The Trump administration is a freight train barreling toward us, threatening to destroy everything in its path and we’d better develop a strategy to get out of harm’s way and, ultimately, stop it. Grasping onto the Democratic Party, the very institution that laid the tracks and fueled the Trump train, is not a realistic strategy for survival. The Democrats’ decades-long embrace of policies that have eviscerated public institutions and enriched a powerful few at the expense of the majority earned them the abandonment of millions of working class Blacks, Latinos, whites, women and youth in the 2016 election.
To win over many of the Clinton and Jill Stein voters, as well as those who voted with their feet and abstained, the U.S. left must advance a united front strategy on the basis of class solidarity across all ethnic, gender, racial, national, sexuality and ability lines.
Instead of working within a political party that represents the interests of our opponents, we need left-wing independent political organizations that are democratically run, supported by and accountable to their members, willing to link arms in struggle with all progressive forces and pose an alternative to the racist and pro-corporate policies of both parties of capital.
Attempts to repackage the Democratic Party into a vehicle for resistance to Trump’s agenda may succeed at corralling activists but will fail to defend targeted communities and advance progressive goals.
Take the issue of immigration. First, we have to ask why did President Obama deport more immigrants than any other president in history? And why do Democrats like Obama, Hillary Clinton and even Bernie Sanders consistently couple calls for immigration reform with enhanced surveillance and funding for more border agents and fencing (one might call it a wall)? As representatives of a political party that is unabashedly pro-capitalist, they accept the logic of borders to control the flow of labor, the very purpose of immigration control.
The goal of the Democratic Party is to run the American capitalist empire. In order to do so, the Democrats must offer, at least rhetorically, some limited reforms and policies that speak to the interests of the popular majority who are working class, women, LGBTQ, Black, Latino, Muslim. Though it’s notable that even the reforms we have won under Democrats — from voting rights for Blacks to expanded LGBTQ rights — have been in response to mammoth social movements.
Each time these reforms are won by struggle and then codified into law by politicians, Democrats in office have chiseled away at, blunted, or gutted the reforms — from abortion to union rights. Working within the Democratic Party doesn’t offer a more tranquil approach to defending our interests and winning reforms, but instead poses a threat to even the meager reforms we win. The structural pressures of a system based on profit consistently lead the Democrats to accommodate the needs of business.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio came to office on the basis of an openly progressive agenda; decrying the “tale of two cities.” Yet his policies have left New York’s working class and poor, especially Black and Latino New Yorkers, worse off during a period of record Wall Street profits, on which he has refused to raise taxes. From appointing top cop Bill Bratton, architect of the Giuliani era’s “broken windows” policy to expanding private charter schools that undermine public education, de Blasio’s administration has failed to deliver relief for those most in need. Many of his policies mirror those of his billionaire predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.
This is not a unique example. Mayor David Dinkins, a former member of the Democratic Socialists of America, was elected to office in 1989 and led a crackdown on the city’s homeless population and presided over horrible austerity and a police force that tormented the city’s Black and Latino population.
There are no simple formulas or easy answers to the multiple and intersecting crises we all face in the coming Trump era. None of us in the U.S. left have lived through a comparable period in this country. But we must begin now to discuss and engage in comradely debate about what the true lessons of previous failures are in order to create the solidarity, organization and struggle needed to survive and even advance in the years to come.
Sherry Wolf is author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation and is a longtime member of the International Socialist Organization.