November marked a full year since US President Donald Trump won the White House. Since Trump’s election private health insurance premiums have jumped by almost 40 per cent in some states. Trump’s outright class war tax bill just passed the lower house. Every day new stories add to the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations rocking the country since Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuse hit the press.
We have seen inspiring examples of resistance: the Women’s March, airport protests against the Muslim ban, and mobilisations to defend legal protections for undocumented people. But we are already seeing signs of the anti-Trump resistance being channelled into the Democratic Party.
The Movement For Black Lives, the umbrella organisation that represents anti-racist groups all over the country, has launched the Electoral Justice Project, aimed at mobilising the black vote in the 2018 mid-term elections. They will set up a help desk so black organisations can call in for electoral strategy advice. But this hasn’t been matched by grassroots mobilisations against police brutality and racism.
A slew of Democratic victories in November’s state and local elections have offered hope to those committed to the dead end of reclaiming the party for the left.
Ravi Bhalla, a practicing Sikh from New Jersey, ran for mayor and won—despite a vicious, racist smear campaign against him.
In Virginia, Danica Roem became the first openly trans woman to win and serve in a state legislature, defeating Republican incumbent Bob Marshall. One of his final acts in office was introducing—and losing—a transphobic bathroom bill.
A racist, sexist cloud has not descended across the United States since Trump’s election. In fact, we are seeing a wide backlash against Trump and the Republicans.
The most significant electoral victories on 7 November were those of openly left-wing and socialist candidates, inspired in large part by Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid and supported by his new organisation “Our Revolution.” What’s more, members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) won 15 local elections.
DSA member Lee Carter in Virginia is a case in point. The IT worker was inspired by Sanders and ran on a platform for universal healthcare. Initially the Democrats enthusiastically backed him. But Carter stood firm against corporate donations, refusing to take money from electricity company Dominion Energy and opposing its plans for a gas pipeline. Dominion is huge contributor to both Democrats and Republicans in Virginia.
So the Democratic Party quietly abandoned Carter. He unseated Republican Jackson Miller anyway.
The DSA is a socialist group that grew during Sanders’ campaign and exploded when Trump got elected, now boasting 30,000 members nationally.
The organisation has no clear position on its relationship to the Democratic Party. It tends to operate as a left-wing pressure group inside the party, often endorsing and running candidates through it. Nearly half of their local candidates in November, however, ran as independents. The organisation also builds movements and actions beyond the Democrats, particularly around labour rights and healthcare.
Not moving left
But it is clear that the Democrats don’t want to be associated with left-wing campaigns like Carter’s. The party resolutely refuses to draw any lessons from Hillary Clinton’s failed election campaign that drove away the party base in droves. Their obsession with blaming Russian electoral interference shows just how far the Democrats will go to avoid shifting to the left.
The party elite pulled out all the stops last year to prevent Bernie Sanders winning the presidential nomination. And in October Tom Perez, chair of the powerful Democratic National Committee, purged a series of Sanders’ supporters from their positions.
This ensured the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee—which determines how election campaigns are run—is stacked with conservatives and ex-lobbyists who backed Clinton. They are getting ready for the 2018 mid-term elections by cleansing the party apparatus of progressives.
Sanders remains the most popular politician in the US. But this matters little to the party elite. They would much rather maintain their cozy relationship with Wall Street than allow a left-wing take-over inside the party.
Sanders and Our Revolution push a “down ballot” strategy focussed on winning local campaigns—and it is seriously limited. These local election victories show that people will come out to vote for left-wing candidates. But local representatives only wield so much power, and their campaigns don’t challenge the heart of the Democratic Party machine. This remains firmly in the grip of the corporate elite.
There is the potential—as yet unrealised—for an independent movement beyond the shell of the Democratic Party. The AFL-CIO, the country’s main union body, passed a resolution in October calling for an “independent political voice” saying, “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils.”
That requires an unequivocal break with the Democratic Party.
By Sofia Donnelly