To read a political publication or check Twitter these days, one can’t escape news of the Democratic Party’s supposed massive circular firing squad, also known as the “Left’s War of Mutually Assured Destruction.” Senator Bernie Sanders, according to some, is “sabotaging the Democratic Party,” and has started a “foolish family feud.” And it’s not just folks on the left hand-wringing over this internecine warfare—opportunistic conservatives are leaning heavily into this narrative. In The Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove, once known as “Bush’s brain,” warned Democrats that “progressive intolerance” poses a “life threatening” challenge to the party’s future.
Most of that is nonsense. A real debate about the party’s values, if at times unpleasant, is ultimately constructive and necessary. A bit of common sense is in order.
Democrats are remarkably unified in resistance to Trump.
For all the fretting about division, activists from all wings of the party and from movements outside the party have joined in propelling the popular mobilization against Trump’s horrors. Whether it is more left-wing groups like MoveOn, Democracy for America, People’s Action, OurRevolution, or groups led by ex-Clinton and Obama activists like Indivisible, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and others, all have been focused and engaged on countering Trump. Single-payer supporters joined to help fend off the attack on Obamacare. Sanders sparked that effort with mass rallies in various Trump states, and postponed introduction of his bill to create universal Medicare. That mobilization helped forge the remarkable unity of Democratic legislators in the House and Senate against the effort to repeal Obamacare, against the Republican budget, and more.
That mobilization and activism contribute directly to Trump’s continued decline in the polls, which now show record lows. Trump’s demented behavior helps, of course, but it is remarkable that with unemployment at 4.3 percent, the stock market setting records, and the president’s uncanny ability to dominate the news, he’s losing ground even among his core voters.
Democrats would be brain dead and without a pulse if they didn’t have a major debate about the way forward.
Trump’s stunning victory was, as Andrew Bacevich writes, invoking Thomas Jefferson, a “fire bell in the night.” As he puts it, “It is a consequence, not the cause,” of the “collapse of the post–Cold War consensus.” The core establishment consensus—on corporate defined globalization, on policing the world, on neoliberal economic policies—has failed most Americans.
In this century, we’ve had two “recoveries” under two presidents—one Republican and one Democratic—that haven’t reached most Americans. Inequality is at obscene extremes. The human costs of social decay are clear: declining life expectancy, teen suicide, record incarceration, an opioid epidemic, and rising obesity. The failure to invest in decent schools or even core infrastructure is crippling. Trump called out that failure—and enough Americans voted for him, even though most thought he didn’t have the temperament or the experience to be president.