There are serious ruptures within both the Democratic and Republican parties. The fringe left is at war with traditionalists within the Democratic Party while the “alt-right” movement within the Republican Party has virtually declared war on establishment Republicans. The positive spin on this is that there is a real battle over ideas and ideals within the two major parties that define American representative democracy. The negative consequences reveal a polarization of the American electorate that threatens any pretense to moral leadership at a time in history when it is sorely needed. If this vacuum is allowed to persist who is going to step up and fill it? And if America bows out or is incapable of leading does it represent our own decline? These are certainly momentous times.
The intra-party battles are fierce indeed. While Republicans are struggling with their own collective identity they are squandering an opportunity to define the course of public policy for generations to come. In fact, the rupture currently playing out in what is derisively referred to as a unified government, that is one where the the two houses of Congress and the executive branch are under the control of a single party, has rendered the Republican Party for all intents and purposes impotent. The rupture between the executive and legislative branches is intensifying while the president and his administration are under a serous investigation that could lead to criminal prosecution.
But you can be impotent and dangerous at the same time. Yes, the White House still can mold public policies around executive orders and administrative and regulatory changes that have significant impacts upon the nation, as excellently outlined in John Nichols’ latest book Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to THE MOST DANGEROUS PEOPLE IN AMERICA here, but these pyrrhic victories will by the grace of God be only short-term and lacking the permanence of actual legislation. But they are not insignificant or unimportant, and they are certain to lead to adverse impacts on large numbers of American citizens. The recently announced intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program could lead to the deportation of 800,000 people.
Placing in positions of power senior level political appointees in federal government agencies and departments whose ostensible purpose is to sabotage the missions of those very organizations can have disastrous consequences. But this is not altogether a new phenomena. I have served three administrations in four Cabinet agencies and witnessed the ebb and flow of turnover from one presidency to the next, and there is a resilience that protects the administrative state that former Trump advisor Steve Bannon so assiduously is trying to deconstruct. It is still disruptive and adds to the current dysfunction but relatively short-term.
I do not want to minimize the degree to which incompetence, lack of knowledge, and inexperience are seen under the current administration as qualifiers for placement rather than impediments, however we have seen this before. But the real power struggle is not in the convoluted visions of agency missions as much as it is in the murky lack of vision with respect to the direction of the country in a global environment fraying at the edges. What is at stake in the current scrum is the soul of our democratic system of governance and derogation of leadership on the world stage.
At its core, what does the Republican party stand for? Do they play footsies with neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Confederate sympathizers? Do they favor health care policies that deprive 20-30 million Americans of access to it? Do they favor deportation of 800,000 Dreamers, here through no fault of their own yet striving to be productive members of society? Do they favor a massive infrastructure program that employs millions of workers and fixes important public services in our society? Do they favor tax relief for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans at the expense of those struggling to make it from paycheck to paycheck? Do they believe in encouraging maximum voter participation or in restrictions that limit participation?
We need a national debate and dialogue on these and other important issues to flesh out where it is Trump and his Republican Party want to take the nation. Every day we fail to elucidate a vision for the country we fall further and further behind the rest of the world. We need to switch from campaigning to governing, and quickly as the mid-terms will be upon us soon. But if they are battling each other on what they stand for the prospects for leadership do not look good. This is supposed to be figured out through the election, but serious doubts on the integrity of the election are fueled by conflicting explanations and a deluge of untruths that have raised serious questions about foreign interference. We are in the midst of a crisis that places our democracy in the crosshairs of a lack of confidence.
But Democrats have further muddied the waters because of a lack of vision as well. We need to know what it is the Democrats stand for. The lack of a coherent, consistent, and definitive position on important public policies have dogged my party for years. In a recent article by Bruce Bartlett entitled “Why I’m Not a Democrat” here, the veteran Republican policy “insider” who now qualifies himself as an independent voter argues that Democrats spend their time and money opposing Republicans rather than touting their convictions. Hence he cannot bring himself to align with either of the two major parties. We need to convince folks like this that the strength of our policy positions is worth signing up for.
The internecine battle being waged in the Democratic Party pits establishment types who have long tempered aggressive policy positions for fear of upsetting the delicate balance within the party against a vibrant and energetic progressive movement. The continuing rift between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will be given renewed vigor with the release of Clinton’s book What Happened next week. It has been reported that Clinton claims that Senator Sanders, who is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, is partly responsible for her loss and entered the campaign to disrupt the Democratic Party. This is not helpful in unifying the party and will only fan the flames of internal discontent.
I supported Sanders’ primary bid but made my position quite clear at the time that I would fully support the Democratic nominee in the general election. Being actively involved in local Democratic politics, I encouraged all of my progressive friends, including many within organizations I served in like the Americans for Democratic Action, the Malibu Democratic Club, Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains, and in numerous blogs on HuffPost and the LA Progressive that we must be prepared to support Hillary if she prevailed in the primary.
Unfortunately, I did not succeed in convincing many who were Bernie supporters. In fact at one point I even had to contend with progressive Democrats who proclaimed in an open meeting that Trump would be better than Clinton. This was more than I could take, especially since the chairman of the organization stated that he was voting for Jill Stein, and I promptly resigned from the group. So folks, how is that working out for you?
What is missing from the equation is not so much leadership as statesmanship, which requires vision and wisdom. If we have the right principles and policies statesmanship will follow. I have often been accosted over my years in politics with the ultimate defeatist non sequitur, well there really is no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, to which I launch into a mini tirade, because it simply is not true.
At the core of the defense of a difference is the following: Democrats believe that government is an important solution to our societal problems; Republicans believe that government is the problem. Essentially Democrats believe that the government can help rectify flaws in the free market while Republicans worship at it’s altar. Plain and simple. No system is perfect but we must attempt to remedy the cracks that allow people to fall through them. The basic debate must be around the appropriate size of government, not whether it is needed.
If you accept this premise your decision should be a relatively easy one based upon your ideological predilections. And for those who do not wish to commit but rather wish to leave their choices open depending upon the candidates running must accept that in many instances you lose the option of determining who is in the final running due to state restrictions on participation in primary elections. Once again that is a decision that is up to you. But what is needed is maximum participation not withdrawal, voluntary or otherwise.
Greg Palast has documented systematic voter suppression that has proved determinative in many elections over a significant period of time. Soon he will be releasing an updated version of his book and documentary The Best Democracy Money Can Buy here, in which he takes a look at the recent election where slim margins in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin helped secure Trump’s election.
Under any circumstance it is vital to encourage maximum participation in the electoral process because in the end you must live with the results. Many of our democratic principles are currently under siege and we must reintroduce them into the national dialogue over who we are and what we stand for. This is why I am a Democrat.