All posts by Wayne Nealis

Compromise Needed to Win Relief for Undocumented Immigrants

A political compromise with the Trump administration on immigration is necessary to prevent the electorate from consolidating behind Trump thus bolstering his re-election chances. A compromise that would win legal relief for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the US. This article assesses the political and legislative possibilities and public attitudes that make a compromise possible. One that a majority of Americans would support and that would have a chance of passing congress this session. Nearly all segments of society, from leading business organizations, to trade unions and political institutions are actively seeking a resolution. Not all agree on the details, but all agree Congress needs to act.

Democrats, immigration rights advocates, progressives and the left can take this issue away from Trump. To do so, however, means compromising on measures to secure the border and to change asylum laws. Millions of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States have seen one deal after another falter while watching neighbors and family members deported. A compromise would relieve them from threats of deportation and millions would become eligible for social security and Medicare for which they are currently ineligible.  This would be a major win for immigrant rights. The Trump administration and GOP lawmakers have voiced a readiness to make a deal on the undocumented. Whether or not they are sincere needs to be tested.

One underlying political assumption governs this approach. Americans, particularly the working class, have a right to demand effective immigration control at the borders. For one, to prevent undo competition for jobs and the downward pressure on wages and labor standards to which undocumented labor contributes. While business may want a free flow of undocumented labor, it is not in the interest of US labor, nor even those millions of immigrants currently living and working in the US.  From this perspective, we can argue about how to manage borders, but not if we should.1 Trump will continue to win this argument, unless this is acknowledged.

Furthermore, to deny there is a crisis at the US-Mexico border, is to have ones head in the political sand. It is plain to see on the nightly news. While the reasons for it are complex, as well as tragic; this fact, not idealism should guide political tactics and proposals.

Leading Democrats say they are for border security, but have not offered any viable negotiating positions. They should not miss another opportunity to test the possibilities of winning comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). A possibility they stubbornly ignored during the government shutdown when Trump was in a more vulnerable negotiating position. Why don’t they take the lead? Political pundits from right to left, say the Democrats don’t want to give Trump a win on immigration (or anything) as the 2020 election approaches. If this is their strategy, it is sorely misguided. Inaction is a losing gambit. It will not help one undocumented immigrant. Public opinion demands action and compromise from both sides of the aisle, not petty party politics.

Some or all of the following will need to be on the negotiating table. Most of these points were agreed to in the 2013 bipartisan CIR legislation, Senate bill 744.

  1. Changing asylum laws to discourage the idea that by just be setting foot in the US allows one to apply.2
  2. Ending the visa lottery. This has little public support and acts a drain on talented and professional people from the nations from which people apply.
  3. Agreeing on a system for monitoring student visas, entering and exiting the US and instituting employment verification.
  4. Limiting what has been called, “chain migration” to a narrower set of family members.
  5. Agreeing on a means to alter the Flores Settlement (1997) that governs border patrol protocols when handling unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers with children. The settlement mandates release from detention after a period of no more than 20 days. It is clear this has induced for more families to migrate and claim asylum. Yet, 90 percent of the claims are denied, and people are deported if they can be located.

As such, Americans rightfully question how the tens of thousands arriving at the border can have credible claims. The only hope asylum seekers have of staying is to blend into the undocumented when they are released. They become permanent targets of immigration enforcement. To maintain laws and processes that erroneously convey hope in asylum is a cruel hoax on would be asylum seekers. As difficult as it is, this must be resolved.

More and more Americans lay the blame for inaction on a dysfunctional congress. If this doesn’t change, the Trump administration is likely to win more public support, not lose it. As unlikely as it may seem, it may be possible to bring Americans together around a realistic compromise for CIR. Reform that affirms the sovereignty of the border and affords border agents and immigration judges with the laws and resources to properly assess asylum applications expeditiously and fairly.

Complicating the asylum discussion is a belief that granting asylum is obligatory under international law. It is not clear cut. Those states party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, as is the US, retain the right to define and determine who meets the definition of a refuge. Sovereignty, then is assured for each country in regard to its immigration policies. And, again, on this issue, the administration is gaining support. The more it gains, the bargaining position for winning legal status for millions of undocumented will diminish.

Demands that need to be met in return

  1. The Trump administration and GOP need to agree to grant the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US legal status subject to review of their status and criminal record. Negotiations on legal background check parameters must be clearly defined so those with minor legal infractions, nonviolent crimes and immigration offenses are not automatically excluded.
  2. The target should be to include all undocumented who have been here three years or longer. Fewer than three years has little chance of passing.
  3. All Dreamer immigrants, children brought to the US by undocumented parents, as well as their parents must be granted legal status to keep families intact.
  4. All temporary status immigrants (TPS), from Liberia, Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras, many who have been living in the US for years, also need permanent legal status.

American public opinion overwhelmingly supports granting the undocumented such relief (80 percent in Gallup 2019 poll). Yet, without an agreement on border security and asylum issues public support drops off rapidly. Polling suggests Americans want to be generous, but not without tightening the border to halt illegal immigration. Polls also show that delaying congressional action risks a hardening of sentiments frustrated by the lack of congressional action. This plays into Trump’s hand.

A Gallup Poll in January this year showed 37 percent favored deporting all undocumented immigrants. Fifty percent support banning sanctuary cities, nearly 50 percent support ending immigrants from sponsoring family members, 85 percent want tighter border security and nearly that many supports hiring significantly more border patrol agents.

This is the political reality. And, it is realistic steps, not idealistic values, that are required to aid undocumented immigrants. If not, the political discord and divide is likely to become more volatile. A half a win now, is better than no win. Simply opposing Trump has proven a losing strategy. Senate bill 744 is the political center and the political possible. It was supported by many immigrant rights organizations and US labor unions. Senate Democrats were party to drafting the language.

Of course, efforts should be made to fight for improvements during negotiations and for more just solutions overtime, but the nations need a partial win now. To hope a Democratic administration and congress will enact a significantly more generous provisions than those in S.744 is Pollyannaish. They will have little choice to act. It appears they just want to claim credit for it on their watch.

A compromise approach might also lessen Trump’s support among his base. If he does not agree to negotiate or baulks at a deal that his base finds realistic it will cast doubt on his motives. If a deal is reached, it will take the issue off the table and both sides can claim victory. With this aside Democrats will have a better chance to defeat him 2020.

For activists that long for a more just solution, our struggle will continue. Our efforts must include demanding a change in the long-standing US foreign policy of interfering militarily in Central America and elsewhere. The bipartisan agreement on imperialist foreign policy is no more evident than that displayed toward Honduras under both the Obama and Trump administration. In 2009, then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, declined to call the coup in Honduras that ousted an elected government, a coup. The US sided with the elite coup makers, not the people.

Then, in 2017, the Trump administration gave a stamp of approval to a stolen election that again disenfranchised the people of Honduras. This led to protests and repression. The actions of both administrations led to a surge of asylum seekers at the US border. Our foreign policies create migration. This is not the space to review decades of mistaken, brutal US foreign policies in the region. The struggle to change US foreign policy will continue. However, the current immigration issues must be tackle now.

Leading Democrats were mum during the Obama administration as an estimated 2.5 million immigrants were deported. Some untold number led to family separations. In 2014-15, the administration paid for the Mexican police and military to close the border with Guatemala to stop unaccompanied minors from Honduras traveling to the US. Thus, it is the height of hypocrisy for Democrats to obstruct a deal that could bring relief to the undocumented. Is a deal possible? The only way to find out is to put a proposal on the table that tests whether or not the GOP and Trump are serious. If they are not, at least the American people will know who is obstructing a solution. As such, whether a deal is made or not, this approach can take the steam out of Trump’s rhetoric and dampen his re-election chances.

  1. For a US labor perspective see: “Immigration for Shared Prosperity: A Framework for Comprehensive Reform,” 2009, by Ray Marshall. A publication of the Economic Policy Institute, Washington, DC. Many features of S744 and other proposed legislation contain elements of this framework. It’s more progressive features are unlikely to pass congress, but the book is a helpful guide to working toward a compromise.
  2. GOP Senator Lindsay Graham has drafted legislation that would (1) allow families with minor children to be held for 100 days, (2) require Central Americans to apply for asylum in the home country or Mexico and (3) allow unaccompanied minors arriving at the border to be returned immediately.

In 2020 Once Again, the Urgent Task: Making the Election a Struggle for Peace and Economic Security

If 2016 election taught us anything, it is that the U.S. working class is searching for alternatives to the two major parties, both of which they find unresponsive to their grievances and needs. By 2016, the working class, as well as young people, had become thoroughly dissatisfied by those representing the two establishment parties. This sentiment paved the way for Donald Trump to take over the GOP and for Bernie Sanders to come close to defeating the center-right, neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, symbolized by Hillary Clinton. What’s the road ahead?

In Desmond Greaves’ biography of Irish socialist leader James Connolly (1868-1916), Greaves quotes John Leslie, Connolly’s friend and comrade, as saying that “…the progress of Ireland depends on the independent organization of the working class.”

Such advice has gone unheeded by most of the U.S. Left, including trade union and progressive forces that remain tied to the program and candidates of the Democratic Party. I suggest a paraphrase of Leslie’s idea as a means to chart a course that could break the predictable pendulum swing from the GOP to the Democrats: “The political future of the United States depends on the independent organization of the working class.” The task then is to act to promote and organize such a political force.

To date, even though opportunities have been ripe for at least a decade, labor, progressive, civil rights and peace organizations have been unwilling, unable and/or uncertain as to how to act on such advice. Clearly the working class, in all its ethnic and national diversity, has been ready. Trump and Sanders, although through much different lenses, saw this and demonstrated the possibilities. The GOP establishment was forced to yield to those who gathered at his record-breaking rallies during the primary, while the Democratic Party’s rigged nominating system doomed Sanders.

Working class grievances…or deplorables?

This is the background analysis that sets the context for this article. Without a change in strategy it is reasonable to predict the future will be more of the same or worse. The mass of the American working class is fed up with politics as usual. For the time being a significant portion of the working class, mostly among white workers, finds Trump’s anti-establishment, working-class rhetoric appealing, even though many might reject to his xenophobic and racist rhetoric.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party has shown it is incapable, and I think unwilling, to make its case to the “deplorables,” as Hillary so casually named Trump supporters, thus contributing to her own defeat.

So, what do the “deplorables” want?  What are their grievances? Their needs?  Number one is economic security. Two is respect for working class work that produces the necessities of life and more. Neither major party, nor Trump, will deliver what the working class needs: a political vehicle that does not just represent them but is their own.

For many, this need is not well thought out but is a visceral reaction to political events. Election after election they have hired one or the other party with their votes but find both wanting. When both Sanders and Trump called the system “rigged,” it affirmed a conclusion drawn long ago by the working class.

The historical marker that began the working class break with the two parties is the betrayal by Bill Clinton, who promised labor unions during his 1992 campaign he would not support NAFTA. The GOP under H.W. Bush led the NAFTA negotiations, but Clinton and Al Gore backed by Big Business were hired to push it through Congress.

During the campaign, labor union leaders pressed their members to break from the GOP’s Reagan era and give the “progressive,” pro-labor nominee from Arkansas a chance. I recall having lunch with a local trade union leader in my home state of Minnesota just 100 days into the Clinton presidency, when he said it was already clear labor had been betrayed.

Labor and progressive organizations next challenge was to promote Barack Obama to their constituencies after he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. It turned into a replay of 1992. Obama sidelined labor’s number one pitch to convince its members, his pledge to support the Employee Free Choice Act that would make union organizing easier. And Obama, like Bill Clinton, soon after being elected embraced free trade pacts that labor unions opposed.

NAFTA came back to haunt Hillary Clinton in 2016. She lost key states she needed where NAFTA and other free-trade agreements had arguably done significant damage to living standards: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump hammered away at Clinton’s support for job-killing free trade agreements and her dismissal of the “deplorables,” taken to mean white workers who supported Trump. No doubt there is very real problem of racism among white Americans, working and middle class, but such a characterization further alienated white workers from the Democratic Party.

So, what can be done?

Prepare to endorse and run candidates, inside or outside the Democratic Party, on an independent working-class political program and a plan for peace. It is not difficult to mount a campaign for a House seat. More difficult is in identifying and recruiting a good candidate. Commit to running through the General Election, not just a primary bid. Such challenges could cause some centrist Democrats to lose to GOP candidates. Liberals who cling to the Democratic Party will criticize this as what they consider spoiler candidates; however, workers and youth will see the challengers as a breath of fresh political air. In the long run, Leslie’s message of working class independence from bourgeois parties is what history shows is a proven path to progressive and even revolutionary change. Every year this task is postponed or avoided means capitalists are more likely to employ more reactionary political and military solutions to the still unresolved capitalist economic crisis that began in 2008.

Left political analyses, like this article, often end without developing concrete steps to implement a program of action. As such, this next section poses practical steps that could be taken by individuals or by ad hoc groups, with or without a formal political organization to work through. Think of it as agitation and organizing to recruit masses of people to join the struggle.

First, a program is needed that fits the historical circumstances, that addresses the real problems people face and one that is possible to achieve with a shift in the balance of power.

In a Washington Post opinion piece in November 2018, Bernie Sanders outlined a 10-point domestic program similar to what he ran on in 2016 campaign. A program, we should recall, that inspired millions of working-class voters to join his campaign. His plan, if it were to be implemented, would greatly reduce the economic strain of working-class families. It includes single-payer health insurance, free post-secondary education, expanded social security benefits, immigration reform and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. In addition to enhancing economic security, such a program of shared benefits and reforms could also lead to a lessening of racism and xenophobia, as shared social benefits reduce the competition among workers that capitalism cultivates to divide and rule.

The missing ingredient

What is sorely lacking in Sanders’ program, however, is a plan for peace. Americans are tired of war. His program avoids the elephant in the room: the military budget and U.S. imperialist aggression. As we saw in 2014, 2016 and 2018, nearly all Democratic candidates avoided taking critical positions against U.S. foreign policies, even those few who may have been inclined. Such a critical perspective and program for peace will need to come from outside the two parties. There can be no meaningful struggle for a domestic economic program if the war budget is not addressed.

In late November, a group of over 100 U.S. activists, writers and scholars published an open letter to Sanders imploring him to speak out against U.S. militarism abroad and the growing Pentagon budget. In it they said, “A public policy that avoids mentioning its existence is not a public policy at all.”

Since then Sanders has made some overtures but he still appears reticent to more aggressively challenge the bi-partisan agreements on foreign policy. In this writer’s opinion such a challenge could have been his winning card in 2016.1 There are three possibilities for his reticence. He is either opposed to taking on the issue as he thinks it may detract from his chances to win; he acquiesces to the status quo out of fear of reprisal; or, as at least some of his voting record shows, he supports some of the aggressive economic and military policies.2 However, it is possible  he could be pushed to risk a break and embrace an eleventh point: a plan for peace. Even if he cannot be moved, his candidacy presents a public venue in which to agitate for placing war and peace on the 2020 agenda more broadly.

The degree to which this is possible will depend on whether or not peace organizations and social justice activists can bring to the surface the latent widespread opposition to the U.S. foreign policy among the working class and youth.3 Sanders and candidates at other state and federal levels can be moved by a mass show of support for a change in foreign policy and a plan for peace. There is no other way.

Action and organizing ideas

Consider how Sanders domestic program, plus a plan for peace, might be injected into the 2020 election, particularly in congressional districts and races. The object is to appeal directly to voters to create a groundswell of support so candidates for the House and Senate cannot avoid speaking to the question of war and peace. This is the means to both expose the often-unstated positions of those who support the status quo as well as to create the political conditions for those opposed to U.S. foreign polices to speak out. It’s also the first step to determine whether or not it is possible to run challengers on a peace program. It means agitating for Sanders’ 10 points and a peace program via independent organizing efforts, with priority given to organizing among the working class and youth. Some practical ideas follow.

  1. Even a simple individual action could become a spark. For example, mail a copy of Sanders’ domestic program along with a personal letter pointing out Sanders’ omission of a plan for peace. At the same time, send a copy to a few friends and to local political reporters. Ask others to do the same. To have an impact requires perhaps 1,000 letters. This figure is an intuitive guess of the minimum number required to break through the media and spark an open public debate. It is doable in many districts.
  2. Consider developing an ad hoc flier with Sanders 10-point program or some version of it, along with a message for a change in foreign policy. Distribute it at factories and workplaces, neighborhoods and campuses. Sign it, perhaps, “Ad hoc committee for peace and economic security.” Or, “Citizens for peace and social renewal” or just “Concerned Citizens.” Mass distribution of the message and the program is the key to organizing.
  3. Plan district forums in your neighborhood, city and district. Invite elected officials and candidates to speak to the peace and economic program.
  4. Ask your labor union, civic, or advocacy group to endorse Sanders’ program and a plan for peace.

We could go on, but what the points illustrate are grassroots organizing independent of the two-parties and their candidates. It is not about lobbying officials or candidates. It is not about holding small protests or occupying a congressional office. It is about creating the political consciousness on which candidates can challenge those unwilling to lead a fight for peace and economic security.

Is it possible? Will people respond?  It is overly optimistic? I would say the answers would be: Yes, maybe and perhaps. Still, we need to start someplace. We need to look at the process as one where we learn from trial and error. No trial, no error, no learning, no movement. The past will be repeated.  For a different outcome, we need a different approach that, as Leslie reminds us, is that which promotes “the independent organization of the working class.”

What labor and progressives often now find themselves doing is organizing the working class to support a candidate of two parties, typically Democrats. Typically, they support imperialist foreign policies, even though they may be better on some other issues. Most don’t even support health care for all. Uncritical support must end or there will be no opening for more robust public debate. An accommodating strategy can only lead to more discontent and cynicism among Americans. As such, unintentionally, it can lay the psychological ground on fascist thinking that grows during prolonged periods of crisis and instability.

If neither party’s program will resolve the crisis and address the grievances, then an independent program and organizing is the only means to channel the discontent and cynicism into productive struggles. To replace xenophobia with a sense of solidarity with workers across our borders. To forge solidarity for social and economic uplift within our borders across our diverse, multi-national working class and youth.

Without an independent program there will be no independent organization of the working class. There will be no opposition to the two parties of capitalism. There will be no basis for productive alliances with the most progressive elected officials in forging a struggle for peace and economic security. There will be no independent candidates to challenge the centrists. No independent political party of the working class will arise. These are the dead-end results of subsuming struggles within the orbit of the two-party system. If independent political action is taken now, in the first half of 2019, a breakthrough may be possible in the 2020 election.

  1. See my article, “Missing Ingredient in the Sanders Revolution,” January 2016, published in the Adonde Press pamphlet, The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and the Tasks Ahead, December 2017 at adondepress.org.

  2. See my article, “Evaluating the Candidacy of Bernie Sanders,” July 2015, published in the above-named pamphlet. NOTE: Readers may find Sanders, September 2017, foreign policy address at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri a helpful insight into his thinking. My first thought was to wonder why he chose Westminster to deliver his address, the site of Winston Churchill’s infamous 1946 speech that set the stage for the long and bloody Cold War. Setting this question aside, I wrote, shortly after his speech that “No other prominent American politician in decades has offered such a wide-ranging critique of U.S. foreign policy. However, the aspects of Bernie’s speech that create openings for peace education and organizing, will fall flat without challenging Sanders’ shortcomings and contradictions. At times, like when he addresses the conflict with Russia, he projects a misleading and dangerous narrative. In this respect, to call his address an anti-war speech, as some suggest, is to overlook its weaknesses. Foremost in this respect is his reluctance to offer Americans a plan for peace.”
  3. See my 2015 book, Which Way Forward? for data and evidence. As well as articles on the 2016 election in my 2017 pamphlet, The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and Tasks Ahead.

Making the 2018 Elections a Struggle for Peace, Jobs and Justice

As we head into a pivotal mid-term election year, it is clear the Democratic Party establishment has not learned a key lesson from the 2016 election. That is, that many of the party’s former and current constituents reject the party’s establishment leadership and its lackluster program. These voters are looking for alternatives. In 2016, en masse they deserted the party for a new kind of politics they found in Bernie Sanders and some saw in Donald Trump.

Voters passed judgment on the leading figures of both parties. Distrust and discontent disrupted politics as usual. The opportunity to fill this void with left-of-center electoral initiatives abound. It starts with building on the momentum of Bernie Sanders’s campaign that resonated with tens of millions. In some fashion or another, ready or not, the 2018 midterm elections must become an arena of struggle for peace, economic security and racial justice.

Sanders’ leadership in 2016, and still today, falls short in two key areas to meet this challenge. First, during his campaign he did not offer Americans a bold new foreign policy. To start with, a plan to end the war on terrorism and the foreign military adventures that have made us less safe and destabilized and laid waste to a dozen nations. Secondly, after November, instead of calling for discussion on forming a new political party he and his advisors chose to form yet another 501c entity, Our Revolution, primarily as a vehicle to move the Democratic Party to the left. It would behoove Sanders to reconsider both choices. The Democratic Party’s electoral structure is certainly a vehicle for advancing progressive and even left candidates, but the party’s owners are not likely to hand over its bank accounts to Sanders, labor unions and people’s organizations.

Months after the elections the Clinton-Obama-Pelosi centrists still hold the reins and drive a shameless hubris as they scramble to blame someone for the party’s declining appeal and its 2016 losses. No, it was not Obama and Clinton’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Bill Clinton’s betrayal of labor unions on NAFTA.  It was not due to Hillary’s use of the term “super predators” in 1996 to describe black youth involved in criminal activity. No, it was not the shortcomings of the bureaucratic, insurer-friendly Obamacare.

No, it was the Russian television network Russia Today brainwashing its 8 million American viewers. No, it was Russian cyber meddling in the election, for which months later we have zero evidence. Same goes for alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. No, the loss was due to FBI director James Comey’s late in the game letter to congress about Clinton’s emails. No, it was WikiLeaks alleged release, in collaboration with Russia, of emails showing the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sought to derail Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Which, as we learned was the case.

After a full-court media campaign to convince Americans of Russian meddling, many remain skeptical. In a May 2017 CBS poll, 55 percent of Americans considered the allegations a distraction that “get in the way of getting things done.” In October, 41 percent still agree they were a distraction.1

Clinton again blamed Bernie Sanders in her post-election book tour, dubbed by some The Denial Tour.  “His attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election….” Not exactly the kind of message designed to heal and unify the party going into 2018 elections. Since polls show Bernie is the most admired politician in America, topping 70 percent, to say her grumbling is a political misstep for the party is an understatement.

Yet, even as Clinton’s own poll ratings dropped to 30 percent, she continued to maintain the loss was due to something other than an uninspiring campaign and the neo-liberal, anti-working class politics the Democratic Party’s centrist leadership has pedaled for 30-plus years. Clinton even blamed the Democratic National Committee (DNC), led by a loyal Clinton supporter, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, saying it “…was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong.”2

A crisis of legitimacy

Both Sanders and Trump’s campaigns rode on a crisis of legitimacy in the two parties. Today, only 18 percent of voters consider themselves strong Democrats. The no longer Grand Old Party is slightly worse off at 15 percent. So far, Trump maintains most of his loyal voter support, which we should keep in mind, is only around 25 percent of the total electorate.

The attendant political volatility arising from the 2016 election combined with numerous international crises, presents an opportunity for demagogic appeals to patriotism, xenophobia and racism to deepen and spread. At the same time, it is an opening to advance a working-class political and economic program to provide meaningful, concrete solutions to address people’s grievances and discontents. A program, we might call a Sanders plus program, the plus being a plan for peace.

The Sanders wing of the Democrats is hesitant, waiting. Will Sanders break with the party? Be sidelined? Clearly, Sanders is taking on the establishment, pushing his economic program of social benefits, but it appears his aim is to reform or take over the party. A tough job when those hanging on to power, did not mention Sander’s program until September, when 15 Democratic senators finally endorsed single-payer national health insurance. In the House, progressive Democrats have signed on Bernie’s program for free post-secondary education, paid parental leave and expanding social security. However, there is little evidence of serious actions being taken on the part of the leadership to rally Americans behind the legislation. After Sanders introduced his single-payer bill, Hillary Clinton and other Democratic leaders, notably Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, told voters they do not support single-payer. Again, the failure of the leadership to learn the lessons of 2016.

Understandably then, Americans give the leadership low marks when it comes to presenting alternatives to Trump’s reactionary program. A Washington Post – ABC News poll in late October this year found only 28 percent of voters thought the Democrats were offering real alternatives.3 Nearly one half of Democratic responders and 65 percent of independents said the leadership was just criticizing Trump. One attempt to launch an alternative program failed miserably.

The Democrats “Better Deal” falls flat

In July, a Pelosi–Schumer road show unveiled the party’s alternative to the Trump-GOP program: “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” In a Washington Post, Op-ed, Pelosi said the Deal, “represents a renewed Democratic commitment to the hard-working men and women across the United States who have been left out and left behind for too long.” It rained hard in Berryville, Virginia that day, the site of show. Reviews rained even harder on the Democrat’s proposal. It made no mention of Sanders’ far-reaching social benefit program that would lift up the left out. Their effort to make a splash with the working class was drowned in empty words, rhetorical promises and contrived apologies for abandoning working-class voters.

If Schumer, Pelosi, Clinton et al wanted to rebuild the party they only need reach out to the millions who responded to Sanders program for expanding social benefits at the expense of the billionaire class. Instead all we hear is Russia, Russia, Russia. Some pundits allege the Democratic leadership is tone-deaf to political reality, but their silence is due to an unwillingness to break with their corporate sponsors any more than are the masters of the once Grand Old Party. Instead both parties, and institutions in their orbits, are worried Americans are losing faith in the long-standing institutions of the limited “democracy of the few” embodied by the two-party capitalist system.

In January, Linda Chavez, a former Reagan cabinet member turned media pundit, put it this way in her New York Post column: “Democracy can only exist as long as the people trust its institutions. The greatest calamity of this election cycle has been the weakening of that trust.” Another reading of her statement is both Sanders and Trump upset the well painted façade of democratic governance. Neither candidate could be trusted to be loyal administrators of the bi-partisan imperialist foreign policy and neo-liberal economic program of capitalism.

While Chavez may lament this decline, those seeking a more just, peaceful society have an opportunity to step into this vacuum and begin building a new political party responsive to, and with, our nation’s multi-national working class, white and blue collar, youth and students. The massive discontent with politics as usual offers fertile ground. The first step is to agree on a working-class program for economic security, peace and racial justice. The next is to bring it into the 2018 mid-term election and beyond.

Resolutions at the AFL-CIO Convention in October showed emerging sentiment among labor union leaders for independence from the two parties and for renewing the idea of a Labor Party. A resolution calling for a pro-worker agenda and “an independent political voice,” stated: “The time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils.”4

According to the People’s World reporting from the convention, 50 delegates met for a discussion on the idea of a Labor Party.5 Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein led a convention floor discussion and roused an applause when he said: “The Democratic Party was not delivering anything even when it had control of the White House, the Congress and the Senate.” This echoed the position of another resolution on electoral politics that concluded that: “continuing to follow the same model, expecting different results, is not an effective strategy for labor.”6

Help wanted: political leaders who stand for something

Propelling the urgency for bold alternatives in 2018 and beyond is that another capitalist economic crisis is looming on the horizon. Absent an alternative such a crisis will enlarge the opening for demagogic solutions like those offered by Trump’s GOP, as well as, austerity measures authored by the corporate allies of both parties. Might it be possible that Our Revolution will find an independent political footing to meet this challenge? Might progressive labor unions unite with people’s movements and Our Revolution to meet this challenge? These possibilities deserve urgent attention if we are to prevent Trump’s new GOP from consolidating power.7

Single-payer advocates welcomed senate Democrats finally getting behind Medicare for all legislation, but there is a steep hill to climb to win over skeptical workers fed up with just about every establishment Democrat. Democratic Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio said, in a New York Times interview in June, following the loss of Jon Ossoff in Georgia, that the party had become “toxic” in much of the country as voters see Democrats as “not being able to connect with the issues they care about.”8

In the same article D. Taylor, the president of the union Unite Here, representing hospitality workers across the country said, “Millions of Americans are desperate to be led by political leaders who stand for something, are willing to take risks, and are willing to tell the truth and engage Americans where they live. That just isn’t happening.” Labor unions and people’s movements who wait for the Democratic Party to make it happen will still be waiting in 2024. Now is the time to build and organize the mass sentiments revealed by the Sanders’ campaign. It’s no time to hesitate or go slow. It is time to take bold risks with confidence and trust that people will respond.

Although the Tim Ryans of the Democratic Party are not likely to call their own foreign policy “toxic,” 2016 showed millions of voters were concerned about Hillary Clinton’s aggressive support of military interventions. Sanders’ repeated criticism of her record resonated broadly with young people, progressives and among the working class. In the fall, Trump even told his voters at rallies that a vote for Hillary would be a vote for more war.

Yet, since the election the Democratic leadership has lent tacit support to Trump’s military budget increases and his ratcheting up of aggression against Venezuela, Iran, North Korea and China. Particularly egregious is the support of both parties’ leaders, for Saudi Arabia’s murderous war against the people of Yemen. Aggression that began with support from the Obama Administration. Not a word of criticism, except for a handful of progressive Democratic officials.

An electoral counter to such dangerous jingoism requires fielding dozens of congressional candidates on a program for peace. This is the glimmer of rationality that peace-loving, oppressed and war-torn peoples around world desperately await U.S. activists to initiate in the citadel of imperialism. Left and progressive organizations that avoid this work shirk their international responsibilities.

A good place to start is to press candidates and incumbents to support a new direction in foreign policy as advanced by AFL-CIO resolution: War is not the Answer.9 It calls on the president and congress “to bring the war dollars home and make our priority as a nation rebuilding this country’s crumbling infrastructure, creating millions of living wage jobs and addressing human needs such as education, health care, housing, retirement security and jobs.  Furthermore, it calls “for a foreign policy based on international solidarity of all workers, mutual respect of all nations and national sovereignty…”

If candidates won’t sign on, challenge them. Pressure them. Americans are tired of war. The AFL-CIO resolution reflects this sentiment. Make 2018 a struggle for peace. General election and primary challengers running on a plan for peace may not win, but such a presence is urgently needed to elevate the struggle for peace, economic security and racial justice.

  1. Americans worried about Russian influence on elections,” October 30, 2017. SurveyMonkey poll conducted from October 23 to October 26.
  2. CNN, Chris Cillizza, Editor-at-large. “In election blame game, it’s time for Hillary Clinton to take her share,” June 1, 2017.
  3. Washington Post. “Trump’s approval rating remains historically low and confidence has declined.” Washington Post-ABC News poll, October 29-November 1, 2017. November 13, 2017.
  4. Resolution 2: “An independent political voice.” Resolutions, 2017 AFL-CIO Convention.
  5. John Wojcik and Mark Gruenberg. People’s World, “AFL-CIO calls for a break with “lesser of two evils” politics,” October 25, 2017.
  6. Resolution 48: “Exploring new directions for labor in electoral politics.”
  7. See my analysis of this danger in the December 2017, Adonde Press pamphlet, “The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and Task Ahead.”
  8. Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin. New York Times. “Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump.’”, June 21, 2017.
  9. Resolution 50: “War is not the Answer.” Resolutions, 2017 AFL-CIO Convention.