Editor’s Note: Jonathan Tasini (@jonathantasini) has been a frequent commentator on CNN and is a Bernie Sanders supporter. He is the author of “The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America,” president of the Economic Future Group and the host of the Working Life podcast. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Jonathan Tasini: There is only one silver lining in yesterday's election results.
Tasini: We can now launch a difficult but urgent mission — the remaking of the Democratic Party.
There is only one silver lining in yesterday’s election results, which will allow a con man, a pathological liar, a bold racist and a sexual predator to succeed the first African-American president.
We can now launch a difficult but urgent mission — shaking the Democratic Party down to its foundation, ejecting the failed Bill/Hillary Clinton economic and global worldview and standing up for a set of populist, sound economic and foreign policy principles that could earn majority support.
On the surface, it’s astounding that a man who ripped off thousands of people who worked for him became the champion of the regular Joe. But, as Bernie Sanders reiterated in a recent podcast with me, the problem is that people have ceased to see a difference between the parties, particularly on economic issues. I’ll briefly cite a few examples.
Starting out with NAFTA, Bill Clinton forced “free trade” upon the party. I warned multiple times during the election that Trump would make inroads with voters in the Rust Belt unless Democrats made a clean break from corporate trade deals. Around the globe, these deals are a key tool to drive down wages, exploit workers and prosecute global class warfare. But, the current president still serves up the malarkey about the benefits of these deals.
Bill Clinton’s broader economic agenda was even more corrosive. During Clinton’s so-called “good economy,” the decline of organized labor continued. The president, and his secretary of labor, Robert Reich, did very little to arrest the decline.
No Democratic president was more focused on letting business interests off the leash. He gave more power to media companies, triggering consolidation and a powerful wave of concentration of the media into a few hands. The average person, not steeped in policy, understood this every time he or she opened their skyrocketing cable bills.
Hand-in-glove with Wall Street, Clinton got rid of the Glass Steagall Act, which removed the separation between commercial banks, insurers and investment banks, allowing the self-dealing manipulation of mortgages and interest rates and accelerating the shifting of huge wealth into the hands of a few.
Again, the average person, just trying to make ends meet, eventually got the sharpest end of that spear when millions of people lost their homes, jobs and retirement in the thundering collapse known as the Great Recession, which, for many, has been a depression.
There is so much more: A planet dying because for years fossil fuel interests were coddled. Welfare reform. Mass incarceration of people of color, which had both racial and economic consequences. The praise of the Clinton years, and red-faced defense by its leader, was always couched in contrast to the Reagan and two Bush Administrations. Great.
Feeding off the Clinton machine, the Democratic Party has become riddled with lobbyists, billionaires, and hustlers who pocket huge sums of money by running either nonprofit “think tanks” or election-cycle networks, and politicians who, indeed, are focused mostly on reelection. Surrounding the party are extremely well-paid non-profit leaders, who end up defending the status quo.
Chief component of the Clinton machine in recent years, the Clinton Foundation operated somewhat out of sight.
The big donations streaming from anti-union powerhouses like Wal-Mart or big financial entities like Bank of America not only whitewashed the policies of interests directly opposed to what the Democratic Party should stand for, but they also clouded the deeper systemic crisis within the party. We can only address climate change, poverty and global inequality by axing the very system benefiting many of the donors to the Clinton Foundation.
Fast forward to the 2016 election. There is no doubt in my mind that Bernie Sanders would have defeated Trump. His authenticity would have pierced through Trump’s fraudulent appeal. His concise, point-by-point evisceration of a failed economic model and aggressive, blundering foreign policy was entirely understandable to voters.
As one of Sen. Sanders’ national surrogates, I went to dozens of his rallies. At each one, he took to the stage, a big sheaf of papers in his hands, and, treating people as adults not just backdrops for TV ads, he conducted a seminar on America and the globe. People are quite familiar with Sanders’ economic agenda, including higher taxes on the wealthy, expanding Social Security and a single-payer Medicare for All system. All of which were sound economically, not to mention morally urgent.
What was often given short shrift was his broader philosophical willingness to challenge American exceptionalism. Many times, including during two national debates, he pointed out that, while he was proud as a son of immigrants to be an American, this country has supported repressive dictators, sent the CIA on missions to help overthrow democratically elected governments that were not supportive enough of our interests and sent our young men and women to die in immoral wars. And he wasn’t afraid to point out that those failed foreign policies have been bedrocks of the Democratic Party for several decades.
Rather than foster a good debate during the primaries, the party, obsessed with the coronation of an anointed candidate, set out to destroy Sanders and his movement.
The various email leaks showing broad collusion only confirmed what was patently obvious on the surface: We stood in opposition to a virtual wall of elected Democratic officials, and party functionaries. Proudly so, I might add.
As a union member, I was particularly saddened to see the labor movement mostly line up in the primaries behind the status quo — a status quo often linked arm-and-arm with corporate interests bent on destroying unions.
Beyond rhetoric, democracy was not valued. Once Sanders effectively conceded the race, he took on full-throated advocacy for Secretary Clinton. To support his position, many of us, including me, agreed to play nice at the convention and beyond, because we felt that Donald Trump was a unique threat to the nation.
Views on Election 2016
On the night Tim Kaine spoke to the convention, many Sanders delegates like me wanted to express respectful opposition to President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement by holding signs. But, our signs were confiscated, and, when we made some homemade versions on the back of the officially-sanctioned Kaine signs, we were told to cease and desist or our credentials would be revoked. So much for democracy.
More important, that gagging of pretty mild protest was symbolic. The party is not an open place, beyond rhetoric, to a whole swath of activists and voters who want deep, systemic change.
So, now what? Yesterday was indeed devastating. My niece texted me, “what do we do now?” Her desperate question broke my heart. I grew up in a feminist household: My mother was one of a handful of women to break a glass ceiling, going to medical school after she already had her three kids.
I know many young women are mourning the blow of a President Trump partly because of the rejection of a woman as the first president – which is yet another reason I argue we must remake the Democratic Party.
First, the Clinton machine must be rooted out of the party. A quarter of a century is enough time to understand that its ideology has failed the American people.
Second, the Democratic National Committee has to be turned inside out. The disgraced and deposed chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is only the worst symptom of this wider truth. The party has lost hundreds of state legislative seats, Republicans now control two-thirds of state chambers and have a comfortable majority of governorships (who will determine redistricting in 2020). They have a historic margin in the House of Representatives, will continue to run the Senate and, thus, likely put a Trump-stamp on the Supreme Court.
Third, we need to run targeted primary contests broadly and across the board to replace elected officials who don’t want to see a more open, vibrant and inclusive party. The Sanders movement has shown we can raise the money to fund challengers — and they are ready, by the thousands, to compete.
With these changes, and drawing from the energy of many great activists, a new Democratic Party can be revitalized. The progressive movement, in all its elements — advocates for labor, environmentalists, and civil rights of all stripes — can shape that future.