There’s a trench running down the middle of America’s left wing and both sides are hurling grenades.
It’s hard to look at the divide between moderate Democrats and those to the left of them and not be reminded of the Republican party after the 2008 presidential election. Civil war broke out among the elephants and from that sprang the Tea Party and later on in Congress, the Freedom Caucus. We should be reminded that although they are outnumbered by their more centrist colleagues, the rightmost members of the party are numerous enough to stall the legislation of their own party even when it’s in power. For proof you only need to look at House Speaker Paul Ryan’s first attempt at repealing Obamacare.
Are Democrats headed down a similar path with their more progressive, liberal brethren? It may be to early to tell for certain, but the cracks are definitely there. The difference between the donkeys and the pachyderms is that the Democratic party is staring down a split that isn’t necessarily linked to matters of policy and platform. It’s about two sides who can’t let go of the truth: They both lost in 2016. Bernie losing in the primary was a tough pill to swallow for progressives and Hillary losing in the general was a tougher pill to swallow for most of the country.
Let’s first acknowledge some things about both of these highly-respectable career public servants.
Hillary was the first woman to ever win a major party’s nomination for president and not enough time is spent addressing that historic achievement. She got jobbed by the electoral process, however. In fact, her effort was behind only Obama’s two campaigns in total popular votes. The rampant sexism expressed by the media and her opponents coupled together with the non-story that was her e-mail server and the Benghazi masquerade hindered her, but she was the most qualified candidate since maybe Richard Nixon. I think a lot of Bernie’s people can accept these things about her without feeling like they have to take something away from Bernie.
Now, as for Bernie. He remains the most popular American politician and his run for the Democratic nomination was historic in its own right. His progressive bona fides are undeniable and he pushed the party’s platform leftward towards middle and lower-income families where it was supposed to have been already. The DNC had it in for him, however. But it’s not like I can completely blame them. Clinton was their gal and they’d been investing in her for years. Another thing that hampered Sanders was that the media gave Trump’s tweets more attention than Bernie’s policies which did every voter a disservice because Sanders might’ve been the only candidate with actual policy proposals. I think a lot of Hillary’s people can accept these things about him without feeling like that they have to take something away from Hillary.
If we can agree on all of those points then what else could possibly be the problem? To hear it from moderate democrats, Bernie’s people are a bunch of Johnny-come-latelys and to hear it from progressives Hillary’s people are a bunch of elitists.
You know what? As a proudly unaffiliated voter, I can say that both claims are partly true. Moderates may sometimes be snobby but they know the game and they’re reliable. Progressives may be new and to the scene and hard to please but they bring in fresh ideas and young voters. You need this confluence to keep the party going.
Moderates have got to stop looking down on the progressive wing of the party. The Bernie Bro is a myth and just because people like Bernie doesn’t mean Hillary has to be a villain. Trying to pin the Alexandria shooting on Bernie as a cynical attempt to catapult him away from the party is just disgusting.
Bernie’s people need to stop spinning fantasy yarns and stay organized. And remember that dissent can occur within a party and still lead to healthy debate. Bernie himself knows this and has reached across the aisle to push legislation and hopefully will again in the future. If you think you can jettison a potential relationship with anyone who disagrees with you on just one issue then you need to get out of the way, that’s not how politics work.Although Bernie himself is quite partisan in drafting bills he knows that sometimes when allowing for some wiggle room you might find that more gets done than being an obstructionist and just saying “no” all the time. Look no further than the House of Representatives to see what years of that mindset achieves: Nothing.
The Democratic party and liberals in general need to be more engaged. Every election counts and Republicans always turn up so either donate or vote if you can be bothered to care. Liberals love a good march but they don’t play small ball at that well. Thirty-two of the country’s state houses and thirty-three governors are Republican and yet Hillary had the third-highest ever vote total. Maybe one can explain it away as regional demographics at work but we know that when voter turnout is low, Republicans win.
Tom Perez, now the chair of the Democratic Party, appointed Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison as the Vice Chair. Ellison, who is black, is also the first Muslim ever to be elected to Congress and it should be shouted from the hilltops in perpetuity that he was one of the only people on the left to predict that Trump could win the presidency. They laughed in his face but he clearly had his finger on the pulse of America at the time when no one else did. His appointment to Vice Chair after losing to Perez in the vote for chair of the Democratic party was an important diplomatic maneuver as Perez, it should be mentioned, had a couple of different stints in Bill Clinton’s administration and was supported by moderates in the campaign for party chair. Whereas Ellison was backed by, maybe you already knew or guessed it, Bernie Sanders.
We are seeing the party leadership gelling and making the moves that they need to in order to survive and move forward, so perhaps it’s time for the people on the ground to suck it up and do the same.
Alex Biscarner is a freelance writer currently teaching English as a second language in the Czech Republic. Follow him on Twitter.