Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Perils Of Remaining Loyal To The Democratic Party

For many people, the time between the end of the 2016 Democratic primaries on June 7 and when Bernie Sanders all but formally ended his campaign on July 12 by endorsing Hillary Clinton was a moment when they faced decisions which would define their character. The dilemma of Sanders supporters was whether to start supporting Clinton or to try to continue fighting for their candidate's nomination (which, for at least a time, was worth a shot). But despite the fact that the results of the primaries were utterly fraudulent, the media, the Democratic establishment, and Clinton's supporters agreed that she had won the nomination, which presented them with a different kind of character test.

Theirs was a position of illegitimate, but widely accepted, victory. And how they acted towards their candidate's former challenger and his supporters during this moment of advantage would say everything about what kinds of people they were. According to Shane Ryan in his June 29 piece The Psychology of Why Hillary Clinton Supporters are Still So Angry at Bernie Sanders, the majority of them behaved just as immaturely in such a situation as the title implies. After giving some examples of pro-Clinton pundits expressing disdain for Sanders because of his momentary refusal to concede, Shane talks about the mentality among Clinton's supporters:
Now, getting past the mainstream media minds, there’s the widespread anger among her supporters on social media, the lesser blogs, and IRL at Bernie’s actions. They use the same arguments—why can’t the arrogant loser accept that he lost?—and fail to understand how he’s maximizing his leverage while he’s still got it, which won’t be for long. They also fail to understand that the slow negotiations [a reference to Sanders' attempts to influence the Democratic platform] actually make it more likely that his supporters will come around, since he’s creating the perception that Clinton has to “earn” his vote.
The reasons he gives for why they refused to give Sanders any credit or respect even though they no longer perceived him as a threat can be described as follows: in spite of largely holding progressive views on the economy, foreign policy, and other issues that Hillary Clinton is in a lot of ways a Republican on, Clinton's supporters chose her because of identity politics relating to her gender and her superficial "progressive" image. But as Bernie Sanders challenged their comfortable assumptions with his exposing of Clinton's ideological inconsistencies, their only logical (or, actually, illogical) response was to accuse Sanders of being the source of their discomfort instead of facing their own mistakes.

This wasn't just a failure among them to express humility, though, but a sign of something far more troubling.

The Democratic electorate, including those who supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries, is overwhelmingly left-wing, with more Democrats than ever identifying as liberals, more than 80% of them thinking that the wealth distribution is unfair, over 70% of them wanting a single-payer universal health care system, and far more of them than Republicans or independents thinking that withdrawing from Iraq in 2011 was a good idea. Though some try to de-emphasize how progressive the party's base is, the polls-and the fact that Democratic candidates tend to lose elections when they move right-prove that Democrats are generally very far to the left.

But if one pays much attention to what the Democratic Party actually stands for, they find that its actions do not match up with the wishes of its supporters. Its leadership, under the control of wealthy oligarchs, is unwilling to pass the systemic economic reforms needed to reverse income inequality, as demonstrated in how it's increased under Obama's policies. The necessary (and completely realistic) idea of universal health care is rejected by the Democratic establishment in favor of the costly, profit-based system which is the so-called Affordable Care Act. And most notable among these and other key issues that Democratic leaders lean right on is foreign policy, which they've taken a highly militaristic approach on in the past few years.

And increasingly, Democrats are waking up to these ideological inconsistencies. The Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries-which make up half of the party, according to Sanders' polling history-are largely seeking to distance themselves from the organization after it sabotaged their candidate, as reflected in their "Demexit" movement. This is just the latest part of the exodus from the Democratic Party that's taken place among progressives in recent years, illustrated in how Democrats made up 35% of the electorate in 2008 but now make up only 29% of it. This means that since the start of Obama's presidency, his party has diminished by over 17%, a number that's sure to keep going up as the left continues to be alienated by Democrats in the years to come. This could easily lead to the rise of a populist third party post-2016 which overtakes both Democrats and Republicans.

I'm confident that as Bernie Sanders' Democrats abandon the party and join the already vast population of independents, they'll have an excellent opportunity to advance progressive goals. What worries me is what will become of Hillary Clinton's Democrats, who are certain to remain in it.

As was illustrated in that account of Clinton supporter's behavior after the primaries ended, they tend to twist themselves into increasingly complicated logical knots when they'd rather not admit that they're wrong about their candidate and their party representing progressive values. The more corrupt their party becomes, the more otherwise inexcusable actions they condone by continuing to make excuses for it; "everything is morally relative to Clinton supporters," writes HA Goodman. "If Bill and Hillary Clinton receive $153 million from Wall Street since 2001, then it’s viewed as money to battle Republicans. If Clinton voted for Iraq, or was Secretary of State during Obama’s worst mistake of his presidency, then attention shifts to future Supreme Court nominees."

And as the Democratic Party itself remains an institution which represents such values without any hope of reforming it, the progressive views which its loyalists largely hold could shift to the right as well.

If the idea of Democrats doing an ideological 180 doesn't sound believable, consider the history of the Republican Party. Though Republicans seem to have always had some hostility towards what they consider reckless government spending, for a time they were actually the more liberal party. As we all know, their very origins involve the abolitionist movement, which meant that at one point Democrats, not Republicans, were the ones with race war-advocating militia members and secessionists in their ranks. Under Theodore Roosevelt, Republicans became the party of environmental protection-a position that they maintained for a long time afterwards, as was made apparent in Richard Nixon's similarly green policies. They were even more economically populist than the Democrats for some time as well, with Roosevelt breaking much of the power that large corporations held over the economy during the 1900's.

But then, of course, came the Republicans' fall from grace. Because Republicans did little else to help racial progress after ending slavery, Democrats eventually became the party of marginalized groups. Starting in the 1920's, Republican leaders shifted their agenda away from that of Roosevelt and adopted the same pro-big business, "small government" rhetoric that they've used ever since. And after the end of the Cold War, Republican leaders decided to start mobilizing their base with outrage towards environmental regulation rather than communism, effectively reversing the roles of conservatives and liberals as the party that cared about ecology. Then followed the Republican Party's descent into the kind of anti-intellectualism and divisive rhetoric which helped produce Donald Trump.

In short, during the past century or so, Republicans went from the relatively left-wing party to one who's current presidential nominee advocates barring Muslims from entering the country. The main reason the Republican electorate is more conservative, it seems, is because their party leadership's lurch to the right began several generations ago. And though the Democrats have only been on such a path for about one generation, beginning with the centrist shift that took place in the party during the 1980's and 90's, there are signs that the Democratic electorate itself is starting to become more aligned with the beliefs of their representatives.

In May, columnist Lucy Steigerwald assessed the eagerness among Clinton Democrats to excuse her foreign policy record-and thus their eagerness to embrace war in general:
Clinton also has the nomination because war doesn’t bother Democrats. They like to think it does, when they remember it exists, but they will risk no political capital whatsoever on making sure it stops, or making sure a warmongering candidate isn’t nominated or elected.
During the last few decades, any semblance of an antiwar movement has withered under Democratic presidents. Not since “hey/hey/LBJ/how many kids did you kill today?” has a warmonger from the left side of the isle provoked ire. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have much blood on their hands, but not enough to push people into the streets. There are encouraging exceptions, as there are to all rules. Code Pink and other activist groups come out and protest Democrats, and don’t seem to have any plans to stop. However, it seems the anti-Iraq, antiwar movement of the early 21st century was a Dubya blip and nothing more. Part of that may be the public’s feeble attention span for atrocities far away. But it certainly appears that another aspect is that polite Democratic wars are easier to accept than grand Republican ones. Even if they both lead to the deaths of innocent people.
This disturbing trend towards hawkishness among Clinton Democrats can also be illustrated by how, during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, General John Allen's aggressively pro-war speech was met with enthusiasm from most of the Clinton delegates. It's just one incident, but it seems to reflect how much the group is being influenced by the rhetoric of their leaders.

Though foreign policy is the main issue which the Democratic base is being pushed to the right on, trade seems to be not far behind; though Americans are largely hostile towards anti-worker trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, polls indicate that supporters of Clinton (who supports the TPP) are generally in favor of them more than others. Just as troubling is how Democratic leaders, whose embrace of money in politics and Citizens United should be regarded by the party's base as clear evidence that their leaders are on the side of the oligarchs, is largely being written off as acceptable on the grounds of "pragmatism."

This rightward shift among Clinton supporters and supporters of the Democratic establishment in general was assessed by Walter Bragman in his piece Hillary Clinton's Democrats are America's Next Republicans:
They’ve been called the “post-hope” Democrats by Jacobin Magazine, but a more accurate term for many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters would be “New Republicans.” After the primary, and several more election cycles, these voters will likely end up representing America’s conservative party.
Hillary’s Democrats tend to be older and more affluent. Many have decidedly negative views of Bernie Sanders, and the kind of economic populism he is promoting. Not only are they turned off by his class-driven rhetoric — viewing it as too radical, divisive, and disruptive — they are also wary of too much government action. Clinton’s Democrats, consciously or otherwise, hold to some of the main tenets of the Reagan Revolution.
That said, these are not the New Democrats of the 1990’s, though that is where their roots are planted. Socially, they identify as progressives — hypersensitive to privilege and prejudice — but outside those issues, their ideology rests on the belief that nuance dictates moral ambiguity, and is beyond the understanding of common folk. Such sentiment gives deference to authority, and assumes that every side must have a valid argument in the face of impenetrable complexity.
As I said, these people do not represent the future of American politics. Outside of this insulated, diminishing group of largely older, upper-class Democratic loyalists, the political environment is changing, with millennials set to dominate the electorate in time for the next election amid extreme levels of income inequality-the latter factor being historically proven to result in populist uprisings. But despite all of these things, the damage to those already enamored with the Democratic establishment has already been done.


  1. Great piece. I say this in the friendliest way possible, please correct the grammar where you say the Republican party "had went" - just delete the "have" and you will be fine. Or you can change to to "have gone". Thank you, I've shared.

  2. Another important edit: "Who's" = "Who is" -- what you mean is "whose" (possessive).

  3. It is a common misconception that environmentalism is somehow a "leftist" ideology. It has always been a project of the 1%, from Teddy Roosevelt to Princes Bernhard and Philip who founded the World Wildlife Fund. Oligarchic types favor a static (AKA "sustainable") economy because they don't like social change. The utopia envisioned by "Green" ideologues is remarkably similar to the Confederate States of America: no machinery, no infrastructure, just agriculture and manual labor, and small, decentralized village life. I'm sure it was very comfortable for the plantation owners. Working class people have never been gung-ho for environmentalism.

    1. I am a Green and have been for 30 years. I have never ever heard a Green describe or want the future you claim we want, nor would anyone Green I know describe that as "utopia."

      Are you saying working class people like to live in polluted environments? I didn't realize the people in Flint enjoyed drinking tainted water. Thanks for illuminating us.

  4. In a note I posted on Facebook a while back (, I note that the economic elite have sewn up the centrist positions of both major parties, by supporting centrist candidates of both parties in the primaries. They do not care whether the unDemocrat or the Republican wins. Further, the independents, who outnumber both unDemocrats and Republicans, are effectively divided by the left-right ideology created and promoted by the economic elite into left and right factions. Those factions are unlikely to form an effective alliance because of that division.

    The only way the independents are going to be able to get together is by changing the political conversation. They must focus on the things they agree on - which is their assessments of what is wrong - then engage in a process of consensus to come up with ways to fix those things.