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Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) raise their hands during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on September 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) raise their hands during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on September 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Reminder: Trump Didn't Win, Democrats Lost

And if the party nominates another centrist candidate, they will likely lose again.

John Atcheson

Tuesday’s Democratic debate boiled down to a war between the centrists and the progressives.  Or, to put it another way, between those who would represent the people, and those who would represent billionaires, millionaires, and corporations.

The centrists/corporatists can’t run on issues, so they’re trying to run on being “realistic” and electable. Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar tried to push this line for most of the night, and claimed the progressives—particularly Warren and Sanders—are too far left to win against Trump.

Many in the corporate media claimed that flailing candidates like Buttigieg and Klobuchar did well in the debate (see here, for example), mostly because such pundits have been pushing the whole myth that the way to win isn’t by appealing to the progressive majority; rather it’s by trying to peel off a few people from the minuscule so-called "center" of the party.

There are two things wrong with this. The first was addressed by Sanders when he noted that polling clearly showed that most of the electorate favored progressive issues, so running on them wasn’t only the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do. But the second problem is deeper, and reveals that the centrist/corporatists either have a fundamental misunderstanding of how and why Trump won, or—more likely—they’re mounting a cynical, disingenuous and intentional campaign to deceive voters, done on behalf of their corporate benefactors.   

The problem with the centrist’s attempt to deceive voters is that if it works and Democrats nominate another centrist, it’s just about the only way Trump could win again (assuming he isn’t impeached).

At the end of the day, Trump is President because people don’t trust government, and they’re right not to.  Pew has been tracking trust in government  for more than half a century, and the trend is grim.  In the early sixties, about 80 percent of Americans trusted government to do what was right “most of the time.”  By 2019, that number had fallen to about 17 percent, with only 3 percent believing government does what’s right “just about always.”

There’s a lot of reasons people have lost trust in government, not the least of which is that oligarchs and corporatists have been running  a well-funded, strategic coup which featured a propaganda campaign designed to rebrand  government from what it had been up until the late 1970’s—the source of much innovation and prosperity, a champion of the people, and a defender of the middle class—to the source of our problems, while simultaneously selling the free market and corporations as the source of all good things.  

But their propaganda campaign succeeded only because over the years, the ultra-rich and corporations were ceded more and more power, until by the early 21st century, government no longer represented the people’s interests and they knew it. By 2014, Gilens and Paige concluded, after studying money and power in politics: ‘The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Meanwhile, since 1980 half of all Americans saw almost no gains in wealth, while the oligarchs walked away with the vast majority of wealth generated in that time.  Today, the three richest Americans have as much wealth as the bottom half of all Americans.

In short, the U.S. has a government of the rich and corporations, by the rich and corporations, and for the rich and corporations.  No wonder people don’t trust government and no wonder the people elected a renegade like Trump.  If you were a voter who was serious about good governance the best you could hope for was a centrist who paid lip service to the people around election time but governed for the oligarchs. Not surprisingly, many in the progressive majority didn’t turn out to vote, and so elections have been ceded to the angry, the ignorant, the hateful and the fearful, who—fed by their rage—do turn out in force.

Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden are attempting to pass themselves off as candidates who represent the people, even as they rail against the issues people favor, and take corporate money, and criticize policies which will spread the prosperity to the people, and preserve a livable planet.

There’s always been a simple and effective response to the oligarch’s propaganda campaign and the distrust it’s bred: a political campaign based on New Deal values, transparency, and accountability.  This is precisely what the progressive wing of the Democratic party is doing and it’s why Warren is surging and why Sanders has been the most popular politician in America since 2016.

But since Bill Clinton, centrists have been increasingly dependent upon the ultra-rich and corporations, and they’ve drifted to the right, and as a result, voters drifted away from them.

That’s why we have Trump; that’s why until 2018 Democrats had been losing ground at all levels of government for decades.

And once again, the corporate centrists are trying to sell the idea that progressive ideas are just too far out there.

And the usual suspects – the pols, pundits and mainstream media who told Democrats that Trump couldn’t win, and who told them to run a centrist in 2016  -- are telling the Party that if they want to beat Trump, they need to … well  … run a centrist.

The scary thing is, since they control much of the media, and most of the Party, they just might convince folks to commit the same mistake they made in 2016.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
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 California car accident in January 2020.

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