The Democratic National Committee’s Unity Tour is over, and the reviews are in: Most journalists panned it. “At a ‘Unity’ Stop in Nebraska, Democrats find anything but,” wrote The New York Times. “Is Dem unity tour tearing the party apart? asked MSNBC’s AMJoy. Vice didn’t even bother with the question mark, proclaiming: “The Democrats are falling apart on their ‘come together’ tour.”
Journalists treated the “unity tour” as a spectacle meant to spotlight party unity. It was anything but—yet it was necessary. DNC chair Tom Perez and Senator Bernie Sanders don’t see eye to eye on many policy disputes. Sanders had, of course, backed Rep. Keith Ellison for the job that went to Perez, and depicted the former labor secretary as a stalking horse for the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton wing of the party. More than once on the tour, Perez was booed by Sanders backers. The Sanders and DNC folks don’t seem to have collaborated enough on screening the candidates the tour traveled to support. There was a huge dustup around the issue of choice, for example, as well as a skirmish over a promising Democrat seemingly rebuffed by Sanders as not sufficiently progressive.
But these are real intra-party conflicts, and the debate they’ve inspired (as well as the compromises and clarifications of each faction’s positions) have been necessary. This Unity Tour launched deliberately and self-consciously in search of greater concord, within a party still rent by the fierce primary battle between Sanders and Clinton.
The embers smolder on social media, and controversies can reignite them into firestorms. Almost a year after he was mathematically eliminated by Clinton, Sanders voters still feel like their man could have beaten Trump, if the DNC hadn’t had a thumb on the scales. Clinton voters believe her victory was hobbled not merely by James Comey and Russian hacking, but by “Bernie or Bust” voters who Sanders helped create by treating the former secretary of state as a creature of Wall Street and the 1 percent.
There are genuine gulfs in ideology as well as political strategy. On one side, Sanders and many supporters want to see Democrats fight to win back working-class white voters who’ve abandoned the party. “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from,” he sternly intoned a week after the election. A few days later he added in a speech: “One of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics.” Naturally, the party’s existing base, overwhelmingly female and multiracial, don’t like seeing their issues derided as “identity politics” and shunned as distractions, lifestyle questions, or political correctness run amok, while the troubles of white downscale men are centered.