“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”
The other day I opened my Twitter notifications to find this whopper staring me in the face:
Now, tweets of this sort usually don't grab my attention, but given the hostile declaration, on this occasion I was intrigued. Upon further investigation I discovered I was being linked to the following tweet by Rolling Stone writer Jesse Berney:
Why was I being directed to this 140(ish) character declaration? Well, last April, as the primary was winding down with Clinton in the lead, I had, upon special request from a friend of mine at Salon, written a think piece titled, “A Liberal Case for Donald Trump,” which was little more than a case for ‘Bernie Or Bust.’ Like so many others, I weighed the immediate benefits of avoiding a Trump presidency with the long-term consequences of a Clinton victory, and concluded Democrats would do better to lose 2016. That was because Clinton would almost certainly lose in 2020.
But why does 2020 matter so much when faced with a man like Trump?
Like I have been saying for the last year, it is all about the Census. Every 10 years there is a Census, and when that happens the state legislatures get to redraw the congressional districts. The party in control of the majority of those legislatures will be able to gerrymander control of the House of Representatives for the next decade, as we saw happen in 2010 following the GOP takeover. Since presidential candidates have coattails and the 2020 presidential election coincides with the Census, the winner’s party is likely going to be the party that owns the House…for ten years.
At this point, the anti-Busters are probably reflexively blurting out, “You overlooked the Supreme Court!” There was indeed a strong argument to be made regarding the Supreme Court as it was liable to have vacancies opening up before the next election. However, if meaningful progressive change was to happen, controlling the active branch of government was more important than controlling the reactive branch. And just to preempt the rebuttal about the threat of judicial obstruction, it is worth mentioning that nowhere in the Constitution is the number of justices specified. All it would take to shake up the court would be an act of the legislature.
The next question the anti-Busters will ask is “How can you be sure President Clinton and the Democrats would have lost 2020?”
In hindsight, the answer seems obvious given the fact she—the ultimate establishment candidate—ended up losing to unpopular outsider Donald Trump. But Trump aside, it is worth mentioning that the last time this country had two consecutive two-term presidents from the same party (James Madison and James Monroe) was before the formation of the modern party system.
Clinton’s problems were legion. She was a close ally of Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, and other special interests, and ethical questions surrounded her like mosquitos on a camping trip. Paramount however, was the fact she did not represent a dramatic departure from the previous administration at a time when most of America was calling for meaningful change. Given her commitment to incremental progress as opposed to the kind of sweeping reform her opponent, Bernie Sanders, was calling for, combined with the guaranteed GOP control of the House, it is unlikely a Clinton administration would accomplish anything substantial enough to placate voter anger within a four year term.
As such, the next president would almost certainly be Clinton’s Republican challenger in 2020, which would set the GOP up for a sweep down-ballot and control over the House for another 10 years. It is also possible that individual would be more extreme than Trump given the mood of the country. In 2016 the alt-right woke up, and there’s no reason to think they’d be going anywhere. Hell, they might have even grown in strength.
This argument was lost on some on the left, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and my Twitter antagonist, who accused me of concocting a false equivalence between a President Clinton and a President Trump. Others accused me of not understanding the stakes of the race given my “privilege.” Now especially, as President Trump takes off to a running start, the anti-Busters are coming out of the woodwork, blaming us “brogressives” for their ill-fated presidential campaign.
Their anger is understandable. Trump has, some would say predictably, been awful. For one thing, he has completely betrayed his voting base. He invited Wall Street alums and corporate leaders into his inner circle. Some of these individuals were present in the Oval Office when he signed his executive order rolling back the Dodd-Frank banking reforms to deregulat the financial sector…again. Trump’s position on money in politics has also changed. Far from draining the swamp, the president has pledged to eliminate the Johnson Amendment barring nonprofits and churches from endorsing or opposing candidates, and nominated a judge to fill Scalia’s open seat on the Supreme Court with a record of opposing campaign finance reform.
His other executive orders—including the new travel restrictions placed on seven predominantly Muslim countries (which is definitely going to the Supreme Court) and the approval of both the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline—are also troubling. His other announced plans are even worse—like his “religious freedom” executive order which would essentially legalize a form of de jure segregation against LGBTQ individuals.
On foreign policy, Trump has acted rashly, threatening and bullying our allies, scuttling the Iran negotiations, and impulsively approving a raid without adequate preparation which cost the lives of a special operations soldier and an 8-year-old girl who happened to be an American citizen, among other casualties.
We’re not even out of his first one hundred days in office.
I get it. It is easy to understand why some on the left are anxious to blame those of us who said, “Bernie or bust!” But while they’re angry now, in a few years they may not be. Because Clinton lost, the Democratic Party is being forced to change. There is no recovering from Trump for the neoliberal establishment—especially in terms of donor confidence. Simply put, corporate power over the Democratic Party broke.
As progressives mobilize and take over, like what recently happened in the California state Democratic Party elections (CADem), Democrats are sure to adopt a more progressive platform and a more aggressive approach to implementing it. That means stronger opposition to Trump and the presentment of a real alternate vision for the country.
There has been a profound shift in energy around the country. The left has been awakened in a way it hasn’t been since the 1970’s. To quote The Nation:
The election of Donald Trump was a catastrophe for progressive America, but the damage may be mitigated over the long term by a remarkable surge of energy on the left in response to his election. As many as 5.2 million people participated in hastily organized Women’s Marches across the country, senators’ phones have reportedly been jammed with calls protesting Trump’s cabinet nominees and other early moves, and, according to a poll conducted by The Washington Post, more than one in three Democrats say they plan to become “more involved in the political process in the next year” as a result of the election. That’s true of 40 percent of Democratic women, and almost half of self-identified liberal Democrats.
The last counterpoint from the anti-Busters asserts that the damage Trump will do is going to be irreparable. In individual instances, this is a reality, but it would have been a reality under the hawkish Hillary Clinton as well. No matter which major party candidate won in 2016, some people were always bound to suffer. However, we can all take comfort in the fact that the swiftness with which Donald Trump is acting on his agenda is likely going to set a precedent for the Democrat who replaces him in January of 2021.
And so, while ‘Bernie Or Bust’ represented a cold calculation and a gamble—one that some simply did not feel they could make—the future will be brighter as a result. The left just needs to fight like hell for the next four years.
To quote historian Thomas Fuller by way of Harvey Dent, “The night is darkest just before the dawn.”