“Our campaign has been about building a movement, which brings working people and young people into the political process to create a government which represents all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors,” Bernie Sanders declared.
“We will continue to do everything we can to oppose the drift,” Sanders continued, “which currently exists toward an oligarchic form of society, where a handful of billionaires exercise enormous power over our political, economic, and media life.”
One of the biggest question for US election watchers, yet being ignored due to the mass media’s obsession with Donald Trump, is whether the basic instincts of President Hillary Clinton will see a major reversal of the gains and promises of the Sanders insurgency – currently embedded in the Democratic Party’s official election platform and espoused in Clinton’s public speeches since the party’s July convention.
How might the Sanders impulse, insurgency, revolution, call it what you will – backed by primary election victories in 22 states, winning 46% of all Democratic non-pledged delegates, and over 13 million votes to Hillary’s 16 million (and Trump’s 13 million) – become politically embedded and simultaneously in touch with its popular roots and energy, and actually make a difference? How might its momentum deliver at least part of the political revolution Sanders demanded?
And, even should Clinton continue to espouse the Sanders programme, will congress go along and permit anti-Wall Street legislation, vote for a much increased federal minimum wage, reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and abolish public university tuition fees for most students, among other things? Will the Sanders movement affect the politics of congress?
The right to revolution may be enshrined in America’s history, but will its political system of divided government act as a brake on radical political change, adding to the likely inertia and foot-dragging of a Clinton presidency won with massive Wall Street funding, now with even more traditional conservative and GOP donors? The official national GOP might be dying, with Donald Trump’s embrace of unabashed white ethno-nationalist identity politics, but its ghost may yet haunt the next Democratic presidency through its continuing grip on the levers of power in the House of Representatives.
The diverse range of Democratic party policy planks installed after Sanders’s pressure may well be significant for their direct beneficiaries but, critics complain, are all at the margin and can be withdrawn or much more likely eroded over time. They are in the nature of concessions that might split the Sanders movement.
Given this situation, what would drive real and lasting change and how might it come about? Where is the locomotive of political change and what is the mechanism by which that change might be effected?
There is great pessimism about the political situation in the United States, especially on the Left. Yet America’s political system is flexible, capable of accommodating programmes as statist as the 1930s New Deal and as reactionary as the Contract with America of the 1990s Newt Gingrich-led GOP. Politics is a struggle, a constant system of flux, of forces locked in conflict vying for power, to establish their agenda over that of others. What we are witnessing today in the US elections is nothing short of revolutionary in character. When has a major party female candidate defeated and incorporated into her platform – the most radical in its history - an overtly socialist agenda, and then been pitted against an extreme right-wing xenophobic and misogynistic ‘Republican’ TV celebrity with no prior political experience who’s rejecting the few tenets both main parties actually agree on – US globalism and free trade? This is hardly politics as usual and the result of the November presidential election, whichever way it goes, is unlikely seamlessly to return America to normalcy.
There is a new normal and we should get used to it.
Let’s look at several continuing initiatives by Bernie Sanders and his supporters to build on his momentous challenge to the Clinton machine. The movement has sprouted a Sanders Institute to mobilise behind progressive congressional candidates across America. According to Sanders, candidates may get support in fund-raising and on the hustings even if they happen to be progressives from the tea party. President Bill Clinton former labor secretary Robert Reich has spoken of a new progressive party – the kinds of organisations now in motion may well lead to such an outcome. The Sanders Institute’s aim is to conduct political-ideological work on the key issues of power, wealth and inequality that struck such a chord during his bid for the Democratic nomination. Although he has not endorsed it, some of his supporters are also actively aligning their work with the Green party which had previously asked Sanders to run for the White House on their ticket. Its candidate, Jill Stein, hovers around 5% in presidential election polls.
Brand New Congress is another key grouping on the Sanders wing of the Democratic party. It’s a political action committee that aims to identify and support hundreds of non-politician candidates for over 400 congressional seats with the aim of replacing the entire House by the mid-term elections in 2018. Formed in April 2016, it has raised almost $100,000 in small donations and is looking to the future – without Wall Street big money politics. It complements the Sanders Institute’s plan to back 100 progressive candidates in congressional and state and local elections in November 2016.
Sanders’s Our Revolution organisation aims to build on his campaign and revitalise democracy, empower progressives to run for school board elections, mayoral offices and take on big money politics. And Our Revolution seeks to “elevate political consciousness”: take on the corporate media, educate the public and improve public discourse and understanding.
It is instructive that more people in the corporate media seem to pay attention to what Donald Trump’s post-defeat strategy might be than to what Sanders’s post-convention strategy actually is. The corporate media may not tell us what to think, but it remains spectacularly successful in telling us what to think about.
And it’s not all about Sanders either: Senator Elizabeth Warren continues work to hold the major financial institutions to account, with Republican support from the likes of John McCain for a law to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act – passed in the 1930s to protect the banking system and ordinary savers, but abolished by President Clinton in the late 1990s.
And the Democracy for America organisation which backed Sanders for the White House is endorsing progressives up and down the country and ballot.
If Donald Trump’s non-conservative statist message, and Hillary Clinton’s shift to the left, have shown us anything, it is that there are big changes afoot in America’s political fabric. Even Wall St now agrees that wages must rise, infrastructure needs investment and inequality has reached extreme levels.
These are early days and no political outcome is certain. There is much going on. But returning to normalcy is unlikely to cut it now or after November.