What do I mean by “walk and chew gum at the same time?” By that I mean can we fight against what Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell want to do to us economically and what Trump has done to us culturally and socially, and still do the most important work. Can we simultaneously change the Democratic Party or start a new one? If we don’t get that job done, we will continue to fight a rear guard action to save ourselves from economic and social destruction for decades to come, as we have for the last three decades.
First, in the interest of full disclosure, after Bernie was denied the nomination by the Democratic leadership that continues to believe a candidate’s qualification for president correlates directly with the amount of money they can get from Wall Street, I volunteered and worked hard for Clinton. Why? A distaste for authoritarian leaders and the certain knowledge that Trump has no ideas about governing, but Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have many ideas – ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, TANF, OSHA, EPA, the Clean Air Act – I’ll stop now. There isn’t enough room on this blog to put up the entire list. Further, there was the not so minor problem that Trump ran a campaign the core values of which were racism, xenophobia, misogyny and homophobia, as put out there by a narcissistic authoritarian.
Now that I have acknowledged how disgraceful I believe Trump is, let’s talk about the Democratic Party and why so many of us contributed to, voted with and worked for Bernie Sanders. We actually wanted to support a Democratic candidate who was a democrat, a real populist voice. We wanted to have a president that was dedicated to making America work for those of us who do not shop at Niemen Marcus and that cute little boutique down the street on Rodeo Drive, who get our groceries at the supermarket and do our own cooking and rear our own children. We wanted a president who thought about those of us who worry about how to pay the rent and the dentist and doctor (or our deductible). We wanted a president who truly cared about those of us who go to work to be underpaid and bullied on the job, and who have to stick it out or go under.
Many of us whose votes were needed in the general election sent the Democratic Party a thunder cloud of a message during the primaries. With our votes, our work and our money, we said we did not want another Democratic presidency that made a few things marginally better, while instituting policies that let the fearful insecurity that is at the core of so many of our lives grow exponentially each year. We were tired pf Democratic candidates who collect huge corporate contributions so they can assault us with meaningless TV ads and worthless policy papers that promise much and are never implemented.
Those policy papers never become reality because the vast majority of Democratic elected officials would appear to have no core values. They claim to have great values – they say they want workers to have decent wages, safe working conditions; they say they want us to have access to health care that we can afford; they say they want us to have good schools and clean air. Sometimes they even get legislation passed – and then they let the corporate lobbyists write the rules and it is all watered down to nothing.
Let’s take a look at health care. When Obama put out his version of the Affordable Care Act, it had a public option. It had some protections against the never ending unconscionable increases in cost. It wasn’t Medicare for all, but it was a good start. And, we had 60 Democratic senators in 2009, exactly what we needed to cloture down Republican opposition. So, it should have gone well. Then Obama and the Democratic leadership decided we couldn’t fight the health care corporate lobby and drug lobby (and unfortunately, the unions went along with it). So, affordable health care became a great deal less affordable as members of Congress, consulting with the people who make money on health care, decided that we would not hold down prices on drugs, that we would make sure that insurance companies continued to make billions by being unnecessary middlemen in our health care non-system with no competition from a public option – essentially that nothing fundamental about the financial underpinnings of how health care is delivered in the US would change.
To add to the degradation of the ACA, the Congress wanted to make sure that we the people did not get fat and lazy on this health care gift they were giving us (they constantly seem to forget we pay taxes that pay for their salaries and our benefits). The theory – if we didn’t have to pay something, we unruly, greedy people would overrun the health care system, going to the doctor every other day with every little ache or pain. I guess they forgot that we are the only developed economy in the world that does not provide mandated paid time off for workers. Most workers in this country have to worry about every hour they take off even if they have some pittance of paid time off. They also didn’t bother to find out that the notion of “skin in the game” goes against everything we know about providing quality, consistent health care, but why distract ourselves with the facts.
And, who thought all this misery was a good idea? Why, of course it was some of the Democratic senators. There weren’t 60 votes for a decent health care bill. We didn’t have enough votes to stop a filibuster because some of the Democratic senators wanted to protect the health care and drug industries, wanted to keep us unruly people from getting too much from our government, could have cared less about whether we actually had quality affordable health care. They wanted the campaign contributions from the insurance and drug companies so they could buy those misleading, useless ads in the next election cycle and not have that money go to their opponents for their equally misleading and useless ads. Screwed again by a handful of Senate Democrats.
Why did all those people listen to Donald Trump? He said it very well – what do you have to lose. We had a lot to lose and we will soon find out how much. However, the leadership of the Democratic Party made it possible for Trump to speak to people’s legitimate fears and to get millions of votes he would never have had without the complicity of party leaders, acting with craven disregard for the interests of the people they represent. For decades, both parties have represented corporate interests against the people’s interests.
An authoritarian celebrity is not the answer to our distress. The majority of Americans realized that and voted against him, but the Electoral College made it possible for him to claim victory. We should not take comfort in that system issue. If Bernie Sanders or Sherrod Brown or any number of Democrats who actually have a record of caring about the lives and needs of our people had been running, it is very likely they would have rolled over Trump. It isn’t that their consultants have taught them how to talk to the people, it is that they are a part of the people.
Well, we didn’t run Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. So, we have Trump. I believe the Electoral College is undemocratic. However, Trump won according to the rules. Our job now is to mitigate the damage he can do while we Democrats change our party or take on the hard work of starting a new one – a party that truly works to improve the lives of all Americans through sensible policies that make a difference – a living wage, a health care system that provides health care, not billions for corporations, an environmental policy that not only recognizes science but makes sure science prevails over profits for energy companies, and finally that tells Americans the truth about what we are facing in the twenty first century.
There will be less and less work for people to do. National boundaries will have no economic value. The real questions we face will be how do we survive and thrive not as Americans or Russians or Syrians or Nigerians, but as a species. How will we produce what we need to live contentedly and how will we share our world resources equally? There are thoughtful people looking at these realities. We need to listen to their ideas and to begin to plan what comes next for the human species and for the planet we live on. That is the truly hard work ahead of us. I am 67. I will not live to see its outcome. But, it is exciting work and I want to listen, learn and help before I leave this earth.
Let’s nominate and elect the people who want to lead and join us in this vital, thrilling work for our posterity.