No More Illusions

The Democrats are not the Party of Progress they want you to believe they are.

On November 7th, 2020, when Joe Biden was finally projected winner of the 2020 Presidential Election, West Philadelphia erupted into clamorous celebration. I remember standing out in the street with pots and pans together with the crowd, not yet of voting age but still basking in the ecstasy of “victory.” But under this temporary veil of unity there was a deep confusion. What exactly were we celebrating, the victory for Biden, or the defeat of Trump?

Since that moment, it has become clear that the celebration was for the latter. After promising to realize the demands of the Black Lives Matter Uprising and to undo the abhorrent reactionary policies of the Trump administration, Joe Biden, his cabinet, and his party, settled into the throne of liberal normalcy. Beneath the mask of the Democrats’ progressive 2020 campaign was a cynical ideology that lends its true loyalty to special interests. 

The Democratic Party often tries to present itself as a party of progress. In the last two decades its leaders have made far reaching promises of social advancement. Symbolically, Democrats support policies relating to racial justice, immigration reform, and workers’ rights; however, in reality, the Democratic Party has time and time again abandoned progress for compromise.

At the 2020 Democratic National Convention, where Joe Biden was nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate, speakers confidently aligned themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, recognizing and denouncing systemic racism and police brutality. However, activists were right to be skeptical of this rhetoric, because Biden’s presidential agenda tells a much different story. 

Biden’s Safer America Plan mentions systemic racism only in passing, and barely even condemns it. Instead, it plans to send billions of dollars to police departments across the country. The plan calls for widespread crackdowns on petty crime including retail theft and hiring thousands of new police officers. This plan is nothing more than an expansion of an already racist and classist police system with a “friendlier face.” 

So what is responsible for this sharp contradiction in position? One possible explanation is the hundreds of thousands of dollars that police organizations such as the National Fraternal Order of Police have pumped into several Democratic Congressional Campaigns. According to the Open Secrets, a well regarded organization advocating for political finances transparency, 1994 police advocacy groups have sent the lion’s share of donations to some of the most influential members of the Democratic Party. It is clear that the Democrats, though perhaps not as vulnerable to the tendrils of reactionary interests as the hardline capitalist Republicans, are still willing enablers of regressive right-wing ideology. 

Obviously the above example makes the broad assumption that the Democratic Party is a cohesive organization. In fact, it could be easily argued that the Democratic Party is a diverse “big-tent” organization with factions that are almost entirely opposed to each other. This line of reasoning leads to the “elect better Democrats” fallacy. This argument concedes that the Democratic Party is fundamentally flawed, however, primarily because of regressive, right-wing party members such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (who has since left the party) who are holding the progressive camp back. However, the “elect better Democrats” argument is deflated by the actions of these “better Democrats”. In fact, recently, the Democratic Party has moved in lockstep on some seemingly contradictory positions.

“I intend to be the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history” is a slogan repeated frequently by President Biden. Almost half of House Democrats are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), which outwardly expresses a pro-labor stance, and of course the squad, all members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), whose stance on unions should be self explanatory. All this would suggest a significantly pro-labor perspective throughout the democratic party. And yet, in late 2022, almost every single Democratic congressperson sided with Biden’s appeal to force an inadequate and unfavorable tentative agreement on rail workers around the country and criminalize any potential strike. 

After the House failed to add paid sick leave to the tentative agreement, Biden called on his party to push the gutted resolution through. He argued that the strike would result in economic catastrophe and would cause major supply chain issues during the Christmas shopping season. In a few words Biden corralled his party into declaring the strike as illegal and taking away the most powerful tool for workers to advocate for themselves, their ability to leverage their labor. 

It was not only the “centrist” and “bad Democrats” who fell in line against the strike but the progressives too. And as insult to injury, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the squad abandoned their political commitment to socialism, the DSA, and most importantly the working class and cleaved to the bipartisan bloc of strikebreakers. Members of congress, who were previously looked upon as progressive icons, sided with the reactionary line of the Democratic Party over their constituents and the campaigns they ran on.

And of course, the Republicans, being the cynical vampires that they are, seized upon this Democratic betrayal of the working class. Far-right populist Senator Ted Cruz, seeing an opening to draw on workers’ disillusionment with the Democrats’ promises, voted against breaking the strike, disingenuously taking the side of rail workers.

We can do better than the Democrats. We need a party built on a mass alliance of working people. We should loudly and proudly oppose the proto-fascist Republican Party and sharply condemn the collaborationist neoliberal policies of the Democratic Party. Systems of oppression and violence cannot be toppled by compromise and concession; they can only be torn down by the overwhelming power of the disenfranchised masses.

Building a true party of progress is not as simple as “voting third party” or “not voting all together”; it means aggressively supporting any policy that improves the conditions of everyday people and fighting tooth and nail against anything that stands in its way. It means engaging in mass struggle, protesting, occupying, and striking. Voting is and always will be a valid and important tool, but it represents only one weapon in our arsenal against oppression. So let’s not settle for political betrayal and instead build something better.

The content in this article is representative of the opinions of the individual student journalist and does not represent the views of Friends Select School.