Don’t be ridiculous: There is every good reason to point fingers for the political mess in which America finds itself. And, yes, some of those fingers of blame must be pointed at the circle of insiders that—for lack of a more appropriate term—“leads” the Democratic Party. How, in a year when the Republicans nominated a scandal-plagued grifter for president and then became a party divided against itself, was it possible to lose everything to the four horsemen of the electoral apocalypse: Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan? The Republicans don’t even like one another, yet for the first time since 1928, they have won an open presidential contest, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. They also control the vast majority of governorships and state legislatures, which have the power to deny democracy (and screw the opposition party) via the corrupt process of redistricting.
In a two-party system of the sort that the United States is stuck with, what we just witnessed is the political equivalent of a baseball shutout. And because the Democratic Party has, since the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, assumed a growing measure of responsibility for defending America’s tired, its poor, its huddled masses yearning to breathe free—however miserably particular Democrats may have met that responsibility at critical junctures in our history—the Democratic establishment’s failure in the 2016 election has left tens of millions of our most vulnerable fellow citizens at the mercy of Republican plutocrats who imagine that a nation of immigrants can close its borders, that food stamps are too costly while tax breaks for corporations are a necessity, that senior citizens don’t work long or hard enough, and that the essential work of government is the redistribution of wealth upward to billionaire oligarchs. Americans with a conscience must be morally outraged at Trump and the cruel hoax that is contemporary “conservativism,” but they should be equally outraged at a Democratic establishment that is so disengaged, so incompetent, and so indebted to elite campaign funders that it is incapable of guarding against crisis.
WikiLeaks e-mail dumps revealing that Democratic National Committee insiders and the permanent party establishment tended to favor Hillary Clinton offered little more than a reminder of how elites in both parties operate. What was new was the revelation of the extent to which Democratic careerists rejected warnings about the anger over inequality and injustice that were advanced not just by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but by Clinton-aligned progressives like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Party leaders were slow to speak to the disenchantment and desperation that develop with expanding inequality and contracting opportunity; they resisted a full embrace of an economic-justice politics that might have maintained or even expanded the majority coalition established by Barack Obama. At too many turns, they settled for the narrow promise that “we’ll never be as nasty as the Republicans.” (The Clinton campaign’s closing motto, “Love Trumps Hate,” offered a creative play on the GOP candidate’s name rather than a what-we’re fighting-for message.)
Hillary Clinton finished with around 48 percent of the vote—three points less than Obama in 2012 and five points less than Obama in 2008. And in a year when Democrats should have taken the Senate and erased much of their disadvantage in the House, the party made no meaningful progress.