Political parties change. American parties are not the exception. How did the Democratic Party shift from the party of *The New Deal* to the party of Clinton? This is not a question that most Americans ask. There are many reasons for this. The most critical cause is that Americans, are unaware of the real history of the country. A people that are forwards looking can’t understand how changes happen. However, they are ready to accept mythic ideas of both national origin and party origin.
This is one reason history matters. It gives us a clear view of the past. It illuminates the present. It can guide the future. For this to happen, an understanding of the past is essential. This includes the history of political parties and how parties change. The current Democratic Party is not your parent’s party. There is a war inside the Democratic Party for the soul and future of the party. How this shakes up will be telling. 2018 will tell us if that shift will start to take hold, or the center right status quo Democrats will maintain control. This battle is between the party elite, that captured the party for a corporatist donor class, and the base.
The 2016 election was a symptom of this. In the minds of many center-right Democrats 2016 is not over, and they blame the voters for Donald Trump. Nor can they understand why they lost. Trump was not supposed to win. He was not supposed to be a serious candidate. In some ways he wasn’t. Yet, he won the Presidency and center right Democrats cannot understand the many reasons why.
In party mythology Democrats are the party of the people. Yet, the people soundly rejected them. Why? Part of it was the platform under which Hillary Clinton pursued office. There was no positive vision. I was far from the only American to ask what were Democrats running for? Many core Hillary Clinton supporters could not tell what she was running for becuase there was no clear vision. Regular voters could not either. To this day, regular voters cannot tell yet what many Democrats favor.
There is a reason for this. It comes to two things. The true ideology of the party is not popular among voters. This leads to the next caveat. They cannot allow this ideology to be known, It is not that of 20th century liberalism. Instead it is an ideology that believes in the market as the source of the best economic and political decisions. This places the corporation, not the government, at the center of economic and political life. The International Monetary Fund had defined neoliberalism as follows:
The first is increased competition — achieved through deregulation and the opening up of domestic markets, including financial markets, to foreign competition. The second is a smaller role for the state, achieved through privatization and limits on the ability of governments to run fiscal deficits and accumulate debt.
This is the Democratic Party ideology. It is not just Democrats, but in the United States, they have done as much as they can to hide it. Now the IMF admits it exists. Nor is this just limited to the United States.
This is one of the ways Neoliberaism has achieves some of its goals. Capture usually is used in regards to regulatory bodies and legislative bodies. Political parties can be captured too. This means that special interests have taken over these bodies, and control them. It is not a hard concept to understand. Nor is it a mystery how it happens if you are a regular observer of these bodies.
Yet, we hear voters who speak of evil forces, and of Democrats in Name Only (DINOs). To be fair a similar process has occurred with Republicans, why we also hear of RINOs. It is not that there is a conspiracy in the sense that those who complain mean it.For sure not in any legal sense, or for that matter dark forces. Those with money took over the Democratic Party though one simple mechanism: Donations. These powerful interests have taken over the policy making structure of the party. They know that their intentions are not popular with the American people.
For example: The American people wanted the masters of the universe to face justice after the 2008 crash. Instead, the banks were bailed out. We were told that they were too big to fail. Top level management was compensated, instead of facing the courts. In the meantime savers lost $2 trillion dollars and 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs. Many left the workforce unable to find another job due to the deep recession.
This led to populist anger. The banks were fine. Bankers made out like bandits. Millions faced the worst economic crisis since 1929. The Occupy Wall Street movement channeled this fury very well. It was the connective tissue of the protest movement. Nor was it limited to the United States. The movement spanned the globe. It included the Indignados in Spain, and Mexico, for example. Some of the protests were very local. But some of it was global. The protest was against neoliberalism, even when in the United States it was not named in the press.
How were Democrats captured? The Citizens United Supreme Court decision changed politics for the worst. It allowed very powerful men to control politics in the United States. Trade organizations and powerful interest groups have done the same. Voters are familiar with the National Rifle Association. There are other interests that work in similar ways. These range from energy concerns, to big agriculture and trade organizations. These interests control the regulatory and legislative process. In the process they changed the rules on the ground to benefit them.
Candidates for office and elected officials are but one way to capture regulatory and legislative bodies. Donations to the campaigns are the coin of the realm. As such, they are essential in determining outcomes. Democrats may say they are the party of the people, but the reality is very different. Democrats, like Republcians, are a corporatist right wing party.
This is critical if you want to understand the divisions within the Democratic base. The leadership understands that older voters giving five dollars will not change an election. However, a large corporate donor could. Money determines winners and losers in our system as a rule of thumb. The very wealthy want less» regulations, and lower taxes. They also want the system to benefit them. They have the economic resources, and in effect, they want to be the winners in the system.
There is an internal fight for the soul of the Democratic Party. It is coming from a sense of loss, but also ignorance. There are Democrats, they tend to be younger, that want to change the direction towards a more popular path. Nor is the party at present i the same party that many older Americans remember.
Bernie Sanders: A Direct Challenge
Bernie Sanders ran a populist campaign in 2016. It challenged the Democratic establishment and came very close to success. He broke the rules. He raised money from the people, at $27 dollars average donation. He refused Super-PACs,. He understood that if he should have won, he needed independence to go back to a government working for the people. It is an illusion to think otherwise.
His campaign surprised all in the chattering classes. It also surprised center-right Democrats. It was not supposed to be that way. Hillary Clinton should have sailed to victory in the primary and become president. Democrats and Republicans, both party elites, missed the national mood. Donald J. Trump should have never become the Republican standard bearer either. I did not. But I covered things like Occupy extensively, and I saw the rise of the Tea Party. Both movements came from the same place. The government does not work the regular person.
There is research that bears this out. Both Trump and Sanders were successful because they spoke to the populist impulse. This research bears out the idea that the United States has become an oligarchy, captured by very narrow special interests.
Critiques of this study have emerged in recent years, the popular impression matters though. Many of those who voted for both Sanders and Trump did so becuase the system does not work for them. In the popular mind it is rigged.
The reaction from the chattering classes and the Democratic Party are also significant. We now know that the election was indeed rigged. This is not a wide eyed claim made by Berners, or crazy conspiracy theorists. We know this. Donna Brazile told this in an explosive tell all book. It was precisely what Berners knew; it was not a real democratic, with a small D, primary.
The Democratic Party was not going to let Bernie win. The corollary is that Democrats hate democracy. This is a popular feeling that I have seen among Berners. We expect political elites to ignore this. It will be at their peril to admit to it. However, when there is a loss of trust in the system, we enter dangerous territory. What happens when the people see no hope in electoral politics to improve their lot? This is not an idle question.
What this betrays though is a conflict for the Democratic Party soul. The current party elites are well connected to the donor class. They are beholden to them. They also believe that the best way to run the country is with the least amount of government possible. The government, so goes the belief, is a bad thing. Sanders pointed out that the government can do good things, or bad things. College education and national single payer are one use of government. Bailing out banks is another use of government. Both have been functions of government. In the United States we have chosen to use government to benefit the few, not the many. Trump won because Clinton represented this center right status quo coalition. This status-quo coalition also dominates some of the Republican party establishment. It was a populist year.
People are demanding changes that favor them. They voted for change. This is not even an argument anymore. It was not just the poor white working class that voted for Trump. It was also the middle class that sees the American dream become a nightmare.
2018 The Revolt Continues
The professional commentariat is making the 2018 cycle about Trump. Is this a rejection of his ways? Or is this going to break all political rules and lead to a better Republican year?
All observers who are familiar with how things usually work, are betting on a Democratic wave. I expect one. But I do not expect it to be as big as most. There are reasons for that belief. For starters, the revolt against what is perceived as the establishment is not over. Neither Democrats or Republicans have noticed. Nor have the chattering classes.
The tax bill was not just designed to help with a massive transfer of wealth to the top. Short term it will also help the working and middle» class in red states. It was designed in such a way that residents of either California or New York will benefit less. But Trump did not win the majority of those voters. So punishing those states is who Trump is.
The Trump revolution did not start in New York City or Sacramento. It is a working class and middle class phenomena of the “fly-over states.” This bill will give some temporary relief to those voters. They will feel good, and unless jobs start to go away before the mid-terms in sufficient numbers, voters will likely bet their horses on those currently running the show.
Yes, people like Darryl Issa are in danger. Why he voted against the tax bill. He represents a suburban district in California, which is expected to get hit in the chin by the new tax bill. The State and Local Deductions (SALT) will go down. His district voters rely on those deductions during tax season. Granted, it went up from none to $10,000 in the final bill, but still not enough to overcome resistance. His seat is at risk for many reasons. Democrats are also fielding a decent candidate.
Democrats may take the House. Less likely, they will recapture the Senate. This would fit traditional American politics. The party in power loses ground in the House and Senate in mid-term elections. Americans like divided government. Yet, we are in the midst of a populist revolt. This makes predictions hard.
What could make this election a more normal affair is that the economy starts to lose steam. Trickle down economics has yet to work anytime it has been implemented. We expect companies to distribute earnings, not invest them in higher wages, or more employment. So if the economy starts to show weakness, then voters might have more of a second thought. The party in power knows this. Republicans know that this is the time to cash in. More than a few economists were critical of the bill and some spoke of a slowdown in the economy. Among them former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. His analysis is historical. Every time we have had a cut in taxes, starting with John F Kennedy, the country has seen the growth of the deficit. Nor did the economy expand after the last few tries, including the most recent experiment in Kansas.
The full effects of the tax cut will be felt by 2020. Trump is a populist and was elected due to his promises, but the reasons for this are not gone. It will continue until the lot of many Americans in the middle and working class improves.
But, I do not believe that Democrats understand this. Nor do they have a program that could help. Yet, they are starting to adopt some of Sanders’ positions. Medicare for all comes to mind. Of course, so does the question, how do you pay for that? There are areas of spending that could be used. No, not Social Security or Medicare. We are talking of the massively bloated Defense Budget.
We as a nation spend more than the next ten nations combined. In the meantime, those ten nations invest in infrastructure. They have a better educated workforce, and in most cases offer universal health care. They are investing in their people, while we do not. This is one reason for the current crisis. At the most fundamental of levels, even when Americans are provincial, they know this.
In short, the 2018 electoral season will tell us where the country is going. The populist revolt is not over. Yet, both the political elites and the commentariat are missing how deep this revolt is.