After Bernie: A pragmatic left perspective on the 2016 election

The following is an updated analysis of the 2016 election coming on the heels of Trump’s nomination and Bernie Sanders loss to Hillary Clinton.  This was presented at a recent book talk.  

That the 2016 election presents a complex political situation is an understatement to say the least. As such it calls for a sophisticated analysis and equally sophisticated tactics, communications and approaches. Most left and progressive analyses I think falls short in this regard. I won’t go into specifics, but it ranges from sectarian responses to the Democratic Party and the nomination of Clinton to an approach that misleads people into thinking the Democratic Party can become a vehicle for a “political revolution.”

Realities and opportunities

A reality is that Bernie supporters in critical swing states may face a choice to vote for Clinton in the general election or risk Trump winning. Discontent with Clinton and the party establishment leaves many Sanders supporters ambivalent or reluctant to cast a vote for Hillary.

A vote Clinton does not mean one supports the Democratic Party or even Hillary. In the political turmoil of 2016, it would simply be a pragmatic, tactical vote to reduce the chance of a Trump presidency that arguable would create less favorable conditions for millions of Americans and immigrants.

This is not an argument to encourage activists to invest countless hours volunteering for Hillary and donating money. There is no reason to work for a candidate with whom one strongly disagrees on many issues. Clinton will have plenty of money and volunteers.

But opportunities exist at the congressional and state levels to work to advance progressive and independent oriented Democratic candidates. Several of these Sanders endorsed, albeit it was late in coming.

In solidly Democratic states activists could encourage people to vote for the Green Party’s presidential candidate to register their discontent and to support a program more advanced than that of Sanders. The Green Party is also running congressional candidates that deserve support. Progressive Democrats challenging GOP incumbents or vying for open seats also present opportunities for Sanders’ supporters to push his agenda.

Smart left politics means keeping mass sentiments in mind

Politically and tactically it would be irresponsible to urge people not to vote for Hillary, especially in swing states. This would fuel division, especially with African American and women voters. Anger and self-righteousness do not engender smart political tactics. Thinking a Trump victory will spur some kind of revolution is also wishful thinking and foolhardy. Yet, some well meaning people have advocated these ideas on social and national TV media. History teaches it is more difficult to bring about change in worsening conditions.

To the extent a Clinton candidacy contributes at least in words to softening the effects of the demagoguery of the Trump campaign it contributes to the task of the task of defeating racism and nativism. For the left to undermine this leads to isolation. For the left to pour money and time into the Clinton campaign is to mislead and does NOTHING to defeat the disease in our society that makes a Trump nomination possible.

In 2017, people’s social movements will have enough to cope with given another capitalist economic crisis is unfolding without having a Trump presidency to contend with as well. Regardless of the outcome of the election, however, the people’s movements need to take steps now to unify and prepare a fight back and offense to challenge both parties’ solutions to the multiple crisis the nation faces. For these reasons and goals, this tactical approach to the 2016 election, is not a lesser of two evils argument. It springs from mass movement perspective on social change and electoral politics.

Lesser of two evils: A simplistic framework

I have come to the conclusion that framing U.S. two-party politics in the context of “lesser of two evils,” is not only unhelpful now it has always fallen short. It simplistically describes a complex political process and dynamic that in effect isolates Marxists and the left in general from the existing and evolving mass sentiments and understanding of the millions we need to reach.

For example, Stein of the Green Party recently said Clinton should be indicted for her handling of the email private server issue. Even if it were a reasonable position, it is politically imprudent to advocate. And others on the left have insulted Sanders supporters for deciding to vote for Clinton as being herded sheep, surrendering or going over to the “enemy side.” These are insulting and contribute nothing to improving people’s understanding or motivating them to consider independent politics.

Keeping in mind the needs of those most in need is the key to charting the most effective political tactics that will minimize the dangers and capitalize on the opportunities. These needs include meaningful immigration reform for 12 million undocumented workers, ending mass incarceration and making reparations for the injustices committed, reversing the losses in women’s reproductive rights and standing against the growing violence in our country against Muslims. To risk a Trump presidency, by inaction, neglect or out of self-righteousness, would be to fail those most in need.

No doubt a Clinton presidency would continue the neo-liberal economic and imperialist foreign polices many Sanders voters reject. Yet, the best way for Bernie activists to expand the influence of Sanders historic campaign would be to shift their enthusiasm, time, skills and dollars into mass movements for peace, jobs and racial justice. This is also the best means of contributing to defeating Trump and only way to diminish the grip of reactionary ideas.

It is also an independent place from which to critique directly or indirectly the supporters of imperialist foreign policies within the Democratic Party, including Clinton. Campaigning for Clinton essentially forgoes the right to challenge her positions and thereby a confusing signal to millions who oppose U.S. foreign policy. Campaigning against Clinton as if there are no differences between the constituents and elected officials of the two-parties is sectarian and self-defeating and thereby isolates the left from the tens of millions who are looking for capable, trusted leadership for solutions to the nation’s crisis.

Taking steps toward political independence in 2018 and beyond

Sanders’ choice to run in the Democratic Party, although a practical choice perpetuates the notion the party is a vehicle for the far-reaching change he advocates. It is an illusion to think such an institution will support massive new social benefits and risk loosing its corporate backers. On the other hand, the response to Sanders has made it clear millions of the party’s voters and independents reject the corporate, centrist’s politics of the Democratic Party.

Those who wish to further Sanders’ revolution beyond 2016 should plan now to make a showing in the 2018 congressional elections. This could include backing progressive Democrats, Black Lives Matter leaders, climate change activists, immigration justice organizers, labor leaders, independents, socialists and Green candidates. The final lesson of the Sanders campaign is that such an effort must be independent of the two-party system. Tied to the Democrats it cannot inspire people or grow. Like all past efforts it would soon be considered irrelevant.

A visible presence in the 2018 elections is a critical opportunity that cannot be missed. The time is ripe. In the minds of millions of Sanders’ supporters the Democratic Party primary is just a vehicle for some as yet undefined possibility of a different politics outside the two-party system. Demonstrating what is possible is a necessary next step.

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