What should the Democratic Party do after the Trump victory?

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15 November
16:55
November
2016

The debate within the Democratic Party for a long while now has been between a centrist wing which the Clintons typified, and a more liberal wing. That liberal wing, led by Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, is now arguing that this election outcome proves that the supposed moderate strategy which would appeal to suburban voters has run its course, in terms of political efficacy, and that what’s needed is policies that persuade working class voters that the Democratic Party will fight for their interests.

This might mean an agenda of fair trade rather than free trade – so, trade agreements that protect the rights of labour and the environment. A commitment to universal health care that’s not just the corporate model of Obamacare, but rather a single-payer system like Canada’s – all it would essentially require is extending Medicare and Medicaid to cover everyone. A commitment to substantially reduce the cost of college tuition, so students from poorer and working class backgrounds can afford university. That was espoused by Bernie Sanders during the primaries, and could be embraced by the party as a whole.

“It’s going to make your head spin, how far the Republicans take the country to the right in the next two years”

The pragmatists have suffered a massive defeat, and their strategy doesn’t look so pragmatic anymore. The left wing of the party is going to assert itself with a lot of confidence. In terms of leadership, Bernie Sanders, having won 22 states and 48 percent of pledged delegates, has a lot of credibility within the party. Elizabeth Warren is well-regarded in the party. I would suspect that those two have the greatest moral credibility at this point. Hillary Clinton’s political career is probably over, although I suppose it’s conceivable that, since she won the popular vote, that she could try to come back and be the nominee in four years, especially if there’s a Trump debacle. But it’s an uphill battle for a losing nominee.

If there’s a reason why Hillary Clinton lost so badly, it’s the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was identified with Bill Clinton, and further trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which now looks like a dead letter, but which was espoused by Hillary Clinton as one of the best trade deals ever before she backed off of it.

Up and down the income scale, white voters voted for Trump. It wasn’t just the white working class. But the Democrats, historically, have had the white working class, which has been distrustful of economic elites, and distrustful of Republican policies. The loss of that is decisive, because that’s what Democrats need in order to win in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Aside from Ohio, those states haven’t been lost by the Democrats since the Reagan era. In order to win those back, they’ve got to have policies – and people – which are viewed as trustworthy. You need a left populism to offset the right populism.

In terms of opposing Trump right now, it’s a hopeless situation. He not only has the House, the Senate and the Presidency, he will have the Supreme Court. They have an extremely precise and planned agenda, and it’s going to make your head spin how far they take the country to the right in the next two years. And it’s going to hurt the white working classes who voted for Trump worst.

The Democrats can be a voice in Congress. They can speak out on the talk shows and all that. They can use what positions they have to offer a moral resistance. But in practical terms they’re going to be relatively ineffectual, unless fissures develop in the GOP which can be exploited.

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