Tikkun Magazine



What Will be the Future of the Democratic Party?

The 2016 election may be the most confounding political event in living memory. And the need to understand it is urgent. That a candidate so obviously lacking in virtue, principal, and understanding of the world beyond his own narrow ambitions should break out from the large field of Republican contenders and win the nomination speaks volumes about the failure of the Republican establishment to offer a credible vision for America’s future. That so many Americans would choose an outcome that is so obviously to their detriment calls for an explanation.

And on the other hand, that the tone-deaf Democratic Party establishment considered Hillary Clinton entitled to their loyalty may at first be understandable. But ignoring the unparalleled enthusiasm engendered by Bernie Sanders, then putting every possible obstacle in his way, and actually plotting to sabotage his campaign, revealed a very undemocratic mentality at the core of the party establishment.

And how should we evaluate the American people? Are we smart enough to recognize that we are losing our social solidarity and confronted with very serious contradictions in our society, but too dumb to recognize where positive change may lie? Are we incapable of recognizing the people and policies that could change what really needs to change?

Now that the choice has been made, we will see the wisdom of the electorate (or the lack of it). Will Donald Trump, for instance, prove to have a coherent set of values and an adequate understanding of the world, or will he fall under the influence of corporate lobbyists, or figures with an even more authoritarian bent than himself? What happens if the Trump train shows itself to have no positive destination, or worse yet, goes off the rails?

Donald Trump may be a vulgar, narcissistic, and immature human being, but the extreme degree to which the major media focused on and even exaggerated his faults will only accrue to their discredit. From the beginning they gave him more time than he deserved; we were treated to a moral train wreck in slow motion. I remember the prescient words of my own personal trainer, who admits to knowing nothing about politics, saying that since no one trusts the media, a lot of people were going to automatically think there must be something good about Donald Trump.

Actually, Trump’s critique of NAFTA and the TPP are anti-globalization policies that most progressives would agree with. His call for the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall act is, on the face of it, more progressive than Hillary’s positions on financial reform. And finally, his much-maligned lack of antagonism toward Russia may be a more sensible and humane policy than the demonization of Russia, a very alarming and unjustified belligerence that only neo-cons could love. Hillary added her shrill voice to the chorus of militarists who want nothing less than full-spectrum dominance by the American Empire. In this regard, Donald Trump was almost a model of modesty and fair play.

The Democratic Party misjudged not only the so-called “basket of deplorables,” but the American people as a whole. So self-satisfied in their granting complete entitlement to Hillary Clinton, ignoring the lukewarm reception given to her by the public, ignoring the many reasons for which she has lost the trust of many people, ignoring, too, the tens of thousands of people who right up to the day before the election were willing to stand in line for hours on cold nights to hear Donald Trump. Perhaps, the bottom line for many Americans was that Donald Trump represented change (at any cost) and Hillary represented more of the same.

And why is it that no one in journalism or the media ever brought up Hillary’s complicity in some of the greatest tragedies of our time? The fact that the greatest refugee problem since at least the Second World War was entirely generated by poorly conceived interventions in the Middle East by American power. Much of it began with the Afghan and Iraq wars, which President Bush initiated, and Hillary supported for a long time. But even more significantly, she was the primary cheerleader for the attack on Libya, which led to the destruction of civil society there and opened the floodgates of African emigration from the coast of Libya which had until that time been effectively policed by Qaddafi. Hillary, as Secretary of State, also lent American support for Islamic extremists in Syria, which has been the cause of millions more refugees.

Furthermore, Hillary has stood with the shameful record of the Obama administration toward whistleblowers. Courageous people like Manning, Snowden, Kiriakou, and Assange who risked so much, have paid such a high price for bringing to light facts which should never have been secret. Condemned, imprisoned, confined, or exiled, this is how the Democratic (and Republican) establishment treats truth-tellers, while the policy-makers who approved illegal surveillance, torture, war crimes, backing Islamic terrorists in Syria, and covert operations yet to be revealed wear suits of respectability.

But to return to the aftermath of the election — two days before the election Congressman Alan Grayson initiated a poll. “If the Presidential candidates were Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump, for whom would you vote?” The results were: Sanders 56%, Trump 44%. Grayson reported: “That would have been the largest presidential victory since 1984 (Reagan vs. Mondale), and the largest Democratic victory since 1964 (Johnson vs. Goldwater). Bernie Sanders would have won more than 400 electoral votes. He would have swept every Atlantic state except South Carolina. He would have prevailed in every state bordering Mexico, including Texas, which the Democrats haven’t won since 1976.”

Bernie ran a heroic campaign. In June 2015 about 16 months before the election, I witnessed the effect of one of his earliest speeches at a time when his popularity was said to be about 2%. I felt in my soul and said to anyone who would listen, that Bernie can touch the hearts of the American people; he can be our next president, unless it is stolen from him. There are many ways that elections and primaries can be rigged or stolen — some of them within the bounds of legality, and some of them definitely not. Major discrepancies in exit polling data compared to final results always favored one candidate, and one candidate alone: Hillary Clinton. The outcomes in New York and California, particularly, raise questions that need to be answered.

His was not a perfect campaign, either — too much emphasis, perhaps, on socialist giveaways, which, by the way, is not really why people got excited about him. But anyone who sensed his authenticity — especially those who have watched him over decades fighting for the well-being of the average American, and making wise choices in foreign policy — knew that Bernie could be trusted to do the right thing. Up in the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont where Democrats are few and far between it was common at election times to see signs for Bernie and Bush in the front yards of farmers and the working poor. These hardscrabble conservatives understood that Bernie, to use that now so popular military expression, “had their back.”

Hillary, always the handmaiden of neo-liberalism, would have continued Obama’s subservience to the financial fraudulence of Wall Street. This is what the Democratic Party has become. The Democratic Party has become a partner to oligarchy, to neo-liberal economics, and to neo-con militarism. Even under the benign, gracious, and mild administration of Barack Obama bad things have happened: vicious and counterproductive drone attacks have multiplied; the relatively wise and moderate Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was removed without explanation and replaced with “liberal” neo-con, Ashton Carter; the financial fraud of the banksters has gone unpunished; fracking continues unabated despite local resistance; GMO and agribusiness lobbyists rule the Department of Agriculture claiming science is on their side, “science” they paid for; more whistleblowers have been prosecuted than in any previous administration; more weapons than ever have been sold, including to Saudi Arabia, which continues to use them to slaughter many thousands of innocent civilians in Yemen; the Ukraine was subjected to an illegal American-organized and financed coup, and eventually turned over to fascistic nationalists, GMO promoting agribusiness, and frackers, meanwhile blaming Russia for aggression in Crimea; while certain elements of the U.S. government continue to incite and threaten Russia, Iran, and China.

Meanwhile, those in denial of present realities still cling to the idea that the Democratic party has been the party of humane liberalism, progressive ideals, and the wishes of the vast majority of Americans. They congratulate themselves for the unwieldy and problematic Affordable Care Act, minor gains in environmental protection and alternative energies, and the relatively small cultural victories, the “boutique political issues” such as gay and transgender rights. And let us remember that the crown jewel of Hillary’s reign at the State Department, the Iran Nuclear Treaty, may have been an exaggerated solution to a nearly nonexistent problem: neither did United States intelligence nor any international watchdog agency actually accuse let alone prove Iran had a weapons program. Furthermore, the religious dictatorship of Iran, whatever one thinks of it, has always maintained that nuclear weapons are strictly against Islamic law and have no practical use anyway. The neo-con agenda, which aims at full-spectrum dominance in a uni-polar world, must always seek to create enemies to justify the growth of the military-industrial complex and its own twisted sense of purpose.

In the area of finance, the Democrats have failed to question the actualities of the Federal Reserve Bank, oblivious to the idea that it is an unconstitutional, and therefore illegal, privately owned monopoly that creates money merely by entering numbers in a computer and whose books remain un-audited and inaccessible the public. Most liberals seem to have no idea that without the Federal Reserve’s cooperation, the military-industrial complex could not proceed with its lavish expenditures, because the American people would not tolerate the cost to themselves, costs that are now hidden and paid for by the central bank’s capacity to supply as much money as the war machine needs. This is an area never mentioned by Democratic politicians, and yet it is at the heart of what is impoverishing Americans and enriching the .01%.

Americans are confused. They have the sense that something is really wrong, that great injustices are being perpetrated, that their lives and their futures are being taken from them, and not really knowing who to blame, not being able to sufficiently connect the dots, or connect any dots for that matter, many of them would rather hurl rocks through the window of the establishment for no good reason other than to register their protest. The so-called “deplorables” have voted against the deplorable policies of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Even though poll after poll reveals that the vast majority of Americans support what are basically progressive policies, too many Americans allow themselves to be coerced by fears, by scapegoating, by false patriotism and the delusions of American exceptionalism.

And the Democrats, for their part, need to not only clarify a progressive vision for this country, hammering hard on the oligarchy, the financial tyranny, the wastefulness of the military-industrial complex, the bogus and counterproductive “War on Terror.” These forces need to be confronted on the basis of both moral values and fiscal responsibility. Perhaps in this election Americans sensed that they had no real choice, and so a surprising number defiantly chose what even they realized was the nihilistic option. Other Americans, including those who voted for Trump, are not the enemy. The lack of empathy on both sides of the divide only contributes to further polarization.

The media has been blaming Comey and the FBI, Bernie, social media, Wikileaks, etc. but as Naomi Klein observed in the Guardian on November 9th: “But this leaves out the force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves wide awake: neoliberalism. That worldview – fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine – is no match for Trump-style extremism. The decision to run one against the other is what sealed our fate. If we learn nothing else, can we please learn from that mistake?”

If Americans were given a real alternative to neo-liberal economic tyranny and neoconservative militarism, would they make the wrong, disastrous choice again? There are truths that need to be communicated to the wounded and/or hardened hearts of the American people, communicated by leaders who can break through the false reality maintained by mainstream and even “alternative” media, who can speak with authenticity and heart. The consideration of Rep. Keith Ellison has head of the Democratic National Committee is promising, though the election of Chuck Shumer is not.

The Democratic Party, or perhaps some new Independent Party, could “make America great again” by remembering that America, despite its faults, once had a heart, and could have it again.

Kabir Helminski is a translator of the works of Rumi and others, a Shaikh of the Mevlevi Order (which traces back to Jalaluddin Rumi), and co-director of The Threshold Society (Sufism.org). In 2009 and subsequent years Kabir was named as one of the "500 Most Influential Muslims in the World." His books on spirituality, Living Presence and The Knowing Heart, have been published in at least eight languages.
 
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