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Wednesday, August 03, 2016


Stopping the bleed

Tom Sullivan

The sagacious Bill Scher presents New Republic readers with a puzzler for lefties dissatisfied that the Democratic Party's nominee for president is not populist enough:

This dynamic—denouncing Trump on one hand, but saving your most poignant criticism for Clinton—presents a potentially treacherous problem for the left. The Bernie Sanders campaign allowed progressive populists to make big inroads within the Democratic Party, demonstrating their influence by drafting much of the party platform. And with the Trump campaign copying some of Sanders’s positions and rhetoric, progressive populists can further make the case that their vision has the political resonance to expand the Democratic Party’s reach. But if Trump is more associated with populism than Clinton, and then loses decisively in November, populism could be tainted by Trumpism, weakening the left’s leverage over Clinton.

It’s a paradox: Trump’s rise buoys the progressive populists today, yet his defeat could damage them tomorrow.
Specifically, Trump's defeat could green-light a vote in the "lame duck" congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, populism having failed at the polls and all. That's not a message the left wants to reinforce.

Clinton is already sending signals that she's looking to build a broad governing coalition, Scher writes, one that modulates her dependence on the Sanders faction that influenced so heavily the Democratic platform and her own campaign narratives. But "don’t expect her to shout that her victory is a mandate for progressive populism at its purest," if she wins. The trick this fall is to defeat Trump without defeating populism itself. That means the left defocusing its criticisms of Clinton's progressive bona fides during the campaign and portraying Trump "as an ideological grifter, seeking to poach economic populism to serve his bigoted ends."

For the Sanders revolution to sink roots, it must itself broaden its coalition and not lean too heavily on too narrow a message:
Remember, it was Sanders’s inability to build a robustly diverse coalition—not the DNC, not the media, not voting machines—that doomed his presidential insurgency. Eight years ago, Barack Obama took down the vaunted Clinton machine by building a coalition of white liberals, young voters, and African-Americans. Sanders missed a key piece of the progressive puzzle (though he was competitive with African-Americans under 30 years of age).

There are various theories why he struggled, one of which is that his insistence on prioritizing income inequality was, in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s words, a “class first” strategy that didn’t sufficiently emphasize systemic racism. Clinton exploited the opening, declaring just before her string of Deep South victories, which gave her a pledged delegate lead she never relinquished, that the economic populism agenda was “not enough. We also have to break through the barriers of bigotry.” The Sandernistas can’t remain stuck in the “class first” mindset. Touting Trump’s white working class appeal, instead of challenging his populist bona fides, is falling back into the trap.
Perhaps it is the anti-establishment component of populism that has caused the left-right "bleed" this election cycle. That blurring of lines has me worried for some of the same reasons Scher frets about the survival of populism as a political force if we don't play our cards right.

A string of defeats in the last two weeks for Republican voter disenfranchisement efforts comes just at a time when "third degree Berners" — claiming disenfranchisement — are veering into Alex Jones territory with a dark narrative about vote suppression, stolen elections, rigged machines, etc. This is exactly the false narrative the right used over decades to build popular support for passing voter disenfranchisement measures in the first place.

At a time the courts have just thrown out the very premise (rather, pretext) for their passage, it is disturbing to see some on the left adopting the same baseless rhetoric Donald Trump is using already to undermine a peaceful transfer of power in January if he loses in November. True the Vote must welcome their support.