Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Democrats Have Nothing To Lose And Everything To Gain By Leaving Their Party

For reasons not necessary to name, a great deal of the American population has been forced to reassess its priorities in the past several weeks. It is now the responsibility of everyone who opposed Donald Trump during his run to continue fighting him and his agenda, because the alternative to inaction is increased economic exploitation, the destruction of civil liberties, and what will quite possibly be the end of hope for preserving a habitable climate.

And naturally, as people seek out ways to defy the coming tyrannical presence, they're looking to leaders and organizations that can help their cause. And there are many such groups that intend to fight Trump, such as the ACLU and the Sierra Club. But among them is one which I believe is just as important to resist as it is to resist Trump himself: the Democratic Party.

We should resist the party because though it of course positions itself as an anti-Trump force, it is in fact one of Trump's biggest assets. Due to the Democratic leadership's sabotage of the Bernie Sanders campaign, all the party could offer to counter Trump was an unacceptably militaristic, corporatist, and in many ways corrupt figure who stood little chance in the general election. And this was just the tale end of a deeper, decades-long series of missteps that Democrats have made which contributed to Trump's victory, namely their responsibility for the economic factors behind his rise. Indeed, Robert Reich has charged the Democratic Party with being one of Trump's three biggest enablers.

Helping Trump is the latest in a four-decades-running succession of disservices the Democratic Party has dealt to the people who have kept it in power. Since the Carter Administration, the party has very much embraced the neoliberal economic approach, having enabled Republican presidents to pass tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulated the financial sector, pushed so-called free trade deals, participated in the corrupt campaign finance system, and much more. The leftist writer Michael Sparks was right to declare last June: "Dear Democratic Party, I'm leaving you and I'm taking the kids."

But I could go on about the Democratic Party's past failures for a long time. A better thing to focus on when attempting to persuade Democrats to leave their party is what I believe the future holds for it-and for the future of our chances of replacing it with something better.

What's important to first establish is just how bad a position the Democratic Party is in. The party's crushing electoral losses on November 8 did not just have to do with the routine phenomenon of a party experiencing defeats after eight years of holding the presidency; what the Democrats are experiencing is a once-in-a-century political event that threatens to ruin its future as a major party.

I believe Democrats are in such a crisis not just because they haven't been this diminished electorally since 1928, but because they are, as Bernie Sanders, once said, ideologically bankrupt. And in turn, they're also well on their way to going bankrupt in terms of support. As we've seen time and time again, in the instances of elections from 1994 to 2010 to 2016, Democrats tend to lose when they pivot towards big business interests, because that is not a good way to rally their base. The majority of Democrats, like the majority of Americans, are opposed to the amount of power that corporations hold over society, and after forty years of working to uphold the current economic order, the Democratic Party has dug itself into a political ditch.

Anyone who acknowledges the largely anti-neoliberal nature of the American electorate should have no problem understanding why the Democratic Party isn't doing well. And if current indications are correct, its problems will not end here.

As I elaborated on in a previous article, the approach of trying to reform the Democratic Party is not as easy as its advocates prefer to admit. What has become especially apparent this year with the blatant efforts from Democratic leaders to undermine Bernie Sanders' campaign is that the neoliberal wing of the party has many devices in place to protect its organization from reform. And even as a great deal of progressive activists aim to change it, though I don't doubt they'll make some progress, given the change-resistance nature of the Democratic Party, there's little chance that it will be sufficiently reformed in time for the extremely important 2020 election.

And that obstacle to reforming the party may well prove to be the final nail in its coffin. After forty years of increased economic exploitation, the public's patience for neoliberalism has grown very thin, and unless major changes soon occur within the Democratic Party, it will doubtless become diminished to near irrelevance. Even Robert Reich, who is currently working to reform the party, has written that if Democrats don't manage to remake themselves into something capable of systemic change, they will "be supplanted by another organization."

What I think Reich is wrong about, though, is what kind of organization should replace the Democratic Party in the event that it collapses. While he wants an alternative political organization that operates outside of the electoral process (as do I), he's said that he doesn't advocate for a third party because he's worried that doing so would help elect more Republicans through the spoiler effect.

I'd say his fear is mistaken. The Democratic Party, as he's made the case for, will likely become irrelevant if it continues on its current path, which means that if a third party arises, it will only be at odds with the Democrats for a brief period of time. After that, the Democratic Party will have become the smaller entity and thus their roles will be reversed.

And if current trends continue, such a political event is already on its way. While the Democratic Party has suffered historic losses in 2016, the Green Party, which will likely be the form that this third party takes, has achieved significant gains. Though the party's presidential nominee Jill Stein only received 1% of the vote, she was the most successful Green candidate of all time in that she was able to gather enough signatures to achieve the highest ever levels of Green ballot access. The party also gained future ballot access for state-level Green candidates in Pennsylvania and Missouri, as well as grew their number of officeholders  from 86 before the election to 139 afterwards.

Especially after what happened this year, a great deal of self-identified Democrats, like most Americans, feel that neither major party represents their interests. But thanks to Donald Trump, Democratic leaders have an opportunity to use fear tactics to retain the loyalty of their base. If you are a Democrat who's disillusioned with your party but feels hesitant to leave it, I hope I've been able to convince you that no risk comes with seeking an alternative option.

The hull of the ship which is the Democratic Party has been damaged quite possibly beyond repair, and the time has come to abandon it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The End Is Near

The aversion that so many are feeling towards President-Elect Donald Trump is unquestionably justified; I don't think it's necessary to reiterate the countless reasons he is an extremely divisive leader and a generally dangerous individual. But amid the fear among women, racial minorities, and other groups that are being threatened by his presence, there's another demographic that feels (I suspect) uneasy these days: the members of the corporate elite.

Trump's success was largely a result of the enormous class inequities that have appeared in recent decades. By redirecting people's economic concerns towards immigrants and Muslims, while also bringing up some legitimate issues such as the unfairness of the U.S.'s current trade policies, he ran with success against the establishments of both major parties. And while Trump doesn't pose any real threat to the benefactors of the neoliberal paradigm, his victory, I believe, has forced them to reckon with the instability of the political status quo that they've created; if someone like Trump can run for the highest office and win, what about when a genuine enemy of neoliberalism tries to do the same?

Indeed, when such an event materialized earlier in this election in the form of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the response from the representatives of establishment economics was easy to guess; there's clear evidence that during the primary season, the corporate media, the Democratic leadership, and their allies on Wall Street regarded Sanders as a threat and worked to undermine him. Thomas Frank, in an essay about the anti-Sanders bias of the operators of publications like The Washington Post (and by extension economic elites in general), assessed that "For the sort of people who write and edit the opinion pages of the Post, there was something deeply threatening about Sanders and his political views. He seems to have represented something horrifying, something that could not be spoken of directly but that clearly needed to be suppressed."

And while Sanders has since been (illegitimately) vanquished, the subjectively horrifying thing that he represented has only gotten more powerful. What Frank and I are referring to, of course, is the possibility of the public becoming unable to tolerate the current economic system and successfully overturning it.

Well, in the following paragraphs, I'm going to provide some very good reasons for their fear being valid. This piece focuses on the past, present, and future of the neoliberal economic and political order, with the latter subject being what reflects my essay's title.

How we got here

At no point in America's history has the economic system been ideally fair. Even during the 1960's, when income inequality was by far at its lowest point in decades, Martin Luther King JR. felt a need to address economic injustice, calling for an economic bill of rights, a universal basic income, and a strong labor movement. But relatively speaking, the second third of the 20th century was a very good period for the middle and working classes.

After the Great Depression, which was a result of the enormous economic inequality that defined the early 20th century, America's leaders were forced to change how the wealth was distributed. In the 1930's, amid overwhelming public pressure, FDR changed his economic approach from the unrestrained version of capitalism that had previously dominated the political debate to Keynesianism, enacting reforms which reigned in corporate power and greatly reduced poverty. And for the next four decades, this economic paradigm persisted, with both parties for the most part upholding the policies of the New Deal.

It must have been no coincidence, then, that it took a full generation for society to start returning to the old order of corporate rule. Starting in the late 1970's, many academic and political leaders, too young to remember what happened when markets weren't sufficiently regulated and income inequality wasn't kept at a low level, advocated for policies which would return the economic system to its 1920's form. This newly mainstream breed of economic thought, which emerged mainly on the right but was also very much embraced by the Democratic Party, is essentially a perversion of capitalism in that rather than giving all people an equal opportunity to succeed economically, it allowed for corporations and the wealthy to re-write the rules of the game to their benefit.

This societal model, which I've discussed in detail in a past article, was not capitalism as it's often been characterized, but a newer and far more dangerous economic ideology called neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has for the most part dominated the actions of government officials starting with the at-the-time unusually pro-business Carter Administration, and since then America (as well as many other countries, whose governments have also adopted neoliberalism in recent decades) has drifted ever closer to oligarchy.

For the past forty years, cuts to the social safety net, tax reductions for the wealthy, privatization, deregulation, so-called free trade deals, and at the root of it all an increased involvement of money in politics has resulted in the highest levels of economic inequality on record, with half the people in the country living in poverty and much of the rest not being too far ahead as they own very little wealth compared to those at the top. And while Americans very much want to end this feudalistic version of society, because their government is naturally controlled by these same corporate forces which control the economy, their opinions alone don't have much of an impact.

In recent years, though, that's begun to change.

The unraveling of neoliberalism

For quite some time during this period of modern-day robber barons, those who oppose neoliberalism, though very much in the majority, have largely been outside the mainstream of the debate. But an oppressed population can't be expected to remain helpless forever, especially when the oppression becomes increasingly prevalent, and the pot of public resentment towards the current economic order has started to reach a boiling point.

The first major sign that a revolt against neoliberalism is on its way may have come in 1999, with the outbreak of protests in Seattle over the U.S.'s entering into the World Trade Organization. Since then, shows of resistance towards the economic order have appeared whose levels of success would have been impossible in earlier stages of the neoliberal era; most notable among them the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2016 and the Democracy Spring demonstrations that took place this spring.

So it's no surprise that in this election cycle, the economic policies of government officials have started to match up with the wishes of the people.

Firstly, 2016 has been an unusually good year for advocates of a minimum wage increase. In March, California's governor decided to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, and four states voted on Election day to raise it to $12 an hour by 2020. Similar actions have been taken in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington DC.

And even the election of Donald Trump was in some ways a victory for the lower classes; there's a slim but present possibility that he'll bring back Glass-Steegal, and his protectionist stance on trade has made it so that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is now dead along with America's involvement in past trade deals like it. Indeed, Bernie Sanders has expressed optimism in some areas in response to Trump's victory, saying "To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him."

Cornel West agrees that a new era has befallen the nation this year as a result of the policies of the past forty years, saying in an op-ed this month that neoliberalism was "brought to its knees" on Election Day. But as even Trump's supporters will come to realize in the next few years, there is much more that needs to happen before economic change can come.

2020 vision

Despite the parts of Trump's agenda that I mentioned, the fact remains that on January 20, 2017, the 40th anniversary of the neoliberal era will involve the inauguration of a president who may do more damage to the economic interests of the bottom 99% than any of his predecessors.

I believe he has the potential to do unprecedented harm in this area not because of his intention to repeal Obamacare, or his trickle-down tax plan, or his vision of a drastically reduced social safety net. The worst thing that I expect to happen to the lower classes under Trump is a financial crisis comparable to the Great Depression.

Unsurprisingly, amid 1920's-level income inequality, there is 1920's-level risk for economic collapse. The economies of the U.S. and many other countries have become highly financialized, making global markets ripe for a dramatic downturn. And perhaps even more importantly, worldwide debt outside the financial sector is at an unprecedented $152 trillion, obviously adding to the possibility of economic catastrophe.

"Nothing is priced correctly, especially money," writes James Kunstler on the current economy's lack of sustainability. "It’s all kept running on an ether of accounting fraud. We can’t come to grips with the resource realities behind the fraud, especially the end of cheap oil. And the bottom line is the already-manifest slowdown of global business. The poobahs of banking pretend to be confounded by all this because everything — their reputations, their jobs, their fortunes — depends on the Potemkin narrative that ever-greater economic expansion lies just around the corner. Not so. What waits around the corner is a global scramble for the table scraps of the late techno-industrial banquet."

When this crash hits sometime in the next few years, it will be disastrous. But it will also present a great opportunity for finally defeating the neoliberal forces which helped create it. The magnitude of the wealth that will be lost in this event, along with the unprecedentedly unfair state of the economy that it will take place in, will without a doubt provoke an effort on the part of the populous to overthrow the corporate state which has a very good chance of succeeding.

This revolt will be part of what the anthropologist Peter Turchin views to be the next major wave of social upheaval, which he's found occurs in cycles throughout history. And according to Turchin, American society's next bout with revolution is set to occur in or around the year 2020-which is shortly after the next recession is likely to happen and the date of what's expected to be the most consequential election in our lifetimes.

In short, 2016 has been just a foreshadowing of the seismic political and social changes that indications say will befall society in the years to come, with the culmination expected to arrive in 2020. The neoliberal order, in spite of all the wealth and power it's consolidated, is ultimately as subject to insurrection from the masses as all the other tyrannical regimes throughout history.

And in the process of its death, many possibilities will appear for improving society that go beyond redistributing the wealth; goals like withdrawing from America's perpetual wars, enacting laws to protect the environment, and even ending the two-party system will become very much doable when the population is mobilized for change on the level I expect it to be in the coming years. And when this happens, hopefully those objectives will also include the proposals of Dr. King.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Greens Aren't The Only Third Party That America Needs

In 2010, a Rasmussen poll found that 38% of Americans thought a third party president by 2020 was at least somewhat likely. And while if the same survey were taken today, that number would probably be smaller, it's looking more and more like the people of six years ago were correct.

For several decades, both major parties have disregarded the majority by pivoting towards the interests of corporations, and if they (by which I mostly mean the Democrats) don't change soon, they'll be in real danger of dying out and being replaced by a third entity. And if such a party, which has already been fairly well established in the form of the Greens, can make the right electoral moves, it will stand a good chance of defying the current party system and transforming American politics for the better.

While I support that plan, though, I don't think it's the only strategy we should invest in.

For a long time, I've believed voter apathy to be the main reason for the American two-party system's longevity. Provided the right factors, I figured, the Greens or another third party like it could gain enough support to become prominent. And looking at the current state of the political landscape, one would figure that my prediction is close to coming true; for around a decade, identification in the two major parties, especially the Democrats, has been in free fall. This decline has recently culminated in the electoral crisis that's befallen the Democratic Party this year.

And Green Party leaders, as well as advocates of third parties in general, are taking notice. Jill Stein thinks that there have been "major breakthroughs" this year in terms of the public's attitude toward third parties, and former Green Senate candidate Arn Menconi has said regarding his party's chances of success in the next few years, "Is this a David and Goliath fight? Of course it is. But things can change, and they can change rapidly. And David won."

The problem with the level of optimism I've often promoted for our chances of overthrowing the two-party system is that Goliath is stronger than he appears.

A past instance I've cited as proof that the political duopoly can easily be taken on is the story of the birth of the Republican Party. After being established in the spring of 1854, the GOP immediately caught fire, winning many seats in the House and the Senate during that year's midterm elections. Throughout the next few election cycles, Republicans continued to rise until ultimately replacing the Whig Party as the chief opponents of the Democrats. The reason for this rapid success for the formerly fringe Republican Party is that unlike the Whigs, it was willing to accommodate interests of the increasingly popular abolitionist movement. And the Greens, one would figure, could overtake the Democrats just as Republicans overtook the Whigs by appealing to the increasingly (and in this case, inevitably) popular economically populist movement, which the Democratic Party is largely ignoring.

If this were 1854, I would have no doubt that such a feat could be accomplished. But since then, Republicans have sadly teamed up with Democrats to try to ensure that no new third party is able to do what they once did. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American legislatures enacted rules to the electoral process that made it significantly harder for new parties to succeed than was the case in virtually every other democracy on the planet.

During that era, laws were passed which raised the number of signatures that candidates needed to qualify for running or getting on the ballot, made it easier for government officials (which were mostly either Republicans or Democrats) to determine which candidates could appear on the ballot, and created other tools that allowed partisanship to influence the electoral process. This series of attacks on democracy was especially prevalent in the early 20th century, when economically populist parties similar to the Greens were beginning to gain ground as a result of that period's extreme wealth inequality. The political establishment responded, as you can guess, by crushing those parties' chances of upsetting the corporate duopoly.

And though I hold out hope that the Greens can defy the odds now, it's important to recognize that until these actions are undone, our odds will be very steep. As electoral reform advocate Seth Ackerman wrote in a recent analysis regarding the facts above, "One lesson from this history is clear: We have to stop approaching our task as if the problems we face were akin to those faced by the organizers of, say, the British Labour Party in 1900 or Canada’s New Democratic Party in 1961. Instead, we need to realize that our situation is more like that facing opposition parties in soft-authoritarian systems, like those of Russia or Singapore."

And because as Ackerman also makes the case for, reforming the Democratic Party is about as hard as replacing it, we must seek out a strategy that's different from both of these. The plan he proposes in his piece, which is titled A Blueprint For a New Party, involves building an organization that can run and support candidates while at the same time being immune from the obstacles that the establishment has built into the electoral game.

Such an institution would not be what's traditionally considered a political party, but a group that aims to influence politics. Its candidates, says Ackerman, would be able to avoid the pitfalls of the electoral process by making it so that "Decisions about how individual candidates appear on the ballot would be made on a case-by-case basis and on pragmatic grounds, depending on the election laws and partisan coloration of the state or district in question. In any given race, the organization could choose to run in major-or minor-party primaries, as nonpartisan independents, or even, theoretically, on the organization’s own ballot line."

Thus, this "party" would be able to find the chinks in the electoral armor that the establishment has surrounded itself in. Ackerman describes this method as mounting "The electoral equivalent of guerrilla insurgency."

Indeed, whether or not you think building a third party is necessary, I believe that creating an organization like this would greatly help us achieve the larger mission of installing progressive populists throughout all levels of government. Such an entity already exists to an extent in the form of groups like Brand New Congress, and if we can bring them all under one roof, we'll have a national organization which influences politics in the ways that Ackerman suggests. But whichever way we'd go about founding this group, doing so appears to be the most practical way of bringing governmental reform.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It Gets Worse

When thinking back to what the political climate was like in the early years of Obama's presidency, one gets a sense of deja vu. Amid the Great Recession, most felt betrayed by the political and economic establishment and strongly desired to change it, but in a lot of cases, this populist energy was going in the wrong direction; a political vacuum had appeared, and as often happens with political vacuums, demagoguery filled much of the empty space.

That era, as you remember, involved a surge in support for movements like the Tea Party, the rise of divisive media figures like Glenn Beck, and (somewhat below the surface) a growth of membership in far-right groups. The country had seen phenomenon like that before in recent decades, but in this instance, one person had reason to believe that such events reflected a far deeper and darker societal trend than usual.

In 2010, reports Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky gave a disquieting assessment of the state of the nation, saying that the current situation "Is very similar to late Weimar Germany," the regime which preceded the Third Reich. As was the case in early 1930's Germany, he explains, faith in established institutions and the ideological center was eroding due to widespread economic inopportunity, and that opened up the door for political monstrosities to arise.

"The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen," he said. "Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says 'I have got an answer, we have an enemy'? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election."

Such an event failed to transpire in the the election immediately following Chomsky's prediction, but ominous signs indeed began to appear. In the early stages of the 2012 Republican primaries, some abnormally extreme candidates like Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain were close to being the favorites at one point. It was only after then, of course, that things really started to get crazy.

Donald Trump, who may have become president in 2012 had he not put off running, is regarded by many as just the type of person Chomsky warned about. "Be very afraid," warned James Kunstler late last year. "Donald Trump isn’t funny anymore. He’s Hitler without the brains and the charm." Chomsky's reaction to Trump's victory is similarly dire: "For many years, I have been writing and speaking about the danger of the rise of an honest and charismatic ideologue in the United States, someone who could exploit the fear and anger that has long been boiling in much of the society, and who could direct it away from the actual agents of malaise to vulnerable targets. That could indeed lead to what sociologist Bertram Gross called 'friendly fascism' in a perceptive study 35 years ago. But that requires an honest ideologue, a Hitler type, not someone whose only detectable ideology is Me. The dangers, however, have been real for many years, perhaps even more so in the light of the forces that Trump has unleashed."

This may sound ludicrous, but I do not believe Trump is the person he's talking about.

Chomsky's assessment of the factors behind Trump's rise is entirely accurate; exit polls in both the primaries and the general election show that Trump voters are generally resentful towards the political (though not quite so much economic) establishment, and the promise of change was for the most part what lead to Trump winning.

In this piece, I'm going to explain why I think that Trump, awful as he is, is just the prelude to a larger horror that's looming on the horizon. And first on my list of reasons for this is the fact that Trump's intentions have more do to with satisfying his own ego than changing the country. As Michael Moore very plausibly claimed in August, Trump's decision to run for president was originally more of a publicity stunt than a scheme to usher in an era of tyranny:
Trump was unhappy with his deal as host and star of his hit NBC show, “The Apprentice” (and “The Celebrity Apprentice”). Simply put, he wanted more money. He had floated the idea before of possibly running for president in the hopes that the attention from that would make his negotiating position stronger. But he knew, as the self-proclaimed king of the dealmakers, that saying you’re going to do something is bupkus — DOING it is what makes the bastards sit up and pay attention.
Trump had begun talking to other networks about moving his show. This was another way to get leverage — the fear of losing him to someone else — and when he "quietly" met with the head of one of those networks, and word got around, his hand was strengthened. He knew then that it was time to play his Big Card.
He decided to run for president.
Of course he wouldn’t really have to RUN for president — just make the announcement, hold a few mega-rallies that would be packed with tens of thousands of fans, and wait for the first opinion polls to come in showing him — what else! — in first place! And then he would get whatever deal he wanted, worth millions more than what he was currently being paid.
And though this cynical tactic to exploit the political process has evidently morphed since then into a genuine effort from Trump to become president, given the information above I have little reason to believe that he intends to commit to the job-or to his campaign promises.

Firstly is the issue of trade. One of the few legitimate problems that Trump has promised to address, the injustice of having corporations abandon American workers for higher profits is something that has famously made Trump win over many people who feel it hurts the economy. And yet Trump's actions so far have not matched his words; his VP pick of staunch neoliberal trade advocate Mike Pence was the first sign that he can't be trusted to confront this issue, along with the fact that all of his economic advisors seek to serve the interests of the corporations that benefit from the current trade system.

And then comes Trump's promise to "drain the swamp" of political corruption. In addition to how Trump is the most corrupt presidential candidate in history, this claim is made very hard to believe by the cabinet picks he's made so far, which include numerous lobbyists and former corporate donors to his campaign.

Other things that Trump has vowed to accomplish but likely won't is deport all undocumented immigrants, which he's decided not to attempt since being elected, and impose a ban on Muslims from entering the country, which the system won't allow him to do whether wants to or not. None of this is to say that he'll be unwilling or unable enact the other sinister policies that he and his aides have embraced-a return of waterboarding, a strengthened police state-but for the most part, it seems the authoritarian strongman that Trump supporters are looking for will not turn out to be Trump.

But if these failures of Trump's principle and integrity don't turn off his fans, who are extremely committed to remaining loyal to him, his handling of the economy will likely be what does in his initial support. Those in the bottom 99.9% of the income bracket, who are already very much feeling the financial consequences of forty years of neoliberal policies, will predictably become even poorer under the economic policies of Trump and the Republicans in the House and the Senate. And finally, the most dramatic way that Trump will betray his promises to improve the quality of life of Americans is by failing to adequately regulate the financial sector, which is sure to cause a new financial crisis that's likely to hit sometime within the first half of his term.

In short, though whether Donald Trump is charismatic is a matter of opinion, he is certainly not honest in his intentions. He may be a tyrant-in-the-making, but his inexperience, poor judgement, and lack of core values all make him destined for political failure. I can easily imagine that in time for the next election cycle, a great deal of Trump's former supporters will no longer view him as the appealing outsider who gave them hope in 2016, but as exactly what he is: another establishment politician. As Chomsky said, most demagogues and deceivers ultimately defeat themselves, and Trump will be no exception.

Unfortunately, this is where the opportunity will appear for the rise of something far worse than Trump.

While the extreme unpopularity of Trump circa the 2020 election cycle will of course make it easy for the left to win against him, the same will be true for the extreme right. It's a real possibility that after Trump has politically destroyed himself, a new demagogue who possesses far more skill and principle will beat him in the 2020 Republican primaries (or even upstage him while running third party) and become the next face of the ever more sinister American fascist movement.

If this sounds implausible, think of what author Umair Haque wrote last year regarding the direction that the political environment has been headed in for the past several years: "If I’d told you last Christmas that the leading contender for President of the richest and most powerful country on the globe had openly said that he was OK with armbands, internment camps, extra-judicial bans, and blood rights, unless you were a card-carrying member of Conspiracy Theorists International, you probably would have laughed at me."

And we may well see such an upset again, except this time it will represent something that genuinely resembles the Third Reich. No one illustrates my point better than John Feffer in his piece The Most Important Election Of Your Life Is Not This Year, the following quote from which, though I've used it before, is entirely appropriate for this article:
The real change will come when a more sophisticated politician, with an authentic political machine, sets out to woo America B [conservative America]. Perhaps the Democratic Party will decide to return to its more populist, mid-century roots. Perhaps the Republican Party will abandon its commitment to entitlement programs for the 1%.
More likely, a much more ominous political force will emerge from the shadows. If and when that new, neo-fascist party fields its charismatic presidential candidate, that will be the most important election of our lives.
As long as America B is left in the lurch by what passes for modernity, it will inevitably try to pull the entire country back to some imagined golden age of the past before all those "others" hijacked the red, white, and blue. Donald Trump has hitched his presidential wagon to America B. The real nightmare, however, is likely to emerge in 2020 or thereafter, if a far more capable politician who embraces similar retrograde positions rides America B into Washington.
While I used to think such an event would only materialize if Hillary Clinton had won, I now realize that the dark political energy capable of producing it has the ability to manifest itself regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican is in charge. Either way, the factors which are causing these fascist, reactionary sentiments will continue to antagonize the public, inching the nation ever closer to tyranny.

And when it gets to that point, we'll no doubt look back fondly on Glenn Beck and the teabaggers.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Clock Is Ticking For The Democrats

Throughout the four months that I've written articles on this site, the main thing I've focused on is advocating for the dissolution of the Democratic Party so that an alternative party which is capable of systemic change can arise. My central argument for this course of action has been that reforming the Democrats, though technically possible, is impractical compared to the option of scrapping this deeply corrupt party and starting anew.

However, since my greater goal is to help bring about such changes, I'm of course willing to reassess my approach if necessary, and it may turn out that I'm wrong about the need for such a plan. In the days since the election, many respected people who share my agenda have called for an effort to save the Democratic Party by remaking it. For just two examples, Bernie Sanders has endorsed leftist congressman Keith Ellison for the next DNC chair, and said that the party needs to be set on a more populist course. And Robert Reich has recommended that the party's current leadership "step down and be replaced by people who are determined to create a party that represents America – including all those who feel powerless and disenfranchised, and who have been left out of our politics and left behind in our economy."

And as I said, perhaps they're right. This year's collapse of the Democratic Party in its current form has created an opportunity for reforming it as well as replacing it, and both plans, given that they're successful, would yield equally good results.

But while turning around the party is indeed doable, the window of opportunity to do so gets smaller every day.

I'll start this analysis by assessing just how corrupt the Democratic Party is; for the past forty years, starting with the Carter Administration, Democrats have generally shown no regard to the interests of their base. They've helped lower the tax burden on the wealthy. They've enacted the so-called free trade deals that allowed for the unnecessary poverty of so many American workers. They've passed the deregulations of the financial sector that caused the Great Recession. And they've allowed for the election of Donald Trump by becoming a corporate party and thus rendering themselves politically impotent.

I could go on for a while about the failures of the party. But to address the question this article is meant to answer of whether attempting to reform it is worthwhile, we'll need to confront the level of control that corporate Democrats hold over it-and thus, how realistic the idea is of replacing them.

According to Open Secrets, Democratic politicians in this election cycle have generally taken about as much corporate campaign donations as Republicans, thus creating the neoliberal dynamic within their party. And though some of the blame for this falls upon the nature of America's campaign finance system, the rest can be attributed to the party's leadership; for many years, corporations have been the chief contributors to the Democratic National Committee. The same is true for the party's congressional and senatorial campaign committees.

Amid this eagerness of Democratic leaders to collude with neoliberal powers, it's no surprise that they're also eager to maintain their party's status quo. As Noah Rothman assesses regarding the efforts from Democratic officials to influence the outcome of the Democratic primaries:
Contrary to the presumption among grassroots conservative activists that the Republican Party is busily at work thwarting their aspirations, much of the GOP’s present disarray can be fairly attributed to the party’s desire to accommodate its restive base. The party could have taken any number of avenues that would have, for example, made it impossible for Donald Trump to ascend to the debate stage or to meet the requirements to secure ballot access at the state-level. Indeed, party officials flirted with those prospects, but cooler heads prevailed. The same cannot be said of the Democratic Party’s officials, who have been nakedly at work protecting Hillary Clinton from the scrutiny of her fellow party members.
The DNC, Rothman continues, decided to arrange the party's presidential debates in a way that helped Hillary Clinton, scheduling only six of them and putting them on days of the week where people where less likely to watch. And that article was from October of last year; the 2016 Democratic primaries, in addition to the usual undemocratic practices of closed primaries and superdelegates, was run with an extraordinary amount of bias against Bernie Sanders, with widespread voter suppression and electoral fraud having taken place.

All of these events reflect an undeniable effort among Democratic elites to keep their party's role as a tool of corporate interests by shutting out efforts from people like Sanders to reform it. And they intend to continue defending their neoliberal castle in the coming years as progressive invaders prepare to storm it. Establishment Democrats, declining Robert Reich's invitation to admit they did wrong by nominating Clinton and let genuine progressives take over the party, are blaming third party voters for their loss and backing the candidacy of corporate lobbyist Howard Dean for the next DNC chair seat.

And even if Dean or any other corporate Democrat loses their position to a Sandersist, it won't have much of an effect on the the party' agenda. Because as we've also learned from the 2016 election, the Democratic establishment has ways of crushing dissent when an outsider enters its ranks; when Hawaii congresswoman and DNC co-chair Tulsi Gabbard criticized the anti-Sanders bias of her colleagues last year, they disinvited her from one of the debates. And when she stepped down from her seat to endorse Sanders, they sent her a somewhat rude email which revealed their blatant hostility towards Sanders' candidacy, as well as their discomfort at having someone like Gabbard be apart of their group. "It’s very dangerous when we have people in positions of leadership who use their power to try to quiet those who disagree with them," Gabbard said last year. "When I signed up to be vice chair of the DNC, no one told me I would be relinquishing my freedom of speech and checking it at the door."

And so, barring a drastic shakeup in the Democrats' leadership sometime soon, reforming the party will be a largely uphill battle that takes several election cycles to fully win. And in the meantime, the party's appalling corruption is sure to make it difficult for Democrats to reboot in time for the 2018 and 2020 elections, at which point they may already be fatally damaged.While a senior Democratic aide remarked on the day after the election that the party's current crisis "Could get worse before it gets better," I'd say there's also a possibility that it will just keep getting worse from here.

Thus, though I'm eager to see the activism outside of electoral politics which Sanders and Reich will do in the next four years, I intend to seek a different approach than theirs of rebuilding the broken Democratic coalition: trying to rally it around a different party that isn't already corrupted by corporate interests. And such a party, which by default will most likely be the Greens, is already making some encouraging gains, with Green ballot access being at its highest levels ever, Green membership growing in places like Colorado and the Bronx, and Jill Stein having received almost three times the amount of votes this year than the last time she ran on the Green Party's presidential ticket in 2012.

However, this isn't to say that I think we should abandon the idea of reforming the Democratic Party entirely, just as those who want to reform it shouldn't abandon the idea of building a third party. Both of these plans have a good chance of failing, and should either of them prove to be the more difficult one, everyone should be prepared to unite around working towards the most realistic strategy.

Time will tell which approach is better. But in the meantime, I believe those in both of what are coming to be called the "Demexit" and "Dementer" camps should, to an extent, support the other group's cause; Demexiters, for instance, ought to help Keith Ellison become the next DNC chair and vote for down-ballot progressive Democrats in future elections. And Dementerers ought to help the Green Party gain ballot access and vote for any viable Green candidates they encounter. In the 2018 midterms, such a unity between the two camps will be crucial in order to stop the Republicans.

It's in 2020, though, that the fate of progressives who object to the Democratic establishment will likely be determined. If the Dementerers can replace enough of the Democratic Party's leadership by then to put it on track for long-term survival and reform, I'll gladly join their cause. If the Demexiters can build the Green Party into a viable option by then, Democrats should join our cause.

In either case, the Democratic Party as we know it is doomed. What remains to be seen is whether the party itself will be able to evolve before it's too late, or diminish to irrelevance and be replaced by the Greens via natural selection. What's ironic about all this is that Bernie Sanders, who's willing to run in 2020, may become part of whichever scenario comes to pass; if he hasn't been able to reform the Democratic Party at that point so that his campaign won't be sabotaged like in 2016, a third party run will probably be his best option. And if the opposite is the case, he'll of course be able to safely run as a Democrat.

The one certain thing, though, is that four years from now the establishment Democrats who mistreated progressives in 2016 will no longer have nearly as much power as they once did.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hillary Plays The Fiddle As The Democratic Party Burns

Aside from the small portion of the population that supported Donald Trump from the start of his presidential bid and are therefore the only ones who are truly glad to see him win (which, by the way, he only did so because of the rules of the Electoral College), all Americans can in some way agree that these last 24 hours have been a disappointing experience. From the many Republicans who thought his loss would have been for the best, to the marginalized groups who now fear for their safety, to the billions of people around the world from all walks of life who simply don't want a person like him to represent what's (for now) the most powerful nation, the results of yesterday's election were received bitterly.

There was another group of people, though, which was dismayed by the results: the 57% of Americans who want a third major political party in the United States. Though Gary Johnson and Jill Stein both had a good shot at receiving 5% or more of the popular vote, which would have qualified them for federal matching funds in 2020 and helped their parties rise to prominence, they both significantly under-performed, with Stein getting 1% and Johnson getting 3%. And since it was the irresponsible actions of the two major parties that created the factors behind Trump's success in the first place, this blow to the hopes of building a better alternative means that Trump won in two ways last night.

However, there's something that those who hope for the rise of a third party can take heart in: these results prove that the Democratic Party is now basically dead.

I assumed that it would be able to hold on for a little bit longer after 2016, believing, like most others, that Democrats would win the White House and the Senate. But for better or for worse, Election Day demonstrated that the political environment has been rendered uninhabitable for the party's brand.

The brand I'm talking about is centrism. Or, to put it less politely, a political strategy which is based on promising to fix the system while working to uphold it. Democrats have practiced this cynical tactic for decades, and for a while they thrived under it, but a political structure that's built on empty promises is bound to decay over time, and November 8, 2016 can be considered the day it finally grew too weak to stand.

The first signs of the Democrats' transformation into a disguised tool of the status quo came in the years between the 1968 and 1972 election cycles, when the former supporters of George McGovern worked to reform the party. Though the Democratic Party under the McGovern coalition was more anti-war and pro-civil rights than the one before it, this new version of the Democrats had left behind many of the economically populist values that the party had previously represented in order to appeal to the types of young, socially liberal members of the professional class which would dominate the Democratic base for the next several decades.

Perhaps this pivot was necessary, as it made Democrats into a valuable ally of marginalized groups and advocates of peace, but it had come at a price. In 1972, many working class whites who had used to make up the party's base realigned with the Republican Party, costing Democrats the election. This cleared the way for Jimmy Carter, the logical conclusion of the anti-worker Democratic standard that the party had adopted, to appear in 1976.

It was no coincidence that income inequality, long on the decline, then began to climb upward in the late 70's. Carter took on an elite-oriented approach to economics that none of his recent predecessors, Democratic or Republican, had come close to embracing, enacting deregulations, neglecting infrastructure and social spending, and failing to invest in jobs. Though most see Clinton as the first neoliberal Democratic president, the party had gone in that direction long before the 90's.

The Democrats' corruption has only gotten worse since then, with the party being responsible for the Wall street deregulations, anti-worker trade deals, cuts to the social safety net, and other policies which have driven economic inequality to levels unprecedented in American history. Therefore, it's no wonder that Republicans have been able to get working class whites solidly on their side since 1972, and it should certainly come as no shock that Trump was able to so successfully utilize this anger against the economic order which Democrats represent.

New Yorker writer George Packer, in an article about the disillusionment so many economically insecure people are feeling towards the Democratic Party, assesses the mindset of the early 70's McGovern Democrats as they decided to re-route their party's direction away from economic populism: "The class rhetoric of the New Deal sounded out of date, and the problems it addressed appeared to have been solved by the wide prosperity of the postwar years." This exposes the irony of the situation; the Democrats of four decades ago, forgetful of the reason their party had shifted towards economic populism during the 1930's and 40's (hint: extreme wealth inequality), saw no problem with pivoting towards big business and setting society on the same track that had led it into the great economic and political disasters of the 20th century.

And now, with the ascension of fascism which the modern era of extreme inequality has produced having triumphed in the United States, Democrats are facing the ugly consequences of their mistakes. The coalition of economically privileged liberals which defined the Democratic Party in the late 20th century now lies in ruins, with most of them having either become poorer in the last several decades or died off to be replaced by their less well-off millennial children. And because of the failure of Hillary Clinton and other establishment Democrats to address the economic concerns of their new base, Democratic voter turnout was low in this election, which may well have been the cause of the party's losses. In other words, the center didn't hold this year, and it without a doubt won't hold in 2018 or 2020 either.

However, as I said, this collapse of the center doesn't mean that it's now free game for the reactionary right. In spite of these election results, the left is very much in the majority, and the only reason this year wasn't a victory for progressivism is that there's been no viable option for progressives to unite around; Bernie Sanders, who would have beaten Trump were he the nominee, had his campaign sabotaged by Democratic officials, and Jill Stein, who would have been able to do the same if she'd had the opportunity, was held back by the fact that Greens are (for now) a minor party.

Indeed, I would say that Trump and Friends got lucky this time; the left, which was caught off guard in 2016, will have far better opportunities to mobilize and win in future elections. As Trump's presidency couples with the new financial crisis that will happen within the next few years to intensify the public's anger towards the political and economic establishment, progressives will have an enormous opening, with the vast portion of the electorate which desires positive social change being compelled to take action. And since many anti-Trump Republicans are likely to realign with the Democratic Party in the coming years (a trend which has already started), the possibility of reforming Democrats into an instrument for progressive change looks like it's bound to become increasingly remote, making the prospect of building a viable third party for the left in the near future very much doable.

But regardless of which party becomes the home of the progressive movement during these next four years, I'm more confident than not that it will succeed. Because as Robert Reich put it in an Election Night Facebook post:
It's an awful night, terrible news. If Trump becomes the next president, as seems likely, we're in for an awful ride.
But it's also an opportunity.
The American power structure -- both in the Democratic and in the Republican parties -- has been dealt a severe blow. Bernie Sanders was correct: The moneyed interests rigged our political-economic system against most Americans. And now the backlash has begun.
It was always going to be a contest between authoritarian populism and progressive populism, eventually. For now, authoritarian populism has won. That's the real meaning of Donald Trump. But if we are united and smart and disciplined, progressive populism will triumph, because it's humane.
Do not give up the fight. The real fight has just begun.
Like the ideological center, the Democratic Party went down in flames last night. Now we need to build something better in its smoldering ruins.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

We Can't Let Hillary Clinton Spoil This Election

It was almost sixteen years ago, on November 7, 2000, that Al Gore spoiled the 2000 election.

Though Ralph Nader's supporters urged those in Gore's camp to be pragmatic, reminding them that voting for a major party candidate in most states would be pointless and that building the Green Party was important for advancing progressive goals, but too many of them wouldn't listen. Though Nader had enough support to receive 5% of the vote, which would have given the Greens increased ballot access and federal matching funds in the next election, thanks to Gore he lost that opportunity. Democrats have since tried to deny this mistake, falsely accusing the Greens of swinging the election to Bush, but they just can't escape it; because of the unnecessary number of people who voted for Gore in 2000, the country has paid a terrible price.

Thankfully, though, Americans have a chance not to repeat that mistake in 2016.

To be clear, I do not want Donald trump to win any more than I wish George W. Bush had become president. Bush was by far less competent and responsible than Gore, and in the case of Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump, that difference is of course magnified a hundredfold. You just can't expect to admit an erratic, overtly tyrannical figure like Trump into the center of the republic's power structure without there being possibly fatal consequences for its future.

But as a great deal of people have become aware of since 2000, the other option isn't much better. While Trump denies climate change, Clinton's approach to addressing it is not at all adequate. While the prospect of having Trump make foreign policy decisions seriously introduces the possibility of a third world war, Clinton's plans for handling the situation in Syria could very well have similar consequences. While Trump's presence on the world stage and economic ideas would likely lead to an economic collapse, Clinton's pro-Wall Street policies would result in a repeat of the 2008 banking crisis. While Trump's proposals for cutting taxes on the wealthy would hurt the middle-class, Clinton's neoliberal stances on many other economic issues would increase inequality as well. Both are in service of big business and the military-industrial complex, both are opposed to reforming the system in a positive way, and while Hillary may be safer, both will take us on a dangerous path.

And if we again choose to give into the demands of the lesser evil because we're told it's the only way to stop the greater evil, evil will win either way.

You may or may not agree with my assessment that stopping Trump is the most important thing, but in the majority of cases, voting for Hillary Clinton will not be necessary to do so. The rules of the Electoral College make it so that the outcomes of presidential elections are determined by how many electoral votes, not popular votes, a candidate gets, which means that in all the forty or so non-swing states, voting third party will not pose any risk of swinging the election. In other words, unless you live in a battleground state, you should ignore anyone who tells you that a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Trump.

This brings us to another tactic the Clinton camp is using to discourage people from voting Green: spreading the notion that there aren't enough Stein supporters to make a 5% vote share for her possible. While the online polls that show Stein having as much support as the major party candidates are of course completely unreliable, so are the conventional polls that put her around 2%; as I made the case for in a past article, mainstream surveys too often under-sample groups like young people and independents or involve asking participants questions which make them less likely to answer that they support third parties.

Additional evidence that Stein in fact has more support than is being reported comes from how 12% of independents, 13% of former Bernie Sanders supporters, and 16% of young people support her. These are all major chunks of the electorate, and if a poll were conducted which represented them adequately, I think it would very likely find that Stein has the backing of 5% or more of the electorate.

Sadly, this by no means guarantees that the Greens will receive that much of the vote two days from now. Nader had enough support to get him 5% of it as well, but many of those who wanted to vote for him were swayed by the Democratic spin that doing so would help Bush in every case. And barring something unprecedented, it looks like Democrats are about to spoil another election.

Except that's where the main point of this article comes in: something unprecedented is in fact at work.

This is not the same country it was sixteen years ago. Back then, politicians like Al Gore and the Clintons could promise to overturn the economic and political status quo, do everything they could to uphold it, and still rely on the loyalty of their base. But naturally, this dynamic could not survive for much longer; throughout the third millennium, the irresponsibility and greed of America's leaders has done too much harm for the pubic to ignore, and something in the political environment has shifted.

Since 2000, the leaders of both major parties have subverted the constitution and turned America into a surveillance state. They've made the world more dangerous and wasted trillions of dollars by engaging in a campaign of endless war. They've driven up economic inequality to historic levels by giving into the wishes of their wealthy donors. And most consequentially, they've caused the atmosphere's carbon levels to reach what may well be the breaking point for the future of climate stability. Thankfully, though, the injustice and danger of the situation that these decisions have created is only matched by the drive that the public has to change things for the better.

As was the case sixteen years ago, the polls show that the majority of Americans want to solve the problems mentioned above. What's different now is that they've grown so big that the public has become compelled to seek out alternatives to the established political paradigm. In recent years, populist sentiments in both America and abroad have reached a boiling point, with voters in much of the industrial world taking serious action to challenge the broken political and economic system. Though this revolt has too often taken a reactionary rather than progressive form, with the rise of demagogic figures like Donald Trump and Marine La Pen, the political climate has nonetheless become dramatically more favorable to leaders like Jill Stein since the beginning of the century.

Already, there are many signs that the Greens are in a better position than ever to pull off an upset. The party's ballot access is higher this year than in any previous election cycle, and as I've iterated throughout this article, their support is at a level not seen in a long time. Andrea Merida, co-chair of the Green Party of Colorado, has described these and other positive signs as "a mandate for the Green Party." And she's not the only Green leader expressing hope; Jill Stein published an op-ed recently which treated a 5% vote share for the Greens as a serious possibility and compared the position her party is currently in to where the Republican Party was in 1854.

So long story short, this is the first election cycle ever where Greens have the potential to break through the obstacles which have been put up against them and other third parties, and we must take advantage of that. If you are not in a swing state, I highly recommend you vote for Jill Stein, and if you are and still plan to do so, my own opinion shouldn't stop you. Because as Democrats like to say, we must not forget what happened in 2000.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The 2016 Election Is The Only Thing Holding The Two-Party System Together

In a past article, I once made a (seemingly) shocking prediction: that in the near future, the combined number of people who affiliate with the Republican and Democratic parties will make up less than half of the electorate. The reasons I give for believing this duopoly-imperiling event is on its way have to do with the fact that according to a January Gallup poll, combined Democratic and Republican identification is at 55%, and because the events of this election have left so many people alienated with the two major parties, that percentage is bound to soon drop below fifty.

However, as I recently discovered, Gallup takes their party affiliation poll a lot more frequently than I assumed, and when I looked at the most recent survey (taken in September), to my dismay I found that the combined number of Democrats and Republicans had since gone up to 59%.

How could this be, I thought. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the most disliked (and probably the easiest to dislike) presidential nominees in history. About half of both Republicans and Democrats wish that someone else were their party's nominee. Trump is driving evangelicals, women, and Latinos away from the Republican Party, while Clinton is alienating the most important part of the Democratic Party's base-progressives. These ideological rifts within the two major parties are just the latest and most dramatic in the massive decline of support that they've both been experiencing for the last several years, and there's evidently no reason to think that that trend will start to reverse. To say that Democratic and Republican membership has respectively went from 29 and 26 percent to 32 and 27 percent since the beginning of the year seems to defy all logic, or at least prove that Americans are far too intrenched in party loyalty for the two-party system to end anytime soon.

The current party affiliation polls notwithstanding, though, Democrats and Republicans are in just as bad shape as intuition would have it.

When looking at the long-term history of Gallup's party affiliation polls, one notices an intriguing phenomena: identification in the two major parties always reaches a high point around the time of presidential elections. In 2012, the poll that put independents at 33%-by far that year's lowest estimation of independents-was taken days before the election. In 2008, the poll that put independents at 32%-a notably low number for that year as well-was taken in late October. And in 2004, the two polls in a row that put independents at 27%-down from 40% at the beginning of the year-were taken in the weeks before Election Day. I know these examples are far from conclusive evidence, but they seem proof enough to me that as elections approach, people tend to coalesce around the party that they prefer will win.

Just as the support for third party candidates always drops approaching election day while many of their former backers get behind the major party candidate that they're the least dissatisfied with, the same appears to be true for party affiliation. This theory of mine seems to be further supported in how during the primary season this year, loyalty to the two major parties began to drop with Republicans making up 25% of the electorate in April and Democrats making up 28% of it in May. And since then, after things have switched into the next phase of the campaign, the polls have generally shown a higher amount of "support" for the Democratic and Republican parties. The lack of sincerity among many of the 59% of Americans who say they side with the two major parties is betrayed in how, at the same time, 57% of Americans say they think a third major party is needed.

And when the piece of partisan glue which is the 2016 election becomes irrelevant on November 9, there will be nothing to stop that 57% of the population from acting on their wishes and changing the party system.

After the election is over and the nation's partisanship has returned to a sane level, the majority of Americans who are dissatisfied with the major parties will have an opportunity to defy them. Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton wins, Trumpism and Clintonism will retain their control over the agendas of the Republican and Democratic parties throughout the foreseeable future, and that will not sit well with most Americans. The ideological split between traditional Republicans and those in Trump's camp will likely continue to grow, quite possibly resulting in a sudden success for the Liberitarian Party or something similar to it in future elections. Meanwhile, the divide on the Democratic side between those who embrace neoliberalism and those who want to fight it (which I think is hurting Democrats more than the right's ideological split is hurting Republicans) could very well result in the rise of a populist party like the Greens.

If you think such a shift isn't realistic, keep in mind that the main factor behind the current split within the two parties, wherein most of the Republican base now embraces Trumpism and most of the Democratic base now rejects Clintonism, is the now historic amount of economic inequality which has appeared because of the pro-big business policies that the Republican and Democratic establishments have supported for the past four decades. And as the trend of growing economic inopportunity continues throughout the next four years, with Obama's likely successor Hillary Clinton presiding over an ongoing assault on the middle class and a new financial crisis, populist sentiments on both the left and the right will only become more intense, making the creation of a four-party system by 2020 a serious possibility.

So in the meantime, Democratic and Republican insiders should enjoy the increased amount of support for their parties while they still can.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Waking Up From Our Neoliberal Nightmare

On November 9, after Hillary Clinton is likely elected, those who I suspect will be celebrating the most are not the millions of people in the lower and middle classes that largely voted for her out of fear of Donald Trump-it will be the heads of Wall Street, corporate America, and the rest of the economic and political establishment, who are eager to see their empire keep smoothly humming along. Because while both candidates can of course be relied upon to help the interests of big business, Trump's annoying habit of disrupting markets by simply being a major presence on the national stage makes Clinton Wall Street's favored option.

And so, as most Americans give themselves a (largely unenthusiastic) pat on the back for vanquishing Trump and getting a woman into the White House, things go back to business-as-usual. The president-elect and the other representatives of the corporate state can get started on planning the latest series of wars, anti-worker trade deals, corporate tax cuts, and other policies which will further the interests of the super-rich. For most people, the fact that Trump has been avoided will ultimately come as little comfort; either way, the 2016 election will be yet another defeat for those who are being hurt by the unrestrained model of capitalism that most countries have embraced for the last four decades or so, and a victory for those who benefit from this economic system, whose relatively little-known but important to understand name is neoliberalism.

This term, though not to be confused with capitalism, can be considered the logical conclusion of it; whereas capitalism merely allows private corporations to be the chief players in the economy, neoliberalism takes things many steps further by saying that corporations and the wealthy have more rights than ordinary people. Another way to describe it is an economic system which is based purely on competition. In a neoliberal society, if anyone gets ahead or falls behind in the economic game, the rules are essentially re-written to favor the winner and punish the loser.

Anis Shivani assesses how neoliberalism, which originated as a term in the 20th century and was more or less implemented for the first time during that period, is different from past economic systems that have favored elites in his brilliant article This Is Our Neoliberal Nightmare: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, And Why The Market and the Wealthy Win Every Time:
Neoliberalism has been more successful than most past ideologies in redefining subjectivity, in making people alter their sense of themselves, their personhood, their identities, their hopes and expectations and dreams and idealizations. Classical liberalism was successful too, for two and a half centuries, in people’s self-definition, although communism and fascism succeeded less well in realizing the “new man.”
It cannot be emphasized enough that neoliberalism is not classical liberalism, or a return to a purer version of it, as is commonly misunderstood; it is a new thing, because the market, for one thing, is not at all free and untethered and dynamic in the sense that classical liberalism idealized it. Neoliberalism presumes a strong state, working only for the benefit of the wealthy, and as such it has little pretence to neutrality and universality, unlike the classical liberal state.
I would go so far as to say that neoliberalism is the final completion of capitalism’s long-nascent project, in that the desire to transform everything—every object, every living thing, every fact on the planet—in its image had not been realized to the same extent by any preceding ideology. Neoliberalism happens to be the ideology—unlike the three major forerunners in the last 250 years—that has the fortune of coinciding with technological change on a scale that makes its complete penetration into every realm of being a possibility for the first time in human history.
Perhaps it's this aspect of neoliberalism, wherein corporations and the state work together to concentrate power and resources, that has made it so that inequality is now higher than it's ever been in American history. And according to Shivani, it can only get worse from here. "Neoliberalism has its end-game in sight," he writes, "letting inequality continue to escalate past the crash point (meaning the point where the economy works for most people), past any tolerable degradation of the planet (which is being reconceptualized in the shape of the market)."

In this piece, I'm going to discuss why I believe the future will in fact be the opposite of what he describes.

The reasoning behind Shivani's prediction (which he admits is only speculative) of a long-term victory for the corporate state is that neoliberalism, it seems to him, is too powerful an ideology for people to turn against. The economic elite, by getting so many in the lower classes to buy into neoliberalism's philosophy of profit at any cost, has essentially persuaded much of the public to surrender to its oppressors. In a culture that puts individual gain above all else and considers things like human beings and the environment to be commodities, it can become easy for those who are being left behind in the neoliberal system to rationalize its existence.

What I feel Shivani doesn't sufficiently take into account is the fact that, for the most part, such a culture does not exist in America.

The most recent Gallup poll on income inequality shows that only 31% of Americans do not think wealth should be more equally distributed. Another survey from Gallup shows just 21% of Americans think the rich pay their fair amount in taxes, while 15% think they pay too much. So is the case with virtually every other issue, from the idea of universal health care to ending the wars to raising the minimum wage to reforming campaign finance; the majority of Americans, in spite of the neoliberal propaganda that elites have tried to sell to them for so many years, know which kinds of policies benefit them.

But perhaps as Shivani was also meaning to point out, the surveys notwithstanding, the public has yet to stage a serious effort to overthrow the neoliberal order. Americans have believed in things like redistributing the wealth and raising taxes on the wealthy for about as long as neoliberalism was the dominant system, and yet no successful effort to challenge it has materialized.

I addressed this seemingly discouraging fact in my previous article, wherein I argued that because the current levels of economic inequality so closely resemble that of past unequal eras, which were followed by populist uprisings that brought inequality back down, our society is on the cusp of just such a revolt. This somewhat outdated chart (inequality has gotten worse since 2013) illustrates my point:
It's hard to look at that picture and not think that a turning point is near.

However, that piece mainly focused on the effects that I believe this coming period of class revolt will have on electoral politics. And as everyone should know when attempting to bring about true systemic change, this is just one aspect of the larger movements that will need to take place within society before meaningful improvement occurs.

Even the political future that income inequality has led me to believe will be realized in the next several years, wherein America's two corporate parties are overtaken by a populist party, is not enough; due to Republican gerrymandering, America's liberal party, be it the Democrats or the Greens, will have zero chance of taking the House until 2030. We can't wait until then to try to make Washington work for the people; in addition to electing Greens to high positions in government, we'll need to persuade the Republicans who will control congress for the next decade-and-a-half to stop helping their wealthy donors. And in this article, which can be considered a follow-up to my last one, I'll discuss how that is completely doable.

A good case study to use in this guide to reversing inequality in the 21st century is the last period of major economic unfairness, which took place in the 20th century. This era, whose levels of income disparity can be observed in the chart above, indeed required factors much bigger than electoral politics to make it end. After more than a half-century of increasing economic exploitation under the proto-neoliberal ideology of classical liberalism, the economy fell apart. The Great Depression, which, like many other economic collapses, was caused by economic inequality, can be considered the "rock bottom" that this debt-dependent, economically concentrated society needed to turn itself around.

It's no coincidence that income inequality in the 20th century peaked in 1928, the year before the crisis started. Peter Turchin explains how the aftermath of the recession led to redistribution in his essay Return Of The Oppressed:
The US elites entered into an unwritten compact with the working classes. This implicit contract included the promise that the fruits of economic growth would be distributed more equitably among both workers and owners. In return, the fundamentals of the political-economic system would not be challenged (no revolution). The deal allowed the lower and upper classes to co-operate in solving the challenges facing the American Republic — overcoming the Great Depression, winning the Second World War, and countering the Soviet threat during the Cold War.
The really notable thing about this change of attitudes among the country's leaders, though, is how it didn't take an overthrow of the political establishment to change how the government worked.

During that time, both parties, as is the case now, were in service of big business. The representatives of neither party were willing to challenge the centers of power, with Franklin Roosevelt being no exception. At the time of Roosevelt's first presidential campaign in 1932, he was in fact a fiscal conservative who was funded by Wall Street and considered a balanced budget to be more important than helping the American people in their greatest time of need. As the populist anger of the public loomed ever larger during his term, though, he and the rest of the Washington establishment decided to change their economic approach, enacting the New Deal policies that brought down income inequality and began a thirty-year period where keynesianism was the dominant ideology in American politics.

But then, of course, came society's new and latest descent into inequality. Starting with Jimmy Carter's pro-big business policies, neoliberalism became the driving force in the actions of most government officials, eventually leading to the sad state of affairs that we're in today.

What remains to be seen, though, is exactly what the fall of neoliberalism will look like. The events that brought about the downfall of classical liberalism are set to repeat themselves soon, with a possibly Great Depression-level economic collapse sure to take place sometime within the next president's first term. Due to the unwillingness of government officials to meaningfully reform the country's banking system after the 2008 crash, along with the many other factors that make the global economy unsustainable (income inequality being a notable player), the continuation of the status quo that Hillary Clinton's presidency will bring is certain to result in a breakdown of the fragile, largely illusory economic order that elites have constructed.

"The potential for wrecking markets and currencies around the world is extreme at this moment," wrote James Kunstler last month, who thinks that this crash will happen quite soon. "It may only be a matter of whether it happens before or after the election. Then we’ll see what happens when financial institutions can’t trust each other. Trade stops. Economies crumble. Pretenses evaporate. If it gets bad enough, the shelves of the supermarkets go bare in three days and you’re living in a permanent hurricane disaster without the wind and rain. Believe me, that will be bad enough."

What Kunstler thinks things will look like in the aftermath of the (somewhat dramatized) scenario that he describes is similarly pessimistic: "Hillary, if elected, will not get to play FDR-2. Rather, she’ll be stuck in the role of Hoover, the Return, presiding over a freight elevator of an economy with a broken cable. Expect problems with the US dollar. Expect 'emergency' actions. Expect the unintended consequences of those actions."

That may well be the case. But given how the public is sure to react to this disaster, I believe major governmental reforms will result from it as well. After the collapse occurs, the economically populist movements that we've witnessed in the past several years such as Occupy Wall Street and Democracy Spring will likely experience massive reboots, with hundreds of millions of people across the country from all sides of the political spectrum coming together in opposition to the destructive and tremendously unfair economic system. This revolt, in addition to resulting in the rise of a populist third party, will force the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties to comply with the demands of their base, with President Clinton and the other corporatists in Washington suddenly taking on a less neoliberal approach to governing amid overwhelming public pressure. At least to an extent, and not by choice, Hillary may get to "play FDR-2" after all.

Of course, such dramatic changes in the right direction will not come easily or quickly, and that will create additional problems. Economic inequality tends to lead to the rise of fascist regimes, and Trump's campaign only represents the beginning of what will happen to American politics as faith in established institutions and  the ideological "center" continues to erode in the coming years; reactionary populism is bound to succeed in future elections in addition to progressive populism, and the next time the political demons that neoliberalism has summoned have an opportunity to come out, they will have a much better chance to win than has been the case in 2016.

"There must be many others out there like myself wondering who will emerge from the rubble?" writes Kunstler regarding the person who's waiting in the wings to fill the role of Trump's ideological heir four years from now. "I suspect it will be someone we haven’t heard of before, just as Bonaparte was unheard of in France in 1792."

Thankfully, though, as Peter Turchin concludes in his essay, such a fate for our society, wherein the public reacts to income inequality by blowing up the system rather than changing it, is entirely avoidable:
Our society, like all previous complex societies, is on a rollercoaster. Impersonal social forces bring us to the top; then comes the inevitable plunge. But the descent is not inevitable. Ours is the first society that can perceive how those forces operate, even if dimly. This means that we can avoid the worst — perhaps by switching to a less harrowing track, perhaps by redesigning the rollercoaster altogether.
In any case, though, the neoliberal paradigm's chances of surviving the next five or ten years is the same as the chance a car will continue traveling upward after it's reached the top of a hill. Those who have been left behind by neoliberalism already want it replaced by something better, and while economic meltdown appears to be the only thing that can motivate them to take sufficient action, it will all be worthwhile in the long run.