The Center Cannot Hold: The US Primary Season 2016

In all the hoopla about the presidential primary season, one thing has become clear: the fractures in the Republican and Democratic parties that have surfaced will long outlive this election.

Republican establishment candidates have been resoundingly rejected – Trump and Cruz are favored because of a xenophobic turn in the the party’s declining white base that the candidates have embraced and accentuated. The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne commented that “the results in Iowa showed a party torn to pieces. Ted Cruz won because he understood from the start the importance of cornering the market on Christian conservatives who have long dominated Iowa’s unusual process. … Donald Trump has created a new wing of the Republican Party by combining older GOP tendencies — nationalism, nativism, racial backlash — with 21st-century worries about American decline and the crushing of working-class incomes. … Marco Rubio was the remainder candidate, pulling together most of the voters who couldn’t stand Trump or Cruz.”

What is more significant about Trump’s Bonapartist posturing, however, is that he has changed the alignment of conservative forces by his inflammatory rhetoric against opponents and, as a New York resident writes in Naked Capitalism, by building institutional links with the police. “This is an armed working class unionized pro-government demographic that is not especially fond of plutocrats and has no problem with the government taking responsibility for both full employment and, well, for social order. They are trusted with the legal authority to discipline citizens, and they are the basis for the enforcement of our legal system. A lot of them feel threatened by recent protests. And they are giving Trump enthusiastic endorsements.”

On the Democratic side, Sanders has confounded all predictions by matching Clinton’s vote in Iowa, despite an improbable series of coin tosses that gave her a marginal victory. However, Democrats are less divided over policy, more over who is electable. Dionne noted that most Democrats “share Clinton’s view that gradual reform is the most practical way forward. But most also agree with Sanders that even moderately progressive steps will be stymied if money’s influence is left unchecked, if progressives do not find new ways of organizing and mobilizing, and if so many white working-class voters continue to support Republicans.”

This was confirmed by Harold Meyerson, who attended a Democratic fund-raiser in New Hampshire where the supporters of both campaigns displayed a programmatic consensus. “Even as the Bernie kids erupted in a thunderstick-banging cacophony as Sanders emphatically delivered one progressive pledge after another, so, too, did the Hillary backers raise theirs and wave them about as Bernie unveiled his platform.”

The New York Times noted the differences in class alignment of the two campaigns. “Mr. Sanders has focused on class issues, unlike Mr. Obama, who focused on many of the priorities of well-educated voters, like climate change and foreign policy. Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, has adopted a more pragmatic message that may have more appeal to affluent voters than a political revolution. Mr. Sanders might have also benefited from a change in the ideological composition of working-class voters. More conservative working-class whites may have switched over to the G.O.P. over the last few years, or simply found themselves unwilling to turn out this time for Mrs. Clinton, who has run a steadfastly liberal campaign.”

But Sanders’s challenge to Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street is muted in some respects. Columnist Greg Sargent notes: “Sanders constantly points to the funding of her campaign — and her acceptance of speaking fees — as symptomatic of this problem. But Sanders does not want to take the final step and say that Clinton personally is making the policy choices she does precisely because she is beholden to the oligarchy, due to its funding of her campaign. The upshot is that Sanders is indicting the entire system, but doesn’t want to question the integrity of Clinton herself — or perhaps doesn’t want to be seen doing that. This is the central tension at the heart of Sanders’s whole argument.”

Prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright have rebuked younger women for supporting Sanders over Clinton, who they want to be the first woman president. However, a special circle of hell surely awaits Albright, who when Secretary of State publicly claimed the death of tens of thousands of Iraqi children was acceptable collateral damage. And British citizens may well shudder at the memory of their first female prime minister.

Clinton has the support of the Democratic party machine and the union bureaucracy. She has already lined up several hundred so-called super delegates, who are the top elected Democratic officials in Congress and the states. In These Times reports: “She has also fielded the endorsements of a number of high-profile unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. … One of the most important endorsements of the race could be that of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union federation. A number of AFL-CIO local and state branches have endorsed Bernie, but they were rebuked in July by President Richard Trumka for doing so, as such endorsements are against the federation’s rules.” While union members tend to favor Sanders, their officials are firmly in the Clinton camp.

Sanders, on the other hand, has generated huge enthusiasm in the liberal base, especially among the generation of Occupy Wall Street. Salon notes the leftward shift in the potential future leaders of the Democratic party: “The breakdown between supporters of Clinton versus supporters of Sanders falls along shockingly clear generational lines, and should absolutely terrify any centrist Democrat holding national office. Among caucus-goers age 17-29, Sanders won 84-14; among those 65 and over, Clinton won 69-26. … Consider, briefly, the challenge facing Democratic National Convention chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who is facing a primary opponent for the first time in her six terms serving in the House. Shultz is opposed by a lawyer and former Occupier named Tim Canova, an almost too-perfect avatar of the changes roiling through the party base.”

Nobody can deny the adeptness of the Clintons’ grasp of the levers of power. But between now and the election, what unanticipated events might have their impact on public consciousness? Incremental progress on social issues is possible when there is a growing economy, but political shocks can change what the public demands.

What it comes down to is this: the public have rejected the oligarchical establishment. But can democracy be sustained when the electorate sees so clearly the corruption of the political system?



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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, republican primaries, Uncategorized

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