Do Corporate Democrats Like Charles Schumer Belong in a Progressive Movement Against Trump?
Henry Giroux and Paul Jay discuss the relationship between the movement against Trump’s neo-fascism and the struggle against corporate control of the Democratic Party
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
Well, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States last Saturday, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of women and men and children and all kinds of people marched on streets across America and the world to protest “He’s Not Our President,” which was one of the main slogans of the day. It was for women’s rights, it was also for many other issues people were raising, including the environment, and economic justice, and various other things. And it was a kind of taste of what a broad front movement might look like against what some people are calling a neo-fascism or a growing authoritarianism.
But also in this movement, and certainly on stage at the D.C. rally, were many people very closely allied with what a lot of people call corporate Democrats. People like Chuck Schumer were not on stage, but they were out marching, but onstage were people that reflect a lot of the same kind of politics that Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer represent. And a lot of people suggest that it was exactly those kinds of politics and economic policies, including those of President Barack Obama, that tilled the ground that led to a Trump presidency in terms of the growing inequality and such during the Obama administration, and certainly kicked off by the Clinton administration, and put into hyper-drive by the Bush administration, and then maybe even hyper-hyper-drive in many ways by the Obama administration.
So, then just what is the role, of people like corporate Democrats like Chuck Schumer, for example, who now is the main face of the Democratic Party and, in terms of his own history, very closely aligned, very much a representative of Wall Street and finance, quite a hawk on many of the foreign policy issues and such, certainly very closely aligned with AIPAC and U.S. policy towards Israel.
Where does someone like him stand in this broad front against Trump and growing authoritarianism? What should be the attitude of this growing movement towards such people or such a political class?
Now joining us to discuss all of this is Henry Giroux. He’s a Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest at McMaster University and he’s an author. His latest books are “America’s Addiction to Terrorism,” and “America at War with Itself”. Thanks very much for joining us, Henry.
HENRY GIROUX: Hi, Paul. It’s a pleasure, always.
PAUL JAY: Recently there’s been protests or rallies in defense, for example, of social security or of the Affordable Healthcare Act, and you’ve seen some leading progressives, including Senator Sanders, sometimes on stage with Chuck Schumer. I don’t want to just pick on Chuck Schumer here. He represents a whole type of politics and economics. But he’s the face of that now, and you watch the Sunday morning shows, and because of his role in Congress as the Minority Leader in the Senate, he is the face now of that Democratic Party. What do you think? How do you build the united front and what attitude does one take towards corporate Democrats?
HENRY GIROUX: I think that what needs to be made clear is that we should certainly welcome their criticism of Trump, because it just makes all the more visible the kinds of problems that the United States is now facing under this somewhat deranged authoritarian leader. But I think, at the same time, we need to be very careful and make sure they don’t become the voice of the movement. We don’t want to fall into a certain kind of paralyzing political purity or a sort of moralism that seems to suggest you’re either in or out. But I think when it comes around to the question of leadership, when it comes to the question of who speaks for this movement in terms of defining this movement not as something that is concerned with simply reform, but is concerned with something that’s actually changing the political and economic infrastructures of the country itself, I think that we just need to be very careful and not allow these people to speak for the more — I think — democratic and radical element of the movement.
PAUL JAY: Well, I guess this question relates, and can frame it in another way, for the Sanders movement and many people who supported Sanders, and those many who want to continue this fight within the Democratic Party and the corporate Democrats — sometimes they’re called the establishment Democrats — they’re “the enemy”. And in the sense that there’s class divisions in the Democratic Party and there’s a strata within the Democratic Party that really represents finance and perhaps Silicon Valley and other sections of billionaires and Big Capital that gravitate more to the Democratic Party — and they want to have their political representatives control the Democratic Party machinery. And then there was this insurgency, the Sanders insurgency that challenged all that and said, “You know, we don’t need billionaire money to run an election campaign,” and that was an amazing breakthrough to be able to show that was possible.
But you kind of have these two things happening at the same time — a fight that many of those people want to continue within the Democratic Party, which includes primarying right-wing Democrats, you know, upping the critique of corporate Democrats. At the same time, social security, Affordable Healthcare Act, who knows, the wall, I mean, all the things that… the Supreme Court nomination, a broad front against those things. How do you see the relationship of those things?
HENRY GIROUX: It’s important to recognize the contradictions within the party itself as, as you’ve mentioned. But at the same time, we have to remember the Democratic Party has a long history of caving in in spite of those contradictions. And that basically they’ve, in many cases, not only have they been on the wrong side in the long run, but they’ve promoted policies that are neo-conservative and oriented towards a neo-liberal set of assumptions. So I think that yes, we’d like to see people fight within the Democratic Party for doing the right thing, for implementing reforms that in the short run will save people’s lives – you know, saving social security, not allowing Medicare to be eliminated, not allowing Medicaid to be eliminated. You know, resisting policies that in some way are detrimental to the environment.
But I think in terms of the long run, once again, I’d be very hesitant about pointing to those contradictions as a way to suggest that the Democratic Party has the possibility to become a Democratic Socialist Party. I don’t believe that. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen, and I think we really need a very different party with a very different set of assumptions, a very different leadership, raising and asking very different questions. One that provides an alternative sense of what the possibilities are, allowing the United States to move away from this now neo-fascist government, but at the same time not to allow itself to fall into a party still controlled basically by the financial elite, however liberal they might sound.
PAUL JAY: I think the argument would be that, yes, the Democratic Party will never be that party. But to get to a party that might be that party, at least large sections of people need to go through that insurgency, the Sanders-type insurgency to it’s logical conclusion, which means if you had, for example — it might even be Sanders himself again in 2020, who knows, or someone of a similar type of politics — actually be poised to win a nomination, and Sanders wasn’t that far away from it, I don’t think finance would ever give up its control of the party machinery if there’s any possible way that it could prevent that from happening, and who knows if they would self-destruct the whole party I think before they would let that machinery be taken over by such an insurgency.
That being said, at that point, these people leave and form a new party, one way or the other that fight within the party, I think, is a constructive thing for people who want progressive change. But what I’m getting at is, it’s like there’s a real concrete fight or debate taking place right now, for example, on 2018. Do you focus on just electing Democrats who supposedly will stand up to Trump — and I take your point, on many of these issues, they will not — or do you wage this fight in the Democratic Party and primary these right-wing Democrats and put your efforts there? Even if you’re accused of breaking or somehow splitting the anti-Trump opposition?
HENRY GIROUX: I think the real issue here — I don’t want to suggest that’s the wrong question, as much as I want to suggest that it smacks of a kind of reformist orientation. And that is the real issue here is we’ve got to change the consciousness of the American people in ways that allow them to believe that capitalism and democracy are not the same thing. That, in fact, there are reforms that need to be made that can improve their lives and that those reforms are reforms that have to be waged outside of the Democratic Party. And that while, in the most immediate sense, policies can be enacted that will benefit them, in the long term, they won’t.
So I think you need to take that risk. I mean, that argument is endless. It goes on endlessly. Every year, every four years, every eight years, we hear the argument, “Well, you know, the Democratic Party, we have to vote for them because they’re the strongest party, they’re the people who basically have the power right now,” until we make the break, you know, until these politicians link up with other social movements, until the unions are being taken over by workers an not given over to some party apparatchiks, it seems to me we’re in trouble. We’re in the same boat. And I think that the real question is, do we really have time to afford that policy?
I mean, it seems to me time’s running out for the planet, time’s running out for people who are suffering endlessly, time’s running out given the fact that you have a 1% that is completely indifferent to the needs of the American people.
PAUL JAY: You think there is a shorter way to get to some political change, even reformist, than going… than the fight that Sanders waged in the Democratic Party?
HENRY GIROUX: I don’t think…
PAUL JAY: There’s a faster thing than that?
HENRY GIROUX: I don’t think the question is whether or not we get it faster or not.
PAUL JAY: Well, it is because there’s a very, very short window here or small window here. Both in terms of climate change and in terms of what you’re calling the growing authoritarianism. There’s a very small window here.
HENRY GIROUX: Well, I think if you’re going to talk about restructuring the very nature of political power, political and economic power, maybe the issue is to think in terms of long-term strategies and not just short-term advantages. You know, given I understand the argument that the planet could end in a couple of years, maybe — I don’t know — but at the same time, I mean, what’s the price you want to pay for that? What kind of risks do you want to take? I would argue in the short-term we should do everything we can to promote the reforms that will benefit people immediately, but in the long-term, we’ve got to think about what time means in terms of actually implementing a Democratic Socialist revolution.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. But do you think, given the limits of Sanders’s social democracy — and there’s clear limits in foreign policy terms and in economic political terms — a lot of the things he was raising are kind of almost normal kinds of policies and — or at least were in Europe and to some extent still exist in Canada, some — but they weren’t that threatening to what the capitalist order and such. But that being said, in terms of political education on a mass scale, you can tell me something that was more effective in recent years than the Sanders candidacy?
HENRY GIROUX: No, I… I wouldn’t. See, the Sanders candidacy fail. I mean, politically, it failed. It didn’t fail educationally.
PAUL JAY: Well, you were talking educationally. You were talking about consciousness-raising…
HENRY GIROUX: No, I mean, it certainly raised the kinds of consciousness that suggest that we have a potential movement around young people that offers, in many ways, an enormous amount of hope. But I think if you’re really talking about seizing power, I mean, he ended up supporting Hillary Clinton. And I think that in that sense he could’ve started… he could’ve sort of opted out for a third party movement, which would’ve been far more productive, it seems to me, in terms of what we’re facing now.
PAUL JAY: Oh, I don’t think so. I think he… Trump would’ve won even more so and he would’ve shouldered lots of the blame. I think would’ve buried that movement for a long time. I mean, you write about this Trump presidency as neo-fascism. This isn’t something you can just say, “Okay, let’s start a third party and we’ll have neo-fascism for a while.”
HENRY GIROUX: I’m not arguing that starting a third party is going to solve the problem. I’m arguing that we need a social movement that understands the limits of the Democratic Party and is willing to take risks — just as we’ve seen in Spain, just as we saw in Greece, and just as we’re seeing in other countries. I mean, it seems to me, how do you want to imagine, in some way, a different kind of political and economic and social configuration that truly in some way will challenge in the long run the Republican and the Democratic Party stronghold over matters of wealth, power and representation. How do you want to do that?
PAUL JAY: Well, we’re living in the United States. This is like the heartland of the empire, the heartland of imperialism, if you will, where the media is virtually — corporate media and a lot of the public broadcasting media — is like an extension of the state apparatus, as are the Democratic and Republican Parties. And if you want to talk to a mass audience right now, there was a fissure, a real crack in that state apparatus, which I would include the media in, and there was a crack in the Democratic Party — and mostly because that form, that structure, was never created with the idea that you could raise millions and millions of dollars without going to the financiers, and that changed something. They might figure out a way to close that hole in some way, but the party structure wasn’t built for that. So there was a real… you know, there was a moment of a real tear in the fabric that holds this social order together.
Now, whether Sanders supporting Clinton or not — and you can argue and debate that, and I don’t see the point of it at the moment — the more important point is what that movement accomplished in terms of threatening the control of that Democratic Party machine.
And let me just say again, I have no illusion that that Democratic Party could ever be turned into a people’s party. But it could be split, and that experience of the people and fighting within that party, that took on mass proportions that nothing, any third party is not even imaginably close to in the United States.
HENRY GIROUX: I mean, what are the implications of the split politically for you?
PAUL JAY: If there was… if that split was pursued in 2018 and 2020?
HENRY GIROUX: Yeah.
PAUL JAY: Oh, what I said. If you had a candidate that could get to the level of Sanderesque and more so, which I think is possible, especially… I think a lot of people, the coin now has dropped, the extent to which the Obama administration was responsible for the success of the Trump candidacy — how those hyper-capitalist neo-liberal policies of Obama led to Trump. Number two, a candidacy that actually speaks to African-Americans and takes that card away from whoever is the corporate candidate in 2020…
HENRY GIROUX: So you’re suggesting…
PAUL JAY: …I think you could have a candidacy that could threaten and come close or maybe on the verge of winning the nomination — and, as I say, Sanders wasn’t that far — and then I think that’s where a split will take place, because I don’t think the elites will allow the Democratic Party to be taken over, but then you have the real conditions for a third party.
HENRY GIROUX: So you’re suggesting, if I’m reading you correctly, that the contradictions within the Democratic Party could certainly heighten awareness of the problems that the country is facing, that we could mobilize more and more people to, in fact, become a part of that narrative, and that while it doesn’t suggest that the Democratic party will solve the problem, it offers the possibility for the conditions for a new party to address those issues.
PAUL JAY: And… yes, and fight on that… it can’t be another corporate Democrat that becomes the anti-Trump, and start this whole cycle again.
HENRY GIROUX: No, I… I thought that’s what I was saying. But I…
PAUL JAY: Well, no, the difference I’m saying is that… you know, while there needs to be all kinds of forms of organization, I’m suggesting, and movements in the streets, and all kinds of organizing, the fight within the Democratic Party right now is a very important one. And I’m not sure I would have said that in other years. Sometimes it’s hopeless to do anything with the Democratic Party. But right now, that Sanders moment, it created a different kind of terrain for the struggle.
HENRY GIROUX: I think that’s… I don’t disagree with that. My only concern about that argument is that it needs to be supplemented by another, it seems to me, narrative. And that is, while it might be useful to do everything in one can to make sure that split becomes even wider, and a candidate emerges that can mobilize people in ways that speak to a better… a more democratic future, there also has to be organizations being developed that are creating alternative ways of understanding politics where, you know, organizations that basically are both local, national and international, organizations that are imagining and making clear different ways for people to engage in social relationships, different understandings of how a university can be run, different understandings of what it means to have free healthcare, different ways to sort of empower communities, different ways to speak to communities, alternative media being developed. I mean, I think that there certainly has to be infrastructures that make that question about what an alternative society looks like concrete.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, I agree completely. A vision of a society where you don’t have the 1% owning all the wealth, and you have real public ownership and public planning and so on. Yeah, I don’t think you can build a movement without a vision for the future, and it can’t just be noodling around the edges of what there is.
HENRY GIROUX: No, I mean, I think the United States lacks a commanding vision. I mean, I think that in part that lack of commanding vision is due to the fact that you have a civic culture that’s collapsed. And we’re not just talking about the institutions — the commanding institutions, whether they be economic or political or social — we’re talking about the fact that you have a country that’s drowning in civic illiteracy. You have a country that basically is now talking about fake news, alternative universes, post-truth, which to me represents a collapse of what I would call the radical imagination and a willingness and an ability to sort of make education, as I’ve said repeatedly, very central to the notion of politics itself.
PAUL JAY: And to answer… the thing is, you started asking me, then I’ll answer the question I asked you — does Chuck Schumer belong on such stages? And I would say no. This is what I’m saying, that this fight to expose corporate democrats should not be muted because of the fights that are going to have to take place in the Senate and in the House. That being said, I can imagine maybe someone like Bernie Sanders who — when it comes to actual legislative fights, and they do matter — he may have to have a somewhat different attitude to how he treats Schumer. But I think, on the whole, the criticism of Schumer should be withering and the fight against corporate Democrats should be withering, in spite of the fact, on some specific legislative issues, there may well be to have to be some convergence of interest there.
HENRY GIROUX: I’m with you. I mean, I think the real issue here is understanding the totality of what these people represent, and not sort of being seduced by the fact that on some issues they may sound very liberal, if not even more so. I mean, overall, these are representatives of a corporate financial structure and they’re going to protect it. They’re not talking about eliminating inequality. They’re not talking about some notion of justice regarding foreign policy with respect to the Middle East. But, at the same time, I think you’re right about somebody like Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie Sanders is also in the process of being educated. I mean, even more so politically in light of what he went through in the last year or so. He built a massive following. Young people are enormously concerned about what it means to be able to identify with people who include them in the script of democracy, and they’re also looking for ways to redefine both democracy and politics in ways that is inclusive, international, and is on the side of justice and not injustice, on the side of dignity and not humiliation, that’s on the side of hope, that’s on the side of bridges and not on the side of walls.
PAUL JAY: All right. Well, thanks very much for joining us, Henry. We’ll continue this conversation.
HENRY GIROUX: All right, thanks so much.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.