Defending Democracy Has Nothing to Do With Electing Democrats.
Defending Democracy Has Nothing to Do With Electing Democrats.
by Taji Amani
January 24, 2022 / 6322 AFK
As we approach another electoral season, elected Democrats will ramp up communication about how great their philosophy and policies are for democracy, for the non-rich, for social justice and for ecosystems. Yet, in cities like Baltimore, Maryland, in which elected Democrats have enjoyed one-party domination for a lifetime or longer, they defend capitalism and gentrification all on their own, without the scapegoat of Republican opposition. At the federal level, Democratic Party politicians continue to resist universal healthcare throughout a pandemic, despite its popularity. They wage wars of aggression killing tens of thousands of mostly brown people annually. They illegally maintain unilateral economic sanctions on the world's financially poor, which also kills civilians. They meddle in the democratic elections of foreign nations. They violate US treaties with indigenous nations. They effectively condone the CIA's torture. They continue to support the fossil fuel industry... all with the distracting veneer of diversity and inclusion.
This year, Democratic politicians will also increase their communication about the need to defend "our democracy" from fascism. They have very little standing to express such a concern. Elected Democrats lack the ideological foundation, the political will and the historical record to be trusted with with the "defense" (or more appropriately, the establishment) of democracy.
Firstly, the US is not a democracy and it certainly isn't "ours". It's a constitutional republic whose founders were expressly opposed to democracy. A political party that was genuinely interested in democracy would be upfront about this and insist on textbook, constitutional reforms in favor of democracy (e.g. a multi-party system, more opportunities to vote on legislation by referenda). A democratic political party would not insist that the current, oligarchic distribution of power is a democracy that needs defending. However, a corporatist political party that wants power to stay where it is might.
Secondly, the Democratic Party's insistence on capitalism as a core economic ideology is inherently anti-democratic. As an economic arrangement, it creates the financial necessity for fascism, not Donald Trump nor any singular personality. Elected Republicans and elected Democrats are only conduits through which capitalist institutions use force and political suppression to defend themselves from capitalism's unpopularity. Liberal democrats may repackage capitalism by calling it "green" capitalism, "black" capitalism, "conscious" capitalism, "stakeholder" capitalism, puppies-and-lollipops capitalism, but it's still capitalism and it's why they cannot lead us to democracy. Try telling your employer's board of directors that you and all of your fellow employees democratically voted against a decision of the board and see what happens. As long as this anti-democratic arrangement of power dominates the private sector, it will dominate politics. And yet, this is the underlying economic philosophy of the two major parties. If your elected Democrats have to deny you rent control, if they have to deflect demands for a wealth tax, if they have to direct public resources away from the hood and into downtown, if they have to send in the local police to break up your social justice demonstration or to invade your tribe's treaty territory, if they have to ask the FBI to sabotage your civil rights organizing, if they have to send your family members in the military across the globe to kill and be killed in order to defend this power arrangement, then they will continue to do so. The Democratic Party is ideologically incapable of protecting black or indigenous peoples from its own fascism or from Republican fascism. Some elected Democrats may even want to confront fascism, but they are committed to an economic philosophy and a corporate machine that won't allow it.
On January 6, 2021, the Capitol Building and the politicians inside were attacked. Just because one disagrees with the attackers' politics, it doesn't mean that one should defend that institution or the mythical "democracy" that it espouses. Here is an abbreviated list of anti-fascist, democracy-enhancing measures that elected Democrats can take before asking anyone to protect democracy by blaming fascism on Republicans.
Stop suppressing small political parties and organizations in the US, like Greens, Libertarians, black leftists and indigenous leftists.
Free political prisoners who sought human rights for black and indigenous peoples.
Shut down Guantanamo Bay.
Prosecute the torturers of the Iraq War.
Stop violating US treaties with indigenous peoples.
Stop enabling apartheid in Palestine.
Stop undermining democracy by suppressing the political left in Latin America.
Make reparations for encouraging the fascistic genocides and enslavement of black and indigenous peoples.
Stop allowing US Presidents to wage war without a Congressional declaration.
Eliminate the Senate and the Electoral College.
Implement a multiparty system.
In 2020, black organizers led the largest demonstrations in US history against systemic racism in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Simultaneously, the Democratic National Committee refused to support the Breathe Act. That fall, ninety-something percent of black voters in Georgia and throughout the US saved Joe Biden's milquetoast presidential campaign. Once elected, President Biden increased federal funding for law enforcement despite demands for the opposite action. These are just two examples of the Democratic Party's fascistic indifference to racist police brutality, which primarily threatens the lives of indigenous peoples and black people. On the bright side, black Democrats in Congress did get their friendly, liberal boss to take this photo.
Before vomiting in your mouth, remember that this level of performative politics has somehow been working for most black voters. This election season, we don't have to wait for Democrats' campaign speeches because they've held power for a long time and we're living their vision now. Black working class families are not adequately represented nor empowered. Despite the sixty years-old tactic of trying to make their party work for us, our economic conditions are getting even worse. This kind of "strategic" voting hasn't been very strategic at all in a long time, unless doing the same thing for most of a century and hoping for a different outcome counts as a strategy. Whether we work within the proper channels to get a Democratic candidate (of any color) elected as president or we engage in civil disobedience to organize (ahem... again...) THE LARGEST DEMONSTRATIONS IN THE HISTORY OF THE COUNTRY, the needs of black people have fallen and will continue to fall on deaf ears because there is so little democracy worth defending in the US or in either of its two major political parties.
So how does this hardcore, black allegiance to the Democratic Party continue to sustain itself after all these decades? It's as if the overtly racist President Lyndon Johnson still has black voters in the palm of his long-deceased hand. To overcome this Stockholm Syndrome-like behavior, black voters will have to rise above the tendency of nearly all voters to hold their noses and support the devils-they-know in electoral politics (see Congressional approval rates juxtaposed against re-election rates from Gallup and Open Secrets below). But pinching our noses is not necessary and it's not strategic because it's not working.
Elected Democrats are ideologically committed to capitalism. That includes a commitment to profit-centered healthcare, medical bankruptcy, student indebtedness, status quo policing, suppressing different political ideologies, military invasions, ecological devastation, concentrated wealth and concentrated power. Every bleeding heart liberal who works in the Democratic Party ecosystem of public policy, advocacy, political fundraising, electoral campaigns, think tanks, media, etc. has to make a decision early in their career: Despite feeling guilty about capitalism, war and oligarchy, they'd rather get a livable paycheck and look the other way instead of changing fields or joining grassroots movements that empower poor and working class people. So, they fall in line to protect the capitalist economy that is dominated by private ownership and to protect the oligarchic government that it reproduces. By developing enough relationships and experience, they tell themselves, one day, they'll be able to upend and replace those anti-democratic systems with systems that put people and the environment before corporate profit. Ironically, those relationships and experiences derive almost all of their value from those anti-democratic systems. Many of the young people facing this personal decision have had little exposure to any political philosophies outside of the classical liberalism that dominates universities' political science departments and media. Another sad irony of the "progressive" Democrat is that classical liberalism is the ideological framework that forms the basis of both Democratic and Republican Party philosophy, from the era of colonial genocide and slavery to the present. (The spectrum of ideas in the United States' legislatures is notoriously, suspiciously narrow.) What follows is a career in rationalizing Democrats' capitalism, imperialism and neocolonial fascism. Their work is rarely gratifying, nor should it be, because their work is even less frequently satisfying for the working class and poor people they claim to support. The primary differentiator between them and their rivals in the Republican Party is that Republicans have the significant advantage of a guilt-free, commitment to the same, capitalist distribution of economic and political power.
Continuing to subordinate black peoples' various political agendas to the leadership of the Democratic Party out of fear of electing Republicans or Trumpists is understandable, but self-defeating. Republicans aren't forcing state and federal Democratic committees to keep making room for corporate lobbyists. They're doing that on their own. The "lesser" of two evils has no record nor intention of democratically devolving power to the people and movements that it marginalizes. For black voters to continue putting our power in the hands of the lesser evil is essentially a choice to walk off an economic and ecological cliff instead of sprinting off the cliff with Republicans. Why are we still buying time for well-meaning, white liberals to save us? We've tried that for a very long time and ever since 1964 and 1965, it has only led us into a deepened state of emergency. There's nothing to be gained here.
If we can outgrow our internalized racism enough to be half as patient with our black-led, philosophically independent, political organizations as we are with primarily white-led, capitalist, political institutions, then we might have a chance at realizing democracy and changing our catastrophic direction. Black mistrust of black institutions is dead, passé, colonized, NGMI. Phillip Agnew and Damon Davis of Black Men Build are right to ask, "Who is Afraid of Black Power?" Rather than waste another sixty years hoping for establishment politics to spontaneously make a 180-degree turn in favor or democratizing power, I would rather spend the next sixty years building (from the ground, up) and trusting black-led and indigenous-led, independent political institutions that are explicitly confronting racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ecocide and imperialism. Black, radical institutions may be a long shot approach to liberation, but they're not nearly as long of a shot as is trusting a fox to stop preying on chickens.
I trust black people with black people's power.
Please join me in supporting official ballot recognition for a black working class-led political party in Maryland. If we can do it in Maryland, then we can do it in any state. Black lives matter. Black power matters. All power to all the people.