The Democratic Party doesn’t deserve your vote
The record of the Democrats proves that voting for the “lesser evil” doesn’t stop evil.
NO ONE reading this article needed one, but the last weeks were a reminder anyway: that there is no low point of hate and fearmongering that Donald Trump can’t sink below.
Trump and his “brain” trust decided that the Republicans’ best bet for the midterm elections would be to slander a caravan of refugees from violence and oppression in Central America — and to send who knows how many U.S. soldiers to the border to meet this grave threat.
They succeeded in whipping up their right-wing base. But they also sharpened the outrage and anger of millions of people who already oppose Trump — and who will vote in today’s elections with a sense of alarm about stopping the fanatic in the White House.
In almost every case, those millions who want to vote against Trump will have no real choice but to vote for the Democratic Party, which has also been determined — but not about stopping Trump’s crimes.
During the same weeks when Trump piled one anti-immigrant atrocity on top of another, the leaders of the “party of the people” were determined not to say anything about it.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had the same infuriating message of evasion last weekend that she’s repeated for months. Rather than let voters “think the Democrats are all about impeachment, investigation, caravans, ‘scaravans,’” Pelosi recommended: “Don’t take the bait, just stick with health care, good-paying jobs and clean government.”
The Democrats are likely to make gains at all levels of government in today’s elections, probably enough to win a majority in the House, if not in the Senate. It will be a pleasure to watch some of the most monstrous Republicans go down to defeat.
If the Democrats win big, it will be because millions of people use this election to register their opposition to Trump, the Republican Party and the right wing agenda.
It won’t, however, be because the Democratic Party is providing an alternative to the Trumpian status quo, much less a lead to the popular resistance that has confronted the Trump administration from its first day in office.
This election has been a departure in one respect: The media spotlight has fallen on a number of left-wing candidates running as Democrats in this election, including members of the Democratic Socialists of America. The left needs to absorb the lessons of this development.
But we do know that those candidates won’t be calling the shots come January. As an institution, and under the leadership of those who will call the shots, the Democrats aren’t committed to the kind of change that most of their voters would like to see.
Whatever they say — or don’t say — on the campaign trail, the Democrats’ dismal record in office shows that they will disappoint their liberal base with compromises and capitulations to the Republicans.
Unless, that is, both Democrats and Republicans face pressure from outside the two-party system.
This is the key to building an actual resistance to Trump and the Republicans: Not voting for Democrats in the hope that they will change anything for us, but relying on the strength of our co-workers, our fellow students and our community to educate, agitate and organize struggles that put forward a left-wing alternative.
THE MISERY of living under Trump has produced some of the largest protests in U.S. history, starting with the Women’s March on the day after his inauguration.
These demonstrations have been an ongoing reminder of both the rejection of Trump and his politics by a majority of people in the country and the desire of millions of people to start doing something about it.
Democratic Party leaders have a use for the first part — but not so much for the second.
Thus, throughout the upsurge of anger over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, Democrats expressed their opposition — most of them, anyway — while trying to channel people’s outrage toward the voting booth and warning that protests could go too far and “alienate” potential supporters.
The unions and large liberal organizations, including organizers of the Women’s Marches, didn’t make the call to mobilize another massive show of anti-Trump strength, so the protests against Kavanaugh that did take place were angry and powerful, but scattered.
The dynamic is even more telling when it comes to immigrant rights.
The most recent of the truly massive anti-Trump demonstrations was the Families Belong Together mobilizations in late June that brought out hundreds of thousands of people for protests and marches in 750 cities and every state to vent their anger at the administration’s cruel family separation policy.
But this fall, the Democrats were mostly silent on the issue. They were advised — by the progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress, among others — to “spend as little time as possible” talking about immigration during election season, so as not to emphasize an issue where it’s taken for granted that the Republicans have an advantage.
Actually, the mass protests and even more massive public revulsion at Trump’s policies showed the potential for putting Republicans on the defensive — and on an issue they depend on to rev up their right-wing base.
But the Democrats followed the same election-year strategy they always do: chase every last “swing voter” in the political middle of the road, and that means avoiding anything controversial.
THE PROBLEM goes beyond timid campaign tactics. The Democrats’ strategy is the logical outcome for a party that says it stands for immigrant justice to satisfy its more liberal base at election time, but that stands in practice for a status quo where implementing justice would be a social and political threat.
It is no coincidence that the Democratic Party’s actual agenda on immigration issues mirrors that of Corporate America: support for a system that allows immigration to supplement the U.S. workforce at various levels, but that disciplines that workforce by keeping most immigrants in a second-class status.
Thus, the hopes in 2008 that Barack Obama would pass real immigration reform during his first months in office were fated to be dashed.
Not only did Obama fail to achieve any initiative, even a compromised one, to legalize the status of any undocumented workers, but he followed through on Corporate America’s other priority of using enforcement to maintain control over workers — and deportations went up, not down.
This experience illustrates the problems with voting for the Democrats as the lesser of two evils. On immigration, the “lesser evil” candidate in 2008 ended up presiding over more actual evil than his “greater evil” predecessor, George W. Bush.
In the era of Trump, it usually isn’t hard to figure out who the greater evil is in any one election. But as the American socialist Hal Draper wrote, the problem isn’t the answer, but the question itself — because it accepts the limits of the two-party system and distorts the political outlook of people who need to be a part of changing the world.
Let’s go back to Obama and the issue of immigration. In 2008, the immigrant rights movement was only two years away from an amazing high point that really did achieve a victory. The mega-marches and “day without an immigrant” strikes of 2006 stopped reactionary Republican legislation that would have criminalized all of the undocumented in the U.S.
But under Obama, the same liberal forces that helped organize the 2006 upsurge were far quieter, hoping that they could work with their supposed ally in the White House. Calls to protest Obama’s lack of action were met with warnings that being too radical would hand the Republicans an issue to hammer the Democrats with.
And so Barack Obama became the deporter-in-chief without facing mass opposition on the scale of 2006 — and the promise of any reform, even with the twisted compromises that the Democrats insisted on, went unfulfilled.
Malcolm X once said that “you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last.” When Nancy Pelosi and the leaders of the Democratic Party know they can count on the party’s liberal base to vote for their candidates, no matter what, they can move in the direction that inevitably feels more comfortable: to the right.
THOUGH YOU’D never know it to listen to Pelosi, there are more Democratic candidates this year who progressives might want to vote for, rather than only voting against the Republicans.
The anti-Trump upsurge of the past two years has helped the Democrats field a more diverse group of candidates than ever before, and more Democrats are willing to say they stand for progressive proposals like Medicare for All.
This is also the result of a surge of candidates who, following the lead of Sen. Bernie Sanders, explicitly identify themselves as democratic socialists. Their successes are a direct result of the hard organizing work of members of DSA and other left forces, and those successes have, in turn, raised the prominence of DSA and socialism in general.
Among DSA members in particular, there is sharp opposition to the neoliberal, pro-corporate program championed by the likes of Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Though many DSAers will likely choose to vote for establishment-sanctioned Democrats in 2018 and 2020, others will make the principled decision to refuse to support those Democratic candidates who don’t support them.
This is an important development for anyone who looks forward, as we do at SW, to the establishment of a left-wing political force independent of the two-party system.
But our analysis would be inadequate if we didn’t point out the dangers for socialists trying to build their forces within a capitalist party that is hostile to their aims. The very success of left-wing candidates within the party makes it harder to resist the pressure that draws them further in.
Thus, DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a primary election upset for a seat in Congress from New York City over powerful party boss Joe Crowley. Her victory was a blow to the party leadership — but her new prominence led to requests, to which she agreed, to endorse and campaign for Democrats who are well to her right.
Historically, the Democrats have been willing to tolerate a left within the party and a certain amount of criticism as a price worth paying for having well-known figures who can build enthusiasm among the party’s liberal base.
The great danger for the left has been to be drawn in — and to, as a consequence, tailor and limit its message and strategy based on the needs of the Democrats, rather than the Democrats changing the party’s aims and actions in any significant way.
Socialist Worker has maintained since its founding that we look forward to the creation of an independent left alternative to the two-party system, and we put this into practice in every election by supporting only independent left-wing candidates. We say that the Democratic Party doesn’t deserve your votes — and you shouldn’t give it something it doesn’t deserve.
There are only a few such independent left candidates around the country in 2018 offering an opportunity to cast a protest vote against the limitations of the two-party system.
More numerous are the very important referendums where socialists should take a stand: Issue 1 (drug law reform) in Ohio; Question 1 (safe staffing) and Question 3 (transgender rights) in Massachusetts; and Proposition 10 (rent control) and Proposition 11 (paramedics’ rights on the job) in California, to name a few that SW has written about recently.
Ultimately, organizing a socialist resistance in the Trump era depends much more on the struggles of every day other than Election Day. That was our task every day leading up to November 6 — and every day after, when we look forward to uniting to fight the Trumpian right, as well as its Democratic Party enablers.