The left has to move on from endlessly re-litigating the primary: transforming the current contest between Ellison and Perez for DNC party chair from an edifying debate between two strong progressives who reveal a party refusing to back down from the left turn it took in this campaign into yet another divisive uninformative clash of celebrity fandoms from which nobody will emerge stronger, and now pissing in advance on Cory Booker who has great political and communicative skills -- precisely what Hillary Clinton lacked most conspicuously as a candidate -- because he lacks the purity of a vapid ineffectual mediocrity of a Senator from a homogeneous white postage stamp of state with few powerful countervailing stakeholders to contend with.
But also we need to move on from these embarrassing indulgences in magical thinking -- Can you actually remember when people were seriously pretending that "Never Trump!" Republicans would replace Trump at the GOP convention! People thought that just a few months ago. Just days ago, people were pretending Republicans would "put country before party" and refuse to vote for Trump in the Electoral College. Almost daily, ongoing revelations of Trump scandals, conflicts of interest, lack of preparation, exhibitions of dangerous unfitness for office and so on yield another chorus of voices declaring Trump must face impeachment on day one.
But the terrible truth is that Trump said out loud and crudely the racist, cruel, resentful, belligerent things Republicans are always genuflecting toward and the mobilization of which has long been their explicit strategy (the Southern Strategy, yes, but it is important to realize that the repudiation of the Autopsy Report which recommended rejection of the Southern Strategy in the face of demographic changes lead to a contrary amplification of the Southern Strategy seeking to "Southernify" Democratic bastions and swing states of the North and Midwest through white-supremacist politics of fear and resentment, with a little garnish of queer bashing feeding the inevitable backlash accompanying any achievement of modest equality gains). The southern strategy and culture war is about whomping up fear, resentment, and anger in the face of multicultural diversification and economic precarization.
Republicans are fighting climate science as a culture war, they are fighting macroeconomics as a culture war, they are fighting policing violence as a culture war. Although Republicans usually lose culture wars in the end, they love fighting these wars because factual disputes displaced onto symbolic terrains profitably prolong them in ways elites are willing to pay big money for, and also because losing culture wars tends to leave behind an organizationally useful residue of injury, resentment, and demoralization that Republicans can draw a mob of dupes to vote against their best interests for, to fight for their masters with the ferocity of a existential final battle. Because Democrats live in a congenially communicative multicultural society (its racism, sexism, hetersexism, cissexism, abelish, ageism, waste/pollution notwithstanding) we tend to feel we can't lose even as we lose battles the loss of which imperil our lives, our community, our planet, because Republicans live in demonstratively multicultural society which they fear and resent, they tend to feel they can't and don't win even when they do, and hence they can always be counted up to come to attention when the billionaires and bigots start blaring their bugles, ready to win the battle that finally feels like winning, ready to exact revenge on vulnerable scapegoats because nothing ever feels like winning.
Know Your Enemy. Republicans have been lying and cheating to gain power and money (the meta-narrative rationale for these anti-social parochialism involves roll-back of the New Deal and Great Society programs in the service of the beneficiaries of white nationalism and patriarchal norms) for years: Donald Trump is the culmination of Hate Radio and Gingrich-era norm violations, a mediated-celebrity figurehead at the head of an ideological extreme coterie of administrators (Reagan, W. and Schwarzenegger were all successful precursors).
People, you need to understand this: Republicans aren't going to impeach Trump. They are far more likely be build airports with his name on them to hide his terrible unpopularity and legacy of catastrophes behind like they do for that demented destructive oaf actor Ronald Reagan. Trump has given them power (unexpected and unprecedented power at that) and they will use that power to dismantle what remains of the middle-class and civil rights legacies of Democratic ruling coalitions of the 30s and 60s. Doing this will garner them praise and attention and soon enough great gobs of money from everybody they care about. There will be be no "long-term" consequences to keep Republicans from repealing without replacing Obamacare, or dismantling social security for those who are not already its beneficiaries, or voucherizing public education and then turning it into television, or selling off public goods and stripping voting rights from Democrats and civil rights from the vulnerable, there won't even be consequences for denying and exacerbating climate change -- the short term profits will be large, and will be used to create fortresses to protect the thieves from the consequences of climate catastrophe, and the people who die will be the people always already dying while we look on indifferently in between the occasional useless but ego-bolstering donation or signed petition decrying the tragedy.
Whether retreating into the past of re-litigation or the utopian future of purity cabaret, Democrats are still too tender and sore and scared to face the present: it hurts too much and its demands are too terrifying. Trump and the Republicans have to be marginalized into comparative harmlessness by Democratic victories and the selling as successes of Democratic policies and alternative values (sustainability, equity, diversity, consent, shared problem solving, reliable laws and norms, virtuous circles). Right now, those victories are going to be highly symbolic. To be useful, we should already be thinking how to put faces on the suffering caused by Trump and Republican policies (hardworking families with undocumented members torn apart, deaths from treatable conditions once coverage is removed, everyday people defrauded of retirement by deregulation, vulnerable people bravely retaining self-respect in the face of Trump-style bigotry and bullying), we should already be beginning the narrative that will sell the candidates we put up for 2018 and 2020 (nobody left behind, everybody with a seat at the table). 2018 is looking like a terrible year for the Senate Democrats, a year for adding insult to injury, but the momentum in the House is more promising, and State legislatures and governor's mansions are available and represent an indispensable layer of governance to frustrate GOP rollbacks or set the stage for making the Trump a one-term disaster that destroyed the Republican party and forced it to change to accommodate the reality of a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing nation post-Obama.
Democrats need to nurture political leaders and talent -- right now our tendency is to lose interest in them after fifteen minutes of fame, or buzz-saw them into a million pieces for failing to live up to this or that pet issue. We need to defend universities and art schools (as well as to make them more accessible, accountable, affordable) as spaces in which political organizing and cultural experimentation are supported in ways that ultimately support the Democratic Party intellectual artist/activist/expert base and efforts. We need to remember that diverse coalitions need not be unanimous in order to be unified enough to co-ordinate. It is crucial that we have activists, artists, teachers, experts articulating our problems and proposing solutions to them. All of these people do crucial work -- as do professionals, intellectuals, managers, candidates holding and supporting those who hold office, who navigate diverse constituencies to help solve problems in real time and also build in reforms to create worlds in which certain problems are less likely to occur and shared values upheld. We need to respect the work done in all these domains, to be ready to communicate what we see as our role but also be open to learning why those with different talents and in different situations may see their role differently as well. We don't need -- and in fact are wrong to want -- representatives of diverse constituencies retreating to a level of abstraction in which they can exhibit a purity with which a fandom can identify rather than the judgment to navigate those constituencies opportunistically, to press for compromises that accomplish things that can be build on. It is crucial that the Democratic Party make a case for its members holding office at every layer of government, in every jurisdiction, in every region. We need to invest in every state, and devote ourselves to training activists for concrete local campaigns and as clear communicators of short term problems and long term visions wherever they are, even when they cannot yet win elective office.
In politics there are set-backs, heartbreaks, travesties. Given the incredibly incremental level of progress we fought for during the Obama years -- against headwinds of absolute GOP obstruction here at home, failed but utterly ruling austerity in Europe, rising right-wing ethno-nationalisms across the globe, ongoing digi-feudalization and deregulatory-disruption via "tech" everywhere -- the reversal rather than securing of even these laughably modest gains and faint intimations of a larger turning of the tide has been too demoralizing to say, however many words I say at it. That the Democratic left needs to refocus on organizing our diverse winning coalition, taking effective communication more seriously, and figuring out how to co-ordinate in the face of our differences depresses me unutterably because I see little sign of any of this, and if anything I perceive ever deeper entrenchment in divisiveness, disorganized responses, interminable and unhelpful blame-gaming, anti-pragmatism misconstrued as righteousness, utopian retreats misconstrued as interventions (I see these in myself not least).
The left can do what it needs to do, the diverse Obama coalition already won twice and has grown larger since, competent professionals and experts actually capable of governing are all almost entirely working together with or under the auspices of the Democratic Party and incompetence creates endless opportunities to change the political possibilities at hand, the Democratic Party can regain its electoral footing (majorities vote for Democrats everywhere -- this may not be enough to put them power but it is not a bad thing to build on, certainly it is better than the alternative), Moral Mondays and BlackLivesMatter and queer activism and environmental activism have transformed the landscape of the possible and the important in ways that may not be reflected in the law for a few years, but that transformations has occurred, and the Democratic Party in moving in its public communications and platform and hiring in the direction of that activism (yes, not enough, yes, too slowly, yes, hypocritically) is investing in the emerging and prevailing emancipatory movements of our time.
The Democratic Party can win, it deserves to win, it can be better, it is getting better. Republicans are the enemy, they are wrong, they destroy everything they touch, they always overreach. A continent scaled nation as privileged as our own will inertially resist some changes for the worse as readily as it resists other changes for the better. In the coming months, it will be for the courts to provide a sense of how much dismantlement the Republicans will get away with. We will see from mainstream media sources what the guiding narratives are going to be, and this will give us a sense of the clear-headedness or panic happening in the Party as a whole. If it goes badly, the mid-terms are probably going to be a bloodbath and Trump will have, for the first time in his administration, something he can message as a mandate. Things are already worse than bad, but that will be worse still. As I said, Democrats can win the battles we need to win. Early messaging and organizational battles are underway. The state of play is not encouraging. Again, maybe the collective apprehension of the Inauguration will be the reality check that moves us from understandable mourning (which can be a productive and provocative space, after all) into efficacious organizing and co-ordination and messaging. I will end on a sobering note. Although the battles ahead are winnable, and I feel sure that some at least will be won, I must say that I think it will be years and years before we fight a battle as consequential and also winnable as the election we just lost.