Why Bernie or Bust is Ridiculous and Progressives Must Unite Against Trump
- Eric Shapiro
- On July 25, 2016
Ever since Sanders delegates succeeded in adding a $15 minimum wage to the party platform, the DNC and the Clinton campaign have not prioritized winning over the Democratic Party’s restive left flank. First, there was VP nominee Tim Kaine. Then, Wikileaks dropped the political equivalent of an atomic bomb on the Democratic Party in the form of a cache of DNC emails that confirmed what progressives already knew: the party establishment, epitomized by Debbie Wasserman Schultz (who has since stepped down in disgrace), favored Hillary
Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Understandably, they are up in arms, as they have every right to be.
But, to quote Hillary Clinton, “what difference does it make?” The answer should be very little, at least when it comes to voting for the Democratic Party nominee in November. To be sure, an unexpectedly contentious primary season exposed and perhaps deepened the underlying tensions at the heart of the so-called “Obama coalition,” pitting young, white Milennial activists against minority voters and the party
establishment. However, after a hard-fought battle, both sides appeared to be on the verge of a reconciliation based on a mutual interest in keeping Republican nominee Donald Trump out of power.
Furthermore, despite the DNC’s favoritism of Hillary Clinton, it is not as if Sanders can plausibly claim the election was stolen from him (indeed, he has endorsed Hillary Clinton). Setting aside wild-eyed allegations of massive voter fraud more befitting the Tea Party than progressives, it is also clear that Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries by millions of votes.
Any institutional advantages Clinton benefitted from are at least partially balanced by Sanders’ outsized reliance on caucuses that are by their nature less democratic than the primaries in which Clinton tended to prevail. These are facts, not comments on either candidate’s merits. Bernie Sanders ran a spirited, insurgent campaign against Hillary Clinton and successfully pushed her to the left on a number of issues from trade, to the minimum wage, to universal healthcare. But the ideological and policy differences between the candidates, while not insignificant, should not be overstated. After all, they voted together in the Senate over 90% of the time. It is right that Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down as chair of the DNC for her reprehensible and unprofessional comments about Senator Sanders and future DNC chairs should avoid picking favorites in primaries.
Progressives have a right to be frustrated by her conduct and push to reform the DNC. But those who would withhold their support for Hillary Clinton based on email leaks should seriously consider the potentially dire consequences of their actions, including the possible election of Donald Trump and GOP control of all three branches of the federal government. For all their differences, Clinton and Sanders would both appoint progressive justices to the Supreme Court, potentially tipping it left for generations, a necessity for the ambitious legislation on which any political revolution would depend. A liberal court is essential for preserving abortion rights, voting rights for minorities and overturning Citizens United and thereby giving candidates like Bernie Sanders a better chance to compete in elections. Both candidates would protect and if possible expand the Affordable Care Act, as well as President Obama’s executive actions, which a President Trump would be sure to repeal.
Even as progressives rightly criticize the DNC for past, present and future offenses, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. Donald Trump can win in 2016 only if he faces a divided, un-motivated Democratic Party at war with itself. This is why the Trump campaign has already set about trying to drive a wedge between progressives by feigning sympathy for aggrieved Sanders voters who he opposes on almost every substantive issue, including calls for campaign finance reform and fairer taxation that he has largely abandoned following the Republican primaries as he has cozied up to big donors like Sheldon Adelson.
For the sake of the political revolution that Bernie Sandets began and hopes to continue from the Senate, we must unite behind Hillary Clinton and encourage her best instincts while keeping the racist, xenophobic, authoritarian Trump far away from the reigns of power. Our children and grandchildren may well depend on whether and how we vote in November. And no, voting for Hillary Clinton in November primarily or exclusively to keep Trump out of the Oval Office is not casting a vote out of some primal, unprincipled “fear.” Nor is it “pragmatic” in the cold, calculating sense of the term.
Rather, it is rooted in humanism, in a willingness to temper one’s ideological convictions with a consideration of the very real suffering that so many people – not just the immigrants and Muslims on Trump’s rhetorical hit list but all Americans who are not insulated by a bubble of privilege. And rest assured, those most at risk from Trump’s racist, xenophobic authoritarianism will not thank Jill Stein and #BernieorBust for their brave, ideologically immaculate stand against neoliberalism. When the alternative is a borderline-fascist, any kind of liberal would do (and this is accepting the dubious notion that Clinton, once hailed as the progressive of her husband’s administration, is currently or has ever been a true neoliberal).
All snark aside, there will be ample time for progressives to work their will on the Democratic Party in the coming years; indeed, standard bearers like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have ensured that we are in a better position to do so now than in a generation. But none of their hard work, none of OUR hard work will matter if a GOP in thrall Donald Trump seizes control of government at the federal, state and local levels, leaving behind a judicial system stacked with reactionary nominees bent on halting a political revolution in a storm of adverse rulings.
So, fellows progressives, by all means criticize the party establishment; protest, sign petitions, support primary challenges from the left. Such actions, over time, will continue to shift the Democratic Party Left. But when the time comes to elect a president in November, set aside your grievances about Tim Kaine, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and leaked emails for a day. Hold your nose if you have to, but with your other hand pull the lever for the candidate who, for all her flaws, is qualified to serve as president and receptive to progressive change in the coming years if we’re there to light a fire under her ass (donkey) and keep her reasonably honest. The other choice is not Jill Stein, it’s not Gary Johnson; it’s Donald Trump. And for progressives, Trump should be no choice at all.
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