Why the Battle Over SEIU’s Possible Endorsement of Hillary Clinton is Emblematic of the Dire Challenges Facing Unions in the Democratic Party


Recently, Politico reported that Bernie Sanders supporters, within the SEIU, petitioned their union’s international executive board to hold off in endorsing any candidate for they fear the board might come out for Hillary Clinton. On its surface, this story would be just another news item of the jockeying between pro-Sanders and pro-Clinton supporters, within a union, as to which candidate received its prize endorsement during this primary season. However, the Politico report is more than that. The news item chronicles a situation representing an emblematic challenge facing the broader trade union movement itself. Specifically, how does the labor movement flex its political muscle, in the Democratic Party, at a time when its once sizable influence and numerical heft has significantly dwindled (since the peak of organized labor’s power during the 1950s) in the face of an unfavorable environment where a corporate donor class’ sizable influence has risen in the same party

With membership in the U.S. labor movement at around a paltry 11.1%, among wage and salary workers (as of 2014), the significant aforementioned challenge confronting trade unionism, in light of the severity of its decline, is even more acute than ever. Frankly, the sheer scale of the challenge facing the labor movement is such that there may be no easy, near-term alternatives that can limit the power of the donor class and further increase the political leverage of labor inside the Democratic Party, short of firming up an essential element: increasing union membership.

(Raising union membership increases both the mass-based organizational heft that provides a sizable, influential pool of pro-Democratic voters, in particular among the white working class, and campaign volunteers, as well as beefing up labor’s stream of funds that can be deployed to effectively support pro-labor candidates and policies along with opposing candidates/policies inimical to the interests of the union movement. These essential elements were at the heart of labor’s influence in the Democratic Party, during the 1930s-1960s, that resulted in a vibrant, solidaristic labor liberalism that became the political engine that helped drive the major bread-and-butter, progressive gains of the New Deal, Fair Deal, and Great Society.)

At the moment, there seems to be no effective strategy, in the short-run, to significantly expand union membership. (Many alternatives offered on the table are those meant to stem the tide of decline, defend labor’s hard-fought gains, or expand a social base that can lead to collective action among workers independent of the trade union framework.) In light of this challenging reality, the available practical options that the labor movement can utilize to exert its influence within the Democratic Party and push it to embrace pro-labor and economically progressive policies are severely limited.

On one hand, labor leaders can negotiate hard with elected Democratic officials, in particular presidential candidates, to extract support on key issues of importance to unions in exchange for an endorsement and active campaigning on behalf of the politician. Or they can offer labor’s endorsement early on to a leading Democratic candidate, with no meaningful (or significant) quid pro quo, hoping that if such candidate wins elected office they can help push the politician to embrace a pro-labor and progressive agenda (hopefully, in gratitude of labor’s early support). Now, each option is rife with a tremendous level of risk.

If labor leaders choose the first option they may risk alienating Democratic politicians by bargaining (too) hard with them to extract support on key issues that the latter may be reluctant to endorse—and thus have their access limited (or, in extreme cases, lose full access itself) should those same pols be elected. Of course, if labor leaders choose the second option, there is no guarantee that the politician, once elected, will necessarily be inclined to support labor’s goals as there is no (serious) bargained-for, leveraged quid pro quo behind the union movement’s endorsement of the elected official. At the end of the day, the serious risks posed by both options all potentially lead to an unpalatable situation where labor is either politically locked out in terms of access or its influence diminished that prevents it from influencing the direction of policies from politicians.

In light of all these dynamics, this is why any possible inclination, by SEIU’s top leadership, toward endorsing Hillary Clinton is emblematic of the challenge that the labor movement, at large, faces in trying to leverage political power within the Democratic Party in light of unionism’s diminished influence compared to its previous more influential stature when unions flourished during the postwar years before the rise of Reaganism. As such, as frustrating as it is for many ardent pro-labor liberal supporters of Sanders’ candidacy, they’ll be the first to admit, despite wishing otherwise, that any possible inclination on the part of the SEIU leadership to endorse Hillary Clinton early on, from a pragmatic standpoint, makes sense. (Though, if based on principles alone without attention to practical, political considerations, it would be natural for the SEIU leadership to endorse Sanders whose long, stellar record on labor issues, in particular on neoliberal trade agreements, is unquestionably superior to Clinton.)

At the end of the day, from a practical perspective, the upside to endorsing Clinton early is more weighted in favor of this as opposed to coming out for Sanders. And, equally, the downsides to not endorsing the former secretary of state are more weighted, detrimentally, than as opposed to not supporting the Vermont senator.

Specifically, if the SEIU leadership endorses Clinton, early on, the upside is that the union will have potentially much to gain from having more access (though there is no guarantee) in a Clinton presidency should she win—and thus can help influence labor policies coming from her administration. However, because Sanders has an already stellar record on labor causes (bread-and-butter, lunch pail issues that he deeply cares about on principle) any SEIU endorsement of him would not necessarily add anything, in terms of influence, as he’s already a strong partisan for labor’s agenda.

In sharp contrast, if the SEIU does not endorse Clinton, the union may be shut out of influence altogether, or its access sharply curtailed, as the Clintons are famous for having long memories of those who don’t support them. Now from the standpoint of advancing the cause of labor, being shut out or having access curtailed from a potential Clinton administration is quite serious insofar that it is unknown as to extent of how entrenched third way neoliberalism still is in shaping Clinton’s policy preferences in light of her recent moves to the left during the Democratic primary season. If the critical voice of labor is seriously curtailed in a Clinton administration, there will be no countervailing point of view that can serve as a perspective counterweight to the third way counsels of neoliberalism in her White House. As such, the risk for the cause of labor and progressive economic reform is quite high if labor’s access to a Clinton White House is severely limited. Now, on the flip side, if the SEIU does not endorse the Vermont senator, it would be inconceivable that a staunchly pro-labor Sanders administration—should he win the Democratic presidential nomination on his road to the winning the White House in 2016—would shut out or lessen the access of the union in political retaliation for not supporting him

At the end of the day, this is a choice of between the pragmatic head over the principled heart. A dilemma made even more difficult as Sanders’ record is politically and emotionally in sync with the values of the labor movement than compared to Clinton. While Clinton, during this primary season, has made some important gestures to unions, it is Sanders, however, whose whole heart beats labor. (The paraphrase of an old political saying comes to mind: though Clinton knows the labor words, she cannot hold the labor tune.)

Moreover, because of the benefits of endorsing Hillary Clinton are so weighted above, more and beyond, than the risks posed by not endorsing her (and are even more weighted beyond the benefits of supporting Sanders), the situation, arguably, is functionally a political Hobson’s choice for the SEIU. This cold, practical reality—however discomforting—is something that cannot be ignored.

As such, even for some labor liberals who support Sanders, they cannot help but feel quite sympathetic toward the SEIU hedging its bet and coming out to endorse Hillary Clinton (should it do so). This is especially so in light of the difficult plight that the overall labor movement in general is in, insofar as to how unionism can best navigate the present choppy political waters, in the face of limited options, such that it can leverage political influence to shape labor policies, in the long-run, in a future Democratic administration.

In light of the (very) narrow options confronting the American labor movement, vis-à-vis its present relationship toward the Democratic Party, this situation should be wake up call for the trade union movement and its labor liberal allies to come up with constructive strategies to reverse the tide of dwindling membership in unions among American workers. Beyond the important existential question posed by the reality of the labor movement’s sharply reduced numbers, the dire circumstance facing trade unionism is also a vital question of labor’s ability to wield political influence in the Democratic Party such that it is in parity with, if not superior to, the influence of the corporate donor class that, for far too long, has pushed the party rightward on bread-and-butter economic issues that matter to Main Street.

Without a robust labor movement, with a large social base (derived from mass union membership) that can wield tremendous political influence in the policy conversations, inside the Democratic Party, the liberal cause of real change—rather than safe change—will suffer at the hands of a corporate donor class (wielding unimpeded influence in the party) whose values are inimical to labor. In essence, the cause of meaningful progressive reform and the aspirations of millions of grassroots Democrats who envision the party as being an engine of progress that can push this country toward becoming a just, equal, and prosperous society that benefits the vast many (rather than the narrow few) will be stymied.

Now, with all that said, for those trade unionists and labor liberals who support Sanders’ candidacy and are troubled with the dilemma facing the labor movement in regard to whether it should endorse him or Hillary Clinton, all is not necessarily lost. As vexing as the situation is—and it very much is—for those who believe that Sanders is the authentic candidate of labor who will do more for working people than Clinton, the task at hand is to defy such difficult circumstances that the union movement finds itself in.

Sanders supporters must, more than ever, up their game in out-organizing and out-mobilizing within unions such that they can galvanize a mass movement of labor voters early on in this primary season to convince trade union officials to delay their decision in making any premature endorsements inclined toward Clinton. And building on that, Sanders supporters must organizationally out-hustle the Clinton campaign to convince voters to pull the lever for the Vermont senator in the early primary states such that it can build critical mass and change the political narrative that transforms their candidate from an insurgent to a front-runner that creates a comfortable space that allows the labor movement from not having to make the tough, gut-wrenching choice between its pragmatic head and principled heart when it can have both by endorsing a viable Sanders candidacy. Now, this is not going to be easy—and the odds of successfully pulling it off are seemingly low. But if there’s anything that this unconventional political year has taught us—from the confounding rise of Donald Trump to the surprise left-wing victory of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in the U.K.—victory goes to those who have the steely determination to defy all expectations no matter the odds.


(Photo: SEIU Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo by Derek Blackadder on Flickr licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 2.0 Generic license. Photo used in this article cropped by the post’s author.)

Why Liberalism-as-Snark’s Condescending Sneers Toward Trump Supporters are Woefully Misplaced

Donald Trump (DonkeyHotey)One of the most troubling aspects with some online elements that pass for liberalism or progressivism these days is an attitudinal condescension, at best, or mocking contempt, as worst, toward some supporters of Donald Trump, in particular his working class devotees. (Which also, unfortunately, exposes an off-putting, often times unconscious classicism from some liberals.) It is a tendency this article calls “liberalism-as-snark.”

Now, by and large the progressive critique against Trump has been thoughtfully on point. However, there is, from time to time, a level of condescending smugness toward some of Trump’s followers that generalizes them as nothing more than being a bunch of ignorant yahoos based on some selected polls and focus group studies. (Which are merely snapshots that don’t necessarily capture the totality and nuance of the grievances from Trump supporters.) 

Jodi Dean, a professor in the political science department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, percipiently points out the level of condescension by some liberals toward Trump’s working class followers:

Liberals enjoy their outrage. Here Trump confirms for them their rightness in despising the Republican base, itself only seldom anything other than their own disgust with the working class. As they use Trump as a catalyst for their own good feeling, liberals repeat his practices of contempt in another register. Not only is he a candidate they can enjoy hating but he enables them to extend their hate to all the non-millionaires supporting Trump: they really must be idiots.

Now, the sort of liberal contempt that’s being critiqued here is not those pertaining to the (justifiable) righteous indignation from progressives against the crude, anti-immigrant nativism, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and hyper-demeaning (over-the-top) political bombast expressed by some of Trump’s most impassioned followers. (All of which are fair and reasonable game.)

What is being critiquing here, though, is the sort of liberal ire toward Trump’s followers (in particular the white working class) that makes the following argument: these folks are a bunch of unsophisticated rubes under the spell of “false consciousness” who are voting against their economic interest by supporting a Republican billionaire. However, when one looks deeply at the myriad of reasons for the attraction by a significant number of Americans toward some of Trump’s messages, it is quite otherwise.

In a piece penned by one of the most astute observers of American politics, The Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel, he did an admirable yeoman’s job by actually interviewing Trump supporters, especially working-class denizens, in the Midwest entitled,Why Donald Trump makes sense to many voters—even some Democrats.”

When one gets past the “anti-political correct” messaging, from Trump, that appeals to some of his supporters, what stands out—as Weigel’s article glaringly highlights—is actually an appeal to economic populism. Specifically, it is an economic populism centered around two areas. First, a sharp critique of unfettered neoliberal globalism. Second, an embrace of a pro-manufacturing, “get tough” economic nationalism (that some defenders, of what has been characterized as a neoliberal racket, would dismissively label as “protectionism”) that unites lunch pail liberal Democrats and Clyde Prestowitz-style Reaganites (anti-free trade, pro-fair trade) who both support a robust and smart national industrial policy, i.e., refashioning the American economy away from “making money off of money” (finance capital) to “building things” (export-driven industrial manufacturing). In other words, a policy that is the secret behind Germany’s global economic success. (The Atlantic famously noted a conversation between the heads of state of Germany and Great Britain that highlights how important manufacturing is to the former: “German Chancellor Angela Merkel once was asked by then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair what the secret was of her country’s impressive success. She famously replied, ‘Mr. Blair, we still make things.’ In Germany, manufacturing still dominates finance, not the other way around, as Germany has continued to emphasize manufacturing and exports over the financial industry.” [Italics in original.])

Now, what does this article, here, mean by its assertion regarding the views of some Americans toward economic populism as it relates to their gravitation toward Trump’s message? Well, the basis of the aforementioned point revolves around the unequivocal specificity to what exactly frustrates these Trump followers, especially those from the working class (some of them Democrats), in the Midwest as communicated to Weigel.

In an interview conducted by Weigel, he highlights a conversation with a 65-year-old man walking to a union local, in Flint, established out of the famed “sit-down strike” of the 1930s, UAW Local 598 office:

[Gerald] Woodruff, a sometimes Republican, was impressed by Trump. “I watched the debate,” he said. “Fox singled him out in that opening question. They said they asked hard questions of all the candidates, but they went after him because he’s touching a nerve. If Republicans can capitalize on that, they’ll do pretty good.”

What nerve was he touching, exactly?

“I think it’s wrong for an American business to move their business out of the United States to keep from paying taxes, but keep us as a marketplace,” Woodruff answered. (Emphasis added.)

Now, if an individual read the quote, above, he or she would be forgiven to have reasonably mistaken it for words uttered by any progressive economists, like Joseph Stiglitz, giving a full-throttled, impassioned critique against corporate tax avoidance. (An act that takes the advantage of American markets but avoids the reach of U.S. tax collectors that entails, among other things, moving factories abroad.)

Moreover, Weigel interviews two other individuals drawn to Trump’s campaign whose words sound if they were uttered by progressive populists (emphases added):

“I remember my dad in the late 1970s,” said Holly Gaul, 58. “He was a journeyman electrician. With the things at the time that were going on with GM, he knew his profession was going to be gone. And it was.”

There were jobs, sure, but not the kind people could live on. “Women my age are taking the McDonald’s jobs that the high school kids used to get,” Gaul said. “I’ve been waiting for a stronger president, somebody that I could look up to and respect again. He could stand up to those other countries. It’s wrong when they can build furniture in China and ship it here cheaper than it costs us to build it here.” 

“Back when our economy took a dump, I had to go to Afghanistan,” said Bob Parsons, 51. “I had to work there as a product relations manager, just to build our retirement back up. There were no jobs in Michigan to be had. They’re not fair to what’s coming over, as far as the trade goes. For example, 100,000 cars come over here; 5,000 go over there. I like what he says: If they don’t let us send them there, we don’t take their stuff.” 

Essentially, one of the major political thrusts that’s drawing some Americans to Trump’s campaign is his “get tough” approach to U.S. trade deals overseas. Other than Senator Bernie Sanders, Trump—whatever liberals may think of his core politics (which is justifiably repugnant, to progressives, on so many levels)—is one of the few candidates, in either party, who’s not slavishly accepting the narrative of neoliberal globalism as an economic boon for the many. (Like trade unionists, consumer groups, and the economic populist left, Trump has even come out against President Obama’s neoliberal disaster that is, essentially, the “NAFTA on Steroids”, i.e., the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP].)

(The article, here, should note that while there are much that progressive populists can agree with, in regard to some of Trump’s critiques against unfettered neoliberal globalism, in particular so-called free trade agreements in general [particularly the TPP], it is not the piece’s intention to downplay those aspects of his critiques that some have pointed out as worrisome to say the least. Specifically, those aspects that involve, among others, crude levels of national chauvinism—including nativist ire and not-too-subtle xenophobia directed against undocumented immigrants coming into the U.S. as a result, in part, from their economic displacement arising out of neoliberal globalism itself.)

Now, granted the thrust of Trump’s aforementioned critiques is not as thoroughly developed as those posited by progressive economists critical of untrammeled neoliberal globalism and the regime of so-called free trade agreements. However, it is still a critique: a meaningful one in light of the fact that both Chamber of Commerce Republican conservatives and third way Democratic centrists—who both wield significant influence in each of their respective parties—are still wedded slavishly to the neoliberal free trade consensus of the establishment business, media, and political class in the U.S. Far too many Republicans and Democrats fail to question the consensus because they are unable—or have simply refused—to realize the deep human costs of neoliberalism über alles. How can our elected officials begin to solve this problem when they see no problem to begin with?

In sharp contrast, significant segments of the electorate, in their gut, viscerally understand the human costs arising out of the regime of neoliberal free trade fundamentalism as their lived experiences—whether because they themselves or people they know have lost their jobs when the factories they worked at shuttered before moving abroad to more favorable, low-wage economic climates of Southeast Asia and Central America. These free trade deals have all too clearly shown working Americans the abject failures of an insatiable neoliberalism that seeks to commodify and discard everything in its path in its narrow, amoral pursuit of shareholder maximization.

Why is this point important? Because as these quotes, highlighted by Weigel, show is that some of Trump’s supporters—or, at least, those drawn to parts of his message—display motivations that are rational, economic self-interested ones.

As such, one cannot simply argue that the support for Trump is entirely based on some alleged “false consciousness” of people supporting a billionaire candidate who’s altogether completely inimical to their economic interests. At the end of the day, they’re making a rational choice in regard to their interests that’s no different than pro-environmentalists supporting anti-Keystone Pipeline progressive Democrats or social conservatives supporting pro-life right-wing Republicans.

And here’s the kicker—these supporters of Trump, especially working-class devotees, believe he’ll represent their economic concerns, in particular on issues of free trade and the economic dislocating effects of untrammeled neoliberal globalism. Why? Because he is a billionaire (not in spite of it).

Continuing with Weigel’s piece, his interviews highlight the point above:

[Bob] Parsons’s wife, Brenda, who’d been nodding her head, interjected to explain why she trusted Trump.

“He’s a businessman,” she said. “Being a businessman, he knows the ways around. I don’t think he’d go to Congress and ask. I think he’d just do it.”

Bob Parsons explained that Trump could ignore lobbyists. It was lobbyists, hungry to sell out America for a buck, who weakened the trade deals, he said.

In other words, since Trump is a billionaire himself, he will be immune—in the eyes of some of his supporters—to the corrupting influence of America’s affluent donor class and its army of K Street lobbyists that heavily skew economic and public policy choices toward a strong pro-corporate and pro-wealthy bias (as the latest scholarly studies have demonstrated). The implicit logic behind their expectations is that because he is part of the affluent donor class, Trump, more than anyone else in this primary election cycle, acutely understands how the system is rigged and where the trapped doors lie, and thus can be more effective in navigating through the maze of Washington drenched with special interest money.

Essentially, the above logic, is similar to the rationale behind President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s appointment of Wall St. swashbuckler, Joseph P. Kennedy, to head the then-newly established New Deal regulatory agency overseeing finance, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). (Who better to guard the henhouse than the fox who was once engaged in the activities the agency, overseeing finance, is now sworn to regulate.) A better historical precedence was the public credibility-driven gravitas accorded to two New York scions of inherited wealth, Teddy Roosevelt and FDR, in their forceful campaigns against, respectively, the “malefactors of great wealth” and the “economic of royalists.”

Although one can make a reasonable case that these supporters’ expectations that Trump will avoid the powerful influence of America’s donor class and K Street lobbyists are thoroughly misplaced, what cannot be denied is that many of them acknowledge the salient dangers posed by the “donor-ocracy” that pervades the Beltway. In other words, like liberals and progressives, these Trump supporters have astutely diagnosed the cancer to our small-d democratic process that impacts public policy choices: the scourge of money in politics—and, on a deeper-level, the asymmetry of power relations in our polity between the powerful and ordinary citizenry that prioritizes the interests of the former at the expense of the latter.

The clarity of such diagnosis is emphatically highlighted, quite saliently, by one Trump supporter who wrote to The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf in explaining that person’s support for Trump. The individual wrote:

[Trump] has brought to life the silent majority, who have quietly fumed about the corruption that runs rampant in our government. Our government merrily believes they have pulled the wool over our eyes to the atrocities they routinely commit. Trump has taken these atrocities Mainstream! He daily reminds all the crooked politicians that they have been bought and paid for! The People knew it before, but Trump is reminding us that it is NOT acceptable! It is NOT wrong that Trump has given money to these people to do his bidding, it IS WRONG that these people took his money and DID his bidding! We get that Trump gave them money for a few little building permits––but what do the Koch Bros, George Soros and especially the drug and insurance companies need to give them money for? (Caps in original, boldface added.)

Regarding the stranglehold of the donor class over America’s system of government—and the resulting scourge of pay-to-play politics—a significant number of Trump followers get it as the above quote emphatically shows. They, like liberals and progressives, see this rot of money in politics that makes our democracy seem nothing more than a sham bought and sold to the highest bidder. As such, to those on the left and center-left who mock Trump’s followers, perhaps that they should get off their self-righteous hobby-horses and, perhaps, maybe do something more constructive—say, joining up with Trump devotees in organizing a movement to get money out of politics.

Additionally, what should be a warning to all Democratic aspirants to the Oval Office, this primary season, is that there’s another potent dynamic that’s fueling Trump’s confounding lead in the polls. It is a dynamic that former White House counselor and contributing writer at Salon, Bill Curry, points out in his recent post:

A key issue in this race is the integrity, accountability and efficiency of government. Republicans talk more and more about it, Democrats hardly at all. In case you didn’t notice, the fallen state of politics and government is what Trump talks about most; that he does so vividly and bluntly is a big part of what some must consider his charm.

Unpacking what Curry highlights in his article is something that isn’t as easily polled: the deep public hunger for an effective government that not only can diagnose, correctly, the concerns and issues that matter most to the electorate, but also possesses the firm will for robust action to meaningful fix the array of problems that the voters are worried about. As such, when one gets past the meaningless sloganeering, a key issue that concerns a vast number of Americans isn’t necessarily over the size of government (“big government” vs. “small government”) but rather which side is government on—and, relatedly, whether government has the firm will to effectively act to fix the vast problems that plague voters’ minds.

For Democrats running in the presidential primary season—belonging to the historic party of government activism—the aforementioned dynamic that Curry highlights should, again, be of tremendous concern to them. If they are to garner a winning majority in the fall 2016 elections, they need to craft policies that show not only do they understand the issues that very much concern Americans, but they must forcefully show that they have the will to actually do something about it.

Mere lofty campaign rhetoric, elaborate political manifestos, and technocratic hedging will not simply cut it anymore in today’s volatile political environment. It is a volatility marked by palatable sense of frustration, among Americans, who view their system of government as broken, in a near-irredeemable fashion, and bought off by elite special interests in which the great public challenges of our time are met with bumbling incompetence, cold indifference, or (more) broken promises from our elected leaders.

As such, this explains, in part, the energy behind the deep level of impassioned support for Trump during this year’s Republican presidential primary season. For Trump’s supporters, they view him as nothing less than a decisive “man of action” who will get things done, without concern for polite protocol or for the demands from the establishment class, within or outside of the GOP. Because Trump is perceived, among his followers, as a no-nonsense, no fuss, can-do businessman—who gets down to brass tacks—the problems that concern them, in their eyes, have a better chance of actually being fixed under a Trump presidency than by any other GOP aspirant to the Oval Office.

Now, this energy is similarly playing itself out on the Democratic side where Bernie Sanders, this summer, has caught off guard much of the commentariat, with his surprisingly strong traction among Democrats in this year’s primary season. When people unpack the specifics of the head-to-head poll numbers between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, what they discover is a commanding advantage that the Vermont senator has over the former secretary of state on the issue of honesty that serves to only highlight the weak numbers of Clinton on the issue of trustworthiness. The writer, H.A. Goodman, highlights this finding in the Huffington Post:

Honesty and a genuine value system are the primary reasons Bernie Sanders is gaining in the polls and the primary reason people of all backgrounds will choose him over Clinton or any GOP nominee in 2016. These traits are the reasons polls are ever-changing, since there’s no poll that asks, “What’s in the heart of your future president?” Since adherence to principle is a novelty in this day and age, Bernie Sanders reminds voters of an ideal. It’s this ideal that will enable Sanders to surge past Clinton and towards the Democratic nomination. It will also help him win the White House, since Bush and other Republicans must still answer tough questions about Iraq, Wall Street, and income inequality.

In light of this, why should honesty and a genuine value system be crucial factors behind the Sanders surge? As suggested in the Huffington Post post above, it’s because in an age where the electorate is accustomed to political U-turns and politicians shamelessly pandering to them with empty promises that are never are kept, honesty and a genuine value system do matter.

Moreover, the American public hungers for conviction politicians who say what they mean, and mean what they say. As such, in today’s volatile political environment, voters have a short patience for pols with a penchant for an elasticity of political principles where promises are easily up for cheap discarding.

(A perfect example of this occurred during the last contested Democratic primary cycle, in 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama made a memorable promise to American workers that he would renegotiate NAFTA. Well, after almost a full two-terms in the Oval Office, President Obama has yet to renegotiate the trade deal despite his rhetoric in 2008. In fact, he announced, way back in 2009, that he had no plans to reopen NAFTA talks at all. Moreover, to add insult to injury to the millions of labor supporters of the President, he is currently pushing hard for Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The stunning lack of follow-through by this Democratic president is quite a vivid understatement.)

Now, with that said, the issues of honesty and principles are also much deeper than just character. What they also go to is the issue, again, of “action.” If a politician says what he or she means, and means what he or she says, there’s more of a likelihood that he or she will act on commitments and policy proposals introduced during a campaign.

Among voters in the Democratic primary, just like among Trump followers in the GOP race, the issue of “action” is central, if not more so. After witnessing, Democratic candidates for president, at each electoral cycle for the past 40 years or so (beginning with Jimmy Carter), campaign on the populist left, yet govern on the technocratic center-right (in particular, on economic issues), many grassroots liberal Democrats are at their breaking point right now: call it the “pandering fatigue syndrome over the trail of broken progressive promises.” In other words, to channel the spirit to Fannie Lou Hamer‘s most memorable words, they’re “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Thus, this frustration felt by a significant number of progressive Democrats explains the energy behind the Sanders insurgency—and the steady rise of his poll numbers in the Democratic primary campaign this summer.

Among Democrats right now (in particular, progressives) there’s a stirring appetite for a certain kind of substantive politics. It is a politics that actually does something—and stands for something—after years of ultimately barren politics that either luxuriated itself in soaring, yet empty rhetoric or engaged in safe, triangulating contrivances that lacked the clarity of vision, the force of courage, the firmness of conviction, and the energy of moral purpose.

In essence, for a significant number of Democratic voters there is a hunger, out there, for not only a politics that means something, but one that will actually do something to fix the array of challenges facing America. For many Democrats, the critical issue more than ever, during 2015 and the presidential election cycle next year, is not just whether a candidate will be a bold advocate for robust progressive policies but also whether he or she will be a fighter, with the will to act, that will fight until such policies are enacted. The calculated politics of capitulating centrism is over. And the moment of populist “action liberalism” has arrived.

As such, this is why liberals and progressives, more than anyone else, should understand the animating drive galvanizing Trump supporters. To Trump’s adoring legions of followers he represents one thing more than anything else: he’s a man of action, a doer, a person with the will to get things done.

However liberals and progressives may disagree with Trump on a whole range of issues—such as, glaringly, the issue of immigration reform and the treatment of undocumented immigrants—they should, again, more than anyone else, understand his appeal while still reject the reactionary aspects of Trumpism.

After many decades of having to endure a cheapened, capitulating politics of centrist third way triangulation and cold, technocratic neoliberalism—where Democratic politicians campaigned on the left of “Putting People First,” but governed on the right by slavishly embracing neoliberal free trade deals that “put people last”—progressives and liberals should understand the potent hunger, among a significant number of those on the political right, who embrace Trump and see him as a tribune for their concerns who will “get things done” and “fight for them.”

Yes, Trump embodies much of everything that is inimical to progressive values. However, his presence in the political arena, is a sharp reminder to liberals in what they long for: a fighting progressive with a clarity of principles and a creed of bold action that advances liberalism by rejecting the empty politics of capitulation. For many of these frustrated liberals they have already found that progressive: Bernie Sanders.


(Image: Caricature of Donald Trump by DonkeyHotey on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic License. From DonkeyHotey: “The source image for this caricature is a Creative Commons licensed images from Gage Skidmore’s flickr photostream and smilygrl’s flickr photostream.”)