I will not presume to put myself in the place of a Muslim, African American, or woman of color. That Donald Trump is now the president elect has sent a clear message to anybody not a native born white male. “You are not welcome in the United States.” Nevertheless, the Iranian American scholar Reza Aslan, who wrote a pretty good book on Jesus, not only has it wrong. The very last thing we need is more fear and more identity politics. His response is representative of a cynical liberal elite who hope to maintain their power in the aftermath of a catastrophic loss for which they have nobody to blame but themselves. While the Democratic Party may once again recapture the White House, they are no longer the party of John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. They are finished as a progressive force in American history.
A close presidential election where a right-wing extremist beat an unpopular corporate Democrat? We’ve seen this movie before. In fact, it played very recently. In November of 2000, when George W. Bush narrowly edged out Al Gore for president, it was a disaster for the Democratic Party, and eventually for everybody in the United States, but it was also an opportunity. Only a year before, a small, but very militant American left had run the World Trade Organization out of Seattle. Americans had put the loathsome Bush/Cheney regime in the White House. They had also repudiated the equally loathsome Clinton/Gore regime that had given us NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall. The now discredited Democratic Party struck back furiously, not against the Republicans, but against Ralph Nader, transforming the once beloved consumer advocated into a political pariah, sending out a message to any potential successor. Attempt to organize outside the Democratic Party and we will destroy you.
The eventual outcome, eight years of George W. Bush followed by eight years of Barack Obama – essentially Al Gore with more charisma – was by no means a foregone conclusion. After Jim Jeffords, the Republican Senator from Vermont switched his party affiliation to “Independent” the Republicans lost control of the Senate. From January to September of 2001, George W. Bush was a laughing stock. There was every indication that he would be a one term president. We all know what happened next. The terrorist attacks of September 11 couldn’t have worked out better for the Bush/Cheney regime if they had planned it themselves. Suddenly the Republicans had exactly what they needed to ram their right-wing extremist agenda down our throat, fear. It was fear that gave us the Patriot Act. It was fear that let the NSA spy on us outside of the rule of law. It was fear that gave us the Bush-era torture/surveillance state, Gitmo, the Invasion of Iraq, and those massive tax cuts for the rich that destroyed whatever good had trickled down to the people from the tech bubble of the 1990s.
Through all of it, while the Democratic Party continued to behave disgracefully, the American people stood up and resisted. As Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton voted to support Bush on the invasion, and eventual destruction, of Iraq. On February 15, 2003, however, half a million people defied the Bloomberg administration to join the largest world-wide protest in history. The very next year, in the Summer of 2004, as many, or perhaps more, people came to New York to protest the Republican National Convention. It was a crowd so large that the NYPD needed to preemptively arrest and trump up charges on thousands of people in order to keep the demonstrations out of the corporate media. Fear, and yet another horrible, charisma impaired Democratic Party candidate allowed George W. Bush to win a second term as President, but his legacy was toast. His attempts to privatize Social Security failed. His pathetically inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina destroyed Karl Rove’s plan to bring more African Americans into the Republican Party. His intervention in the Terri Schiavo affair broke the rising power of the evangelicals he had funneled federal money to with his “faith based” initiatives and abstinence only sex education. The Iraqi Resistance did the rest. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will forever be remembered as war criminals and incompetents.
Then what happened? How did we come full-circle right back to the year 2000? How did yet another right wing extremist in the form of Donald Trump beat yet another despised corporate Democrat in the form of Hillary Clinton in yet another close presidential election?
The problem was not a lack of resistance to George W. Bush. It was a lack of audacity. Democratic Party elites, who saw how well the Bush/Cheney regime had used fear, decided they could use it for themselves. Bush, they argued, was not just another Republican President. Rather, he was a break with history, a terrifying religious extremist who had preemptively invaded Iraq – an invasion the Democrats supported – legalized torture, and attempted to consolidate power in the “unitary executive.” The Democrats were right about George W. Bush. He was a terrifying religious extremist and dangerous would-be tyrant. Sadly, for the American people, the Democrats never lived up to their own word. We responded to their appeal. We gave the Democrats back the Senate and the House of Representatives in 2006. We gave them back the White House in 2008, and we waited for them to bring the Bush/Cheney war criminals to justice. They did just the opposite. No sooner did Nancy Pelosi become the very first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives then she declared impeachment to be “off the table.” No sooner did Barack Obama become the first African American President of the United State then he moved to to protect not only George W. Bush but everybody involved in the Bush torture/surveillance state. We’d been had. The Democrats had co-opted our resistance and delivered our country back into the hands of the corporations and the 1%.
Let’s not make the same mistake again. If Keith Ellison and Bernie Sanders want to break with the Democrats and start the long, painful process of building a genuine worker’s party, they should be welcomed with open arms. If they attempt to lead us down the same road the Democrats did from 2001 to 2008, they should simply be ignored. Now is not the time for fear, or for divide and conquer identity politics. The buffoonish Donald Trump is a combination of the wort parts of Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan. He has an agenda that combines tax cuts for the rich, savage cuts in public services for the working class, police repression and scapegoating for immigrants and the poor, but he will not act from a position of strength. Not only did he lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, his very presence in the White House depends on mobilizing fear and racism, upon rejecting the support of anybody not a native born white male. Donald Trump can and will be beaten. We can’t afford to make the same mistake we made during the Bush years. It’s time, at long last, to break with the Democratic Party, their cynical “dive and conquer” politics, and their neoliberal corporate agenda. What we need is not fear, but audacity.
“De l’audace, encore de l’audace,” the great French Revolutionary leader Georges Danton once said on the eve of an invasion by the reactionary powers of Europe, “toujours de l’audace et la Patrie sera sauvée.”