Checkpoint: The State of the Democratic Party

The never-too-soon-to-be-late Henry Kissinger once supposedly said: “A diamond is a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure.” From that understanding, one may wonder why there isn’t a giant Cambodian shaped diamond protruding out of Southeast Asia. However, the idea that diamonds derive from coal is a common fallacy. Perhaps hoping that such elementary misunderstandings were still the norm, the Democratic Party, under enormous pressure to forge itself a diamond anew, revealed itself again to be a lump of coal. Such was the election of Former Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in February. 

The media built the election as a surrogate race between the so-called ‘progressive’ and ‘establishment’ wings of the Democratic Party. Perez, an establishment figure, won in a tight race against progressive Representative Keith Ellison. The DNC race was the first major move by the Democratic Party since their defeat in the General Election. For the progressives, Perez’s victory is a tough pill to swallow, especially because the previous pill from the Democratic primaries remains lodged in their collective throats. The repeated defeats of such an energized segment of the party make for a tempestuous period in its history. At such a time, one has to ask, what is the state of the Democratic Party, and where is it going?

For the progressives, the outcome of the race was a critical moment. RoseAnn DeMoro, the Executive Director of National Nurses United, said before the election, that the race was “the last gasp, it’s the death rattle.” DeMoro sees the division within the party as being “a market vs. a society.” DeMorro is inferring that the divide in the Party is between an establishment who, “beholden to their funders”, represent and legislate for the market, and the progressives who seek to legislate for the people. 

Clearly, the Party has not yet regained consciousness after falling on its own sword. It lays motionless and bleeding out in the arena while an oblivious bull confuses its surroundings for a china shop—not at all surprising considering it doesn’t know what China is. Rampant in its cluelessness it mistakes hysterical cries and argumentative murmuring for applause. In response, the skewered ‘establishment’ can only understate the precariousness of a divided party while simultaneously calling for unity. These establishment democrats, like House minority whip Representative Steny Hoyer, persist in maintaining that the Party is not in the wilderness. Hoyer suggests Clinton’s winning of the popular vote demonstrates that the American people are behind the Democratic platform. “Yes,” begins Hemingway’s final line of The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” 

After all, as DeMoro points out, the popular vote is no mandate. In fact, “50% of the people didn’t vote for either one of the candidates, and 25% of those who did voted against [Clinton]. 75% of the people were not with her.” Interestingly, despite acknowledging the apathetic enfranchisement of the American people, DeMoro is optimistic that a mass energized swing toward progressive ideas is a possibility, not just for the younger generation and the Party, but also for the country.  

Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager in 2012, argues instead that the Democrats’ failure derives from an inability to develop a core of new talent. She traces the 2016 defeat not to a lack of political credibility, but rather to a lack of attention to “down-ballot races”. These are the electoral contests that occur ‘down-the-ballot’—anything from school board elections to state and federal congressional races. The Republicans however, through redistricting and gerrymandering, have managed to win “a pretty solid majority in the House of Representatives.” According to Cutter, these races need to be prioritized if the Party is to have a chance in the 2018 upper-ballot races. 

The DNC result demonstrated that the Party is as resistant to change as it is to the obvious. The establishment is still in recoil, scrambling to collect itself and show a united front. If successful, they will have corporally reassembled the same sickly façade that lost an election to a clown, and one of the scary ones at that. Investing in the grassroots level as Cutter suggests is certainly required, but to back that investment with stale and corrupt policy is nonsensical. 

The near future is not going to be politically benign, and the Democrats cannot remain stagnant in a storm. The Party will have to change. If it continues to engorge its parasitic invested interests, the veil of social progress it wears will be lifted. The confused population will have their intuitions validated upon seeing the Democratic Party for what they really are - Republicans of a different color. The country will finally realize what few have about the American political divide - there isn’t one. “He who fights monsters,” says Nietzsche, “should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.” The Democrats have long since joined the Republicans in the belief, as Gore Vidal put it in 1968, “that there should be socialism for the rich, and free enterprise for the poor.” This current form of the party amounts to redundancy and reveals the political spectrum to be as pluralistic as sheep.

Alternatively, the Party could take an evidently more rational and auspicious form - that which it has always purported to hold behind the veil, that of ‘the society’. For too long the Democrats have feigned left leaning tendencies because the Republicans are so far to the right that nobody has seen a sliver of the left since McCarthyism. Such is this morphed reality that the Sanders wing of the party are called ‘Progressives’, a misnomer. If anything, they are the ‘traditionalists’, as they seek to be a real alternative. 

The DNC race was the opportunity the Party needed to show they had the integrity and the gumption to represent the objective needs of the American people. Instead, they chose to elect another establishment figure - one who’ll make the same bought-and-paid-for decisions that enable an insanely thin and wealthy layer of oligarchs to fester atop a monopolized economy. The ‘establishment’ has to concede their collusion with the status quo, then swiftly repine and attach themselves to discernible change. The rather passive alternative option is to maintain their patchy ‘unified front’ and crumble. The Party appears to favor the latter option. In fact, with his first act as Chairman, Perez motioned for Representative Ellison, his progressive competitor, to be elected Deputy Chairman. This is a position that has sat vacant for over a decade. It is indeed a patronizing slap in the face of the progressives in the clichéd name of unity - a ploy sure to pull at the stitching rather than heal the wound. 

Change is a constant; however, the overriding state of politics in the U.S. of recent decades has actually been more or less static. The pressure is now overwhelming and presents a unique opportunity for real change. A change not born out of fright or anger, or even hope; such are the lessons of history. Real change can only come from truth.