Okay, folks. This is the game.
Bernie Sanders is taking the line of resisting the intolerant, warmongering Trump & Co., while simultaneously challenging the president-elect to put real money into infrastructure and to write better trade deals, Trump’s signature overtures to the working class.
An alternative strategy would be to emulate what Mitch McConnell did with Obama: just oppose everything, regardless of whether it is congenial to the opposing party’s ideological interests. This has worked well for the Republicans, but that doesn’t mean it would work for the Democrats, since their constituencies and policy priorities are different. It makes for a debate in which reasonable people can disagree. But that’s not what’s happening.
Justifiable hysteria over Trump’s appointments, such as the unspeakable Senator Sessions for U.S. attorney general, is making rational discussion more difficult. Some are accusing Sanders of collaborationism, “reaching out” to racist Trump voters, and otherwise folding in the face of fascism. In other words, they are resuming the Clinton primary campaign of libelous gossip and the failed general election campaign against “deplorables.”
In this setting, every single Trump voter is irredeemably racist from top to bottom, with no mitigating concerns. As a matter of fact, I don’t doubt that many of them are, but to win a national election, Democrats don’t need all of these people; they only need a handful. After all, the total margin of defeat in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—the electoral vote difference that put Trump over the top—was less than 110,000.
The Democrats’ strategy going forward is to hope for better luck and demographic rescue in the years (or decades!) ahead.
I don’t normally defer to authority, but in this case it ought to be noted that Sanders’s line is the same as the one endorsed by most other Senate Democrats, who know more about electoral politics than I do. There’s also the far-from-trivial fact that twenty-three Senate Democrats (and two left-leaning independents) are facing re-election in 2018, on a far-from-congenial electoral map—as many as ten of these seats are thought of as likely to flip.[*] So some consideration is merited, and the onus of the position should not be put on Sanders alone.
The narrative emerging from the traumatized Clinton campaign is that nothing about their candidate’s defeat was their fault. It was all the FBI, Wikileaks in cahoots with Russia, James Comey, and the media. To be sure, all of those factors exerted a malign influence and any one of them could have flipped the result. The same is true, however, for any number of decisions by the Clinton campaign itself. The upshot of the Clinton line is that no course corrections for the Democratic Party are warranted, except in the realm of technical operations. The strategy going forward is to hope for better luck and demographic rescue in the years (or decades!) ahead.
The Clintons and their elite cronies are not going away. They want to retain power. Their attacks on Sanders should be rejected by the left; these desperate feints are an effort to demobilize his movement, which as things stand is The Movement. There is no Clinton movement; there are Clinton elites and apologists. There is no Clinton-led grassroots mobilization against the impending racist, sexist, xenophobic wave led by Trump. The Clinton plan is to hunker down and broker the next neo-liberal champion. Corey Booker, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
There may be good arguments for a stance of wall-to-wall opposition to all things Trump. Let them be made. At the same time, the only impact of stigmatizing Sanders and his followers is to perpetuate the current Democratic sclerosis that has led us into this abyss.
[*] Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2018. There are twenty-three Democratic senators facing reelection, along with two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats—Bernie Sanders and Angus King.