Progressive politics stands at a crossroads. For the last five years, Bernie Sanders and those around him have brought progressive policies and issues to the mainstream. It may seem difficult now but think back to early 2015. The media was ready to coronate Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush as the two nominees. Both were earmarked to carry on the same policies that had been operational for three decades. No one in the mainstream media talked about things like progressive politics.
A Senator from Vermont flipped the script.
Let’s leave aside Donald Trump and Republicans for a minute. On the Democratic side, the nomination was always a foregone conclusion. Hillary Clinton only had to stand against a few showpiece Democrats, just to make it seem a race had actually taken place. In the years after leaving the administration, Clinton wrote a book and built up her fundraising network. There was no other Democrat at the time ready to match her campaign’s organization and resources.
Bernie Sanders’ candidacy actually made Hillary work for the nomination. The issues he brought forth changed the nature of the primaries and the eventual race.
What did Sanders do?
He actually made Democratic voters realize they should expect more from their party. Just voting for Hillary because she promises more Obama-style incrementalism is not enough. Young voters got the message. Party primaries, usually a process only political geeks follow, suddenly became the breeding ground for a movement. Even in losing, Sanders shifted the Democrats towards progressive policies.
Now, when the sun is setting on the Sanders era (as sad as it is), the fate of progressive politics has come at a crossroads. Who do progressives coalesce behind? This is a good time to learn the power of not organizing around a single leader.
Progressive Politics – The Way Forward
Generally, movements fail when the leader recedes to the background. This danger threatens progressive politics too.
In 2015, pinpointing too a genuine progressive leader was very difficult. The left had intellectuals backing them such as Noam Chomsky, but there was no mass leader to bring progressive ideas forward.
By running for office, Bernie Sanders filled the void of a progressive leader easily. Furthermore, his record on progressive causes was phenomenal. His history in the Civil Rights movement, his early stance on gay marriage, his voting record, everything was perfect for the progressive movement. Bernie’s arrival allowed other progressive leaders to come through. The election of AOC is only an example of how one progressive leader can inspire an entire generation.
Sitting here in 2020, it looks unlikely that Bernie would run again in 2024. Progressive politics is again threatened. Without a mass leader like Sanders, progressive politics faces a crisis of sorts. None of the new progressives in Congress inspires the same level of trust and popularity as Sanders.
The future of progressive politics has to detach from personalities because it is the same problem Trumpians face on the right. Even if Trump gets four more years in office, what happens then? The Republican party would do everything in its power to nominate an establishment candidate. At last, the fake populism of the right will end with Trump.
Progressives have to make sure progressive politics doesn’t end with Bernie Sanders. How can the progressive movement carry on without depending on personalities like fake populists on the right depending on Trump?
Make Democrats Earn Their Vote
The reason the Democratic party keeps nominating moderates and centrists is that they feel the progressive left has nowhere to go. Generally, blue hacks expect progressives to vote for bland candidates like Joe Biden only because he stands against Trump.
The Democratic Party is not your family. Read it again. The Democratic Party is not your family. It is not interested in advancing the cause of progressive politics.
Remember, you don’t owe the Democrats anything. Progressives have to show they can stop voting for the Democrats. Democrats have a whole variety of smears for progressives who don’t follow party orthodoxy. They will call progressives Bernie bros, Trump apologists, and GOP enablers.
Progressives don’t need to be fazed by namecalling. The ultimate goal is to make the party turn towards progressive policies and respect progressive politics. Once the Democrats know the progressives are willing to sit at home or vote third party, they will start getting behind progressive platforms.
Furthermore, those under the illusion that progressive politics will have a saviour like AOC, stop. The progressive movement is not about coronating someone for office. It is a cause that aims to change an entire party for the next hundred years. This cannot be accomplished if progressive politics is shaped around one personality.
(Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons)