Four years ago, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory walked outside the governor’s mansion in Raleigh and handed a tray of chocolate chip cookies to reproductive rights protesters, saying, “These are for you, God bless you.” A day earlier, he had signed one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country. Understandably, the protesters were pissed: They slid the cookies back under the gate with a note expressing their preference for women’s healthcare over cookies, and chanted, ”Hey Pat, that was rude. You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude.”
“Next to sandwiches, cookies are probably the most potent edible symbol of the belief that women's role is to shut up, give up their ambitions, and return to the kitchen,” Amanda Marcotte wrote at Slate. “While it's unlikely that McCrory was deliberately trying to tell the protesters to know their place, that's how the gesture reads.”
The whole situation foreshadowed last week’s donut controversy — no, not that one — that exploded between the Democratic National Committee and Nina Turner, the president of the progressive group Our Revolution.
Our Revolution emerged as a progressive political action committee within the party after the conclusion of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. It has been one of several organizations — including Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress – created in the wake of the election to push the Democrats left on issues like Medicare for All, free college education, and workers’ rights. On July 25, Turner and about 60 supporters recently went to DNC headquarters to deliver a copy of the “People’s Platform,” the group’s manifesto for what the Democratic Party should prioritize in the 2018 election, they were met by security guards, barricades, and a spread of donuts and water.
“They tried to seduce us with donuts and water,” Turner told BuzzFeed. “They’re pompous and arrogant enough to say to the people, 'you’re not good enough to be on our property — and, oh by the way, we’re just gonna hand you donuts and water over the barricade.' That is insulting. Absolutely insulting…For them to be that tone-deaf, or that arrogant, to think that it’s OK to put up a barricade so that the people can’t even — I mean, we were not even good enough to stand on their stairs.”
Turner, a former state senator from Ohio, has been a frequent target of the Clintonite wing of the party since becoming a prominent Sanders surrogate in 2016. But the recent donut fiasco has generated even more animus against Turner from establishment Democrats; in one particularly telling instance, a group of goofy Twitter liberal centrists including comedian Jen Kirkman and disgraced national security writer Robert Caruso added donuts to their display names, in a fashion not unlike all of the conservatives who called themselves “Deplorable” after Hillary Clinton’s remark last year.
Ever excited to connect a controversy involving a progressive woman of color to a group of white men, The Daily Banter’s Jeremy Fassler wrote in prose that would bring a tear to Toni Morrison’s eye: “Drunk on a thin ration of power, Turner symbolizes the worst aspects of the Bernie Sanders movement, harboring an attitudes (sic) towards the ‘establishment’ base of the party that is alarmingly similar to the DudeBros of Chapo Traphouse (sic), who infamously demanded on their podcast that the Party ‘bend the knee’ to them.” Fassler also, embarrassingly, tells an anecdote about going to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis — all to prove a point about why it is actually good to shit talk a black woman for speaking up against a cynical attempt by the DNC to placate the party’s progressive wing.
Fassler conveniently ignores everything except for the donuts. The problem was the barricades, the security guards, and the condescension — not the donuts. For a party that’s so thoroughly being pummeled in small dollar donations by a sitting president who has a lower approval rating than stinkbugs — the RNC pulled in $33 million in small contributions in the first six months of 2017 compared to just $21 million for the Democrats — it would seemingly have been so easy to do the right thing and accept the Our Revolution crowd with graciousness in the spirit of forging something resembling unity.
Why can’t these groups get along? Unlike McCrory’s cookies, which were offered up by a Republican directly attacking a progressive cause and which liberals rightfully saw as a condescending gesture, liberals see this controversy as completely manufactured. But the issues are quite similar; key figures associated with the national party have recently argued that abortion shouldn’t be a “litmus test” for Democratic candidates. By contrast, the platform that Turner delivered — which represents the growing-but-disillusioned progressive wing of the Democratic Party — includes support for a bill guaranteeing equal access to abortion in health insurance coverage.
But the substance of the group’s platform doesn’t seem to matter, only that Turner had the gall to criticize the Democrats. Speaking out against the national party at any time, for any reason, is apparently out of bounds.
That’s because, at its core, the Democratic Party and its adherents see the progressive left as a junior partner, a loud and cantankerous caucus within the party that’s become a little more loud and cantankerous in recent years. The progressive left, by contrast, views itself as the opposition to both the far-right extremism of the Republicans and the ingrained neoliberalism of the institutional Democratic Party. The Democrats can try to put the split off for as long as possible, but the more they keep pointlessly antagonizing and demonizing people like Turner — who herself is a DNC member — the more acrimonious the inevitable break between the left and the center will be.
These tensions don’t just exist between establishment Democrats and progressive Democrats, but liberals and leftists as well. Last night in Durham, North Carolina, at a vigil held by a local chapter of Indivisible (a legislative advocacy organization started by former Democratic Congressional staffers), members of the Workers’ World Party and the Industrial Workers of the World were allegedly shut out of the event’s planning and were not given time to speak. After a WWP member was finally granted the floor, she was booed while confronting the crowd the realities of history and the situation we currently find ourselves in.
Yes, most people on the left would prefer a Clinton presidency over a Trump one. But while the groups might be able to come work together in emergency situations against this unified, monstrous Republican government — as they did to save Obamacare — the coalition isn’t built to last.
Ultimately, the Democratic Party is a moderate party that’s more concerned with maintaining a capitalist status quo than furthering real social progress. The current Democratic Party forces its members toward a mythical center — which, not unlike a donut, is a void.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mis-identified Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in Charlottesville demonstrations, as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.