“The Dickens opening to The Tale of Two Cities—it was the best of times and the worst of times– continues to be relevant again and again.”
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If Trump Is Defeated It Is Because of the Progressive Majority
By Harry Targ
The Dickens opening to The Tale of Two Cities—it was the best of times and the worst of times– continues to be relevant again and again. That is what dialectics is all about. 2016 gave us an exciting and inspirational presidential campaign led by Bernie Sanders: an older, Jewish socialist. Best of all was the enormous enthusiasm he generated among millennials, who were excited by his political vision and not deterred by his age.
On the other hand, the Republican pool of presidential candidates were among the most reactionary, racist, sexist, and homophobic collection of politicians ever assembled in national political life. This characterization was not always true of past Republican leaders who occasionally stood up for social and economic justice and against war. However, Republicans since 2008 have sought to rekindle the deep structures of racism for their own political gain.
The long-time presumptive Democratic Party nominee, at least from the standpoint of the mainstream media, offered a program of national policy that more or less supported finance capitalism at home and “humanitarian interventionism” overseas.
But the Democratic contest energized the passions of the young, expanded political discourse to include visions of a more just future, and buried the virulent anti-communism that undergirded the political rhetoric of American politics since the onset of the Cold War. The vibrant support for the Sanders candidacy shifted domestic political discourse to the left and led to the construction of a Democratic Party platform that spoke to the needs for achieving a single payer health care system, raising the minimum wage to a living wage, providing free tuition to students entering public universities, creating real banking reform, passing meaningful immigration policies, reforming the criminal justice system, and addressing climate change–the most fundamental threat to humankind. Although platforms are just words, they articulate guides for policy advocacy and social movement mobilization.
Finally, the Sanders campaign has stimulated the continuation of grassroots mobilizations to support progressive candidates for local, state, and national office. At this stage at least, the Sanders “Our Revolution” organizing efforts promise to continue the democratic socialist upsurge between elections as well as during them.
The “best of times” leaves much undone and gives pause to the most excited Sanders activists but the seeds have been planted for a new politics among the progressive majority and inspiration for older and younger sectors of the left to participate in mass movements in the years ahead.
As to the November, 2016 election, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is close enough to be frightening. The Trump/Pence candidacy has mobilized white supremacists, religious fundamentalists, citizens virulently hostile to immigrants, Second Amendment dogmatists and others who stand for returning to a past that can only be recreated with even greater state violence. The complicated election season raises questions about where progressives, particularly Sanders activists, should channel their political energies.
First, the Trump/Pence candidacy must be defeated. Trump has mobilized reactionary sectors of American society who support reversing gains made by women, people of color, and workers. The enduring march for economic and social justice of workers, women, African Americans, Latinos, religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community has taken too long and required too many sacrifices, to be reversed.
Second, the centrists Democrats who support candidate Clinton might blame the new progressive majority if the Democratic candidate wins only by a narrow victory or loses. In fact, however, a Clinton victory will clearly depend upon the support of the masses of people, young and old, black and white, many of whom worked with passion for Bernie Sanders. A Clinton victory will be a Sanders victory.
And in the 2016 context, the progressive majority will be in a position to demand that the Democratic Platform be supported in policy. The new administration will be obliged to put its full resources behind significant reform in health care, wages, the criminal justice system, immigration, and bank regulation. And, in addition, the new progressive majority will be in a position (even beyond former candidate Sanders) to challenge the military-industrial complex and demand a withdrawal from the expanding US empire of bases in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
In fact, a Hillary Clinton electoral victory will be a defeat for the legitimation of racism and reaction and a demonstration that it was the progressive majority that insured it. The new progressive majority will have the right to “sit at the table.” If not it will be fully justified in hitting the streets–indeed, some say, that is our moral obligation until both policies and practices work for all.
Harry Targ writes historical analysis, teaches, and is the author of several books.
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