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From Apocalypse to Common Ground: The Democratic Party’s Perspective on Trump

Without a doubt, Trump’s election is a blow to the working class and oppressed. Yet, many leaders of the Democratic party are hopeful that they may find “common ground” with Trump. What conclusions can we come to about the Democratic party in light of the election?

Tatiana Cozzarelli

November 15, 2016
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There’s no doubt that Donald Trump’s election to the office of President of the United States is terrifying. His virulent racism and sexism has emboldened the country’s worst elements–from KKK victory parades to hate crimes carried out in his name. His sexist comments all through his campaign and the video in which he talks about sexually assaulting women are completely disgusting and triggering for the millions of American women who have survived sexual violence. He was cavalier about the use of nuclear weapons, threatened to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., and promised to deport all undocumented immigrants.

During the presidential race, Trump’s horrific rhetoric led many people to look to the Democrats. Sure, Hillary was the Wall Street candidate who supported numerous anti-worker free trade deals. Sure, Hillary called Black youth “super predators” and supported welfare reform that devastated millions of poor and working class families. It is no secret that as Secretary of State and First Lady, she supported the bombings against women and children in the Middle East. As many argued, at least Hillary did not directly embolden racist attacks. At least she didn’t call Mexicans rapists and violent criminals. So many people voted for Hillary as the “lesser evil”—seeing in her candidacy a way to stop Trump and the onslaught of attacks on working class and oppressed people.

But Hillary lost. And Trump is President.

At first glance, Hillary’s loss can be blamed on the incredibly undemocratic electoral college. She won the popular vote, after all–and so, in some views, she should be president. Yet prior to this election, the Democrats never made any serious effort to change the nature of the electoral college (even in spite of being in a similar, albeit worse, situation in the 2000 election). Yet, the real reasons for her loss have to do with her tremendous unpopularity and the fact that she represented the Washington elite. It also has to do with Trump’s success in channeling national discontent into anti-establishment rhetoric and racism.

So, here we are with Trump as president and we’re already getting a picture of what his regime will look like. While he certainly has adopted a more conciliatory tone and has stepped back from his most radical proposals, his presidency will still incite an escalation in attacks on people of color and the working class. He just named white nationalist Steve Bannon as his chief of staff. He plans to appoint a pro life Supreme Court justice who would repeal Roe v. Wade. While we struggle to come to grips with how devastating a Trump presidency may be, many people feel that the most important lesson to take away from this situation is that more U.S. citizens should have voted for Clinton. Others blame Trump’s win on third-party candidates, like Jill Stein of the Green Party, which only got .96% of the vote, or Gary Johnson, the right wing libertarian whose voters would likely have voted Republican anyway.

These arguments fail to account for the ways in which the Democratic Party helped create the monster that is Donald Trump. A large part of the Democratic campaign strategy was to paint Trump as the worst Republican candidate imaginable and create fear in voters, thinking that this would pull them towards the Democratic party. The fact that after the election the Democrats make conciliatory remarks towards Trump is not only the height of hypocrisy; it shows the complete bankruptcy of the Democrats.

To begin with, as WikiLeaks demonstrated, it was very much a part of the DNC’s plan to prop up fringe candidates like Trump in order to make it easier for Clinton to win the election. This included giving legitimacy and air time to Trump, making him look like a valid candidate. Clearly, the DNC had no real understanding of the deep anger towards the establishment, or the deep-seated racism that still thrives in the U.S., that would be given a voice by Trump. Trump is in part, a creation of the Democratic Party. Because of this, it should be abundantly clear that the Democrats cannot effectively fight against the horrible attacks he is sure to bring about–after all, they set him up to instigate those attacks in the first place.

But, after Trump won the nomination, the entire Democratic party went on tour to convince voters that Trump would bring the apocalypse. Clinton regularly stated that voters could not allow Trump to gain access to the nuclear codes. A perfect example is the campaign ad below:

Both Obamas also went on tour, speaking out against the horrors of Trump. President Obama said, “This is different than just having policy differences. I recognize that they profoundly disagree with myself or Hillary Clinton on tax policy or certain elements of foreign policy, but there have been Republican presidents with whom I disagreed with but I didn’t have a doubt that they could function as president. I think I was right and Mitt Romney and John McCain were wrong on certain policy issues, but I never thought that they couldn’t do the job…”

Elizabeth Warren, who accompanied Clinton on much of her campaign tour tweeted “There’s more enthusiasm for [Donald Trump] among leaders of the KKK than leaders of the political party he now controls” and “Donald Trump is a bigger, uglier threat every day that goes by — and it’s time for decent people everywhere — Republican, Democrat, Independent — to say, No more Donald.”

The most important endorsement that Hillary Clinton received was certainly from her opponent in the primaries, Bernie Sanders. Sanders, who mobilized thousands to rallies and spoke to the anger and rage towards the 1%, publicly supported Clinton, even after leaked emails proved that the DNC had tipped the scales in Clinton’s favor. He stated “Donald Trump would be a disaster and an embarrassment for our country if he were elected president…” In a series of live tweets during the RNC, Bernie said “Trump: ‘I alone can fix this.’ Is this guy running for president or dictator? #RNCwithBernie”. Bernie made it clear, over and over again, that despite differences with Clinton, his voters must line up behind her to defeat Trump.

All of these Democratic figureheads campaigned for the better part of a year telling Americans that we could not allow Trump to be President- that he was unfit, unstable and qualitatively different from all other Republican nominees.

I, like millions of others believed that these characterizations of Trump were mostly correct. For millions, their well founded fear of Trump led them to conclude that fighting Trump meant voting for the Democrats. Yet, the moment the elections were over, the Democrats have given up the fight against Trump and instead proposed to work together. This is an easy position for the leaders of the Democratic party to take as they are not the ones who will be deported under a Trump Presidency.

It is astounding to see a 180 degree turn by Democratic leaders. Clinton, who only a few days before hinted that Trump may bring about a nuclear apocalypse, changed her tune on the day after the election. She said, “But I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”

The same sort of rhetoric was seen from President Obama who said, “My number one priority in the coming two months is to try to facilitate a transition that ensures our president-elect is successful. And I have been very encouraged by the interest in President-elect Trump’s wanting to work with my team around many of the issues that this great country faces…It is important for all of us, regardless of party and regardless of political preferences, to now come together, work together, to deal with the many challenges that we face… If you succeed, then the country succeeds.”

Likewise, Warren said, “President-Elect Trump promised to rebuild our economy for working people, and I offer to put aside our differences and work with him on that task.” Bernie Sanders said, “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him.”

Just a day after the election, all of the figureheads of the Democratic party came out to say that there could be common ground with the racist, misogynist demagogue who won the election. Rather than rally their voters to take the streets in vigorous opposition to the attacks that are to come from Trump and the attacks that already are coming from his supporters, the Democrats create the illusion that somehow Trump the candidate will be different from Trump the President.

There certainly can be common ground between Clinton and Trump, who are united in attacking the working class and oppressed; there is common ground between Obama who deported 2 million immigrants and Trump who hopes to deport 3 million more. There can be common ground between Clinton who drops bombs in the Middle East and Trump who speaks about atomic weapons with levity. There is common ground between those who call Black people superpredators and those who hope to increase policing in communities of color[and continue criminalizing those communities]. There certainly is common ground between Trump and Obama, Clinton, Warren and even Sanders. This is why they have all promised to work together and accept the results of the election.

Yet, many American people said something different. We do not have an open mind to Trump, as we already know what he is about; we know his presidency will usher in unprecedented attacks on people of color, immigrants and working people. He is the President that hopes to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants, separating children from their parents or detaining them for months at a time in private prisons. Trump is the President who has ushered in an era of hate crimes, in words and actions against people of color around the country. We will not work with him and we will not keep an open mind — we will continue to take the streets, as thousands have already been doing. We have already seen resistance to Trump in the massive mobilizations of 10,000+ people in Los Angeles and New York and in the dozens of high school walkouts around the country.

This is not only a moment to take the streets, it is a moment to think hard about our strategy. The Democrats, at least in part, created the monster of Trump, despite rhetorically acknowledging that he is, in fact, a monster. Yet, these characterizations stopped at rhetoric, because as soon as he was elected, they refused to build an opposition to him based in the streets and in the labor unions that endorsed them. Imagine if the Democrats called their votes to build a massive resistance to Trump by taking the streets? Imagine if they called on all of the labor unions who endorsed them to draft plans to fight Trump’s attacks? Yet even the most supposedly “progressive” people in the Democratic party like Sanders and Warren called to give Trump a chance.

The Democrats proved once again that aligning ourselves with them is not an effective way to fight against the the right wing. For that we need to organize in our schools, in our workplaces and in our neighborhoods. For that we must reject the “lesser evil” argument. Instead we should build political parties that truly stand for the interests of the working class and oppressed and who organize to fight in the streets, in the workplace and at the ballot box. We must unite with and strengthen existing social movements like Black Lives Matter, No DAPL and the Fight for 15. We must build an “anti-establishment”, anti-capitalist and socialist left, inviting the working class to channel their anger at the lack of good jobs into a fight against the bosses who exploit them, and the “establishment” that kills and incarcerates disproportionate numbers of Black people.

We must organize against Trump and we must do it now. But, we must also learn from this election; the way forward is in organizing and uniting with those who take the streets against police violence, those resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline and those high school students walking out of school. The way forward is uncompromisingly anti-Trump, anti-capitalist and socialist. The Democrats and the “lesser evil vote” are a failed strategy. Now we must both organize a resistance to Trump and a political alternative for the working class and oppressed.

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.


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