On February 2, Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at the 2017 Sister Giant Conference in Washington D.C. In his speech, he voiced his harshest criticism of the Democratic establishment since his presidential campaign.
“Let me suggest to you, and some will disagree with me and that’s okay, too. But let me suggest to you that what happened on November 8th. Trump’s victory was not a victory for Trump or his ideology. It was a gross political failure of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders, who went on to explain his perspective on why Donald Trump won and where the Democratic Party has gone astray.
“Let me also tell you something again where people may disagree with me. If you think everyone who voted for Donald Trump is a racist or a sexist or a homophobe, you would be dead wrong,” he said. “Many of those folks—and I met them all over this country—are hard-working, decent people, but they are asking questions like how does it happen I am working longer hours for lower wages? How does it happen that almost all of the new income and wealth in this country is going to the top one percent? How does it happen that as a single mother I cannot afford childcare for my baby? How does it happen that my kids will in all likelihood have a lower standard living than I will, and they’re leaving school deeply in debt? How does it happen that I’m working for 9 bucks an hour and nobody gives a damn about whether or not I can put food on the table or pay my rent? How does it happen that the crooks on Wall Street destroy the economy, yet kids who smoke marijuana get prosecuted, but the CEOs on Wall Street who destroyed the lives of millions of people, not one prosecution of a Wall Street executive, how does that happen?”
Sanders called Trump a “pathological liar” with no ideology, but he believes that voters chose Trump because his platform challenges the status quo, as opposed to Clinton’s, which embodied it. “There are people in this country who are hurting, and they are hurting terribly,” added Sanders. “And for years they looked to the Democratic Party, which at one time was the party of working people, and they looked and they looked and they looked and they got nothing in return. And out of desperation, they turned to Donald Trump.”
Sanders explained what progressives must do in order to build a better Democratic Party: “Politically, simply and straightforwardly, we have got to create a Democratic Party that stands with working people, the poor, not with Wall Street and the wealthy. Right now, we are in the middle of that fight, taking on the Democratic establishment. Some of you know I am supporting Keith Ellison to become the next Chair of the DNC, and he is running into tremendous opposition. But what I want to see is a Democratic Party not that spends all its time raising money from the wealthy and powerful, but a Democratic Party that opens its doors to working people, to low income people, to young people. That creates a Democratic Party with a small ‘d’. That mobilizes millions of people to demand that we have a government representing all of us, not just the one percent.”
The enthusiasm for Sanders’ presidential campaign, especially from millennials, demonstrated the power of grassroots campaigning. Furthermore, this strategy was completely ignored by the Clinton campaign, which preferred to court wealthy donors. Sanders cited different grassroots movements in American History that have induced change.
“In every instance, in every great moment in American History, the way change came about was from the bottom on up, never the top on down. And that is where we are right now at this moment,” Sanders said. “It is much easier said than done. We have got to bring diverse elements of the progressive movement together. I can fully assure you that Trump and his friends will be doing everything possible to make that difficult,” he said. “We need environmentalists who understand that if we are not bold and decisive in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy sufficiency and sustainable energy, the future of this planet is in doubt. But we at the same time have got to stand with those coal miners and their families who may lose their job and make sure we work to economically develop the areas where they live; they cannot be set aside. So it is a question of bringing people together.”
As opposed to Sanders’ proposed strategy to bring people together, the strategy of the Democratic establishment is to scold, scare, fear monger, and blame those who refuse to fail to toe the party line. Hillary Clinton caught flack for commenting at a West Virginia rally in March 2016, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” In September 2016, Bill Clinton mocked coal miners in West Virginia and Kentucky. “The coal people don’t like any of us anymore,” Bill Clinton said during a rally. “They blame the president when the sun doesn’t come up in the morning now.”
The Clintons’ lack of empathy to the plight of working and middle class Americans repelled voters. Furthermore, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment ran her presidential campaign as though Clinton’s victory was imminent. “It’s her turn,” was a mantra that blinded the party from reality. In the wake of Clinton’s loss, the establishment has failed to accept responsibility and has resorted to casting blame on voters. The party needs to begin to turn their attention away from corporate and wealthy donors and toward the working, poor, and middle class voters that they repeatedly cast by the wayside.