We Must March My Darlings (Right Into the White House)
November 8th was the beginning —a shorter lived facsimile erupted six weeks later when the electoral college made Trump’s inauguration inevitable — spilling out from left and right coasts and soon the howls of dismay could be heard in the heartland where the media, mainstream and alternate, gleefully recorded, interpreted (i.e. misinterpreted) and broadcast the resulting tumult. Insurrection appeared to be a millisecond away prompting a make-nice-kissy-face appearance by the sitting president and the soon-to-be president. Hypocrisy was in the air and the paper of record seeing which way the wind was blowing anointed the meeting with this pretentious headline: “Trump and Obama Hold Cordial 90-Minute Meeting in the Oval Office” where according to the Times reporter much cooing and clucking was the order of the day. Obama —“I want to emphasize to you, Mr. President-elect, that we now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.” Not to be outdone in the BS department Trump returned the favor —We discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful, and some difficulties. I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.”
The Mainstream Media Chimes In
True to the mainstream media’s unwavering loyalty to the failed campaign of HRC, the reporter managed to lob a few jabs in the Trump mid-section. Characterizing Trump as looking “nervous and uncharacteristically subdued,” the reporter took great pains to point out “Mr. Trump has never held elective office or served in government.” Having endured eight years of a president who had held elected office before attaining the presidency, voters were clearly in a “no nevermind” mood as regards that particular credential.
In a bizarre turn of phrase, the White House chief of staff was described as “talking in hushed tones” to Jared Kushner, a Trump adviser who also happens to be his son-in-law (as the reporter snarkily pointed out). To complete the rout of an objective news story, Obama’s aides were described as “shocked,” “some openly crying.” One can safely assume that their tears would have been of joy had the “right” person won.
Why the application of such heavy camouflage to put a benign face on campaign rhetoric that had circled the drain — Obama describing Trump as unqualified, temperamentally unfit and a threat to the republic. Trump calling Obama weak and his administration an unmitigated disaster. What was it the oligarchs feared? Mass uprisings against a political system that handed voters one choice in two different personas? Or the threat of a new out of the box third party with no allegiance to the money boys and girls behind the business/war party?
A Brief Global History of Wrong Party Wins
Still for many Americans the “wrong party” won. Even the network anchors looked shell shocked. Kind of harkens back a decade ago when the “wrong” party won an election in the occupied territories and a foreign policy catastrophe was narrowly averted. It began in 2006 when President Bush pressed for “free and fair” elections of the Palestinian National Council. Of course he didn’t mean the “free and fair” part. Defying his expectations, the Palestinians handed Hamas (I.e. Islamic Resistance Movement) majority control of the National Council, narrowly beating out the US-sanctioned secular candidate. The punishment for thwarting the empire’s will and disrupting its connivance with Israel’s hegemonic dreams for the entire Mideast — economic hardship, international sanctions, and periodic Israel “lawn mowings.” (Operation Cast Lead and Protective Edge). Guess whose dirty fingerprints were all over the punishment meted out to voters for voting the wrong way? Senator Hillary Clinton scurried to the rescue co-sponsoring “The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006,” as soon as the election results were announced. Thanks to that piece of legislation, the Palestinian people were officially relegated to second-class citizens in their own country. In a classic case of the chickens coming home to roost, ten years later, Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations were dashed when a substantial majority of the American people “voted the wrong way.” Poor Hillary, on November 8th the voice of her fellow citizens rang out loud and clear and it was not music to her ears. Nor was it to a lot of her partisans who grabbed their [metaphorical in most cases] pitchforks and rushed into the streets to demand a do-over. Their rationale appeared to be a variation on the 2006 uproar against the Palestinians—it’s not democracy if the wrong team wins.
Cursing the Darkness
Pain and disbelief were the order of the day on November 9th as HRC supporters picked up their toys and left the playground. In New York and Boston, cries of “Trump makes America hate,” “Not My President,” and my hands-down favorite “Impeach Trump” (reminds me of the Tea Party anti-government rallies featuring signs like “Keep your hands off my Medicare.”) Even students too young to vote felt her pain. A nine-year old in NY “I think it’s unfair. We voted for Hillary Clinton but it’s Trump who won” (possibly a more progressive civics class is indicated). On the subject of kids’ picking up their parent’s myopic understanding of democracy, in Portland, Oregon, a group of high school students staged a mass exodus out of class to protest the results of the election. In Washington, D.C. democracy was alive and well as anti-Trump demonstrators gathered outside a federal building to protest a meeting of republicans they figured must have voted for Trump. Oakland protestors displayed their understanding of democracy American style by smashing windows and painting anti-Trump graffiti on other peoples’ buildings. Meanwhile hundreds of protestors rushed onto one of LA’s busiest freeways, operating on the assumption that turning a busy freeway into a miles long parking lot was the best way to win sympathy for their plight. Some famous names couldn’t restrain themselves. Chris Hedges “It’s worse than you think,” and then Bernie who figured on earning a well deserved reward for his Herculean efforts to lasso reluctant Millennials into the Clinton big tent. His prediction up to the bitter end —“We can beat this guy.”
The US Isn’t Going to Take it Anymore
Where does the jihad against democracy lead to when the “wrong” party or person wins? In another little known but remarkably similar situation in 1990, the US didn’t miss a beat responding to the dilemma governmental elites in Algeria found themselves in when the Islamic Salvation Front won 55% of the vote in local elections. Their unexpected victory astounded the elites who had put up a “safe” candidate and inflamed their passions when it became clear that this “unacceptable” group was poised to bring home the gold in upcoming national elections. Not surprisingly, the Salvation Front found themselves persona non grata in the councils of government. The bigger problem confronting the elites —how to stop the election of a party that nobody but the people wanted. Disappear them. Which is precisely what the Algerian government did — banning the party, jailing its leaders and canceling the elections. How did US democracy-lovers respond? Assistant Secretary of State and former ambassador to Syria and Israel Edward Djerejian in a pre-emptive move to foreclose the possibility of the “wrong winner,” replacing a US-friendly military dictatorship declared that the US did not support “one person, one vote, one time.” Here’s Assistant Secretary Djerejian expanding on his sound bite — “we were seriously concerned at the prospect of this Islamic radical party attaining power in that important country with possible destabilizing effects on Morocco and Tunisia…we were making a larger point… that certain Islamic parties…would use elections as a vehicle to come to power only to undermine the democratic electoral process…and would refuse to relinquish power if future election results went against them.” [Danger and Opportunity: An American Ambassador’s Journey Through the Middle East, p.22] Makes sense if you’re a US government official. Everyone else —not so much.
US Priorities Hit the Wall Again
Post World War II US foreign policy is littered with examples of similar sophistry. Now it appears that domestic politics is in the throes of the same “wrong person won” miasma. Absurdities dot the landscape. The Green Party agenda emphasizing progressive and humane goals —slowing our seemingly irreversible march to climate disaster and reducing our widening military footprint overseas, fulfilling the promise of the American dream as we repair our tattered and torn social safety net and provide adequate financial and healthcare services to all: ambitious but achievable goals that garnered the slimmest measure of campaign dollars — $3.5 million. That wasn’t the case when the Green Party decided to play money ball with the establishment pols. Calling on that popular meme —the wrong person won — they solicited donations for a three state recount. What do you think happened? In one weekend they raised $6 million, not to clean up polluted waters or make the air we breathe less toxic or fix our decrepit infrastructure, but to waste millions on an effort guaranteed not to make a scintilla of difference.
Howard Zinn knew what real protest looked like — “The really critical thing, isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.”
We listened to Zinn in 2003 when over 1 million Americans protested the Iraq war. Eight years later, only a handful bothered when the empire reduced a progressive African country to rubble and washed its hands of the murder of its leader. Most looked the other way when the “deporter in chief” sent 3 million packing for the crime of not having “papers”. Nary a cry went up when the administration strong-armed a weak-willed congress into giving the president sole power to order the detention of American citizens in military prisons indefinitely without constitutional protections for the crime of disagreeing with him. (Look for it in section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012) You could hear a pin drop when the president became judge, jury, and executioner on “Terror Tuesdays” handing out death sentences to the empire’s bêtes noires. While most Americans were asleep at the switch or busy pledging allegiance at their ten-year old’s soccer game or paying lip service to that ubiquitious mandate to support the troops, the Obama administration was handing out automatic weapons, tanks, rocket launchers and other weapons of war to local police forces in the administration-inspired campaign to federalize the muzzling of protest and the stifling of dissent.
Forty years ago, Gore Vidal diagnosed the cancer metastasizing in the American political system — “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party…and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat.” In 2016, behold a national security state that has turned a political system of checks and balances into an executive-ruled fiefdom under the control of whichever side of the duopoly wins the election.
What Do We have to Learn from Past Third Parties?
A successful third party is neither impossible nor instantaneous. Ten years ago, the Syriza party was polling one percent in Greece’s national elections. In 2015, Syriza won the popular vote and was able to form a coalition government. On November 8 the Green Party captured one percent of the US vote. The big question —if Bernie had taken the Greens up on their offer to become their candidate or started his own third party —would he have managed to create a real contender?
The history of American third parties might answer that question. The twentieth century was home to several third parties whose message and strategy resonated among those, who like today’s crop of progressives, were tired of the choice between democrats and republicans, viewing it correctly as no choice at all. In 2016, there may be more Americans in that boat than ever before. Over 90 million eligible voters didn’t bother to vote in this election, dwarfing the number of actual votes either candidate received (60 million+ for each of them). The claim that voter suppression efforts ere alive and well all over the country is no doubt true but even the most aggressive estimate falls far short of the 90 million missing votes. A disaffected electorate spoke up in a 2011 Gallup survey with 58% of them agreeing that neither Republicans nor Democrats are doing a good job governing America and support the idea of a third party. Ideas become real when there is tangible proof they exist.
Take as a given the fertilizer for the growth of a third party is the state of the state. How do voters internalize their experience of living in the US. Do they perceive looming chaos in the economic, political and social institutions that control their lives? Are they satisfied that their best interests are the priority of their leaders? In 1912, the state of the state was precarious. Glaring wealth distinctions —dire poverty among the majority of the population contrasted with the fabulous wealth of the elites was compounded by labor unrest. Workers in textile mills, copper and coal mines staged walkouts and strikes that often turned murderous to protest working conditions, pay, and company run towns that controlled workers’ lives and pocketbooks. It was an era where life expectancy for whites was a dismal 48 and for blacks an unbelievable 34. Racial tensions were a fact of life all over the country. In 1910, Jim Jeffries, the “great white hope,” found himself on the floor knocked out by a black man, Jack Johnson. A race riot erupted at ringside and from there to the streets of mostly urban America. Nineteen died. Into the breach strode ex President Theodore Roosevelt, who ultimately became the most successful third party candidate in American history, winning 27% (more than sitting president Taft at 23%) of the votes cast and 88 electoral votes. As a former president, Roosevelt was bound to have the name recognition and track record to appeal to various segments of the voting public. But he also found a willing audience among the disaffected of whom there were millions. He proposed solutions to the dire poverty of the masses including workman’s compensation, relief for the elderly, the sick, the unemployed and disabled, new protections for workers and their unions and reforms and regulation to tame an out of control financial sector. He championed woman’s suffrage. The Bull Moose platform spelled it out in language as familiar today as it was over one hundred years ago.
“To destroy the invisible government [controlled by business and industry], to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” — Platform, Bull Moose Party
“The real truth is that Wall Street regulates the Congress…We are talking about a rapid movement in this country toward a political system in which a handful of very wealthy people and special interests will determine who gets elected or who does not get elected. — Bernie Sanders, 2016
In 1924, Robert La Follette, democratic senator from Wisconsin broke with the democrats over their fealty to the oligarchic wing of the party and ran as the nominee of the Progressive Party. His promise to his supporters was and is a familiar one:
“That tyrannical power which the American people denied to a king, they will no longer endure from the monopoly system. The people know they cannot yield to any group the control of the economic life of the nation and preserve their political liberties”.
That 1924 campaign was the first big tent political endeavor gathering up organized labor, farmers, socialists and a host of independent radicals into an alliance of disparates. Their main issue— the increasingly business-friendly policies of the Democrats. In the words of Senator Burton Wheeler who broke from the democrats to run as the vice presidential nominee of the Progressive Party — “When the democratic party goes to Wall Street…I must refuse to go with it.” [Tell that to the senator from Wall Street Chuck Schumer] Despite a roaring economy, La Follette and the progressives managed to scoop up 17% of the popular vote and all thirteen electoral votes from his home state of Wisconsin.
The Extreme Right Gets Into the Game
It wasn’t only progressives trying their hand at third party politics. On the extreme right amidst a chaotic and violent 1968, George Wallace and his American Independent Party emerged. It was a fearful and angry electorate that greeted him. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April and Robert Kennedy in June. Riots erupted in 125 American cities. The 1968 democratic convention was marred by televised mayhem as police clashed with demonstrators outside the convention. Wallace campaigned on a “law and order” platform, his barely disguised racism was the unspoken but well understood “real message”. Like the thinly disguised racist appeal of past far right third party campaigns, notably Strom Thurmond’s in 1948, Wallace reached out to a frightened and dismayed white working class. It worked but only in the deep south where he carried five states with 46 electoral votes (second highest in US history) and 13.5% of the popular vote.
Socialists Get Into the Act
The best model of third party organization combining all the elements vital to a successful campaign —message, strategy, continuity and the personal magnetism of the candidate — was the brainchild of Socialist party leader, Eugene Debs. He ran for president four times and is the most successful Socialist Party candidate in US history, winning 6% of the vote in 1912. (Bernie was not a Socialist, he clung to his democratic affiliation calling himself a democratic socialist —a designation without definition or, in truth, meaning) Debs explained his success as a candidate with this curious statement “they love me because they know I love them.” Which candidate could reasonably and truthfully make that assertion in 2016? Aside from his formidable speaking ability, Debs was widely recognized for his efficient use of campaign resources to focus on groups most likely to respond favorably to his message (e.g. farmers, workers in urban centers, unions). Of most interest to third party “dreamers” today is his “bottom up” strategy. His campaign began at the local level supporting local progressive candidate in city council and mayoral elections. Moving up to the state level, Progressives Party governors and members of state legislatures started winning. After that it was onto the national stage. How successful was he? In 1920, accused of violating Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 for publicly campaigning against US entry into the war, he landed in jail for ten years (later commuted by President Harding, ironically, a republican). He ran for president from jail with the slogan “Vote for Prisoner 9653”. Over a million voters, 3.4% of the electorate, considered him a better choice than either of the two major party candidates.
The Suffrage Pioneers Did It Best
Although we have looked to the history of third parties to find the successful ones that combine vitality with continuity, grassroots organizing with one eye on the national spotlight, no third party has experienced anywhere near the success of the political campaign for woman’s suffrage culminating in 1920 with the passage of the nineteenth amendment, the suffrage amendment. The women who led this campaign, like Jane Addams, Jeanette Rankin, Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt showed their mettle whether it was building a constituency from the ground up, marshalling thousands of volunteers in every town, city, settlement, and camp or traveling endless miles to speak at endless events to spread the word to men and women alike. What they proved is that mobilizing armies of volunteers, organizing at every level of civic engagement, and plain old persistence can change the direction of a nation.
A Flawed Campaign With A Lot to Teach Us
In 1992, Ross Perot declared his willingness to run for the presidency on a third party ticket but only if his supporters mobilized to get him balIot access in all 50 states. According to Perot, “ordinary people signed petitions and helped me achieve ballot access in all 50 states.” [Larry King Live, 2/20/1992] He honed his message to fit the demands of his constituency. Their top demand—a balanced federal budget survived Perot’s campaign. Both President Clinton and a bipartisan majority in Congress pledged to work toward a balanced budget (it never happened). Perot created a persona that resonated with millions—“[an] action man … who can get things done … [and who] takes care of his people.” He opposed NAFTA predicting (correctly as it turned out) a “giant sucking sound [of jobs] going south.” By relying on grassroots activity in every state, he widened his base and like Debs in the early part of the century ran a “bottom up” campaign. The result? His base delivered 19% of the popular vote, the second largest behind Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. Failing to win any state outright, his support coming virtually all over the map, Perot received no electoral votes.
How They Did It: Third Party Campaigns That Made a Difference
Successful third party campaigns originated in the dissatisfaction and discontent of a sizeable minority of the population with their own personal economic situation – usually precarious, often catastrophic (La Follette’s 1924 campaign resonated with that crowd) They shared other elements — starting locally and working their way up (Perot, Debs), relying on grassroots efforts to get the ball rolling (Perot) and moving in carefully orchestrated steps up to a nationwide campaign (the Suffrage campaign was a genius at that), projecting a strong message focusing on making life better, easier and more rewarding for all people (Debs, Roosevelt). By evolving out of organized and popular local campaigns a new third party can reach its goal primus inter pares (first among equals).
The Green Party could have been (and possibly still can be) such a party but their inability to mobilize a cadre of supporters willing to work at the local level, their failure to mobilize a successful grassroots fundraising plan, their lack of a “ground game” in the 50 states has greatly diluted their appeal and diminished their ability to “strut their stuff” on the national stage. Is it a leadership problem? Perhaps. Of even greater significance is the “curse the darkness syndrome” that seems to have put the bite on Greens and Bernie supporters. Going public with Trump slurs and cold war bashing does not get us very far if our goal is to change the world. Looking to remake the Democratic Party is another non-starter. Building a progressive alternative checks all the boxes. Not throwing in the towel when the first election or the second or the tenth isn’t successful. If the twentieth century catalog of courageous but ultimately failed third party candidacies taught us anything, it should have taught us how important the long view is, how one election doesn’t make a party. The most successful model of nationwide campaign building, the campaign to deliver the vote to women, got off the ground in 1848 at Seneca Falls. It took seventy-two years to bear fruit in 1920.
When it comes right down to it, which holds the greater promise — raising money to establish a permanent Trump Truth Squad in Washington (an effort underway), wasting a lot of magazine and newspaper space on “look what he’s done (or said) now” or using whatever muscle progressives have to plant the seeds that will one day, perhaps in a decade, maybe in a generation create a party that will take its rightful place as a member in good standing of the US political landscape right up there with the two wings of the business/war party.
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