The Democrats’ civil war has begun

The Democrats’ civil war has begun

The unholy alliance of oligarchs and identitarians is about to come apart.

Joel Kotkin

Joel Kotkin

Topics Politics USA

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Let the great Democratic civil war begin. The impending demise of Joe Biden and the patched-together coalition he represents is threatening to accelerate the very intra-party conflicts his presidency was meant to assuage.

In 2020, Biden was able to cobble together the remains of the old Rooseveltian New Deal coalition, along with huge support from both the oligarchic elite and the progressive left. This was possible in large part because the repellant Donald Trump alienated not only the left, including the rising Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), but also dominant elites and numerically strong moderate liberals.

Today, as the Republicans unite around Trump, the Democratic alliance has become creaky. As has been happening for decades, much of the traditional New Deal coalition has further abandoned the party. Biden’s inflationary policies and embrace of progressive cultural and environmental priorities have not gone down well with the traditional base of mostly working-class voters. This has been particularly alienating given that the majority of Democrats consider themselves moderate or even conservative.

Biden’s performance, even before last week’s disastrous presidential debate, has unsettled more than just his core voter base. It has also rattled the oligarchic elite that funded his 2020 campaign, as well as the party apparatus and its media appendages. They may still conveniently genuflect to cultural progressivism and climate-change hysteria, but are less likely to want a mass redistribution of wealth and other curbs on their power. There have been tentative signs, at least on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, that some are now contemplating support for Trump instead. These defectors may be few in number, but they reek of money.

Increasingly, the one reliable – and vocal – bloc of Democrats resides on the far left. This faction backed Biden in 2020 against Trump, despite his relatively moderate political record. The idea was to influence his administration afterwards. It would be an ‘evolution’, as Squad congresswoman Pramila Jayapal described it. Biden largely accommodated to this agenda, at least rhetorically, championing issues from Net Zero targets to the promotion of transgender ideology.

This new left is organised in groups like Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution, the Working Families Party in New York and within increasingly radicalised unions representing college faculty and school teachers. The DSA constitutes arguably the most important of these leftist movements. Described by Jacobin as ‘the most significant hub for left-wing activism in the country’, the DSA seeks power primarily by infiltrating the Democratic Party. It also tends to embrace ‘illiberal’ politics, which one New York Times columnist has rightly labelled ‘the most troubling characteristic of contemporary progressivism’.

This rejection of liberal values would have horrified the group’s 1982 founder, and a teacher of mine, Michael Harrington. DSA activists in New York actually hailed Hamas’s 7 October attacks against Israel as a victory against colonialism and apartheid, irrespective of the rapes, murders and hostage-taking. Rather than mirror the pragmatic, mixed-market politics traditionally found on the American left, these groups more reflect the strident positions adopted by the likes of European green parties, France’s radical socialist La France Insoumise and the now mostly silenced Corbynites of the British Labour Party.

The Israel-Gaza conflict has particularly widened the divisions within the Democratic Party. Traditional New Deal Democrats follow the pro-Israel cause, as has been the case since Harry Truman’s presidency. The strongest supporters include people like Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman and New York congressman Ritchie Torres, who have stood down the increasingly disruptive pro-Palestine demonstrations.

Still, too many progressive politicians have acquiesced to the goonish tactics of some demonstrators – a great deal of it clearly coloured by anti-Zionism, if not outright anti-Semitism. This has awoken liberal Jews from their dogmatic slumbers. A recent Economist study suggests that roughly 37 per cent of Jewish voters now back Trump. And a Siena poll suggests that Trump is leading among New York’s large Jewish population. The picture is similar elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, where there are sizeable Jewish populations, albeit not as large. Obsessed with appealing to pro-Palestine voters, Democrats ignore the reality that the US has well over twice as many Jews as Muslims.

Jews have also been critical sources of party cash since the New Deal, as William Domhoff pointed out in his 1972 book, Fat Cats and Democrats. Facing an atmosphere characterised by rising hostility to Jews, groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Democratic Majority for Israel are not pulling punches. Just last week, they played a role in the takedown of a DSA favourite, New York congressman Jamaal Bowman, spending a record $15million on his challenger’s campaign. Others of this anti-Israel persuasion, including Missouri congresswoman Cori Bush, are facing similar fates.

The Israel-Palestine issue is hardly the only source of friction within the party, however. Under Biden, many Democrats have adopted an extreme woke agenda, including wanting to ‘defund the police’, proliferate transgender ideology and embrace racial identity politics. These policies do not always resonate, even with parts of the traditional Democratic base. Critically, according to one recent survey, Latino and other immigrants are twice as conservative in their social views as the general public. They are unlikely to embrace the kind of ferocious championing of, for example, transgender ‘rights’ in California. That includes a proposed ban on preventing school districts from making teachers inform parents if their child changes pronouns. The state has even required big stores to provide a ‘gender-neutral’ toy aisle. This is what strategist James Carville scathingly calls ‘faculty lounge’ politics. It may win over activists, but it alienates the bulk of the population.

For many, though, the economy is likely the bigger issue at hand, particularly for the traditional working- and middle-class Democratic base. Although Biden was recently lauded by Barack Obama as the tribune of ‘the ordinary folks’, most working people have seen their real incomes drop under his watch. Employment growth has been fairly stagnant outside of government-funded sectors and the low-wage service sector. Black voters, the party’s loyalist cohort, have also not gained in either income or wealth. Now, barely half approve of Biden’s performance, a very low number for such an overwhelmingly Democratic group.

Biden and the Democrats increasingly rely on a gentrified base built around college-educated professionals and the oligarchic elite. The professionals and their unions, particularly teachers, provide the ground game. Meanwhile, the oligarchs send in the cash. In 2020, five of the top eight Biden donors came from tech firms, for instance. The ultra-rich now tend to be on the putative left, which has consistently out-raised and out-spent the political right in recent years, by a margin of nearly two to one.

Yet the very policies the oligarchs and progressives embrace have proven economically perilous for much of the middle and working classes. The expenditures for climate have not created the promised gusher of ‘green jobs’. In fact, wherever these policies are imposed, such as in California, many jobs in manufacturing, logistics and agriculture have stagnated or declined.

Overall, for much of the traditional base, policies like the Green New Deal are a loser. According to Gallup, only two per cent of Americans peg the environment as their main concern. This reflects a growing reality that your politics is usually decided by how you make your living. If you drive a truck, handle farm machinery or fix pipes, you tend to be Republican. If you’re a yoga instructor, a school teacher or work in the corporate and government bureaucracy, then you probably lean to the Democrats.

More and more, the Democrats have been taken over by these progressive-leaning professions. This is exacerbated by the fact that most employment growth in recent years has been concentrated in government and largely public-funded healthcare – sectors that also employ the most educated, most urbanised elite professionals. The regulatory state may be a bane of small businesses and blue-collar workers, but provides plenty of manna for high-end services like finance, accounting and law. This is proving incredibly problematic for the party. A study by Rasmussen recently demonstrated the enormous distance between the core of educated urban professionals and everyone else. This group favours such things as rationing meat and gasoline to combat climate change – policies that are firmly rejected by the vast majority.

The environment, in particular, is a sticking point. So far, the Democrats have been unable to address what they see as climate catastrophe without also destroying people’s prospects and livelihoods. The result of this could be disastrous. Recent polling suggests that even young people are shifting away from Biden, who won their votes easily in 2020, and towards Trump. Media narratives may link this to the Palestine conflict, but studies show that young people rank virtually everything as more important. They care far more about the economy than about Gaza or the environment.

As the old Democratic base erodes, it is likely that the party will reconstitute itself largely as an alliance between the oligarchy, the professional classes and those dependent on government welfare. This reinvented party, with strong ties to the elites, will have massive funding from its associated non-profits. These organisations would become utterly unstoppable if figures like California governor Gavin Newsom and vice-president Kamala Harris manage to capture the White House.

In contrast to those blessed by the oligarchy, the emergent left of the Democrats actually wants to address issues of economic inequality. It plans to do this via massive wealth redistribution, largely by taxing the affluent and kneecapping the billionaire class. The conflict between the factions will become even more evident when Trump, the great uniter of Democrats, fades from the scene.

Remarkably, the progressives represent, according to Pew, just 12 per cent of the party base. But they are also by far the most politically active. This year, some of their candidates may lose, but they could well remain the ascendent group within the Democrats. Like the old Russian Bolsheviks, they tend to be highly motivated and well-organised. They have a ground game that feeds off a growing receptiveness to socialist and identitarian ideology, particularly among the progressive young. College Democrats overwhelmingly back anti-Israel protests, as well as transgender ideology and climate radicalism.

What these radicals lack in numbers and popular appeal, they gain by the concentration of their voters in cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, Boston, Pittsburgh and New York. They benefit from growing organisational powers, enhanced by close ties with powerful public-sector unions. The unions themselves are increasingly progressive, anti-Israel and embrace climate hysteria. But the progressives’ true weakness may be that, unlike past radicals, they have little presence outside the urban core counties, which see only 10 per cent of new population growth.

Whatever happens to our doddering president, his party is in for a tough time – particularly once the unifying presence of Trump is removed. The battle between the factions has only just begun. It is likely to reshape the Democratic Party, and America’s political landscape, for the decade ahead.

Joel Kotkin is a spiked columnist, the RC Hobbs presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, published by Encounter.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics USA


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