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Meet the New Swamp, Same as the Old Swamp

In this Oct. 27, 2016, file photo, supporters of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hold signs during a campaign rally in Springfield, Ohio. President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington. (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)

Trump promised to "drain the swamp" in Washington D.C..  Instead, he’s dredging the swamp of its old sewage and filling it with even more fetid waters.

But here’s the thing neoliberals and Democrats seem unwilling to acknowledge, let alone understand:  From Clinton to Obama, Democratic administrations had their own swamp and that’s what put Trump in the White House.

The fact that Trump was running a grifter’s game during the whole campaign is small solace.  If Democrats don’t figure out that neoliberalism is not only bad for the economy and the country, but that it’s also bad politics, then Trump will likely be a two termer, and we’re all in deep doo-doo.

Democrats and the Neoliberal Swamp

Democrats and assorted media types have worked themselves up into a state of righteous indignation over Trump’s appointment of various corporate types to head up key agencies, none more outrageous to their delicate sensibilities than the nomination of Steve Mnuchin – a former Goldman Sachs executive who profited handsomely by kicking folks out of their homes during the mortgage crisis.  The Dems are also in high dudgeon over the appointment of Steve Bannon, another Goldman Sachs executive, as his chief strategist.

To be sure, Trump’s cabinet is shaping up to be one of the most corporate-friendly fox-guarding-the-chicken-coop collection of oligarchs, plutocrats and wing-nuts in our nation’s history – or at least since Warren G. Harding.  And yes, given his promise to drain the swamp and his campaigning as a populist, it is as stunning an example of hypocrisy as we’ve seen since … well … since Hillary Clinton claimed to be “tough on wall street” after collecting $250,000 an hour for speeches to Wall Street Banks in which she all but apologized for the weak-sister Dodd-Frank regulations, and praised them for their contributions to society.  Or maybe since Obama set up Goldman Sachs South in the Treasury Department in 2008 after promising “hope and change.” Or, maybe since Bill Clinton’s appointment of Rubin to head Treasury in 1992 after telling us he could “feel our pain.”  By the way, when Ms. Clinton was challenged to support her claim of “being tough on Wall Street” the best she could come up with was a speech in which she told them to “cut it out,” and Politico, which obtained a video of the speech, said that on net, her speech was more of an endorsement of Wall Street than a rebuke.

But look, Trump’s appointments are equivalent to hiring Freddy Krueger to be a nursery school teacher.  They’re bad. Really bad. But the difference between his appointments and the neoliberal DLC Democrats’ appointments are a difference in degree, not in kind.

And the neoliberal consensus that now dominates the Democratic Party is what enabled Trump’s victory.  While Hillary was trying to split the difference between the progressives and the plutocrats, Trump was out there posing as a populist. Never mind that he wasn’t sincere; never mind that his campaign was the biggest con since Ponzi unleashed his pyramid scheme.  What counts is that he took a stand—or at least pretended to—while the Democrats equivocated.

Serving up Sand

Aaron Sorkin, in his film, The American President, captured this phenomena when his fictional President was wondering why people were listening to a hate and fear pedaling demagogue who was running against him in his reelection.  His aid, Lewis Rothschild explained it to him, saying:

They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no  water, they'll drink the sand.

Well, in 2016, the people chose a mirage, and the DNC and neoliberal Democrats who control it, did everything they could to prevent Sanders—the one candidate who wasn’t serving up sand—from getting the nomination. As did many so-called progressive or liberal news outlets such as the New York Times, MSNBC, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post and the rest of the Confederacy of Dunces that aligned with Clinton and actively undercut Sanders.

Re-litigating the nomination and the election is more than an exercise in I-told-you-so.  There’s lessons to be learned here, and the neoliberal DLC Democrats have to learn them, or they will cease to be a political force outside of the coastal states.

And lesson #1 is that people are tired of candidates who speak out of both sides or their mouth; they’re tired of triangulators, spin-doctors, corporate lackeys, and quadrennial progressives who revert to corporatists once they’re elected. They’re tired of Democrats who spend decades supporting trade deals that screw the middle class and working class Americans, while claiming to be their ally.

Lesson #2 has to be that the Party needs to be about values, not simply tactics or identity politics.  If Democrats stand for universal values like fairness, equity, justice, equality, honesty, tolerance, environmental protection and inclusiveness, they stand a chance of uniting people into a broad coalition; they stand a chance of becoming leaders; they even stand a chance of winning elections.

If the Democratic Party decides to continue serving up sand, then it’s time for progressives to walk.  Let the battle begin.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a CA car accident in January 2020.

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