Like the Grinch in Dr. Seuss's story, who, after being caught by Little Cindy-Lou Who trying to steal the family Christmas tree, sends the tot back to bed with a warm glass of milk and a gentle but firm push on the behind, the same Democratic elites who worked tirelessly for months to destroy Bernie Sanders and his campaign are now fondly patting him on his head, thanking him in dulcet tones for his "important" contribution, and rushing him to the wings, hoping to return him as soon as possible to the relative slumber of the US Senate.
Before Sanders goes off into that good night, though, they'd first like him to sign his millions of passionate supporters over to Hillary Clinton, like a blank check made out to "CASH."
Sorry, I don't think so. Neither I nor most of the Bernie supporters I know here in the Boston area, and I know quite a few, have any intention of returning to the Democratic fold. The Party has already lost its progressive base. It just doesn't know it yet.
If you want to know why millions of Bernie Sanders supporters are almost certainly going to defect to a third party in the coming years, to a party with principles worth having, a good place to start is Mark Schmitt's op-ed in the New York Times last week. Schmitt is director of the political reform program at the New America think tank, one of the poisonous weeds growing from the manure pile of the Democratic Party establishment. The beltway is full of such weeds, and though few Americans are aware of their existence, they play a key role in choking out alternative visions of society.
In an op-ed entitled, "Is the Sanders Agenda Out of Date?", Schmitt observed that Sanders is too old to run again, and that he never had influence with his colleagues, anyway. As for Sanders' proposals, Schmitt opined, they're like Windows 95 -- old, discredited junk that wouldn't work even if Sanders had won. The "biggest reason that Mr. Sanders won't shape the next progressive agenda," Schmitt wrote, is that his "proposals were consistently out of step with the ideas that have been emerging from progressive think tanks like Demos or the Center for American Progress, or championed by his own congressional colleagues."
Now we know the real reason why the American people can't have affordable health care, free higher education, prison reform, a livable minimum wage, a reigning in of Wall Street, or decisive action on climate change or on anything else: because the existing Democratic leadership, and the think tanks like New America who do their thinking for them, say they can't.
And just who funds Schmitt and New America? Among others, Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor, Google, Microsoft, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US Department of State, Fedex, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and millionaire stalwarts of the Democratic Party like Eric and Wendy Schmidt and Zachary Karabell, Head of Global Strategy at Envestnet (a financial firm). That's who.
So goes our "trickle down" democracy, in which Schmitt and other self-appointed Imagineers of the future, accountable to no one but to the wealthy donors and foundations who privately fund them, determine the boundaries and shape and values of society. Our role, yours and mine, is to live in the world these technocrats create for us. Thus, if New America and the Center for American Progress -- run by such "progressives" as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright -- decide that health care is a privilege, not a right, or that we have no business breaking up the big banks, or that advocating a $15 minimum wage is the wrong way to address economic inequality, who are we to disagree?
I think you know already. We're the riff-raff. Pie-in-the-skyers. "Bernie Bros." The hoi polloi. Or, to use a much abused yet still indispensable word, the people.
Yes, them. Taken for granted and essentially written off for decades by wealthy elites in the Republican and Democratic parties alike, the American people have suddenly become restless and unmanageable. The stunning twin successes of the Sanders and Trump campaigns have done more than upend the conventional political order -- they've revealed deep fissures in our society. Vast economic, racial, and political cracks in the polity have opened up at our collective feet. And it's a long way down.
Though Schmitt and others in the managerial elite see these fissures, too, they fail to grasp how deep they go. Stranded on the shore of their own economic privilege, they gaze out confidently at a distant horizon, not noticing that the rest of suffering humanity is being swallowed by the earth. As the playwright Arthur Miller once quipped, "There is nothing further away from Washington than the entire world." He was right, there isn't.
The vast distance between members of the elite class and everybody else has also kept the former from noticing that liberalism as an ideology is no longer tenable. The fascist elements in our society, clinging like ugly burs to Donald Trump's candidacy, aren't going to go away. On the contrary, even if Hillary wins in the fall, the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place -- massive economic and social inequality, a government unresponsive to its citizens' needs, foreign war and militarism, a market culture that secretly thrives on misogyny and racial division, a mode of economic development directly at odds with planetary survival--are certain to worsen. That's because liberalism fails to comprehend the relation between these problems and the underlying structure of capitalism, which it endorses.
While a Sanders presidency would by no means have solved these problems, it might at least have slowed the rapid pace of decline, giving us a little time to build an alternative form of culture. What Sanders' candidacy did was to crack open a window, letting some light and air into our democracy. Now, that window has come crashing down.
This week, after it became clear that Hillary will be the Democratic nominee, Sanders made a conciliatory speech, suggesting that his supporters might begin working within the Democratic party structure to push it in a more progressive direction. For once, though, Sanders appears to have misjudged his constituency.
The young people who've been inspired by Sanders' campaign will be leaving it with a bitter taste in their mouths. Apart from their feelings of hope and excitement listening to Sanders' fiery speeches, what they will remember most about this election season is how the Democratic establishment set out to destroy Sanders. They will remember the early media blackout around Sanders' candidacy, and the shocking--and still unexplained--voting irregularities that marred primaries across the nation. They will remember too the unending stream of vicious attacks on Sanders by liberal columnists at the New York Times and Washington Post, and how the latter became de facto house organs of the Democratic Party.
Schmitt thinks that Sanders supporters will now flock to the Democratic Party, recognizing it as their true home. But for young progressives, the take-away is likely to be quite different. They have now seen that even mild, social democratic reforms of the system are unacceptable to the Party's elite. They have also experienced, first hand, the contempt with which that elite views their reasonable human needs and political aspirations. For many, it has been a shattering experience, one that has only confirmed their sense that the system is rigged -- just as their rumpled prophet said it was.
Far from having prepared his supporters to become passive new consumers of the Democratic Party mythology, then, Sanders has, on the contrary, prepared them for a new kind of radicalism. So, farewell, Democrats, and farewell Schmitt. The status quo is over.