Democratic Party Dilemmas

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The rise to power of Donald Trump destroyed the traditional Republican Party. Most of the moderate conservatives fled into the ranks of the independents and were replaced by a radical right amalgamation of racists, misogynists, conspiracy theorists, assorted “tea party” types and warmongers. In the background also exists support from religious fundamentalists yearning for Armageddon. If you want to get a snapshot of Trump’s new Republicans, just read up on the 200 rightwing social media radicals the president hosted at the White House on Thursday, 11 July 2019. Perhaps their greatest collective desire is to smear Democrats generally and, specifically, malign progressives. These are Trump’s new Republicans. They certainly reflect a segment of the American population. A crucial question is just how large a segment are they.

While Trump was transforming the Republican Party for the worse, the Democrats held on to their traditional party leadership and makeup. Alas, this is not necessarily for the better. This can be seen in the timid behavior of the traditionalists, who still hold party power: Nancy Pelosi in the House and the “divinely inspired” Chuck Schumer in the Senate. These Democrats are following the traditional strategy of accommodation and compromise even as they face, more and more, a political opposition of thugs.

Such adherence to old ways even as the nation spins off in a different, more dangerous right-wing direction, has raised up opposition within the Democratic Party. The challenge comes from an as yet small number of House of Representatives progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and her so-called “squad”: Rashida Tlaib, D-MI, Ilhan Omar, D-MN, and Ayanna Pressley, D-MA. In the Senate there is, of course, the ever-energetic Bernie Sanders, D-VT and Elizabeth Warren, D-MA. They seem to understand, much more than the traditionalists do, that pursuing a strategy of compromise with those “across the aisle” is no longer a reasonable goal. Indeed, the goal should now be Democratic Party dominance and the marginalization of the Trump Republicans. Such a hard line on the part of the Democrats is no doubt what the present political environment calls for, but like all leaders too long in power, Pelosi and Schumer are loath to give up control, or change strategy.

This dilemma has manifested itself mostly in domestic policy. The latest failure on the part of the Democratic leadership to hold a progressive line came with a bill that provided $4.5 billion in emergency money for facilities housing immigrants on the nation’s southern border, and especially for children separated from their parents under Trump’s draconian anti-immigrant policies. The original bill specified “new safety and care standards for the border authorities working with migrants — provisions demanded by liberals.” However, congressional Republicans as well as “moderate” Democrats who are unwilling to aggressively challenge the racist anti-immigrant voters of their own districts forced the deletion of any specific standards. For the Democratic progressives this equaled throwing money at Trump to spend as he wishes. The equivalent Senate bill, without specific standards to guide the use of the funds, passed easily. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, seemed unwilling to challenge it, leaving the House progressives in a nearly hopeless position. As one Democratic House aide put it, “We’re toast. Schumer f—ed us.”

So we now have a split in the Democratic Party, at least in the House, as progressive voices become louder and stronger. The Democrats in the Senate, however, remain largely traditionalist.

On the Foreign Policy Front

It is painfully clear that most Democrats are confused and inconsistent when it comes to foreign policy. Consider this sequence of events:

+ Back in March of 2019, “Nearly 400 members of Congress, from both chambers—roughly 75 percent of all federal US lawmakers—signed an open letter calling on President Trump to escalate the war in Syria, in the name of countering Iran, Russia, and Lebanese Hezbollah. … Among the signatories are 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker.” Also signing the petition was Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

+ Then four months later, in July of 2019, “Lawmakers passed two amendments to the House’s more than $730 billion national defense budget that would restrict Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran without congressional approval, and also put a check on Trump’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, an alliance the administration has been using to escalate tensions with Iran.”

So what happened between these two events? Between March and July the Trump administration increased its sanctions on Iran and has threatened the Europeans with sanctions if they fulfill their contractual obligations to Iran under the original nuclear agreement. Then the president sent a naval and air armada to the Persian Gulf area. This constituted a form of brinkmanship whereby any small accidental encounter of American and Iranian forces could escalate into war.

Theory and Practice

We can look upon the March petition as a form of theory. Probably drawn up by real warmongers in the Congress, almost everyone jumped on board. They did so to show—to show whom?—that they were tough on the nation’s alleged enemies. At the time, it seemed a costless show of face. Then, come July, theory looked like it was about to turn into practice and the ghosts from wars in Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan started to appear before the bipartisan eyes of members of Congress.

While very few lawmakers will admit it publicly, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah represent absolutely no threat to the United States. Take the case of Syria. The Syrian government has all but won its war against rebelling factions and fanatical religious elements. Its interests and capabilities are limited to consolidating that hard-fought victory. The continuing violence in the country comes largely from the military activity of the U.S., Britain, Israel, and Turkey. At least in the case of the U.S. and Israel, the main reason for this continued victimization of the people of Syria is to keep the country destabilized and fragmented.

Specifically, why would the American government want to see Syria destabilized and fragmented? Is it because Syria constitutes a real threat to the national security of the United States? That proposition is almost laughable. Is it because Iran, an ally of Syria, constitutes a real threat to the United States? In no practical terms is this the case, though it is certainly the case that the U.S. constitutes a real threat to the national security of Iran.

So why the hostility to Syria, Iran and even Hezbollah? Whom were all those March petitioners trying to impress? And who would really benefit from continuing turmoil in Syria? The answer to all these questions is Israel.

The unfortunate truth is that American leaders from President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, and National Security Adviser Bolton on down to most run-of-the-mill congresspersons and senators have no clear and accurate knowledge of what is going on in the Middle East. They have a large and expensive intelligence apparatus with whom they get irritated and angry every time their experts tell these politicos what they don’t want to hear. And what is it that they do want to hear? Well, that might depend on ideology, religion, financial arrangements and other such things that can warp an objective picture of national interest and security. And who manages to tell them things that seem to satisfy most of these ideological, religious, and financial considerations? The answer is again Israel.

Putting aside all the real damage the Zionists actually do—I really don’t want to sound like a broken record—there is a an outstanding irony in this present situation. And that is, from all we know, President Trump does not want war with Iran. It’s just that his abrasive and blusterous personality, which seems never to have outgrown the spoiled bullying nature of his youth, has literally led him to the habit of a blitzkrieg approach to whatever passes in his mind for negotiations. In the case of Iran, he has unthinkingly destroyed the painstakingly wrought nuclear deal of his predecessor (perhaps for no other reason than he hates everything Barack Obama accomplished), and is now trying to force the Iranians into new negotiations by economically and militarily threatening them. This is a form of brinkmanship which is dangerous in the extreme.

Congress suddenly woke up to the reality of this situation—that is, many in Congress have gone from petitioners trying to be tough guys, to understanding just how dangerous Trump’s tactics can be. The result is the bipartisan amendments embedded in the House version of the Defense Appropriations Bill designed to rein in the delinquent in the White House.


Compared to Barack Obama, who certainly had his own problems, the United States has gone from hopeful purgatory to a Trump inspired reactionary version of hell. This is particularly the case when it comes to domestic affairs. This writer is a child of the 1960s. A staunch supporter, and indeed, a participant in the Civil Rights Movement that did away with segregation and unequal treatment between races within the public sphere. It was a major advance for America’s claim to be a civilized nation. Unfortunately that same movement did not have the power to reform the country’s private sphere, nor did it do nearly enough to thoroughly desegregate neighborhoods so that, in this case, Blacks and Whites would be brought together as Americans—one people. As a consequence White resentment over the loss of public cultural privilege has festered in the largely unchanged, segregated private sphere. It has done so in rural regions and white suburbs alike. Now with Donald Trump, who is little more that an opportunistic demigod, that resentment has been empowered and our status as a civilized society is in danger.

In the realm of foreign policy the United States has much less to lose for here national behavior has always been uncivilized. The names of presidents who have lied so as to manufacture wars, steal other people’s lands, and rein havoc and devastation upon innocent people, rank among many of our most easily recognized leaders.

Yet, for all the horrors our foreign adventures have wrought, the real present danger is that we will turn on ourselves and destroy our precarious democracy. Under these circumstances, the Democrats, for all their shortcomings, represent not only the party of choice, but the potential salvation of the United States. All they have to do is recognize this fact and, taking a cue from the progressive “squad” in the House, act accordingly.

More articles by:

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

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