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Time for the Democratic Party to start listening

The Democrats were able to push and drag Clinton across the line to win the nomination, but they would have been hard-pressed to find a weaker candidate. So what now?

Dan DeWalt, one of the founders of this newspaper, is a woodworker and teacher. He is an organizer of Restorative Community Justice of Southern Vermont, a new nonprofit forming in the West River valley.

Newfane

The Democratic Party has made its bed. Now we all have to lie in it.

It’s been clear for a long time that this would be no ordinary election year. Despite being ignored by the press, Bernie Sanders’ campaign sparked, then caught fire as he traveled the country.

This wasn’t about Bernie’s charisma or personality, it was about his issues and ideas: wealth inequality, corporate influence and control in government and beyond, free college education, the danger of climate change, social justice for every economic group.

The Democratic National Committee and mainstream Democrats heard Bernie’s pitch like they’d hear a lecture in political history class: of philosophical interest, but not relevant to the political reality that they had crafted for themselves.

No matter that adherents to Bernie’s message grew with every retelling — the Democratic Party was not going to be swayed from its predetermined course to see Hillary Clinton succeed Barack Obama.

So, making full use of all the arcane rules and traditions of the party primary system, surreptitiously aided and abetted by the DNC, inadvertently aided by voter registration laws in states like New York (where independents and new voters were not able to vote in the primary election), the party was able to push and drag Hillary across the line to win the nomination.

They cared more about limiting the vote to Democrats who would be more likely to vote for Clinton than they cared about winning over all those independent and new voters whom they kept away. They were confident these voters would ultimately have no one else to turn to. (Indeed, Vermonters sucked the lemon and gave Hillary a resounding victory on Nov. 8.)

What they didn’t bother to notice was that there is a populist movement growing in this country among both Democrats and Republicans.

* * *

As seen by the stark contrast between Bernie’s and Trump’s competing visions, populism is a force that can be swayed in different directions.

As Trump was making mincemeat out of his Republican opponents in the primaries, the Democrats obsessed on the man himself and paid no attention to the forces that were at work behind his victories.

Likewise, they pigeonholed Bernie’s supporters as a bunch of youngsters and a few old hippies, and they ignored the very real and pressing grievances that millions of Americans are now refusing to put up with any longer.

Trump appealed to blue-collar Americans who are experiencing a shrinking economy. Bernie appealed to the same voters. Hillary, as exposed by WikiLeaks emails and speech transcripts, is more a creature of the financial world and, as such, could not court this vote.

Trump’s foul boasts of sexual assault lost their vote-changing effect when matched against Hillary standing with Bill Clinton throughout his career of sexual misconduct.

Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership was trumped by Bernie’s longtime work against it and other trade deals. Despite her election-year conversion, Hillary wasn’t believable when she tried to be against it, too.

Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” remark just cemented many Americans’ notions that she is a snobby elitist who couldn’t understand their problems and didn’t care about them to boot.

The Democrats would have been hard pressed to find a worse candidate.

* * *

The big question for the Democratic Party leaders: Do they finally understand that middle-of-the-road, establishment politics no longer produce winners in presidential elections? Barack Obama is a centrist, but he was elected by people’s hopes that he would be an agent of change.

Our national political system no longer works. Our Senate has refused to consider our president’s Supreme Court nominee. The Supreme Court has become politicized. No important legislation can be worked through Congress and the Executive Branch. Wall Street, Big Pharma, and other corporations have effectively taken control of many of our representatives.

This system is beyond some tweaks and fixes; it needs a major overhaul.

But its practitioners are so invested in the current dysfunctional structure that they can’t understand that they have reached a new level. Few Americans think there’s much worth saving, nor do they see any value in token reforms or promises to “work across the aisle.”

* * *

A few things are becoming clear. If the Democrats don’t want to atrophy even further, they will have to start listening to folks outside of the corridors of power.

The pundits, experts, and analysts were mostly wrong throughout this entire election because they don’t have a clue what most of the country is feeling.

Instead of running from Progressives, the Democrats need to endorse and then learn how to present solid progressive ideas to voters.

They also will have to shed their fear of retribution from their donors and corporate sponsors. If they don’t, they can sit and stare as more frustrated Americans join the only organized band wagon in town — Donald Trump’s — as it leads us down a dark and shameful road.

* * *

Any effective defense of the civil liberties that are at risk under a Trump administration will have to be largely informed and organized by we, the people.

We must find Democrats and even Republicans who will be willing to stand up for the Constitution when it inevitably comes under assault in the next four years.

We must be extra vigilant in taking care of our neighbors and strangers alike.

We must show the world and ourselves that we will not allow a rotted political system to stop us from caring for one another and for the Earth we inhabit.

We must build a powerful, roiling force for good that will make it clear that the people’s priorities will not be crushed by the power of the 1 percent.

* * *

In Standing Rock today, a steady stream of volunteers are joining indigenous people from around the world to help them protect their water from tar sands oil.

When the Trump administration gives the green light to any type of ecological destruction, high-profile environmentalists like Bill McKibben and others will stand up to them, but we all need to be in the fight.

The Democratic Party can no longer stand by as active citizens get co-opted, quashed, and thwarted by the power of money and greed. Democrats need to stand with those of us who stand for a renewed American democracy.

If they don’t, we will succeed without them, while they slowly disappear into the maw of their corporate-sponsored failures.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #383 (Wednesday, November 16, 2016). This story appeared on page D3.

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