What Unites and Divides Democrats

Markos Moulitsas has written an interesting response to all the insider chatter about the divisions in the Democratic Party. The title tells you something about where he’s going with it, “The progressive wing of the party won. Now we’re fighting over privilege.” He starts out by saying that progressives have won the battle over economic issues and specifically notes the consensus that has developed on things like minimum wage, social security and income inequality.

I would suggest that is only the beginning of where Democrats agree. Because the topic of income inequality covers a whole range of issues on everything from taxes to day care, it includes many of the issues Democrats embrace. But there is also a consensus on the need to address things like campaign finance reform and getting to universal health care.

It is when we get beyond the big goals and start talking about specific processes and policies that Democrats tend to disagree. But that is as it should be. People need to debate those differences and hash things out. What is unacceptable is any attempt to dismiss people as not “real Democrats” if they don’t agree. Even worse are the attacks on either side’s moral principles based on a disagreements over specifics. Rhetoric that implies that anyone’s views are based on complicity or simply the blind allegiance of so-called “bots” is not only divisive, it is an attempt to shut down opposing views and end the conversation. That is something the other side does and should be roundly rejected by liberals.

From there Markos discusses where he sees the current divide.

The issues that suddenly divide us? Apparently whether we, as a party, will be unyielding in a woman’s right to choose. Taking a page out of the right’s playbook, Jane Sanders called fighting for that right “political correctness.” I see it as core and just as central to who we are as a party as the bullet points above. We’re apparently arguing over whether economic equality would keep immigrant families from being torn apart by immigration authorities (it wouldn’t), or keep African Americans from being shot in the streets and killed in jail cells (it wouldn’t), or keep Donald Trump from grabbing a woman’s pussy (it hasn’t).

It is interesting to me that these are sometimes referred to as “cultural issues.” But if you are a woman whose economic survival is threatened by a pregnancy, I’m sure that the right to chose can’t simply be relegated to a cultural phenomenon. Same would be true if your family’s survival depends of what an ICE officer decides to do with his time, or if you are a black man in the middle of getting pulled over by a police officer. In all of those instances, these are life and death matters. That is why women and people of color react so strongly to being told that speaking up about them is divisive. It is actually the other sides trampling of their lives that is divisive. We need to be clear about that.

A lot of this discussion was reignited when Bernie Sanders chose to endorse a Democratic candidate who was openly anti-choice. I tend to think about that this way: would I vote for an anti-choice Democrat if the only alternative was the mini-me Trump that is my current representative? You betcha I would! That is what politics is often about in a two-party system.

On the other hand, this morning I read an article from Politico about why the Christian right is so thrilled with Donald Trump’s presidency and have become the one constituency he can rely on. It is all based on what we call “cultural issues” – and that is overwhelmingly about the steps this president has taken (and promised to take) to strip women of their right to chose. So let’s be honest…these are the battles we face right now. Any backing off from fighting them will destroy decades of progress that our predecessors fought for so valiantly.

The challenge Democrats have always faced can be summed up with questions like this:

  • Are men prepared to fight for a woman’s right to chose?
  • Are white people prepared to fight against racism?
  • Are citizens prepared to fight for those who are undocumented?
  • Are white collar workers prepared to fight for unions?
  • Are the wealthy prepared to fight for the middle class?
  • Are those who have good health insurance through their employer prepared to fight for those who don’t?
  • Are members of the upper and middle class prepared to fight for those in poverty?
  • Are the middle-aged prepared to fight for seniors?
  • Are seniors prepared to fight for young people?

I could go on, but perhaps you get the point.

Whenever the answer to one of those questions is “no,” or when the message is sent either directly or indirectly that “my issue is more important than yours,” the divide widens. That is what makes the challenge more difficult for Democrats than Republicans. We can’t afford to play a zero-sum game. We have to care about people who aren’t like us because that is the definition of what “liberal” means.

Marcos ends his piece with a powerful quote from Australian Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

The over-arching goal of liberalism is that “your liberation is bound up with mine.” That is what it means to form a coalition. That was Bernice Johnson Reagon’s message way back in 1981 and it is what Rev. William Barber is talking about when it comes to “fusion politics.” It is the only path forward for Democrats.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.