Democrats, Let's Not Fall Into the ‘Chicago 1968’ Trap

Democrats, Let's Not Fall Into the ‘Chicago 1968’ Trap

Now that the midterm elections are concluded and Democrats have made impressive gains, Americans are now preparing for the 2020 elections.

And Democrats, after the devastating losses of 2016, now find themselves with undeniable momentum: In a bid to return accountability and provide a check on Republican overreach and misrule, Democrats took back 40 seats to gain control of the U.S.House of Representatives and reclaimed seven governor’s mansions, seven state legislative bodies, and almost 400 state legislative seats around the country.

And fresh off those impressive victories, Congressional Democrats, led by the incomparable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, successfully stood down President Donald J. Trump and forced him to end, at least for now, a government shutdown that he imposed in an attempt to force the funding of a southern border wall that experts say won’t stop the flow of illegal immigration but which has become a rallying cry for his xenophobic base who have been conditioned to scapegoat immigrants for all the real and imagined problems in their lives.

So, yes, these next two years will be exciting times, the times that we have been waiting for these past two years, as citizens work to take back the reins of power from Trump and an increasingly out-of-touch and elitist Republican Party.

And already there is a large and growing field of potential challengers to Trump: Senator Kamala Harris. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro. Former Rep. John Delaney.

Also, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, businessman Andrew Yang and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg have established exploratory committees. Additional candidates are expected to announce in the near future, which will provide us with a wealth of choices.

This diverse field of candidates, each of whom brings a fresh set of abilities, outlooks, backgrounds and experiences, attests to the abundance and diversity of talent within the Democratic Party, and the next 21 months will surely be a time of reflection, careful consideration and spirited debate as we prepare to go to the polls and choose our next president.

But for some, minds have already been made up.

Already, members of the far left and their fellow travelers have lobbed baseless, scurrilous and vicious attacks on Senator Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who hasn’t even declared his candidacy but who, like Harris, is perceived by some as a threat to the potential candidacies of far-left darlings and firebrands Senator Bernie Sanders or Senator Elizabeth Warren.

But wait, there’s more.

While on another political website’s comments section, I came across this posting from a hair-on-fire “progressive” with whom I had tangled online over the years:

“But loyalty will indeed matter greatly in determining and getting behind the right presidential candidate. But if the party discounts and bullies the progressives and chooses instead a centrist corporate Dem while at the same talking the populist message, loyalty and unity will disappear. It will be like Chicago '68 IMHO.”

Ah, yes, the glorious, halcyon days of 1968, when “progressives” managed to accomplish the noble goals of getting their heads bashed in in Chicago, turning the nation against the anti-war movement, and installing Richard M. Nixon as president.

The violence-prone Weather Underground, which split off from the Students for a Democratic Society, was the Bernie Bros nation of its time. The SDS included many people who wanted to work within the system – as well as challenge it – to combat injustice and move the nation, and the world, toward progress.

In addition to their opposition to the Vietnam War, they were also concerned about the plight of disenfranchised African Americans, migrant farm workers, victims of US-backed right-wing dictators, imprisoned Soviet and Cuban dissidents and intellectuals, defenders of free speech rights on campus, and black South Africans under apartheid, among other pressing issues of the time.

The best of them sought solidarity with the marginalized and powerless victims of injustice.

But the Weather Underground didn't much care about all that. They were mostly concerned with keeping their mostly white butts out of Vietnam.

The SDS admired and sought to emulate the Rev. Martin Luther King’s inspiring and galvanizing work on behalf of the civil rights movement, and they also sought to similarly claim moral authority through political organizing and nonviolent peaceful protest in order to effect positive change.

But the Weather Underground people split off from the SDS because they grew impatient with what they saw as the slow pace of change, and were outraged over the willingness of SDS leaders to engage with what they regarded as a hopelessly corrupt system.

They resorted to militant, confrontational and divisive rhetoric, built and deployed bombs, and got their heads bashed in in Chicago in the hopes of “bringing the war home” and turning the American public against the war.

But they miscalculated. Instead of keeping the pressure on the Johnson administration through peaceful means at a time when the war was already becoming increasingly unpopular, they themselves became the focus of the story, and that picture was not pretty.

That violent scene in Chicago, when police forces ran riot on protesters who were gathered in front of the site of the Democratic National Convention, also reflected on the Weather Underground’s outlook and strategy: despairing of the possibility of achieving progress and social change democratically through legitimate and accepted means, they began to see confrontational protests as the only legitimate form of political engagement, and overheated, hyperbolic polemics as the only legitimate form of political discourse.

It was a violent and bloody period in American history: the Democratic National Convention came just weeks after the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a charismatic leader, brother of slain President John F. Kennedy and a presidential candidate whose own candidacy moved forward after incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose successful activist administration brought us the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Fair Housing Act, Medicare, Head Start and numerous anti-poverty programs but who had become increasingly unpopular as the face of the escalation of the Vietnam War, announced he would not seek re-election.

The violence in Chicago gave Nixon an opening to present himself as a “Law and Order” presidential candidate to a nation weary of violence and civil unrest and anxious over the rapid pace of social change.

Just like the Naderites in 2000 who found no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush and who voted third party. Which led to the election of President Bush, who started two wars that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents and destabilized an already fragile Middle East, and who left office with the economy spiralling downward in the wake of the worst financial and economic collapse of our lifetimes.

Just like the Firedoglake crew and the “professional left” that urged Democrats and liberals to sit out the 2010 midterms to “teach Democrats a lesson” in protest of the lack of a public option in the Affordable Care Act and the “failure” of the Obama administration to prosecute Wall Street bankers and President Bush.

Who, despite their seeming oppositional stance on politics, shared the same political approach as the Rabid Right, which is rooted in aggrievement, alienation, conflict and ginned-up outrage rather than the ‘respect, empower and include’ ethos of MLK, South African civil rights and anti-apartheid hero and President Nelson Mandela, and President Barack H. Obama, who unlike the faux-progressives all accomplished meaningful and lasting positive change.

Their decision to sit out the 2010 midterms, part of a general one-sided pattern of political disengagement that brought the reactionary, racist and conspiracy-mongering Tea Party movement to the forefront of the Republican mainstream, allowed the Republicans to regain the House and numerous state legislatures and offices just two years after the Crash of 2008 – which, remember, had happened on their watch – and who then went on to impose austerity economics on a still-recovering economy in a heartless and cynical attempt to blunt recovery efforts for partisan political gain, gerrymander legislative districts in their party’s favor and impose voter suppression laws that targeted blacks, minorities, young students and other perceived Democratic-leaning voters to ensure their re-election, and undo the progress of the Obama administration.

Just like the Occupy Wall Street protest group, which denied the viability of economic progress through effective legislative policy and political engagement, refused to do the long, slow and difficult follow-up work of organizing, coalition-building and voter registration, and who for all their blustery rhetoric and utopian stated goals managed nothing more than to become a national punchline to many.

And just like those who rejected the candidacy of Hillary Clinton – a brilliant, tough, experienced and accomplished woman who devoted her life to, and was passionate about, public service and social justice – on the basis of a bunch of ugly, long-debunked and phony smears that were amplified and disseminated by agents of a foreign adversary.

And the result was the election of Donald Trump, quite possibly the most unfit, unqualified and corrupt president in the nation’s history.

Yes, Bernie Bros, to paraphrase the Republicans’ 2012 campaign slogan, you really did build that.

And just like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the media’s latest shiny object, who voted against new rules at the start of the current Congressional session because they included a revival of the fiscally responsible Pay as You Go rule – because presumably she’s OK with the trillion-dollar deficits recently approved under Republican rule, and wanted to add to them – and who voted against bills to fund and re-open the government because they included funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement – as if that’s some kind of political winner, given the Republicans’ penchant for smearing Democrats as the party of “open borders” – and who, if she keeps up with her politics of purity, will boast a voting record that resembles that of Freedom Caucus Republicans, because invariably no bill can be “liberal enough” for her.

Tragically, what the Weather Underground accomplished was to turn the American public against not an unjust and ill-conceived war, but against its opponents, whom they now saw as violent, dangerous and extremist. To many, the anti-war movement went from singing the beautiful, tender and plaintive “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” to the profane and menacing “Up Against the Wall, Motherf+cker,” and many of them recoiled in horror.

The Weather Underground rejected Hubert H. Humphrey’s presidential candidacy because to them he was too complicit in the “system,” too milquetoast, and not “righteous,” militant or confrontational enough. Instead we got Richard Nixon, who for political gain illegally and corruptly scuttled the Paris Peace Talks slated to discuss and bring a timely end to the Vietnam War, and who as president went on to extend and expand that monstrous and ruinous war with the illegal secret bombings of Cambodia.

He also gave us the politically motivated and disastrous War on Drugs, the unilateral withdrawal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s historic Bretton Woods agreement that replaced older colonial-era trade blocs and spheres of influence with a liberal postwar system of international cooperation and open trade among free and prosperous nations, and finally the disgraceful and career-ending Watergate scandal.

And the angry, self-deluded, and self-righteous Bros have been ratf+cking us ever since.

But never mind all that, let’s take the good political advice from the sainted, benighted, ragamuffin street protesters whose last political victory was getting their heads bashed in in 1968, splitting the Democratic vote, and putting Tricky Dick in the White House.

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