Democrats Lost in a Corporate Wilderness

Over the past quarter century, the national Democratic Party merged with the Clinton pay-for-play money machine and lost touch with American populism. So, what must be done and what are the party’s prospects, asks Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

You would think that learning from experience is a common thing to do. But, for the Democratic Party’s leadership, this seems not to be the case. After the landslide victory of Trump’s version of the Republican Party in the 2016 national election, it is fair to say that the Democratic Party is in big trouble.

President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 1997. (White House photo)

As Sen. Bernie Sanders has observed, the party needs to reform. Among other things it needs to ensure that whoever is the head of the Democratic National Committee [DNC] is dedicated to growing the party in a pro-civil rights as well as populist way. The party also needs to break free of special-interest money and do away with biased “super delegates” that subvert the nominating process. Sanders suggests a reform commission to look into implementing the necessary changes.

There are millions of local Democratic voters who agree with Sanders. I am sure that their local party officials have heard from a lot from them. However, to date, none of this has transferred over to the party’s national scene. Indeed Democratic power brokers like Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, who should be discredited in the eyes of everyone who identifies themselves with the Democratic Party, are still in place calling the shots.

And, it is almost certain that whoever becomes head of the DNC will be vetted by these obsolete leaders and will follow their lead. It is a formula for repeated political failure, but it has the sense of something inevitable nonetheless.

Contributing Factors

Why have things worked out this way? Here are some of the contributing factors:

Donna Brazile, interim Democratic Party chairperson.

—Both the Democratic and Republican Parties have evolved into bureaucratized organizations at once dependent upon the financial resources of special interests and mainly responsive to those interests’ needs. This has led both parties to pay more attention to the siren calls of powerful lobbies than the needs of local constituencies.

This fits with the fact that the United States is not a democracy of individuals so much as a democracy of competing interest groups. These interest groups range from conservative to liberal, and many play both sides of the ideological field by giving donations to both parties and their major political leaders.

—The concentration on special interests has been facilitated by the fact that, historically, many American citizens care little about politics. They know little or nothing about how the political system works, much less the issues and pressures to which it responds. Many do not vote. Those who do vote are only marginally more knowledgeable than those who do not. This means the party system relies on relatively small populations of avid supporters

The entrenched nature of the party bureaucracies and the traditional indifference of a large part of the citizenry make the system very hard, but not impossible, to reform.

—It is the Republican Party’s structure, and not that of the Democrats, that has experienced the strongest populist assault over the past couple of years. This is so despite the fact the Republicans have paid more attention to capturing state governorships, legislatures and even town councils than have the Democrats.

The assault has come from the so-called Tea Party, which has its own local and regional organizations imbued with a strong sense of mission. That mission is to minimize altogether government involvement in society. The Tea Party had grown disappointed and estranged from the traditional Republican leadership and structure.

—The basis for Donald Trump’s success was partially laid by the Tea Party’s willingness to abandon their traditional support for the Republicans and place their faith in Trump. Ultimately, what now survives of the formal Republican Party are those elements willing to ally with Trump.

—In contrast, the Democratic Party survives intact, having marginalized Bernie Sanders’s liberal effort to restructure it. Ironically, its structural survival is its greatest weakness. As a consequence it will just plod along, stuck in its rut. All things being equal this might condemn the Democrats to minority status for a long time.

—The only thing that might alter this fate is the catastrophic failure of Trump and his Republican allies – failure to such an extent that the Democratic Party, at least temporarily, again appears as an acceptable alternative to a population scared for its future.

Republican Failure?

Actually, catastrophic failure on Trump’s part may occur. This is because Trump, his Republican allies in the House and Senate, and the Tea Party are all determined to destroy a good part of the federal government’s social and environmental programs, as well as radically deregulate the economy.

Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. August 31, 2016. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

To this end the very first bill the Republicans rammed through Congress (it happened on Jan. 4) was “one designed to roll back a range of environmental and consumer regulations.” The bill was appropriately named the “Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017.” This bit of misguided legislation is only the beginning.

Regulations have a foundational reason for being, foundational because they serve as a check on the greed and larceny that, all too often, seem to lie at the heart of political and economic leaders. That does not mean that regulations should not be fair and efficient – carrying with them a minimum of red tape. However, to do away with them all altogether is, historically, stupid.

The economic and social history of Nineteenth and Twentieth century America makes it abundantly clear that regulation is the sine qua non of modern societal stability. Don’t want discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and the like? Don’t want another economic depression? Don’t want adulterated food and drugs? Want safe transportation both on the ground and in the air? Want safe medical treatment? Want drinkable water and breathable air? Then you want, indeed you absolutely need, economic, environmental and social regulations.

Somehow President-elect Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and their many right-wing associates are unaware of the historically established need for such action. In that part of their brains where the relevant historical facts should reside, these individuals have substituted neoliberal ideology – the same sort of outlook that brought you the 1929 Great Depression and other assorted woes. If our present crop of right-wing leaders get their way, then, sooner or later, we will be able to relive all that misery.

Then, without reforming itself at all, the Democratic Party might once more win a national election — the hard way.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

17 comments for “Democrats Lost in a Corporate Wilderness

  1. Zachary Smith
    January 19, 2017 at 01:09


  2. Zachary Smith
    January 19, 2017 at 01:08


  3. Lois Gagnon
    January 16, 2017 at 23:19

    The Democrats are a lost cause. The sooner real progressives come to terms with that, the sooner we can build a movement to challenge the corrupt Deep State for power. If we don’t do that, we will just continue to spin our wheels and the world will not survive under global oligarchic rule.

  4. Zachary Smith
    January 16, 2017 at 15:27

    After the landslide victory of Trump’s version of the Republican Party in the 2016 national election, it is fair to say that the Democratic Party is in big trouble.

    I’d like to zero in on my Profile In Cowardice Senator Joe Donnelly. He is a perfect example of the Corporate Democrats spoken of in the essay. The man recently joined a bunch of others like him to vote with the Republicans against Sanders’ attempt to cut drug costs by allowing imports from Canada. With all of these characters Big Pharma money won out over the interests of their constituents.

    Getting back to the Cowardice, my pretend-Democratic Senator isn’t even answering his phones. Try to call, and you’re pushed to voice mail. And the voice-mailbox was full in several locations.

    That’s been the picture in Indiana for several years now. We have the choice of a knuckle-dragging Republican, or a nice polite Republican running as a Democrat. I’m getting tired of this crap, and from the way my fake Democratic Senator is behaving today, quite a few others are too.

  5. evelync
    January 16, 2017 at 14:06

    I was shocked yesterday to learn from this link below posted by a reader :

    how deep the tentacles of the Clinton wing of what’s left of the Democratic Party go.
    That this country’s foreign policy has been formulated and directed by ideological political operatives/lobbyists at the DNC without any input from the voters/taxpayers shows how bad things are.
    As a strong Bernie supporter I agree that we are in terrible straits.
    However I also think that even though we, Democrats, have been kept in the dark the incompetence of our “leaders” has finally proven to a large swath of Americans that endless wars and a near financial meltdown means those “leaders” are not trustworthy.
    People are pretty cynical and with good reason.
    But as the author suggests it might take a worse meltdown to get meaningful change.

    • Bill Bodden
      January 16, 2017 at 15:23

      However I also think that even though we, Democrats, have been kept in the dark …

      evelync: Read Walter Karp for an eye opener about the Democratic party. Start at this link “Indispensable Enemies” would be a good place to start. You will find the mendacity and hypocrisy at the core of the Democratic party are nothing new.

      If you are interested in reading the books referred to on the Third World Traveler website you can get used copies at alibris and abebooks dot coms. Better bargains will be hard to find unless you buy Robert Parry’s books.

  6. Bill Bodden
    January 16, 2017 at 14:03

    The medical profession is more likely to find a cure for gangrine other than amputation before the leaders of the Democratic (sic) party admit they and their agendas are the causes of excessive moral and ethical corruption that puts the party at risk. The party leaders are not likely to do anything about this. It is how the system has worked for generations, and the leaders believe it will continue to work for the now-entrenched incumbents. If the Democrats want to regain power, it won’t take much of a change. Just manage to persuade the American people the Democrats are the lesser evil. That shouldn’t be hard to do. More than 120 million voters cast their votes in favor of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, so it is not as if the Democrats would have to be alien to their corrupt, mendacious and hypocritical traditions.

    However, if the objective for the American people is a nation with liberty and justice for all then amputation of both parties will be essential to cure the gangrine in our body politic.

    • Sam F
      January 16, 2017 at 14:33

      Yes, both parties are proven utterly corrupt, and perhaps that is always their destiny. So we should abandon them, work with something we believe in, and resoundingly reject those trying to gloss the Dem corruption.

      • Bill Bodden
        January 16, 2017 at 15:12

        Yes, both parties are proven utterly corrupt, and perhaps that is always their destiny.

        Their common driving force is a lust for power. It is one reason the Democratic (?) party has always been hostile to progressive interlopers who would show more concern for the people instead of the special interests with which they have their corrupting relationship. If Bernie Sanders had become president despite the DNC agenda to stab him in the back, the Democratic (sic) and Republican party oligarchs and their cohorts in Congress would have ganged up on him just as their predecessors did against Jimmy Carter.

    • Pastor Agnostic
      January 18, 2017 at 08:27

      Tis better to rule in hell . . .
      You got it right. The rot existed always, as expressed by DINOs in Obama’s first term. But the roots started with Bill Clinton and his DLC. The only difference between the GOP and today’s democrats is that TeaBuggered group that used to be considered “out-liars” and so far from rational policies that they would never hold power.

      Take the Tea Buggers away, and there is virtually no difference between the parties, except that the GOP has no shame and the democrats have no spine.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    January 16, 2017 at 12:37

    “There is no mystery to what the moment demands. What’s needed is Left movements for social transformation, not a farcical, Democrat-led anti-Trump pseudo-movement, whose real agenda is war.” Glen Ford, Editor, Black Agenda Report

    The crash is coming, and it’s inevitable. It doesn’t have to be, but I am reminded of that story of the man who hits his donkey (think Democrat logo here) with a two-by-four. A kind-hearted woman standing nearby admonishes, “Can’t you try to reason with that poor beast?” To which the man replies, “I have to get his attention first.”

    If it’s not a crash, it will be a war, which will provide political cover for the crash through domestic repression. That’s how it always works. We need Federalization of the banks, massive (between five and seven trillion $) interest-free government issued cash stimulus, immediate relief for homeless, sick and elderly people, and a justice system that is turned against white collar crime and government corruption. The six trillion missing from Pentagon coffers could easily cover that, but looking into the matter inspires only accusations of “conspiracy theory”. Instead, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein, Paul Ryan, John McCain and Lindsey Graham will band together to protect our “democracy” from subversive influences. They won’t tolerate any “outrageous conspiracy theories”…unless, of course, they involve some witch-hunt to subvert the Trump Presidency.

    Either way – war or collapse – the only way out of this is a return to FDR/JFK style “New Deal” democracy. But it’ll take one or the other to get the donkey’s attention. Until one “Democrat” is willing to stand on the floor of Congress and proclaim that this country was subverted by a coup on 22 November, 1963, nothing will change. We’ve been in a constant state of perpetual war and false flag terror since then, and only a disaster will derail the “permanent war economy”.

    • Sam F
      January 16, 2017 at 14:28

      Yes, regardless of the JFK connection, there is a strong progressive majority which is being deliberately fragmented by the Dem oligarchs. Clinton supporters must admit their mistake and abandon the Dems as a scam of oligarchy serving only as a backstop for the Repubs.
      The solution is for a third party to align moderate progressives (national health care, no wars of choice, income security) with parts of the traditional right (fundamentalists, flag-wavers, make America great) leaving out only the extreme right (wars, discrimination, big business imperialism), use individual funding, and rely upon broad platform appeal to marginalize the Dems as the third party.

    • Bob Van Noy
      January 16, 2017 at 15:36

      Absolutely F.G. and Sam F, let’s make it happen…

  8. Josh Stern
    January 16, 2017 at 12:33

    Mr. Davidson’s analysis is insightful. One key factor it neglects to mention is the extent to which 99%+ of the electorate is receiving its news information from corporate sources that primarily cater to the same special interests which are calling the shots in the national committees of the political parties. In their book “Manufacturing Consent”, Herman and Chomsky document this for the period of 1960-1985. And this phenomena is even stronger today.

    • Josh Stern
      January 16, 2017 at 14:18

      Link to an interview with a former mainstream German journalist talking about how they are manipulated and bribed to pull punches and put out propaganda: He is talking about CIA efforts, but other causes like corporate welfare and the need to always increase defense spending work in similar ways. The amount of control at the media ownership and executive editor levels is much greater than what he describes.

    • Peter Loeb
      January 17, 2017 at 08:23


      While many of the points in Davidson’s analysis are “insightful”, the
      analysis of Paul Street in his book BARACK OBAMA AND THE FUTURE
      OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY ( 2009 written during the Obama
      campaign of 2008) is PROPHETIC.

      An oversight perhaps is the lack of the recent work by Thomas Suarez,
      STATE OF TERROR, which Ilan Pappe has called a “tour de force”.

      Both Obama (2008 etc.) and Donald J Trump ironically share the manufacture
      of a “brand” and effectively selling that brand to a public within bounds set
      by money from the elite, Obama in 08 sold “freshness”, “change” and for
      nervous whites “reasonableness” (aka Obama would not challenge
      basics of the estabvlishment as in health care…his major contributors were
      —coincidentally??–from the healthcare industrial complex). Trump
      sold his recognizeable “brand” in his inimitable fashion. The “facts”,
      costs etc. made little difference at all to those frantically approving
      either the Obama or the Trump brands. Neither did the facts or
      costs bother screaming throngs at Obama campaign rock appearances
      of his 09 campaign.)

      What lies ahead is both feared and unknown.(See Gilbert Doctorow
      in today’s Consortium).

      —–Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

      • Peter Loeb
        January 20, 2017 at 08:29


        Paul Street’s book is:


        Not as given above. Sorry. Mea culpa. (“My bad!”)

        —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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