Moment of truth for the Democratic Party and its progressive members

By Ruben Rosenthal

If Democrats omit themselves on issues that are causing grievances and even despair to large sectors of the U.S. population, the path will be open to losing control of Congress in 2022. 

Homeless people receive blankets and rest inside Saint Boniface Church, San Francisco
Homeless people rest during the day inside Saint Boniface Church, San Francisco \ Photo: David Levene/The Guardian

The Democratic Party needs to leave behind the trauma of the Capitol’s takeover by the mob of Trump supporters and take steps to deal with the new political reality that prevails with the outcome of the 2020 elections. No more pretexts for not submitting bills, arguing they could be overturned by Republicans in the Senate or vetoed in the Executive.    

However, as most Democratic lawmakers tend to center or right of the political spectrum, it is most unlikely they will take the initiative to propose the social and economic measures that are so needed at the moment.   

On the other hand, parliamentarians who assume themselves as progressives are supposed to defend popular causes against the interests of large corporations.  But to what extent their left-wing Twitter stand will turn into effective action? Journalist Glenn Greenwald  tweeted that “one positive outcome of the Dems controlling the WH and both houses of Congress is it will provide a lot more clarity about who they really  are”.   

The Democratic left. Progressive House  Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)  is part of the so-called Squad, whose original members also included Congresswomen Ayanna Presley, Ilhan Omar and Rachida Tlaib, and now received some more additions with the 2020 elections. AOC made use of Twitter to suggest the main issues that could now be subject to pressure.  

She listed the retroactivity of Covid aid, climate justice, health care, voting rights, the end of the death penalty and the cancellation of student debts. But some voices in the progressive field have questioned the real commitment of AOC and other Squad members to popular causes.     

The Political Action Commitee Justice Democrats helped elect AOC in 2018, and is recruiting progressive candidates for the 2022 elections. They believe that it is more feasible to transform the Democratic Party from within rather than founding a competitive left-wing party.     

On the Committee’s  website, the first two proposals are the Green New Deal and Medicare for  All. The current article will focus on these two proposals, as well as on a fundamental issue neither AOC nor the Justice Democrats are prioritizing, at least not overtly: the need to neutralize the dominance of conservative judges in the country’s Supreme Court, achieved through hidden donations from billionaires and large corporations.    

 The Green New Deal. The ambitious proposal for a Green Economy was introduced in the House of Representatives by AOC through Resolution 109, and in the Senate (Resolution 59) by Edward J. Markey, also from the Democratic  Party.  

According to a report in The New York Times,  the expression Green New Deal came from the young activist group  Sunrise Movement, which promoted an occupation in front of Nancy Pelosi office. AOC joined the protesters in support of the proposals, which evolved into Resolution 109.   

The Green New Deal proposal advocates for sustainable development without environmental degradation, with a focus on global warming and clean fuels. Also included is the fight against economic inequality and racial injustice. As explained in Resolution 109, a society managed by the Green Economy would need to deal with the oppression of vulnerable communities, such as indigenous peoples, communities of color, immigrants, low-wage workers, women, the elderly, people with forms of disability and young people.   

With the Senate then under Republican control, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put Resolution 59 to a vote without allowing proper time for discussions. Now the House and Senate could resume discussion on the proposal. However, during the electoral campaign, Joe Biden defended his own conception of a plan for a “Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice”, that doesn’t seem to include the social commitments present in the Green New Deal.  

Now AOC is standing for what she calls “climate justice”. This seems a vague definition, which does not specify whether the social justice policies that were contemplated by the Green New Deal are also included. Maybe she should clarify that. 

Public medical care for all? The proposal for an universal health care program was forwarded to the Senate by Bernie Sanders, and to the House, by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the progressive caucus in Congress. A recent article in The New York Times argues that Democrats should limit themselves to a less ambitious health care plan that doesn’t bring deficit to the budget.  

It is well known that many Democratic parliamentarians defend the interests of large corporations and would not support an comprehensive public health care system. Leaked documents from lobbyists published by The Intercept revealed that the health industry interfered  to keep Medicare for All off the Democratic Party 2020 election platform. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris received substantial campaign donations from the private health sector.  

#ForceTheVote. In the final months of 2020, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi refused to put the Medicare for All resolution to a floor vote on the grounds that there would be no slight chance of approval. AOC agreed with Pelosi, arguing that it would be better to focus on the $15/hour minimum wage. The issue has been dividing the progressive camp, with strong criticism of the Squad coming from YouTuber Jimmy Dore  and Briahna J. Gray, former press secretary of Bernie Sanders.  

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was once a Medicare for All supporter, but now she tweets in favor of something generic as “health care”, without accountability to people on the grassroots movements that supported her election.  AOC and the Squad were not the only ones from the progressive camp to betray previous commitments to a single payer health system. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) leadership also boycotted the campaign #ForceTheVote, against the will of rank and file members, according to Counter Punch

In relation to the defense AOC makes the $15/hour minimum wage, she could well explain whether the same salary would also apply to prisoners, many of them subjected to forced labor in conditions of modern slavery, earning less than $1/hour on average.  

Unpacking the Supreme Court. A previous article of the blog have described how a carefully planned articulation that has been conducted for about 20 years, allowed conservative Justices to exercise full control of the U.S. Supreme Court for decades to come. 

As reported in an article by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse  in the Harvard Law Journal on Legislation (HLJL), over several years the  Federalist Society, the Judicial Crisis Network and a number of covert donors interfered in the appointment of judges favorable to large corporations and in the outcome of relevant trials.  Much of the funding came from the billionaire Mercer family. The Koch brothers also made use of dark money to back conservative causes.  

Justices John Roberts Jr. (current President of the Court), Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh received support from anonymous donations to reach the Supreme Court. Conservative judges were also nominated to dozens of federal courts across the country.   

With the passing of progressive Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Republican Senate majority fastly confirmed conservative judge Amy Barret to fill the vacancy. Now conservatives hold a 6 to 3 majority.
Packing the Supreme Court \ Art: Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Inquirer

The current 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court poses a threat to labor causes, minority rights and other important issues, such as Roe vs. Wade case on abortion. A strong movement is needed in favor of expanding the number of Court Justices as to allow Joe Biden to appoint liberal-tended judges, thus counterbalancing the effects of court-packing promoted by Republicans.   

However, Senator Whitehouse does not believe it is a good solution to add more seats to the Court or to limit the time in office for Supreme Court Justices, currently a lifetime appointment. For him, the best way would be to make the judiciary more transparent, exposing the big donors who seek to interfere in the trials. The effectiveness of such control should be a matter of concern for progressives.   

Recently, the Supreme Court has unanimously opposed Trump’s claims to reverse in some states, the result of the 2020 presidential election vote count. However, this impartial positioning should not be understood as a commitment to unrestricted exemption and integrity on the part of the conservative Justices.   

They may well have planned to keep a low profile not siding with Trump. For the big corporations that have packed the Court, it’s better to dismiss Trump now rather than risk losing decades of future influence in the Supreme Court.  After all, 2022 is not far away, and the right-wing Democrats will probably adopt policies that will make the party lose popular support before the midterm elections.  

Fight the good fight or form a new party? It remains to be seen whether the Justice Squad  and progressive Democrats will try hard to overcome the internal resistance of the party’s right-wingers, represented by Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, among others.    

Kyle Kulinsky, co-founder of Justice Democrats, has a position that is not shared by some of his progressive colleagues: “If you believe in something you fight for it & dot every i & cross every t. If you lose ok but the act of doing everything in your power to achieve it is the definition of morality”.  

The current bipartisanship that has prevailed in elections since the founding of the country may not last for too long. A scenario is taking shape for the formation of new parties that meet the demands of sectors to the left of Democrats and to the right of Republicans.   

With the disbelief of the base movements in the Democratic Party, support for the Movement for a People’s Party could grow, expecting that the new party will fight for programs that benefit vulnerable sectors of the population. In 2018 about 38.1 million Americans were living in poverty, a situation that got worse with the pandemic. On the other hand, with many Trumpists considering no longer lending their support to the Republican Party, a far-right party could be formed. 

It remains to be seen whether the internal divisions in the country could be healed in the short term or civil unrest of recent years will continue and even get worse. 

Ruben Rosenthal is a brazilian retired university lecturer from Rio. He presently writes articles of political analysis in his blog Chacoalhando (Portuguese for Shaking).