Ten months after the election of Donald Trump, and despite everything that has happened since; the narrative around the election, especially coming from the Democratic Party, has yet to change. The election is framed as a choice between an incompetent megalomaniac, which Donald Trump is, and the most qualified candidate in history, which no matter what you might think of Hillary Clinton she was. Bernie Sanders is at best portrayed as a charismatic and well intentioned leader who captured the imagination of well meaning but utterly naïve youths, and at worst was a known agent of chaos determined to help the Russians who appealed to online bullies and sexists, who then handed the country over to a racist. All of this is in spite of the fact, as Seth Meyers pointed out on Late Night, that America did in fact choose Hillary Clinton and by a margin of roughly 3 million votes. The racist megalomaniac is only in power because our country has yet to overturn a process designed to maintain slave owners dominance in our political system. Retrospectively it seems foolish to be surprised that an entrenched arm of white supremacy delivered unto us, a boisterous defender of white supremacists. Equally as foolish was the notion that the primary between Hillary and Bernie was ever about the two of them, and not in fact, about what a party of the people should look like, and whether or not establishment Democrats would condescend to become that.
From the very beginning the Democratic Party seemed determined to misunderstand what voters were thinking or wanted. When they looked back on the success of Obama they saw not the “Roosevelt-mania” of our country that The Economist had seen after Obama held his first post election press conference. Nor did they remember the appeal of his rejection of party orthodoxy that was best encapsulated by his snubbing of the Democratic Leadership Council when they met in Chicago in 2008. They saw only the shiny token of the first black president and reduced all his appeal down to his race. It does follow then that the way to top the first black president would be with another first. Not the first Jewish president, and certainly not the first democratic socialist, who further refuses the orthodoxy of the Democratic Party (and appeared to be less likely to get seduced by it than Obama did). They saw only the appeal of the first woman president, even if the experience of the woman they chose was in being an instrumental architect of the very version the Democratic Party that the country had rallied against in their support of Obama.
What followed was a brutal campaign and utterly mangled messaging that left us with no winners. Those in control of the narrative transformed feminism from being a set of often opposing political ideas to, as Liza Featherstone and Amber A’Lee Frost framed it in False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, “an anatomical Super Bowl in which all adherents root for Team Vagina.” This utter miscalculation on the part of the DNC belies their claims that they are the best party for minorities. Obama’s election to the presidency did signify progress on the part of America to move beyond it’s slave-owning past, and the hope and inspiration that it provided for communities of color should not be undervalued. However, we saw first hand that just as trickle-down economics is a lie, so is trickle down liberation. That communities of color were offered no respite from the terrorizing effects of police brutality during the Obama administration is one of the most tragic examples of the limitations of mere representation.
That Hillary Clinton was presented to us as the ultimate feminist, the wonder woman who was bound to deliver women to equality, while being an effective and seductive narrative, is an insulting one. Why should a former board member of the biggest exploiter of women workers in this country get to be our hero without ever having to answer for her time on the board of Walmart? More to the point, why must critical femmes sacrifice being viewed as a “good women” in order to point that out? The concerns and complaints of women and people of color who did not pant-suit up and offer unquestioning support of candidate Clinton went ignored. Our continuing critiques of a party that prefers us in the form of smiling parrots to be trotted out for fundraising, GOTV efforts, and assurances that yes, you are better than your red-neck uncle, are either ignored or mocked.
In an excerpt from her soon to be released book, What Happened, Hillary Clinton asserts that Bernie and her plans were “basically the same thing” but that on almost every issue what he was proposing was like “four-minute abs, or even no-minute abs. Magic abs!” A 2015 Business Insider article, Here’s where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Stands on the Issues, breaks down their “basically identical” stance on the issues. Clintons supported raising the minimum wage to $12 while, Bernie sided with the fight for $15. That “magic abs” number of Bernie’s proposal is less than half of what a single parent of one would need to make to support their family in my city of Los Angeles according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. Not to mention that the fight for 15 is being led by the working class people of color the Democrats market themselves as being advocates for. Clinton advocated for the practicality of leaving Obamacare in place; a slap in the face for the 27 million who were left uninsured under Obamacare as of October 2016, myself included, who might get hit by a car, need cancer treatment, have diabetes, or want to start a family in the near future and don’t think access to those services should ever be described as “magic abs.” The differences continue, Bernie does in fact go farther on almost every issue whether it be reigning in the financial sector, reforming our carceral state, or providing education. On every issue Clinton’s dismissal of bigger reforms reads less as the shrewd practicality of an experienced politician, and rather as a moral stance taken by a vanguard of the status quo.
That is ultimately where the Democratic Party is failing. Their progressive rhetoric no longer eclipses the fact that there was a conscious move towards the center that started in the 1980s and that they are now facing an electorate who they previously abandoned. Clintonite democrats, or the “New Democrats” as the DLC had named itself, did not expect to have to contend with the “illiterate peasants in the Age of Steam” to borrow a term from a 1995 cover story of DLC magazine. But when the people are fighting for healthcare, living wages to pay for food and shelter, and education, to not recognize that your party is seen as nobility as well, is foolhardy. These are bread and butter demands, basic human rights, not “cake” and not “magic abs.”
If the Democrats want to win in 2018 they need to recognize the miscalculations of the past and acknowledge that the rejection of Senator Clinton by progressives was a rejection not just of her, but of Clintonite Democrats entirely. The Democrats share culpability for the inequality crippling America today and should no longer expect a gold star for being better than the Republicans. They chose to prioritize the elevation of “wired workers” and the “learning class” in the 1990s over tackling the violence of poverty that ravages marginalized communities. What they failed to account for was that the learning class of the 90s would offer the learning class today unpaid internships instead of jobs. They swapped out employees for independent contractors and then marketed our exploitation to us as a romanticized view of pseudo-entrepreneurship that is worth not having any tangible employee benefits, worker protections, or worker’s rights. When we found we could not make ends meet they hailed the success of a few app creators as a both a victory and as heroes for our generation. “Side hustles” were romanticized and sold to us as a liberating alternative to one job and before we knew what hit us we were all temporarily embarrassed titans of creative industries who had unwittingly relinquished the 40 your workweek , 8 hour work day, and the ability to enjoy the weekend that the past working class Americans no one taught us about in school had died earning for us. The children of those Clintonite Democrats and Reaganite Republicans are learning first hand, what the communities of color who have never had a holistic ally in either party always new to be true: that our poverty might be permanent, that the American Dream might not be designed for us, and that political engagement outside of the electoral system might just be the most effective use of our time.
If the Democrats want widespread support in 2018 they need to stop distilling their politicians down to race, gender and sexuality, and automatically dismissing their critics as racist, sexist, or homophobic. Those same voters they claim don’t like Hillary Clinton or Kamala Harris because of their gender and race would walk through fire if Roseanne DeMoro and Nina Turner showed us it was an effective tactic to reaching our goals. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party there seems to be an aversion to introspection amongst their ranks. Hillary sycophant Peter Daou launched a website designed to help the “65.8 million” properly curate their media consumption. He claims that the eviscerating mockery he and Verrit.com have received is evidence of its necessity. With all due respect to Peter Daou, Hillary Clinton, and all the other prominent Democrats who invested and/or endorsed Verrit; but if you make a “media truth” search engine that shows no results for, “single payer”, “unions”, “minimum wage”, “forced prison labor”, “free tuition”, “police brutality”, and the only result for “right to work” is a quote from Eric Holder on gerrymandering, you don’t know the 65.8 million are.