A Silver Lining?

Bernie Sanders pointed the way forward for Democrats

M. Davout

Editor’s Intro: My good friend M. Davout is a Democrat.  Like me, he favored Bernie Sanders in the primaries.  After donating to Sanders, holding a Sanders fundraising dinner with like-minded Democrats, making calls on his behalf and voting for him on Super Tuesday, Davout gave his vote to Clinton in the general election. In this article, he suggests that, in this dark political moment, the Sanders primary campaign continues to have a positive impact. For those dedicated to a form of democratic self-rule based on mutual respect and fraternal solidarity, a silver lining exists in the example set by the Sanders campaign of an opposition movement built on a democratic socialist vision that is centered on America’s working families. W.J. Astore

Hillary Clinton was the best-known Democratic establishment politician in the country.  She led a state-of-the-art campaign organization, which enjoyed the unstinting support of a popular incumbent president and first lady, the incumbent vice president, her former primary opponent, and her husband/former president. Her shocking defeat at the hands of an authoritarian-minded political amateur who ran as an unapologetic nativist and bigot should give little satisfaction to progressives.

For the next two years and possibly for the next eight, the federal government will be entirely controlled by a Republican Party, whose decades-long promotion of an “every man for himself” ethos may finally result in the gutting of most, if not all, of the remaining institutional legacies of the Great Society, New Deal and Progressive eras. Or, if Trump’s most objectionable instincts and his impulsive nature are not adequately controlled by the Republican establishment, we may be in for worse—a destabilizing foreign policy that may land us in conflicts that will make George W. Bush’s Iraq adventure seem harmless by comparison.

The silver lining for progressives in this grim picture? It isn’t the expectation that Trump’s election will lead to such catastrophic outcomes that U.S. voters will finally come to their senses and swing in overwhelming numbers to the political left. Stories (whether apocryphal or not) about German leftists of the Thirties, who saw Adolf Hitler’s elevation to the chancellorship in just such terms, should disenthrall us of this idea.

The silver lining, rather, is that Bernie Sanders gave Clinton a real run for her money in the primaries. Had he not run and had she been coronated as the party nominee (an outcome fervently wished by the then-DNC chair and other DC establishmentarians), the electoral defeat of Democrats would likely have been worse and the current feeling of despair would be far deeper. That Sanders, articulating a compelling social democratic vision of sensible self-government for the common good, was able to motivate and mobilize so many young people offers Democrats and left-leaning independents a path forward.

Sanders demonstrated that there is a significant opening for a social democratic party that can appeal across racial and ethnic lines and forge alliances with unions and new economy business people (e.g., producers of green tech and energy, internet entrepreneurs, and urban-based economic interests supportive of mass transit). The importance of that demonstration, which came in the form of millions of votes and volunteer hours, a campaign funding juggernaut powered by small donations, and over 20 state primary or caucus victories, should not be underestimated.

Whether one believes that a party led by Sanders would not have lost Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the reality is that future candidates of the left cannot afford to cede those states to the party of Reagan-Bush-Trump. If the Democratic Party cannot be reshaped into the social democratic party evoked by Sanders (and soon), his and our goal should be to persuade progressive Democratic politicians to join a new party of the left.

One thing is certain: Another establishment candidate in the mold of a Hillary Clinton, a candidate who is so comfortably ensconced in elite circles that he or she would not recognize the problem in accepting quarter-of-a-million dollar speaking fees from a Wall Street investment firm that helped tank the economy or in declaring Henry Kissinger to be a foreign policy making role model, will only ensure the triumph of reactionary candidates such as Trump.

It’s time for Democratic politicians to recognize the economic realities of ordinary Americans and fight unashamedly for progressive policies that answer the challenge of fostering lives of decency and mutual respect.  It’s time not only to embrace progressive candidates willing to reject a rigged system in the cause of economic and social justice but also to create (or re-create) a political party deserving of such candidates.

12 thoughts on “A Silver Lining?

  1. just finished reading “Devil in the Grove” by Gilbert King…it is about the late Thurgood Marshall’s work trying to get Florida beginning in the 1940s to come to terms with its fear and loathing of Blacks particularly when they returned after fighting in WWII and began to try to live like Whites…driving cars, running a farm etc…read how public officials where members of the Klan all the way up to the Governor and obstructed the FBI investigation into Blacks deaths…and Marshall had to stroke Hoover’s ego and be an anti-communist to get any help. I bring it up because we will never know what evil lurks in peoples’ hearts…I am happy the Clintons are of the American scene but wished it had been sooner. The Democrats began losing their way a long time ago.


  2. There’s a good interview with Bernie here. Sadly, it reminds me how sharp Bernie is on the mood of the American people, and it makes me despise Hillary and the Establishment even more for conspiring against him. Here’s the link:


    Bernie was done in by limousine liberals and “super delegates” who were banking on Hillary to win so they could ride her pantsuits into money and power. Now they shout it’s all the FBI’s fault (Comey!). As Trump would say, “Sad.”


  3. Her “shocking defeat” may or may not be “satisfying”, but it certainly shouldn’t be looked upon as a defeat for progressivism…she is not progressive, she’s an elitist warmonger.
    Yes, it’s long past time for Democrats to recognize some realities, economic and otherwise…but don’t count on it. The overreaction and hand wringing since the election doesn’t bode well.
    O.K., let me get this straight. So now that the Republicans are “in control” we will get a “destabilizing” foreign policy. Where have ya been bro? I also take issue with the idea that the destruction of secular Iraq replete with wanton murder and environmental poisoning is something to be trivialized in a “by comparison” manner. It should bring great shame and sadness to even mention what was brought upon the people of Iraq….and so on and so on…
    Trump can’t do much worse unless he changes course and follows through with Hillary’s neocon agenda.


    1. To the extent that Clinton’s defeat opens the door for Republicans to privatize Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher system, eliminate Medicaid coverage for the millions who have gained it under Obamacare, turn the EPA into a dead letter, (policies that are very much on the table in DC today and would not be under a Clinton administration), how can this election result not be seen as a defeat for progressives?

      Trump has spoken favorably of nuclear proliferation, has asked on multiple occasions why we can’t use our nuclear weapons, and has a long history as a businessman of employing brinkmanship as a tactic, especially against opponents whom he sees as weaker. That is what I had in mind by the comment about a destabilizing foreign policy. A United States foreign policy in which threats of nuclear attack are routinely employed against countries Trump has designated as bad actors, e.g., Iran, is destabilizing to a much more radical and dangerous level than is presently the case (or would have been the case under Clinton). And if the leadership of, say, North Korea decided to call Trump’s bluff and nuclear weapons are employed by either or both sides, yes, that would probably result in human suffering on a far greater scale than has happened in Iraq (not to trivialize at all the hundreds of thousands of deaths and the dislocation of millions of people that occurred as a result of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq).


      1. The Democrats have had the opportunity to strengthen Social Security by lifting the cap and even could have granted low income and middle income earners a respite (no SS tax on first $20,000 and on income between say $90,000-$130,000), Some military spending might have been put to better use as well. They didn’t and wouldn’t have under Clinton.
        Obamacare has not stopped premiums from continuing to skyrocket, and needs to be scrapped in favor of Medicare for all, something Clinton and the Democrats won’t do either. The EPA is already weak and Clinton and her frackers weren’t about to strengthen that either. So if the Republicans get carried away with themselves domestically and the public acquiesces, I’ll hold the public and the faux progressive Democrats responsible as well.
        I seriously doubt Trump has nuclear threats in mind, but you can believe the MSM “spin” if you want. In case you didn’t notice, Clinton was in favor of a no-fly zone in Syria (the precursor being Libya), and its attendant ramping up of U.S. military action there. Dangerous as hell my good man.
        I do agree that Trump’s comments in regard to Iran are misguided to say the least, but Clinton, McCain, and others have threatened that Iran would face “obliteration” for, in my view, essentially being made up of Iranians. You are correct to be leery of Trump on foreign policy concerns, but certainly not more so than Clinton, Obama, or many other predecessors.

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  4. Bernie Sanders betrayed his principles & most of his followers when he endorsed Clinton & called on his followers to vote for her. Instead of a “lesser evil”, he should have endorsed a real alternative who was still in the race: Jill Stein. A more significant vote for Stein would sent a stronger message to the corrupt political elite. To me a call for a vote for Clinton strongly suggests that Sanders was disingenuous, or that he did not really want to change the status quo of a rigged, corrupt system like he pretended to. I say: shame on Sanders.
    I also do not understand M. Davout’s decision to vote for Clinton.


    1. I think Bernie feared a Trump triumph if he endorsed Stein or withheld his full support from Clinton. The sad irony is that Trump triumphed anyway.

      To state the obvious, if Bernie hadn’t endorsed Clinton and campaigned for her, he would now be taking the lion’s share of the blame from Clinton and establishment Democrats. The latter are still refusing to accept blame, instead preferring to blame the FBI or polls or Republican deviousness or whatever.

      Establishment Democrats are their own worst enemies. They’ve become a party of expediency, without strong convictions. So they lost to a man of strong (and dangerous) convictions …


      1. ……if Bernie hadn’t endorsed Clinton and campaigned for her, he would now be taking the lion’s share of the blame from Clinton and establishment Democrats.

        Let’s face it: Bernie has been in politics for a long time & will probably take his retirement in the not too distant future. Had he been sincere and wanted the best for the country (i.e. giving a strong signal to the Democrats & instigated a real change of a rigged, corrupt political system) he should have endorsed Stein & taken the flak from the party. To me that would have demarcated the man truly. Instead, he caved in to pressure because of a lack of guts to stand for his principles all the way. I find that extremely disappointing & don’t see how the man can be taken seriously anymore.


      2. I see it differently. Bernie judged that Stein had no chance (true), and that the best course of action was to work for progressive change through Clinton (arguable).

        Now, Clinton has lost and is gone into the wilderness, whereas Bernie is the voice of the real Democratic Party, the man with the best chance of leading a vigorous opposition to Trump, until someone else emerges.


        1. OK, time will tell. So far I have not seen or heard much about him, other than that he has not ruled out giving it another shot in 2020.


  5. One of the issues raised in this thread of comments is will a Trump Administration be no worse, more or less, for both the country and the world, than a Clinton administration would have been? Obviously the issue cannot be settled definitively. Just as we cannot definitively know whether a Gore administration would have been the same or better for the country and world than the Bush administration was. I’m guessing, however, that most here would agree that Gore, establishmentarian that he was, would not have pushed the US to invade Iraq in 2003. And that he would have appointed much more liberal justices to the Supreme Court than either Roberts or Alito. (One could go down a list but I’ll stop with those two plausible differences.)
    In ten years, will there be a similar list of contrasts to be drawn between Trump policy disasters and what we reasonably could have expected from Clinton? I think the likelihood is that there will be.


    1. True. And Gore, an actual believer in science, could have made much more progress in addressing global warming and clean energy.

      Hillary would have done better with Supreme Court picks. She would have protected immigrants and abortion rights, the LGBTQ community, and so on.

      What’s much more dubious is her record on banks and financial institutions and her warmongering overseas. On these issues, she was to the right of Obama, even more of an establishment candidate, even more beholden to special interests.

      Of course, as the Trump administration unfolds, as Pence and his fellow Christian warriors take charge, even Hillary’s serious flaws may pale by comparison.


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