The Resistance and the Democratic Party
Under the barrage of daily news, about climate-change-influenced natural disasters and Trump-led assaults on the environment and the institutions of our democracy, it’s hard to keep one’s mind on the longer-term trajectory of change.
Everything seems imminent, apocalyptic and filled with unstoppable negative momentum.
That’s why I was pleased to have my sense of national victimhood and helplessness challenged by two pieces of thought-provoking writing that relate to the future of the left and of the Democratic Party.
The first piece is an article in the New York Times that looks at the jockeying for influence and support between the Democratic Party and The Resistance — our multifaceted and dispersed grass-roots movement that has been gathering momentum ever since the 2016 election. In “The Resistance, Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics,” political reporter Kenneth Vogel makes three major points:
What has been going on is the creation of a new liberal ecosystem outside the Democratic Party that may bring about a major reorganization of the left. It could eventually reshape the Democratic Party’s orientation from a more centrist “Clintonian neo-liberal corporatism” to a new “social democratic populism.”
Second, the Resistance, in all its manifestations (The Women’s March, MoveOn, Indivisible, Flippable, SwingLeft, Sister District, Color of Change, People’s Action, Working Families Party, etc.) is moving beyond its pure grass-roots beginnings to receiving significant funding and support from major liberal donors and organizations, who see in it more energy and vision than in today’s establishment Democratic Party.
Third, this competition for hearts and pocketbooks may be viewed as dangerously fracturing the left, and thereby diminishing the possibility of re-taking Congress and the Presidency. Some see it this way, with alarm. But others see this new development through the lens of Silicon Valley-style early stage investment in different competing ideas: let a thousand flowers bloom at the start, the best idea may be improved by the competition and is likely to triumph in the end.
The second piece is a “tri-partisan” and wonderfully titled book, One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported, by liberal columnist E.J. Dionne, Norman Ornstein of the American Enteprise Institute, and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.
The provocative argument, in a nutshell, is that “the election of Donald Trump could be one of the best things that ever happened to American democracy.” The authors suggest that the degree of popular mobilization and national soul-searching Trump has aroused could usher in a great era of democratic renewal. “Precisely beause the Trump threat is so profound, he has jolted much of the country to face problems that have been slowly eroding our democracy.”
What both Vogel’s article and the argument made by One Nation After Trump raise for me is that today’s heightened political engagement provides us with a unique opportunity to make a significant change in the political realm. But sooner or later (sooner would be better), it will be necessary for the Resistance and the Democratic Party to join hands and stop the bickering that is there much of the time, either overt or expressed through uneasy avoidance of areas of difference.
The real test will be whether the left as a whole will be able to come together behind Democratic candidates and consensus platforms in time for the 2018 and 2020 elections, since our winner-take-all political system makes third parties and vote skippers function only as spoilers.
“Unity on the left” is, of course, quite an ambitious agenda! But it has to happen if we are to stop the disastrous course which Trump and the Republican control of Congress have set us upon before it is too late to remedy the damage. In one of the political action groups I belong to, The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club of Oakland, California (very dynamic and competent — I highly recommend it), the last two monthly meetings have been specifically devoted to this topic.
It’s time for all of us to do some real work on this “unity on the left” challenge. To stick out our necks and forthrightly engage with those of our friends who can’t see beyond “progressives” versus “liberals” or “The Resistance” versus “The Democratic Party.” To address head-on the urgent need for us to come together in that “large tent” where our votes support rather than cancel each other out. To focus on winning as many elections from Republicans as possible. This time around, it just might save the world.
[This piece was originally written on October 11, 2017]