Part 1. More of the Same Old Failed Electoral Policy
The broad left has been uniting behind the Democratic Party for the past four decades without having achieved much real progress for its base constituencies. In fact, there has been considerable regress: increased inequality of wealth and income, diminished collective bargaining, increased homeless numbers, rising student debt burdens, reduced abortion access, increasingly unaffordable costs of healthcare, mass incarceration, new cold wars, new arms race, and so forth. Longstanding abuses against the vulnerable remain, including: impunity for police violence; and abuses in the criminal justice system targeted against the poor and racial minorities, often under elected Democrats (prosecutors, mayors, legislators, and other officials). Yet, many prominent “leftists” (including avowed “socialists”) are demanding unity behind the Democratic Party and whomever will be its Presidential standard-bearer. Consequently, it is appropriate and past time to subject that practice to careful examination.
With respect to the 2020 elections, many prominent would-be strategists for the socialist left have been, in effect, saying:
- that Trump, with his pandering to racism and other bigotries, is dangerously and uniquely different from previous Republican Presidents and nominees;
- that Trump, with his reactionary populist demagoguery and authoritarian aspirations, is an authoritarian “fascist” threat to “our democracy”;
- that Trump, with his climate denialism and his other antisocial policies, will be the fundamental cause of climate catastrophe and other horrors; and
- that consequently, another four years of Trump would be such a “catastrophe” that, with respect to the 2020 elections, nothing is more important than ensuring that the Democrats prevail.
Proponents of the foregoing strategic viewpoint are many. Recent advocates include:
- a group of prominent leftist author-intellectuals with “An Open Letter to the Green Party About 2020 Election Strategy” castigating the Green Party for “helping the Republicans win the Presidency” in 2000 and 2016 through not abandoning its Presidential campaigns in contested states and
- Max Elbaum for Organization Upgrade with “Beating Trump: Absolutely Essential, Also Not Enough” asserting that “A second Trump term means racist authoritarianism”, “a drastic narrowing of the democratic space progressives and the left have utilized to resist”, “heightened danger of climate change-driven catastrophe”, “the erosion of democracy”, and accelerated “level of repression”. He goes on “a defeat of Trump by even the most moderate of Democrats … translates … into preservation of democratic space and … the possibility of the new American majority.”
It may be appropriate to ask whether they have elevated Trump far above his actual significance and mistaken the centrist Democrats for agents of progress and democracy.
What follows is simply an attempt to apply a rational fact-based strategic analysis, consistent with social-justice principles, to the current situation.
To begin, what are the relevant facts?
1st. Regarding Trump differences from previous GOP Presidents.
The unite-behind-the-Democrats strategists, in their portraying of Trump as radically different from his GOP predecessors, evade the decades of Republican pandering to bigotry. In fact, his bigoted pandering and his embrace of antisocial policies is no departure from decades of past Republican Presidential candidates; remember: Goldwater’s embrace of “states’ rights” as he campaigned on his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Nixon’s “southern strategy”, Reagan’s campaigning against “welfare queens”, GHW Bush’s racist fearmongering “Willie Horton” campaign ads, Republican attacks on women’s reproductive rights, their pandering to the religious right, their attacks on welfare programs which notably benefit the poor and minorities, etc.
Trump had posed as a populist; but he has, of course, embraced the longstanding antisocial policies of the Republican Party. He has basically reneged on his promises to serve the working class; while he has, like most other Republicans, faithfully served the fossil-fuel, armaments, and other highly predatory industries. Trump, has differed somewhat by campaigning as an isolationist who would end US military interventions in foreign lands; but he has (sometimes against his will) largely surrendered foreign policy to the bipartisan imperial foreign policy establishment. Moreover, bully that he is, he has found that attacking vulnerable peripheral countries (Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba) bolsters his image as a tough commander-in-chief, a practice utilized by past Presidents of both Parties.
Nevertheless, from a revolutionary anti-capitalist and pro-social-justice perspective, there are some real, although unintended, positives in Trump’s Presidency. These include: his undermining of the unity of the US-led imperial Western alliance; and his attacks on the intelligence agencies whereby he demoralizes their operatives and somewhat undermines their operations. Moreover, the blatancy and transparent viciousness in his bigoted and antisocial actions has incited a growing popular movement in opposition to his odious policies, policies which, in some measure, he inherited from his predecessor. But for Trump, this movement would not have risen to its current size and potency.
2nd. Regarding domestic racism and other bigotries.
Trump differs from his Republican predecessors in that his pandering to bigotry lacks their sneaky subtlety and ambiguity; in fact, it is blatant, obsessive, absolutely transparent, and undeniable. This transparency makes it much easier to organize against it; and that is a good thing. Meanwhile, the unite-behind-the-Democrats strategists evade centrist Democrat pandering to racism and other bigotries whenever they found it to be politically expedient. Examples.
In the 1970s, when under pressure from racist white constituents opposed to school desegregation, Senator Joe Biden switched his position from support to opposition on court-ordered busing to end school segregation. Then, after having been a critic (in 1981) of Reagan’s push for tougher prison sentences, Biden discovered that being “tough on crime” was popular with much of the white electorate and spent a lot of effort from 1984 to 1994 pushing Congress, over opposition from the NAACP and the ACLU, to enact (with support from most Senate Democrats) a series of “tough on crime” bills. Those enactments then contributed hugely to the disproportionately racial-minority mass incarceration (including: mandatory minimum sentences, the 100 times harsher penalty for crack as for powder cocaine, stripping inmates of appeal rights, and a big increase in the number of crimes subject to the death penalty).
Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill was a major contributor to the aforementioned mass incarceration of racial minorities. Clinton pandered to bigotry again with his draconian so-called welfare reform which compels the most disadvantaged people (especially single-parent families) to work for poverty wages which leave them without the wherewithal to access basic needs (decent housing, affordable healthcare, quality education for their children, and other vital needs).
While Obama responded to pressure from his base constituents with his DACA order and proposed immigration reform, he also pandered to reactionary Republican xenophobia by deporting more undocumented immigrants in his first five years than G W Bush deported in eight, thereby earning the moniker “deporter-in-chief”. Moreover, while Obama separated children from their immigrant parents (a total of 152,000 in 2012 alone), most Democrat politicians and the mainstream news media took little interest. It is only now under Trump that such abuses (now, as then, somewhat limited by court order) have become a cause célèbre.
3rd. Regarding climate catastrophe.
Democrat actions to protect against climate catastrophe consist of: lip service (speeches); unenforceable aspirational goals (the Paris Agreement); regulatory enhancements (fuel efficiency “standards”, the “clean power plan”); market incentives (carbon tax, “cap and trade” schemes, subsidies for renewables); and fantasies (“clean coal”).
Those actions may appear to constitute progress toward cutting climate-destroying carbon pollution, but the meager 4.5% reduction in US CO2 emissions during Obama’s 8-year presidency actually depended largely upon independent market factors (especially cleaner alternative energy sources become cheaper than coal). Meanwhile, Obama counteracted the effects of his grossly inadequate climate action program by actively promoting: huge increases in production of fossil fuels (with increased drilling permits, expanded offshore drilling, huge increase in fracking and production of natural gas, and a 13% increase in fossil-fuel pipelines from 2011 to 2015). He also issued large new leases to coal producers. Under Obama, US exports of coal, oil, and natural gas increased massively (1,000% in the case of oil); and Obama-approved Export-Import Bank loans and guarantees for fossil-fuel projects abroad nearly tripled from the level under GW Bush. By 2017 (the year Obama left office) the US, with 15.3% of world oil production, had become the world’s top producer, well ahead of number-two Saudi Arabia’s 12.7%.
Meanwhile, California’s “climate champion” Governor Jerry Brown increased offshore drilling in state waters, eased restrictions on drilling and fracking, and fired regulators who stood firm against unsafe drilling practices.
Centrist Democrats are all for saving the climate, but only as long as so doing doesn’t include what is actually necessary, namely shutting down the profitable poisoning operations of the politically-powerful fossil-fuel companies. Their grossly inadequate feel-good climate policies will no more save the planet from climate catastrophe than Trump’s denialism.
4th. Regarding other antisocial policies in service to capital.
Until the scheme was derailed by the Lewinski scandal, Bill Clinton plotted with Newt Gingrich on a nearly successful bipartisan plan to cut social security benefits and turn management of its trust fund over to Wall Street. Clinton also backed the overwhelmingly bipartisan 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking reforms, repeal which unleashed the speculative and exploitative mortgage-lending practices which produced the great recession of 2008.
Obama posed as a progressive in the 2008 Presidential primaries. Then as President his choices (in 2009) for Treasury Secretary and chief economic advisor were neoliberals US Treasury bureaucrat Timothy Geithner and World Bank vice-president Larry Summers. The then-ruling Democrats’ response to the 2008 economic crisis was: to bail out, rather than nationalize, the big banks which had created the conditions which were its principal cause; and to provide minimal relief measures which nevertheless permitted some 5.3 million homeowners to lose their homes to the banks in Obama’s first six years, with many forced into bankruptcy while official unemployment doubled to 10%. Under Obama, no bank CEOs were jailed for their mortgage lending frauds. This was in contrast to the policy under President G H W Bush which sent many of the Savings & Loan CEOs to prison for bank frauds committed during the S&L Crisis.
Obama also supported the increasing privatization in K-to-12 schools (which robs already under-resourced public schools and students of desperately needed resources).
Although the Democrats routinely pose as allies of organized labor, on those occasions (1959-71, 1975-79, & 2009-11) when Democrats controlled both the Oval Office and the Congress with a filibuster-proof 60-vote super-majority in the Senate, they nevertheless did nothing to rescind the anti-union provisions of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.
With respect to healthcare, Obama and the Congressional Democrat leadership refused to permit consideration of the single-payer option and limited their healthcare “reform” (as centrist Democrats continue to do) so as to ensure the survival and continued profiteering of affected capitalist interest groups (in the health insurance, pharmaceutical, and service-provider industries), while still leaving tens of millions un- or under-insured and often without the means to access many of their often-vital healthcare needs.
5th. Regarding Trump “fascism”.
Is he about to achieve despotic power? It is true that House Democrats, for lack of support in the Senate and/or in their own caucus, have been unable, in their occasional feeble attempts, to prevent some of Trump’s excessive assertions of Executive power. However, Trump has been able to do thusly primarily because the Congress had ceded many of its Constitutional prerogatives to the Executive branch decades before Trump’s Presidency. Nevertheless, Trump has been repeatedly stymied on particular issues: by the foreign-policy establishment; by Congress; by the courts; by obstruction within his own administration; by his own narcissism and incompetence; and sometimes even by overwhelming public disgust at some of his most abhorrent pronouncements.
Trump failed in his attempt to coerce the Congress into funding his anti-immigrant border wall, and he only obtained said funding subsequently when Congressional Democrats caved in return for modest funding for a few of their priorities. He has been utterly unable to muzzle his critics: in the mainstream news media, in the Democratic Party, and on the left. Despite his obsession to put an end to the Mueller investigation of his Presidential campaign, Trump was unable (or too fearful) to do so. Finally, he failed to prevent House Democrats from impeaching him.
Certainly, if Trump were really a threat to the rights and capacities of his many critics to agitate and organize against the social evils of capitalism and the oppressive policies of the US government; then it would make sense for the socialist left to unite with the centrist liberals to protect those rights. But there is currently no such real danger. In fact, Trump, despite what he wants to believe, does not possess anywhere near the absolutist power of a fascist despot. Moreover, with the persistence of broad and intense popular opposition to Trump, he is very unlikely to achieve such power. The Trump Presidency, despite his abhorrent policies and authoritarian aspirations, is not an authoritarian state, nor will he make it into one. Factually deficient assertions of portending “fascist authoritarianism” under Trump only serve to provide excuse for attempts to keep the broad left ensnared in its counterproductive allegiance to the centrist-dominated capital-serving Democratic Party.
6th. Regarding American “democracy”
Congressional Democrats and their apologists never miss any opportunity to vilify Russia for allegedly attacking “our democracy” by assisting the Trump campaign in the 2016 US Presidential election. Completely absent from the discourse is any acknowledgement of the long bipartisan history (beginning with the 1948 Italian election) of US interventions in the national elections of numerous foreign countries (including the stealing of the 1996 Russian election for US favorite Boris Yeltsin). Russian intervention in the 2016 US election pales in comparison with many of the US interferences in other countries’ elections. Moreover, the Russian effort to sway the 2016 US Presidential election was the least significant factor in the outcome, far eclipsed by: the flawed Democrat candidate and her mismanaged election campaign, abstentions by many poor and working-class citizens on account of decades of Democrat failure to deliver for their base constituencies, and the electoral college system as well as other anti-democratic features of US elections.
In fact, US elections are rife with anti-democratic features in most of which both duopoly parties are complicit: political discourse dominated by capitalist funding, gerrymanders, voter suppression, party leaders rigging the nomination process to favor the establishment candidate, convention superdelegates, etc. Moreover, the system is rigged in most states to maintain the 2-party duopoly which excludes and/or marginalizes all other parties (by giving the duopoly parties virtually automatic ballot access while imposing often insurmountable obstacles to such access for third parties); and the Democrats are complicit as they routinely act to block access for the Green Party. In actual effect, voters usually choose between candidates of the duopoly parties who are selected, not by the people, but by big-money interest groups and allied establishment political insiders.
The US is no real democracy, it is a heavily corrupted plutocracy. It will become a real democracy: only when there is popular participation and oversight over elected representatives, and only after a revolutionary movement for social justice has taken state power from the capital-subservient politicians of both duopoly parties. The need is, not to ameliorate popular discontent by putting a Democrat in the White House, but to build the revolutionary movement with a social justice program which will be clearly distinct from the actual antisocial and anti-democratic policies of nearly all career politicians in the Democratic Party.
7th. Regarding imperialism, human rights, and consistent anti-racism.
The “socialist” proponents of center-left alliance with the Democrats give lip-service opposition to imperialism and militarism; but then they abandon said opposition as they demand that all progressives back the candidacies of the worst perpetrators of imperial crimes against humanity. Skipping over the crimes of Democrat Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, which caused the deaths of millions and immense suffering to millions more, let us consider the millions of victims of US imperialism under the more recent Democrat Presidents and members of Congress.
Jimmy Carter: initiated the US funding and arming of the reactionary antisocial Islamist insurgency against the progressive modernist Soviet-aligned government in Afghanistan, joined apartheid South Africa in backing a (failed) coup plot (1979) against the anti-imperialist President of Seychelles, imposed sanctions (1979) on Grenada in an attempt to cripple its economy and thereby oust its progressive revolutionary government, and initiated (1980) the US backing for the Contra War (which Reagan later expanded) against the anti-imperialist government in Nicaragua.
Bill Clinton, knowing (and/or not caring) that the pretense that Iraq still had WMD [weapons of mass destruction] was false, imposed a murderous economic siege [sanctions] which impoverished the people and killed half a million Iraqis (mostly children), hoping thereby to provoke a coup to topple its President. Clinton also joined Congress in enacting the 1996 Helms-Burton Act which punished Cuba for defending itself against invasions of its airspace by a rightwing exile gang with a history of terrorist attacks against targets in Cuba and elsewhere. Further, Clinton laid the foundation for the current new cold war against Russia by beginning the provocative eastward expansion of NATO into former Warsaw Pact countries in violation of the US commitment given to Russia in return for the needed Soviet consent to the 1990 reunification of Germany.
“New Democrat” Presidential candidate Al Gore (in 2000) pandered to rightwing Cuban exiles by backing their attempt to prevent motherless 6-year-old Elián González from being reunited with his Cuban Communist father in Cuba.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton [HRC] was an outspoken advocate for the Bush-Cheney “preemptive war” against Iraq, which killed another some 700,000 Iraqis.
In 2008 Democrat Presidential candidate Barack Obama matched rival McCain in hawkishness on foreign policy as illustrated in the following quotes from Obama’s 2008 campaign web site. “We must rebalance our capabilities to ensure that our forces have the agility and lethality to succeed in both conventional wars and in stabilization and counter-insurgency operations.” “increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marines by 27,000 troops.” “Preserve global reach in the air: We must preserve our unparalleled airpower capabilities to deter and defeat any conventional competitors, swiftly respond to crises across the globe, and support our ground forces. We need greater investment in advanced [weapons] technology …” “Maintain power projection at sea: We must recapitalize our naval forces.” In the Presidential campaign debates, Obama mimicked McCain in denouncing popularly-elected Venezuelan President Chavez as a “tyrant.” Further, he boasted (on his web site) of his Senate record of “insisting that Israel not be pressured into a ceasefire” during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon; and of “cosponsoring a Senate resolution against Iran and Syria.”
John Kerry and HRC (the respective Democrat Presidential candidates in 2004 and 2016), as Secretaries of State under Obama, were proponents of his new cold war against Russia and backed his policy of support for the destructive Islamist-dominated insurgency in Syria. HRC also advocated for the US-led military invasion which resulted in humanitarian catastrophe for the people of Libya. Kerry, who had also backed the military intervention in Libya, was a proponent of Obama’s policy of encouraging and assisting the Saudi and UAE war of mass murder (from starvation and disease as well as aerial bombing) against the people of Yemen.
Obama joined several allies in the invasion and destruction of Libya, abetted coups and coup attempts against popularly elected progressive and anti-imperialist governments in Honduras (2009) and Ecuador (2010), as well as against the duly elected neutralist government of Ukraine (2014). Obama also armed and abetted the US-client regime in Colombia which gave rightwing death squads free rein to murder (as reported by Human Rights Watch) over 120 labor organizers and other nonviolent progressive social activists in 2011..15 alone (and more thereafter). Meanwhile, he imposed the first of the crippling economic sanctions and persisted in other interventions to undermine the popularly elected leftist government in Venezuela.
Only 49 of 193 House Democrats voted against the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act [HR 5515] which greatly increased already massive military spending. In the Senate it passed 87 to 10 with a mere 8 of 49 Democrat caucus members voting against.
The 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act [HR 3364], which seeks to intensify Obama’s new cold war against Russia as well as to impose greater hardships on the peoples of Iran and North Korea, was adopted 419 to 3 in the House (each of the 3 no votes being from Republicans) and 98 to 2 in the Senate (the 2 being Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul).
Most high-level Democrat politicians are subservient to capital and firmly ensconced in the bipartisan imperialist foreign policy consensus. In fact, Democrats have become staunch defenders: of the intelligence agencies, of Obama’s new cold wars, and of US aspirations for continued imperial world-domination. They have impeached Trump, not for his many actual crimes against humanity, but on bogus assertions that his temporary suspension of military aid to the client state in Ukraine (which was installed by a US-backed coup and is a US pawn in its unjustified new cold war against Russia) was a betrayal of US national security. None of the Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has clearly repudiated the falsehoods which are propounded and used to justify hostile US action against alleged “adversary” countries (Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua). (Note. Although some of these countries maintain reactionary and/or oppressive domestic policies, not the reason for US hostility; all of them maintain foreign policies which are primarily defensive and in some measure anti-imperialist. Russia and China are resisting Western imperial policies of hostile new-cold-war encirclement with US bases and military exercises in neighboring countries and/or adjacent seas.)
The “socialist” proponents of alignment with the Democratic Party have objectively embraced an objectively racist left version of America first. They care that Democrats are marginally less antisocial on domestic issues (generally because they need the votes of women, minorities, and other affected constituencies); but, like said Democrats (even most of those in the Congressional Progressive Caucus), they acquiesce to the murderous oppressions of the millions of victims of US-led Western imperialism in other countries.
In effect, the avowedly leftist and “socialist” unite-behind-the-Democrats “electoral strategists” have jettisoned their anti-imperialism and limited their anti-racism to victims in the US, and then primarily to victims of governing Republicans. They purport that the Democrats, even those like Joe Biden, will be saviors in the face: of Trump-incited racist abuses of immigrants and asylum-seekers (practices which actually pre-date the Trump Presidency), of Trump-abetted climate catastrophe, and of a Trump-led displacement of “our democracy” by an authoritarian “fascism.” While it is true that government policies under Trump, as under previous Republican Presidents, are somewhat more antisocial than under Democrats; nevertheless, their portrayals of Trump, as a dire threat to progressive and socialist activism, and of the Democrats as the savior for progress, decency, and “democracy”, are essentially contra-factual. They elevate Trump far above his actual significance by ignoring the many other factors (including the Democrats’ routine perfidy and subservience to capital) which are responsible for the capitalist and governmental abuses in the US. Their position is rooted in their addiction to the failed policy of giving allegiance to the centrist-dominated Democratic Party which has been seducing and betraying the progressive movements for decades. Finally, it is a betrayal of internationalist social-justice solidarity principles.