Analysis: To defeat Trump, the Democrats’ only hope is to go against its leadership’s instincts


The one clear result from the US midterms is that an unapologetic progressive alternative is the only way of overthrowing Trumpism

IN THE AFTERMATH of yesterday’s US midterms, Nancy Pelosi went to the Democratic Party and argued in favour of collaboration with white supremacy and crypto-fascism.

With results proving frustratingly purple for both sides of the United States’ ironclad two-party system, the current House Minority Leader (and, following the Democrats’ reclamation of the House, the presumed future Speaker) chose to celebrate by advocating the abandonment of newly-won territory and finding “common ground” with a Republican administration that has disgusted all but the US empire’s most dedicated apologists.

In an apparently well-rehearsed address, Pelosi assured/warned the American people that the Democratic Party “will strive for bipartisanship, with fairness on all sides.”

America’s supposed party of opposition, Pelosi continued, “have a responsibility to find our common ground where we can, stand our ground where we can’t – but we must try. We’ll have a bipartisan marketplace of ideas that makes our democracy strong.”

This was presumably the same marketplace that bought what Donald Trump was selling when the price was at its most costly, but who’s counting?

The new Democratic Congress, Pelosi assured voters who had perhaps unwittingly voted for it in the hopes they would pursue something approximating a Democratic agenda, “will work for solutions that bring us together, because we have all had enough of division. The American people want peace. They want results. They want us to work for positive results for their lives.” 

Speaking on behalf of all peoples within the nation is a common habit amongst politicians, by no means restricted to the United States. But regardless of the trope’s frequent inaccuracy, Pelosi’s statement stood at odds with two realities: the first being that, judging by the fragmented results of yesterday’s electoral squalls, the American people are not united – not in their desire for “positive results”, nor anything else.

This is perhaps understandable, given the lengths to which the current administration and its hangers-on have gone in order to strengthen and profit from the republic’s existing divisions.

As some – but notably, not all – of America’s press have pointed out, the campaigns preceding Tuesday’s midterm elections were marked, on a national scale, by a level of dog-whistle bigotry and racist pandering that was shocking, even to those familiar with the Republican Party’s track-record.

The Trump-backed ‘Caravan ad’ – for which there can be no other purpose than making white American voters afraid of Latin American immigrants, and which aired on NBC last week after even CNN rejected it – encapsulated the tone of a number of strategies pursued by Republican campaigns in the run-up to this week, the racism of which is evident whether seen in the context of Trump or not.

On a state and local level meanwhile, a series of relatively moderate proposals – which nonetheless often failed to win as much Democratic backing as public support suggested they might – were opposed vociferously by the vested interests they might threaten.

In consequence, California’s extremely reasonable provisions to rent control were crushed, and Los Angeles’ hopes for a public bank option – a heresy to the private American financial sector – will be regrettably shelved for the foreseeable future.

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This was the first major nationwide electoral challenge the Republican Party had faced since the election of Trump, and it demonstrated two things: firstly, despite the contention of many horrified post-2016 liberals that Trumpism was a strange new aberration, that the Republicans will stand for the same overwhelmingly white ruling class constituencies they always have.

Secondly, that that the GOP are now in lock-step behind Trump, with all dissent now more or less purged or silenced. This is the party with whom Pelosi, by her own inscrutable logic, wishes to find common ground with.

For the mainstream Democratic Party which Pelosi represents, the lessons unfortunately lie in the eye of the beholder. If they had failed to take either the House or the Senate, then the position of the current Democratic leadership might have become untenable; Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate leader, may still be called upon to step down in the wake of his party’s inarguable defeat on that side of the legislature.

Thankfully for Pelosi and her cadre, yesterday’s uncertain results allow an undeserved reprieve for standard Democratic thinking: if the crushing loss of 2016 did not repudiate them, then neither will a day which can, with a little elbow-grease, be spun as a victory. Even Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s personality-free former running mate, managed a victory over the white nationalist-backed Corey Stewart, which to some will demonstrate that Democrats do not need anything so inconvenient as ideological convictions to achieve electoral triumph.

Such a view requires ignoring some of the Democrats’ most high-profile victories, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now the youngest women ever to enter the House of Representatives, and New York State Senator Julia Salazar, both endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, the rapid rise of which since Trump’s election has positioned the organisation as a pivotal force within the American progressive Left.

READ MORE: ‘The socialists are back, and they are pissed’: American socialism in the age of Trump

During their initial rise to prominence, centrist Democrats were keen to dismiss figures such as Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar as regional or circumstantial phenomena which could not and should not replicated, for fear of the damage they might do the wider appeal of the Democratic Party.

Yet, as the DSA activist John Leavitt argued to CommonSpace earlier today, such a viewpoint is trapped in the certainties of the past, rather than the strange, shifting realities of our unenviable present. To defeat Trump and what he represents requires a clearly defined, unapologetic alternative. If Pelosi, Schumer and the rest of yesterday’s Democratic cohort cannot provide it, American voters may look towards those who can.

Nevertheless, the lessons that the DSA’s achievements can teach the international Left are by no means simple, nor are their examples immediately replicable. Where the American Left succeeded yesterday was in places where it maintained both a strong, defined opposition to the present administration nationwide, as well as a dedicated investment in state and local issues.

Whether in Scotland, Europe or anywhere else, it seems self-evident that the Left will only achieve similar progress by paying attention to the unique circumstances of the struggles it contests – from opposing national governments and power structures, to dealing with problems just down the street.

Still, nobody expects the road ahead for the post-2016 American socialist Left to be easy; suggestions that the midterms’ gains should be capitalised upon and cemented with a socialist caucus within Congress bear scrutiny and work in the days to come.

Those days, however, should not be wasted on attempts at bipartisanship with a distinctly American far right that has never sought similar rapprochement.

In the words of Lou Reed: “There’s no ground common enough for me and you.”

Picture courtesy of Gage Skidmore