In the wake of Hillary Clinton losing the election, a schism between reform-oriented progressives and establishment Democrats has split the party. Though these divisions are no longer about Clinton and Bernie Sanders as candidates, Sanders progressives are facing obstruction from the establishment in their plight to enact meaningful changes to the Democratic Party.
As Sanders has reiterated since Clinton’s election loss, “We can’t be a party which cozies up to Wall Street, raises money from billionaires & stands with working families. We’ve got to pick a side.” The line in the sand has been drawn, and the Democratic establishment is siding with their billionaire donors and corporate influences, while progressives fight for representation in the party beyond just Sanders.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claimed in December that the Democratic Party doesn’t need a new direction, and retired Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid echoed a similar sentiment. Democratic National Committee (DNC) interim chair Donna Brazile continues to embarrass the party with self-serving rhetoric focused as she tries to repair her damaged image after CNN severed ties with her for forwarding town hall and debate questions to the Clinton campaign in advance.
In Florida, billionaire donor Stephen Bittel made a Machiavellian ascension from donor to Florida Democratic Party chair in a series of corrupt moves that further disenfranchised progressives.
Recently in California and Michigan, progressives experienced instances of backroom deals and rule violations meant to silence their voices during DNC delegate and state party elections, similar to their experiences during the Democratic primaries.
The race for DNC chair has devolved into addressing the establishment concerns of delegates. Democratic Party leaders have engaged in strategy development in closed-door conferences with billionaire donors instead of engaging the millions of voters that they have failed to reach in elections for the past eight years.
Despite the Democratic Party’s failures, mainstream Democrats are calling for blind loyalty under the false pretense of unity. “The party can’t win if it’s not inclusive, and the way to be inclusive is not to re-litigate the old battle. And there’s obviously some attempt to do that” corporate lobbyist and Clinton super delegate Howard Dean said in a recent interview. This misdiagnosis of the Democratic Party’s essential problem illuminates why it is in such a dire state.
Progressives still harbor lingering resentment from the Democratic primaries because the party has failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing in rigging the primaries for Clinton and further insists on disenfranchising progressives by refusing to change. This rift has resulted in essentially two political parties fitting under one umbrella: one side wants to address important issues facing working and middle class Americans, while the other wants to market themselves as liberal and rely on partnerships with corporations and elite donors. However, if the 2016 elections was any indication, courting wealthy donors is a losing strategy.
Sanders has been placed in charge of outreach for the Democratic Party because no one else knows what they’re doing outside of fundraising. While many Democrats stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their failures, they seem to admit that only Sanders is able to lead them through a Trump presidency and Republican controlled Congress. If Democrats want to start winning elections again, they need to accept that they are out of touch with most Americans. The only solution for reconnecting with voters is dependent upon progressives taking on much larger roles in the party.