Monday, February 13, 2017

After the Apocalypse: Democrats Move Forward

In his excellent post-mortem on the 2016 presidential campaign (“Insane Clown President:  Dispatches from the 2016 Circus), not-beholden-to-anyone journalist Matt Taibbi hits the nail on the head in describing the peculiar appeal of Donald Trump.

“Candidate Trump told a story about a conspiracy of cultural and financial elites bent on finishing off a vanishing white middle-class nirvana, first by shipping jobs overseas, and then by waving hordes of crime-prone, bomb-tossing immigrants over the border.  These elites lived in both parties, Trump warned.  The Republicans were tools of job-exporting fat cats who only pretended to be tough on immigration and trade in order to win votes, when all they really cared about were profits.  The Democrats were tools of the same interests, who subsisted politically on the captured votes of hoodwinked minorities, preaching multiculturalism while practicing globalism.  Neither party saw the awesome potential of this story to upend our political system.

Taibbi later points to a Democratic leadership “increasingly indebted to banks and corporations, never imagining it could be the target of a class uprising.  They failed to understand how they could be seen as aristocrats--after all, as the party of FDR they received union endorsements and were pro civil rights!” 

The maneuvering within the Republican Party is hardly surprising.  After spending the better part of the general election campaign distancing themselves from the Donald, McConnell, Ryan and company are suddenly kissing Trump’s tuckus at every turn; while simultaneously convincing themselves they’re his equals in wielding power.  They’re seeking to impose a regressive, ultra-conservative agenda on a deeply divided country that recently rejected their vision (as well as Trump) by a margin of several million votes.
Democrats, meanwhile, are searching for a way out of the wilderness.  Rep. Keith Ellison, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and several lesser known candidates are battling to become the next chairman of the DNC.  Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Harry Reid have all weighed in with their opinions/endorsements.  Whoever wins, the task will be daunting.  Political operative and author David Brock has called on the Democrats to become the party of “no”, maintaining that their “no” would differ from the past 8 years of Republican obstructionism because anything that Trump proposes is certain to be harmful to the majority of Americans-- thereby requiring determined opposition .  Elizabeth Warren has said much the same thing:  maintaining that Democrats need to “grow a backbone”.  One thing is certain, the last thing the Democrats can afford to do is turn to career politicians or corporate lawyers running milquetoast campaigns and looking to “play it safe”. Go along to get along only leads to more of the same.  Pretty soon we’ll all be playing footsie and become Facebook buddies with the likes of Steve Bannon.  We’ll be reduced to spirited conversation about sporting events, or the weather.

As Democrats in Maine look toward the gubernatorial contest in 2018, they’re faced with the fact that they lost not only once, but twice, to Paul LePage--an early (yet equally terrifying) prototype of what the country now faces in Donald Trump.  Opposing his agenda for the remainder of his term will be a moral imperative.  LePage has repeatedly demonstrated that he has neither the vision nor the temperament to govern the state.  He’ll leave behind a myriad of failed policies and a toxic political environment-- a product of his racist/sexist/ludicrous remarks, vicious personal attacks, and irrational outbursts.  His behavior has become legendary; embarrassing not only himself, but the state of Maine.  There will be a great deal of work needed to undo the damage, and to close the enormous gap now separating Republicans, Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians.

There are bound to be several so-called “establishment” Democrats who pursue the nomination.  The “old politics” so recently turned on its head would dictate that they’re “deserving” of the nomination, perhaps “entitled” to it.  No doubt these are honorable men and women who’ve served the state well, but the Democratic Party needs to change with the times--regardless of tradition.  There’s a need for fresh(er) faces, real world experience, and a boatload of empathy and understanding.  Contrary to his mantra in the state of the State address, LePage has done a great deal of harm--to cite one of many examples, Maine leads New England in child poverty and hunger.  We must work hard to reverse moral disgraces such as these, engage in constructive dialogue,  and provide positive leadership focused on economic growth and opportunity throughout the state.  The only choice before us is to get back up and be ready to fight at every turn, because as Paul Wellstone observed, "if we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them."

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