US elections: “This is going to go down as a pivotal election American history”

With only days to go before the penultimate primary elections in the US, Amy Gilligan spoke to California based journalist, writer and activist Adam Hudson

Photo via wikimedia commons

Photo via wikimedia commons

How do you think that Sanders will do this week in the California primary?

Sanders has a decent shot of winning California, but it’s still up in the air. His shot of winning California is better than New York, mainly because New York has such really corrupt voting rules. For example if you want to register to vote in the Democratic primary you have to register 6 months in advance, whereas in California we don’t have that. We have to register around a month in advance, and they do let independents vote. The California Democratic primary is a semi open primary, so independents like myself are allowed to vote. And Sanders polls very well with independents, way better than Hillary Clinton. So Sanders will probably pick up a good deal of those independents, and that could swing his numbers. But mathematically Sanders has to crush in California – he has to win big. He can’t just win by a couple of points – it has to be 75-25 for him to be able to clinch the convention.

California is also a very ethnically diverse state. It’s really huge, the biggest state in the country with around 30 million people. It’s a predominantly non-white state, where white Americans are less than 50% of the state’s population – most states aren’t like that. Sanders hasn’t been doing too well with a lot of non-white voters, particularly blacks and latinos. He’s been doing very well with Arabs and Muslims, which makes sense because he’s not a huge hawk like Hillary Clinton, but when it comes to black and latino communities he hasn’t been dong as well. Sanders could be doing a better job speaking directly to those communities, but there’s also a lot stacked against him because since the 1990s the Clinton family have made very cynical close ties to the black community.

What kind of ties are these? Are they across the whole of the black community?

In the 1990s there were some black people who benefited to some extent from Clinton’s policies, but they’re usually upper middle class black people. Mostly in the 1990s it was pretty fucked up for working class or poor black people, particularly when it came to welfare reform, the 1994 crime bill, and the war on drugs, that kind of stuff. Black millenials have been very critical of Clinton, black people in my age group – most black Americans from 18-40 – most of us are not feeling Clinton. I can see that there is a generational divide. So I think that’s another key thing too.

A lot of black people who tend to be pro-Clinton they tend to usually be over the age of 40 and they tend to have a little more nostalgia over the 1990s. Younger black voters, black millenials, have been galvanised by the Black Lives Matter movement. You look at a lot of the people who’ve been challenging the Clintons, both Hillary and Bill, they’ve been black lives matter activists. I think it’s a generational divide, however older black voters do tend to vote more than young people, particularly in the south.

Do you think the current primary race has exposed that the odds are stacked against people who aren’t part of the establishment?

I totally think it has. But Sanders has already accomplished two things. One he has shown you can run a pretty successful campaign without a bunch of money from big super PACS and donors and corporations. The Sanders movement is a pretty genuine grassroots insurgency. He’s also shown how corrupt and terrible the Democratic Party system is. There are the super delegates in the democratic primaries that the republicans don’t have. The super delegates usually side with the establishment’s preferred political camp. So in this case it is Hillary Clinton. Her super delegate count compared to Sanders’ is around 50-1 – it’s huge. In the normal delegate count they’re not that different – they’re fairly neck and neck. But it’s with the super delegate count that Clinton just nails it. If anything this election just shows how undemocratic the Democratic nomination process is.

I think Democratic Party underestimates the degree of popular support for Bernie Sanders. The mechanisms of the Democratic Party are working against him, and I think that’s why he lost New York. I think if the rules were designed differently he could have had a better shot of winning New York, either closed the margin or beat Hilary by a fair margin. I think this election has really shown how fucked up the Democratic Party is a party.

On top of that, I think it’s exposed some really clear lines between establishment, centrist, neoliberal Democrats, who are basically the heads of the party or pundits who write about that viewpoint from a favourable perspective, and people who are generally very progressive and left of centre, who in a European context might be considered typical social democrats or potential Green party voters. And I think it’s putting the Democratic Party as a party in disarray, almost as much disarray as the Republican Party. Because the Republican Party at this point is just collapsing under its own weight – there are Republicans saying they’re going to vote for Hillary over Trump. They don’t even have a party even more.

Sanders voters are not going anywhere as far as I can tell, even after the convention. I think Sanders voters hate Clinton more than Clinton voters dislike Sanders – for legitimate reasons. It’s going to be tough for Sanders, but there have been a number of things in this election that make things so unpredictable. It makes this election really historic – I think this election is really going to go down in history books as one of those really pivotal elections in American history.

Before this election I didn’t quite appreciate that the Democrats and Republicans as parties don’t work in the same way as they do in Europe, for example in not having a membership structure. It seems almost as if there are red and blue teams and that it doesn’t really matter about the politics of it so much.

The best way to think about the American two party system is that they are two coalitions basically. The Republican coalition is this weird alliance between predominantly white men who were very, very, pro-business, pro-capitalist, who tend to be a bit more hawkish when it comes to foreign policy. So Reganites, neocons, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush etc – I think believed in all that shit – the Bush doctrine, the War on Terror – as crazy and fucked up as it was. There’s a pure ideology there. So you have those guys and they made an alliance with former members of the Democratic Party, who were members when it was a white supremacy party, pro-slavery, pro-segregation. Nixon had this strategy of picking up those voters when the Democratic president signed the civil rights act and dismantled segregation. And since the 1980s they’ve recruited more on the extremely conservative religious right. So the Republican coalition has always been a hodge-podge between those groups.

And on the Democratic side the factions are basically people usually women and people of colour – typically blacks and latinos, LGBT people as well and then people who are less pro-business and more in favour of government and state intervention in the economy, who think the government should be in the economy to generate jobs etc, not sign pro-business trade deals, stand up for the working class. The Democrats have usually had this coalition of working class people, people of colour, LBGT people, women, maybe younger voters who tend to be more liberal, and even some professionals who tend to be liberal leaning.

But these are really coalition parties. You don’t really have ideologies with the Democrats and Republicans in the way that you have central ideologies like you have with the Tories, Labour, Greens, where there’s something separate to the personalities involved.

Do you think now, because of the fracturing of the democrats and republicans, the two party system could be broken?

Definitely. I really think that the Republican Party doesn’t really exist any more as a party – it exists in name only, with Trump winning. Democrats are in trouble too, although they’re in denial about it.

Since the 1990s there has been the idea that the way for the Democrats to be relevant is to triangulate – make some deals on the right, while thinking left and being like “we’re Democrats, but we can still be pro-business”. We can still be in with wall St. The Clintons are the family avatar of that ideology. They represent that ideology fully. So for me personally why I hate the Clintons is that they personally represent that thinking, more so than any political family. In the 1990s Bill Clinton would court the black vote, but during his 1992 election campaign he went to see a mentally ill black man, Ricky Ray, get executed. This was a man who when they gave him his last meal during the execution he was like “oh I’ll just save it for later”. He was so mentally damaged that he didn’t realise he was being executed. But Bill Clinton, to show how tough on crime he was, sat on the front row to watch his execution. And Hillary is just the same.

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