What Democrats and their voters must do in 2018, and beyond, to restore a progressive vision to the American political landscape...
By Ernest A. Canning on 12/27/2017, 11:53am PT  

"We must become the change we wish to see in the world" - Mohandas Gandhi

In a recent article, I explored the question as to whether California Congressional Republicans should now be looked upon as an endangered species.

The article touched upon the declining numbers of registered California Republican voters, the fact that no Republican official has won a race for statewide office since 2006, and the fact that the Trump/GOP oligarchic agenda is so immensely unpopular, especially in "deep blue" California, that no incumbent Congressional Republican seat in the state should be considered a lock as we head into 2018.

But, political transformation cannot be accomplished by simply sitting back and waiting for the GOP to self-destruct, as hard as they seem to be working toward that goal. Instead, the great masses of the American electorate, who's economic survival has been threatened by the greed of the privileged few, must coalesce into an active and overwhelming political force prepared to make 2018 the year of democracy's revenge...

Expose the lies

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives" - James Madison

If there's any silver lining in the disaster that was the 2016 election, it can be found in the fact that the oligarchic --- indeed, kleptocratic --- nature of the Trump/GOP agenda has been exposed for all to see. The veneer of GOP lies about healthcare and tax "reform" are so transparently thin that all but a slender minority of the electorate have seen right through them.

This has occurred despite the tremendous advantage Republicans operate under via a billionaire-funded, right-wing propaganda machine that includes think tanks as well as television, radio and political ads. As an increasingly oppressive reality is exposed, propaganda loses its effectiveness.

For example, during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promised that he would repeal and replace Obamacare with a system where everyone would be covered and that no one would be worse off financially. But reality set in when the CBO score revealed that the proposed repeal would add 32 million Americans to the ranks of the uninsured and that premiums would "skyrocket."

The American public was no longer fooled. A meager 12% of the electorate supported the Senate version of Repeal and Replace, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk poll.

As observed by Paul Krugman of The New York Times, Republican lies about their massive deficit-ballooning tax scheme were so egregious as to reveal a "rot" that has spread "wide and deep" within the Republican Party. The decreasing power of Republican propaganda networks, like Fox "News" was evidenced by the fact that only 25% of the electorate supported the GOP tax scheme, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. This, of course, has not prevented Republicans from ramming their tax plan schemes through both the House and Senate.

During the 2016 campaign, there was a very good reason why Donald Trump repeatedly promised that he would not cut Social Security or Medicare benefits. According to a 2016 poll, 71% of all voters opposed cuts to Social Security. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of Republicans believe the government "should continue programs like Medicare and Medicaid", according to a Pew Research poll taken earlier this year.

Yet, as the donor class-driven Republicans lined up the votes needed to pass the Senate version of the bill, Sen. Mark Rubio (R-FL) arrogantly conceded that their deficit-inflating tax scheme was but a precursor to a planned assault on Social Security and Medicare.

Media exposure of Trump/GOP perfidy is of monumental importance.

"When the citizens begin to suspect that they have been deceived and withdraw their support," historian Howard Zinn observed in A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, "government loses its legitimacy and its power."

But it would be a mistake for progressives to passively rely only upon mainstream media exposure of Republican lies.

In the long run, the answer to the billionaire-funded propaganda machine may lie in publicly funded, independent journalism. However, if 2018 is to truly become the year of democracy's revenge, those now participating in the spontaneous grassroots uprising commonly referred to as "The Resistance" must utilize every means at their disposal (alternative media, the Internet, protest participation, word-of-mouth) to maximize an informed and energized electorate that will get to the polls and vote on Nov. 6, 2018.

Movement efforts should include financial support to deserving alternative media by those who can afford to contribute. Indeed, while billionaire donor Tom Steyer deserves positive recognition for his informative $20 million impeachment ad campaign, he might also wish to consider donations to alternative media, whose responsible journalists could provide a more lasting source for creating an informed and aroused electorate.


The power of an aroused electorate was demonstrated on the first full day of the Trump Presidency when some four million Americans took to the streets as part of a Women's March that was, according to the Washington Post "likely the largest single-day demonstration" in U.S. history. But it wasn't a one-day event. It marked the beginning of an ongoing Resistance to the Trump/GOP agenda --- a spontaneous uprising that has included not only taking to the streets, but also well-organized protests at town halls and inside the offices of Congressional Republicans.

It is a Resistance that did not end with the defeat of the draconian ACA repeal bills, nor will it end with the passage of an historic redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy via the GOP's tax scheme.

Occupy electoral politics

As this site observed several years ago with respect to the Occupy Wall Street movement, while mass protests are a vital component of participatory democracy, political transformation can occur only when the great masses of the American people occupy electoral politics.

Inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), "Our Revolution" seeks to harness "the transformative energy of [our nation's emerging] 'political revolution'." While its aspirational goal is to "revitalize American democracy," its practicable application can be seen in its effort to "empower the next generation of progressive leaders by inspiring and recruiting progressive candidates to run for offices across the entire spectrum of government." The organization offers practical assistance that includes what they describe as "unparalleled digital tools, organizing knowledge and grassroots successfully utilized throughout Senator Sanders' campaign."

Our Revolution is but one of a multitude of progressive grassroots organizations that aspire to carryout near identical goals under the slogan: "Don't just march. Run!"

One recent and classic example of the success of that strategy can be found in the person of newly elected Atlantic County, New Jersey Freeholder, Democrat Ashley Bennett, who ran and defeated the Republican incumbent, John Carman, after she took offense to Carman's arrogant decision to mock the Women's March.

Participatory democracy, however, can never be limited to those who run. It also entails the involvement of progressive activists who must strive to elevate political consciousness, to energize voters and to get out the vote. Democracy is not a spectator sport.

If the goal in California, for example, is to defeat every Congressional Republican --- which was once unthinkable, but now eminently possible --- it will require mass participation in every district.

Progressive policies

As observed by economist Bruce Bartlett, a former Republican-turned-independent, the most profound weakness of the corporate money compromised Democratic Party Leadership is its failure "to stand for anything other than opposition to the GOP." What the former Ronald Reagan adviser sees as lacking is "muscular Democrat[s] with the courage of their convictions."

One of the core reasons cited by The Hill's Brent Budowsky as to why Sanders is, by far, the nation's most popular politician "is that he embodies authenticity, integrity and a political discourse based on ideas he deeply believes in, which many Americans share."

As we explained at the outset of the Sanders campaign, a majority of Americans supported Sanders' substantive policy positions, like "Medicare for All". But what was merely favored, back in May 2015, has since derived overwhelming public support in the wake of the GOP's effort to repeal Obamacare. This is especially true in California, where a recent poll revealed that 70% of all Californians support Medicare for All; 82% favor the elimination of premiums, co-pays, deductibles and out of pocket expenses, and 93% desire lower prescription drug costs. All of that would be achieved if Sanders' Medicare for All bill --- legislation that is now co-sponsored by 16 Democratic U.S. Senators, including Kamela Harris (D-CA) --- were enacted into law.

Those are numbers that would bode well for progressive candidates in every Congressional district in California.

The political and substantive superiority of the progressive agenda, particularly amidst a virulently anti-Trump electorate, was demonstrated by Lee Carter, a 30-year old former Marine and pro-union, democratic socialist. In early November, Carter defeated Jackson H. Miller, the Republican Majority Whip of the Virginia House of Delegates, District 50, by running "on the issues of the [Sanders'] political revolution," according to The Nation's John Nichols. Backed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which Nichols describes as a "growing movement" --- as opposed to a political party --- Carter prevailed without any assistance from a Virginia Democratic Party that was "unsettled" by Carter's pro-environmental opposition to a plan by Dominion Energy to build a natural gas pipeline that would have run through residential neighborhoods in Prince William County.

Carter was one of 13 Democratic General Assembly candidates, who won after refusing to accept Dominion Energy campaign contributions. The results were seen as a huge loss for Dominion, which is "Virginia's top political contributor."

This suggests that a well-informed and organized electorate can defeat the power of corporate wealth.

Comparative analysis of Virginia District 50 election results suggests that exposure of the Trump/GOP oligarchic agenda and Carter's principled adherence to the progressive agenda also had a positive impact in electoral participation. In 2015, when Miller handily defeated his Democratic opponent (58.8% to 41.2%), he received a total of 7,280 votes. In 2017, Carter defeated Miller 54.4% to 45.5% even though Miller received 2,238 more votes than he did when he won in 2015.

Political maturity

The decision by newly elected DNC Chair Tom Perez to immediately appoint Keith Ellison (D-MN), a Sanders supporter, as his Deputy Chair, while perhaps symbolic, reflects the type of political maturity that establishment Democrats must now embrace.

Many "Third Way" Centrist Democrats attained office through a combination of hard work and by accepting compromising contributions from Wall Street and corporate America. It is only natural that these members of the establishment would aspire to protect their positions of power within the Democratic Party. But that very same instinct has proven counterproductive when it comes to winning elections. It is a course that, over the past eight (8) years, has arguably cost Democrats the Presidency, both Houses of Congress and over 1,000 state legislative seats.

While no one expects the Party establishment to surrender their respective offices when facing a progressive primary challenger, they should come to understand that it is counterproductive for the Party to shy away from supporting progressives like Lee Carter when those progressive candidates are pitted against Republican incumbents, even though the success of progressive candidates in those elections will lead to a future progressive majority within the Democratic Party. It is perhaps inevitable that a 2018 "Blue Wave" will ultimately lead to a progressive victory in the Democratic Party's ongoing internal power struggle.

On the flip side, progressives must display a level of political maturity by recognizing that when there's a binary choice between an establishment Democrat and a Republican in a general election, they cannot sit that election out, as many did in 2016. There's simply no validity in the assertion that there's no difference between establishment Democrats and Republicans.

May the revolution begin --- in earnest --- in 2018...

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Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing

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