What Happens When Neither Political Party Answers to the Bottom 90%?

As Donald Trump leads a full-scale war against the Republican establishment and elites, particularly through his attack on both their military and their trade policies, the Democratic Party is also in a predicament of its own.

Both parties right now face a great crisis of ideology as well as a great opportunity for reinvention, and whichever party first reinvents itself successfully will begin winning elections the way the Democrats did in the 1932-1968 era.

If neither does, our nation faces a massive crisis provoked by the loss of democratic representation of the majority of the American electorate.

The root cause of this crisis is the fact is that neither party today does much of anything for the bottom 90% of Americans.

A recent study out of Princeton, for example, pointed out that the likelihood of legislation passing that represents the interest of that bottom 90% was equivalent, statistically, to white noise.

So why is that?

Well, it’s complicated...

But on the Democratic side of things it has a lot to do with changes in party structure and demographics that began in the 1970s.

Thomas Frank’s new book Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? argues that starting with the McGovern Commission of 1972 - which largely excommunicated Labor from having a large role in Democratic Party decision-making - the Democratic Party largely abandoned the American working and middle class – the bottom 90%.

It instead began to embrace -- and now fully embraces -- the “professional class” – i.e. the top 10% economically.

As Frank told me on my program recently, the doctor who delivered me in the 1950s was almost certainly a Republican (then the party of the professional class), but today would almost certainly be a Democrat.

In the 1950s and 1960s virtually the entire professional class (the top 10%) was Republican; today it’s virtually all Democratic.

This has had a direct effect on the policy priorities of the Democratic Party, which was formerly the “party of the people.”

In the late 1980s, the DLC Democrats (today’s Third Way or Clinton Democrats) jumped on board with the professional class and its supposedly “complex” solutions to our nation’s problems.

They consciously moved away from labor and the working class and towards an elitist embrace of the banksters, the emerging “geniuses” of Silicon Valley, and the college-educated at all levels.

They even went so far as to suggest it was a good thing to send many of America’s blue-collar jobs to China and Mexico, as we here in America needed to move to the “new economy” jobs of technology, medicine, and finance.

This ideological change in the Party led to the Clinton-era policies that gutted our industrial base, ripped apart the social safety net (ending “the era of big government”), and financialized our economy.

The policies that came out of this new Democratic Party ideology (largely taken from the 1950s Republicans) have resulted in a boon for the professional class, but almost totally left behind the bottom 90%.

President Obama’s failure to even bring up card check - even after campaigning on it twice - is just one of the most obvious examples of the Party’s decision to give lip service to working people, but keep their emphasis on elite complexity and the professional class that embodies it.

The result of these decisions and policies provided the opening for the most unlikely phenomenon (on the Democratic side) of my lifetime: a rumpled, 74-year-old Jew with a Brooklyn accent who calls himself a “Democratic Socialist” drawing tens of thousands to stadiums across the nation and holding his own against the favorite candidate of the Democratic Party and the Third Way.

Bernie Sanders carries into the Democratic Party the message of the bottom 90%, the Occupy Movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement so successfully in large part because they’ve been abandoned by the Democratic Party elites.

So that’s the situation among the Democrats.

With Republicans, it’s been roughly the same story, but Big Business has played an even more explicit role in hijacking the party.

As I lay out in my book The Crash of 2016, the rise of the modern Republican Party, really began with the 1971 Powell Memo, which was issued within a year of the McGovern Commission that changed the face of the Democratic Party.

Up until the 1970s, business in America had been largely apolitical, preferring to focus instead on making money and running companies.

But Lewis Powell, who would soon become a Supreme Court Justice, convinced the Chamber of Commerce and a group of wealthy ideologues to change all that.

A group of billionaires and foundations soon rose to the call and created the huge and well-funded “conservative” infrastructure of think-tanks, media arms and the Koch Network.

Within a generation, Republican Party elites relied almost entirely on Big Business and Big Money to get elected, only throwing rhetorical bones to the bottom 90% with their cynical “god, guns, and gays” strategy.

The result of those Republican decisions and policies (which, by the way, were also embraced by the DLC/Clinton Democrats) brought us the deregulation that crashed the world economy; the changes in tax and trade laws that let the rich get fabulously richer but flat-lined wages of blue-collar workers for two generations; and an open revolt among Republicans in the form of the Tea Party and the Trump candidacy.

America is now at a crossroads.

With both political parties captured almost entirely by the interest of the top 1% (Republicans) and the top 10% (Democrats), the bottom 90% feel they have nowhere else to go.

For the past few decades, they’ve expressed their discontent by simply not voting and not showing up for politics, which they correctly saw as rigged and not working in their interest.

Now, with both Trump and Sanders exposing complex trade deals as unwieldy and destructive to the bottom 90% (but very useful and enriching to the top 10%), as well as the politically corrupt environment that supports the top 10%, people on the right and the left are waking up.

And they’re waking up fast and loud.

Thus, whichever party embraces the 90% will probably win the 2016 election.

If that’s Trump and/or Sanders, it’ll either splinter the Republican and/or Democratic Party or may reinvent that party in a way that it can begin to build and hold multigenerational national political power.

If Trump is the Republican nominee, he’ll almost certainly win as a change-candidate in a change-year against establishment-candidate Clinton.

The danger to our nation, though, is that Trump’s belligerent nationalism and militarism represents the same sort of sentiments of the 1930s European National Socialists, and could reform America in a really ugly way, even as he could maintain popularity by being the “I’m here for the 90%” candidate by producing a few real social and economic reforms.

If the 2016 reform candidate is on the Democratic side and it’s Bernie Sanders, he’ll almost certainly win against any non-Trump establishment Republican.

His presidency would force the Democratic Party to re-embrace the 90%, and, combined with Bernie’s positive values of social and economic justice, could take America back to another era of a strong middle class, with peace and prosperity.

If all the best efforts of the elites in both parties fail (an unlikely outcome), all the polls at this moment show Sanders easily beating Trump, although that could flip in the face of a large market crash or another 9/11-type attack.

The more likely outcome, given all the machinations of the elite media and both party’s elites, is that the Republicans will nominate an establishment candidate like Kasich or Ryan/Romney, and that the Democratic Party will nominate Hillary Clinton.

The choice between an establishment Republican or an establishment Democrat will depress overall political turnout, turn an emerging generation of Millennials into radical cynics, and feed growing explosions among the base of both parties \\

It could mean chaos in our streets for a decade or more.

No matter what happens in this 2016 election, though, the bottom 90% has had enough.

If nothing else, the astonishing number of people who say they’ll vote for either Trump or Sanders (i.e. “the outsider”) if the other party (even their own party) puts up an establishment candidate is unprecedented, and clearly shows that our nation is on the brink (if not in the throes) of a political revolution.

The Great Depression of 1930 confronted the world’s two largest industrial powers with similar disasters; Germany and the United States were the hardest hit in terms of a rapid loss of standard of living among the bottom 90%.

We chose FDR (Sanders) to lead us out of the mess created by the Republican elites during the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations.

Germany chose Hitler (Trump) to lead it out of the mess created by the ruling elites of his day.

Arnold Toynbee is, probably apocryphally, quoted as having said: “When the last man who remembers the horrors of the last great war dies, the next great war becomes inevitable.”

It could be updated to read today: “When the people who remember what America was like before the Reagan Revolution begin to die off, the next revolution is inevitable.”

Whether it’ll be played out in the ballot box or the streets is yet to be seen.


wslifko 8 years 12 weeks ago

This has been the most frustrating point of this entire election for me. The Democratic party was the counterweight to the Right and we looked the other way when they gave in to their favored brand of special interests, mainly anything with money. That's almost understandable but when the constituents begin to look the other way as have Hillary's follwers, it makes the party no better than the Right. Hillary's followers remind me of Reagan followers from the 80s. I was sickened by them then and still am.

The Democratic party needs to get back to its counterweight roots or it will continue to see better than half leave the party for a Bernie write-in or Independent run. I've already made up my mind that I'm done with the Democratic party unless they take a hard Left and accept Bernie as the leader. The Green party is looking pretty good to me.

WindyCity's picture
WindyCity 8 years 12 weeks ago

If the Republican Party and corporate media steal the nomination from Trump, the chaos Thom envisions will begin to erupt sooner than later. A Clinton nomination will prove disastrous unless Sanders declares he cannot support her. He must take charge of his supporters and refocus them on movement activism. He should help organize citizen groups to work on universal health care, the environment, free tuition at public colleges and universities, etc. He should not turn over his voter list to Clinton and return, defeated, to his work in Congress. He has an opportunity to build his revolution. Sheepdogging his supporters into the corrupt Democratic Party fold will have wasted the incredible burst of optimism and enthusiasm and idealism he's ignited.

cccccttttt 8 years 12 weeks ago

"No matter what happens in this 2016 election, though, the bottom 90% has had enough.
If nothing else, the astonishing number of people who say they’ll vote for either Trump or Sanders (i.e. “the outsider”) if the other party (even their own party) puts up an establishment candidate is unprecedented..."

Significant observation.

In the past Tom has suggested the practical course of action was for a grass roots movement to hijack a major party.

But in 2117 there may be enough energy to overcome the labrynith of state hoops through which a new national party must jump.

Some founding father railed against political parties, and making it straight forward to have many national parties dilutes the power of the party elite.


George Reiter's picture
George Reiter 8 years 12 weeks ago

The Democratic Party embraces the complicated as you say. It’s just like the Affordable Care Act, a 20,000 page document that is esoteric and confusing but could be simple as the Single Payer Medicare. It’s my opinion that if one can confuse, then one can deceive. And, we’ve had deception for many years and the effect is obvious to most of us.

LSchelin's picture
LSchelin 8 years 12 weeks ago

I too have been frustrated with the established Democratic party, as a Bernie Sanders supporter he is the only candidate that is like a beacon of light in the darkness. I respect that he is only financially supported by people like you & I and now month after month he has gotten more donations than anyone in history. If he is not nominated as the Democratic candidate, I will write in his name on the CA ballot.

Intermittent Instigator's picture
Intermittent In... 8 years 12 weeks ago

"The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door. That's the only difference." - Ralph Nader

I wouldn't mind seeing a new party... even after Bernie wins the Democratic nomination.

Loren Bliss's picture
Loren Bliss 8 years 12 weeks ago

This the best, most informative, most compelling essay I have yet seen under Mr. Hartmann's byline.

It is most assuredly also -- assuming We the People somehow triumph, and " that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" -- an essay truly for the history books.

Indeed I have only one contrary comment: it is not merely the "emerging generation of Millennials" who have become what Mr. Hartmann labels "radical cynics,"

The same is true of many elderly people like myself, who have been painfully awakened to the deadly malevolence of the forces arrayed against us -- especially as manifest in the genocidal policies of the One Percent and their Ruling Class vassals toward any of us old enough to remember how much better life was under the New Deal.

Awakening to the true magnitude of the Evil that threatens us, we are also awakening to the fact that only Marxism -- and only Marxism in its Leninist/Maoist variant -- offers the ideological discipline essential to overthrow those tyrants who would either reduce us all to slavery or exterminate us all by the slow-motion genocide of "austerity."

We also realize that the One Percenters -- and their wholly owned Ruling Class of politicians, bureaucrats, academics, military officers and police commanders -- now regard our memories of radically better times as definitively subversive.

That is why they are trying to kills us by slashing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and any other governmental stipends and services upon which capitalism forces us to depend for survival.

Literally, our lives -- and the lives of every member of the Working Class -- are at stake.

Moreover, with the omnipotent secret police apparatus the One Percent has already built -- total surveillance and federally militarized law enforcement -- we need only look to our species' broader history to see, particularly in the example of Nazi Germany, the irrefutable evidence that conventional USian politics are woefully indaequate.

Given our dawning recognition that capitalism demands the embrace of limitless, mercilessly selfish, relentlessly greedy moral imbecility as its core principle, we also question the effectiveness of any political ideology that does not as a first premise acknowledge capitalism as the most devastating, potentially terminal affliction humanity has ever thrust upon itself.

Hence, Mr. Hartmann, the "political revolution" you describe has indeed already begun.

One hopes, as I surely do, it will be accomplished via the ballot box. The alternative -- our nation reduced to the ruin that now characterizes most of the Middle East - is too fearful to contemplate.

But knowing the murderous arrogance of the One Percent -- demonstrated not just by such horrors as the Pinochet Regime in Chile but also by the emergence of death-squad police tactics here in our own homeland -- it is tragically probable our smug and obscenely powerful overlords will reject a democratic solution here just as they rejected it in Iran in 1953 and in so many other places since then.

flyguy8650's picture
flyguy8650 8 years 12 weeks ago

Wow, I agree that the essay Thom wrote today may indeed be one of his best. However, Mr. Bliss, Marxism is NOT the answer as we all have seen over and over. There is little difference between the Corrupt Tyrants of the Dems and Gop, (AKA - Opposames), is very different. What we need is for our generation, (Baby Boomers), to start educating our grandkids. We really screwed up our kids. Turn our education system back to where it was in the 1950's. Locally controlled and managed. Strong Civics Education, work ethic, history going back WAY before 1970's. Demonization of past presidents is of little value. Focus on what made America Great. It was good to grow up in the 50's. We got good education, strong work ethic but our parents did not lean on us to pass on the lessons of the Greatest Generation and our Constitution. I pray and hope for a ballot revolution, we surely need it. Violence, if it happens, will only make America an "Also Ran" in the worlds history. Much like Roman Empire.

Thanks for the cogent comments and essay's. Very thought provoking. Tag - We'er It!!

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 8 years 12 weeks ago

Trump as a "change candidate" is the same old false flag strategy the Teapublic Party has been using since they figured out the corpse media won't do a god damn thing about the national broadcast of bald faced lies. Fox News indirectly created Trump long before Trump was in the political spotlight. The media created him in the sense that a large segment of "Merica" has been brainwashed by a relentless propaganda machine, brainwashed into believing the democractic party is always the enemy despite the obvious conflict with fact based reality.

Support for an arrogant, selfish, bigoted, greedy, and narcissistic billionaire, as if he'll be on your side, can only be created by the kind of purposeful confusion the right -wing hate machine whips up. I'm sorry, but Trump already represents and practices everything that is wrong with being a conservative/Teapublican.....he's simply twisting things, exactly like Fox News does, but in his own false flag manner. He's saying whatever it takes to get elected.

Trump will rule the country as a Fascist, just like the ones that already control the Teapublic Party. In that sense it would be business as usual, but with an even more accelerated concentration of wealth. Yes, I agree he would be the Hitler choice, but I also believe we reached that point with Fox News and the Teapublic party long ago.

Bernie is our only hope for true change....he's the rare FDR soul who is in the right place at the most crucial time.

Loren Bliss's picture
Loren Bliss 8 years 12 weeks ago

Significantly, flyguy8650, the secret-police/militarized-police apparatus already in place proves the Ruling Class intends in the near future to behave toward the rest of us exactly as it already behaves toward the African-American, Hispanic and First Nations population. That is proven by analysis of what in the military is called "capabilities" (as demonstrated against Occupy and Black Lives Matter) and of "intentions" (as demonstrated against Occupy and Black Lives Matter, and in killings at Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City etc.).

The only question for the remainder of the 99 Percent is when the killing of innocents will become the national norm at any protest againast capitalist or racist savagery.

My estimate, based on a lifetime of 76 years and a near-lifetime as both a journalist and a student of history, is that the obvious, no-longer-deniable death of U.S. representative democracy will be declared by the emergence of zero-tolerance, kill-all-resistance plutocracy soon after the 2016 elections.

In this sense, there is no significant difference between Hillary and Trump: each is an unabashed fascist (although in deference to Trump it is worth noting he pledges to protect the very Social Security and Medicare programs Hillary wants to destroy) -- and because each is an unabashed fascist, neither has any intention of preserving the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

Hence the difference between the United States and fascist nations of the past will soon become more a matter of euphemisms and the identity of human targets than anything else.

In this context, history shows only the most disciplined resistance has any chance of achieving liberation. History also shows that only Marxism embodies that discipline. Thus, for example, were the opponents of Diem's Roman Catholic theocracy in South Vietnam compelled to adopt (and adapt) Marxism: no other ideology possessed the requisite discipline.

Remember too that Marxism failed in Russia not because of Marxism but because of the dark undertow of Russian history -- the fact Russia had no democratic or even libertarian traditions to sustain its people's quest for liberation against opportunists like Stalin.

Marxism in the United States -- with its virtually ageless background of First Nations democratic traditions, British Common Law, 241 years of constitutional governance and its ideology of representative democracy (no matter how the inherent principles have been nullified since 22 November 1963 by capitalism and its economic mandates for domestic enslavement and global conquest) -- would prove to be a very different story.

Indeed it may be our only possibility of salvation -- whether as an oppressed people or a species on the brink of environmental extinction.

IM Jussayin 8 years 12 weeks ago

I'm suddenly reminded of this line in a song by Stealers Wheel: "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with with you." One problem; I seem to be stuck in the middle more and more alone. Marxism and Fascism are natural enemies, like the Cobra and the Mongoose. Everyone seems surprised when they're locked in a room together for almost a hundred years they're still trying to kill one another.

Ideologues and realists are also natural enemies. Oddly enough, though, realists like myself only have one weapon against ideologues; reason. And ideologues are the most destructive forces on the planet, whether they stand on the left or on the right. Both are borderline Utopian in their conviction that if only the rest of the world would come around to their particular philosophy, the world would be a perfect place. Facists want absolute order, Socialists almost absolute disorder, and the balance is between dictatorship and chaos.

Since there is less oppression in chaos I lean more toward the Democratic Party, but I think (hope) the natural evolution of political philosophy will eventually lead to right-leaning Democrats and left-leaning Republicans will join to form a majority party and all you extremists will be left alone on the fringes, rendered nearly harmless. That is, of course, if your extreme differences don't lead to a bloody revolution that ends up an awful mix of both the extremes of your ideologies.

Dictatorship is the same whether it's of the Proletariat or one, or an Oligarchy. I want no part of any of that. If socialism is completely destroyed, people will go hungry because the natural concentration of wealth at the top will stay there and not trickled down as the capitalists say it will. If capitalism is eliminated, some people will still go hungry because much of the wealth we've become accustomed to will disappear with it.

Another bad thing about ideologues like some of you here and Mr. Hartman is impatience. You're so anxious for change that when a Bernie Sanders comes along you see it as an opportunity to start a quiet revolution. Trust me, this is not the time. There's still a great aversion to socialism here and, if you doubt it, tune into Hannity or Limbaugh, or Fox Newa Channel for awhile.

As for Sanders leading us out of the wilderness, here's a reality check. I did some math and head to head so far in the primaries and caucuses, these are the total votes cast. Hillary-8.5 million; Trump-7.3 million; Bernie-5.9 million. THAT is the strength of your so called revolution. I didn't add up Cruz's numbers because I think Trump is going to be the guy, but if somehow the "establishment" (the few Republicans with common sense) can steal the nomination from Trump, you could wind up with Cruz. He's probably around 3 mil, and if even as few as half of the Trumpistas come out for him in the general election. it puts him slightly ahead of Bernie. If the thought of Ted Cruz naming the next two or three justices to the Supreme Court doesn't shake some sense into you, seek psychiatric help at once!

When I was much younger (and a bit of an ideologue myself) George McGovern was my Bernie Sanders. He had this crazy idea we should withdraw from Viet Nam unilaterally, and had a tax plan that gave $1000 for each person in families with incomes under a certain level. He was painted as a Socialist by Nixonites and lost 49 states. Bernie would be portrayed as the new Karl Marx (and, yes there are more people who remember that name than there are millenials who don't) and could probably win Vermont, California, Michigan, and maaaaybe Ohio. Better than McGovern, but still no cigar.

Hillary at least has a shot at mobilizing my generation of women who remember what it was like before Roe v. Wade, and blacks who remember life before Democrats of her father's generation passed the civil rights act. Forget revolutionizing Washington. Republicans have a revolution of their own happening. Thirty governorships and 68 of 98 state legislative chambers, and in case you're not paying attention, the U.S. House and Senate.

So quit bitching and hand-wringing about how Dems have sold out and are "just like Republicans," because they AREN'T. Preidential elections usually don't make much difference, but this one most certainly does, and if you insist on voting your "conscience" and effectively wasting your vote, I hope your conscience let's you sleep well with Trump or Cruz sleeping at 1600 Penn.

KCRuger's picture
KCRuger 8 years 12 weeks ago

Hey Thom: Why can I no longer stream your show in Chicago? Ever try to get AM in downtown Chicago? WCPT can KMA!

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 12 weeks ago

Reply to #11: Sorry Ms. Jussayin, but I agree with Mr. Bliss. Hillary Clinton is a fascist, and I don't vote for fascists.

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