Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Primary Win Has People Shook

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset of long-time congressman Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for NY-14 has Democrats, the mainstream media, and Republicans all flustered. Good. (Photo Credit: Twitter/Jesse Korman

In advance of this year’s New York Democratic primaries, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had already generated a lot of attention, thanks in large part to a viral campaign advertisement called “The Courage to Change.” The spot highlights how Ocasio-Cortez is, to put it simply, not your average congressional candidate. As the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaigner says in a voiceover for the two-minute ad:

Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office. I wasn’t born to a wealthy or powerful family. Mother from Puerto Rico, dad from the South Bronx. I was born in a place where your zip code determines your destiny. My name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I’m an educator, an organizer, a working-class New Yorker. I’ve worked with expectant mothers, I’ve waited tables, and led classrooms, and going into politics wasn’t in the plan.

So, what compelled the 28-year-old Ocasio-Cortez to run? Not to suggest her campaign is a derivative one, but her platform sounds a lot like one belonging to a certain Vermont senator who ran for president:

After 20 years of the same representation, we have to ask: who has New York been changing for? Every day gets harder for working families like mine to get by. The rent gets higher, health care covers less, and our income stays the same. It’s clear that these changes haven’t been for us, and we deserve a champion. It’s time to fight for a New York that working families can afford.

That’s why I’m running for Congress. This race is about people vs. money. We’ve got people, they’ve got money. It’s time we acknowledge that not all Democrats are the same. That a Democrat who takes corporate money, profits off foreclosure, doesn’t live here, doesn’t send his kids to our schools, doesn’t drink our water or breathe our air cannot possibly represent us. What the Bronx and Queens need is Medicare-for-all, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee, and criminal justice reform.

We can do it now. It doesn’t take a hundred years to do this. It takes political courage. A New York for the many is possible. It’s time for one of us.

Ocasio-Cortez has stated her campaign is not about progressives vs. establishment Democrats, and rather, that it’s about people over politics and money, but it’s clear from her mission statement that she’s there in opposition to politics as usual, and if that means going through long-tenured party members to do it, so be it.

In particular, her campaign spot name-checks Joe Crowley, Democratic representative from her district and member of the House since 1999 (hence, the “20 years” reference). Crowley, for what it’s worth, doesn’t seem like a bad guy per se, but he also represents the centrist, “old white guy” political mold that voters increasingly are eschewing in their embrace of substantive policy ideas (and it probably doesn’t help he’s been chummy with lobbyists and pro-business types). Sure, he’s moved farther left than when he started in Congress, but going against someone who looks and sounds like a real-deal progressive, he and others like him are suddenly more vulnerable.

As the title of this post would indicate, they may be very vulnerable, indeed. In a fairly surprising result, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took down the 10-term incumbent Crowley in last week’s primary, capturing 57% of the vote. Ocasio-Cortez’s “upset” win is surprising for any number of reasons, not the least of which are her status as a relative unknown and political neophyte, Crowley’s entrenchment in Washington, and her being outdone roughly 10-to-one in campaign spending. Ocasio-Cortez’s political bid began seemingly as a feel-good story, and progressives likely would have been happy with her showing regardless of the outcome. Now, however, she appears poised to be a force to be reckoned with.

In the immediate aftermath of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upending of Joe Crowley’s re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-election bid, it would seem few are really well equipped to reckon with her success. Certainly, that we are even treating her victory as a surprise is owed somewhat to the media’s previous lack of focus on her, a trend that others outside the establishment vanguard have encountered (see also Cynthia Nixon, of whom we would stand to know little if we weren’t already familiar with her acting).

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been consistently critical of the blind eye turned toward progressives in everyday political discourse, in particular chastised Joy-Ann Reid and MSNBC in a couple of tweets the day after Ocasio-Cortez’s upset win:

Compare @JoyAnnReid’s revealingly insular and self-justifying tweet above about how “political journalism” (i.e. MSNBC) ignored the @Ocasio2018 race to @brianstelter’s honest and accurate @CNN story on how several media outlets actually covered the race.

A cable network that is monomaniacally devoted to faithfully serving the agenda of Party leaders and uncritically disseminating their talking points is obviously going to miss – or deliberately suppress – any challenges to those Party dictates. That’s what happened there.

While MSNBC talking heads are overlooking progressive candidates for public office and even the sources that more closely follow them, moderate Democrats are painting Ocasio-Cortez’s victory as an anomaly or one-off rather than a sign of the times during this post-mortem period. Nancy Pelosi, notably, dismissed these returns from NY-14 as being indicative of a movement or anything “larger” than one district. It’s perplexing considering the energy and press following Ocasio-Cortez seem like things Democrats of all make and model should be embracing. Then again, this is Nancy Pelosi we’re talking about here, a woman that Republicans seeking office are only too happy to have around because she evidently possesses a Hillary Clinton-like ability to make public declarations GOP political advertisers can use to their strategic advantage to make her and the Dems seem out of touch.

Speaking of Republicans, they’ve got their own reasons to be scared of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Jay Willis, writing for GQ Magazine, explains that they’re “terrified” of the 28-year-old political hopeful, precisely because they can’t beat her on a policy debate. Instead, conservatives like John Cardillo have resorted to questioning her credentials right down to her upbringing, suggesting, among other things, that she grew up in a more wealthy household/neighborhood than she is otherwise letting on. This, to me, is akin to the types of conspiracy theories that would have you believe survivors of mass shootings and children separated from their families at the Mexican border are paid actors. It’s as reprehensible as it is dishonest.

In short, centrist Democrats, conservative Republicans, and corporatist media outlets all see Ocasio-Cortez as somewhat of a threat, and this seems to be as much about her identity as her policy goals. In talking about her “identity,” I’m referring not to Ocasio-Cortez’s Bronx upbringing or Puerto Rican heritage, but her self-identification as a “democratic socialist.”

Much in the way Bernie Sanders was assailed on all sides from people who failed to draw distinctions between “democratic socialism” and “socialism” and ostensibly socialist regimes which belie a dictatorial bent—or intentionally confused them—Ocasio-Cortez’s win is forcing to those on the left and right alike to come to grips with the dreaded S-word. Within the press community, numerous outlets have taken to publishing articles trying to explain for the uninitiated what the heck, exactly, democratic socialism is. Nancy Pelosi, while diminishing Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory, also has publicly rejected the notion that socialism is “ascendant” within Democratic ranks.

On the right, meanwhile, SOCIALISM! SOCIALISM! BURN THE WITCH! This salvo from Cheryl Chumley for The Washington Times entitled “Ocasio-Cortez, New York’s socialist congressional contender, an enemy of America,” I share because I find it especially repugnant. It characterizes her primary win as a “face slap to America” and an “affront to all the Founding Fathers forged.” Chumley is the same woman who recently authored an essay on how “Democrats hate America,” apparently with the numbers to prove this assertion. For the record, her “numbers” are one statistic from a Gallup poll that shows Democrats are less likely to be “extremely proud” to be an American than their Republican counterparts—which surely doesn’t have anything to do with the Trump White House, a GOP-led Congress, and a conservative-majority Supreme Court, right?—and vague sentiments that reference Antifa, democratic socialists, and Obama apologists into one nebulous mix to be feared and loathed. Sorry Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t look and sound and think like you, Ms. Chumley. I forgot that makes her automatically less American or patriotic.

But about those policy goals. In the vein of a Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supports progressive ideals such as Medicare-for-all, a $15 minimum wage, free tuition for public colleges, campaign finance reform, and housing as a human right. These are not new, and are not controversial to the extent that fellow Democrats may not explicitly argue against them, though they may be reluctant to embrace them in favor of more centrist policies.

Other views, meanwhile, are outside the mainstream, either by virtue of their direct opposition to commonly-held stances within the party or their relative novelty among leadership. For one, Ocasio-Cortez has been a vocal critic of Israel, and joins an evidently growing number of people on an international stage who question the free pass Netanyahu’s government receives for its actions related to Israeli settlements and its handling of Palestinian resistance to the latter group’s apparent subjugation.

While she hasn’t yet clarified her position on the BDS movement, that the Democratic Socialists of America are pro-boycott worries the Democratic elites who have come to count on wealthy Jewish patrons and staunchly pro-Israel groups among their lists of donors. It’s another point of potential division between factions within the Democratic Party, which tend to get played up for effect in the media anyway, but nonetheless may be indicative of a fracture between the old guard and the new vying to push the party in a certain diplomatic direction.

The other major policy quirk which has drawn additional attention to Ocasio-Cortez’s platform is her embrace of an “abolish ICE” mantra. On this note, her views seem to lack nuance, although it would likely be difficult to rally behind a cause with a more cumbersome message. As it would seem, Ocasio-Cortez only wants to “abolish” Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the extent that it would be replaced with a more accountable agency or otherwise reformed.

Of course, Republicans have sought to weaponize this stated goal by insinuating that Democrats who want to abolish ICE are asking for no border control at all, hence other Dems have been reluctant to embrace the slogan. Then again, in light of the ongoing crisis facing the detention and separation of immigrant families, as well as numerous alleged abuses by ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, the discussion over what is permitted in the name of “border security” is a worthy one.

All this has made for a rather confusing dissection of a race that few outside of progressive circles and Ocasio-Cortez’s own support system were wont to predict in her favor, a dissection that tests us as consumers of the news to view our sources critically. After all, what these outlets say about the congressional hopeful may say as much about them as it does her. In the case of Cheryl Chumley, it reveals ugly attitudes predicated on jingoistic paranoia. As such, while the November election in New York’s 14th congressional district will now undoubtedly receive much more widespread attention, how much of it is good or fair remains to be seen.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has only just won the Democratic primary for her district, but given the heavy blue leanings of NY-14, she’s looking like a pretty sure bet to make it to Congress. Either way, there is real energy behind her and her campaign, and not just from New Yorkers.

In Ocasio-Cortez, many pundits see the future of the Democratic Party, one of female leadership and better representation for people of color and other minority groups. They also see, in progressives like Ocasio-Cortez daring to go “further left,” Democrats more authentically embracing the values that the party’s detractors would say mainline Dems have all but abandoned over the years, particularly in defending the working class and organized labor from attempts by the GOP to erode their influence.

By proxy, search for “Nancy Pelosi” and you’ll see umpteen calls for her to step aside or hand the baton over. Her defenders, meanwhile, see her as a great leader, prodigious fundraiser, and tireless worker, so it may just as well be that Pelosi isn’t going anywhere.

While comments to downplay Ocasio-Cortez’s and other progressives’ influence reflect poorly on Pelosi, it also is worth mentioning that one upset victory does not a party takeover make. This is not meant to throw water on the fire of young candidates on the rise, but rather to underscore the magnitude of the opposition others like Ocasio-Cortez will face from Democrats (esp. firmly-entrenched incumbents) and Republicans (esp. in red-leaning areas) alike.

Following Ocasio-Cortez’s win, candidates like Ayanna Presley in Massachusetts and Kerri Harris of Delaware have seen an uptick in their donations. Primary results still matter, though, and much work has to be done by their campaigns to build on their compatriot from New York’s success. In short, while there is momentum building, this is not to say that democratic socialism in the United States has truly arrived.

Still, that we’re even having this discussion about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the future of the Democratic Party means that we can’t rule out Presley’s or Harris’s chances, and that the discussion about whether platforms like theirs can be adapted to succeed in jurisdictions like the Midwest where the GOP possesses an advantage is a meritorious one. Seeing various reactions to Ocasio-Cortez’s win characterized by sheer bafflement, this only reinforces the idea few were ready for the eventuality of a liberal progressive gaining traction. Thus, while it’s too early to say what exactly this upset means, it’s highly intriguing to see people so “shook” over it.

Here’s hoping for a little more shaking-up before the 2018 election season is done.

To view this post as it appears on Citizen Truth, click here. Citizen Truth is an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm, and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations. For more on CT, please visit citizentruth.org.

Right-to-Work—Not Right, Especially Not for Workers

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Sure, right-to-work has nothing to do with the actual right to work and depresses wages for union and non-union workers, but let’s keep misleading people and extolling its virtues. (Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP)

I consider my father to be an intelligent individual. Before recently retiring, he worked for several decades as an accountant, and toward the end of his gainful employment, he also served as a human resources director of sorts, absorbing most of the functions that a full-time, HR-exclusive professional would for a small business. He is quick-witted, has a good sense of humor, and continually tries to improve himself by challenging himself physically and mentally. With respect to politics, however, I feel his judgment lately is somewhat suspect, especially as it errs on the side of the conservative. My parents are both lifelong Democrats, and at one point, Dad even joked that he would vote for an ax murderer if he were a Democrat rather than a Republican. (My father does not deny outright that he said this, but he does not admit it either, and legitimately or not, claims not to remember this statement.)

With this personal political history in mind, it caused the rest of the family great concern earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign when Dad said he was considering voting for Donald Trump. For someone on the Republican ticket, Trump’s legacy as a conservative was notably lacking, so the idea that the family patriarch would be considering a vote for a GOP candidate was not immediately so alarming. His apparent support for Trump, a grade-A asshole, meanwhile, was. Mom, an avowed believer in Hillary Clinton, if for no other reason than wanting to see a woman become President, belabored the point whenever the election or politics came up. Dad responded by saying that he liked Trump because he was straightforward and “not a politician.” On this note, I agreed that politicians and politics as usual had justifiably driven resistance to “establishment” or “mainstream” figures within both parties, and thereby had helped fuel the billionaire’s appeal. But electing Donald Trump as President of the United States, I argued, was like, because you didn’t enjoy Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, burning down the whole library in protest. Even as a symbolic gesture, a vote for Trump was a vote for hate and a vote against reason and, you know, actually being qualified for one’s intended office.

Eventually, my father began to sour on Donald Trump, not so much because of his intended policies—or lack thereof—but mostly with respect to his denigration of women. As good as any reason not to cast a vote for the man, as far as I was concerned. To wit, I don’t know who Dad voted for this past November. All I know is that since the election and in the months since, every time a discussion of a remotely political nature has threatened to rear its head in our house, he has sought to put the kibosh on it, plaintively asking, “Do we have to talk about politics?” Accordingly, it is pretty rare that my father makes any political commentary unsolicited. (His social commentary is more regular, though no less disturbing, particularly as it concerns anti-feminist attitudes or criticisms of appeals to diversity and political correctness.)

One area where Dad has been notably vocal, though, and a point on which I patently disagree with him, is the subject of unions and other professional organizations. Whether it is because of his experience in the human resources realm or in spite of it, or even related to my mother’s dealings with union representation (Mom is a registered nurse), I can’t say for sure, but suffice it to say, Pops believes unions are “ruining this country.” Harsh words, but Dad is certainly not alone in his antipathy to these organizations. In 2013, Al Lewis, now-business editor of The Houston Chronicle and then-Dow Jones Newswires reporter, Wall Street Journal columnist, and writer for MarketWatch, explored America’s distaste for unions alongside their apparent acceptance or tacit compliance of many with standard operating procedure for corporations and the executives who manage them. Lewis describes the psychology of anti-union sentiment:

Unions…could counter many of the economic injustices that plague America. Unfortunately, unions have lost their power to do so. Union membership in the private sector is down to 6.6 percent of all workers, [a] Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed. In the public sector, 35.9 percent of all employees remain unionized.

This is why, as Americans, we often view unions as a cause of higher taxes. We also are still wondering where the mob buried former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. We sense a more subtle form of institutional corruption in the unions’ alignment with mostly Democratic politicians. We detest the extra layer of bureaucracy unions add to any workplace. And we suspect that it can kill business.

The pension liabilities some companies have amassed in past union negotiations simply blow our minds. And we are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers. So by now, most Americans have decided they don’t want to be in a union, even if the decline of unions correlates to the decline of the middle class.

The perception of union leaders as not merely working with political leaders, but for them or in cahoots with them, certainly would seem to work against acceptance of the abstract concept of unions in the United States, as does the image of the union leader earning a comparatively exorbitant salary next to the members of the organization he or she represents, or unions lobbying for their pensions even with many states and municipalities in a state of financial turmoil. More than mere politics or even morality, however, Al Lewis speaks to implicitly-held theories of leadership and who or what types of individuals are capable of leading groups of workers. “We are uncomfortable with the idea of monkeys running a zoo instead of zookeepers.”

Right there, we have a sense of the larger and more pervasive attitude toward those at the top of the hierarchy and those forming the base of the pyramid. Those at the top are presumed to have superior management and leadership skills, not to mention acumen in their given field. Those at the bottom are presumed to be deficient in such skills, drones born to follow rather than lead. Especially as it concerns trade professionals, there exists a stereotype of the blue-collar worker as fat, lazy, stupid, or all three. You know the idea—the plumber crouched over his work, his rear-end barely concealed by his briefs and sagging jeans. There is undoubtedly a perception gap when it comes to these two groups, a phenomenon further expounded upon by Lewis to conclude his piece:

Americans hate organized labor, but somehow they do not hate organized management. As the labor unions have declined, professional corporate managers have formed increasingly powerful guilds of their own. They belong to elite groups, such as the Business Roundtable or the Trilateral Commission, to name a couple. Many are even having a little cabal in Davos, Switzerland this week. What? You thought that was about improving the world? This is how they end up on each other’s boards, approving each others’ compensation packages.

In this subtle way, CEOs have built the most successful union in all of history. You ask a company why it pays its CEO so much, and the answer is always because it is what all the other CEOs get paid. All the other CEOs who sit on each others’ boards, that is.

It is the greatest spin job in all of economics and politics. When someone making $943 a week tries to organize, and fend for their own economic interests, Americans have been conditioned to call it socialism. But when someone making several hundred thousand dollars a week does it, they call it free enterprise.

The many, in other words, look up to the few, and as part of this aspirational model, look down upon their present station, or simply down upon those who they believe exist at a lower echelon than them. In the context of unions, when workers organize and try to buck the paradigm of the survival of the fittest paradigm, we have been conditioned to view it as a violation and an aberration rather than the way things should work. As Mr. Lewis intimates, somehow we have been led to associate the activities of professional organizations with greed and excess, or even asking for something undeserved, when executive compensation packages continue to reach obscene levels, even in the face of scandal. Simply put, the American people, by and large, seem to have it backwards when it comes to how they regard the balance of power in our society.


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Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, and Chris Christie have all taken hard-line positions against union workers. They also all happen to be shitty governors. Coincidence? (Photo Credits: Reuters/Brian Frank/Mike Theiler/Mike Blake)

So, yes, likewise simply put, public support for unions has been on the decline, as has participation from workers in those professions who might stand to become or remain members. As of the date of publication of Al Lewis’s article, union membership was down to 11.3% of all workers, a level the author notes is the lowest the United States of America has seen since the Great Depression. Rarely are comparisons to the Great Depression ever a good thing for trends involving employment and labor. This historical perspective alongside current negative feelings about organized labor forms the backdrop for the much-politicized battle over the responsibilities and rights of workers in relation to unions, often correlating with party affiliation. Journalist and academic Thomas Edsall, in an op-ed appearing in The New York Times back in 2014, phrased this succinctly with the very title of his essay, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions.” Edsall elaborates on the depth of the GOP’s war on unions as fueled by stronger conservatives within its ranks:

Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.

Those familiar with the evolution of the Republican Party over the past few decades should not see this reality as much of a surprise. The GOP has become unflinchingly pro-business in its adoption of fiscally and socially conservative positions, to a fault and to the extent that they have sought to undermine regulations on corporations, other businesses, and whole industries (e.g. banking and finance) because they view them as bad for business. Unions, seen as a constraint of a different sort and emblematic of the type of bureaucracy conservatives always claim to want to bypass, are therefore a prime target for Republican lawmakers and state leaders. Three Republican governors in particular are cited for their anti-labor hostility and posturing in Edsall’s op-ed. The first is Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and early 2016 presidential race dropout. The second is Rick Snyder, Michigan governor, who we now know was a key player in the lead-filled dumpster fire that is Flint’s water crisis. The last is my personal favorite, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose administration engineered Bridgegate and who has gone after the teachers’ union with fetishistic fury. Many people, myself included, would characterize actions taken by all three during their tenures, especially those leading to the crisis in Flint, as reprehensible. Does this necessarily mean that their positions on unions are therefore wrong? Well, no. But let me tell you—it doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either.

Again, the Republican resistance to union participation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Democrats’ failure to meet this war on organized labor in kind, however, is vaguely disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising either, if you understand the schism within the Democratic Party between its establishment wing replete with big-money donors, and its progressive wing predicated on grassroots funding and organizing, as well as advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, among other things. Thomas Edsall puts the nature of the Democrats’ weak defense of unions in blunt terms: “If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much.” In saying as much, Edsall points to the Obama administration’s undermining “of the bargaining power of the most successful unions by imposing a 40% excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare.” These so-called “Cadillac plans,” Edsall continues, intended as a luxury tax of sorts, are seen by labor leaders as threats to health insurance benefits that various unions have had to fight for with executive management of companies. As one labor leader quoted within the piece opines, non-union and union workers alike will be hurt by these plans, with non-union workers in particular at risk of having their benefits slashed and their deductibles skyrocket. To put this in different terms, and as far as labor groups are concerned, with “friends” like the 40% tax, who needs enemies?

It should be stressed that this Thomas Edsall piece was published in 2014, before the rise of Donald Trump. Even then, the Democratic Party was being lectured by Edsall and others to “neglect the union movement at their own peril.” Accordingly, Edsall’s closing paragraphs seem duly ominous, if not presaging the disaster of a Trump presidency outright:

Even when the party had full control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2009, Democrats gave a less than halfhearted effort to pass labor’s top priority: legislation that would make elections for union representation easier. Democratic strategists looking toward the future are focused on “the rising American electorate” — single women, minorities and the young, with no reference to labor.

At the same time, many voters in the Republican electorate are themselves middle and low income. In 2014, 67 percent of those who cast Republican ballots earned less than $100,000 in household income; 30.4 percent made less than $50,000. Republicans face their own problems remaining competitive in presidential elections, which will only worsen if they do not strengthen their support among these less affluent voters.

But even with labor unions no longer the force they were — and in fact in part because of their decline — the pressure will fall on both parties to more effectively represent the interests and rights of economically struggling voters, who at some point will refuse to tolerate their eroding income and lack of opportunity.

Translation: people are going to get pissed, and will vote accordingly. In acknowledging this effect, I, in the same breath, acknowledge that there was—as crazy as might seem at first glance—a slice of the American electorate that went from casting their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 to turning out for Trump in 2016. Their numbers are not insignificant, but as Sean McElwee argues, focusing on this relatively small subset of 2016 election voters obscures the real trend that should be garnering Democrats’ attention, particularly those more entrenched members of the establishment. Where Donald Trump and his campaign succeeded, and where Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Democrats including Obama have failed to manage, is mobilizing those who should be among their base to the polls. McElwee attributes a large part of this failure of the Dems to their reluctance to make voting rights a priority for various groups, a problem exacerbated by Republicans’ efforts to nullify any inherent advantages with these blocs. He explains:

When Republicans take power, their first priorities are voter suppression and right-to-work, their second is to destroy the capacity of government to aid working families and their third is to turn the government into a patronage machine for wealthy whites. Democrats have failed to understand that in order to win, they must do the opposite. Voting rights must be a priority, and policies should strengthen the ability of working people to organize and mobilize.

“Working people.” Sean McElwee highlights them above any other segment of the Democratic Party’s core supporters, at least traditionally speaking, and references to their “organizing” clearly invokes the importance of unions. From there, or perhaps even concurrently, Democratic leadership must invite workers and sympathetic activist/progressive groups to the table. As McElwee sees the matter, this is the only path forward for a successful Democratic Party, or to quote him directly, “Party elites will have to cede some power to make this happen.” If recent party history is any indication for the Democrats, this is easier said than done.


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If this man is introducing a piece of legislation, let alone supporting it, chances are it’s a terrible idea. (Photo Credit: Steve King)

In terms of the first priorities of the GOP underscored by McElwee in his piece and quoted above, the voter suppression angle probably isn’t that hard to understand. Numerous articles have been written about the “real” voting scandal of 2016: not the closeness of the vote in certain swing states begging a recount, not even the possible hacking of voting machines and other Russian interference in the presidential election, but voter suppression at the hands of Republicans determined to try to widen their advantage over Democrats at the polls, including by limiting opportunities of people of color to vote and creating unnecessary hurdles for them to cast their ballots. (Together with gerrymandering, these are issues of considerable importance that do not get nearly the attention they should.) Right-to-work, meanwhile, is a concept that is likely unfamiliar to the average voter, especially one from a state that does not have such a law on the books. The term “right-to-work” sounds pretty benign in it of itself. Should people have a right to work? Sure, why not? Let’s rubber stamp the bill along and call it a day, shall we?

Not so fast. It would be bad enough if “right-to-work” was a form of euphemistic language—you know, in the way “civil asset forfeiture” is another way of saying “the police gets to take your shit if you’re at all implicated in a crime and without proof of wrongdoing or even being charged.” But it’s more than that—it’s a complete misnomer. Right-to-work has nothing to go with the right to work. The University of Missouri–Kansas City recently featured a profile on right-to-work legislation in the University News, UMKC’s independent student newspaper. First, the editorial defines the term and gives context to the political debate surrounding it:

Right to work legislation prohibits unions from requiring that dues or fees be paid by all employees that it represents. This usually has the effect of weakening labor organization, as unions will have less financial power to fight for higher wages or benefits such as health care. Additionally, so-called “free riders” can take advantage of the workplace protections and benefits without contributing to the unions that acquire them. Conversely, proponents say that job growth increases because businesses prefer to operate in states with right to work laws.

Data can usually be spun by either side to support or reject the claims of the other. There is no firm consensus by economists or statisticians on the effects of right to work, as it cannot be easily isolated from other factors such as variable standards of living or the economic recovery following the recession. In general it increases job growth and in general it decreases wages, all usually in tandem with other pro-business and anti-labor policies. This is a subject where hard, unbiased data is scarce and so the debate devolves into opposing ideological and political arguments. Therefore, right to work legislation probably makes less impact as an economic policy than it does as a political call-to-arms.

This University News profile, whether to be merely diplomatic about the matter, or because it legitimately wants to be cautious because of the purported lack of “hard, unbiased data” on right-to-work legislation, describes its economic impact with an air of neutrality. Still, certain elements of this synopsis scream out to the liberal and progressive reading it and suggest a negative connotation. “Has the effect of weakening labor organization.” “‘Free riders’ can take advantage…without contributing.” “Decreases wages.” “Anti-labor.” Sure, job growth may occur, but seemingly chiefly because companies prefer to operate in climates that are favorable to business and let them take advantage of workers in their own right; job number increases, after all, would mean little when the quality of the positions being added is suspect. However you slice it, that businesses would lobby and Republican politicians would craft policy in favor of right-to-work doesn’t appear to be an accident, especially not in light of the aforementioned war on unions perpetrated by the Republican Party.

This same profile, on the other hand, invokes visions of “danger” as well as cites some guy named Martin Luther King, Jr. in capturing the antipathy held by labor leaders and others toward right-to-work policy. The danger, as the UMKC student staff behind the article have identified, is “in inciting political will to elect those with an interest in supporting big business,” and that it “also attracts those businesses’ donations.” As for MLK, he was downright foreboding about the concept in the abstract. As quoted within the feature:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right to work.” It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

Leave it to a man assassinated, presumably for his views on matters of not only racial inequality, but income and wealth inequality, to put things in perspective and give the matter its due weight. Even then, King and others saw the importance of protecting labor from the machinations of big business and the politicians who aid and abet corporate attempts to shrink union representation. Sure, they may not have been statisticians with “hard, unbiased data” at their disposal—but perhaps they didn’t need to crunch numbers to see the writing on the wall.

For those who have crunched the numbers, meanwhile, the evidence for why right-to-work legislation is problematic for rank-and-file workers regardless of political or union affiliation is that much more compelling. In 2011, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz authored a report for the Economic Policy Institute on the “compensation penalty” of right-to-work laws, finding that wages, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance, and employer-sponsored pensions were all significantly lower in states that had these laws on the books. Sure, this is just one study, and the EPI does lean more to the left, but the comprehensiveness of the report alone suggests Gould and Shierholz might be on to something.

The historical implications of right-to-work legislation only magnify its problematic nature. Michael Pierce, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, directly ties right-to-work to the South’s prejudicial past (and sometimes present) and deliberate attempts to disenfranchise Jews and people of color. From his January 2017 essay:

As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”

OK, you’re thinking, Vance Muse was just one man from one Christian organization. That doesn’t necessarily mean much. No, but when it inspires whole states, their governors, and their legislators to pursue right-to-work legislation specifically to marginalize unions and their members, this is more than just the trivial misdeeds of one man. Pierce closes his piece with these thoughts:

The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.

During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”

In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.

Two things jump out here. The first is that there is a pronounced racist component to right-to-work—even if modern-day conservatives and Republicans downplay that factor. This may be a case of guilty by association, but Rep. Steve King, now-infamous white nationalist, loves right-to-work. Loves it. King loves it so much that he re-introduced legislation in the House to institute a National Right to Work Act. Where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire, and when there’s bad policy with the specter of racism looming, there tends to be Steve King. Just saying. The second is the mentality that connects to the earlier consideration of Americans “hating unions more than CEOs.” Anti-labor, anti-immigrant—it’s all part of the same classist soup that corporations and the wealthy use to depress the working class by turning them on themselves. Divide and conquer—a page straight out of the GOP playbook.


Given the efforts of Republican Party and industry leaders to weaken the rights of labor, in accordance with any number of factors that lend themselves to lower union enrollment numbers and fewer dues being paid, it would seem that the Democratic Party, a party which preaches inclusiveness and fighting for “the little guy,” would exhibit a more robust, if not more cohesive, challenge to the erosion of the bargaining power of the working class amid the erosion of manufacturing jobs. Owing largely to its own moneyed interests, however, the Democrats are currently primarily a fundraising operation, and only secondarily a defender and mobilizer of organized labor, allowing Republicans to undercut them in individual elections such as the 2016 presidential election, as well as threaten their political support from unions by taking labor group endorsements all but for granted. To reiterate the words of Thomas Edsall, however, they do so at their own peril. As Edsall notes, the Democratic percentage among union voters has consistently stayed in the 60% range for the past two decades, Not only is organized labor making up a smaller and smaller part of the general electorate, though, but Republicans continue to win local, state and federal offices despite changing demographics which should favor the Dems. If Democrats can’t even get into office, let alone do something about the strength of unions and their ability to organize, it paints a pretty grim picture for the working class in the United States.

Right-to-work: it has nothing to do with the right to work, nor is it right for workers, union or not. And if nothing is done to form a coalition to resist attempts to disempower unions and those workers who would join their ranks, we could be on our way back to the days and ways of the robber barons sooner than we think—if we aren’t there already.

Do Progressives Have a Seat at the Democrats’ Table?

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Tom Perez may be progressive like Keith Ellison and may have grass-roots appeal. But as the establishment wing of the Democratic Party’s pick to neutralize Ellison as a figurehead of the “Sanders wing” of the party and someone with more a nuanced view of Israel’s role in the Middle East, his victory in the race for DNC chair is symbolic of the notion that the Democrats don’t want to jeopardize their big-dollar donors by bringing in more progressives and younger voters. In doing so, however, they risk damage to their sense of party unity and the ability to recruit independents to their cause. (Photo Credit: AP Photo)

Don’t get me wrong—Tom Perez, the newly-elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, seems like a nice enough guy, not to mention that as Hillary Clinton’s nomination for the office of President of the United States was an historic one because it meant that a woman was a presidential nominee for a major political party for the first time, so too is Perez’s victory in that he holds the distinction of being the first Latino DNC chair in the party’s storied history. Also as with Clinton’s capture of the nomination, once more, the emphasis from ranking members of the Democratic Party and from its most fervent supporters is on a unified party as the best way to defeat Donald Trump and other Republicans in Congress and down the ticket. Unfortunately, much in the way tensions between factions in the Democratic Party have lingered related to the presidential race and behind-the-scenes machinations of the Democratic National Committee, so too does a power play within the party related to the DNC vote threaten to undermine this call to arms and further sow the seeds of division among registered Democrats and would-be Democratic voters. Along these lines, and in short, when it comes to the notion of whether or not the Democratic Party has learned anything from its pattern of losses in the Senate and House and gubernatorial seats, aside from the obvious in their electoral loss to Trump this past November, the apparent answer is no, and it begs the question: will it anytime soon?

Let’s first step back and look at the particulars of the vote itself. Though there were other qualified candidates for the position of DNC chair on the ballot, so to speak, this was essentially a two-horse race between Tom Perez, the Obama administration’s pick to fill the vacancy left by Donna Brazile, who would not be continuing in her capacity as interim chair after Debbie Wasserman Schultz essentially left the post in disgrace, and Keith Ellison, backed by Bernie Sanders, prominent Democrats, various labor organizations, and more progressive members of the party. Perez missed the necessary majority of 214.5 votes (427 were cast) in the first round of voting by a scant one vote, requiring a second round of voting. In that second round, he was able to officially outlast Ellison to 235 to 200. Suffice it to say the vote was a close one, but what did not appear to be close was the enthusiasm behind the candidates, at least from those in attendance there in Atlanta where the vote took place. Jonathan Easley, writing for The Hill as part of a live blog about the proceedings, had this to say about Keith Ellison’s level of support:

It is clear who has the energy here. Ellison’s supporters are loud and in charge and erupting at every chance. “Don’t mourn organize!,” declared Ellison backer and labor leader Randi Weingarten to an outburst of shouts and applause. Minnesota Democratic leader Ken Martin followed, noting that Ellison’s district has gone from the lowest turnout in the state to the highest. “This party is going to rise from the ashes under Keith Ellison,” he said, turning out another standing ovation.

Like Perez, Ellison stressed unity. “Unity is essential, we have to walk out here unified, not just between the candidates but the groups that support all the candidates,” Ellison said. But if Ellison doesn’t win his enthusiastic supporters are going to be extremely let down.

As with Bernie Sanders’ concession of the nomination to Hillary Clinton, needless to say they were let down, as I was. I’m not sure that they were all that surprised, though. I sure wasn’t. This is the Democratic Party we’re talking about here, an organization primarily devoted to fundraising, and only secondarily to change, which it sees fit to dole out incrementally. Back in December, I wrote a piece devoted to the very topic of Keith Ellison’s bid for DNC chair, detailing why voting committee members may not have supported the representative from the state of Minnesota, and surmising that, despite the enthusiasm behind his campaign and endorsements from key political figures, Democrats may well pick someone other than Ellison because, well, they’ve made a habit of making poor decisions lately and getting behind the wrong candidates. About a month-and-a-half removed from the election, the complete list of people running for the top post in the Democratic National Committee had yet to be fully formed, and wounds from the presidential campaign and election were still fairly fresh. At that time, resistance to Keith Ellison’s designs to be DNC chair seemed strongest from those resenting his identity as a Bernie backer, with those vowing to vote for anyone but him dining on the faulty notion that Sanders cost Clinton the election. (Primarily, Hillary lost herself the election, though it was a complex mix of factors that lay behind the Dems’ electoral demise in November.) If the old standby about party unity above all else was a genuinely-held sentiment, come February when the vote was scheduled to take place, these frustrations had a chance to be brought down to a simmer and more people could conceivably have warmed to the idea of Keith Ellison as Donna Brazile’s/Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s successor.

A little over two months later, though, with the race for DNC chair having run its course and more candidates having entered the fray, the apparent reasons for Committee members to bypass Ellison in favor of someone else are yet more insidious and no less galling to progressives and younger Democratic voters. Keith Ellison announced his candidacy for Democratic National Committee chair on November 14, 2016, and pledged to forfeit his seat in the House of Representatives if elected on December 7. On December 15,  Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy, endorsed by the likes of Joe Biden and other Obama administration figures. Why do I mention these details concerning the chronology of the race for DNC chair? As Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, argues, “the timeline here is critical.” Greenwald, who has written more than one piece on the resistance Ellison faced as a candidate to head the DNC, asks not why Perez ran, but knowingly questions why the White House recruited Perez to oppose Ellison. His analysis, as he himself readily acknowledges, owes a certain debt to an article authored by Clio Chang for New Republic, which tries to make sense of choosing Tom Perez in the first place. After all, if Keith Ellison and Tom Perez are ideologically similar, why bother actively trying to torpedo the chances of the former to buoy those of the latter?

The distinction between the two candidates, as Greenwald and Chang detail, is a two-headed monster in it of itself. The first, er, head is found in the death grip the Democratic Party establishment has evidenced it wants to maintain on leadership of and, thus, direction of the party at large. Clio Chang explains:

It appears that the underlying reason some Democrats prefer Perez over Ellison has nothing to do with ideology, but rather his loyalty to the Obama wing. As the head of the DNC, Perez would allow that wing to retain more control, even if Obama-ites are loath to admit it. Sanders has been accused of re-litigating the primary in his criticisms of Perez, but the fact that Perez was pushed to run, while Ellison was quickly and easily unifying the left and center, seems like the move most predicated on primary scars.

In reasoning out the conflict that manifested in the form of the split between supporters of Ellison and Perez, Chang diminishes the “progressive vs. establishment” narrative that has been spun by various outside sources trying to fashion a frame of reference for their audiences, in favor of depicting the struggle as a power struggle. Barack Obama and others high up on the Democratic Party food chain were uneasy about giving Keith Ellison and his less-moderate supporters too much control. This is almost unquestionably related to the antagonistic attitude Ellison and his main man Bernie Sanders have taken against big-ticket donations and highly-paid consultants. The Democrats may view themselves as morally superior to their counterparts in the Republican Party, but on the subject of money, they are all but addicted to mega-bucks fundraisers and wealthy patrons much as the GOP is. Chang connects this resistance among the Democratic elite to grassroots organizing and fundraising to a similar battle fought over the simultaneous existence of the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots fundraising creation from his initial campaign. Ultimately, the DNC absorbed this separate organization, and as Chang highlights, critics of the move blame it in part for the string of losses the Dems have suffered since Obama was first sworn in. The Democratic Party seems expressly averse to a reliance on bottom-up change and small donations, and a separate resolution by those voting Committee members at the festivities in Atlanta against a ban on corporate donations to the DNC exhibits this attitude perfectly.

Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, while he acknowledges the White House’s role in thwarting Keith Ellison’s hopes to be DNC chair, also sees a more reprehensible dimension to his opposition, and from additional parties as well. Ellison, as you may well know, is the first Muslim to serve as a member of Congress. In the past, all the way back to his days as a college student, he expressed support for the likes of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, before reversing his position on them and condemning their anti-Semitic positions. This personal history of Ellison’s, while it could be and was used as fodder against him politically, was not enough to disqualify him in the minds of DNC voting members. His attitudes on Israel, however, break with the mainstream bipartisan lip service that the United States government pays to our chief ally in the Middle East. At first glance, the combination looks bad. A Muslim—waxing philosophical about our relationship with Istael—oy vey! In all seriousness, though, and in reality, Ellison’s past commentary on U.S.-Israel relations is relatively benign, all things considered. By a sizable margin, Israel receives the most aid of any foreign nation from the U.S., mostly in the form of training and weaponry for use by the Israeli Defense Forces. Keith Ellison, like any number of other critics, is justified in wondering why we shower Israel with money when they aggressively pursue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and disputed territory in East Jerusalem against the consensus within the international community. To this end, why do we kowtow to Israel at the expense of our relationship with much of the Arab and Muslim world?

As you might have guessed with respect to these questions and in general, where there’s money, there’s an answer. Keith Ellison, because he appears more amenable to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and because he is not more staunchly pro-Israel, is at odds with wealthy Jewish patrons who possess strong ties to the upper ranks of the Democratic Party. In particular, billionaire Haim Saban, the foremost donor to the Democratic Party and both Hillary and Bill Clinton’s campaigns, demonstrably labeled Ellison an anti-Semite and an anti-Israel individual, and the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization Greenwald slyly quips is ironically named in this instance, saw fit to chime in with their reservations about Ellison and his views on Israel. Their combined influence and lobbying translates to considerable power in Democratic Party circles, and since we know the Democrats can’t get enough of big, fat campaign contributions, they are inapt to risk such important sources of revenue. The result was character assassination at its finest of Keith Ellison leading up to the chair vote. Coming from members of a group that identifies itself as the “chosen people,” it would seem the Jews pulling the strings are quite choosy themselves.

Whether seeing the progressive challenger with rabid support on the left as something of a nuisance or an outright threat, as with attempts to deep-six Bernie Sanders’ chances to capture the presidential nomination for the Democrats by discrediting him or showing favoritism to Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, the smear campaign against Keith Ellison by people and organizations close to the Democratic Party alongside the power play made by the Obama White House in the first place to prop up Tom Perez betrays an unwillingness to authentically embrace party members and supporters more to the left on the political spectrum, often coinciding with younger entrants into the field. What’s more, in all likelihood, both moves were patently unnecessary on the part of those scheming to influence the final result. Going back to the primary race and clear evidence of bias in favor of Clinton on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, and others involved with the Democratic National Committee, as revealed by Wikileaks’ DNC leaks, for all their machinations, Hillary was almost certainly going to capture the nomination. Sanders did provide a spirited challenge for the bid, but Clinton had the support of superdelegates before the race even began, not to mention entrenched, loyal support elsewhere. In the case of Ellison and Perez, meanwhile, the thing that is perplexing to many is the notion the DNC chair is, as Glenn Greenwald describes it, “a largely functionary position, with little real power over party policy or messaging.” As Clio Chang helps buttress this notion, the role of chair is designed to help win elections by increasing turnout and facilitating small-dollar donations, and Ellison is well-experienced in this regard. But apparently, his progressive base of support is neither allowed by the Democrats to have its cake, nor is it allowed to eat it. And, if we’re sticking with the whole birthday party analogy, they are being asked to clean up afterwards, not be petty, and unite. For the good of the party.

All this chicanery, it can be argued, is detrimental to the Democratic Party’s ability to strengthen its base, particularly among younger voters and independents. The DNC’s bias in favor of Hillary Clinton only fueled sentiments that the primaries were “rigged” against Bernie Sanders, serving to erode confidence in a Democratic vote that was already shaky to begin with given Clinton’s scandal-dotted past. Now, with Tom Perez capturing the post of DNC chair over Keith Ellison despite the latter’s enthusiastic following, this fuels the whispers among Sanders supporters that something truly iniquitous has occurred, and in turn, that the Dems don’t really want them at the adults’ table, so to speak. It certainly didn’t help perception matters when, as noted in the Jonathan Easley live blog, the electronic recording devices initially planned on being used to record the chair vote were scrapped in favor of a paper balloting system mid-stream under the pretense that the devices were vulnerable to manipulation and thus unreliable. Then why even have them there at the event in the first place? This just makes it appear as if there is something to hide, a notion not lost on the Ellison supporters in attendance.

Tom Perez may be well suited to serve in his current capacity as DNC chair, and almost certainly will end his tenure on a higher note than either Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Donna Brazile did. Keith Ellison, because he is loyal to the Democratic Party, will soldier on as deputy chair, lending his support serving in a role that is seemingly of even less consequence than the chair itself. Once more, the Democratic Party brass has evidenced it is resistant to change, unwilling to move away from a moderate position, and that it simply doesn’t understand the American electorate—or doesn’t want to. Conceived of in different terms, it is playing not to lose, hoping its distinctiveness from Donald Trump and the regressive politics of the Republican Party are enough to win it back seats all the way up the levels of government. As sports fans can attest to, however, playing not to lose rarely is a sound strategy, especially when you’re already losing. The Democrats haven’t learned anything from their recent electoral defeats, and as the old saw goes that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, their prospects for 2018 and 2020 already look bleak.

Shouting Across the Divide: Issues for the Democrats with Building Bridges to Voters

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The Democratic Party, if it is to regain political standing and to be an authentic party of the people, must go further left. If exit polls from the 2016 election are any indication, though, they’ll need the help of those on the right as well. What’s the issue with that? Some of those more conservative voters may not be willing to listen, too consumed by adherence to ideological positions and visions of “taking back” their country. (Photo Credit: Reuters)

As I feel it must be reiterated, mostly because the Democratic Party doesn’t seem to be able to allow it to fully sink in, the Democrats have had their electoral asses handed to them of late. Despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by close to 3 million votes, they lost the 2016 presidential election at large to Donald Trump. In the Senate, they enjoyed a net gain this November of only two seats, and thus still trail Republicans 52 to 46 (two U.S. Senators identify as independents: Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine). In the House of Representatives, they gained six whole seats, which sounds good until you realize there are 435 congressional districts and the GOP also has a lead here, 247 to 188. It gets worse. In terms of governorships, Democrats preside over only 16 states, with Bill Walker of Alaska being considered an independent. Roughly speaking, the Republican Party has a two-to-one advantage in this regard. And Lord knows what the situation is like at the county and local levels, but chances are the larger overall trend doesn’t bode well for the Democratic Party as the scope of provinciality narrows.

In light of this all-around political beatdown, how do the Democrats begin to try to regain a foothold at the various levels of government? Do they try to argue that their party is one of inclusiveness and moral rectitude, and hope that distinguishing themselves from the GOP in these regards will allow them to carry the day, especially as President Trump and his administration implodes (no guarantee, but they already show signs of cracking)? Tempting as it sounds, this doesn’t seem to be enough, and certainly wasn’t sufficient for them to garner the W in the general election. A critical part of the solution, as many see it, is for the Democratic Party to become bolder and to allow itself to be touched by an authentic progressive spirit. The popularity of the likes of the aforementioned Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth “She Persisted” Warren from Massachusetts, in particular, among young liberals and independents would seem to indicate the party needs to attract talent that not only reflects the identity of the electorate in terms of ethnic, gender and religious diversity, but a willingness to combat the entrenchment of moneyed interests in state and national politics and to level the playing field for voters and candidates across demographic groups. Other progressive stances which are seen as vital to this effort and thus necessary for the Dems to embrace include a stronger commitment to combatting climate change, a unified front on protecting and respecting the values of minority groups, including those of Native American Indian tribes, and a more pronounced shift toward principles of democratic socialism, namely that of a Medicare-for-all/single-payer health care system.

In short, a partial answer to the question of, “Where do the Democrats go from here?” seems to be, “Left.” That is, further left then Hillary Clinton and other establishment politics might have otherwise been willing to go, especially prior to the presidential election. This begs a follow-up question to the answer, assuming it is, in fact, a correct partial answer: “Is moving purely left of center enough?” If exit polls from November are any indication, perhaps not. Where Hillary Clinton fared well, according to CNN polls, perhaps is no surprise. A 54% majority of female votes were “with her,” as were people under the age of 45 by similar percentages. Clinton also fared significantly better than Donald Trump with non-whites, people with annual incomes under $50,000, unmarried respondents, and those who reported their identity as Jewish, Muslim, or belonging to some other religion. By contrast, Hillary did not fare as well among voters 45 and over, among whites, among less educated voters, among married people, especially men, among veterans, and among Christians—Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, other branches of Christianity, you name it. While Clinton’s gender may be a bit of a confounding factor here, especially with respect to the sex of the poll respondents, on other dimensions, the other disadvantages she faced likely speak to challenges Democrats face as a whole and will continue to have to address in coming elections.

Concerning the concept of going further left, for the Democratic Party, seeing as progressivism is related to liberalism, and in the present-day context, is somewhat of a more extreme version of it, or perhaps liberalism carried to its logical next point, as exemplified by the jump from ObamaCare to a single-payer health care and insurance system, adopting positions that appeal to independents would seem like a relatively easy task. Through collaboration with Bernie Sanders’s surrogates and supporters, Hillary Clinton and her team crafted a party platform in advance of the election that both sides could champion as the most progressive in the modern history of the party, although lacking in several respects, notably failing to support a $15 minimum wage, not coming out strongly in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals, proving silent on the issue of deportation, rejecting the Medicare-for-all paradigm, not going far enough on legalization of marijuana, and doing little to address the bloated U.S. military budget. Then again, this shift away from center may be easier said than done, especially in light of the influence of money and lobbying from industries and business leaders in establishment politics. For instance, someone like Cory Booker, Democratic Party darling from my home state and someone I generally support, is principled enough, but when it comes to, say, a bill or amendment which would allow Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada at a cheaper rate, his vote against the measure makes sense when you consider he has accepted the most money from the pharmaceutical industry of any Senate Democrat in the past six years. It is oft said that money talks, and in the sphere of politics, this is time and again achingly apparent.

Reaching across the aisle, meanwhile, presents its own challenges. Going back to the 2016 presidential race, even if Hillary Clinton were to try to extend a proverbial olive branch to those on the right, if she didn’t in the same breath negate her sincerity with her infamous “basket of deplorables” comment, she likely would have had many die-hard Republicans firing up chainsaws at the sight of that olive branch. Even after the election, the non-politicians among us, too, are wont to struggle with “bridging the cultural divide,” as much as detractors on both sides of the aisle accuse their counterparts opposite them of divisiveness. Susan Shaw, a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University, recently penned a very considerate piece expressing her frustrations in trying to understand and communicate with white Christian Trump supporters, as we know, a pivotal source of strength for Donald Trump in the election. Shaw, a self-identifying progressive, expresses her alienation from the religious right as someone who grew up within this environment:

My white, conservative Christian upbringing had told me that was the American Dream—to work hard and succeed. I did, and I feel you’re holding it against me now that I no longer share your views. I think you must imagine the liberal elite as East Coast, Ivy League-educated, trust fund babies completely out of touch with how most people live. Sure, some faculty members grew up with money. Some went to Ivy League schools. But a lot of us professors were you—working class kids who did whatever it took to get a college education. Along the way, a lot of us developed progressive ideas, not out of our privilege, but out of our own experiences of discrimination, struggle and oppression.

Shaw’s description of the source of her progressivism within the context of “discrimination, struggle and oppression” admittedly makes more sense coming from her than someone like me, a white male in a suburban middle-class household. In this regard, I suppose the extent of hardships we face is always relative—someone, somewhere has it worse. Regardless of who has the more “legitimate” claim to progressive ideals, if there is such a thing, Prof. Shaw appears to indicate that such a political orientation is buoyed by experience with the kinds of disparities, injustices and problems progressivism seeks to address. In other words, while their social critics—professional and amateur alike—demean liberals as delusional, soft and unable to cope with the “real world,” Susan Shaw speaks to the notion that individuals on the left and far left are rather resilient, strong, capable people, and what’s more, they may be better in tune with reality than those who preach the very virtue of cold realism.

In defending so-called “out of touch” liberal elites like herself, Shaw also takes her target audience—at least in name—to task for their apparent tone-deafness. As she remarks in cutting fashion, “We really do know a lot about what we’re talking about, and we have something to offer in a real conversation across our differences (including the East Coast Ivy Leaguers who aren’t as out of touch as you may think). But I don’t think you want to hear us or me.” Thinking along these lines, much of the rest of Shaw’s open letter to white Christian Trump supporters reads like a list of grievances. The reasons why she feels this distance from them, despite her upbringing, include the following:

1. You call people “sore losers” and tell them to “get over” Trump winning, but this is because you don’t have as much to lose as other Americans.

As Susan Shaw explains, for all the talk of who’s “winning” and “losing,” the policies enacted by the new administration aren’t a game to many Americans. President Trump has made his intention clear to support “religious freedom,” and in doing so, has put protections for the LGBT community in the crosshairs. With the White House pushing for the Muslim ban despite its unconstitutionality, and ICE agents rounding up undocumented immigrants regardless of whether or not they violate criminal laws, gloating over an electoral victory belies the sense of fear people are feeling in response to Trump’s agenda. It’s at best insensitive, and at worst, unnecessarily hateful and cruel.

2. You’re blaming the wrong people for your own grievances.

Shaw identifies an attitude of discontentment among Trump supporters that they don’t get what they deserve or that someone who doesn’t deserve what they have has taken what is theirs. The cited cause often is illegal immigration. You know the refrains. “They’re taking our jobs.” “They’re stealing our benefits.” No, they’re not. The real problem is an economic system that pits workers against one another and, as Shaw terms it, “limits their work and financial security.” For all the bluster about “illegals” committing violent crimes, it is white-collar crime and conditions which lend themselves to widening income and wealth inequality which truly depress the upward mobility of the “other 99%.”

3. You keep promoting “fake news.”

And no, not the CNN kind. Susan Shaw is talking about, as much of an oxymoron it may sound, real “fake news.” Here’s Ms. Shaw again in her own words:

You say you want progressives to listen to you. Then prioritize truth. This election was filled with “fake news,” shared widely on Facebook, and this administration already has begun to create a language of “alternative facts” to misinform and mislead. If you want to talk, offer evidence, real evidence based on verifiable data and reliable sources, not wishful imaginings or fabricated Breitbart stories. An internet meme is not an informed and legitimate point of argument that facilitates dialogue. We’ve reached a point where you’d rather believe an overt lie if it supports a belief you already hold than pursue the truth if it might challenge your currently held belief.

Shaw goes on in the same thought to point out the apparent hypocrisy in upholding the Bible as a book of truths and, at the same time, believing in or, at the very least, sanctioning a lie such as the White’s House version of the comparative sizes of Donald Trump’s Inauguration crowd and those of Barack Obama for both of his presidential victories, when simple visual evidence tells the true story. The principal conflict herein, then, would seem to exist between personal beliefs and gut feelings, and logic and verifiable evidence, an ideological struggle that has manifested in the interplay of faith and science for centuries. And maybe Susan Shaw and people like myself are again betraying a liberal, elitist bias, but seriously—people need to learn how to choose and cite their f**king sources. It’s one thing if you didn’t get in the habit of doing so if you never went to college, but be that as it may, it’s still important to ascertain the reliability of vital information.

4. You celebrate a man whose commitment to Christian values is, ahem, highly questionable.

Donald Trump is clearly no saint and no Jesus. Not even close. Even the most devoted Trump supporters are liable to agree on this point, which makes it that much more mystifying how Christian Trump supporters try to reconcile his actions and beliefs with that of the teachings of the Bible. Dude has either condoned within his base and staff, or participated himself in, acts/speech of anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, racism, and sexism. Old “Two Corinthians” Trump even made fun of a disabled reporter. That’s f**ked up.

Aside from this, Shaw also takes issue with the idea that the religious right insists on “religious freedom,” except if you happen to be anything other than a heterosexual Christian, which would make our nation only more religiously constrained as a result. Not to mention it was never our Founding Fathers to make this a purely Christian nation. America is meant to be a melting pot and a land which respects tolerance for all faiths. As Henry Drummond quips in Inherit the Wind, “The Bible is a book. It’s a good book, but it is not the only book.” Amen, brother.

5. You claim to be “pro-life,” but you’re really just “anti-choice.”

The most plausible reason I can see that Christians, especially evangelicals, would be willing to support Trump over Hillary Clinton despite the former failing to confirm with Christian values on the whole, is that they support the man for his position on one or more particular issues with a religious tint. Perhaps it is his rejection of Muslims. Perhaps it is because he chose Mike Pence for his running mate. Or maybe, just maybe, it is his pro-life stance, a more recent “evolution” of his political and social ideologies. Susan Shaw, undoubtedly concerned with matters of abortion and birth control as a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies, takes specific umbrage to this holier-than-thou mentality from conservative religious types. She puts forth her arguments pretty tidily as such:

To cling to overturning Roe v. Wade as the only way to end abortions is a fantasy based on ideology rather than medical science and social science, and it flies in the face of the evidence for what is successful. So the real question is are you more interested in actual effectiveness in lowering abortion rates or ideological purity? We can lower abortion rates together but not by denying women choices over their own bodies. We can be effective together by listening to the data and working together to ensure all women have access to contraception, education, and social and economic resources. Are you willing to have that conversation?

Denying women access to abortions and reproductive health services, as Shaw argues, is not going to stop them from having abortions, or trying to take matters into their own hands. Not only does this obviously still put the baby at risk, though, but it endangers the pregnant woman as well. Conservative Christians seem to want their cake and eat it too, i.e., they want to prevent abortions but they also want to prevent women from having access to birth control and contraceptives. Right—we get it—there’s abstinence. But this is unrealistic for many, not to mention it assumes real romantic feelings can’t exist for teenagers and young adults who lack the income to pay for contraception out of pocket. Either way, it’s governance based on religious conservatism and a strict morality thrust upon Americans within a sphere that should be reserved for secular applications. Besides, for those “pro-lifers” who would seek the unalienable rights of the fetus upheld only to turn around and demand the state-sponsored killing of someone convicted of a heinous crime, it kind of throws a wrench in the whole idea of the sanctity of human existence, ya know?


In closing, Susan Shaw communicates two critical points. The first is that on the subject of simply “agreeing to disagree,” much like Trump supporters reproaching his critics for being sore losers, it is not as if the areas affected by the President’s policy decisions are some sort of game or part of some abstract theoretical exercise. Real lives are affected by what President Trump says and does, and thus agreeing to disagree is unacceptable for those with a conscience or stake in what is decided. The second isn’t so much a point as much as a series of questions to the religious right, once more expressed in a spirit of desperation:

We need to talk, and I don’t know how to talk to you anymore. I need to know, is it more important to you to win than to do good? Or can we build coalitions? Listen to science? Rely on real evidence? Be effective? Put the needs and rights of all others above ideologies? Can we live the love of God we claim? You want me to hear and understand you. I get that. I also want you to hear and understand the rest of the world that is not you or your kind. Because they too are God’s people and therefore are in the circle of those whom we must love. You taught me that when I was a child. If we can agree on that now, we have a place to start.

The Bible teaches, “Love thy neighbor.” The Declaration of Independence asserts, “All men are created equal.” And yet, the mood and tone struck by the Trump administration tell us to fear our neighbor, and to reject those who are not like us as inferior. If these words which are supposed to mean so much to conservatives and/or Christians are not observed, how are we supposed to have a honest conversation between individuals on both sides of the political aisle? How are we on the “godless” left supposed to understand those holy rollers who don’t quite practice what they preach? Shaw rightly believes that if those on both sides can’t agree that all the world’s people are God’s people and must be loved as such, we as a nation can’t even begin to bridge the divide. In doing so, she provides no answers, and only searches for them—because realistically she can’t provide them. Those of us searching for answers in our own right are met with the same difficulties.

Of course, this doesn’t imply that the Democratic Party shouldn’t try to expand both left and right of center if it is to grow stronger and to make a dent in its minority political status across the American landscape. Nonetheless, little progress will be made on this front unless authentic receptivity is felt on both sides to listen to what the other is saying. It has also been said that “everyone is forgiven by God, but not everyone is saved.” From a political standpoint, the fear exists that this may be true of some members of the general electorate as well.