I keep reading, keep learning more and more about the dynamics of the current crisis in the Democratic party. It’s interesting, because we know the GOP has been in crisis for some time, as perhaps best evidenced by the Tea Party insurgency and the ideological chaos it has created over the last several years.
Democrats did not have to be in crisis – it seems very likely that without Bernie Sanders, Hillary would have had a pleasant walk to the nomination. Instead, Bernie’s “insurgent” campaign has quickly transformed the party into a party in crisis, just like the GOP. Bernie’s success has derailed the now-quaint notion that in November a bickering, leaderless, fractured GOP would easily hand the White House to Democrats, happily unified and ideologically pragmatic under Hillary. Obama’s late surge of progressive and foreign policy productivity (with the glaring exception of Syria) appeared to set the stage nicely for a smooth Obama-Clinton transition, one that might “calm the waters” that were full of the chop produced by so many flailing, desperate conservatives trying to explain away the president’s victories on such issues as marriage equality, health care, and Iran – all on the watch of a GOP Congress.
On a side note, it is equally fascinating to contemplate the nature of the nation’s “crisis” – the belief among so many that we are “on the brink” of some national calamity, that we need to take drastic measures to right this faltering ship of state. On the conservative side, it is hardly surprising that they are whipping up a useful panic. It is paramount they convince their voters of the veracity of two ideas: one, that the near-collapse of the U.S. economy in 2009 was unrelated to the Republican president who had been in charge the previous seven years; and two, that as bad as our Great Recession and failed Iraq war decade was, things are “even worse” after seven years of Obama. Combine this with the Sanders campaign’s dire warnings of an amoral oligarchy dominating the political system like old-school Robber Barons, and what you get is a general message from both national parties to their respective constituencies: America as we know it is on the brink of destruction!
Sanders supporters, of course, believe this crisis in the Democratic party is necessary, a good thing, in the same manner that Trump’s supporters see his candidacy as necessary to clean out the Washington cesspool. (By the way, have you ever noticed that “cleaning out the Washington cesspool” is pretty much the promise of every would-be politician going back to Reagan? And yet its stink has only gained in potency.) “We are tired of waiting,” they say, for someone to drive a stake through the heart of Wall Street. And that’s certainly understandable after the debacle of 2008, which revealed in stark detail the “real two Americas” – not conservatives versus liberals, not red states versus blue states. No, the real battle is billionaires versus everyone else, and the billionaires are not just winning. They control the rules of the game – and the umpires – to ensure they will win every time.
Thus what might have been — the Democratic campaign story of calm, cool, rational pragmatism and a smooth transition of power competing with the GOP campaign story of chaos, belligerance, intraparty warfare and populist hysteria. But that’s all over. Now, it’s two identical stories of populist hysteria (acute ideologies aside), both pregnant with the exciting promise of tearing down a “captive” American political structure so it can be “built back up again” in the image of “the people.” Leading the great purge will be the Messiah of one’s choice, either Trump or Sanders (or Cruz if you’re a “political Christian” – a handy new term I just came across).
This dynamic creates a kind of “we don’t care” equivalency among the party’s new “leaders” who, as it happens, do not belong to, or even like, the parties they nominally lead. Trump disses Republicans (and everyone else) as stupid and incompetent, Sanders thumbs his nose at the Democratic “establishment” and party luminaries. Their followers and surrogates do the same. Each candidate’s acolytes are helping them destroy from within the parties they have commandeered, the parties to which they have hitched their timely ideological wagons. They destroy their parties knowingly, with those on the right believing the GOP leadership has “betrayed” them, and those on the left feeling they are in a no-win shell game with a “billionaire class” that easily controls a co-opted Democratic party “establishment”.
I will not say that it would be “better” to have kept it simple with Hillary, especially since that ship has sailed. I do believe it would have been easier, an uncluttered path to a White House that could, at least – perhaps – temporarily forestall the Koch revolution (now ongoing at your local state legislature and governor’s office, which are most likely under GOP control). At least, the Koch’s version of revolution could probably be held off for a few more years – until the Kochs can count 34 GOP state legislatures and call a constitutional Convention of the States (they now have 31).
But the loudest voices on the left are saying that mere “protection” for progressive priorities and the slow, incremental gains the Obama administration achieved – and for which Hillary is the party’s chosen standard bearer – these gains are simply not enough. Too little, too late, and too tainted with establishment fingerprints. Besides, polls tell them they are going to win everything with Bernie – so why compromise on ideals? It’s understandable.
For both Democrats and Republicans (whatever these labels now mean), it’s “Revolution” or nothing. So I guess we may well see what a revolution looks like up close and personal. If history is any guide, it won’t be pretty. And history also instructs that no matter what the revolution itself looks like, its aftermath will look like all the revolutions: consolidation of power among those who took the reins of power, eventually putting “the people” right back where they started – trying to extract “public service” from entrenched political bosses whose chief priority is to preserve their hard-won place at the top of the heap.