The Polis
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The Polis

Self-Care:

Why The Left Attacks the Left

In November, 2016, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. This event was viewed as a cataclysm of biblical proportions to people around the world, most notably by Americans who identify as rational human beings. In fact, absent the approximately 65 million voters who voted for Trump, virtually everyone in the developed world considered the election of Donald Trump a grave tragedy, at worst, to a comedic farce, at best. Rising out of the toxic fallout of the 2016 election, was an emboldened faction of belligerent bigotry on the American right, and an equally aggressive faction of defiant “resistance” on the left. And while the right-wing zealots are celebrating their newfound sense of superiority, the resistance-wing of the Democratic Party has been scrabbling to undo the 2016 election — and they have been losing. Russiagate, the Mueller Report, Ukrainegate and impeachment, the establishment left has thrown scandal after scandal at Trump and his administration. And yet Trump is still president — he is not going to be removed from office through impeachment (this time), and meanwhile Trump’s support is more solidified now than ever, and he’s out-fundraising nearly all of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 election.

In the midst of all this effort by the establishment to unseat a sitting president, a new faction has emerged — a faction that is focused on empowering average citizens, and creating a movement to return to people-powered, grass roots activism. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party — fueled, in large part, by non-establishment independents — has been building a movement. Progressives have been working in communities, and around the country, to build a working class revolution, to mobilize voters and to demand a government that works for all people, not just the wealthy and powerful.

In building this movement, one of the most important challenges is to change the way we conduct business in government. In order to do so, we must call out unwelcome practices by our politicians, and we must support candidates that embody our values and vision. This means criticizing politicians whose behavior we will no longer tolerate. In doing this, we have come under fire from establishment Democrats, and their supporters and/or enablers, for “attacking the left.” Reformers are accused of giving support to our opponents — ie the GOP — by spending more time critiquing the record and performance of our own team members than we do attacking our opponents. And, I must confess, this is not completely false. But, does attacking our own side help our opponents? I don’t think so.

For at least the past four decades, the political spectrum in the U.S. has been trending more conservative. And while some may argue that it is the fault of Republicans pulling their own party to the right, and dragging the Democrats with them, I would argue that the Democrats are at least as guilty for capitulating with less and less resistance. This has resulted in a massive rightward shift of the Overton Window, with the result that both major parties in the U.S. are now more conservative than the GOP of Dwight Eisenhower. This is a problem, especially for liberals whose ideology is grounded in social justice and economic equality.

It is also a problem that the modern Democratic Party is no longer an effective safeguard against the excesses of a hyper-conservative GOP base. In other words, there is no longer a viable “opposition party.” Establishment Democrats — the party elites — enable the GOP to continue its rightward drift toward neo-conservatism, defined by fundamentalism, libertarian intolerance, selfishness and greed. And that’s because many of the Democratic elites have sworn allegiance to the same special interests and corruption as the Republicans. They both take money from the same people, and for the same favors in return.

The Democrats have been so busy devising plans to nullify the 2016 election, they have failed to investigate the cause of Trump’s historic victory. They don’t understand — and can’t seem to accept — why a person like Trump could be elected to the highest office in the land. They refuse to acknowledge, or even countenance, the idea that they might be part of the problem. These liberal elites, who are clearly out of touch with the struggles of common folks, insist that there is some external force or malady that hijacked the 2016 election — Russian interference, FBI malfeasance, or voter fraud. But the reality is that the only thing that hijacked the election was the obstinance and obtuseness of the Democratic Party.

Trump won the election because he pretended to listen to people — not just the rich and elite people, but real people — around the country. He feigned concern for the plight of disillusioned working class people, and he promised — albeit deceptively — to institute policies that would help ease their burden. He acknowledged that neo-liberal policies of the past 40 years have driven down wages, lost manufacturing jobs, and encumbered the working class with debt and unsustainable cost of living increases. Of course, one of the methods he used to beguile his followers was to place a large portion of the blame on “others”, such as undocumented workers, for their collective suffering, and promised to stem the tide of refugees into our country. And while this was nothing more than a bigoted and reactionary plot to boost the morale of struggling white people, it also tapped into the perceptions of a substantial portion of the American populace — someone’s taking our jobs, so it must be the foreigners and their Democrat enablers.

Meanwhile, the Democrats — or at least the affluent and elite Democrats — ran on a platform of “business as usual.” While Trump was shouting “Make America Great Again,” the Democrats were calmly asserting that “America is just fine, thank you.” Unfortunately, for the vast majority of Americans, America is not just fine. People are struggling with low paying jobs, insurmountable student debt, and medical bankruptcy. Trump was able to tap into the anxiety and desperation shared by a majority of American households, while the Democrats were seemingly purposefully ignoring them. Yet all the Democrats do is complain about Trump’s policies and rhetoric, while continuing to ignore the needs and desires of voters.

If a sports team was consistently losing games because of a failure of fundamentals, refusal to follow orders, or otherwise refusing to work together on the field, would it be prudent for the coach or manager to focus on criticizing their opponents? Probably not. They would be running drills, exercises and training sessions to improve their own team’s gameplay. If one of the teammates kept running the wrong play, or they weren’t paying attention during the game, or kept dropping the ball, it would be prudent to criticize that teammate, and attempt to get him to play better. Complaining about how the other teams are playing wouldn’t help their own team win games.

Yet in the Democratic Party today, a lot of the players are performing poorly on the field. They are doing things that hurt the team, yet any time a fellow Democrat criticizes those players, they are chastised and scolded about “attacking our own team.” But how can we expect to get better, and to actually win games, if we don’t allow for constructive criticism of our teammates? We can’t.

But here’s the problem: the Democrats in power — the rich and affluent party elites and insiders — think that THEY represent the Democratic Party. Wealthy donors and powerful think tank fellows believe that the Democratic Party means themselves. And the policies they put forward are the policies that Democrats want. What they fail to realize is that the party represents real people — the huddled and unwashed masses. The voters. And the policies that this group wants are in stark contrast to those of the powerful elites. That is why it is important to attack — criticize — Democratic pundits and politicians that continue to ignore the will of the people. Because if we don’t, then these people will continue with business as usual — which is to say, they will keep capitulating to Republicans, screwing over the working class, and consequently losing important elections.

Right now in the U.S., less than 30% of the voting public identifies as a Democrat. And even less, although not much, consider themselves Republicans. The largest voting block in the nation are voters who consider themselves independent, beholden to neither of the major political parties. And the reason for this disproportionate number of non-partisans is that the parties no longer represent the interests of average Americans. Both major parties should be spending more time criticizing their own party leaders, in an effort to recapture some of their lost members. We must hold our own team members more accountable than those on the other side. Otherwise, our leaders will continue slogging forward with “business as usual” and more and more disaffected voters will abandon the party, choosing either to vote for the “other guy,” or just not vote at all. We have to clean our own house before we can, in good faith, yell at our neighbors to clean theirs.

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Jesse Beasley

Jesse Beasley

Public interest advocate. Guitar guru. Devoted father. Political dissident.