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A New Political Force and the Future of the Democratic Party

Rail stocking trestle, Carrie Furnaces, Rankin PA, (Photo by Roy Luck)

A new political force in America was unleashed on Tuesday and how the Democratic Party reacts to it could determine its future as a major party.

The working class has spoken and any party or politician going forward better listen or they will be tossed out—Donald Trump the next time too.

This election has struck what should be a fatal blow to the Clintons’ Democratic Leadership Council movement. Bill Clinton moved the Democratic Party to the center-right at about the same time that Tony Blair did with the British Labour Party.

Both cut their traditional ties to labor unions in the 1990s to embrace the economic neoliberalism of their 1980s predecessors Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: welfare reform, deregulation, privatization and free trade.

The effect on workers has been devastating. Millions have been thrust out of a middle-class lifestyle. They have seen their plants close and jobs shipped to cheap labor markets overseas.
They’ve seen the economy shift from production to financial speculation. And they’ve seen the greatest transfer of wealth in decades to the obscenely rich.

These workers have also seen wealthy liberals who’ve benefited from the system regard themselves as superior. They hear Democratic politicians like Hillary Clinton call them deplorable.

On Tuesday the workers spoke.

But is the Democratic Party listening? It had better. The future of the party may depend on it.
For the past two decades Rust Belt workers voted for Democratic candidates—twice for Barack Obama (proving they aren’t all deplorable racists). They were counting on change. Instead the Democrats took them for granted. But they have now rudely slapped the party in the face.

In Britain, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is fighting to dismantle Blair’s so-called New Labour movement. This week we learned in a leaked speech Bill Clinton gave last year that he denigrated Corbyn, saying Labour “went out and practically got a guy off the street to be the leader” of the party. “When people feel they’ve been shafted and they don’t expect anything to happen anyway, they just want the maddest person in the room to represent them.”

This is typical of the Democrats’ smugness, their careerism and contempt for ordinary Americans.
Corbyn is fighting to restore the Labour Party’s historic ties to the working class. The Democratic Party had better do the same.

So far they are blaming everyone but themselves for having created this workers’ backlash.
Sexism, the media, FBI Director James Comey, Vladimir Putin, Jill Stein and even Clinton cheerleader Bernie Sanders (for “poisoning the youth vote”) have all been blamed.

A former Clinton operative speaking on Fox News said the day after an election loss a campaign engages in the “blame game.” He said “everybody is being blamed but Secretary Clinton.”

Pursuing Solutions

There are solutions to economic injustice but few in power pursue them because it’s not in their self-interest. And politicians these days of any party act primarily on self-interest and their backers’ interests, which is inimical to democracy.

Without a sharp turn to the left to regain workers’ support, the Democratic Party risks becoming totally irrelevant. New Democratic Party leaders committed to workers must emerge. They have four years to prepare. Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tarnished themselves as leaders who can achieve this by supporting a center-right candidate. They failed to acknowledge that Clinton was too alienated from workers who in the end abandoned the party to gamble on Trump.

Sanders had been offered the head of the Green Party ticket by Stein. She says he never answered her. Had they run together it is more than conceivable they would have gotten the 15% in the polls to enter the debates, where Sanders would have been a lofty alternative to Clinton and Trump.

Rust Belt workers may well have chosen Sanders. But instead the Democratic Party got a huge wake up call that would be suicidal to ignore. They won’t admit it but they now know that Sanders was running the right campaign to defend workers’ interests. If the party leadership continues to deny this it will be a very long four years indeed.

The Rust Belt working class can’t be blamed for the choices they were given. Without Sanders, and with the ueber-Establishment Clinton instead, they sent a demagogue to the White House, clinging to the hope that he might keep his promises: to end ruinous trade deals, bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S., create jobs by rebuilding the infrastructure, avoid new wars and clean the D.C. swamp of corruption.

Judging by the people being mentioned for his cabinet it’s already looking dodgy. If Trump fails to fulfill his promises, the voters he so skillfully riled up might well send him packing in 2020. If the Democrats don’t reform they will be in trouble in four years too.

That leaves the notoriously difficult path for a third party that represents the interests of ordinary Americans to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But it might be the only alternative left.

Media Also Repudiated

This election was a repudiation not only of the Democratic Party, but also Establishment Republicans, Wall Street, celebrity culture (who flocked to Clinton) and the news media.
The shock to the American political system is unearthing stunning admissions one would never have imagined hearing.

On Fox News the morning after the election a group of personalities (calling themselves journalists) were suddenly talking about class in America, a normally taboo subject.

One of them said journalists didn’t understand this election because none of them know anyone who makes less than $60,000 a year.

These pampered performers don’t even mix with some members of their own profession. I can introduce them to plenty of journalists making less than that, let alone Rust Belt workers.

Will Rahn of CBS News accused the media of missing the story, “after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on. This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness.”

He says working class people have “captured the imagination of journalists, who have come to talk about them like colonial administrators would talk about a primitive inland tribe that interferes with the construction of a jungle railway: They must be pacified until history kills them off.”

These are stunning admissions that would never have happened without this election result.
But one wonders how long such introspection in the corporate media will last. After it totally got the Iraq story wrong and contributed to the disastrous 2003 invasion there were mea culpas. But that didn’t last long as corporate media campaigns for new wars.

The difference here is that this new political force of voters, who for the Democrats and the media came out of nowhere (though they were staring them in the face) might force a re-evaluation. That’s because these voters will be there four years from now and they’ve now demonstrated how crucial they are to gaining power in America.

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Joe Lauria
Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.