While they are no longer racist in the same sense now, the Democratic party was at its conception and for most of its history, completely and utterly racist. Yet anytime Democrats are almost forced to look back at some of the most immoral parts of their party’s history, they give the same excuses. Democrats claim the parties flipped in the 1960s, and it is now the Republicans who are the racists. If pressed on that claim they go even further, stating that President Lincoln, the first Republican President and the man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation and was heavily involved passing the 13th amendment, would be a Democrat today. However, when looking back at the history of the parties, it is clear that no switch ever happened, and the Republicans are as much in support of civil rights today as they were back then.
By Spencer Kellogg | @Spencer_Kellogg
Who saw this coming? Andrew Yang is the dark horse candidate for 2020 and the internet loves him. Hell, as a left of center libertarian – I love him. Though the mainstream media is doing their best to keep him in the dark, Yang is gaining clout and credibility every day.
His laid back demeanor and outsider brand of politics have made him a captivating story that simply cannot be ignored. Namely, his call for a Universal Basic Income and his tech forward platform proves that Yang has a new vision for America that seems both plausible and exciting.
Craig Axford | Canada
Hearings, dialogue and debate are, or at least should be, means to an end in a functioning democratic society. Unfortunately, they’re too often ends unto themselves. Promising to study a problem or hold a hearing “to look into it” is what politicians do to make it appear as though they’re interested without ever having to risk their necks by endorsing a particular idea.
So when likely incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans to bring back a select committee on climate change that had been disbanded by the previous Republican majority, it was reasonable for some of the incoming freshmen Democrats to question its real purpose. If committee hearings are going to be held, they’re insisting the hearings be about meaningful climate legislation instead of even more learned testimony on science that’s was settled long ago. As Evan Weber of the Sunrise Movement put it to Politico, “We’ve been talking about the science for the past two decades.”
The incoming Democratic House majority will find it tempting to spend much of the next two years doing little more than poring over Donald Trump’s tax returns, which they will presumably issue a subpoena for early next year. Likewise, the current administration’s cabinet is full of individuals as venal as their chief. It will certainly be refreshing to finally see them all held accountable for their misconduct.
That said, governments don’t build and retain confidence among their citizens merely by diligently investigating corruption. People have proven over and over again that they are willing to tolerate a great deal of unethical behavior in their leaders if, in exchange, they feel they are receiving a reasonable degree of economic and physical security, or even just listened to.
The GOP has mastered the art of creating the illusion that people are getting something in return when they vote for them. Whether it’s so-called “tax relief” or protecting jobs by getting tough on immigration, the Republican Party has consistently been able to convince a significant number of Americans it’s looking out for them even as it stabs them in the back. The antidote to their misleading and often dangerous rhetoric isn’t hearings; it’s direct positive action that translates into real change people can actually see and feel in their lives.
The leadership of the Democratic Party would be wise, therefore, to embrace incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for the creation of a select committee that instead of just talking about climate change is charged with drafting legislation to do something about it. She is calling it the “Select Committee on a Green New Deal”.
The select committee shall have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality. ~ Section 2 A(i) of the Draft Text for Proposed Addendum to House Rules for 116TH Congress of The United States
Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution is similar in its approach, if not yet in its level of detail, to Canada’s Leap Manifesto. That document translates the progressive principles that emerged from the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s into concrete proposals aimed at achieving both equality and sustainability.
We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term…We declare that “austerity” — which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and healthcare, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations — is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.~ Leap Manifesto (Emphasis included in original)
I had the privilege of working as a DNC organizer for three years. I was hired as part of Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy following his election as Chair of the DNC in 2005. Dean’s vision for party-building paid off in 2006 when the Democrats took back Congress, and again in 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidency.
However, the organizing effort that arose from John Kerry’s defeat in 2004 took place in the context of growing opposition to the war in Iraq and a Democratic Party galvanized against the domestic policies of George W. Bush. Then as now, opposition was the driving unifying force on the left. The failure to clearly and consistently articulate what it was for quickly came back to haunt it in 2010.
Yes, there was the passage of Obamacare in 2009, but Democrats have traveled so far from the eloquence and clarity of leaders like JFK and RFK that even when debating universal healthcare they sound wonkish and inconsistent. As I learned upon my temporary return to the United States from Canada last year, even under Obamacare, plans with high premiums and deductibles are still the norm. Mandating the purchase of insurance that doesn’t really provide much coverage is a curious policy to emerge from a political party with a base that consistently argues healthcare is a right, not a privilege.
The Green New Deal and Leap Manifesto offer the left a way out of the political wilderness they’ve been wandering in since at least 1980. These initiatives provide something to be for. They can finally transform the left of the 21st century into a movement that wants to say YES! to something.
By uniting both labor and the environmental movement behind an effort that creates good paying jobs while providing the public with clean technologies that improve lives in both rural and urban communities, the Democratic Party could ensure itself decades of majority status not unlike the one it enjoyed from the 1930s through 1994. It seems like the obvious choice for them to make. So what’s taking Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Leadership so long?
Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com
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Francis Folz | United States
The 2016 Presidential election will be remembered in history as a watershed moment for the modern American republic. Despite over three quarters of Americans desiring third party candidates on the debate stage, the old guard of both establishment Republicans and Democrats alike shut out any voices outside of the red and blue camp. Partisanship was put in maximum overdrive and on display in the nation that prides itself on freedom, yet limits its choices for representation to two candidates. It is no surprise that voter turnout reached a 20 year low in the latest contest between the lesser of the two evils. But as a citizenry comprised of sovereign, astute people, when do we collectively abandon evil and start voting for only exemplary candidates deserving our vote? That time is now.
Regardless of political affiliation, it is apparent to the majority of Americans that our Republic is coming apart at the seams. Whether it’s the rise of violence against political opponents or blind support for dishonest politicians, both sides of the aisle are engaged in a heightened sense of devoted loyalty to their political overlords, even at the expense of violating long-held principles and dogmas. For Democrats, their political figures have incited violence to rally their base at the expense of civility and their previously-held beliefs in peace and love. Meanwhile, Republicans have encouraged conformity while a newly embraced and adored leader slowly and subtlety moves his base farther to the left. This how Americans continue to forfeit their freedoms while their political powers maintain control.
This scenario is nothing new to the Democratic and Republican party, which have perfected the art of conning the American public into complaisant support for over a hundred years. After all, FDR and Wendell Willkie conspired to bring the two parties together to create one monolithic, hybrid party in the 1940’s. The two parties have been two different rails of the same track ever since. It should be no surprise that the Republican and Democratic party continue to team up to create large deficits, initiate endless conflicts abroad, and undermine our constitution and civil liberties.
The two parties possess a stranglehold over all of our election outcomes by successfully deceiving the public into thinking their candidates and parties are significantly distinguishable from one another. For example, the Republican party proclaims to be the cabal of the constitution, fiscal conservatism, ‘small’ government, gun rights, and life for the unborn. Yet since 2010, Republicans have trampled our Constitution and Bill of Rights, ballooned the federal deficit, grown the size of government, failed to pass concealed carry reciprocity and pro-life legislation.
The Democratic Party promulgates the narrative that they are the faction for the people, the workers, the 99 percent, civil liberties, and peace. Beginning in 2008, Democrats, led by newly- elected Barack Obama, passed legislation benefiting big banks, imploded the healthcare industry by rigging the rules in favor of corporations at the expense of taxpayers, curtailed our civil liberties by reauthorizing FISA 702, and pursued destructive warfare against seven different nations, three more than President Bush.
If Americans ever intend to recover the freedoms lost at the hands of the establishment duopoly, it will require a third party, as is evident by this years’ midterms. Take the state of Pennsylvania as a case study. Despite 41% of Pennsylvanians approving of the work Bob Casey has done in his second term as senator and only a mere 30% of Pennsylvanians believing the senator deserves a third term, he leads his Republican opponent by double digits in every poll. Lou Barletta shares more in common with his Democratic adversary than Pennsylvania’s conservative Republican base, which begs the question why the Republican party would nominate such a lackluster candidate.
Enter Libertarian Party candidate for US Senate Dale Kerns, Pennsylvania’s only choice for fiscally conservative, socially laissez-faire representation. Mr. Kerns passionately advocates for a sharp reduction to federal spending which has grown exponentially at the hands of both Republicans and Democrats. Also, he plans to take on the Federal Reserve for their role in growing our debt and inflating our currency almost 100 percent in its 100 years of existence.
The War on Drugs is yet another example of government overreach which has wreaked havoc on the American public. Over the last 40 years, the American prison population has exploded to 800% of its former size as a direct result of America’s toughness on victimless crimes. Coupled with mandatory minimums, more Americans are going to jail longer for misbehavior as deemed by society. To combat these victimless criminals, America has divulged into a police state. Dale recognizes these problems and the solutions necessary to fix them. After all, his campaign is centered around the premise that addiction is not a crime and that no one can run your life better than you. This serves as a stark contrast to Bob Casey and Bob Casey-Lite Lou.
At this point, most people interject and concede that although Dale Kerns may be the best candidate ideologically, he doesn’t stand a chance to win. It’s worth noting Donald Trump had a 1% chance of winning the presidency one day before the election, yet became the first Republican in almost 30 years to carry Pennsylvania on his way to the oval office. It is possible to elect any candidate despite all the preconceived odds stacked against the individual. However, people continue to choose the obsolete red and blue teams instead of principled alternatives. How come?
The answer lies in an unfounded notion that the establishment parties have ingrained in the American public. We are routinely fed the lie that third party candidates can’t win an election for no other reason than they are running outside of the two party duopoly. That lie is reinforced by minuscule media coverage of outsider candidates and inhibiting them from participating in televised debates. And then whenever five or seven percent of people decide to vote their conscience or against this unjust system, third party candidates are disparaged and delegitimized as, despite the countless flaws and missteps of the establishment nominees.
It is time for a second American revolution, only this struggle must be fought with dogmas and ideas, forged by a new political party. The old guards of American politics have enthroned themselves as our de-facto leaders, dictating everything from our economy to our health care to our behavior. Unfortunately, it’s abundantly evident that reform is impossible within our current, century-old two party system. It is time Americans embrace the freedom our Founding Fathers intended for us to enjoy, and it starts by embracing and electing third party candidates.
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Craig Axford | United States
The upcoming 2018 midterms may be about to prove that Donald Trump has been good for the left and the Democratic Party, at least in the short-term. However, he’s still a far cry from a cure for what ails it. His abusive style and bull in a china shop approach to governance have merely provided a shot of adrenaline to an institution that’s been increasingly showing signs of exhaustion for decades.
Trump has consistently given the appearance of an easy foil that, like the ancient Sirens, has the perpetual potential to lure America’s left onto the rocks. Adrenaline wears off quickly once we’re convinced the crisis has passed. Between the danger of Trump fatigue and the very real chance that the Democratic Party will once again decide to take a collective nap as soon as the current administration has been dealt with, midterm victories and success in 2020 could prove short-lived. While the left sleeps off the bad trip of the Trump era, we can be sure that other far more savvy demagogues will be busy working to seize upon America’s discontent to launch their own attempts to take power.
The essayist and Columbia University professor of Humanities, Mark Lilla, picked up his pen and wrote a short but powerful antidote to the American left’s malaise. Unfortunately, his obvious understanding of the problem and how we got here leaves Lilla at best only a very mildly reassuring read.
While the efforts at organizing by those that commonly refer to themselves as “the resistance” have potential, Lilla warns us that these efforts need to lead us somewhere other than simply removing Trump from office and winning the elections of 2018 and 2020. “So it’s encouraging to see how quickly liberals have organized to resist Trump,” Lilla writes. “But resistance is by nature reactive, it is not forward-looking.”
Lilla does not dismiss or treat lightly the post-1960s habit by the left to ignore down-ballot races. Its increasingly presidential focus all but ceded school boards, city councils, state legislatures, and even governorships to the Republican Party. By 2016 Democrats were in worse shape than at any time since the 1920s. Indeed, the Obama years were particularly bad ones for the Democratic Party, with losses far exceeding those experienced under any previous Democratic president.
Lilla isn’t the first to chastise Democrats for putting most of their eggs in the presidential basket and, unfortunately, he probably won’t be the last. We still occasionally hear commentators feel the need to remind Democrats to pay attention more often than just once every four years, but oddly the party that supposedly believes most in government continues to generally find local and state races pretty unimportant.
With regard to the vision question, there’s some movement around issues like universal health care. Senator Sanders has demonstrated that ideas like Medicare for all and a tuition-free education can generate a high enough turnout in at least some districts to win elections and enough energy to fill large arenas virtually anywhere.
But there’s still an elephant in the room by the name of identity politics and the left simply doesn’t know how to navigate around it without upsetting its fragile ego. Indeed, the left has spent decades nurturing that ego by fostering an environment in which debates are increasingly seen as synonymous with confrontation and more attention is paid to policing speech than to regulating corporations or reporting campaign donations.
Identity politics, according to Lilla, represents the brand of individualism the left adopted to counter the Reagan revolution’s own distinct identification with rugged ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ libertarian individualism. America doesn’t have citizens so much as it has individuals, interests, and groups that identify themselves this way or that.
“The most important lesson is this,” Lilla tells us on the opening page of the third and final chapter of his short treatise, “that for two generations America has been without a political vision of its destiny. There is no conservative one, there is no liberal one. There are just two tired individualistic ideologies intrinsically incapable of discerning the common good and drawing the country together to secure it under present circumstances.”
Lilla isn’t wrong. The problem, as I see it, is that this describes America throughout most of its history. It has never shown much interest in abandoning this character flaw. It has always been a nation that preferred to see its people’s isolated dreams as a substitute for an overarching philosophy that saw the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.
The periods when it has enjoyed a “vision of its destiny” have been the exception rather than the rule. The only reason to think that America might be ready to enter one of these exceptional periods now is that it again finds itself in a crisis. It’s always been an emergency of fairly significant proportions that’s precipitated the emergence of such a shared vision in the past. This vision lingers for a while after the crisis has passed but it inevitably fades within a generation or so.
On the opening page of his book’s first chapter, Lilla himself recognizes this very American tendency by providing two quotes from two very different men separated by nearly two centuries:
I see an immense crowd of similar and equal men who spin restlessly around themselves, seeking vulgar little pleasures to fill their souls. Living apart, each is like a foreigner to the fate of others. His children and friends are for him the entire human race. As for his fellow citizens, his is next to them but does not see them, he touches them but does not feel them. He exists only in and for himself, alone. And though he may still have a family, he no longer has a country. ~ Alexis de Tocqueville
My ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit. Because that person doesn’t need the goddamn government for anything. ~ Grover Norquist
While Bill Clinton’s rhetoric is certainly imbued with greater empathy than Grover Norquist’s, his 1992 campaign was nonetheless intended to prove de Tocqueville’s point regarding America’s true character. Lincoln’s emancipatory vision or FDR’s commitment to fairness and economic justice were the sorts of things the country would only swallow after two years of civil war or 20 plus percent unemployment. Even then, Bill Clinton and his centrist fellow travelers warned Democrats that articulating grand ideas was risky at best in the post-Reagan era and they would be wise to steer clear of them if they wanted to win elections.
Clinton won in 1992, but in 1994 the GOP took the House for the first time in four decades and the rest, as they say, is history. Democrats have been out of power in the House and Senate more often than not ever since. In spite of these mounting losses, however, they’ve generally just kept doubling down on Bill Clinton’s insistence on moderation. In lieu of a grand vision for the country, the “first black president” together with his fellow baby boomers ardently embraced identity politics and small initiatives that could be fairly quickly undone by the next Republican president.
Lilla’s suggestion for revitalizing the left is a radical departure from identity politics, though it is by no means a new or radical idea: bring back the concept of citizenship. Citizens are part of a community, whereas individuals are merely unbonded social atoms that keep bumping into one another, sometimes with great force.
The only adversary left is ourselves. And we have mastered the art of self-sabotage. At a time when we liberals need to speak in a way that convinces people from very different walks of life, in every part of the country, that they share a common destiny and need to stand together, our rhetoric encourages self-righteous narcissism. At a moment when political consciousness and strategizing need to be developed, we are expending our energies on symbolic dramas over identity. ~ Mark Lilla
Lilla doesn’t argue that the left should abandon the minorities that have struggled or are still struggling to gain access to everything from voting rights to the use of the bathroom but he does believe the left needs to reframe the way we discuss these problems. Equal treatment under the law is a human rights issue first and foremost. The word human is all-inclusive. Identity politics, on the other hand, demands equality by drawing attention to what we are that others are not, inviting potential allies to make some other concern their top priority on the grounds that they cannot possibly understand our own. No wonder Steve Bannon openly hopes the left will be stupid enough to continue meandering drunkenly down this divisive road.
Lilla is part of a small but (hopefully) growing group of liberal thinkers arguing that all anyone ultimately needs to understand is that the dignity and worth we all possess entitle each of us to equality under the law. This is not a difficult concept to grasp. It does not require a degree in gender studies or regular staff meetings to address our unconscious biases.
Neither the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. nor the abolitionists 100 years before him described the problem in the narrow language of minority rights or the angry hopelessness of those who claim that people outside their cherished tribe simply can’t get it. King, as well as the suffragettes and abolitionists before him, were simply demanding everyone be given an equal opportunity to sit at humanity’s table.
Lilla calls upon liberalism to return to a larger more inclusive rhetoric that excludes no one; a liberalism that embraces diversity not because it has a list of interests and identity groups that need to be checked off but because it recognizes everyone’s humanity. True liberalism doesn’t care about the color of your skin, your gender, or your sexual orientation. Humanity and character are the only things that matter. Liberalism embraces Martin Luther King’s dream. Identity politics rejects it.
It remains to be seen whether Lilla and others like him will be heard. A small but vocal segment of the Democratic Party seems to enjoy spending their time getting mad at professors who don’t share their particular worldview or typing angry tweets about Google employees who wrote a memo most of them never bothered to read. None of this fosters dialogue and compassion let alone brings America any closer to providing health care to all its citizens, eliminating the growing burden of student debt, reforming the justice system, or providing an income to a working class facing increasing pressures from automation. Such debates are as divisive in their own way as Trumpism is.
Mark Lilla’s book is worthy of the few hours it takes to read. His argument needs thoughtful consideration and debate within liberal circles everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s hard for this Democrat to ignore his personal experience of the past four decades. The signs that America’s left — a movement that is already centrist by contemporary Western democratic standards — will respond to the need to abandon identity politics in favor of the more inclusive and shared commitment that citizenship demands are tentative at best.
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