blue collar working people down the river in the name of “free trade.” The co-presidential Clintons’ advance of the North American Free Trade Agreement – a disaster for the U.S. working class – and Barack Obama’s championing of the arch-authoritarian and global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) speak volumes about neoliberal-era Democrats’ service to the nation’s covertly reigning Deep State Few over and against the Many and the common good.  And Trump wasn’t wrong when he said that Hillary Clinton called the TPP the “gold standard of free trade agreements” when she was Obama’s Secretary of State – or when he surmised that she would shift back to being pro-TPP if she was reinstalled in the White House.

One revealing moment in the campaign came when Trump was going off on NAFTA and its negative consequences for American workers during one of the “presidential debates.” They had a split television screen showing both candidates’ face at the same time. While Trump spoke, you could see Mrs. Clinton rolling her eyes and grinning large as if the Donald’s comments on so-called free trade was every bit as insane as his onetime claim that Obama was born in a foreign country.  It’s a nice little picture in the big photo album of why she lost.

NAFTA, it might be recalled, dealt some serious death blows to an already fading U.S. labor movement, whose decimation over the last four plus decades is no small part of how vast swaths of the American working class can be enlisted to vote for right wing Republicans.

Another snapshot: on the night of the election I beheld House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) being interviewed by her fellow Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) member Judy Warner on the “P”BS NewsHour. Asked about the alienation of the white blue-collar Midwestern working class from the Democratic Party, Pelosi arrogantly proclaimed that the Democrats hadn’t gotten enough credit for boosting domestic U.S. oil production (climate be damned!) and thus jobs. She said that Obama had made all kinds of great efforts to help working people but had been obstructed by the GOP. She said that the Democrats’ main problem with working class voters was one of messaging, not policy: they just haven’t gotten out the message about how progressive they are.

Then she told Warner that “America is an entrepreneurial society” designed as such by “the Founders.” It was an interesting reflection that pretty much gave the game away. That’s your 21st century Democratic Party in a nutshell, progressives.

And what is the great contribution of the Obama presidency to the working class, pray tell?  The Dollar Obamber has overseen a continuing upward concentration of wealth so extreme that – as Bernie Sanders kept accurately saying over and over – the top tenth of the nation’s top 1 percent nearly own more wealth than the nation’s bottom 90 percent.

Flash back to the U.S.-born Obama’s first term. It was a critical moment. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates, an actually progressive President Obama could have rallied the populace to push back against the nation’s concentrated wealth and power structures by moving ahead aggressively with a number of policies: a stimulus with major public works jobs programs; a real (single-payer) health insurance reform; the serious disciplining and even break-up or nationalization of the leading financial institutions; massive federal housing assistance and mortgage relief; and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in the U.S. But no such policy initiatives issued from the White House, which opted instead to give the U.S. populace what William Greider memorably called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans “watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Americans also watched as Obama moved on to pass a health insurance reform (the so-called Affordable Care Act) that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by the arch 1 percenter Mitt Romney. It has been ugly corporatist mockery of “universal health insurance” with even the hint of a public option kicked unceremoniously to the curb.

As Obama later explained to some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a month after trouncing Romney’s bid to unseat him: “When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.” He might have added that his “health care reform” was dreamed up by Republicans, consistent with some of his elite supporters’ likening of the Obama White House to the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.

Candidate Trump was not wrong to say (in his own maladroit and disingenuous fashion) that the American Dream has died for millions of “forgotten” (the word bears repeating) U.S. workers while the Democrats have advanced Wall Street’s job- and wage-crushing agenda behind the cover of self-righteous political correctness. In one of the many classic ironies of the neoliberal New Gilded Age, the ugly nativist tycoon and enemy of labor and workers Trump is permitted to absurdly pose as a “populist” tribune of the outraged American working man. He gets to do this not simply through sheer cunning and devious, populism- and racism-/nativism-manipulating campaigning but also thanks to the vicious state-capitalist and imperial corruption of the nation’s not-so leftmost major political party, which has abandoned the working class over many decades of rightward drift championed by (guess who?) the Clintons. As privileged upper- and professional-class (neo)liberal Democratic elites give Joe Six Pack/the Plumber the Goldman Sachs-financed middle finger and fake-progressively promote the bourgeois identity politics of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender much of the struggling and furious working class is left like low-hanging fruit to be snatched up by a billionaire demagogue like Trump.

Candidate Obama spoke in condescending terms about a small-town white working class that bitterly clung to guns, religion, and xenophobia.  Hillary upped the insult ante by calling half of Trump’s supporters “deplorables” – meant to signify vicious racists, homophobes, and sexists. As the left activist Tom Wetzel told me last summer, “It seems lately that identity politics has come to function as a mask for professional/managerial class disparagement of the working class.”

Contempt for the white working class cost Hillary Clinton the White House to no small degree. The exit polls are very clear on that.  Those polls also tell us I think that Bernie Sanders would very likely have prevailed over Trump in a general election.  His leftish populist campaign was pitched largely to the economic and anti-plutocratic grievances and sentiments of the white majority working and middle classes, most of whom aren’t frothing racists, nativists, and sexists (Hillary’s “deplorables” comment notwithstanding).  I think enough of those voters would have recognized Sanders as a more authentic articulator of their views and anger than Trump for Sanders to have prevailed over the Deplorable Donald.

As someone who was very critical of Sanders from the left (in part because of Bernie’s failure to go for the kill against Mrs. Clinton) from the get go, let me say flat out that the Democrats ran the wrong candidate. And Trump wasn’t wrong to point out that the Clintons and their allies atop the Democratic National Committee rigged the game against Bernie.  The rigging was consistent with the neoliberal corporate Democratic Party elite’s longstanding vicious hatred of left-leaning progressives and anti-plutocratic populists in the ranks of their business party.

(My last online comment prior to Election Day: “Think about this. fellow workers and citizens.  The biggest nightmare for the ‘party of FDR’ tomorrow is a big turnout by the white working class.  Put that in your historical pipe and smoke it.”)

A good number of “progressive Democrats” and “pragmatic” leftists were poised to blame left Jill Stein and Left election boycotters/sitter-outers if Trump pulls off a Brexit-like November shocker. Their anti- “ultra-radical” knives were sharpened and out. They should sheathe their blades and taken an honest look in the big historical mirror. Stein barely cracked 1% of the vote.  A much bigger offender behind a Trump victory are the numerous portside leaders who tell lefties every four years to hold their noses and vote for the (to be frank) hopelessly corporate, corrupt, and imperial Democrats as the Lesser Evil (LE).  It’s kind of hard to expect the dismal dollar Dems be less disastrously corporate, neoliberal and imperial when top Democrats know that top progressive luminaries will always have their electoral back (in the name of LE voting [LEV]) – this no matter how consistently the Democratic Party’s honchos are shown to hold their party’s progressive wing in sheer elitist contempt (WikiLeaks has showed us quite a lot about that contempt in the current election cycle).

It’s unpleasant to behold. No matter how badly the big corporate, financial, and imperial bikers in charge of the Democratic Party abuse their party’s grumbling left wing, the captive progressives can’t resist the desire to ride on the back of the Democratic Harley, arms around their masters with their noses lifted away from the smell.

It’s all part of a viciously circular self-fulfilling prophecy wherein – as Jill Stein told me last April – “the politics of fear delivers everything we are afraid of…The Lesser Evil paves the way for the Greater Evil.” LEV contributes to the deadly vacuum of genuinely progressive voices for the legitimate “populist rage” and alienation of the nation’s working class majority. Resentment abhors a genuinely populist and left-democratic vacuum. In steps a Le Pen, a Trump, and, at the historical worst, a Hitler, to take ugly advantage of the sad silence/silencing of the left and to give populism a dangerous right-wing twist. It’s nothing new.

Make no mistake: the election of Donald Trump is an abject disaster on numerous levels: civil rights, basic cultural civility, judicial appointments and criminal justice, ugly sexism, religious tolerance, immigrant rights, women’s rights to an abortion, nuclear weapons policy, and – perhaps most ominous of all in terms of human chances for survival – energy and climate. Are there any silver linings? Perhaps.  Hillary Clinton seemed dead set on escalating tensions with that other nuclear superpower Russia over Syria (her call for a no-fly zone is madness) and other flashpoints.  That was very dangerous.  Trump prefers a less bellicose approach towards Russia, for whatever reason, something that makes World War III seem less likely.

There’s a chance that liberals and progressives will be considerably more inclined to pay serious critical attention to executive branch policy and to protest that policy with a really bad (that sounds like an understatement with regard to Trump) Republican in the White House.  There’s something about having an Ivy League-educated smooth-talking teleprompter-ized Democrat in the White House that puts so many U.S. liberals and progressives – folks who like to read The Nation and Mother Jones – to deadly sleep when it comes to the movement politics that need so desperately to be sustained and expanded beneath and beyond quadrennial electoral extravaganzas. It’s kind of pathetic what happens to that crowd when “their party” (not really) holds the oval office.

Trump’s ascendancy calls – or ought to call – into question the legitimacy and highlight the absurdity of American authority structures from the presidency on down and out.  The presence of this vicious clown in the world’s most powerful office is simply, well, absurd.  I wonder if we’d like to address, among other things, our continuing self-destructive and fetishistic attachment to an electoral system set up by openly anti-democratic eighteenth century aristo-republicans.  The Electoral College is, well, …it’s absurd, Monty Python-esque.  I personally have no intention of recognizing the legitimacy of the second U.S. president in my lifetime to be appointed after losing the popular vote. They can’t be serious. A Trump White House is preposterous. But, so, upon serious critical scrutiny, are most of the reigning power structures and systems in American society.

Above all, the election of Trump ought to signal the death-knell of the Clinton-Obama-Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC)–Hamilton Project-Robert Rubin-Lawrence Summers-John Podesta-Neoliberal ideology atop the Democratic Party. I mean, let’s ask progressives the Dr. Phil question about their embrace of the Dismal Dollar Dems: “how’s that working for you?” This is what the Goldman Sachs-Citibank-CFR Democrats have wrought: deadly GOP control of all branches of the federal government and a dangerous white nationalist climate change-denying buffoon in the White House. All this talk about the crisis and implosion of the Republican Party! Behold the plight of the pathetic right-wing corporate and imperial Democrats, the disgraced fake-progressive fake-liberal, right-wing-enabling Left-hating party of Big Business. But, of course, the main price of the right-wing takeover elitist Democrats enabled again won’t be paid by privileged and mainly white liberals, will it?  No, the real costs will fall on the shoulders of the disproportionately non-white poor.

Bill, Hillary, Barack and the rest should do the decent and honorable thing: disappear completely, along with the rest of their vicious elitist Neoliberal Democrat ilk. Progressives who have insisted on backing these criminals – and who have tried to bully those of us on the actual left into joining them in that ugly and viciously circular embrace – need to make themselves over or just drop off the face of the political landscape and let people who are more serious and radical step in.

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Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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