You might think that in comparison to the Republican Party (See: “Circus of Cruelty: The current Republican Party “), any alternative could not help to look better. And you would be right. But the Democratic Party is not only uniquely adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Their current state is also a primary cause of the republican shit show. When Ronald Reagan remade American politics and economy in the 1980s, the new democrats obliged. Instead of challenging Reagan’s attack on labour unions and welfare systems, at times, they even tried to outdo him. Bill Clinton’s new strategy was “triangulation “, the attempt to calculate voting outcomes with shifting alliances within Reagan’s anti-social economic parameters. After all, the Democratic Party could undoubtedly rely on minority votes even while courting republican voters by law-and-order policies that incidentally attacked these same minorities. Who needed the traditionally democrat aligned working-class votes if the middle-class suburbs could be won over? What worker or member of a minority would even consider voting republican?
Clinton’s vice president Al Gore promptly lost to the republican George Bush. Two things about the Democratic Party became apparent. 1) It is toothless in comparison to the republican skulduggery. Bush did not win the popular vote. His victory in the electoral college relied on an extremely narrow win in Florida, which was possibly manipulated. But Gore did not contest the stopping of a recount in Florida by Bush’s brother Jeb Bush as Governor. 2) The democrats were also unwilling to challenge republican undermining on civil rights and wars of aggression in the wake of 9/11.
Soon, demands for change arose. Barack Obama’s nomination for candidate and election for president were accompanied by great hopes, articulated in his vague slogan “Yes, We Can! “. But little change came. While the republican right ran amok in smearing Obama as Islamist, atheist, anti- or un-American and socialist, he tried to appease it. The Democratic constituency demanded health insurance yet got not even a public option but an originally republican, lukewarm bill. The draconic security state measures of Bush remained in place. And so on, and so on.
The democrats can and try to lay much blame on the fierce Republican opposition. But at least in the first two years of Obama’s presidency, they held majorities in all branches of legislation without enacting any significant change.
The Endangered Establishment
The crushing of hopes would take a heavy toll in 2016. The establishment of both parties was challenged. With selective, superficial populism Trump was able to take over the Republican Party. The democratic establishment was challenged by genuine widespread unrest from below coalescing around the democratic socialist (or rather social democrat) campaign Bernie Sanders. But while the Republican establishment was blindsided by Trump, the democratic one showed all the teeth to defeat its uprising, which it does not lead against republicans. Sanders is regularly polled as the most popular senator of the US, while his policy proposals enjoy similar popularity. Polls showed him to be the strongest possible candidate against Trump, too, mainly because he could win back disaffected (and often laid off) workers, who otherwise preferred non-voting or Trump’s shallow populism to the proven neo-liberalism of the Clintons (now in the form of Bills wife Hillary). But the democratic establishment liked to lose without Sanders, then winning with him.
Weaponizing Identity Politics
The post-Reagan democratic strategy was revealed to rely on exceptionally charismatic candidates (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) to cover up missing substance. Furthermore, it relied on the deterrence of the broader population by a radicalizing Republican Party. The characteristic extravagance of costly media spectacles bound the democrats tighter to their donors, making concessions to the Sanders wing impossible. But one crucial factor of this strategy was to fob off minorities with symbolic gestures and some representation instead of materially beneficial policies, as they could hardly turn republican. Also, this identity pandering allowed to smear anyone with different courses as hostile to particular minorities.
In many cases, this may be correct. But it is also aggressively employed to attack policies that would materially benefit broad segments of the general population and even the poorer-than-average minorities themselves. The prime target became the movement around Sanders.
Conventional tactics like negative coverage by the democrat aligned media outlets were only the tip of the iceberg. In Sanders second run for the democratic candidate in 2020, those outlets even tried to simply not cover him at all, leading to hilarious reports on the primaries, when Sanders won every single primary until Georgia. Still, only the second and third places were announced. Of course, Sanders and his allies had to be smeared outrageously. Because he dared to run against Hillary Clinton as the possible first female president, he had to be an avid sexist and preferred him misogynist Bernie-Bros. When a pundit was confronted with actual numbers of Sanders supporters, who were in the majority women, she infantilized Sanders female supporters as girls just going to the rallies because they wanted to meet boys. This instrumental attitude of the democratic leadership is characteristic for their usage of legitimate issues of marginalized groups for the leaderships self-interest. Sanders economic policies like Medicare for all would have massively benefited poor women, immigrants and so on. But they were not purely aimed at them. And the real help would have to be financed by taxes on the rich. Of Course, Clinton could not reply that she could not tax or regulate her donors. So she said that breaking up the big banks would not end racism. While true, it may still be worthwhile to do so and even benefit African Americans by spending the banks’ money differently. Never mind that there are unsubstantiated but credible allegations that the Democratic Party employed tactics similar to the republicans in its 2020 battle against Sanders. According to these allegations, too few voting machines were supplied to poor inner-city districts likely to vote for Sanders and inhabited mainly by minorities.
Even worse as a candidate than Clinton was 2020s nominee Joe Biden. Not only did he explicitly promise to wealthy donors that “nothing would fundamentally change “. He also has a questionable political past regarding the integration of African Americans and, during the general campaigns, was struck by dementia. Only the absolutely catastrophic handling of Covid-19 by Trump could prevent a second debacle like in 2016. Now in power again, the Democratic Party is likely to do the bare minimum to appear better than their counterpart while fulfilling Biden’s promise to the donors. For example, they immediately returned the US to the Paris climate accord but vehemently opposed the Green New Deal proposed from the left by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which could do something about global warming and provide material benefits to the population in the process.
There are actually at least two different parties inside the Democratic Party. The party establishment indeed “would rather have first-class seats going down with the Titanic, rather than change the course of the ship “, as Sanders said, while their liberal fans want to feel good for no particular reason. Especially young and poor people from all backgrounds would like to actually change something, and as Ocasio-Cortez said: “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.”
The best thing about the Republican Party that may be disintegrating would be that it allowed the Democratic Party to split.