Democrats Must Move Left or Die




In the early hours of Nov. 9, Donald J. Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election. This was a result completely unexpected by most of the media and the Democratic Party. In the midst of all of the fallout, supporters of the Democratic candidate have sought desperately to find a reason for this loss. In some cases, this has manifested in blaming the progressive wing of the party and third party voters, instead of looking inward and seeing how the party itself is responsible. The hollowness of this argument becomes apparent when one sees the glaring faults of a distant, conservative Democratic leadership. This election is less a story of the left abandoning a “Never Trump” coalition, and more a story of the failure of the Democratic Party to inspire an opposition to the rising far-right by not countering it with a bold, progressive vision.

To make a more concrete point, there is no doubt in my mind that, had he been victorious in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders would have been elected the 45th President of the United States. The evidence for this lies in an analysis of the states that truly cost Clinton the election; namely Michigan and Wisconsin. Both in all the major polls for this election cycle and every Presidential election since 1988, these states were reliably “blue”; no analyst thought Trump had a chance at taking them. And yet on election night, Trump stood victorious.

Despite winning these states, Trump won them with a similar vote count that Romney had lost them with. According to results from the Associated Press, Trump received 2.2 million votes in Michigan in 2016, compared to 2.1 million for Romney in 2012. Similarly, Trump received 1.4 million in Wisconsin,  while Romney received almost the same. Additionally, both Trump and Clinton received far fewer votes than Barack Obama received in each state (2.5 million in Michigan and 1.6 million in Wisconsin) when he won both in 2012.

It is logical to assume, therefore, that a candidate that could have inspired greater Democratic turnout in these largely working class states (along with other states won by Obama and lost by Clinton, such as Ohio) would have stood a far greater chance at winning them. Bernie Sanders, or any progressive Democrat, would have done far better in Rust Belt swing states, as they benefit from a populist message that does not denigrate minorities and other marginalized groups, as Trump’s right-wing faux-populism does. Winning these states would have meant winning the country, the defeat of the Republican Party, and perhaps a re-establishment of a  Democratic Senate majority.

This could be criticized as “Monday-morning quarterbacking,” but there is an important lesson to be learned from this disaster. The future of a vital Democratic Party lies not in the centrism epitomized by the Clintons, but in the left-populism of the Sanders wing. The failure of the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections should be no surprise when looking at recent electoral history. A similar crushing result came in the 2014 midterms, when the Democratic Party lost its control of the Senate due to historically low turnout- a pathetic 36 percent. Senate Democrats ran hard to the right, not putting forward a progressive vision, but instead critiquing from the right what small progress had been made by the Obama administration in six years. Instead of winning over centrist voters, they alienated their own base and failed to inspire them to turn out to vote. If they had set out an agenda that expressed an intention to pursue progressive reforms and framed the debate within the context of Republican obstructionism, the senate majority may have been maintained. The same is true for 2016.

After his victory, Donald Trump tweeted: “The forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again.” It is the imminent duty of leftists to see that these “forgotten men and women” are not scooped up by reactionary demagogues that prop-up the “establishment” while claiming to oppose it, but that they find their place in a grassroots progressive majority. In order to survive, the Democrats must take decisive action to reshape themselves into a political organization for the working class. That means supporting left-wing, social-democratic measures. It means transforming itself into a party that supports a single payer healthcare system, and the nationalization of the banks as public utilities. The Democrats need to commit themselves to building up the power of unions and breaking with failed neo-liberal trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. Simultaneously, they also must do all in their power to protect marginalized groups such as Muslims,  people of color and queer folks, as they are at their most vulnerable in Trump’s America. Only an intersectional left-wing coalition of all dispossessed groups can cut down the rise of right-wing populism. If the Democrats refuse to implement these changes, then the left must break from the party and build new organizations that will actually challenge the status quo and further the march of human progress.

A decisive move to the left, and a committal to a platform that fights for the interest of all marginalized groups is vital to defeating the forces of white supremacy, misogyny and economic stratification that have been empowered by the victory of Trump and a Republican congress. In this new fight, the Democrats have two options: move to the left towards a progressive vision of justice and equality, or die.