Senator Bernie Sanders, standard-bearer for the left wing of the Democratic Party, was in the New York Times on Friday marshaling the long march back into national relevance for the Democratic Party. His attempt to recapture the public imagination comes with heaps of Trumpist populism and Clintonian authority. The nation cries out for political guidance, and Bernie will play Pied Piper in the coming years to bring a younger generation back into the fold of the parties responsible for that outcry.
Bernie has proven deft at harnessing class-conscious rhetoric toward the ends of bourgeois politics. He correctly asserts that “[o]ver the last 30 years, too many Americans were sold out by their corporate bosses,” failing to mention that in the last 30 years, Democrats have held the Presidency for a slim majority of the time. He neglects to lay blame on the Clinton administration for its lopsided multinational trade deals (exacerbated under Bush II), or for Gramm-Leach-Bliley, the financial reform act which enabled the 2008 financial collapse. Bernie is yet another false prophet, pushing the gospel of opposing the establishment while representing one flank of it. Had Trump conceded, a similar op-ed with his byline would likely have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, or at least on Breitbart.
Bernie issues direct challenges to the Trump administration in this masterpiece of willful-absentmindedness: “Will he have the courage to stand up to Wall Street, work to break up the “too big to fail” financial institutions and demand that big banks invest in small businesses and create jobs in rural America and inner cities? Or, will he appoint another Wall Street banker to run the Treasury Department and continue business as usual? Will he, as he promised during the campaign, really take on the pharmaceutical industry and lower the price of prescription drugs?”
Ever lovable, if forgetful, Sanders makes no mention of the fact that Obama’s Treasury Secretaries have been neoliberal alumni of Citigroup and the International Monetary Fund. That Obama broke up no banks deemed too big to fail and indeed signed a financial regulatory law, Dodd-Frank, which explicitly enshrines their existence. He fails to mention that Obama’s health care reform has brought and continues to bring Big Pharma many billions in new revenues thanks to the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying. Bernie evades entirely the plight of the rural poor under the watchful eye of President Obama. This reality fuels the extant racial animus of many rural whites against a President whom Glenn Beck famously claimed “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.” And to add injury to insult, Sanders continues the long tradition of liberal capitulation to fascism, saying, “I will keep an open mind to see what ideas Mr. Trump offers and when and how we can work together.” Perhaps Bernie has also forgotten the previous 18 months of Trump’s vitriol regarding women, minorities, immigrants, and other marginalized groups. The ideas are already out.
Promises of change come as readily before each national election as the status quo afterward returns. Obama’s revolutionary promises became reformist policies, indistinguishable from Bush II, if not heightened in their class character. Obama's agenda reveals all we need to know of what Clinton II might have delivered. None of this is to forgive the blatant sins of the Republicans, who have elevated a neofascist strongman to the level of godhead. His promises decidedly populist, his rhetoric undeniably oppressive, Trump's policies will only benefit the capitalists and bourgeoisie as assuredly as the last four Republican Presidents’ did.
After the humiliation of the Clinton campaign’s tactical and strategic errors, and decades of the Democratic and Republican Parties failing to meaningfully address the concerns of marginalized communities, we must look for answers elsewhere. We will find these answers in revolutionary theory, and certainly not in the runner-up to the runner-up, lest we fall into the trap the Democrats are now laying for us. “In the coming days, I will also provide a series of reforms to reinvigorate the Democratic Party,” Bernie emptily promises. It is clear in this phrase that the ideas are meant to revitalize a Party and recoup its losses. Not to revitalize the working class, but to re-empower the political class. These ideas will certainly sound nice coming from a Party with no power to enact them, just as Trump’s outsider perspective sounded soothing when not rooted in political ability.
Now is the time for those who wish to see change in our political system to recognize the abject failure of Democrats and Republicans to live up to their continual promises to workers, and for workers seeking an outsider perspective to look away from insiders portraying outsiders, as Bernie and Trump unbelievably attempt. As assuredly as President-elect Trump will gut the social safety net and deliver huge tax breaks for his wealthy peers, so too will the Democratic Party continue to serve the interests of Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies, large insurers, and energy companies, who gatekeep their path back to power. Democrats will not bite the hands that feed them – even if Bernie spends four years promising they will, finally, this time, hold them accountable.
The time is ripe for workers, long left in both parties’ distant rear view, to band together outside the machine that manufactures false hope. Do not join, or rejoin, the Democratic Party, no matter what their curmudgeonly spokesman sells you. They are failing, and in their absence the Republican Party will doom itself by governing as it sees fit. Workers should abandon the Republican Party's proud plutocrats to govern like business-owners - they will lose all popular support in doing so. To build real, anti-establishment power, join a socialist organization and develop solutions outside the bourgeois system. Study revolutionary theory and tactics. Develop solutions to protect the marginalized people whom Trump’s administration (and followers) will target openly, just as Obama’s administration (and followers) targeted undocumented people and foreign citizens without admission. Build solidarity in your own community, rather than listening to the supposed-saviors of the working class hoping to lure us into a four-year struggle to elect the next Clinton, or Obama, or Sanders, or Bush, or Trump.
Shawn Fleek (he / they) is an indigenous rights and environmental justice advocate and organizer, a recovering liberal Democrat, and writer living in Portland, Oregon.