Are Democrats finally rediscovering their backbone? On Monday, they secured the necessary votes to filibuster Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. While it’s nice to see Democratic leadership take a stand and possibly give Republicans a dose of their own medicine, the reality is, they really don’t wield any power right now. Republicans have already promised to go “nuclear” on Gorsuch, but the question is, what then? While Democrats can filibuster and delay, what they really need to do is strategize and learn how to play the game.
Every time Donald Trump made an outrageous comment on the campaign trail or another scandal (like the Access Hollywood tape) was revealed, most of the Republican establishment continued to support him. Yes, they denounced some actions and statements, feigned disgust, but by and large they never said they would stop backing his candidacy. To understand the grand plan, all one needed to do was just listen to their own words: it was all about the Supreme Court.
A Fox News interview with former House Speaker John Boehner in 2016 pretty much summarized things best when he stated: “The legislative process, the political process, is at a standstill and will be regardless of who wins. The only thing that really matters over the next four years or eight years is who is going to appoint the next Supreme Court nominees.”
Nominees with an “s,” because yes, there could be two or three, or more nominees depending on what transpires. The lifetime appointment of a Supreme Court Justice can shape the course of this nation for decades. Trump’s proposed travel ban, aka the Muslim ban, could likely end up with SCOTUS. So too will many other cases impacting everything from civil rights to women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and much more. The Supreme Court is the final word on legal matters and nobody comprehends this notion better than the GOP.
Democrats right now are trying to emulate Republicans over the last eight years by attempting to obstruct or delay as long as possible the inevitable. The harsh reality is that they have no real power at this moment. In order to regain a semblance of influence in government, they need to do more than simply object – they need an actual plan. A long-term approach that involves embracing their base and learning from the agony of defeat.
Trump often touts that he was a movement, and you know what, he was. But who was an even greater movement? One Vermont Senator named Bernie Sanders. The sheer energy, passion and political participation that he inspired especially among the youth of America was unmatched. There were tens of thousands attending his rallies on a regular basis – and a majority of those were young people. Sanders became such a phenomenon that I think even Bernie himself was surprised.
Instead of harnessing that tremendous strength, the Democratic Party establishment backed Hillary Clinton continuously and basically threw Sanders to the side (and thereby his supporters to the side). At a time when people were clamoring for an anti-establishment candidate, they pushed someone who (fairly or unfairly) epitomized the establishment. Sanders, because he’s a team player, gracefully threw his support behind Clinton when it came down to the nominating process. That was probably the worst mistake of his political career.
Say what you will about Trump, but one thing’s for sure, he understood his influence and how to reach ‘his people’ as he put it. Sanders, even with all of his revolutionary vigor and passion, didn’t fully comprehend that he and his virtual army were far greater than the Democratic Party itself. Trump made the Republican establishment come around to him no matter how outlandish or crazy his outbursts and ideas; Sanders gave his power away the day he humbly bowed out and supported Clinton. He sacrificed himself for the party; a party that didn’t have his back.
People often discount young people as being lazy, inactive, uninterested or apathetic. History however has proven otherwise. Change is almost always ushered in by young folks no matter where you are on the planet. Even as recently as ’08, it was the youth of America that mobilized and campaigned on behalf of a candidate named Barack Obama. In fact, they were the ones that urged their parents, grandparents and other family members to give the new guy a chance. Obama welcomed the power of young people and technology in a way that was unprecedented, and he was the outsider who campaigned on a platform of hope and change. His successor took that notion of anti-establishment fervor and ran with it, utilizing social media and other mechanisms on an entirely new level. Why did the Democrats fail to repeat their own success of ’08? And why did they allow someone from the other side to harness their own blueprint?
When President Obama was sworn into office in ’09, one of the biggest mistakes he made was basically abandoning all those young people that supported him. That strong coalition needed direction and the head of the Party left them on the sidelines once he was in the White House. If Obama had capitalized on that vibrant energy that was present across the country and kept them active and engaged in the political process, perhaps Democrats wouldn’t have received the “shellacking” they did in 2010.
In 2016, while Sanders had the best of intentions in urging people to back Clinton for the nomination, he did the same thing to the youth that Obama did – build their hopes up only to then crush them. While many went on to support Clinton, many others either sat out, voted third party, or – dare I say – even voted for Trump. If Sanders had harnessed his movement all the way, the Democratic Party would have had no choice but to eventually back him the way Republicans backed Trump.
Millennials are now the largest living generation in the country. Whoever wins them will win the future, point blank. Despite being set aside repeatedly, they (and young adults in general) are still extremely politically active. The problem is, they have nowhere to go. The base of the Democratic Party is mainly progressive, multicultural, young and to the left of the Democratic establishment on things like money in politics, health care, police reform, mass incarceration, the cost of education, international policy and more. They are intersectional and interconnected in a way in which we have probably never witnessed before. They are the ones protesting against the Muslim ban, marching for women’s rights, worker’s rights, immigrant rights and against police brutality, etc. What are the Democrats doing with all this active participation and energy? Apparently not much.
Instead of listening to the base when it came down to the next DNC Chair, Dems decided to go with Tom Perez rather than their candidate of choice, Keith Ellison (who was also backed by Sanders and even Chuck Schumer himself). While Perez seems like a nice guy and is progressive on many issues, who exactly is he inspiring? I’m not the only one to say this, but it’s worth repeating: it is time for new blood. There needs to be a new crop of leaders across the country that will once again motivate and activate future generations the way Obama once did. Remember, it’s not just the next Presidential election that’s at stake; Democrats need to win back the hundreds of congressional and state legislative seats, as well as governorships, that they lost over the last several years.
Whoever emerges as that next inspirational transformative figure will have to not only ensure that young people don’t feel abandoned yet again, but he or she will have to understand that they are leading a movement that the Democratic leadership will have no choice but to embrace. Leadership in turn must recognize that they can utilize that virtual army and that leader to get through their agenda and their nominees the same way Republicans are now doing with Gorsuch and so much more to come.
Politics, after all, is a game of chess, not checkers. Your move Dems.