By Senator Bernie Sanders/ Politico/ November 10, 2017
It’s time we come together to enact real reform — only then can we defeat Donald Trump and retake the country.
Donald Trump’s presidency represents an unprecedented crisis for our country. His campaign, and now his White House, seek to divide us using racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and xenophobia. His economic agenda is the agenda of the billionaire class. He wants more tax breaks for the rich, while cutting education, nutrition, affordable housing and other programs desperately needed by working families. And his refusal to acknowledge the great danger of climate change is a threat to the entire planet.
There is nothing, nothing more important than defeating Donald Trump and his extreme right-wing agenda. But this will not happen without an effective opposition party.
Victories in Virginia, New Jersey, Washington, Maine and other states around the country on Tuesday are an important first step in pushing back against Trump’s radical agenda. It was especially gratifying to see thousands of working people and young people jump into the political process, volunteering, knocking on doors and winning elections to state legislatures, city councils and school boards. But the longer-term trend for the Democratic Party is worrisome.
Since 2009, it has lost more than 1,000 seats in state legislatures across the country. Republicans now control the White House and 34 (soon to be 33) out of 50 governorships, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
In 26 states, Republicans control the governor’s mansion along with the entirety of the state legislature. This is not just in so-called deep red states. It is true in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida and New Hampshire, all of which will be critical to defeating Trump in 2020, and in drawing congressional districts following that year’s Census.
What is especially absurd about this situation is that the American people strongly oppose almost all elements of the Trump-Republican agenda. Fewer than one-third of Americans support the Trump and Republican tax cuts for the wealthy, and just 12 percent supported their plan to throw tens of millions of people off of their health care. The majority of Americans understand that climate change is real.
Donna Brazile’s recent book makes it abundantly clear how important it is to bring fundamental reforms to the Democratic Party. The party cannot remain an institution largely dominated by the wealthy and inside-the-Beltway consultants. It must open its doors and welcome into its ranks millions of working people and young people who desperately want to be involved in determining the future of our nation.
Last year, Secretary Hillary Clinton and I agreed upon the need for a Unity Reform Commission to move the party in a new and more democratic direction. In a few weeks, this group will have its final meeting in Washington, D.C., and will decide if we are going to move forward in an inclusive way or continue with the current failed approach.
This is not some abstract, insular debate. The future of Democratic Party institutions has everything to do with whether or not Democrats have the grass-roots energy to effectively take on Trump, the Republican Party and their reactionary agenda — or whether we remain in the minority.
What are some of the reforms that are desperately needed?
First, it is absurd that the Democratic Party now gives over 700 superdelegates — almost one-third the number a presidential candidate needs to win the nomination — the power to control the nominating process and ignore the will of voters.
Second, in contrast to Republicans, Democrats believe in making voting easier, not harder. We believe in universal and same-day voter registration and ending antiquated, arbitrary and discriminatory voter registration laws. These same principles must apply to our primaries. Our job must be to reach out to independents and to young people and bring them into the Democratic Party process. Independent voters are critical to general election victories. Locking them out of primaries is a pathway to failure.
In that regard, it is absurd that New Yorkers must change their party registration six months before the Democratic primary in order to participate. Other states have similar, if not as onerous provisions.
Third, in states that use caucuses, we must make it easier for working people and students to participate. While there is much to be said for bringing people together, face to face to discuss why they support the candidate of their choice, not everybody is able to participate because of work, child care or other obligations. A process must be developed that gives everyone the right to cast a vote even if they are not physically able to attend a caucus.
Finally, if we are to succeed, we must fully appreciate Brazile’s revelations and understand the need for far more transparency in the financial and policy workings of the Democratic Party. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow in and out of the Democratic National Committee with little to no accountability. That simply is not acceptable.
At a time when we have a Republican president and Republican Party whose leadership and agenda are strongly opposed by the American people, now is the time for real change. It is critical that we come together and reform the Democratic Party. When we do that, we will win local, state and national elections and transform our country.
Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate’s Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) committees.