Pessimism is not a survival trait. Even when a reality show host is elected president of the United States. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to not be concerned. 2016 has easily been the most disconcerting election of my life. Whether it was the Trump campaign’s racist locker room rhetoric, or the 50 million people that voted to cosign and normalize that rhetoric, or the rogue’s gallery of white nationalist rounding out Trump’s cabinet; there are legitimate concerns over the new administration’s treatment of minorities. There is also an opportunity. The unmitigated failure of neoliberalism forces a reappraisal of the objectives and values of the Democratic party.
This come to Jesus moment for the democratic establishment is sorely overdue. The purpose of the democratic party is to provide a release valve for the vagaries of unfettered capitalism, leveraging wealth against a collective social responsibility. To the detriment of the country, this ceased to be the function of the party under the Clinton administration. For 30 years, neoliberal Democrats have been a willing co-partner in a political duopoly that has pushed policies to redistribute income to the rich, while simultaneously concealing their behavior with progressive populist language.
This insurgent group of democrats, “third way democrats”, shifted the politics of the party to the right in order to entice Wall Street and corporate interest to drop tens of millions of dollars behind democratic candidates. They fully understood that the party’s new values would undercut the economic interest of their base to the benefit of their new “investors”, but cynically assumed that democratic constituencies would still be obliged to vote democrat as the “logical” least bad option between two parties catering to corporate interest. This effectively removed economics and finance from the discussion as the differences between the parties weren’t significant enough to provide distinction.
Take climate change for example . Democrats agree with the overwhelming evidence that it exist, that it’s caused by human behavior, and that in an ever shortening time line it will create ever increasing chaos across the planet. At the same time they put up a candidate that sold fracking to the world and took millions from oil and gas companies. Is there really a substantive difference between the positions if the policy is inadequate to stave off the worst effects? Both parties have decided to drive us off a cliff. Democrats drive slower and applaud their moderation, seemingly oblivious that we’re still headed for a cliff.
The results on society have not been subtle. Under the Obama administration, 95% of all the economic gains during the recovery since 2009 went to the top 1%. Half of the country is living in poverty, with 70% having less than 1000 dollars in the bank. This is not an issue of luck, but a function of legislative decisions that advantage a few, at the expense of everyone else. Secret trade deals that incentivize shipping jobs overseas, laws that give billions away in taxes and subsidies, laws that make it easier for companies to hide their assets abroad to avoid taxes, policy positions that discourage the justice department from prosecuting Wall Street for it’s role in the financial crash – the problem is policy.
This year the jig is up. There is no greater evil in the wings; that guy just got elected. Obama came into office with a democratic house and a super majority in the senate. He’ll leave with Republicans owning the House, the Senate, the presidency, the Supreme Court, and 69 of 99 state legislatures. They have been weighed in the balance and found lacking. The party has a choice. It can either drift further into irrelevance, or it can take the hint and get back to being a genuine leftist party.