President Donald J. Trump just gave a great exit for Nancy Pelosi’s feud with the mediagenic “Squad” of four progressive congresswomen. When things are not going well, distract from the failures of Sunday’s deportation raids, the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, immigration detention camps, and a looming war with Iran. Making controversial statements have been a Trump Organization tactic since at least the 1980s (see: Netflix’s Trump American Dream) long before Twitter and cable news. Like the credible fools they are, the media and political classes swallowed the mincemeat whole.
After the president’s outrageous comments that Congresswomen Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley should “go back” to the countries they are from, Speaker Nancy Pelosi swooped in to make a House resolution. In a party-line vote, the House of Representatives has called these statements racist with only a few Republican votes (ignoring House rules that forbid condemning anyone as a racist). Commonly mistaken as an actual action, resolutions mean nothing and do absolutely nothing. I call it a congressional tweet with a roll-call vote.
Speaker Pelosi can thank President Trump for papering over differences within the party to create fake Democratic unity. This contrasts to the controversy over the funding for the immigration detention camps which led her to rely on Republicans to pass the bill while a hundred Democrats voted against it. Are we a big single Democratic family now?
Actually, no. This unity will not and should not last.
Next Steps for The Squad
In my last post, I wrote that the controversy has nothing to do with the “Squad” being women of color, and if anything, that bought them a few months of relief before the DNC establishment went on the offensive. Any man would have been labeled sexist to oppose Pelosi at the start. The Squad’s sin is to open up the congressional process to the public with social media, work hard at congressional duties, and avoid the fundraising circuit using small donors. Others may have been doing similar things for longer, but somehow these four deservedly or undeservedly got all the credit and attention.
The Squad has to move to institutionalize their role in the party. They can create a sort of left-wing Freedom Caucus, the way that the Tea Party did in Congress. Call it the Justice Democrats or the Working Families Caucus for example. It cannot be the Progressive Caucus because it already exists and has rolled over many, many times when centrist Democratic leadership told it to shut up. The caucus needs inclusion and exclusion criteria to join: no corporate money, no SuperPACs, transparent and accessible voting records online, commitment to Medicare for All, and commitment to reform and democratize the Democratic Party and its institutions. I would even suggest a refusal to take campaign money from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Committee to show their complete independence from the party structure and its corrupt fundraising. Parallel fundraising and campaigning apparatus have to be developed with grassroots money. New insurgent candidates have no support currently as the Democratic Party has resolved to cut contracts to any election consulting firm that supports a primary challenger (to prevent any new Ocasio-Cortez from being elected). Members of Congress who join the caucus who do not follow the rules should be able to be expelled to promote loyalty to the cause and not just branding.
This caucus can be used to develop a coherent worldview that will allow voters to vote for the kind of policies they want. This caucus will form a party within a party much like the Tea Party label did for the Republicans. Unlike the Republicans, this caucus will eventually become the embryo for a new progressive, working-class party. Eventually, the right of the party will either expel the progressives or leave the party just the way the Right left the British Labour Party in 1981 and again in 2019.
Why should the Squad go on the offense? Because even before Trump’s tweets, the knives were out. Justice Democrats, which recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wants to target conservative or corporate Democrats in safe seats. AOC’s chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti was part of this and is being smeared for wearing a shirt of Indian independence hero Subash Chandra Bose (a smear so transparently idiotic I will not even dignify repeating it). Further proving my point that claims of racism and sexism may only be made by the Democratic elites against the left and right, the House Democrats official Twitter account attacked Chakrabarti for criticizing moderate Sharice Davids (D-KS) for funding immigration camps without human rights protections. Per usual, he was labeled sexist for criticizing this Native American woman.
Identity politics does not and will not work, and the Squad better avoid it. The next time they call Nancy Pelosi sexist or racist, she will roll out the corporate-funded Congressional Black Caucus and its lobbyists to defend her. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar want to survive, they have to double down and institutionalize their challenge.