As Congress reconvenes for crucial new legislation, the Democratic Party must reconnect with its fired-up base and the fed-up American majority.
The crisis of Trump’s flailing White House—and the GOP’s deep divisions between its corporate Establishment and the Alt-Righ—have obscured the Democratic Party’s own identity crisis. To solve it, Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for a new “Better Deal” to help working Americans by upping the minimum wage, fixing Obamacare, and fighting monopolies.
The Democrats’ Better Deal sends a bright rhetorical flair that they are re-committing to a system of economic and social justice that carried FDR to victory and kept Democrats in power for decades.
But in the 1990s, the Democratic Party decisively rejected the New Deal, with President Clinton calling for an end to “big government” and big welfare. The Clintons enshrined a centrist “Third Way,” abandoning the system-shaking class politics of New Dealers. Democratic Party power at local, state and federal levels has been collapsing, as Americans turn more anti-Establishment on both Right and Left.
The Better Deal is a rebranded Third way. The Democrats must unite mass resistance to a white nationalist Trump and extremist GOP with a bold program for a more inclusive and multicultural New Deal attractive to the progressive base and an angry public reeling from white supremacist violence in Charlotteville. On August 13, 2017, at the populist Network Nation, Senator Elizabeth Warren denounced America’s oligarchic “rigged system” and called for workers, environmentalists, women, African-Americans, undocumented immigrants, gays, and transgenders to unite for a new system ensuring universal rights.
Such a new universalizing politics requires a truly progressive Democratic Party in the spirit of Warren and Bernie Sanders. FDR realized his New Deal meant fighting his own class of financial oligarchs and said that he “welcomed their hatred.” Today’s Democratic base and much of the public must intensify the fight against corporate oligarchy and universalize resistance to its enshrined racism, misogyny, militarism and environmental disasters.
Second, a universalized New Deal must disperse power and capital ownership from the billionaire wolves of Wall Street to battered industrial, service-sector, pink collar and government workers of all races. This requires a coalition between the Democrats, unions, and women’s and civil rights groups for union-building, massive public investment, taxing the rich, and preventing billionaires from buying elections.
Third, a universalizing New Deal must fight for universal rights – for jobs, universal health care, housing, education and other basic needs –which FDR’s New Deal did not extend to Blacks and women.
Fourth, it must commit to ending institutionalized discrimination and violence – cruelly intensified by Trump - based on race, gender, sexual orientation and immigration status, a passion shared by a majority of Americans.
Fifth, going beyond 1930s Keynsian New Dealers, it must redesign globalization to allow nations to invest heavily in jobs and a clean energy infrastructure, uniting labor, environmentalists, and the general public.
Sixth, a universalizing politics must end militarism and violence. Martin Luther King linked racist violence at home with foreign militarism. Today, King’s vision unifies the progressive base with many ordinary citizens terrified of nuclear war with North Korea and of racist or neo-Nazi violence in places like Charlottesville.
Finally, it must commit to ending the twin existential perils of climate change and nuclear war, an unprecedented emergency requiring transformative, universalizing politics.
You say it can’t happen but the New Deal suggests otherwise. The progressive grass roots—from Indivisible to Black Lives Matter to 350.org—are back on the streets and in angry town halls fighting for a Sanders-style “revolution.” Such “outside” mass protest (never forget the Women’s March the day after Trump’s swearing-in was the biggest protest day in history) shapes public opinion and universalizes to the “inside” of the Democratic Party. It can stop Trump, save democracy, and sustain life on the planet.