The inevitable next step after the 2011 Citizen’s United ruling and other similar decisions that have enabled corporations and wealthy donors to flood political campaigns with money is those wealthy donors to run for political office themselves. Since Donald Trump demonstrated its possible for a billionaire with no political experience to run for office, mainstream media outlets and several billionaire donors have floated the possibility of starting their own bids for political office.
Facebook Founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg has been floated as a potential 2020 Presidential Candidate. A Super PAC called “Disrupt for America” was recently created to solicit donations to entice Zuckerberg to follow through with the gossip surrounding his potential presidential run. His announcement that he would be visiting all 50 states this year incited speculation he was testing the waters for a future political run.
Several other billionaires have been included on lists and articles speculating on who will run against Trump in 2020, including Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, Tom Steyer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. California billionaire Tom Steyer has also been considered as a possible candidate to run for Governor of California in 2018, and in Illinois, billionaire J.B. Pritzker was cited as a possible candidate for Governor in 2018. The Executive Director of the Democratic Governor’s Association told Politico in a December 2016 article, “there seems to be a feeling that we need to look beyond the normal folks we always look to, the normal types.” In other words, Democrats are looking to start cutting out the middle man, and elect wealthy donors themselves.
Mainstream media outlets and Democratic Party officials uncritically entertaining the viability of some of these billionaires making serious contention for the presidency in 2020 and other elected offices signals how much neo-liberalism has degraded the Democratic Party and democracy in the United States.
The Democratic Party made it clear after Trump’s election victory that they would look to their billionaires donors in how to oppose Trump and Republican majorities in congress when several Democratic Party leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, attended a closed door conference with billionaire Democratic donors shortly after the election. Another closed door retreat for Democratic Party leaders to decide on the fate of Democrats with billionaire donors occurred on Trump’s Inauguration weekend in Florida, where the DNC Chair candidates all participated in a forum to try to convince the party’s donor class that they would pursue their best interests. In Florida, Democratic Party officials took this a step further, and made billionaire donor Stephen Bittel Chair of the Florida Democratic Party despite stark opposition from every other candidate running for the position.
While Democratic Party officials strengthen the role billionaire donors have in the party, they’ve entirely avoided introspection and self criticism in their recovery. The Trump Resistance of Democrats have rested disproportionately on issues that rehabilitate the party’s establishment, while continuing to attack progressives within the party and ignore opportunities for reform, like refusing to re-enact the ban on corporate lobbyist and PAC donations to the DNC. Instead of embracing grassroots organizing and progressive policies, the Democratic Party establishment is working to appropriate their popularity to rebrand the forces that enabled Trump’s presidency.In Hillary Clinton’s unveiling of her Super PAC Onward Together, she claimed it would “support this wave of grassroots organizing.” But nothing suppresses grassroots movements more than astroturfing them. This is the type of Trump Resistance that Hillary Clinton and her corporate, wealthy sponsors that still continue to support her are offering Americans.
This faux resistance is a product of neoliberalism, as the wealthy and corporate powers that oppose Trump’s presidency and run the Democratic Party are working to try to convey to voters that they are the saviors from the current political climate, while failing to acknowledge their own role in creating it. “Neoliberalism is a way of defining human beings by the market as if everything we do is mediated through the market, not just in the economic sphere but in every aspect of our lives. That human life is defined by competition and we are defined as if we are simply trying to maximize our own wealth and power at the expense of everything else,” said the Guardian’s George Monbiot in a recent conversation with Verso Books. “By ripping down regulations, by ripping down taxes particularly for rich people. By tearing up anything which stands in the way of this magical thing called the market that actually turns out to not be that abstract entity they like to talk about as though its some force of nature, but an entity which is controlled by people, often very rich people, very powerful people. So getting everything out of the market is getting everything out of the way for those rich and powerful people.”
This mode of thinking that has transformed into a self-serving racket is what the Democratic Party is gradually doing within their own ranks. Wealthy donors and lobbyists are being granted more access to the party, receiving party leadership positions, and being entertained as political candidates themselves in addition to the massive amount of money and influence they exert over elections already.
Monbiot added, “Neoliberalism has provided the ideological framework that justifies the sweeping away of the power of people and its replacement with the power of money and the power of corporations.” The Democratic Party establishment continues to embrace those sweeps, in the form of refusing to take a strong stance against Wall Street, the increasing monopolies of the big banks and other corporations, and the growing sums of money being poured into political campaigns in both parties by Super PACs and billionaires.
Bernie Sanders has repeatedly called for a radical transformation of the Democratic Party into one that begins to start representing working, middle class, and low income voters again over the elites and special interests that have taken it over. For most of the Democratic Party leadership though, the party’s recovery is predicated on winning back seats in tandem with maintaining the status quo. The strategies involved in this have focused on Russia and coasting off Trump’s unpopularity, while failing to take on any of the underlying causes that has run the Democratic Party into the ground in the first place. In refusing to do so, Democrats will remain lost at the expense of Americans increasingly marginalized and abandoned by the pursuit of the wealthy becoming even wealthier and more powerful.