I believe the situation in America is more dire than most can see, or are willing to admit to themselves, even with Trump out of office. The Republican party has gone over the edge of sanity and the Democrats are as pathetic and ineffectual as ever. This has been the story of the last 50 years, since the prophetic defeat of McGovern in ’72, it’s escalated in severity with every new administration, and now has finally caught up with us. I was hoping against hope that Joe Biden might understand the significance of the moment we’re in and take drastic action… I guess that’s what I get for trusting a politician. The fact is, someone has to recognize what’s happening and lead America on a bold new path forward, because the one we’ve been following isn’t working for anyone but the wealthy elites. If Joe Biden is not going to be that champion, he needs to retire and stop holding 350+ million hostage for the sake of his ego.
When major political upheaval comes to America in the near future, it will be the culmination of several unaddressed missteps from every Party System since the Democratic/Republican rivalry began. From the Third Party System, we inherited the scars of a rushed, incomplete reconstruction after the Civil War. From the Fourth, the abandonment of the working class after a series of minor placations. From the Fifth, the hollowing out of the Left-wing via McCarthyism, as well as the unprecedented neoimperialism of the Cold War. From the Sixth, the southern strategy, war on drugs and the rise of the neoliberal* ideology. In every party system, we created more problems for ourselves while passing the buck of dealing with our legacy errors onto the next generation. Given that context, it was inevitable that things would reach a breaking point sooner or later. In this essay, I will not waste time reiterating how these historical developments are bad for the country. Instead, I’m going to decry the uniquely repugnant partisan dynamics in this country which prevent us from addressing them at all.
*For reference, I’m using the definition of neoliberalism found in my earlier political science glossary.
This is mainly directed at Democrats. Does that mean I think the Republicans are better, much less blameless for our current situation? No. But the Democrats are the party in power right now and they’re the ones who got elected on the promise that they’d fix the mess we’re in. Directing any further ire at Republicans seems pointless to me, because they have never even pretended to care about the issues I want to see results on, at least since Nixon. (Who, for all his faults, supported universal healthcare and UBI.) Especially since the rise of Trump, they’ve surrendered all pretense towards logical decision making and sustainable governance. As far as I’m concerned, calling post-2016 Republicans to a higher standard is like chastising a dog for not speaking English.
I will discuss the problems with Democratic messaging first, then move on to their pathetic record on legislative accomplishments and finish with the disastrous long-term ramifications of their incompetence.
Everything That’s Wrong With Modern Democrats
I’ll confess that this post was partially inspired by a personal event. I recently had to cut off a friend of seven years due to a disagreement about politics. Now, I’m not bringing this up to illicit sympathy, nor am I trying to air my dirty laundry and turn this into a case of badmouthing someone behind their back. I’m bringing it up because I found the ordeal to be highly emblematic of the issues I have with contemporary Democratic messaging and outreach. Quite frankly, many well-meaning Democratic laymen are their own worst enemies when it comes to fostering goodwill with other people.
Without delving into any more detail than necessary, what happened was I criticized the abandonment of campaign promises by the current administration. (You will hear my thoughts about that particular issue in the next section.) After an impassioned back and forth in which my friend defended the current administration, he eventually said words to the effect of “you are morally in the wrong to criticize the Democratic Party because without them you [as a transgender person] wouldn’t have any rights at all.” (He said it in a much more crude manner, but that was the gist of his intended meaning.) And before anyone says “oh that’s just one jerk, he doesn’t represent the entire Democratic Party” I refer you to the time Joe Biden himself expressed a similar callousness towards black people during his campaign. Knowing my ex-friend as well as I do, I would wager any amount of money that he was personally emboldened by the President’s attitude, as many a right-wing zealot was emboldened by Trump’s in the previous four years.
I just want to address how insulting that mentality is, first of all. Neither I nor any individual minority owes allegiance to the Democrats purely because they do the bare minimum of tolerating our existence. I am an autonomous, independently motivated, free-thinking human being with a unique set of wants and needs. I was not “given” basic dignity and the right to exist by Democrats nor any other political association–that came from God(s)/the Universe, same as anyone else. I am not your token minority to virtue signal about, nor your personal lackey to order around. You can’t manipulate me to being your supporter because you did one or two nice things for a group I happen to belong to; my vote has to be earned time and again by catering to a multitude of issues that affect me personally. It is not for the Democrats nor anyone else to tell me how I ought to feel, much less how I’m allowed to vote, regarding current events. To believe otherwise is just as insulting as anything the openly bigoted have ever done to me.
And you know what? This transwoman thinks we ought to prioritize economic justice and working class protections over trivial overtures to any one particular minority group right now. Certainly, one need not come at the expense of the other, despite what party leadership and their defenders would have us believe. You know what else? The same shallow pandering to LGBT people means a lot less when it was violent protest at Stonewall, not the Democratic Party, which got the modern pride movement going. Not only that, but the same economic-left candidates whom neoliberal Democrats treat as pariahs are also the only ones that stood up for us when the going was tough. It was the much-maligned George McGovern who defended gay rights in the ’70s and ’80s, not centrists like Mondale, Dukakis or Clinton. In the present day, the overrated trifecta of Obama, Hillary and Biden, whom many ignorant civilians credit with “giving us” gay marriage, had no hand in any meaningful reform. They only bothered to offer us platitudes starting in 2013 when it was politically advantageous. They do not deserve our respect for their lukewarm, too-little-too-late support, much less our obedience at the ballot box.
This encounter was merely one of many I’ve had with overzealous Democratic laymen/ neoliberal apologists in recent memory.
I recall trying to talk about the 2016 election in real time as it was happening. I was condescended to if I ever dared express support for Bernie over Hillary. (“Is this your first election?” / “sexist!”) I was berated if I ever mentioned that third party candidates exist. (“Libertarian? Oh, so you’re selfish,” / “if you vote Green, it’s your fault if Trump wins and you’re a bad person.”) I was insulted if I ever gave Trump’s campaign credit for a good maneuver, or when I was cautiously optimistic he might do at least a few good things in office based on past statements he’d made. I swear to God, four years later the same ex-friend threw this line at me: “you supported Trump, how’s that working out for ya?” just because I dared hope for the best in what I publicly stated was a terrifying result. With some of these people, anything which doesn’t 100% toe the party line is akin to a declaration of war.
I remember the 2020 election, where my criticism of the centrist/neoliberal candidates was met with similar patronizing disdain by ordinary everyday Democrats. I shared an article critical of Mayor Pete and was told I am an idiot letting myself get brainwashed by “Russian propaganda.” I expressed frustration with my vote in the primary being meaningless, and was told to shut up and stop trying to sow discord within the ranks. Biden had achieved a delegate lead, so any criticism of him now, any protest vote in support of an opposing candidate, was weakness to the party. And to be a propagator of discontent within the party was the same as supporting Trump. I expressed disappointment over Biden’s lackluster policy offerings and was told my very reasonable needs ($15 minimum wage, weed legalization, healthcare reform of some kind, etc) were “not realistic.” Someone who chided me for criticizing Nancy Pelosi had the gall to turn around and say AOC was “full of bullshit” and that people only like her because she’s physically attractive. So basically, it’s okay for them to publicly slander the progressives in office, but god help any of us who dare question the actions of a neoliberal.
I publicly fretted about paying my medical bills, criticizing my terrible Obamacare policy in the process, and was reminded of my duty to vote for Biden anyway lest I be personally responsible for Trump. The worst part is that nobody who commented such sentiments, or upvoted those who did, ever even bothered to express sympathy at my plight. They did not care about my struggle, it was more important for them to make sure I was still in the fold. The closest thing to comfort I got was the promise that Biden was gonna “expand Obamacare” despite it being a terrible policy and their inability to even explain what that meant in real terms. None of these privileged upper-middle class coastal elites has ever actually used Obamacare in their life. The needs of us working class plebeians, and of us minorities, are trivial annoyances to the neoliberal wing of the party. They don’t care what happens to any of us, just as long as we keep voting Democrat. They have no real values, no issues to be passionate about, no guiding political ideology, nor any concrete vision for the future of our country. All they have is an unwarranted sense of superiority, minority-pandering, blind partisanship for its own sake, and vacuous buzzwords.
Now, compared to some of the things Republican laymen are currently guilty of, is any of this the end of the world? No. And I’m not trying to spin this as an enlightened-centrist “both sides are the same” screed. That doesn’t mean this behavior is in any way acceptable, however. It’s abrasive and needlessly antagonistic to the point of actively turning away would-be supporters. It comes from a sense of entitlement, that everyone else owes you their vote because “Trump is worse though!” It’s talking at people rather than actually listening to their grievances, their concerns and their desires. Unfortunately, it’s also the modern neoliberal Democratic Party in a nutshell. This is why we’re bleeding support, why people are fed up and growing more apathetic by the day. Voters get nothing for their efforts yet they’re verbally attacked for the audacity of having inconvenient problems which the powers that be have no solutions for. Neoliberalism almost by its very definition can’t offer any real benefits to help everyday people, so they resort to bullying them into submission instead. You’re an “ism” if you don’t like our female/black empty suit. You’re a naive idiot if you want economic reforms. You’re a Trump supporter if you question any of this. Well I’m tired of it. This beleaguered transgender plebeian has had enough.
People talk about how crazy and cult-like the Trump base is, and it’s absolutely warranted. All the same, I see much of the same tribalism in the Democratic camp and it disgusts me.
Democrats Have Got To Stop Screwing Around
House Democrats to introduce legislation aimed at closing gun loopholes
Besides the situation with my now ex-friend, it was headlines like this which made me lose any remaining hope I had for the Democratic Party to get its shit together. Let me just put it into context for you. It took two months for the Democrats to even start to make progress on a watered down, too-little-too-late COVID relief bill. We get $1400 after being promised $2000 for months, which was an insulting figure in the first place anyway. If that were not enough, Biden sent out checks to an even smaller number of Americans than Trump. No minimum wage hike AT ALL, much less the $15 we were promised. Biden’s already abandoned student loan forgiveness–not just the original 50k we were promised, but even the half-hearted 10k compromise too. If it’s important to you, he’s also walked back promises on refugee admissions, and the southern border is still an inhumane mess with no end in sight. He compromised every step of the way with his infrastructure bill to get Republicans on board and none of them support it anyway. The congressional hearing on the 1/6 Capitol raid was also significantly defanged to placate Republicans…who killed it.
Boy oh golly whiz, am I sure glad we naive young Bernie Bros were talked (read: browbeaten, and for the second election in a row) into accepting this disappointing neoliberal stooge on the promise that he “can work with Republicans” to get something done. And before anyone says it, no, I don’t think Bernie would have magically passed all this either. But the point is, he would have fought tooth and nail even if he went down swinging in the effort. He wouldn’t let lame, shitty excuses like “the parliamentarian won’t like it” end the conversation. He would be willing to play hardball with Manchin and the Republicans. He’d come to them with a carrot and stick, like pork barrel legislation and removal of committee positions, respectively. Then he’d get a mouthpiece on MSNBC and CNN every day to blast them for holding up progress. That’s the thing about bad-faith barbs regarding Bernie’s “pie in the sky” platform. We never expected him to accomplish all of it, but we did expect him to actually try. Nobody ever believed Hillary or Joe would even do that, and it turns out we were right.
As is, I’m tired of neoliberal Democrats putting up a half-hearted show of (the bare minimum) effort to pass an already watered-down agenda. I’m tired of bargaining from a position of weakness, caving into the demands of an adversarial party who proudly obstructs our every move, all to give up at the first sign of opposition. You can’t keep telling me “oh that’s politics, you can’t get everything you want” when in all my life, it seems we never get anything at all. You can go back and watch old speeches and debates, as I have, and see for yourself we’ve been debating the same topics for at least 40 years with no progress whatsoever. No matter how hard we fight to get these pathetic sellouts elected, it’s never enough. There’s always an excuse, always just one vote short or there’s a convenient bureaucratic scapegoat supposedly gumming up the works. Even with a supermajority under Obama, we couldn’t keep our own caucus in line. It’s inexcusable, and I’m sick to death of being nice about it.
I mean, if all that were not enough, this good for nothing “leader” dropped environmental protections promises too! But gee, I’m sure glad he rejoined the meaningless Paris Accord for the easy publicity in the meantime! If this geezer doesn’t even care about the sustainability of the human race, why should I be civil in my criticism–much less remain a productive, hopeful member of society? What is there to anchor us to the nebulous concept of the United States if we can be sure our children are going to suffer in the post-climate apocalypse? Has any other ruling elite in the history of the world made it so abundantly clear they couldn’t care less if the masses live or die? And we’re supposed to respect these people–for what, exactly?
So, what’s ol’ Joe “Asleep at the Wheel” Biden up to in place of those broken promises, you ask?
1) Comprehensive election reform so a disaster like 2020 never happens again? Nope. Even though more and more states are passing draconian anti-voter bills ensuring that next election is our last. Can’t have range voting or anything like that either–progressives might actually win!
2) Infrastructure repair, or maybe investing in high speed rail? Not quite.
3) Healthcare reform of some kind…doesn’t even have to be Medicare for All, just…anything? No chance in hell.
4) Ending the war on drugs, even a temporary solution such as an executive order for the DEA to stand down on weed? Maybe some pardons for victimless crime convictions–which is absolutely 100% within the President’s power? I don’t think so.
5) Some kind of meaningful consumer protections, against DRM and exploitative pricing akin to what happened in Texas after the blizzard? Not “realistic.”
6) Green New Deal…or just any kind of compromise in that direction? Perish the thought, you silly radical communist.
7) Something to address the looming water crisis, maybe a concerted effort to refine the desalination process and combat desertification? No profit in that, Bernie Bro.
8) A top to bottom refitting of our digital Infrastructure and cyber security so something like the 2020 hack never happens again? Not important enough, apparently.
9) Universal Basic Income or a Negative Income Tax? Hahahahaha.
No, let’s use our limited political capital during this critical 2-4 year window, with the threat of insurrectionist Republicans and a competent Fascist in the White House on the line mind you, to pass more unpopular gun control laws. Apparently, our top priority is to alienate southern, rural and/or libertarian-oriented voters now when we desperately need them the most. I don’t remember voters buzzing about that on the way to the polls. I don’t remember hearing anyone say “I voted for Biden because he’s gonna restrict gun ownership!” I am old enough, however, to recall way back in the forgotten epoch of 2016 when Hillary harped on the issue nonstop to her own detriment. I remember how Trump, for all his flaws, smartly goaded her into delivering anti-gun rants in every single debate, sometimes to audible groans from the audience. And if that’s ancient history to you, let’s instead look at Beto O’Rourke tanking his entire campaign with that idiotic “hell yeah we’re coming for your guns!” soundbite. Maybe the Democrats should’ve learned after their mistakes from *checks notes* last year.
Yes, it’s only been five months but at this rate it feels like we’re going to be sitting here making the same excuses in two years as Republicans sweep the midterms. When that happens, you can point fingers at millennials and “those ungrateful Bernie bros” all you want. In truth, the blame will fall squarely on these shameless sellouts in office and the insufferable simpletons who continue even now to make excuses for them. If you want to avoid another Trump, then we need act NOW before we lose the momentum. The first 100 days in a President’s administration are supposed to be the best time to get things done, because political capital and public goodwill are at their height. I remember reading an article that claimed he was studying FDR’s 100 days in order to emulate that success. What a load of shit that turned out to be in hindsight.
I don’t care if you think these particular gun restriction bills are a good idea. My point is, it’s such a tone deaf thing to prioritize when we have so many other catastrophic problems on the horizon. It’s bad electoral strategy to put unpopular measures over relief for the masses who just busted their ass–and held their nose on this lackluster ticket–to get the Democrats elected. It’s objectively bad politics: rank incompetence at best, deliberate malpractice at worst. And for all the times I’ve heard some smug neoliberal apologist tell me that legal weed, $15 minimum wage and healthcare reforms are “not realistic” they sure seem to poll well–across the aisle and consistently, I might add.
Neoliberalism Will Doom Us All
Let’s play pretend. Imagine you’re a landless, starving plebeian in the year 59 BCE. You’re watching Caesar bust his ass in the Senate every day trying to get his land reform bill passed legally, only to be stonewalled at every turn by the short-sighted, selfish Optimates like Cato. Keep in mind, you’ve grown up hearing about how the Gracchi brothers got slaughtered a generation ago for trying to enact similar reforms through the proper channels. It’s clear the powers that be don’t care about the values of a just Republic, so why should you? Now these rich assholes accuse Caesar of being everything from a twink to a tyrant, as if that matters more than what he’s done to make your life better. It starts to feel an awful lot like petty distractions in order to discredit the one man who accomplished anything. Let’s fast forward a few years and Caesar, after multiple slights and threats of retribution, finally supplants the bad-faith plutocrats in government.
Under those circumstances, you may not have actively supported the choice to march on Rome and get things done at the point of a blade in the abstract. But are you going to shed any tears for the dissolution of a hopelessly corrupt political system which hasn’t served your needs in at least a century? No, you’re not. No rational person would, because no one supports a system that doesn’t benefit them personally. Humans are not ants, our society only holds together as long as a critical mass of its individual members are taken care of. So, while the creation of an autocratic regime is hardly a desirable outcome, the Republican bureaucrats sure as hell didn’t make a good case for the old process, did they?
Once a person truly understands how political revolutions happen, it’s impossible not to see the events currently unfolding as the big screaming red flags they are. I know the comparison to Ancient Rome is as cliché as it gets, but its relevancy grows everyday for a reason. There was an attempted insurrection at our capital not six months ago and nationwide unrest within the last twelve. These disturbances may have had separate catalysts but things don’t get that out of hand unless there’s already a significant tinderbox ready to blow. People are desperate, they’re frustrated and they’re angry. They see nothing to look forward to with the nation’s current trajectory. They’ve gone through the proper legal channels repeatedly and things only got worse. I don’t necessarily condone the actions of the mob, but as a plebeian myself, also living among increasingly high cost of living and general hopelessness, I understand them. They represent the logical conclusion of the last 40 years full of bad policies from both parties finally reaching a breaking point. After so much betrayal from the people who are supposed to help you, the age old excuse “at least we’re not Republicans” stops placating anybody. I don’t think Biden understands that.
I loathe Trump, but with bad faith actors in both parties constantly self-sabotaging any meaningful progress on ALL major issues, I can absolutely understand why so many people would turn in utter desperation to a populist demagogue. I’m not saying I support such a leader, I’m saying this is how you create a critical mass of people that do. Republicans may be the ones getting their hands dirty, but Democrats are equally guilty of killing our Union, if only with their apathy and cowardice. There is not one Democrat who’s been in a leadership position that doesn’t deserve scorn for letting it get to this point, same as Mitch McConnell.
Remind me again why we STILL haven’t gotten rid of the filibuster yet? Republicans won’t like it? Well…they don’t seem to like anything we do, do they? So what difference does that make? Why are we so afraid of what Republicans *might* do, that we aren’t standing up to the awful things they’ve done already? Why are we so scared of fighting back–of standing up for ourselves? Why don’t we just let the Republicans be in charge then, if Democrats are going to allow them to dictate our own agenda to us anyway? What’s even the point of voting for a Democrat if they’re going to cater to Republican sensibilities ahead of my own? Why should I even bother waiting in line to vote for these clowns if I’m less important than the theoretical “moderate Republican” they keep chasing, who hasn’t yet and won’t ever show up for them? You think Trump was worried about whether “the Democrats might not like it” when he banned trans people from the military, put kids in cages, pulled funding from the WHO and botched COVID relief? Why is it that Democrats are too afraid to even put things to a vote? The Republicans won’t vote for it? Well then do it anyway, get them on the record as being against it, and then blast them every day on every news outlet for holding up progress!
At the end of the day, history is not made by weak, feckless, cowardly losers who shirk off the needs of their own people as “not realistic.” The people elect a President (and other magistrates) because we expect them to look after our best interests. If Joe Biden, or anyone else, is unwilling or unable to rise to that mandate then they have no business running for office in the first place. This is not a game, these are 350+ million peoples’ lives at stake, and that’s the responsibility which Presidential candidates freely sign up for. If a prospective candidate is going to throw their hat in the ring with no intention of doing anything meaningful with the position once they have it, that person holding everyone’s well-being in jeopardy for the sake of their own ego. It’s high time the American people remembered that politicians are supposed to be our servants, and stop making excuses for those who are paid by our hard-earned tax dollars. It’s high time every apologist for the political elite remember that our salaries haven’t increased in 40 years, despite record corporate profits, while our servants give themselves raises and enjoy top-of-the-line healthcare plus vacation time on our dime.
I guarantee some schmuck out there is going to ignore the finer nuances of my point, take this essay out of context and call me a Trumpist anyway. Why? Because I committed the crime of not fully supporting the latest rhetoric coming out of Democratic think-tanks, that’s why. I’m a source of dissent, someone who makes other people question if our leaders are really serving the nation’s best interests. I don’t blindly accept every excuse in the book when they fail to deliver for the hundredth time. So you know what? If you’re that person who’d deliberately frame my argument in the worst possible light to shut out dissent, then you are part of the problem. We need to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire on this, because that’s how representative democracy is supposed to work even in the best of times. (And in case I need to belabor the point even further, these are not the best of times, not even close.) If we smell their farts because they didn’t come from a Republican, then they get complacent and stop fighting. When that happens, we lose voter enthusiasm and we lose elections. With how openly the other side has embraced insurrection and authoritarianism, that could mean we lose our whole country. With how dire climate change is, we may lose the planet. When both/either of those happen, it won’t matter how much you circle-jerked about “blue no matter who!” or “when they go low, we go high!” in the meantime. Nobody is going to care about how dogmatically pure you were in your defense of the “not-quite-as-bad-as-Republicans” party if we’re all dead.
I would like to conclude this diatribe by addressing the President directly:
This is the legacy you’re choosing to leave at 80 years old, Joe. You don’t have a future career in politics or a cushy lobbying gig lined up to justify selling out like this. You could take all the heat for doing what’s unpopular with donors but desperately needed from the citizenry, because you’re going to be dead soon anyway. Instead, you’re actively choosing to cut a loud, wet fart on your way out the door, and for that you should be ashamed of yourself. Get something done or get out of the way, because the hapless Uncle Joe shtick isn’t cute anymore.
Very well said, Cassandra. These are desperate times, and desperate times require taking desperate steps. If this essay shakes even a few people awake, it will have served its purpose. In a just world, it would reach a far, far bigger audience. But in a just world, it wouldn’t be needed at all. Bravo!
Can’t agree with you on everything, but this is a well written argument.
A little clarification of my comment. I think the problem as usual is the meaning of terms. If you are defining the crony capitalist system we have now as neo-liberalism it seems you are using words wrong. What we have now is the opposite of old liberalism which was limited government and free markets. What we have now if a new any thing is neo mercantilism the system old liberalism was in rebellion against. I am all for a restoration of old liberalism and a complete overthrow of the terrible crony capitalist neo mercantilist system we have now. Words should have meaning and the root of liberal is liberty. So neo-liberalism should mean new liberty. the very opposite of how you are using the word. That is the meaning Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would have given it. They saw there policies as restoring old Liberalism the opposite of what we still have today. Unfortunately political rhetoric is often twisted to give opposite results to what was intended.