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Pelosi's War on Progressives Risks Another Trump Victory

There are three reasons Trump won, and some of the leading Democrats don't seem to understand any of them

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, speaks during a press conference at Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC on November 6, 2018. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, speaks during a press conference at Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC on November 6, 2018. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

If Trump wins in 2020—and right now, he stands a good chance of doing it—you can thank Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the neoliberals in charge of the Democratic Party.

At the moment she and her allies are waging a war against progressives in order to hold onto a mythical centrist majority that doesn't exist. This threatens to repeat the mistakes of 2016, while ignoring the lessons of 2018.

Look, there are three reasons Trump won, and Pelosi and crew don’t seem to understand any of them.  Let’s spell them out.

Trump’s support is rooted in anger, and the anger is justified. Despite the media and the pundits claims of a red-hot economy, it has not been good—or even fair—for the vast majority of Americans for nearly four decades, and the neoliberal consensus has been a major contributor to the rampant inequality that still exists.

But it’s not just about the money. “We the people” are being all but ignored by the politicians we send to statehouses and Congress. Our voice has virtually no effect on how politicians vote and what policies they support.

Something like 80 percent of Americans understand that the system is rigged against them and they’re either mad as hell, cynical about politics and politicians, or both.

The angry are full of passionate intensity, and they show up to vote, and they vote for Trump. Many of the cynical and disaffected—most of whom come from the progressive majority—don’t.

Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Steny Hoyer, Joe Biden and the rest of the neoliberal corporatists who are running the Party are feeding this cynicism when they attack progressives, reject ideas like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and accept money from folks like Goldman Sachs. This same-ol’, same-ol’ business-as-usual approach to politics is likely to lead to a lower turnout in 2020, which is the only scenario that would give Republicans a victory. This is because …

The vast majority of voters hold liberal views, but until Sanders ran in 2016 they had no one to represent them. For nearly four decades, the Democratic Party has been losing power. To understand why, we have to go back to 1971, when future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell declared that “… the American economic system is under broad attack” and outlined a blueprint for responding to the “attack,” in which he said:

Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.

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A cabal of rich conservatives and corporations provided the money to set up think tanks, endowed university chairs, foundations, news outlets and candidate education programs to realize Powell’s vision for gaining strength and power in the political arena.

By the time Reagan came to power, they’d begun the process of rewriting the political culture in America.  Government, once the trusted entity that won World Wars and structured the New Deal and decades of the most broadly shared economic recovery in US history, was rebranded as an inept collection of bumbling bureaucrats.  Never mind that government took us to the moon; fed the innovation in energy, medicine, IT, agriculture, aerospace and transportation that gave us the strongest economy in history; or that they funded the creation of infrastructure that was the envy of the world—the conservative propaganda machine was able to brand them as bozos and rebrand the free market from robber-barons and predatory monopolists to the source of all good things by pure serendipity.

By the end of Reagan’s second term, the rewrite was complete.  The oligarchy achieved complete victory over the people when Bill Clinton and the DLC took the Party to the center, and then to the right of center, where it remained until Sanders’ run in 2016.   Since then there’s been a war on for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and in 2018, a sharp move to the left improved voter turnout and helped the Democratic Party regain the House and win back several states.

But the Party’s leaders continue to reject a progressive agenda while embracing the center right corporatist’s policies. Much of the media, the pundits and the party’s power players are going along with them, threatening to decrease turnout and reverse the gains made in 2018 and worse, giving Trump a leg up in 2020.

Trump uses distraction and deception to dominate the news cycle, and mainstream Democrats oblige him. Quick, what are we talking about right now as a nation?  Immigration and ICE raids. Is this the most pressing issue facing us?  No, far from it.  Important, yes, but not existential.  And when we’re not talking about immigration, we’re talking about Iran, or the trade war, or any of the various scandals involving Trump’s political appointments—this, after he promised to drain the swamp.  Notice all of these are of Trump’s making.  And he wields a host of other, smaller distractions whenever things get hot in Washington.

Because they can’t run a campaign on values the best the neoliberals can do is a sound a steady drumbeat of complaint about how bad—indeed, how dangerous—Trump is. But this won’t engage the disengaged and it won’t influence the angry.  The disengaged are looking for someone worth voting for, not simply someone to vote against; and the angry don’t care how bad Trump is. They embrace him precisely because the elite mainstream rejects him. Trump is their Molotov cocktail, launched into the mainstream as an expression of their inchoate rage.

What Democrats need is a platform that addresses people’s main concerns.  Progressives are advocating precisely that.  Programs that meaningfully address health care costs; climate change and environmental threats; the high cost of education; the extreme income and wealth disparity that dominates our economy; and the quality of jobs. The neoliberals in charge of the Party are fighting the progressives and opposing real and substantive policies in favor of the usual mix of a few patchwork programs, cosmetic compromises, and empty rhetoric—all designed so they can continue to collect corporate campaign contributions.

To beat Trump, Democrats will need a positive, values-based platform that responds to voter concerns.

But instead of responding to the voters’ very real and obvious needs, they’re relying on identity politics, party loyalty, and declarations of Trump’s inadequacy.  Ironically, identity politics plays into Trump’s divide, frighten, and conquer strategy, and as we’ve seen, appeals based on Trump’s incompetence don’t move the needle in either camp.  As for party loyalty?  As long as the neoliberals continue to ignore the voters’ real concerns, they will lose loyal supporters, and elections.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, 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, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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