The Democratic Party’s reputation as the party of the working class, of equality, of peace, of the environment, is not self justifying. It is a designation which, to be kept, must be earned through representation.
Yet, in all but rhetoric the Democratic Party has seemingly become the party of the elite.
Despite the “whitelash” narrative now being promoted by the mainstream media, it appears more likely that years of political doublespeak and catering to the 1 percent simply caught up with the Democrats in the 2016 presidential election.
The shocking election night victory of the buffoonish Donald Trump came courtesy of a dramatic increase over Mitt Romney in votes earned from African-Americans, Latinos, young people (18-29 years), those without a college education, and those making under $100,000 per year. Hillary Clinton, conversely, saw a dramatic increase over President Obama in votes from college graduates, specifically white college graduates, and those making over $100,000 per year.
The good news is — after a demolition, a new structure can be erected. In the age of Brexit, “enough is enough,” and, yes, Donald Trump, a political party of staunch defenders of the establishment status quo is one of electoral impotence.
The first opportunity for transformation comes in naming a new Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC); a successor to a figurehead of Democratic Party corruption and elitism Debbie Wasserman Schultz. If Democrats are to be the party, functionally, of the rhetoric they advertise they must be led by a representative of their publicized values.
Among the candidates stands Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, an unquestioned progressive champion from the district with the highest voter turnout in the state with the highest turnout in the country. In Rep. Ellison, the Democratic Party is presented with an answer to the imperative questions they now face, not only of victory or defeat in 2018 and 2020, but of relevance.
During the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton made a short appearance on the picket line with striking Verizon workers, waving to the crowd and taking pictures before getting back into her limousine and onto the road to the White House. It did not appear that she mentioned to the crowd that her campaign had received tens of thousands of dollars from Verizon executives and lobbyists, or that the company had previously paid her $225,000 for a speech and in fact had donated over $100,000 and entered into various partnerships with the Clinton Foundation.
Keith Ellison often wears a suit to work. It’s just that his office is often the streets, rather than the halls of Congress.
He was arrested at a 2009 rally protesting the expulsion of aid groups from Darfur, and again in 2013 at an immigration rally urging Congress to pass “path to citizenship” legislation. He has appeared repeatedly at “fight for $15” rallies, and, in 2016, joined a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives for gun control. He fought against Citizens United and fossil fuel subsidies. He very publicly demanded a federal investigation into the police shooting of Minnesota man Jamar Clark at a point where President Obama was suggesting “a police task force to examine strategies for community engagement,” called for the arrest of the officer who shot another Minnesota man, Philando Castile, and has appeared on television to defend and support the Black Lives Matter movement.
For Keith Ellison, civil disobedience is not a photo opportunity, but an opportunity for change. If the Democratic Party is to be for the people, it must be of the people, and few have been in the trenches with the people more often than Keith Ellison.
“It felt like we were trying to stop some big car from rolling down an icy hill. We were holding on but it just kept dragging on.” –Keith Ellison
In 2009, Democrats controlled the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate and were poised to introduce historic health care reforms. Internally, Democrats battled over just how far reforms would go.
The progressive wing of the party, represented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), pushed for a single-payer system of healthcare that Democrats had spoken about in hushed tones for decades. They were opposed by the New Democrat Coalition, also known as ‘the Clinton Democrats,’ who wanted a system which first guaranteed corporate profits, then provided the best possible system to the populace from there.
In the end, the CPC lacked the political capital to realize their vision and the result was what had been called Romneycare, then Hillarycare, hence dubbed Obamacare. But in 2010, Democrats suffered the worst defeat in a midterm election in 60 years. The next month, Keith Ellison was named co-Chair of the CPC.
Under the leadership of Ellison and his signature strategy of ‘engage with the progressive community, connect with activists,’ the CPC would become more effective than ever, growing to 71 members – the largest “belief based” caucus in the Democratic Party, with 20 more members than the New Democrat Coalition.
The first real test of Ellison’s new CPC would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), trade agreement – another corporate giveaway and would-be pillar of President Obama’s legacy – which deeply divided the Democratic Party.
Through coordination with groups like MoveOn, Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO, among others, and mobilization of progressive activists, the CPC was able to incubate opposition to the TPP, both among the public and within government.
Recently, Senator Chuck Schumer, certainly no friend to the CPC, announced that Congress would not be ratifying the deal, seemingly signifying its death and a great victory for progressives.
Should the Democrats, in their search for a ‘progressive who gets things done,’ tap Keith Ellison for leadership, they, like the CPC before them, would find a man uniquely skilled to include and engage the progressive grassroots and perhaps create a party with active support of the people, representative of the values Democrats purport to exemplify.
The campaigns of Donald Trump and Brexit were generally portrayed as almost exclusively racist and xenophobic movements. These demonizations allow accusers to avoid introspection and ignore the rejection of a system designed to benefit the elite that these movements were built upon.
The Democratic Party often has trouble with a disconnect between their words and actions regarding their relationship to the elite, and, incidentally, their relationship with racism and xenophobia as well.
They have become excellent at condemnation, less so at construction; eager to voice sympathy towards the marginalized, so long as the marginalized do not seek a voice of their own.
For example, while Hillary Clinton — a white multimillionaire and family member of a former President — went on her quest to break glass ceilings, the Democratic establishment systematically subverted women of color candidates within their ranks.
Now, as powerful Democrats lambaste the racism and xenophobia of Donald Trump, they are presented with an opportunity to turn their platitudes to practice.
Keith Ellison is a Muslim.
Certainly, regardless of his faith, Ellison is eminently qualified for the position of DNC Chair. But at a time when Muslim-Americans are understandably feeling apprehensive about what a Trump presidency could hold for them, a point well repeated by Democrats, there could be perhaps no better display of tangible solidarity than placing a Muslim in such an important position of leadership.
In 2016, the Democratic Party believed they could act as the party of the elite, while cruising to victory on the votes of the working class and the disenfranchised.
They sabotaged the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, bullying and belittling his supporters, while their chosen nominee went nearly a year without giving a press conference, focusing almost exclusively on small corporate fundraisers with big donors.
The defeat which followed was not only devastating but among the most humiliating in modern politics.
But it was a defeat which forces the Democratic Party to decide on their inherent priority.
Is it most important for the party to protect the interests of corporate paymasters regardless of electoral results, even as this strategy could not even beat the horrific Donald Trump?
Or will Democrats seek the type of relevance earned through representation of the people, through a tangible manifestation of advertised values.
It is not merely a question of direction, but one of continued existence.