In Bernie Sanders' town hall interview on Monday the 9th he was asked what Democrats should do to win in the next election. He responded, "If we were going back in history to the 30s, 40s and you asked the average working person which party is the party of the working class in America, overwhelmingly people would have said it was the Democratic Party. Today people do not say that, and for good reason". Truly, workers' rights and labor unions used to be as synonymous with the Democratic Party as the color blue. But somewhere down the line they lost their way, and special interests from corporations and lobby groups have become the only constituencies that seem to have any influence on the party. This has disenfranchised Democrats and damaged the brand of the Democratic Party.
We can trace this shift all the way back to July of 1944 at the Democratic National Convention. Henry A. Wallace served under Franklin D. Roosevelt for 11 years, 4 of those spent as Vice President. A staunch proponent of New Deal economics, Wallace advocated for labor union protections and sought to establish national healthcare. His policies were ahead of his time, fighting for equality for women and minorities when those were not popular talking points of the establishment. Yet, the people loved him. A Gallup survey in 1944 showed he had 65% support from Democrats.
Despite the will of the people, the 'powers that be' decided he was a threat to their interests and utilized their political might to prop up a candidate who would allow them to operate unfettered. A Manchester Guardian editorial summed it up: "The party bosses,...the machines, and the conservatives of the South could not stand Mr. Wallace who in the popular mind embodied the New Deal and racial equality. So they turned to the colorless Truman who has never upset anyone's prejudices."
The practice of special interests superseding public interests in the American election cycle continues to this day. When Bernie Sanders made reforming unfair trade agreements and fighting Wall Street influence the main points of his run on the 2016 election, much as they had done to Wallace before him, the DNC machine worked to maintain the status quo.
While Bernie won 43% of the popular vote in the 2016 primaries, he only received 6% of the unpledged delegate vote. This created controversy among Democrats who believed the almost unanimous support behind Hillary of unpledged delegates early in the primaries gave the impression that a Bernie win was virtually impossible, despite being much more competitive in pledged delegates. When asked on CNN about voter concerns that the process felt rigged, Debbie Wasserman Schultz responded, "Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don't have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists." The Chair of the DNC herself admitted they were trying to subvert the will of the populous.
Once again, the Democratic establishment decided they knew what was best for the party and the American people, despite the will of the American people. When a political party demonstrates that the interests of everyday people take a backseat to their own, those people will take their votes elsewhere.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side where there are no unpledged delegates, Donald Trump struck a chord with the working class with his positions on trade, like with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), falling out of step with his Republican counterparts by calling it, "the death blow for American manufacturing". Conversely, Hillary's stance on TPP had been shaky, once saying it set the "gold standard" in trade agreements and later reversing her position, leaving many working-class Democrats feeling uneasy and skeptical of her true motives.
Trump's position on TPP resonated with many in swing states like Michigan, with an economy largely dependent on maintaining manufacturing jobs in the auto industry. Significantly, Hillary Clinton never visited the United Automobile Workers (UAW) while campaigning in Michigan, let alone held any meeting with a labor union in the state. In the words of Michigan Senator Gary Peters, "Labor simply cannot be taken for granted in Michigan. Not doing that sort of event certainly was a major oversight."
The DNC ended up backing a candidate who was seen as out of touch with the concerns of the working class. And while Trump's approach was brash and offensive to many, he addressed the working class and appealed to their sense of disillusionment in the establishment. The DNC made the fatal decision of ignoring their working-class base. Without that support, Donald Trump, the single least popular candidate ever to run for president, will soon be the 45th President of the United States.
The DNC has the chance now to recalibrate their focus going forward and fix their sinking ship. With the recent announcement of the DNC hiring former Hillary staffers and members of associated super PACs for their "war room", it seems the Democrats are content to go down with the ship. Instead of focusing on the issues that resonate with American voters, like trade protections and job security, their focus will be to, "protect President Obama's legacy." This strategy did not resonate with the electorate in 2016, so how could it work going forward?
Further evidence that the DNC has not learned from their mistakes is Sen. Chuck Schumer taking over from Harry Reid as the Senate Minority Leader for the Democratic Party. Sen. Schumer, who the New York Times has called "A Champion of Wall Street", limited efforts to regulate credit-rating agencies - a move that led directly to the 2008 global financial crisis. With Schumer at the helm of Senate leadership, all people will see is a continuation of the "New Moneycrats"- not a moniker people will associate with working-class values.
The Democratic Party has been steadily straying from their electorate for too long. The American public seems to be cognizant now more than ever of compromised values and the betrayal of the working class. This approach will no longer work to get politicians elected, so for the party's own sake - change course.
The Democrats were blindsided by the loss of the 2016 election because they forgot what they were fighting for. If they want to remain relevant and competitive, they need to put forth candidates who represent core Democratic values, who fight for the workers who can't fight for themselves. Their biggest concerns must be the struggles of everyday people, not the concerns of the 1%. As Bernie said in his town hall interview, "The Democrats have got to make a very fundamental choice and that is which side are they on. You can't be on the side of... big money interests and go to working people and say I'm on your side, because they're not going to believe that."