The Democratic Party Dilemma: Is it Real?

As Republicans try to drive a wedge between “centrist” and progressive Democrats, the Democrats might not need any help to achieve failure. They are well on the way to falling flat in front of the unique challenges they face in a bizarre couple of years running up to the 2020 presidential election.

Party Palliatives

DNC operatives and their favorites, the candidates who spout conventionally “liberal” slogans yet act like Reagan Republicans still control the Democratic Party. They take large corporate donations and “dark money” that tie them to the neoliberal economic thrust that takes us closer to full-blown climate chaos each day. Well, actually, the crisis is here and it is now.

In the run-up to the 2016 debacle, I remember seeing a survey posted online by Senator Keith Ellison asking Democrats to respond with their three top priorities for the Democratic Party Platform. The list provided did not include any mention of climate action, the overwhelmingly denied and ignored yet most critical issue of our time. Here is the list:

  • Raising the minimum wage
  • Civil rights
  • Making college more affordable
  • Protecting women’s health care choices
  • Immigration reform
  • Protecting and expanding Social Security
  • Overturning Citizens United
  • Reducing economic inequality
  • Wall Street accountability and consumer protection
  • Common-sense gun reform
  • Affordable housing
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Other

Okay, these are all issues that call for political action to achieve a livable society – in the abstract. Each is general enough that a politician could proclaim allegiance to taking action on it without actually having to do anything. The climate silence was deafening. The current listing of issues in the 2016 Party Platform on the party website does mention “Combat Climate Change,” briefly in the middle of the list. Once Bernie from contention, the greatest existential threat to humanity ever, Hillary mostly ignored it through the campaign. However, fear of a Trumpist future caused the 2018 midterm elections to blow a fresh new breeze into the U.S. House of Representatives.

Here Come the New Progressives

AOCAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) rapidly emerged as the face of the new progressive Democrats elected to the House in the midterms. Her unexpected trouncing of an old-line centrist incumbent in the primary quickly became the icon of new progressive thinking among the new representatives, who are mostly women of color.

A good measure of their impact and importance for possibly bringing the Democratic Party into the twenty-first century is the outrage and disdain expressed by Republicans at AOC’s very presence. Her highly articulate and charming outspoken expression of progressive values and her specific legislative proposals took the media’s attention away from the old party hacks.

The new progressives have already proposed a Green New Deal and helped shape HR-1, the bill that would take back control of politics from Big Money and give it to the people through electoral reform and other measures to protect democracy from the corporate state. Mitch McConnell predictably called it a “power grab,” yes, they replied, a power grab for the people.

The Struggle is On

The Corporate Democrats are not about to give up. They have already joined Republicans Ilhan Omar_400x400in attacking Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) for her calling out knee-jerk American political support for Israeli oppression and war crimes against the Palestinians. Omar had tried to distinguish between anti-semitism – of which anyone who criticizes Israel’s policies is accused – and reasoned and principled foreign policy by the U.S. But the women of color who expressed their solidarity at the State of the Union address by wearing white in honor of the original suffragettes, are strong and they are not about sit down and shut up as subservient freshmen representatives.

The Green New Deal may be only a policy preference piece, pointing in the direction of the extreme decarbonizing actions required to avert the most extreme threats to human survival inherent in the accelerating climate chaos we have already begun to experience. In one of the most honest assessments of the extreme crisis we now experience, David Wallace-Wells article in the New York Times is aptly titled, “Time to Panic: The planet is getting warmer in catastrophic ways. And fear may be the only thing that saves us.” It seems that the only politicians to get it and openly discuss it are the new progressive representatives.

The American people are wising up. They see the catastrophic climate changes already accelerating around the world. They can no longer imagine the U.S. as a sanctuary for the industrial-consumer “lifestyle” in a world of growing chaos. The Democrats would do very well to acknowledge the extreme existential threat we face and make it the centerpiece of their platform. But the new progressives must take control of the party if it is to represent the interests of the American people.

Here Comes the Hate!

The misogynist racist good ol’ boys (well, rich old white men) are out in force now. Their hateful ridicule targets any outspoken woman who happened to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the midterm elections.

Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, dubbed AOC, the celebrity underdog who handily beat the old white male incumbent Establishment Democrat, is the iconic target of their spite. How dare she challenge their comfortable corporate feed trough? How dare she expect their super-rich handlers to pay their fair share of income taxes?

Tax the Rich?

The “extreme” marginal rate of 70% on the highest segment of the excessive earnings of the wealthiest Americans would be lower than that charged in the 1950s, when the Americans people (not just the rich) prospered more than any time before or since. GOP-driven (Democrat accepted) tax reductions for the wealthy have stifled economic growth and driven up public debt during every presidency from Reagan to Trump.

The progressive income tax scheme @AOC proposed is a bit lower than Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond calculated would be optimal – not too much, not too little – for the richest Americans to contribute their fair share to a healthy economy. She offends on several counts: her gender, her brown skin, her policy recommendations that challenge both patriarchy and plutocracy, and the shock of her demands for social, economic, and climate justice. On top of it all, like her colleagues, she just won’t “sit down and shut up.”

Patronize the Pantsuits?

And they expect her not to demand that children be healthy and well educated too, and that the Trumpist outlaw ICE-MEN return the children they kidnapped from their asylum-seeking parents. What next?

Oh, yes, these brash new representatives want a Green New Deal too. Why those anti-oligarchy democratic “socialists”! (Oh, is that still a dirty word?) They don’t even want to protect the plundering plutocrats from the ravages of facing up to climate chaos?

Women Reps in WhiteOh, maybe they just don’t like white pantsuits, or women’s suffrage for that matter. That would go 10x for any woman wearing a headscarf, unless of course it was a gingham print and meant only as an accent for that beehive doo that might MAGA! (Remember the beehive? We’re talking 1950s here. They were as big as the tailfins on a 1959 Chevy.)

What these ol’ codgers really hate is an uppity woman who has brown skin, is even smarter than she is pretty, can easily outsmart them, and just “don’t know her place”. “Whoa there, young filly! Back in the kitchen with them barefoot brats!” That avalanche of smart progressive women of color entering the chambers of the political good ol’ boys club is just more than their privilege-addled brains can process.

Fascists in Victim’s Clothing

I never could quite understand why so many people confound the Jewish people with the state of Israel.  Many people I’ve met around the world love Americans and America, but not its imperious government. I know of no nation-state in this world that is so pure and good that we should all declare it off limits to political, humanitarian, or policy criticism of any kind.

It was the Jewish people who suffered Nazi terror, not the state of Israel. I feel equally outraged by the ruthless violence of Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, Netanyahu, and others too. But, any time someone criticizes the genocidal treatment of the Palestinian people, they are accused of supporting Hamas and terrorism. Nation states are the problem, not their people.

Go Figure. Well, you don’t have to figure much. U.S. politicians are terrified that someone might accuse them of being anti-Semitic. Closet racists often proclaim, “I am not a racist.” Same with closet anti-semites. Closet fascists claim to “bring democracy to the world” with state of the art military hardware. Too many Americans remain blind to nativist racism, even now when Trumpery has green-lighted its open expression.

I would suggest an analogy here. So many victims of abuse by parents, stepparents, or others with power grow up and become abusers themselves. Plenty of Israelis find it ironic and tragic that their government treats Palestinians nearly as badly as the Nazis treated their great-grandparents. Too many Americans are blind to the racism they tolerate because it does not directly interfere with their personal lives. Some are just clueless.

Too many easily fall into the hatred-on-the-rise that the new American fascists foment. The surge in violent hate crimes in the U.S., including anti-Semitic hate crimes, is no accident. It is part of the pattern of moral decay and political nihilism enabled by the political demagogues. That will only lead to more authoritarian politics and enable dictatorship to crush democracy unless the rest of us resist the hate.

Scapegoating for the Oligarchs, or Not

Ruling elites routinely distract their subject people by directing attention to individuals or ethnic groups as ‘the enemy,’ and it routinely works. As long as people are distracted by arguments over ethnic and individual culpability and conflict, the oligarchy wins. We could discuss the dominance of the English-American elite over the American economy and politics after the revolutionary war and their continued dominance thereafter, excluding the Scots-Irish immigrants and later many other ethnic groups from full political and economic participation, but to what avail?

The big mistake is to reduce problems resulting from economic inequities to the characteristics of individuals or ethnic groups. Today’s central banking cartel transcends national borders and ethnic categories, yet it benefits from any distraction of public awareness by scapegoating, including re-coded American racism, blaming immigrants for job losses, and plain old anti-Semitism.

The bottom line is structural; we live in a political economy of oligarchy, with a new twist that Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism” – a new form of fascism with a thin ‘democratic’ facade. You could waste your time tracking the ethnicity of all bankers, only to find a mix of whatever proportion, yet it would not matter. Their allegiance is to the financial elite of which they are members. Their Fox News minions call them the ‘job creators,’ even as they move their capital overseas to the labor markets they can exploit more cheaply. The oligarchy has various historical elements, but its current structure of power is what matters, and that is not an ethnic structure, it is the political-economic-financial structure of the corporate state. That is what needs to be directly faced and dealt with by ordinary citizens through concerted action.

Any chance for the people to prevail and for equity and democracy to survive will result only when people in communities recognize the fact that the larger system is way out of democratic control. It is not immigrants, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, or even terrorists who cause the problems most people feel directly in the form of depressed wages, underemployment, unemployment, lack of access to quality education, loss of access to voting, the decline of municipal infrastructures, growing police brutality and gun violence, a congress that refuses to respond to economic crises on Main street, not just on Wall Street, etc. Oligarchy thrives on oppression and distraction. Most societal problems are symptoms of economic and political oppression, and elite delusions of empire. Most Americans know that “the system is rigged,” and the economic cards are stacked against them. We also know that we can’t fight it alone. Anger breeds prejudice and discrimination; easy targets are presented to distract us. But only a turn toward positive concerted action can really help.

Because of the lock-up of national politics and economic policy by the oligarchs, the only ways left for ordinary people to survive and to thrive are strategies to create our own locally controlled institutions within communities and to withdraw participation from the giant institutions controlled by the Oligarchs.

Move your money from the Big Banks to local credit unions. Cancel Big-Bank credit cards and use local credit union cards. Start community banks. Divest savings from the fossil-fuel oligarchs and invest in socially responsible funds and local ecologically sound enterprises. Organize community solar and wind generating systems. Buy local. Reduce consumption from marketing-driven wants; buy to satisfy actual needs. Withdrawal from the international trade and industrial production system will stimulate opportunities in local economies in which individuals and families can participate and exercise control. That, of course, will not be an easy transition; it will require much cultural change and will be resisted by the oligarchs. But it will be an invigorating, transformational stimulus to a free and open society.