Democrats’ Abandonment of Working Families a Major Factor in Rise of the Right

Interview with John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, conducted by Scott Harris

While most of the extremist right-wing candidates that former President Donald Trump endorsed for the U.S. Senate, House and secretary of state offices were defeated in the 2022 midterm election, many others won their races. On Jan. 3, Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the same party where 139 representatives and 8 senators voted to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election victory on Jan. 6, 2021, just hours after a violent insurrection resulted in the deaths of 5 people and hundreds of injuries to Capitol Police.

The more than 150 GOP election deniers who won seats in the 118th House, exceed the 139 House Republicans who voted to promote Trump’s big lie on Jan. 6, now constituting a little more than one-third of all House members.

While many democracy defending activists were pleased that the predicted Republican midterm red tsunami did not come to pass, it’s also true that many members of the Republican pParty continue to embrace white supremacy and an authoritarian ideology that has not been defeated — and still attracts support and votes from millions of Americans.  Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with author John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, who examines what motivates far-right voters, and how progressive and pro-democracy activists can craft arguments and policies to win them over.

JOHN FEFFER: Well, I think the threat, in fact, is greater after the midterm elections. Obviously, a number of the Republican moderates or so-called moderates, those who, for instance, considered impeaching Trump. Many of them were voted out, replaced by people who embrace the MAGA line, the stolen election line, and especially at a local level, we’ve seen kind of concerted effort by the far right within the Republican party, kind of urged on by Steve Bannon and his associates to really take over the lowest levels of power. You know, and school boards, for instance, and certainly in state Senates and Houses.

And that is a very significant concern. I mean, if you take a look at Arizona, for instance. In Arizona, of course, we had some prominent losses for the far right. Kari Lake lost in her attempt to become governor. Blake Masters lost his attempt to take a Senate seat. So we had some prominent losses and that’s good in terms of the overall health of U.S. democracy.

But at a local level, we saw a number of real kind of crazy folks. I mean, folks who embraced QAnon conspiracy, folks certainly who embraced the Big Lie of stolen elections. These folks were elected in many cases by rather wide margins. And that, I think, is the real concern that we have to face moving forward. And that is the way that the far right has institutionalized itself within the Republican Party at the grassroots and not just at the grass “tops.”

SCOTT HARRIS: In years past, it seems that the Democratic party and the “liberal agenda” was tone deaf to the many complaints and grievances of families that were seeing their horizons diminish. The futures for their children diminish. And it seemed like the Democratic party was ignoring the economic casualties of globalization, as you’ve been talking about. And Bill Clinton, I think, was a great example of this.

The, “new Democrat,” a third way Democrat. And he exemplified the austerity and embrace of Reagan economics in large part that fed into a lot of the anger across the country, especially of white working families. I’m wondering, do you see changes on the horizon with the influence of Bernie Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, and the path that Joe Biden has taken since he took office two years ago?

Do we see some kind of page turning here on this embrace of neo-economic policy?

JOHN FEFFER: That’s a really important question. And, you know, a lot of people have this question. I mean, they ask, well, “Why is the far-right winning votes on economic agenda that’s tailored to the disadvantaged? The folks who have fallen behind economically is it that ordinarily the constituency that the left appeals to either a social Democratic pParty or a left-wing of the Democratic party here in the United States?

Why is the far right so successful in reaching out to that constituency? And I think you’ve put your finger on it that many of the parties of the center left, whether you’re talking about the Democratic party of Bill Clinton in the 1990s or the Socialist party in France of of Mitterrand or the Social Democratic Party in Sweden, these parties basically abandoned that segment of the voting public.

And now we’re seeing maybe, maybe a kind of awakening of, you know, the left in the form of Bernie Sanders, for instance, in the United States and Lula winning again in Brazil, managing to win a squeaker over Trump-like candidate in Jair Bolsonaro. We’re beginning to see, I think, a recognition that the left cannot take this constituency for granted.

And definitely some of the policies that the Biden administration pushed through the Inflation Reduction Act, certainly includes a number of measures that are directly targeting the most disadvantaged economically segments of the country. Even the Biden administration is, I think, waking up to this as well.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with John Feffer (24:36) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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