We have just witnessed the incredible spectacle of a vile right-wing celebrity being elected President of the United States. There is a right lesson—and a wrong one!—for Democrats to take from this.
The Democratic party is in the process of deciding whether it will be the primary home of The Resistance, or its normal bumbling, triangulating mess. Hard choice! On one hand, there are millions and millions of Americans angry at our incipient slide into white nationalism and looking for a place to direct their newfound political energy; on the other hand, when you talk to Bill Clinton, he really makes you feel like you’re the only one in the whole room.
There are a million small, technical things that establishment Democrats can, if they so choose, blame their election loss on: the media, James Comey, a weak ground game in Midwestern states, etcetera. This impulse to attribute the loss to small things that can be changed relatively easy is a powerful one, because it absolves the party as a whole from scrutiny. In this scenario, it’s not that the Democratic party is moribund and out of touch and the object of legitimate scorn from many voters whose lives have not improved for decades; it’s just that [MINOR TACTICAL THING].
If this is ultimately the lesson the party takes from this election, it is a missed opportunity. There is a reason why two anti-establishment outsiders, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, did far better than expected: because people are mad that our political system is broken. We have a democracy that has been proven to operate like an oligarchy, favoring the interests of wealthy and powerful—and, consequently, we have a dying middle class and decades of rising inequality. Yes, the policies of the Republicans are to blame for a good deal of this. But the Democrats are supposed to be the party that stopped all this from happening. They failed. In many instances, they were complicit. There is no arguing with the fact that the establishment is what got us to where we are today. That is why the Democrats must change. And that change must be a leftward push towards economic equality, social equality, and, most importantly, towards building a democracy that functions in the way that democracies should—by distributing power to everyone, not letting it be controlled by the few.
This is what the Democratic party should have taken away from their devastating election loss. But of course, there is no guarantee that they did. If the Democrats are able to blame their loss on small, controllable tactical errors, they are then free to conclude that their path to victory lies in more of the same. This mindstate—which allows the establishment to just continue doing what it does—was powerful enough to defeat Keith Ellison’s bid to lead the DNC. The establishment did not get to where they are by accident.
Nothing embodies this Democratic tendency to run away from left wing populism at top speed better than its worshipful embrace of political celebrity. We are already hearing the terrifying whispers. Chelsea Clinton may run for office (perhaps against Caroline Kennedy?). Perhaps Hillary Clinton will make a run for New York City mayor. Andrew Cuomo is exploring a 2020 presidential bid. John Kerry won’t rule out another run, either. And hey, political celebs not big enough for you? Maybe the Democrats will run Mark Cuban! Or George Clooney! Or Oprah!!!
Do you know why so many people are unenthusiastic about the Democratic party? Because the Democrats don’t fucking do what they’re supposed to do. They are supposed to be the party of the oppressed. They are supposed to fight for the little guy. They are supposed to represent the poor, and the downtrodden, and the marginalized. Instead, they fawn over political dynasties and search madly for our own rich and famous people to counteract the rich and famous people of the other side. They are supposed to be opening doors for people who have never had the chance to be rich, or famous; instead, they are busy creating their own team of celebrities and billionaires—but ours are nice.
That is what the other side does. We are actually against that, you see. We are not supposed to copying that.
Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis were both shocks to their respective institutions, because they both at least tried to make those institutions act in accordance with their stated values. But it is hard to make the church give up its golden chalices, and it is hard to make the Democrats give up the Clintons and the Kennedys. Speaking as one of the (majority of) Americans who would not care to see our country slide into fascism, I would like to urge the Democratic establishment to think about why you are where you are. Not to meet Oprah, nor to be introduced to the infinite network of insider connections. You are there to help people who need help.
If necessary, we can spend the next four years prying the hands of celebrity Democrats off of the levers of power, but that’s not the most efficient use of time. It would be better for everyone if they politely wrote the checks and fucked off. Clintonistas and zillionaire politico-tourists and Hollywood stars: be good soldiers, and hold the door open for people who actually care about issues on your way out.