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How Much Democratic Cooperation Is Collaboration?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 11:18
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(Before It's News)

Cops with attitude in Donald Trump's world (source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

A reasonably short piece, but one that poses a key question for our “next six months” watch over the revival or demise of the Democratic Party. As I wrote earlier:

America is in a pre-revolutionary state. If it weren't for the DNC, its manipulation of the process, and the many closed (to independents) primaries it ran, Sanders would have won. Ask yourself, perhaps as you watch the first three minutes of the clip above, how someone who can fill football stadiums was beaten by someone who can't fill a high-school gymnasium. …

No matter who won the general election in 2016, Establishment Clinton or faux–Change Agent Trump, it wouldn't have taken much under either administration to tip the balance toward revolt, since under either the suffering were going to keep suffering beneath the boot of the bankers and CEO class. Only a Sanders presidency would have lowered those odds significantly. It certainly won't take much to tip the balance toward revolution, with Donald Trump grinding people's gears.

Our job: Make sure when Trump voters' gears are being ground, we offer highly popular Sanders Wing policies to them, and nothing else.

I think Establishment Democrats have at most six months from now to surrender to the Sanders faction (which, as the big losers of 2016, they should do). If they don't surrender, they will make themselves an irrelevant minority party for the rest of this generation. Or until full-blown climate chaos hits and no one on the globe talks elections. Or both.

You heard it here first. Six months max for the Party to reform itself. Sinon ça, le déluge.

I said “surrender” above for a reason. Because I think if the Democratic Establishment doesn't voluntarily surrender — if they put up a big and obvious fight (for example, by elevating Chris Van Hollen to DSCC Chair, which they've done, or failing to elevate Keith Ellison to DNC Chair, which both Clinton forces and Obama forces are fighting) — they will be tarred forever, or into the next generation, as hopelessly corrupt, at least in Sanders supporters' eyes.

Which means that for anyone tempted by Sanders-style change, the answers to what tortures the nation will have to come from somewhere else. A Sanders wing split from the Party is possible. Much more likely, though, is chaos in the streets, a running urban mélée between the black, brown and angry white #NeverTrumpists — and Trump-branded tanks and Trump-armored “cops with attitude.”

To avoid what may will look like a modern, asymmetric civil war, we need to look carefully at the Democratic Party as it adapts to Trump. Will it reform itself or continue to serve the same moneyed interest that the Republicans serve (though a different faction of it)?

In other words, how will the Democratic Party act in the Age of Trump? How should it act?

Bringing a Butter Knife to a Gunfight

The bottom line question for Democrats, with Trump and the Republicans in full control, can be expressed this way: How much cooperation is collaboration?

I want to offer first this meditation by David Dayen, and then some thoughts of my own. The core of Dayen's piece is a look at Obama's appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, and how, no matter what you think about Garland (I was strongly opposed to him), the nomination was stolen by the Republicans from Obama, who, as sitting President, rightly “owned” the appointment.

Dayen's question is similar to mine — What should the Democrats do in response to such a blatant, high-value theft? After airing the particulars of the Garland case, he writes more generally (emphasis mine throughout):

The fact that Democrats prefer to maintain governance norms, even while Republicans break them time and again, inescapably pushes the policymaking apparatus of the country to the right. …

Keep those two concepts in mind:

  • Democrats prefer to maintain (be limited by) governance norms.
  • Republicans, to gain power, break them all the time.

This is more than a Merrick Garland problem. This is in general a guaranteed Democratic strategy for losing — all the time. Dayen continues:

Republicans have absolutely no problem breaking any norm in their path to power. They turned the filibuster from a seldom-used tool to a routine exercise. Tom DeLay saw advantage in doing a second redistricting in Texas in 2003 to pick up extra GOP seats, even though states normally redistrict every 10 years; he succeeded. Congress typically passes the debt limit without comment, but Republicans took the country to the brink of its first default, extracting concessions in the process. A minority of the Senate prevented the confirmation for years of any director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau simply because they didn’t like the agency. The opposition party would never attempt to conduct foreign policy that differed from the president’s, until Republican senators tried it before the Iran deal.

And, of course, the year-long blockade of Garland, who has not even received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, violated a long-standing norm.

He concludes:

There are consequences to one party being more aggressive about defying governing norms. If liberal legislation can’t break a Republican filibuster, but Democrats don’t offer the same resistance, the playing field is tilted to conservative policy. If Republicans use any maneuver to get appointees in place, and Democrats don’t, conservatives become more likely to be ensconced at executive agencies. If Republicans are willing to blackmail the government and Democrats aren’t, they get more concessions from that blackmail. If Republicans use gerrymandering and voter suppression and every available tool more sharply than Democrats, we get conservative government even if we vote for a liberal one.

Democrats, in short, bring a butter knife to a gunfight.

Forget the point about enabling “conservative” policy. It's about enabling Donald Trump's policy. There are “consequences” (Dayen's word) to that as well, and they go far beyond the policies themselves, to the life or death of the Democratic Party and, as noted above, the face and shape of the inevitable resistance to Trump in this country.

Will the nation's resistance to Trump continue to be electoral? Or will the voters abandon elections (and the Democrats) and take increasingly to the streets? The extent to which the Democratic Party performs the role of real opposition may determine the answer to those questions.

When Does “Cooperation” Become Collaboration? And What Should We Do About It?

In order to begin to tease out an answer, I want to make three points, raise three more sets of questions. (I'll offer an actual answer later.)

First, Democrats will cooperate with Trump by their actions and by their inactions. Support for Trump's deeply flawed infrastructure bill, for example, is cooperation by action. Negotiating with Trump to get a “less deeply flawed” infrastructure bill, then helping Republicans pass it, is also cooperation by action.

Are these actions also collaboration, in the fully-loaded, WWII-sense of the word?

Filibustering the AG appointment of racist Jeff Sessions is obstruction by action. Not filibustering Jeff Sessions is cooperation by inaction. Is not filibustering Sessions — or any of the other horrible, filibusterable, appointments that Trump will make — also collaboration, in the fully-loaded sense of the word?

Sanders supporters who didn't vote for Clinton — will they see attempts at cooperation as collaboration, and discard the Party as useless? (Early indications are, by the way, that they already do and have.)

Second, the next problem Democrats face is this — there will be literally dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of Trump actions and legislation that must be opposed to the bitter end, opposed just on principle alone, opposed just because the consequences will be so bad. It's certainly true that many stalwart Democrats will oppose them all, but again, there will be hundreds of these. Will enough of Democrats oppose them, and will enough Democrats oppose them all, to be and to look like an effective party-in-opposition?

In other words, will the Party as a whole be willing to undertake that level of obstruction, if that level of obstruction is warranted? After all, if Trump and the Republicans are as terrible as many people anticipate, a truly obstructionist Democratic Party will soon look like Mitch McConnell's Republicans under Obama. Do the Democrats as a whole have the (unbought) stomach for that kind of fight?

More: Even if the Party “wants” to obstruct to this degree (“wants” is an odd word when you're talking about people who hoover up money like they do), can they?

Starting in 2017 the Republicans will likely control 52 seats in the Senate, plus have the vice-president's tying vote. (I'm assuming the Republican will win the runoff election in Louisiana.) This means that if only eight Democrats vote with the Republicans, any filibuster can be broken. Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill look like they're already on board the Trump “bipartisan” train, with many others queued up. Ron Wyden wanted to work with Paul Ryan (yes, Paul Ryan) to “reform” Medicare. Thirteen Democratic senators voted to pass Fast Track, two of them in exchange for passage of the gift to Boeing known as the Import-Export Bank. Money trading favors for money. One of those two, Patty Murray, was and is still in Senate leadership.

Democrats always seem to find just enough “bipartisan” votes when both parties' bipartisan money is on the line. Corporate-funded Democrats (some call them “Schumercrats”) may, for all the next four years, decide play “whose turn is it this time to betray the working class, so the rest of us don't have to?”

Yet if they do continue to play this game, there certainly will be continued electoral consequences. Betraying the working people's interests for the sake of campaign donors, time after time, not only makes the whole party look complicit, it makes the whole party vulnerable to even more of the Sanders-supporter hatred they're already subject to. Again, Democrats lost in the worker-heavy Rust Belt for a reason: voter anger. A party that brands itself as complicit with anti-worker pro-Trump policies will not be seen as a solution when the non-racist Trump voters wake up.

And frankly, Democrats are in the absolute governmental minority now. At what point do Sanders-supporting voters give up entirely on the Democrats as a vehicle for Sanders-style change and make them a permanent minority?

Your read my bottom line above: “Six months max for the Party to reform itself. Sinon ça, le déluge.” Democrats as a party may be on a very short leash.

Finally, how should we deal with Democratic “collaborators,” the Joe Manchins and Claire McCaskills (and Ron Wydens and Tim Kaines) of the world, should they stray from the pro-worker reservation? Should they be left alone, to live and dine large on their high-table DC status, because someone like Manchin, for example, can only be replaced by a Republican?

Or should they be sent off to K Street regardless of the price, as a message to “our” new minority party to get its act together or stay in the minority forever?

I'll offer my thoughts later on all these questions, plus a much larger one, in a later, longer piece. Keep in mind though, this reticence of mine, this willingness to consider, is not is shared by everyone. Others — many others — have already made up their minds, starting with the 2016 election. Here's Caitlin Johnstone, for example, with a meme that looks back at that trainwreck Clinton loss with this comment:

“We told them the choices — 'Bernie Or Bust.' They chose 'Or Bust'” (source).

That's not me smiling that evil smile. But the feeling is shared by a whole lot of others. Just to give you a taste, the title of the source piece is “Yes, We Cost Hillary The Election. You're Welcome.” You don't have to share this thought to recognize it as a critical problem for Democrats. This is the crossroads they face in the Age of Trump. This is the anger the Party is up against.

When does cooperation become collaboration? How much collaboration is too much for Sanders voters and non-voters who helped them to defeat? The Party need to decide soon. I give it six months, and then the book on it will be closed, perhaps for for a very long time.


“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis


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