|A photo of the ballot that Michael Moore used to vote in his home state of Michigan, which he shared on Facebook.|
And though Sanders didn't win the nomination, the results in Michigan should be seen as the beginning of the end for the Democratic establishment.
As of today, the Green Party's Jill Stein is on the ballot in several new states and has gone slightly up in the polls from about a week ago, with encouraging signs for the coming weeks as the legacy of the Sanders campaign continues. Should these trends increase enough, they will have an effect that's both meaningful and immediate. But whether the Greens pull off a 2016 miracle or not, we are headed for another Michigan. And this time it will be on a national scale.
If the Michigan primary were held fifty years ago, Hillary Clinton would have won it easily. That was before free trade hurt much of the state's job market. That was before the corporate executives who controlled its economy made off with far more than their fair share of its wealth. That was before the deregulation of the big banks lead to a catastrophic financial crisis, further giving its residents reason not to support the kinds of politicians that made this all possible.
You can probably guess where I'm going with this.
America's Michigan story started in the 1980's, when Reagan dismantled American industry and started a series of tax cuts on the wealthiest of households. You know the rest of this history, and you're most likely living with its consequences. But what you may not know is that a political realignment has slowly been taking place during the last three-and-a-half decades. This shift, which can largely be measured in party affiliation and public opinion polls over the years, is one which I've already explained in detail with this article and this article. What I haven't mentioned is just how close it's come to reaching a breaking point.
Compared to the rest of the country, Michigan's economy is undeniably worse. But determining poverty levels isn't all about looking at the rate of unemployment. Half of Americans are living under or near the poverty line, and as inequality continues to escalate on a truly obscene scale, most of the rest shouldn't expect to keep their living standards in the coming years.
The tipping point for America's transformation into a Michigan-like environment for Sandersist populism may be the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If passed, the deal will hurt American jobs and consumer protection more than NAFTA did, making an all-too tangible case for many (or most) middle and working class voters to abandon the Republican and Democratic parties. And though barring a Green Party comeback on the part of Bernie Sanders, anti-free trade Donald Trump is all but certain to win the general election, it's reasonable to assume Trump will be persuaded into signing the TPP by neoliberal advisors like Mike Pence.
Other policies that we can likely expect in the next few years, of course, are further big business deregulation, upper-class tax cuts, and wars that serve the military industrial complex. But though 2016 might not be the opportunity most Americans are looking for to stop and undo these things, a time is coming when the corporate-run electoral system won't be able to deflect any populist threat to themselves. Because as Chris Hedges said in a July 26 Democracy Now interview in reference to how Ralph Nader's 2000 Green Party campaign wasn't understood by most at the time, "I think now people have caught up with Ralph."
"About" may be a relative term. But if the two major parties don't learn the lessons from Michigan, it will soon be too late for them.