Way back in 2000, my indy media friends and I were filming Colorado’s Green Party Convention, held at some fancy hotel in Denver. The keynote speaker was, of course, the Party's presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The hotel was packed with anti-corporate activists young and old, environmentalists, anti-war folks, state, and local Green Party candidates.
Also conspicuously present was this culture-jamming street theater group called “Billionaires for Bush… or Gore.” This satirical comedy troupe randomly appeared throughout the 2000 electoral season. Dressed as high-society billionaires in their tuxedos, black top hats, evening gowns and feather boas, carrying plastic cigars, this group of 15 or 20 actors paraded up and down hotel escalators, blowing proverbial smoke in people’s faces, carrying signs with slogans like, “This is what Plutocracy looks like!”; “Widen the Income Gap!”; “Leave no Billionaire Behind!”; and “This is Class War, and We’re Winning!”
I’m pretty much nostalgic for those days now. Twenty years ago, the complete plutocratic control of our electoral system was an idea so cynical and absurd, that it was downright funny! This was ten years before the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for financial contributions via Super PACs, corporate lobbyists, and dark money organizations to spend billions of dollars on election campaigns. That era was our warning.
Today, I have this sickening feeling that political historians will look back at the 2020 US presidential elections as the final battle in the long war between electoral democracy and plutocratic oligarchy in the United States. I also believe that the chance of President Trump securing another term is totally within reach—not because it’s what most Americans want, but because it’s what the DNC, the superdelegates, and the ruling class inside the Democratic establishment are working very hard to deliver to us.
"If this electoral season is teaching us anything, it is showing us that core democratic values are highly fluid when billionaires pour money into them."
Here we are, just before Super Tuesday. There’s so much energy and excitement in the air as people of all political stripes are getting geared up to go to the polls en masse. Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg is laying the groundwork for a brokered Democratic Convention in July, where he is planning to complete his wholesale purchase of the Democratic nomination.
Like many Bernie supporters who witnessed the DNC-rigging of the 2016 Democratic primaries, it’s hard to be hopeful about a fair process in 2020. For those who weren’t paying close attention then, here’s a quick run-down of the anti-Sanders establishment manipulation in 2016. Sanders had secured electoral victories in 18 state primaries. And yet, superdelegates across the board awarded a majority, if not all, of their delegate votes to Hillary Clinton, even in states where Bernie Sanders won by a landslide! In other words, superdelegates acted as spoilers, nullifying and defying the electoral results from their own states. The DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and the corporate media—who conistently featured superdelegate tallies alongside earned delegates—successfully secured the nomination for Hillary Clinton, who then turned around and lost to Donald Trump in the general election.
After the dust settled from this disaster, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the DNC on behalf of millions of Sanders supporters who financially backed his campaign, and who expected the DNC to administer a fair, impartial and democratic process. Plaintiffs accused the DNC of rigging the primaries: of violating of their own charter in regards to ensuring neutrality. The corruption was rampant: The Hillary Clinton Victory Fund paid the DNC $3.3 million, effectively merging the two entities. The DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager in 2008. The DNC colluded with the corporate media to smear the Sanders campaign all throughout the primaries. And yet, the class-action lawsuit was dismissed after several months of litigation.
This last November, multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg “donated” a combined $800,000 to the DNC and 44 states, when he announced his bid for president. Since then, he has poured $400 million into broadcast, radio and cable ads, $42 million into Facebook ads, and $36 million on Google ads for his campaign. He’s spent about half-a-billion dollars in three months, and it’s just the beginning of his campaign. In this same time period, he has risen from four percent to 20 percent in the polls, even though he hasn’t been on the ballot or even participating in the debates, until February of this year. It’s incredible to witness the sheer power he has in manipulating public opinion simply by dropping millions of dollars on an election.
"This isn’t about who your favorite candidate is anymore (if it ever was). It’s about voting for, or against, the oligarchic takeover of the Democratic Party and the end of electoral democracy in this country."
Most people still have a hard time comprehending the scale of Bloomberg’s wealth. His net worth of $62.8 billion is more than 20 times the net worth of President Trump. It dwarfs the net worth of all the other Democratic presidential candidates combined, including Tom Steyer, whose $1.6 billion is a pittance compared to Bloomberg’s wealth.
Many progressives are hoping that Bloomberg’s lengthy and atrocious policy record will trump the power of his money for most voters: his overtly racist stop-and-frisk program, his NYPD Muslim surveillance program, his dozens of sexual harassment allegations, etc. Surely the fact that he’s been a registered Republican for most of his life, someone who has praised redlining, someone who wants to cut basic government programs like Social Security, will be enough to offend the majority of Democratic primary voters! But if this electoral season is teaching us anything, it is showing us that core democratic values are highly fluid when billionaires pour money into them.
Toward the very end of the Nevada Democratic Debate, MSNBC's Chuck Todd asked candidates to answer this question quickly: “There’s a very good chance none of you are going to have enough delegates to the Democratic National Convention to clinch this nomination. Should the person with the most delegates at the end of this primary season be the nominee even if they are short of a majority?”
This one question was perhaps the most critical question of the night. After the disastrous 2016 primaries, the DNC was pressured into forming a “Unity Commission” as an attempt to negotiate with the angry Sanders campaign surrogates who felt the process was rigged. This commission was composed of Sanders and Clinton surrogates. The hope on the Sanders’ side was to reduce the role of superdelegates—or get rid of them completely—in future elections. Out of this 2017 Commission, a key compromise was made. The agreement was that in 2020, superdelegates would no longer be allowed to vote in the first round of the Democratic primaries. Instead, they would now be restricted to voting only in the second round, if one Democratic candidate doesn’t secure a clear majority of pledged delegates (1,991, or just over 50 percent of the total). In the second round, all 3,979 delegates will be free to vote for any candidate they choose. Even former pledged candidates are allowed to change their votes.
It’s one thing to require a 51-percent majority to secure a party nomination when there are two candidates. It’s quite another to require a 51-percent majority when there are eight candidates still in the race! With such a huge pool of Democratic candidates dividing the vote, it will be a huge challenge for any one candidate to reach a 51-percent threshold. And if no one can, then we move to a brokered convention in July, according to DNC rules, where superdelegates will again place their hands on the lever.
Who are these superdelegates? Well, there is actually little public understanding of who they are. We know they are members of the DNC (which in 2020 includes many fossil fuel and bank lobbyists), Congress members, Democratic governors, party insiders and VIPs. They’re appointed (not elected) by the DNC to protect establishment interests. They’re not bound to follow the votes of their own states, nor are they accountable to voters in any way. In essence, they can very easily act as spoilers. And in interviews, they are currently making open threats to thwart the will of the people and block a Bernie Sanders nomination, even if he has a plurality. In addition, they are being actively courted by Michael Bloomberg.
So in response to Chuck Todd’s question, Biden, Warren, Buttigieg and Klobuchar all answered “no,” that the candidate with the most votes should not necessarily be the nominee. The only candidate who answered yes, that the person with the most votes at the end of the primary season should win, was Bernie Sanders. This one debate question speaks volumes about each candidate’s willingness to follow the democratic will of the people, instead of handing over the power to the superdelegates and the DNC to make the final decision. This is what’s at stake with a brokered convention.
We’re fighting a class war: the people vs. the corporate oligarchy. This isn’t about who your favorite candidate is anymore (if it ever was). It’s about voting for, or against, the oligarchic takeover of the Democratic Party and the end of electoral democracy in this country.
If Bernie Sanders remains as the frontrunner, and the DNC and their superdelegates nullify and defy the votes of millions of Americans, there will be political war. And the Democratic Party will longer have any legitimate base in U.S. society. No longer will there be even a façade of a party that represents the interests of the working class, the poor, women, people of color—the majority of this nation. The Democratic Party will be a sham, an oligarchy, and the plutocratic transition will be complete.
"The stakes couldn't be higher. After four years of Trump, we are in a moment of national and global emergency as a result of staggering wealth inequality, institutional racism, political corruption, rising fascism, and ecological collapse. This election is critical, not just for the future of the United States, but the future of life on this planet."
We’ve seen what happens when corporate democrats put their hand on the lever and substitute their establishment candidate in order to protect the one-percent. Voters stay home on Election Day, and we end up with President Trump. This is the likely scenario at this very moment, unless one candidate is somehow able to sweep Super Tuesday, grabbing the overwhelming majority of state votes and pledged delegates, and someone wins the nomination in the first round. Five Thirty Eight has Sanders with a 50/50 chance of winning in the first round. And so democracy hangs in the balance.
While it’s every candidate’s prerogative to stay in the primary race as long as possible and capture as many delegates as they can to carry to the Convention, this strategy of staying in the race is actually increasing the likelihood of a Trump win in November. None of the candidates, except Sanders (and to a lesser extent Biden), consistently beats Trump in a head-to-head lineup—not Bloomberg, not Buttigieg, not Warren—none of them. Only Bernie Sanders consistently beats Trump, especially in key battle ground states.
If these other candidates really cared about defeating Trump, the strategic thing for them to do now would be to suspend their campaigns and unify behind the candidate who’s most likely to defeat Trump. But they already told us where they stand during that Nevada debate and what’s most important to them.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. After four years of Trump, we are in a moment of national and global emergency as a result of staggering wealth inequality, institutional racism, political corruption, rising fascism, and ecological collapse. This election is critical, not just for the future of the United States, but the future of life on this planet.
As the street-theater group used to say: “This is class war. And we (the billionaires) are winning!” With the support of millions of people, Bernie Sanders is waging an ideological and political war against the billionaires and corporations that control our politics, our economy, and our entire society. He’s up against the fossil fuel industry, the private healthcare industry, Big Pharma, the prison industrial complex, and the military industrial complex. He’s 78 years old, and he’s carrying the weight of the world on his back. He’s fighting for us, all of us… and we're fighting for him.
This is exactly why Sanders is so threatening to the ruling elite. They keep telling us he’s unelectable, but the truth is he’s the most electable candidate we have, and the only one likely to beat Donald Trump. So on your primary election day, let’s do what the one-percent fears most. Let’s show up in droves. Let’s show up in armies. Let’s bring so many friends and family to the polls that we break the voting machines. Let’s overwhelm the system. The ruling class needs to know that we’re coming for them. And this fight doesn’t stop at the ballot box. Whatever they do to sabotage this election, this movement will spread like fire because this isn’t about an election anymore. This is truly the fight for our lives.