I’m very skeptical that the left can replicate what the right did with the tea party, that is, obstruct all attempts to pass the President’s agenda and hold elected officials accountable.
The key to the former being the latter.
The mid terms are a year and a half away and one of the challenges the left faces is keeping the pressure on law makers. That means keeping themselves motivated.
But the indivisible and #resist folks, as far as I can see, have not scared Democratic leadership enough to becoming more obstructionists to Trump’s agenda as the tea party was to Obama’s. As I blogged on my own site, Democratic leaders, like Pelosi and Schumer, appear to be waffling on their fight to oppose Donald Trump .
An important aspect of the tea party movement was its ability to primary Republicans. To keep the party “pure” there is the so called House “freedom caucus” who account for almost 30 of the most conservative members of Congress. They try to push every bill put forth in Congress as far to the right as possible.
John Boehner was forced out as leader of the House majority in part due to their influence. And his deputy, whip Eric Cantor, a political insider who only a few years ago was a hot shot “young gun” conservative, was beat by the tea party backed David Brat. Brat was a political novice who before his run, was a university professor.
Cantor, in a Frontline piece, explains his conservative credentials by retelling how he tried to stop his boss Speaker Boehner from passing legislation with President Obama:
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Indivisible has another problem. Midterm elections traditionally see the lowest turnout for young people and minorities which are key to Democratic wins. Older white Americans, key to Republicans, are more consistent voters.
Fivethirtyeight.com points out another factor in the tea party’s strength. The group was a coalition of many different sides. It was fueled by a mash up of grass roots activists, corporate money (groups like Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity – Koch Bros. funded groups), right wing radio (Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh) and Fox News.
All of these forces came together in 2010 to do something extraordinary. According to Fivethrityeight, Theda Skocpol, a Harvard Professor who studied the tea party, noted tea party groups remained active on a regular basis for a long period of time:
The most active tea party groups Skocpol encountered held monthly meetings, invited speakers and formed committees to stay informed on what was happening in their state legislatures. “I know that the Indivisible site lists thousands of groups, but I don’t think we know how persistent they are,” she said.
Where the left’s movement could go wrong, Skocpol said, was being too fixated on demonstrations. “It’s got to transfer to votes.” Using the base’s energy to register left-leaning voters and turn them out to the polls will be the ultimate test of grassroots success.
Money was key to Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts which almost destroyed Obama’s attempts to push through the ACA health care law. And those who supported Brown, like Freedom Works, were active nationally and locally. MSNBC has reported, for years, how Citizens for Prosperity and other right wing groups have tried to influence local and statewide elections.
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Their success has helped create some of the most liberal gun laws the country has ever seen.
Few on the right make a sound when corporate money is poured into their causes. But they go crazy when donors like George Soros send money on left wing causes. The irony is, left wing activists also attack Democratic candidates for taking money from the donors.
Many still view Hillary Clinton as a pawn of Wall Street because she made a few speeches with Goldman Sachs executives. Others believed Elon Musk would be a champion for progressives causes and stand in opposition to Donald Trump, but were shocked and saddened to see him join Trump’s advisory team.
I think something even more important, not mentioned in the fivethirtyeight post, is the persistent voter suppression efforts all around the country. There is nothing like it on the left. The left actually encourages more voting while the right is actively trying suppress voting in states where there are large numbers of minorities and young people voting.
Using the dubious lie of voter fraud, and the gutting of the civil right act, more states since Obama’s election and reelection have passed voter suppression law than ever before. Voting has become a chore as a large number of states are taking funding away from local polling places as well. The fewer people who vote the better it is for Republicans, the thinking goes.
So what can progressives do to address these issues? I have a few thoughts –
Social media is a game changer. Using apps and sites like Facebook and Meetup are helping groups disseminate information and formulate plans at break neck speed. In addition, websites with pod casts like Pod Save America, The Majority Report and Daily Kos can help give meaning to the cause and identity to the movement. On TV All In, Rachel Maddow and The Last Word on MSNBC are a regular update to the crazy goings on in the era of Trump. These need to be supported by grass roots activists. From fivethirtyeight:
In their 2011 paper on the tea party, Skocpol and her co-authors noted the importance of conservative talk radio and bloggers, but also assigned a great deal of import to the role Fox News played in the movement’s success: “The best way to understand Fox News’ role is as a national advocacy organization actively fostering a social protest identity.”
Also, indivisible and groups like it need to recruit tech entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban and Mark Zuckerberg, who have the money and resources to oppose Trump. Cuban has even come up with his own ideas for fixing Obamacare.
Progressives need to break bread with Wall Street and make peace with some of the crony capitalism. Mike Bloomberg quickly comes to mind as a person with deep pockets who could help. His focus on sensible gun control could be a powerful rallying call to help galvanize disparate groups.
It would be great if Wall Street could clean up its act and put the brakes on all the greed, but until progressives can formulate a strong base of supported, I say give Wall Street what it needs (bye bye Glass-Steagall).
Finally, disparate groups need to organize. This is perhaps the hardest part of the this, but I suspect many of the people in any one of these protest groups are part of many of the other groups. BLM, indivisible, standing rock, united we dream, occupy and other liberal groups, should work together and cohesively.
Finally, Ben Howe, a former tea party organizer, says Democrats…
…would do well to find an “inspirational movement leader that helps focus all the individual groups towards one specific purpose.” Disparate tea party groups sometimes ended up going wayward, Howe said, buying into the birtherism conspiracy theories and leaving the rest of the movement to deal with the fallout. “With no inspirational movement leader(s) defining what it was, we were constantly on defense dealing with groups all over the country over which we had no control,” he said.
The power to defy Trump and his agenda is a long standing one. The movement need to be nimble, vast, organized and be ready to keep the pressure on for a long time .