How the Post-2016 Democrats Became a Center-Right Party

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Since Bernie Sanders presidential run in 2016 and Donald Trump’s election later that year, there has been a wishful narrative in the air that the Democrats are moving to the left. Sometimes this narrative is wielded against Sanders, as in the New Statement: Bernie has pushed the Democrats to left, but now it's time for someone else to take the lead. Obama, speaking in late 2019 in a not so subtle allusion to Sanders, warned Democrats against going too far left.

Now that Sanders is out of the race and Joe Biden is the nominee, that narrative has passed onto Biden. From the Hill: “Democratic political consultant Andrew Feldman said if Democrats gain control of Congress and the White House in November, it could lead to a New Deal era of progressive policies.” From New York Books: “Biden’s Journey Left.”

In reality, the Democrats have been moving steadily to the right since the 1990s, and the post-2016 Democrats have completed the rightward turn. America now has two center-right parties that signal their difference via the culture wars, with the Democrats supporting the “left” called cultural liberalism and the Republicans supporting the “right” called social conservatism. On the bread-and-butter economic issues that matter, Republicans and the new Democratic coalition are largely in agreement. More for the rich, none for the poor.

The new Democratic coalition depends on big tech and finance elites, wealthy suburbanites, educated urbanites and ignores the interests of working-class African Americans and the very poor of all colors. The Democrats are the party of the rich, meaning a run at the nomination was an uphill battle for a Democratic Socialist like Bernie Sanders. The new Democrat coalition’s political leadership is composed of three senior partners and a fourth junior partner.

1. Neoconservatives and Never Trump Republicans.

2. Neoliberal Democrats

  • The neoliberals have welcomed the neoconservative refugees into the Democratic fold with open arms. The ensuing neoconservative-neoliberal fusion resulted in the pushed conspiracy theory and ongoing soap opera, Russiagate.

  • In the midst of the COVID recession a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans came together and demonstrated neoliberal-neoconservative solidarity by demanding commissions to cut Social Security and Medicare.

3. The Congressional Black Caucus

  • The Congressional Black Caucus led by James Clyburn attacked Sanders’ program in 2016 and 2020, a program that would disproportionately help black people. The Congressional Black Caucus was offended by direct appeals to African-American interests. “Such appeals are "irresponsible" not only because they encourage black people to aspire beyond the constraints of neoliberal hegemony but also because those appeals disregard the brokerage role of the black political class and political-managerial class opinion shapers.”

4. Progressives

  • As the junior partner, progressives do not have the same kind of hard power and raw capital that neocons, neoliberals, or the CBC has access to. Instead, the progressive faction has nigh unlimited soft power and cultural capital, with backing in finance, tech, academia, mass media, NGOs, and nonprofits. Progressives serve as the moral laundromat of the Democratic party. As the Democrats slide to the right, Progressive movements and marketing make it seem like the Democrats are moving left.

Neoconservative ‘Never Trump’ Republicans

‘Never Trump’ former Republicans have joined the Democratic Party and now hold outsized influence. Anti-Trump conservatives are completely overrepresented in elite liberal media. MSNBC has former Republican Joe Scarborough and Nicolle Wallace, former communications director for George W. Bush. David Frum, the author of Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, has found a comfortable home in the Democrats and at the liberal publication The Atlantic. George W. Bush, an indisputably worse president than Donald Trump, has been rehabilitated by the liberal establishment and can be spotted on #resistance newsfeeds passing candy to Michelle Obama.

Democrats have done their best to cozy up to the neoconservatives and Never Trump Republicans who have swelled their ranks since Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 and promised that sizable bloc of Republicans who will join with Democrats to challenge Trump so long as Democrats don’t move too far ideologically to the left

The Clintonian policy institute, Center for American Progress (CAP), now regularly joins with the leading neoconservative NGO, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to write policy briefs on how “transatlantic populism” is harming the EU and NATO and emboldening Vladimir Putin.

Former CIA Director John Brennan was hired at MSNBC and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper hired at CNN to push the Russiagate conspiracy. The neoconservative ethos sees politics as a Manichean battle between liberal democracy and creeping totalitarianism. In the cold war, the enemy was communism, in the war on terror, the enemy was Islamofascism, and today the enemy is Trumpism, in the form of Russians, Nazis, and populists like Sanders.

Anti-Trump hysteria cleared the way for an easy merger of the neoconservative never-Trump Republicans with the neoliberal Democrats, as well as their mutual embrace of the military-intelligence apparatus. The neoconservative-neoliberal fusion delivered major victories in the 2018 midterms when suburban never Trump voters swung to the Democrats.

Neoliberal Democrats

One-third (8 of 24) of Republican unseated by Democrats were unseated by former military, CIA, or national security officials. Including Democrats who did not flip Republican districts, a total of 11 Democrats with military or intelligence backgrounds won congressional seats. The CIA Squad dwarfs the three-member Sanders Squad of Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Talib by a ratio of almost 4 to 1.

In addition to the startling influx of spooks into the Democratic Party, the 2018 Midterms saw the Democrats become the party of the rich. The Democrats now control the 10 wealthiest congressional districts and 41 of the top 50 wealthiest congressional districts in the United States. Democrats also control some of the poorest districts, but it is obvious whose interests the new Democrat coalition caters to.

The alliance with the neocons in 2017 over Russiagate, along with the 2018 election of CIA Democrats saw the vindication of Senate Minority Leader Schumer’s remark, “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia.” This strategy faltered in 2016 with Hillary’s loss, but two years of Russia baiting, proved successful when frightened wealthy suburbanites turned out in droves for the Democratic Party, including many former Republicans.

The Democrat’s neoconservative-neoliberal idealogues built their anti-Trump crusade on a bedrock of Cold War-era thinking, telling tall tales of dangerous demagogues, the threat of foreign subversion, accusations of corruption that conveniently obscured the Democrat’s own corruption. And it worked. The Democrat’s trust in mass media soared after Trump’s election- if only because Democrats were so repulsed by Trump’s accusation that media is “fake news” that liberals put their unwavering faith in their propagandistic tabloids just to spite Trump.

Bernie 2016 was bolstered by the fact that America had just spent 8 years under Obama’s innocuous hope and change. Hope and change didn’t do enough, there was an appetite, albeit a minority appetite, for revolutionary change.

After four years of Trump, the American political appetite changed drastically. “You can’t spend four years frantically warning voters that the country has been overrun by a “literal fascist”- who is both conspiring with the Kremlin and presiding over a network of “literal concentration camps”- and then blame them when they have no appetite for challenging the vested interests of the Democratic Party. Voters' priority, thanks to the propaganda onslaught in which the Left enthusiastically participated, may have been finding the “safest” candidate to remove Trump as quickly and painlessly as possible.

If the media spends four years telling you that the house is on fire, you want to put the fire out first, and go back to normal. After 4 years of mass media propaganda, Sanders’ revolutionary change looked like a continuation of Trumpian unrest- the only way to put out the fire is to go back to Obama's hope and change.

Enter Pete Buttigieg in Iowa and New Hampshire, whose folksy throwback to Obamaisms cut into Sanders victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, particularly in rural counties. Then the cavalry came riding in to relieve Buttigieg with Joe Biden’s resounding victory in South Carolina. Almost overnight, Biden became the head of the new Democratic coalition, an American first responder, here to put out the fire, bring the country together and restore the soul of the nation.

Congressional Black Caucus

In the wake of the Civil Rights Act, and under the pressure of the 1970’s financial crisis, African American political leadership in cities and Congress opted for incrementalism and conformism within the Democratic Party as the party drifted from a Keynesian economic program in the 1970s to a neoliberal austerity economic program in the 1990s. The Congressional Black Caucus and African-American political leadership more broadly have remained in lockstep with the Democratic establishment ever since.

Regardless of their regressive and right-wing policies, the Congressional Black Caucus retains the loyalty of their African-American constituents. The current leader of the Congressional Black Caucus and third most powerful Democrat on the Hill, Jim Clyburn, endorsed Joe Biden ahead of the South Carolina Primary. 61 percent of SC voters said Clyburn’s endorsement was an important factor in their vote, and 27 percent said it was the most important factor. Biden won in a landslide.

Sanders doesn’t have a problem with African-American voters, he has a problem with the Democratic establishment. Adolph Reed Jr., on Biden’s South Carolina win: “Since 2016 the black punditry has converged around a narrative that Sanders has difficulty appealing to black voters even as polls have shown repeatedly that Sander’s program is more popular among black Americans than any other group…. The black political class uses the status of "representing" black people to accrue benefits for themselves and elite strata among black Americans.”

The class dynamic of black politics is playing out today with the Black Lives Matter protests over the death of George Floyd. The vast majority of George Floyd protests of racialized police violence occurred in cities overseen by Democratic mayors, in Democratic states. One does not need to ferret through the legacy of systemic racism past to find the source of our modern punitive justice system.

Mass incarceration and stress policing emerged as strategies of dealing with and containing poverty engendered by neoliberal austerity. Neoliberal austerity is the source of our particular justice system, not primordial notions of systemic racism. It was the Congressional Black Caucus and African American political leadership nationwide which joined with Democrats and Republicans in the late twentieth century to implement neoliberal austerity. When this resulted in a rise of poverty and crime, the post-Civil Rights Democrats managed that immiseration with the twin strategies of mass incarceration and stress policing, which in turn, target African-Americans disproportionately.

“What might have been the focal point of critical discussion of police violence all along, that it is the product of an approach to policing that emerges from an imperative to contain and suppress the pockets of economically marginal and sub-employed working-class populations produced by revanchist capitalism.”

So over-policing's goal is to suppress those impoverished by the revanchist capitalism of neoliberal austerity, regardless of race, though some races are of course, targeted disproportionately. Black Lives Matter, by describing policing as a racial issue, seeks to treat the symptom, not the disease. Do I believe black lives matter? Absolutely. Do I want fewer people to be killed by police every year? You bet. Do I wish for people to live with less poverty, more dignity, and more opportunity? Of course. Will black lives matter and the slogan ‘defund the police’ accomplish any of the above? No.

Defunding the police is a narrow-minded reform. It seeks to apply austerity measures and drastic cuts to the police budget just as austerity is already applied to the rest of the city budget, an eye for an eye. The progressive embrace of austerity measures as a solution for local government is a dangerous development, that again treats the symptom with a narrow constituency (African Americans and their allies) and ignores the disease which can only be beaten with a large constituency (Poor and working-class African Americans, the poor and working-class of all races, and their allies).

"Activists point to the high police budget as evidence the money could be spread around better. “Instead of demanding that the federal government tax the wealthy and their corporations to fund public goods and eliminate joblessness, activists seem to believe that city governments have no choice but to rob Peter to pay Paul. Though if we took the $150 million Los Angeles recently cut from their police budget and redirected it to housing stipends for the entire poverty population, it would buy everyone no more than a couple weeks’ rent in LA’s cheapest neighborhoods.”

Calls to defund or abolish the police are supported primarily by sections of the African-American elite, professional classes and activists who represent them. By contrast African-American poor and working-class consistently want effective policing.  A study on fragile communities, which were selected based on low socioeconomic indicators and low wellbeing, revealed that minority residents of fragile communities are not averse to law enforcement. “Most black and Hispanic FC residents (59% in each case) say they would like the police to spend more time in their area than they currently do, making them more likely than white residents (50%) to respond this way. Just 5% of blacks and 6% of Hispanics in FCs would like the police to spend less time in their area. What should be clear is that the activists do not speak for the communities they claim to speak for when it comes on opinions of police presence.

While BLM activists paint defund the police in Washington D.C., the mayor, Muriel Bowser, who happens to be a black woman, wants to increase the DC police budget in 2020, or only cut a fraction of the budget. Meanwhile, Jim Clyburn says “We need the police, we want the police” and refuses to defund the police, but endorses some police reform.

Cedric Johnson writes “This moment has been a triumph for Black Lives Matter activists, but once the plumes of tear gas dissipate and compassion fatigue sets in, the real beneficiaries will likely be the neoliberal Democrats and the capitalist blocs they serve. Nearly all of the Democrat leadership who “took a knee” against racist policing, have openly opposed Medicare for All, free higher education, and the expansion of other public goods, but their technical reforms to reduce excessive force incidents and prosecute police for misconduct are the perfect way of displaying a commitment to racial justice while perpetuating the very pro-market logics and class relations that stress policing and mass incarceration were invented to protect.”

BLM doesn’t have any new political constituency to challenge over-policing. African-Americans are all going to vote for the Democrats anyways, and the same is true for the white allies. There’s not a lot of leverage to be had against the Democratic Party if the Democratic Party is going to get your vote anyways.This is the same Democratic Party committed to the neoliberal regime that produces over-policing.

The Reaganite economic stance of the Democrats has been reinforced by the entry of the neoconservatives, wealthy suburbanites, and military intelligence into the Democrats, the 2018 midterm wins in the wealthiest districts in America, and Joe Biden’s victory in the Democrats 2020 presidential primary. Joe Biden has spent his career committed to neoliberal austerity, and all the powerful forces also support it.

The idea that Joe Biden will be progressive or left in any measure is refuted by the man’s entire political career. There is no reason for the Democrats to dismantle the neoliberal austerity regime which produces poverty and crime, or the resulting justice system management of austerity via mass incarceration, and over-policing. BLM has neither the appropriate diagnosis of the problem nor a political constituency to challenge entrenched Democrat interests like the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Joe Biden, who implemented over-policing in the first place.

In the end, the movement reinforces the power of the Congressional Black Caucus and the rest of the Democratic establishment. So much for progress in the Congressional Black Caucus. Onto the progress in the progressive camp.


Since 1990, the broader progressive Left has turned from a focus on capitalism to a focus on a professional-led intersectional smorgasbord of movements of race, gender, homophobia, and multiculturalism. Progressives serve as ideological enforcing mechanisms, exerting soft power for the empowered Democrat Triumvirate. The progressives have the smallest actual base but an outsized influence on institutions such as mass media, academia, non-profits, and non-government organizations.

Progressives, human resource departments, and the robber barons of the world all agree on the revolutionary possibilities of diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racist training. If the titans of finance love your political demands, chances are those demands are elitist, reactionary, and work against the interests of the poor and working class.

The progressives shun plans for universal or social-democratic reforms. If healthcare, housing, wage reforms were universal, they would benefit the working class at the expense of the elites and professionals. Progressives spent the years since 2015 attacking Sanders “from his left” calling him “sexist’ or “bad on race” when Sander’s universal policies benefit both women and non-white people disproportionately. But that doesn’t matter to progressives- their function is to make the Democrats look virtuous and to attack the Democratic establishment enemies.

The progressives' papers over the Democrats' banal program of neoliberal austerity and cozy relations with the military intelligence services with progressives appeal to identitarianism. As if African-American women can better pay rent because she knows there's a black female billionaire out there, or a Mexican farmer’s belly is filled because he knows there are now three individuals of “Latinx descent” on the Amazon executive board.

For the progressive, identity grouping has its own victim narrative; to each according to their disproportionately, to each according to their identity. Racism/white supremacy/patriarchy/transphobia works much like terrorism works for the neoconservative; they are amorphous ideological abstractions whose content exists in the eyes of the beholder. The principles of War on Terror have been transferred into an intersectional war on abstract oppressions. While discrimination does exist, the war on bigotry taken up by progressives has warped discrimination beyond recognition in such a way that bears all the signs of narcissistic personality disorders, persecution complexes, black-and-white thinking, and at its bottom, conspiratorial thinking.

The little conspiracies of victimhood (patriarchy, white supremacy, transphobia) give progressives a way to rationalize their commitment to the Democratic Party and its big Trumpian conspiracies of Russian collusion, Charlottesville Nazis, and the Ukrainian impeachment proceedings. Russiagate can become a Latinx issue, Charlottesville can become an African-American issue, the southern border is interpreted through the lens of toxic masculinity, and so on. In every case, the little conspiracy of intersectional oppressions leads progressives back into the bigger “orange man bad” conspiracies laid out by Democratic Party operatives.

These narratives of abstract evil forces oppressing victims are, by definition, conspiracy theories. The three steps to conspiratorial thought, as outlined in A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America are as follows.

1. An eternally evil force puppeteers the world. This means nothing happens by accident. All injustice is blamed on a totally evil, abstracted other.

  • Robin DiAngelo: “the question is not did racism manifest in the situation, but how did racism manifest.” White Supremacy is the original American sin, and consequently, structural racism pervades everything in the nation.

  • This metaphysical view of structural racism is reminiscent of the Force from Star Wars which also pervades, moves, and guides all things.

  • Since the George Floyd Protests, the erroneous view that “racism is a virus too,” has spread well, like a virus, and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility rocketed to the top of the NYTimes bestseller list.

2. Nothing is as it seems. People may seem nice, but in reality, humanity can be split into the essential good and essentially bad.

  • The separation of the world into good and bad people is most clearly delineated in the Calvinist notion of double predestination which divides the world into the Elect, destined for a heavenly reward, and the damned, destined for hell.

  • John Calvin took his doctrine seriously. Calvin established a theocratic dictatorship in Geneva and burned dissenters at the stake. The Puritans brought Calvinist doctrine to America where they founded Harvard, Yale, and the Ivy League, all of which began as Calvinist theological seminaries.

3. Life is a battle between good and evil people- Everything is connected to the unseen battle.

  • Progressive wokeness is most prevalent in elite universities, the same institutions that the media recruits their journalists. 44% of NYTimes employees and 50% from the WSJ attend an elite university. Those non-elite graduates who went to less elite, less woke colleges emulate elite sensibilities to compete.

  • In our secular age, the Ivy League has morphed back into a theological seminary, hellbent on producing woke priests and pastors to propagate puritanical ideologies.

Sexism, racism, discrimination- these are all certainly some of the causes of social ills. But progressives get conspiratorial and attribute social ills to single abstract causes. The suffering of African Americans is always blamed on white supremacy, the oppression of women always comes from patriarchy, and so on.

The progressive rejects multivariate causes, and especially the first cause of social ills in the twenty-first century: massive capital accumulation by elites, the accompanying massive wealth inequality and the immiseration of the working class.

The working-class is predominantly female and contains disproportionate numbers of black and brown people. LGBTQ people are disproportionately poor. There is no benefit for the vast majority of people to split their concerns up into different identity groups. What this brand of progressivism does benefit, is the professional classes who falsely claim that their identity means they represent the marginalized masses with a corresponding identity.

To the progressive, Harvey Weinstein’s abuse is an open and shut case of sexism and patriarchy. Mr. Weinstein was a powerful producer, so victims experienced negative treatment like rape, sexual harassment as well as positive treatment in career advancement, connections, and roles in major motion pictures. Powerful groomers like Weinstein know how to alternate between carrot and stick, and it's clear to an ordinary observer that the case of Harvey Weinstein is not the result of the single cause of patriarchal sexism.

Yes Harvey Weinstein is an agent of the patriarchy, but which patriarchy? It's the entrenched elites of Hollywood, the men and some women, who run the film industry and kept mouths shut about Weinstein. Many feminist proponents of #MeToo sweep class disparity, and economic inequality under the rug to focus on the conveniently amorphous and all-pervading power of the patriarchy.

The Center-Right Democrats

The acceptance of the neoconservatives and their wealthy suburbanite constituents into the Democrats fold marks the completion of the Democrats move to the right. The move began in the 1990s under Bill Clinton, who destroyed the welfare state, led the war on crime, and passed the NAFTA legislation that decimated the working class, the same working-class the Democrats used to represent back in the 1960s when it defended Civil Rights and the New Deal.

Clinton was Reagan’s greatest achievement. He carried forward the Republican agenda by combining a postindustrial fatalism- regulation wasn’t possible austerity was unavoidable, budgets had to be balanced, crime was a condition of culture, not economy policy- with a folksy postmodern optimism, offering sunny bromides touting the “politics of inclusion” that endless growth would make possible.”

Clinton offset his rightward economic swing by pushing cultural liberalism and the new progressive politics of recognition as a cheap replacement for a social democratic politics of redistribution. Clinton began but Obama cemented the swapping of bread and butter economic redistribution for the superfluous cake of cultural liberalism. Obama continued both Clinton’s wholehearted commitment to financial and military elites, as well as lip service to progressive causes. Obama then went further than Clinton by saving the banks and accelerated drone warfare.

The Clintonian/Obama right-wing turn of the Democrats on economics has found a voter base to match in wealthy suburbanites, and establishment allies in neoconservatives, military and intelligence operatives. The working class has left the Democrats, lapsed into political apathy, or now vote Republican.

The cake of cultural liberalism has continued today with such movementisms as #MeToo and #BLM, whose slogans of recognition do not have any constituency seperate from the Democratic party, and so lack political leverage. The Democrats remain the graveyard of social movements, and all who march to the drum of progressive hope and change are partaking in a free advertising campaign for the Democrats, and continual escalation of culture wars.

All these social movements are ways to cope with the fact that the Democrats are on the side of the oppressors, not on the side of the oppressed. The calls to decolonize your mind and dismantle white supremacy are reminiscent of the extremist Republican conspiracy theory of QAnon. The conspiracy surrounding Q is not that there is an international pedophile cabal, that much is probably true (to a degree). The Q conspiracy is that there’s a messianic hero who can stop the international pedophile cabal, namely Donald Trump.

A similar logic applies to identity politics. The conspiracy isn’t that capitalism is exploitative. The identitarian conspiracy is that there are particular oppressed identities under capitalism that have special knowledge to overthrow it- totally ignorant of class position or ideology. The 2018 midterms welcomed a record number of women into elected office, but their female credentials mean nothing if they possess the same neoliberal commitments to the same right-wing Democrats as their male predecessors.

Neither QAnon nor identity politics are connected to reality. Both are coping mechanisms that provide a messianic cause for its adherents that justify their support for one side or the other of the American duopoly.

The Democrats progressive wing makes excuses for by claiming only the Democrats can represent marginalized groups, like women, African-Americans, and Hispanics. But the party remains unresponsive to the vast majority of poor and working-class African Americans. The same is true of their emphatic support for elite and professional women, at the expense of women among the poor and working-class, as well as for Latinos, transgender people and so on.

The New Democrats have made for strange bedfellows. Both alumni of George W. Bush’s administration and alumni Bernie Sanders presidential runs have both formed super PACs. The former to defeat Trump, and the latter to push Joe Biden to the left. Biden is held up as the New Deal candidate when just months ago Biden defeated the New Deal candidate, Bernie Sanders, by running explicitly against the Sanders New Deal-style platform.

In a recent article for the New Republic, Adolph Reed takes the Democrats identitarianism to task, and cites a recent study that shows that broad economic redistribution, regardless of identity, does wonder in eliminating the racial wealth gap.

The study cited by Aliprantis and his colleagues asks what the current racial wealth gap would be if income inequality had been eliminated in the 1960s. “They found that, if median black and white incomes had been equalized in 1962, by 2007 median black family wealth would have been 90 percent of median white family wealth, nearly wiping out the racial wealth gap.

Mr. Reed emphasizes that “The path forward is to pursue broadly redistributive policies, combined with serious enforcement of anti-discrimination law and related interventions. It is imperative to recognize that racial economic inequality is in large part a product of 40 years or more of upward redistribution and intensifying concentration of income among the already wealthy creates a different set of necessary political responses. To eradicate the racial wealth gap, we need to link up the pursuit of justice and equality for African Americans to the broader campaign to bring justice and equality to all working Americans.”

Ongoing racial economic inequality is in large part a by-product of the Democrats’ own policies, a party that now controls the 41 of the top 50 richest congressional districts and is increasingly tied to tech, financial and military elites. As the new party of the rich, the Democrats are not the vehicle for broad justice and lasting equality, no matter the new identitarian cause progressives advertise, nor whatever new scandal the Democratic establishment concocts.

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