DNC 2020: Enough with the Infomercials, Time to Get Serious

Aug 23, 2020

By Alan Minsky, Executive Director – Progressive Democrats of America


Oh, how I love convention season. It’s truly magical.

Like clockwork, every four years we witness the Democratic Party defy all logic, and fearlessly pursue the unthinkable – setting course for snatching defeat from certain victory over the comically-hideous Republican Party.

This year they have more ground than ever to make up; but as the past week showed, they remain the masters of glossy, hollow ineptitude. 

(Gotta love Marianne Williamson, who had the best line, comparing the substanceless DNC telecast to “binge watching a Marriott (Hotel) commercial.”)

Seriously folks, if you want to see Donald Trump defeated, and his variation of 21st century proto-facism vanquished – it is time for an intervention.

We have to wrest the Democratic Party out of the hands of the consultancy class; and, yes, we have to alert those at the top of the Party to the reality that the public loathes where the country is at currently. To win, Democrats have to offer some substantive change. Otherwise, we seriously risk waking up on November 4th having to continually pinch ourselves; hoping against hope that we’re still asleep, stuck in a nightmare. You think November 9, 2016 was rough? Imagine November 4, 2020 if the somehow-very-possible, yet-also-unthinkable occurs: Donald Trump is re-elected.

Look, the arithmetic is simple – and it ain’t about winning votes in California.  The race will be decided in a hand full of swing states. In particular, the keys to the Presidential election are Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona (plus a few others, but these are the ground zero states) – and we can probably remove Pennsylvania because if Scranton Joe’s birth state is in play this time, the Dems are in deep doo-doo (which doesn’t mean they can disregard it, but nonetheless…)

So, the question is, how do you win MI, WI, and AZ. Sure, it’s important to win “suburban swing voters,” but that should already be achieved: Joe Biden’s entire career has positioned him to attract “moderate” voters. What’s most important is for Democrats to turn-out their base – something the GOP never fails to do.

Who makes up the Democratic base in MI, WI, and AZ? These are states with very strong support for the progressive wing of the party. At least, one-third of Democrats (and probably higher) in all three states are stalwart progressives. The Democrats can’t win without them – and the Democratic Party just put on a convention where they basically shunned the progressive wing of the party.

They also signaled that the Latino vote, which Bernie Sanders also happened to win overwhelmingly during the primary season, was not a priority. No latino was offered one of the premier speaking slots – e.g. one of the final two speakers on a given night. Word got out during the convention that latino leaders were upset. A few adjustments were made, but never did a latino voice (other than the intentionally marginalized AOC) grab headlines throughout the convention. That’s not going to help win Arizona.

Wait, it gets worse. These Dems truly are magicians – you don’t want to miss their next trick: watch as they make Americans under the age of 40 disappear.

The younger you get amongst Americans under the age of 50, the stronger the rejection of Donald Trump, and the stronger the support for progressive policies. If only under 40’s could vote, Bernie Sanders would be swept into office in a landslide; under 30’s and we’d have Democratic Socialism and ecotopia in America (Logan’s Run, anyone?… it’s called satire, haters) 

Look, no one’s expecting Joe Biden to morph into Bernie or AOC, but we are counting on him to try to win.  After all, defeating Donald Trump is what all Democrats and progressives want to see happen at this juncture (more about this later).

Here’s the real sucker punch, young voters are not just another constituency on the left, who can be viewed as having nowhere else to go other than to vote for the Dems because they loathe Trump.

First off, relying on this “nowhere else to go” strategy is always a mistake (because it’s always enthusiasm that inspires people to vote), but it’s a spectacularly glaring mistake when it comes to young voters in 2020. Here’s why:

Young people are notoriously difficult to get to the polls (just ask the Bernie 2020 campaign), but in the context of the most confusing election ever in terms of how to vote (because of changed rules due to the pandemic) Biden/Harris really needs to give them a strong reason to vote.

How to do that was so, so simple….All you had to do was invite young progressives superstars like the Squad members, and a true team-player like Bernie, onto center stage at the convention.  All you had to do was signal that their ideas (the ideas of young Americans) are being heard and will be part of a debate within the party.

Nope. Instead, crickets.

Other than Bernie’s five minutes on night #1, we would’ve heard nothing at all from the most vital wing of the Party; as even AOC’s 97 seconds only happened because Senator Sanders personally chose Rep.Ocasio-Cortez to second his nomination for President.  That’s correct, the DNC intended to shun the squad fully.

Why? Well, I can’t read minds and I haven’t seen any leaks from DNC headquarters, but I do have a theory which I think fits all the evidence:

The donor class funding the DNC snoozefest wants to be certain that a Biden/Harris Administration owes nothing to the political left. They’d rather risk a second Donald Trump term than have the current neo-liberal order, which fuels their soaring stock portfolios, be adjusted in anyway to accommodate redistributive economics; or labor union growth; or quality, affordable, universal healthcare; or serious action about the climate emergency; or changes to the prison/police industrial complex; or the military industrial complex; or the lobbying industrial complex; or the elite’s monopoly on economic gain and political power.

This, to me, is one of the two main reasons we progressives must defeat Donald Trump in November 

Come again?

It’s paradoxical, but obvious.

Before I explain, let’s first review the non-paradoxical reason that Trump has to be defeated (so you can see that I’m reasonable).

The primary reason Trump has to be defeated is because he is the international figurehead, and domestic American leader, of the far right-wing anti-democratic political tendency that has risen out the failure of post-Cold War neo-liberalism. Everything about Trump – his overt racism, his corruption, his narcissism, his strongman fetish, his rejection of rationality, and his coddling of supportive elites – is a frontal assault on the very notion of a democratic society. A second term could prove terminal for what has become an increasingly fragile democratic republic. Whereas his defeat would be a major set-back to the authoritarian right around the globe, and to America’s white supremacists – both the proto-fascist and country club types.

To put it in old school terms, we on the left have to avoid the mistake we made in Germany in the 30s. Now is the time to form an alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie to trounce fascism.

Of course, there’s also the small matter that Trump’s anti-medical science idiocy (which,of course, is part-and-parcel of his proto-facsism) has literally cost tens of thousands of American lives during the pandemic – something that Biden will certainly improve upon. (Btw, even here, I don’t think the Dems did an adequate job conveying this most stark of contrasts. Imagine somehow the tables were turned and there were tens of thousands of American deaths due to a Democratic President’s negligence.The GOP message gurus would make certain the point was driven home with razor sharp clarity: “this guy is killing you, I will save your life…” But, hey, no one can pull a dead rabbit out of a hat like the Democratic Party.)

Now, let’s return to my more counter-intuitive rationale for lifting Joe Biden into the Presidency – i.e. because the big money donors who support the moderate wing of the Democratic Party hope to marginalize the ascendent (but not yet victorious) progressive wing of the party.

Here’s the deal, the modern (post -WWII) social contract is broken, shattered. The American dream is dead. Upward social mobility is largely a fantasy, debt peonage the reality – and don’t dare get off the hamster wheel of endless work, lest you join the ranks of the living dead (the homeless).

Does anyone think neo-liberal policies, which the moderate wing of the Democratic Party supports, are going to change this reality? If you’re raising your hand, you’re wrong.  It’s those policies that created this reality.

So, following from that, the problem for the moderates who just staged the DNC is that they are seriously mistaken – they cannot simply wish away the ascendent progressive wing of the Democratic Party.  Not only does it exist, it is gaining strength with each new round of primaries (Hello Cori Bush!) and it is already many times stronger than 1992 and 2008, the last two times a Democratic President followed a GOP incumbent.

Does anyone think that AOC, Rashida, Ro, and their gang are going to morph into moderates? More to the point, does anyone think they’re going to stop making sense to millennials?  Once again, if you raised your hands to either of these questions, I’m happy to let you know that you’re wrong.

So, if Joe Biden wins, it’ll be the first time in memory that a sitting Democratic President will have to deal with a vibrant political left – inside and outside of Congress.

So, Joe Biden will have two choices. He can capitulate to the left and make significant progressive changes – and frankly I don’t care who makes the progressive changes that the people and the planet so desperately need; it could be Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or Elmer Fudd, so long as it happens. Obviously, if that were to happen, a progressive vote for Joe Biden will prove justified.

Or, and I understand this is much more likely, Biden will stick with neo-liberal orthodoxy and nothing much will change for the better for the average household – at which point, pressure from the progressives will expose the moderate neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party for what it is, a conservative political formation that serves the interests of elites.

If this second, more likely, sequence of events occurs – i.e. Biden is elected and governs as a moderate Clintonite neo-liberal – it will open up a clear pathway for progressives to pursue further gains within the party in 2022, and “take it over” in 2024.

Moderate Democrats have functioned as the frontline barrier to the type of progressive change that the people, the country, and the planet need. After all, it was moderate Democrats, not Republicans, who defeated Sanders in both 2016 and 2020. As such, it should be obvious that a Biden victory over Trump (now that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are out of the running) provides the best path forward for progressives. Otherwise, the mythology that propels moderates to victory – that moderate neo-liberals can deliver improvements for the average household and re-animate the American dream – will not be exposed as false.  In other words, a Biden victory will either defy expectations and deliver the progressive change the majority of Democrats want; or, it will make clear that it is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that voters must turn to for such change. Nothing other than a Biden victory opens up these possibilities for progressives.

For those of you who think a Biden Administration could successfully stake a middle ground by achieving incremental social improvements, thereby frustrating the aspirations of progressives and the possibility of transformational change, I actually think we’re past that point. Too many people have too much debt, there are too many homeless people, too many failed small businesses, global warming has gone too far (and Obama Administration veterans still herald America’s energy independence due to increased fossil fuel production), mass incarceration and racist policing persist, and a pandemic has exposed the lie of private health insurance like never before. Half-measures that really end up being dead-ends, leaving us running ourselves to death on that hamster wheel, just won’t cut it. Too many people won’t get fooled again. Bernie and AOC are voices that can’t be silenced – if CNN and MSNBC shut them out their multi-million person fan base will follow them to alternative platforms.

Furthermore, incremental change that doesn’t break with the logic of neo-liberalism is almost impossible to conceive – given the voracious appetite of the “market,” the ruling God of the neo-liberal order. Moderate Democrats are going to have to choose between Blackstone and the interests of the people and the planet. If they chose the latter, they will no longer be moderate Democrats.

So, that’s the argument, it’s essential for progressives to see Donald Trump defeated and Joe Biden inaugurated on January 20, 2021. Given the flat, if predictable, disappointment of this year’s DNC, and all it foretells about how the mainstream Democrats are going to mismanage the campaign – it’s going to be up to progressives to get that done.

(Btw, I hate to blow my own horn, but I was one of those people who saw the writing on the wall during convention season 2016. I knew HRC was in serious trouble; and making matters worse with her campaign’s trajectory. I pretty much “called it” for Trump at the time:
Progressives have to do everything we can to avoid the same result…)


  1. Clifford J. Tasner

    Alan, this is exactly the kind of cogent analysis of the state of the race and what our prospects for progressive change are post-election, that we desperately need right now. Thank you for articulating it so well!

  2. Russell Freedman

    Right on Alan. First we have to defeat Trump, then the real battle begins.

  3. Chuck Pennacchio

    Spot-on, Alan. I was on a conference call with younger would-be voters today. No excitement or motivations for Biden-Harris, even while recognizing the existential threat that is Donald Fascist Trump. I’ll learn more when my university classes begin next week… The Millennial and Gen Z vote has never been more critical. We are the soul of the modern FDR rebirth of the Democratic Party. The official thing is soulless, ripe for takeover. The 5% Mass Movement is rising! #BLM #ClimateEmergency #NoJusticeNoPeace