The Confederacy of Dunces is at it again. Having failed to learn the lessons of 2016, and hell bent on ignoring the lessons from 2018, they’re doubling down on the same strategy that put Trump in office. And the confederacy runs broad and deep. It includes most of the mainstream media, the progressive think tanks, the DNC, and most of the rest of the elitist neoliberals who run the Party. At the helm of this self-sinking ship is Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Congressional leadership.
Now, to be fair, Pelosi has been an effective Speaker. Her strength was on full display earlier this year as she held the Democrats together when Republicans attempted to kill Obamacare, and when she took on Trump in public meetings over the Wall. She’s a master of the sausage-making that is at the center of the inside-the-beltway business.
Of course, her defense looks a little less admirable when her staff was later found to be assuring health insurance lobbyists that Medicare for All was going nowhere, and even less so when you consider that the health care industry is one of her largest campaign contributors.
Pay to play politics is the other side of the inside the beltway game, and she plays that well, too. In fact, all the Democratic old guard are adept at currying favor with corporations, PACs and rich bundlers.
But the fact is, their inside-the-beltway focus is also their weakness, and it’s a weakness that allowed Trump to win in 2016, and it could give us four more years of Trump if Pelosi and her gang succeed in their assault on progressives.
Bottom line, she—and the rest of the neoliberal old guard in charge of the Democratic Party—seem to have no clue as to why Trump won, and she seems completely out of touch with the progressive wave that’s sweeping across the nation right now. Let’s look at each in turn.
Why Trump Won, and why he could again
There are two main reasons Trump won. First, people were legitimately angry at the government and the elitist infrastructure that supports it, and second, with neither party representing their interests they had nowhere else to go.
Liberals dismissed Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again” as nothing more than an attempt to mobilize racists, xenophobes, and nationalists. And it was certainly that. But it also spoke to a large group of people who weren’t “deplorables” but for whom America was no longer great. For example:
- It’s not great to be $400 dollars away from a financial catastrophe, yet according to a report by the Federal Reserve, 40 per cent of Americans could not handle an unexpected expense of that size
- It’s not great to have to make a choice between medicine and food, yet some 45 million Americans didn’t fill a prescription in 2016 because it cost too much
- It’s not great to go without a real raise for decades, yet the average wage, adjusted for inflation, buys about the same today as it did 40 years ago;
- It’s not great to see the ultra-rich walk away with all the money from economic growth, yet between 1980 and 2015, the top .01 percent saw their income rise by 322 percent, while income for the bottom 90 percent rose by just .03 percent
- It’s not great to see or experience serial catastrophes from climate change while politicians from the supposedly “liberal” party advocate an “all of the above” energy strategy
- And finally, it’s not great to see politicians from both parties pretend that, in the face of all this, everything was OK … or in the words of Hillary Clinton – “America is already great.”
What Trump did was to appeal to their growing—and legitimate—rage and give them some convenient scapegoats. For the deplorables, he did offer jingoism, xenophobia and racism; for the justifiably angry, he talked about bad trade deals, unfair competition, and an economic race to the bottom. The icing on the cake was his promise to drain the swamp. Of course, he hasn’t governed in a way that actually addressed these problems, and the swamp is far deeper and broader than it was when he took office. As for the hate speech, he had four decades of Republican scapegoating to build on, but Trump made explicit, what had been implicit.
But for many, what Trump does is far less important than their perception that he resides outside of the beltway, and that he is with them in their anger and hatred of government. They’re ability to reason has been short-circuited by rage.
The thing is, Democrats fueled that anger by adopting neoliberal/centrist policies since the late 1970’s. With Clinton and the DLC, the Democratic Party essentially capitulated to the right- wing assault on government, and except for some rhetoric around election time, and some empty words about “feeling our pain,” they governed from the center right.
And they paid the price. In 1960, 50 percent of eligible American voters were registered as Democrats; today, 29 percent are. Throughout the second half of the 20th Century, Democrats dominated state politics in both legislative and gubernatorial races. Since 2010, Republicans have dominated at both the State and federal level. Until the 2018 midterms, Republicans controlled both legislative branches and the governorship in 25 states, while Democrats had total control of just 6 states.
The reason the inside-the-beltway neoliberal elitists were so stunned at the level of support Bernie Sanders received in his Fox News town hall meeting, is that they’ve failed to accept that a lot of people have been waiting for someone reasonable to speak for them. In the absence of that, they’ve decided to choose a lunatic over hypocrites.
Why the Democrats may not win in 2020
Pelosi referred to herself as a progressive, but the reality is, she’s strictly a centrist in the Hillary Clinton mode.
For example, on her recent appearance on 60 Minutes, when Leslie Stahl mentioned a “left flank” within the party she said, “By and large, whatever orientation they came to Congress with, they know that we have to hold the center. That we have to... go down the mainstream.”
When Stahl alluded to an “AOC wing,” Pelosi said, “That’s like five people.”
This is a continuing case of contempt for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. On April 8th Ms. Pelosi, again responding to a comment about AOC, said, “While there are people who have a large number of Twitter followers, what's important is that we have a large number of votes on the floor of the house …”
Then there’s her dismissive comments about the Green New Deal, about which she said, “… the green dream or whatever they call it.”
Pelosi is so Washington-centric that she’s missed the fact that outside the beltway – where real voters live – the vast majority of Americans hold progressive views on an issue-by-issue basis. The notion of a large number of centrist voters is largely a myth. But the mainstream media, the paid pundits, and the rest of the neoliberal confederacy join Pelosi in ignoring the progressive majority and pursuing the nearly non-existent center. They even join in a lemming-like chorus of concern about the “radicals” and “socialists” threatening the Party’s chances on 2020.
In 2018, when Democrats gained some ground in state elections and in the House, it was progressives who won nominations and elections; and progressive ballot initiatives won in blue states, purple states and even in red states. And Democrats —by running to the left of the neoliberal consensus—nearly managed to win elections in red states, reducing Republican victories to razor thin margins.
Why, are the Democrats so clueless you might ask?
Well, as Upton Sinclair noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” And it’s just as difficult to get a neoliberal politician on the take from rich folks and PACS, to see—or at least to admit—how their support of the oligarchy makes four more years of Trump a frighteningly likely outcome in 2020.