Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Green Party's Lithuania Victory May Foreshadow A Similar Event In The US

Ballots being cast in this month's Lithuanian parliamentary election.
Chances are if you're reading this, you don't often follow Lithuanian politics. But if you do, you've recently seen something interesting take place: on Sunday the 9th, Lithuania's Peasants and Green Party, despite its candidates generally trailing in the polls, won 20 out of the 70 available parliamentary seats during that day's election.

Because several parties were competing with them (a common phenomenon in democracies other than the United States), this means that they've taken the most seats in Lithuania's parliament. And though they're still behind in the polls ahead of the second phase of the elections, which will take place on October 23, this could mean that they'll defy the odds again and take control of the country's government.

This comes as good news for the Lithuanian Greens' American counterparts.

Though I've only begun to look into the country that I'm talking about (oh, now I see it on the map...it's that one between Russia and Poland), I can report that there are striking similarities between the factors behind these election results and the situation in the United States.

Let's flash back to the Great Recession, which, for Lithuania, began in 2009. In response to it, the country's government, headed by the center-right Homeland Union Party, passed austerity measures that drove up poverty by raising taxes while at the same time cutting public services. Though to be fair, such actions were necessary at the time to save Lithuania from a debt crisis, their consequences for the poor and the middle-class were made apparent by how the Homeland Union was voted out of power in the 2012 elections because of growing populist sentiments.

But for many Lithuanian voters in 2016, the policies of the newly elected Social Democratic Party have not been enough as the recession's effects continue to be widely felt. And so two days ago, the Peasants and Green Party's promises of more radical reforms to the economy contrary to Social Democrats' center-left approach won over undecided voters and earned it a possible position as the new ruling party of Lithuania.

This story has a lot of parallels to what's happened in the U.S. since the start of the recession. After the 2008 financial crisis, which President Bush shared much of the blame for, Republicans were voted out in 2006 and 2008 because of this and other failures to protect peace, the environment, and the economy.

However, since then, Democrats have proven to not be much better, with the Obama Administration's efforts to revive the economy being insufficient, its health care bill failing to address the health care crisis, its trade deals hurting American workers and the environment, and its wars wasting enormous amounts of tax money. As a result, income inequality has continued to increase at about the same rate regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican is president. Worst of all has been the unwillingness of both Republicans and Democrats to keep the financial sector under control, with their support of the Wall Street bailouts and their failure to break up the big banks having created the factors for another economic crash.

And just like in Lithuania, Americans are increasingly showing a commitment to overthrowing the neoliberal order that both of its most established parties represent. This is reflected in the campaign of Bernie Sanders, which, had it not been derailed by widespread voter suppression and electoral fraud, would have made it so that a self-described democratic socialist is well on his way to becoming the next U.S. president.

Because Sanders' run can be considered a last-ditch effort to reform the Democratic Party into something genuinely populist, the movement that it represented will most likely find a new home in the same place where Lithuania's leftist movement has: an alternative party which isn't tethered to corporate capitalism. Already, the Green Party of the U.S. is experiencing a major surge in support, with its 2016 presidential nominee Jill Stein (and also, perhaps, the dozens of other Greens running for the House and the Senate) on track to receive a lot more of the vote on November 8 than most polls estimate. And given the recent ideological fractures in America's party system, it's entirely possible that in the next several election cycles we'll see the rise of a third party that's capable of reforming America's economic system, which, by default, will likely be the Greens.

Sadly, the response to the worldwide trend in income inequality hasn't always taken such positive forms. Lithuania is unique in how it's one of the few democracies that has yet to see neo-fascist demagogues gain prominence in its government because of the economic hardships that its citizens are experiencing, with the neoliberal policies that so many countries have adopted in the last few decades producing a trend towards reactionary, far-right politics.

Right next to it in Poland, for example, representatives of such movements have gained control of the parliament, with their cracking down of civil liberties accompanying the nationalist culture that their presence has created. In the UK, June's Brexit vote may only be a foreshadowing of the victories that the country's burgeoning hard-right movements have the potential for winning in the next few years. And in the United States, though the current manifestation of this global movement Donald Trump is on his way to losing, four more years of the status-quo centrism that his opponent Hillary Clinton represents could very well result in the rise of something far more sinister in 2020.

These events resemble the vision of the future conjured by author Peter Moore who, after the 2008 financial crisis, wrote an account of what the future of global politics might look like if the current economic paradigm persisted. This paragraph, written in the context of some mentions of nationalist demagoguery being prevalent in the new political environment, indicates where he believes such trends would lead:
The new president might have better heeded his predecessor’s first, prudent steps toward silencing political opposition in time of national emergency. Instead, his glasnost-like policies met with that idea’s same ruinous results. A gesture of openness to the frivolous American media was only met with the usual anarchic outcries for still more information. Overtures of friendship toward leaders of the opposition faction in the Congress, such as Senators McConnell, Bond, and Cornyn, and Representatives Boehner and Hoekstra, were viewed as signs of weakness, and merely solicited further demands for power-sharing. It will seem strange today to many in Asia, or even in the “Failed World” of the West—where nation after nation has of late moved away from the constraints of the multiparty state—that such individuals were not summarily charged with high treason. But such were the logical endpoints of American-style “democracy.”
Of course, such a dark turn of events is anything but inevitable. The lowbrow appeal of Trumpism can be countered with the leftist radicalism offered by Sanders and the Greens, and if Americans build the Green Party into something viable by 2020-a task less daunting than it sounds-we'll easily be able to defeat the neo-fascists. For those in countries not dominated by two irredeemably corporatist parties, the necessary mission will be to make the already established leftist parties strong enough to fight the gathering political demons. But if these efforts fail, at least moving to Lithuania will still be an option.

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