Owen Jones / The Guardian & Robert Reich / Robert Reich’s Blog – 2017-01-22 22:35:21
Owen Jones / The Guardian
(January 21, 2017) — Donald Trump is now the most powerful man on Earth. You would expect the American left to be despondent; it’s not. The left is stronger than it has been for decades. They are up against a president who lost the popular vote, who assumes office with the lowest approval rating on record [44% approve; 51% disapprove — EAW], and whose party is riven by divisions.
In November, Clintonian-centrism — whose compelling selling point was the ability to win — was defeated, plunging the American republic into its gravest crisis since the war.
Waleed Shahid is 25 years old, from Arlington, Virginia. At the inauguration I met him in a Washington fast-food restaurant with his fellow activist, Max Berger, a 31-year-old Jewish American from “a town of 15,000 people and four Dunkin’ Donuts” in central Massachusetts. Both are involved in All Of Us, one of the many new progressive organisations committed to taking on the Trump ascendancy.
Shahid’s father moved to the US from Pakistan four decades ago. “He’s literally been working in the same parking garage since 1973.” There were four books in his home growing up: the Qur’an, a collection of Punjabi poetry and two biographies: one of ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the other of Hillary Clinton.
Obama had politically inspired both his parents for the first time, but their lives have not got any better. “My father had his wages and hours cut since 2008,” Shahid tells me, “and my mother’s healthcare has gone up even though Obama campaigned on this stuff.”
Both were part of the Bernie Sanders surge — and both are preparing to mobilise and fight. “We have to oppose normalisation,” says Shahid. “That won’t happen by the Democratic party alone. They need a countervailing political force to hold the Democratic party accountable to their voters, who are largely working-class people, and immigrants and people of colour.” For Shahid and Berger that means taking on the Democratic establishment.
“It includes change through elections if the Democratic party leadership aren’t going to stand for us and bring new leadership in.” For Berger, Trump’s victory cannot only be explained by a racial backlash on the part of a significant chunk of white working-class Americans. “Look at Trump’s last ad and what he articulates: there’s a global power structure, a global elite that has trillions of dollars at stake in this election.”
Yes, the antisemitic undertones of a political advertisement that focused on the likes of George Soros were clear, but it tapped into a powerful anti-establishment mood. “If we’re going to articulate a real alternative, we have to be as angry as the American people are, and we have to name the class, the individuals, who have screwed us over.”
A battle for the soul of the Democratic party now beckons. There are siren voices who claim that the Democrats were too radical, too vociferous in their support of women and minorities. But a powerful new movement is determined to transform the Democrats into a party that unapologetically challenges vested interests. Ben Wikler — Washington director of MoveOn, a key progressive network — was among those who desperately wanted Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for president.
“I think if Elizabeth Warren had run she would have won the nomination and won the presidency,” he says without even flinching. But despite Sanders’ failure to win the nomination, he showed it was possible to run for president “as a progressive populist not beholden to the donor class, who challenges a Wall Street-dominated economy that is unbalanced, broken and corrupt”.
Wikler is determined that the Democrats learn from their past mistakes, but also from the Republicans’ success. Under George W Bush, he notes, Democrats attempted to cooperate with him: when tax cuts for the rich were proposed, they would attempt to weave in a tax cut for middle-income Americans then vote for the package. When Obama became president, on the other hand, even with record popularity, the Republicans were uncompromising in their opposition.
“The Democrats don’t need that level of political bravery to oppose Trump, and they will hear that from their constituents when they do anything that seems vaguely like cooperation,” he says.
The Republicans believed they would repeal Obama’s healthcare legislation instantly — “like a band-aid” — and that the legislation would unify their own party and divide the Democrats. The opposite has happened. The Republicans cannot agree on what to repeal and what to keep, what to replace the existing coverage with — and thousands of Americans are protesting, not just to keep their healthcare provision, but because they could inflict Trump’s first defeat.
As trade union leader David Rolf tells me, the only hope for the Democrats is “progressive economic populism — they have to stand up for what’s good for the majority of Americans even if it’s not good for the donor class of the Democrats”.
There is no path to victory for the Democrats in reverting to pro-establishment centrism. That doesn’t mean abandoning attempts to build broad coalitions. Greisa Martinez — advocacy director at United We Dream, which fights for undocumented workers — tells me: “I need to connect my experience to that of the white working-class person in the rust belt.” But she is very clear: she will not allow the Democrats “to throw us under the bus”.
The US left has learned the lessons from a centrist project that disastrously failed and a Republican party that never accepted the legitimacy of a president who — in stark contrast to Trump — twice won the popular vote.
Trump represents the most dramatic victory yet for a populist right that appears to be sweeping the western world. But he is far weaker than he looks. Can the US left craft a populist alternative that convinces the millions of Americans who are angry and despondent about a society rigged against their interests? The future of the American republic is uncertain — and it may depend on the answer to that question.
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The Life of the Party:
7 Truths for Democrats
Robert Reich / Robert Reich’s Blog
(January 22, 2017) — The ongoing contest between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings of the Democratic Party continues to divide Democrats. It’s urgent Democrats stop squabbling and recognize seven basic truths:
The Party is on life support
Democrats are in the minority in both the House and Senate, with no end in sight. Since the start of the Obama Administration they’ve lost 1,034 state and federal seats. They hold only governorships, and face 32 state legislatures fully under GOP control. No one speaks for the party as a whole. The Party’s top leaders are aging, and the back bench is thin.
The future is bleak unless the Party radically reforms itself. If Republicans do well in the 2018 midterms, they’ll control Congress and the Supreme Court for years. If they continue to hold most statehouses, they could entrench themselves for a generation.
We are now in a populist era
The strongest and most powerful force in American politics is a rejection of the status quo, a repudiation of politics as usual, and a deep and profound distrust of elites, including the current power structure of America.
That force propelled Donald Trump into the White House. He represents the authoritarian side of populism. Bernie Sanders’s primary campaign represented the progressive side.
The question hovering over America’s future is which form of populism will ultimately prevail. At some point, hopefully, Trump voters will discover they’ve been hoodwinked. Even in its purist form, authoritarian populism doesn’t work because it destroys democracy. Democrats must offer the alternative.
The economy is not working for most Americans
The economic data show lower unemployment and higher wages than eight years ago, but the typical family is still poorer today than it was in 2000, adjusted for inflation; median weekly earning are no higher than in 2000; a large number of working-age people — mostly men — have dropped out of the labor force altogether; and job insecurity is endemic.
Inequality is wider and its consequences more savage in America than in any other advanced nation.
The Party’s moneyed establishment — big donors, major lobbyists, retired members of congress who have become bundlers and lobbyists — are part of the problem
Even though many consider themselves “liberal” and don’t recoil from an active government, their preferred remedies spare corporations and the wealthiest from making any sacrifices.
The moneyed interests in the Party allowed the deregulation of Wall Street and then encouraged the bailout of the Street. They’re barely concerned about the growth of tax havens, inside trading, increasing market power in major industries (pharmaceuticals, telecom, airlines, private health insurers, food processors, finance, even high tech), and widening inequality.
Meanwhile, they’ve allowed labor unions to shrink to near irrelevance. Unionized workers used to be the ground troops of the Democratic Party. In the 1950s, more than a third of all private-sector workers were unionized; today, fewer than 7 percent are.
It’s not enough for Democrats to be “against Trump,” and defend the status quo
Democrats have to fight like hell against regressive policies Trump wants to put in place, but Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve — like expanding Social Security, and financing the expansion by raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes; Medicare for all; and world-class free public education for all.
And Democrats must diligently seek to establish countervailing power — stronger trade unions, community banks, more incentives for employee ownership and small businesses, and electoral reforms that get big money out of politics and expand the right to vote.
The life of the Party — its enthusiasm, passion, youth, principles, and ideals — was elicited by Bernie Sanders’s campaign
This isn’t to denigrate what Hillary Clinton accomplished — she did, after all, win the popular vote in the presidential election by almost 3 million people. It’s only to recognize what all of us witnessed: the huge outpouring of excitement that Bernie’s campaign inspired, especially from the young. This is the future of the Democratic Party.
The Party must change from being a giant fundraising machine to a movement
It needs to unite the poor, working class, and middle class, black and white — who haven’t had a raise in 30 years, and who feel angry, powerless, and disenfranchised.
If the Party doesn’t understand these seven truths and fails to do what’s needed, a third party will emerge to fill the void.
Third parties usually fail because they tend to draw votes away from the dominant party closest to them, ideologically. But if the Democratic Party creates a large enough void, a third party won’t draw away votes. It will pull people into politics.
And drawing more people into politics is the only hope going forward.
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