This article appeared in the 2016 Fall Newsletter
John Ratiff, Cambridge, November 2, 2016
As the 2016 election stumbles to its conclusion, most traditionally relied upon pollsters predict a victory for former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Campaign debate became a huge tornado of calumny with each candidate devoting tens of millions to personal attacks against the other and avoiding policy. The race became a Stop Trump vs. Never Hillary battle, perhaps unsurprising when the two candidates who were tied at 59% disapproval levels among the American electorate. In the end, if the pollsters are right in their predictions we will make history by electing the first woman president but do so in a context that robs us of much of the sense of historical accomplishment.
Nonetheless, the 2016 presidential election has been a truly historical one. The Bernie Sanders campaign challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination was itself historical and had an impact on the election which transformed the race and has the potential of changing American politics from this point forward. Sanders took up the cry of the Occupy Wall Street movement against the corporate rule that has disfigured American democracy. Starting at around 5% in the polls and, ignored or disparaged by the established media, he managed to capture the imagination of a generation new to politics and gave voice to their cries for universal free health care, free higher education, confronting the growing and existential climate crisis, raising the minimum wage to a livable wage, and other positions. Peace Action supported his candidacy and worked to build it and make sure it also contained a pro-peace message.
The Sanders campaign won over 40% of delegates to the Democratic convention and we were able to positive changes to the Democratic platform and the pledge to democratize the process in ways which may assist more progressive outcomes in the future, although the pro-peace aspects of Sanders’ platform proposals were defeated by Clinton delegates. The Sanders coalition will be essential to Clinton in the critical swing states and have every right to demand that the promises of the platform be fulfilled.
Our Revolution, the organization founded to continue the Sanders campaign is already making itself felt. Here in Massachusetts it campaigned for Mike Connolly for State Rep. and for the No on 2 campaign for Public Schools. The progressive genie, fed by the yearnings of the working people who have suffered enormously for decades, especially after the 2008 Great Recession, will be hard to get back in the bottle of the politics as usual Democratic party.
2016 has also been historic in much darker ways. The hard right, racist, proto-fascist currents which have always existed in American politics and had been part of the ruling coalition of states of the old South, found their way into the center of national politics. Trump, the scion of a father involved in Klan activities, and himself charged with making racial discrimination in housing central to his pursuit of wealth and power, began his campaign by racist attacks against Mexicans and Muslims. Combined throw-away economic populist lines against free trade and Wall Street, the racist appeal helped defeat 16 other prominent Republican candidates. His campaign embraced the so-called alt-right and his slogan “Make America Great Again” implied returning to times when people of color, women, the LGBT community, disabled people and others accepted a diminished role. Win or lose, the frightening forces of the right his campaign has unleashed and organized will be with us from now forward.
Federal congressional races are also important. If Democrats gain control of the Senate, Sanders might the budget committee and Warren and Markey play leadership roles. Several of the likely Democratic victors are progressives leading Warren, Sanders, and Sherod Brown to call for a progressive caucus in the Senate. Changes in the House are likely to tip that body in a more positive direction as progressive candidates like Carol Shea Porter whom Peace Action is supporting take on Republicans who rode the tea-party wave into office.
Peace Action can be proud of also supporting progressive candidates in the Statehouse races, which will help that body become friendlier to economic and social justice, climate justice, and pro-peace initiatives.