Tag Archives: Bernie Sanders

Reflections on the progressive path forward

Reflections on the progressive path forward. 

The 2018 mid-term election was an astounding repudiation of Donald Trump, and an affirmation of a progressive alternative for the United States. A Democratic Party that has clearly moved to the Left on issues across the board – no doubt stimulated by the efforts of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, in particular – achieved historic gains that were only limited by the extreme gerrymandering that the Republicans have instituted following their successes in 2010. And these clearly remain serious structural impediments to further progressive politics, to a consideration of which I will turn shortly. 

But we can be particularly excited by the racial, cultural, and gender diversity of the “class of 18.” And this achievement itself was built upon the most significant fact of all, namely the unprecedented politicization and mobilization of vast sectors of the electorate, across the country, a mobilization without precedent in modern American history. So many from all walks of life have come to realize that basic aspects of our culture and institutions – including much that we had always simply taken for granted as the gift of “American exceptionalism” – because “God had shed His grace” on us – were not guaranteed, and were directly threatened by the Trump Administration and its transformation of the Republican Party into a willing vehicle of a burgeoning American neo-Fascism. 

In the truly national scope and sustained action of this popular mobilization lies the basis of the exciting electoral success. And in the sustaining and expanding of this unprecedented national mobilization lies the hope and possibility of effectively advancing a progressive agenda that can reclaim American politics through the national elections of 2020, the consequent state-by-state redistricting, and thus for years thereafter.   

Therein resides our legitimate excitement, our organizational challenge, and our potential strategic trap. And it is to that potential “trap” that I want to address the better part of these remarks. For we are engaged in a long-term struggle with the forces of reaction, which, unfortunately, are all too strong across America – as attested to by Trump’s continued support at around 40%. We must build and expand the national constituency for progressive politics. And we must not alienate significant dimensions of that national mobilization by overplaying our hand. We must avoid getting carried away by some of the most remarkable progressive successes, mostly in the liberal bastions of many locations – but not all – in the Northeast, mid-West and West Coast, for example, thus playing into the hands of reaction. 

Let me explicate this challenge by drawing on a few excellent points developed by Michael Tomasky in the current issue of the New York Review of Books to which we need to pay careful attention. He first correctly draws the following two key takeaways from the recent election: 1) the necessity for the Democrats to increasingly mobilize their base to counter the Trumpian mobilization; and 2) the need to address the increasingly dramatic split between, on the one hand, the expanding urban and suburban base of the Democratic electorate and, on the other hand, its drastically shrinking support in small town and rural Americas, the base of the Trumpian Republican Party. 

Here, Tomasky observes that “there is no clearer sign of the changing shape of the Democratic coalition than the fact that going into the 2018 midterm elections, six of the 20 richest congressional districts were represented by Republicans but that when the new Congress is sworn in, all 20 will be represented by Democrats…. But by 2020, the Democrats will have to find ways to improve their performance in exurban and rural areas. This is not only for the sake of defeating Trump, but also to have any chance of recapturing the Senate.” 

Here, “a look at the Beto O’Rourke’s defeat in Texas, compared with Sherrod Brown’s victory in increasingly Republican Ohio, … is instructive.” While O’Rourke only lost by “around 220,000 votes out of 8.33 million cast, (he) carried just thirty-two of the state’s 254 counties, … (he) got walloped (in most of the rest). For example, … in six of the seven counties that surround (the city of Fort Worth), Cruz won 54, 68, 76, 80, 81, and 82 percent. And he won 70 or 80 percent of the vote in dozens of the smaller rural counties.” In contrast, Brown was victorious by being able to keep his deficit in similar rural and small town Ohio to around 60%.

Tomasky then observes that “the electoral consequences should be clear. Consider the Senate map of 2020. Thirty-four senators will face reelection (except for those who choose to retire). Of those, twenty-three will be Republicans, and just eleven Democrats. That sounds favorable to Democrats, but if you look closer, about fourteen of the Republicans represent deep-red states where they should cruise to reelection. The other seven will not be easy to flip. The fattest target is probably Maine incumbent Susan Collins. Maine just elected a Democratic governor, who is also the state’s first female governor. But beating an incumbent senator is always hard (though some believe Collins may retire). The other states where Democrats may have a shot include Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, and Texas. Donald Trump carried five of those six. All have major cities, but all are states where it’s hard to win by carrying only the most populous counties and doing poorly in the rural ones.”

“As for the presidency,” Tomasky continues, “there are a number of states—the Great Lakes states, North Carolina, Florida, and even Arizona and Georgia—where the pro-Trump vote in the rural counties will be so amped up that the Democrat, while winning the big counties, will have a tough time overcoming it.“

While not exploring the causes of this electoral divide, which bears on the political and economic failures of both parties over the last 50 years, to which I will turn shortly, Tomasky offers the following “stunning statistics. The United States has experienced three recessions since 1990(:) … after the early 1990s recession, 71 percent of the new business growth occurred in counties with fewer than 500,000 people (and within that, 32 percent in counties with fewer than 100,000 people). After the 2002–2003 recession, that 71 percent shrank to 51 percent. And after the Great Recession of 2007–2009, the number was 19 percent—and in counties under 100,000 growth was literally zero.That is a crisis. It’s at the root of the opioid epidemic, and it’s why so many young people leave these towns.” And those most recent numbers happened under the neo-Liberal Obama Administration. This highlights one of the central reasons these regions are so desperate for change, and so angry at all political establishments, but especially those they see as aligned with urban cosmopolitan interests and values, which they primarily identify with the Democrats.

There is so much more than can and should be said about the causes and scope of this problem which I cannot address here, except to note that this economic situation and political divide is a direct result of the process of Neo-Liberal Globalization that has dominated the Western World since at least the arrival of Thatcher and Reagan. And it has had similar results across the “advanced West,” not to speak of its more global consequences. For example, it is the essential background for the almost unprecedented nation-wide mobilization of the French people against the Neo-Liberal policies of the Macron Administration, that has effectively brought that government to its knees.

But I only want to underline here the fact that a progressive Democratic program, if it is to be successful, must begin to address this economic and cultural divide. And to do that, it must break from the Neo-LIberal orthodoxy of its Clinton-Obama establishment, that has left behind so much of America. Here, Tomasky highlights “the Democrats’ two big electoral tasks as they head into 2020: to invest in maximizing turnout among their base voters in cities and diverse suburbs, and to take steps to ensure that they can become more competitive in the exurbs and the countryside. These goals may seem as though they contradict each other, but they need not; both constituencies would be open to an agenda emphasizing public investments that help middle- and working-class people. There will be some tension on cultural issues, and Democrats shouldn’t go overboard in pandering for rural votes. After all, they’re not trying win those areas; just to perform about 10 or 15 points better—at Sherrod Brown’s levels rather than Beto O’Rourke’s.”

But here’s where the “trap” of potential Left-wing overreach emerges. The danger that the Left will get carried away with its political enthusiasm and ideological rhetoric. I think of talk I have heard that speaks of an ascendant Left that should direct the Democrat’s national program. Or a recent program of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” for example, on which Lawrence O’Donnell assembled a panel of “experts” to propound that Trump’s most recent series of tweets makes it incumbent on the New Democratic House of Representatives that they immediately begin impeachment proceedings. However desirable both of these goals may well be, they overreach the currently politically possible, and threaten to energize a popular backlash.

Just to note two salient points from the 2018 election in support of this caution. First, a significant majority of the Democrats’ 40 seat shift in the House of Representatives was accomplished with quite narrow electoral margins. Several were not even decided for several weeks. Second, as Michael Tomasky points out – a fact too many Left-wing advocates have ignored – “left-wing candidates did not do well overall in this election. The three major left-wing groups that endorsed candidates this year flipped no House seats from red to blue, while the more centrist New Dem PAC flipped twenty-eight seats.” To which he adds, challengingly, “what the Democrats will need in 2020, far more than a candidate of the left, or for that matter of the avowed center, is one who can withstand what will undoubtedly be the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign in the country’s modern history and provide the clearest moral contrast to the incumbent.”

He then concludes, quite on the mark as far as I am concerned, “the party now has the power to hold Trump and his administration accountable. They shouldn’t overreach and carry on about impeachment. Removing Trump from office would require the assent of about twenty Republican senators and is therefore basically impossible. They should just expose the corruption through holding aggressive oversight hearings and trust the American people to reach the right conclusion. Trump’s partisans are fierce, but the election showed that they are, however narrowly, outnumbered.”

So where is the danger of overreach? Clearly any attempt to immediately move for impeachment, for which much of the Country is clearly not ready, and on which platform few successful Democrats ran, would not be well received. Before any such effort might become practicable, there will need to be an ongoing series of quite legitimate public investigations by the New Democratic House, plus continual revelations by the Justice Department. That might “soften up” the terrain for an impeachment inquiry. But that’s at best down the road. 

Even more challenging and potentially destructive in the short run, is the emerging progressive strategy to advance a Green New Deal. Clearly, such a program can embody an exciting vision of a potentially transformative progressive program to address both the challenge of global warming and offer an effective alternative to that Neo-LIberal abandonment of large sections of American society. It is essential, of course, that we have such a program – and develop a consequent movement – to promote the comprehensive structural changes in the US economy that addresses both the profound dangers to civilization posed by Global Warming, and the vast destabilizing income inequalities and regional disparities that have been caused by Neo-Liberal Globalization. Let me be quite clear about that.

At the same time, however, the proposed Green New Deal, embodies a practical trap of political overreach for the Democratic Party, driven by an excited progressive movement that is well ahead of where much of the Country is at present. The danger is that the excitement of electoral successes and the real need of systemic change, will drive ideologically committed progressives to mistake a necessary directional goal for a non-révisable and achievable short-term political program. That is to make a two-fold basic strategic error, one methodological, and one political.

Methodologically, it is to mistake a projected and necessary end-in-view with the short term programs that can begin to move us in the desired direction. An end-in-view should be seen, not as a final goal that we are to insist be imposed upon our politics here and now. Rather, it should be seen as a “means to present action.” It is a necessary marker of a direction for our politics to take. It sets forth a needed theoretical frame and political direction to guide our short-term policies and programs. As we proceed with their practical implementation, reality itself is changed, and that will inevitably require us to continually revise and update our guiding vision and its on-going practical enactment.

Politically, the way that that general methodological point bears upon the present situation, is that presentation of, and the consequent public campaign on behalf of, a Green New Deal will not only direct present programs, but can begin to raise public consciousness and to move the public debate. Thus it can increasingly gain the support of increasingly wider sections of the public, thus making its radical programs more palatable to the general public. This is a campaign of several years duration, similar to that that was begun about a decade ago on behalf of Medicare For All, which campaign has now achieved far more general popular acceptance. 

These remarks may not sit well with some of my progressive allies, who I feel may have fallen in love with their own rhetoric and have confused their quite legitimate hopes for a decent America with the practical limitations placed on current poltical possibilities by the vast, complex, and diverse makeup of the American electorate, and the structural impediments to implementing systemic progressive economic, racial, and social transformation. It is, of course, quite essential to hold to that vision, and to try to effectively advance it as much as possible. But we have learnt in these last few years, if we needed that education, that any short term gains can easily be completely undone if we cannot secure a lasting base, both ideological and structural, for progressive politics through 2020 and beyond. And we must acknowledge the current limitations of national support for the complete progressive agenda to which even the remarkable nation-wide popular mobilization and electoral success are convincing testimony. 

“In our increasingly polarized environment, success is not had by moving to the vanishing center and trying to appease the “moderates,” but by energizing and mobilizing … our base to turn out to vote. And that requires attractive candidates that can present programs that speak to the concerns of their constituents. But … this is a large and diverse nation, and that what will speak to their constituents’ issues and concerns, and in a language that communicates, will be significantly different in different parts of the country.” Back Bay Boston is not Southern California. Queens and The Bronx are not Colorado, Arizona, or even Western Pennsylvania.

We have a remarkable opportunity to turn back Trumpian incipient neo-Fascism, and to begin building a progressive future. This is actually a life and death struggle to preserve even a modified democratic future for this country. It is a vital struggle. We must be careful not to overplay our hand and screw it up.

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Don’t be Deluded into Voting for the Green Party.

Don’t be Deluded into Voting for the Green Party.

Being a party to discussions among disaffected Bernie supporters or Green Party advocates is like living in an alternate universe. They act as if there is no significant difference between Hillary Clinton and the Democratic program and Donald Trump and the Republican program. And they claim that their vote for the Green Party will make an important statement about their rejection of mainstream politics, thus advancing their vision of a progressive agenda. When pressed on these issues, they often make the claim that if enough of those similarly disaffected can be reached by their campaign, Jill Stein has a chance of being elected. To be quite precise, I heard Jill Stein make precisely that claim at this year’s Left Forum, and Cornell West made the same claim on a recent Bill Maher program.

Besides the evident absurdity of that claim – by any realistic assessment, she would be “lucky” to obtain 5% of the vote, and most likely will be closer to 2-3% — one must wonder at the purposes hidden behind their absurd claim. Cornell, for example, is far too intelligent not to know that what he is saying is absurd. So one can reasonably wonder at the psychological motivations hidden behind his expressed views. But speculation about such psychological motivations are beyond my immediate concern. What could possibly be a rational argument for voting for the Greens? One would have to believe that there is no significant difference between electing Trump or Clinton, or that the Green “protest vote” will significantly influence the future behavior of American politics. But is either position tenable?

One might argue that Nader’s 2000 campaign did influence the future of American politics, but only by denying Gore the Presidency. That certainly did not advance progressive politics, but it did give us the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq war, and the Right-wing Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United and the evisceration of the Voting Rights act, to mention just a few of the most obvious results. Just think of the difference in future Supreme Court nominees between a Clinton and Trump administration, to understand the inevitable disaster that could be awaiting us.

As for the United States Green Party providing a progressive alternative to anything, that belief flies in the face of everything that the Green Party has actually done over the last 50 years. They talk a good game, but they do not do anything effective. I have for years watched them operate on Long Island, and they spend their time attacking “the System” and the Democratic and Working Families Parties as “sell-outs” – while rarely ever attacking the Republicans. But they devote little energy to building an effective political party on a day-to-day basis. Only mobilizing energy in political campaigns where they can run a candidate “to the left” of Democrats in districts where the Democrats could beat the Republicans, thus effectively drawing support away from the Democrats. The best that can be said of those campaigns is that they have been historically totally ineffective. Other than that, they engage in random and almost universally random acts of ineffective protest, but have had no significant influence on the political process and are generally not paid any attention to. I can think of no significant policy result to which they have contributed, even the successful opposition to fracking in NYS was accomplished primarily by more “establishment” opposition, such as that of the WFP, Citizen Action, the Sierra Club, etc. I could go on at length about the destructive nation of the Green Party – which talks a progressive game, but only effectively weakens the progressive movement – but I will rather reproduce a recent article from The Nation Magazine which does an effective job in making the national case against supporting the Green Party from one who used to be a member.

Your Vote for Jill Stein Is a Wasted Vote

If you want to join a party that has no chance of effecting progressive change, the Greens are for you!

By Joshua Holland

The Nation, SEPTEMBER 21, 2016

If the last three presidential elections are any guide, 75 to 90 percent of those who say that they’re planning to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November won’t follow through. Yes, there are some dedicated Green voters, but much of the party’s support is an expression of contempt for the Democrats that evaporates in the voting booth. I’m a registered independent and a supporter of the Working Families Party, and my disdain for the Greens springs from my own experience with the party. I agree with much of the Greens’ platform, but when I went to Green Party meetings, I found a wildly disorganized, mostly white group that was riven with infighting, strategically inept, and organized around a factually flawed analysis of American politics. There are effective Green parties in Europe, but ours is a hot mess. And while the Greens’ bold ideas are attractive, what’s the point of wasting one’s time and energy on such a dysfunctional enterprise?

The Green Party claims to have “at least” 137 members in elected office. That might sound respectable, but that’s 43 fewer than it had in 2003. And there’s a reason that number is shrinking: The Greens focus the lion’s share of their limited resources on getting their quixotic presidential campaigns on the ballot rather than on building the party from the bottom up. One could argue that running presidential campaigns earns candidates like Stein and David Cobb (for whom I voted in 2004, in a safe state) more media attention, but that hasn’t resulted in a growing number of seats for the Greens. The hyper-local Working Families Party, which backed 111 candidates in New York State alone last year—71 of whom were successful—makes headlines by winning fights over things like minimum-wage hikes and school funding rather than running symbolic presidential campaigns.

The Green Party’s primary pitch to voters on the left is that there still isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties. When Ralph Nader made that claim in 2000, there was a kernel of truth to it. Today, that claim requires a great deal of dishonesty to make. By every measure, Democrats and Republicans have moved toward their respective ideological poles since the 1990s. According to Pew Research, since 2011, the most conservative Democrat on Capitol Hill has still been more liberal than the most liberal Republican, based on their aggregate voting records. It’s also true of the Democratic base—according to Pew, the share of Democrats who hold “mostly or consistently liberal” views almost doubled between 1994 and 2014. And it’s true of the 2016 party platform, which Bernie Sanders, among others, hailed as the most progressive in the party’s history. Today’s low-information voter is as likely to be aware of the major-party candidates’ differences as a highly engaged voter was in the mid-1970s.

You might notice that Greens tend to steer the conversation away from the myriad issues—health care, education, abortion, gun control, climate change, and on and on—where the Democrats and Republicans are diametrically opposed, and toward foreign policy and national security, where there really is significant overlap between the major parties’ policies. I agree with the Greens on many of those issues. But they’re not sufficient to substantiate the claim that there’s no difference between the Democrats and Republicans at all.

And the Greens’ critique of the Democrats is often unmoored from reality. Stein goes beyond (rightly) criticizing the Obama administration’s strategy in the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras by charging that then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave it “a thumbs-up.” (Not only did the US oppose the coup, American embassy personnel tried to talk Honduran military officials out of it.) During her 2012 campaign, Stein consistently claimed that the 2009 stimulus plan “was mostly tax breaks for the wealthy.” The truth is that tax breaks accounted for 38 percent of the plan, a majority of them targeted toward low- and middle-income households. That’s not criticism from the left; it’s a dishonest, scorched-earth campaign against the only party that can keep Republicans out of the White House. (And if you think that Stein wouldn’t have attacked Bernie Sanders with the same vigor if he were the nominee, then it’s a safe bet you’ve never attended a Green Party meeting. Remember that the Greens ran candidates against Ralph Nader in both 2004 and ’08.)

Two disastrous wars and a few Wall Street–precipitated recessions have helped push the Democratic Party leftward. Demographic changes in the electorate have made it less reliant on courting white swing voters. But the shift in the party was in large part a result of tireless work by the Democrats’ own base, passionate progressives who pushed the party to change.

Many Greens think that their vote isn’t wasted because it sends a powerful “message” to Washington. But why would anyone in power pay attention to the 0.36 percent of the popular vote that Jill Stein won in 2012, when 42 percent of eligible voters just stayed home? Political parties are merely vessels. The Green Party provides a forum to demonstrate ideological purity and contempt for “the system.” But the Democratic Party is a center of real power in this country. For all its flaws, and for all the work still to be done, it offers a viable means of advancing progressive goals. One can’t say the same of the perpetually dysfunctional and often self-marginalizing Greens.

Bernie’s campaign: where do we go from here?

Bernie’s campaign aftermath

With Donald Trump having effectively secured the Republican Party’s designation as its Presidential candidate, and Hillary Clinton almost certainly having done likewise for the Democratic Party, the question before Progressives is clearly, where do we go from here. For those who share almost all of the positions so effectively promoted by Bernie Sanders, as I do, the challenge before us is how best to promote them during the forthcoming Presidential campaign and beyond.

It has been clear from the outset, that the political revolution that Sanders has called for could not have been carried out solely by his election, however much that might have been desired — and however much it might have further stimulated such an undertaking. Any such radical change would certainly require the effective mobilization of masses of people. Bernie certainly knows that, and has said it quite explicitly. It might even be the case, that his election — given that he would have become the obvious direct target of the numerous powerful forces that would inevitably have amassed to oppose him — would have impeded the efforts to build the mass movement for systemic social change for which he called, and which we desperately need. Certainly, major efforts would have been required to defend his administration from the full-scaled attack of which they certainly would have been the object. And, quite probably, we would have been far from having built the effective national mass movement that such a counter effort would require. But that is speculation.

The reality is that Bernie has changed the political dialogue, and his candidacy has mobilized a national progressive constituency as never before. The challenge for progressives is now to build that mobilized constituency into a well-organized and coherent progressive force that can effectively contest for power over the long haul — at the local, state, and national level. It must be a movement that works in and through the Democratic Party, as well as outside and independent of the Party. There can be no adequate progressive movement that does not begin to obtain leverage within the official structures of institutional power. Given the American electoral system, go-it-alone third parties simply divide and incapacitate the progressive movement. This is a lesson that should now be obvious to all — as the past Naderite efforts and the unfortunate strategy of the Green Party have made abundantly clear. On the other hand, the WFP has shown how to use a third party to effectively leverage its influence, working independently in states that allow fusion voting, and as a coherent force within the Democratic Party where that is required.

The challenge for us now is to build that movement, supporting Clinton’s campaign to defeat Trump and the Republican crazies (and where are Republicans that are not crazies these days?), while holding her feet to the fire, as she certainly cannot be trusted not to “triangulate”, corporate liberal that she certainly is. But the occasion will be perfect to build that progressive movement, supporting the many progressive down-ballot candidates that can strengthen this growing movement, while building the public consciousness and organizational power to drive a new Clinton Administration and the public dialogue continually to the left. The details of such a movement building operation has been beautifully set forth by Les Leopold, and I conclude this post by sharing his article with you.

“If Bernie captures the nomination, then what does his “political revolution” look like? Arguably, whether he wins or loses the nomination, our task will be roughly the same.

We will need to build a massive national organization with staying power to push for a broad-based agenda for justice — along the lines of the platform Sanders is spreading so successfully. We can’t let this golden political moment slip away….again.

Occupy Wall Street gave us a similar moment. In six short months it grew to 900 encampments around the world. It changed the national discourse. Before OWS, President Obama was proudly pursuing a bi-partisan austerity bill — a “grand bargain” that would have included cuts in Social Security. After Occupy Wall Street put runaway inequality on the map, the national debate radically shifted… and it’s still shifting in the direction of taking on the “billionaire class” as Bernie puts it.

But Occupy Wall Street essentially disappeared within six months. What can we learn from its demise?

The standard line is that repression from city governments took them down. But while police actions did take place, OWS faded primarily because it didn’t believe in organization. Rather it called for “horizontal” organizing and mass consensus decision-making that supposedly would avoid the pitfalls of oppressive hierarchical organization. .

This was akin to believing in spontaneous political combustion — much like the Arab Spring. While such spontaneous uprisings can change discourse in profound ways and even topple governments in some countries, they can’t survive without organization. (It was the well organized Muslim Brotherhood that harvested the fruits of Egypt’s mass uprising, and now the Egyptian military has taken over with a vengeance .)

The problem however goes far beyond Occupy Wall Street. The rest of us were asleep at the switch. OWS showed us that the American people detested runaway inequality and Wall Street’s financial strip-mining of the economy. As the Tea Party demonstrated on the right, the moment was ripe to build a national progressive movement. But we didn’t do it. Why?

The answer in large part lies in how our generation of progressive organizations are structured. We are entangled in thousands of issue-based silos, each struggling to raise money, survive and do good work. Although the talent level of staff is enormously high, when the 2007-08 crash occurred, our silos were totally unprepared. We did not reach out to each other to build a massive national response, even as the national piggy bank was donated to Wall Street bailouts.

That kind of action just wasn’t on the to-do list of our siloed organizations. That’s not what most of our funders were funding. We refused to realize that progress on our siloed issues was doomed unless we banned together to take on Wall Street. Many of us today still don’t get it.

Bernie does.

He offers us another critical moment to build a lasting movement for economic and social justice. His campaign has hit the same raw nerve as Occupy Wall Street —- except on steroids.

There is great national sentiment to break up the big banks, to tax Wall Street to pay for free higher education, to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, to stop the billionaire tax evaders. Sanders has put a social democratic agenda on the political map in full relief.

But as Sanders knows full well, none of it is attainable unless we apply massive, sustained political pressure on every aspect of government. And this is the case whether he wins or loses. It’s on us, not him, to build that movement and those structures.

Here are some of the basic features that we need to consider:

  1. A coherent short agenda and common analysis that binds us together:

Sanders is field testing a common agenda each and every day. We know it must include a vast redistribution of income and wealth from the “billionaire class” to the rest of society. It also must confront the fact that we’re the largest police state in the world, bar none.

We need to get all of it down to no more than a 10-point plan that clearly reflects the anger we feel towards the super-rich, the rigged political system, and systemic racial and ethnic injustices. The trick will be to blend a mix of class and discrimination issues without ripping ourselves apart.

We need a common analysis of how financial strip-mining and runaway inequality are harming the 99 percent.

  1. A national educational infrastructure to spread the agenda and analysis:

The populists of the 1880s during their anti-Wall Street revolt fielded 6,000 grass roots educations to spread the word about the need for cooperatives, public banks, progressive income taxes and popular control over railroads and communications systems.

Given the growth of our population, we will need to develop more than 30,000 educators to spread our message and agenda. Yes, social media can facilitate the process but nothing beats live discussion of these vital issues.

The Communications Workers of America and Citizen Action of New York already have launched such mass economic and social justice training. It could become a model for other unions and community groups to use.

  1. A coherent national organization with state and local chapters:

All of us need to belong to something with a common identity —that concretely expresses our movement. Our opponents are strong. A demonstration or two will not remove their iron grip on the economy and the political process. We need to prepare for a ten to twenty year struggle in order to break down their plutocracy. Therefore we need solid organizational structures that can sustain themselves.

We should be able to travel anywhere in the country and join in a local meeting of our new organization and engage in common debate, discussion and political activity.

Building such a structure takes people and money. The Sanders campaign will have a surplus of both. Either in victory or defeat, it will amass millions of small donors and tens of thousands of volunteers and staff who are likely to be willing to build, join and contribute to such a formation.

  1. A new movement identity:

This is perhaps the highest hurdle for us to clear. We need to see ourselves as movement builders. We must make our silos more porous. Our identities as enviros, racial justice fighters, labor activists and so on also must include a common movement building identity. Our traditional approach to coalition and alliance building is unlikely to succeed unless we place a much higher value on building a new common movement identity.

None of this will come easy. It cuts hard against the grain of how progressives are organized. Our separate identities give us nourishment and a sense of empowerment. It’s also not something our “funders” are likely to embrace because they too have their silos. It will disrupt our to-do lists and put us into strange new organizing space. And there are likely to be rivalries among organizations and individuals who may vie for leadership.

This is tough stuff. Is it possible to imagine that climate justice, Black Lives Matter, the fight for a $15 minimum wage, prison reform, and union organizing could all come together in a common movement? Not easily. But runaway inequality will stifle all of these movements unless we do band together. The elite plutocracy gives us no choice but to try.

Of course, this kind of mass organizing becomes somewhat easier if Sanders is elected. However, win or lose, it is the challenge of our lifetimes — it is the promise of the Sanders political revolution.

Les Leopold is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure of a new anti-Wall Street movement. His new book Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice (Oct 2015) is a text for this campaign. All proceeds go to support these educational efforts.”

On Being Mesmerized by Donald Trump

On Being Mesmerized by Donald Trump

I Fear Progressives Are Being Mesmerized by Donald Trump. We have been outraged by his positions, and frightened by the support he has received. And that is understandable. So we have focused our attention and mobilized our supporters in opposition, as if his success would be the worst thing that could happen to this country. And, in our determination and narrow-minded focus, I fear we have lost sight of the bigger picture, and the far more serious threats that are being hidden behind the Trump phenomenon.

No question that Trump’s policies, such as one can make them out, are real threats to the humanistic and progressive values we cherish. And there can be little remaining doubt about his significant character failures. But the fact remains, that his positions, bad as they are, are not nearly as bad as those of all of the other establishment Republicans who rightly feel threatened by his ascendency.

The so-called Conservative establishment is a systematic and organized attack on LBJ’s Great Society and FDR’s New Deal, and even on much of the best from the Progressive Era. And our exclusive attention to Trump has led many to feel that even Ted Cruz — who is the closest thing we have in current mainstream politics to a Fascist — is preferable to Trump. That, for example, was precisely the position that Bill Maher expounded this past Friday. And even the “progressive” media seems to be falling for the same line. Meanwhile, much of the mainstream of the Radical Right, such as The National Review, know that Trump is no “card-carrying” member of that mainstream. (He doesn’t even call for the destruction of Social Security.)

And while we, and the mainstream media, are transfixed by the Trump phenomena, and many are even tending to speak nicely of the “moderate” John Kasich, we are failing to pay attention to the real dangers lurking off stage, such as the Republican and corporate donor class preparing to bring a white knight, such as Paul Ryan, to the rescue. While Trump would be a real disaster for the country, he is clearly the most defeatable Republican candidate. But Paul Ryan, whose policies are straight out of a corporate America’s wet dream, has been lionized by the mainstream media as a “new face,” as a thoughtful policy wonk who offers real solutions to America. And he is young, dynamic, attractive, and supposedly not even trying for the job. The age contrast he would present to either Democratic nominee would play well in American media.

In short, he, and most any other Republican “savior” who is likely to emerge from a successful stop Trump movement, would be both far more threatening to humanistic and progressive values, and far more likely to be elected than would Donald Trump. So let’s stop being mesmerized by, and singularly focused on, Donald Trump, and keep our eye on the ball. The Republican Party has been taken over by The Radical Right — there is nothing “conservative” about them. They are committed to eviscerating the social safety net, environmental safeguards, labor rights, and so much more. And in important and complex ways, Donald Trump threatens even that establishment. His candidacy could vastly weaken the Republican brand, and certainly help the Democrats regain national ascendancy, including in the Supreme Court. While the Bernie phenomena, regardless of its own electoral success, can provide the groundwork for moving the entire country leftward. But this will not happen if the Republicans can derail Donald Trump, and replace him with a “white knight.”

Why progressives should be pleased by the current campaign

Why progressives should be pleased by the current campaign

Given the completely unpredictable nature of the current political campaign, it is probably somewhat of a fool’s errand to offer the following comment, but I’ll offer it nonetheless. Yesterday’s primary results make it almost certain that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Presidential candidate, and that if Donald Trump does not obtain the Republican designation — either on the first ballot, or through the results of a “brokered convention” vote — there will be some not so mild confrontations within that Party. If he does obtain the designation, there may be some significant Republican defections, though I rather suspect less than expected. Having said that, from the perspective of one who shares practically all of the views expressed by Bernie Sanders — and thus, obviously, would love to see him elected President — I believe the current primary results are the best that progressives like myself could hope for. Let me briefly suggest why, knowing that there is much more that needs to be said on these matters.

  • I sincerely doubt that Bernie could have been elected. I know that current polls say differently, but I think they completely fail to take into consideration the kind of withering attack that he would face not only from Republicans, but from the mega-rich and the media, both from the mainstream and from the Radical Right of Talk Radio.
  • Bernie’s campaign has laid the groundwork for the mobilization of the kind of revolution that he has called for. That is not something that can be done overnight, but will take time and expanded organizing. He has given public “main stream” political legitimacy to the ideas of Occupy — which they were incapable, and even uninterested, in doing. And he has mobilized vast numbers of previously “silent” — particularly youthful — citizens that can now, hopefully, be brought into the on-going progressive network of organizations such as MoveOn, US Action, National People’s Action, the Alliance for a Just Society, the Citizen Action network, the Working Families Party, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, etc. These offer the opportunity to move the Democratic Party — and the country — in a far more progressive direction.
  • Bernie’s campaign has already moved the Democratic Party, and its presumptive nominee, to the Left. Clearly, one cannot expect her to stay there without sustained pressure from this newly mobilized Left — given her past history and the Obama Administration’s neo-Liberal policies — but the groundwork and mobilization to do that is now possible.
  • Trump’s garnering the Republican nomination offers both the weakest possible opponent to a Democratic victory, and one whom I believe is surprisingly less dangerous than would be a Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich election. (No doubt that last remark calls for an explanation which I cannot provide here. Simply let me assert that, terrible as he obviously is, he is less beholden to and captured by the full neo-Liberal program of the Republican Establishment. But that discussion will have to be postponed for the present.) Thus,
  • Hillary’s election is the more likely. And, with all her liabilities (see a few comments on this below), she will be presenting a reasonable corporate liberal agenda, including probably a few new Supreme Court justices. And hopefully, contributing to the election of a Democratic Senate with an enhanced progressive majority, plus a reasonable increase in Democratic representation in the House. But
  • The major work will still be to build the national progressive movement state-by-state, while maintaining pressure on a Hillary administration. And if the Republican convention degenerates into a political brawl, so much the better for discrediting the Radical Right, and weakening its hold on that Party.
  • Having said all this, progressives, whatever their proclivities, will have to actively support Hillary’s campaign, whatever their misgivings, while building on Bernie’s momentum. This is certainly NOT the best of all worlds, but it’s the one we live in, and we must make our choices as effective as possible. There will be only two significant alternatives before us, and no outcome is foreordained, especially in a country in which either Party begins any national election probably with more than 40% of the electorate committed in advance to vote for their candidate. And the possible election of a Republican is not something to take lightly.

As for a suggestive comment on the campaign so far, and an evaluation of the politics of Clinton and Obama, let me share my personal abridgment of insightful comments offered by Bill Curry, former White House counselor to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor of Connecticut. These were offered immediately after Bernie’s remarkable victory in Michigan. He then wrote, and I excerpt with a few important personal modifications for which he is MIT responsible:

“You wouldn’t know it from watching TV last night or reading the national papers this morning but Bernie Sanders’ Michigan win ranks among the greatest upsets in presidential primary history. Should he win the nomination it will be go down as the biggest upset of any kind in American political history. If he wins the election it will change the fundamental direction of the nation and the world.

Some key lessons, obvious to everyone but the media:

  1. The old politics is over. The fault lines of the new politics are not cultural issues like guns, abortion and same-sex marriage that divide the Democratic and Republican bases. They are issues of political reform and economic justice that divide both party’s elites from both parties’ bases, and the American people from their government. On these issues we find the elites of both parties shockingly alike. Among them: global trade; financial deregulation and prosecution of financial crimes; (attacks on) the social safety net including Social Security, Medicare, a living wage and health care for all; above all, (being quite comfortable with) the “soft corruption” of pay to play politics.

There’s a name for the bipartisan consensus of party elites: neoliberalism. It is an inconvenient name for many reasons but mostly because it seems odd that the worldview of the Republican elite would be an ideology with the root word ‘liberal’ in its name but it is true, nonetheless. and may even shed a little light on the open, bitter breach between GOP elites and the party base. Democrats stayed loyal longer to their elites for two reasons. One is their love of two very talented politicians, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whose charm and verbal dexterity masked deep differences with the base. The other is their fear of Republicans.

I often talk to Democrats who don’t know Obama chose not to raise the minimum wage as president even though he had the votes for it; that he was willing to cut Medicare and Social Security and chose not to prosecute Wall Street crimes or pursue ethics reforms in government. They don’t know he dropped the public option or the aid he promised homeowners victimized by mortgage lenders. They don’t know and don’t want to know. Their affection for Bill and Barack — and their fear of Republicans — run too deep.

  1. Hillary Clinton has neither their deft personal touch nor protean verbal skills. When she tries to distract the base or paper over its differences with elites, voters see through her, even if, in their hearts, they don’t want to. In Michigan she tried to smear Sanders as a foe of the auto bailout. Before that she sent Chelsea and Bill out to say Bernie would kill Medicare. Each time she ended up only hurting herself. She has tried to co-opt Sanders’ positions on global trade, climate change, military adventurism, a living wage and universal health care.

It’s always too little, too late. Voters sense she’s just moving pawns on a chess board in part because she can never explain her change of heart and often doesn’t even try. She switched horses on global trade in a blog post, on the Keystone pipeline at a grammar school event. In a recent debate she left fracking to the GOP governors who covered themselves in glory on Obamacare, as if it were a states’ rights issue. With her Super PAC (and hers and Bill’s breathtaking haul of $153 million in mostly corporate speaking fees), she is the living avatar of pay to play politics. She shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee for president because she doesn’t even know it’s wrong.

She remains woefully out of touch with the public mood in other ways. This week she began telling voters she and Bernie were pals and that it was time to wrap up their little primary so she could focus on the Republicans. As anyone outside her tone deaf campaign could have told her, she came off as entitled, presumptuous and condescending. The voters aren’t done deciding yet. When they are, they’ll let the candidates know. When party and press elites parroted her line, it had the same effect on Democrats as Mitt’s anti-Trump speech had on Republicans.

  1. The performance of the press has been abysmal. Watching CNN and MSNBC last night was painful, as was reading the Washington Post or the New York Times this morning. The TV coverage was of a piece with all other 2016 election coverage. Last night FOX, CNN and MSNBC kept cameras glued on Trump for 40 minutes as he delivered a bizarre, rambling rant in which he talked about himself, his opponents and some steaks he was either selling or giving away.

As Bernie made history, CNN kept sending poor John King to its political trivia JumboTron to relate what various Michigan counties did in primaries or caucuses eight or 20 years ago. An MSNBC panel consisting of Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Gene Robinson, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chuck Todd dove right into a discussion of who Hillary might choose as her running mate; an actual progressive perhaps, given Bernie’s little showing in Michigan. … The hour ended with Maddow summarizing the state of play this way: “The frontrunners had a good night.” This morning the Times led the story this way: “Senator Bernie Sanders’s defeat of Hillary Clinton prolongs a race she seemed to have locked up, although she won Mississippi handily.” He sure did.

Clinton has been helped in her quest by her party, by big business, and by top-down endorsements from progressive lobbies many of which broke members’ hearts to deliver them. But no one’s helped her more than the media. I know full well this hasn’t always been true for the Clintons and I also know not all the help is intentional. But the media helps her in several ways.

One way it helps is just by sharing her ideology. This is especially true of younger journalists at establishment venues like the Times and NBC or at web sites like Vox. These are mostly very bright people who see the world as Hillary does. (I’d call it neoliberalism 2.0 but it’s just like the Beta version.) They are Democrats first for cultural issues. They identify with elites, even know a few power couples and view the current corrupt rules of the game as laws of nature. It’s one reason why not one of them saw any of this coming.

But it’s not the only reason. Their employers put horse-race journalism ahead of all else, so nothing ever gets illuminated — not Trump’s business resume or Hillary’s or Bernie’s political resumes, or their very real policy differences. When Hillary sweeps vital differences under the rug to be replaced with stale tactical arguments, the reporters are perfect patsies — because all they know are tactics.

In the end, thinking only tactically makes you a bad tactician. When revolution’s in the air polls, money and ads mean far less. Reporters who know nothing else can’t conceive how voters choosing among a democratic socialist, a pay-to-play politician and a fascist might pick door number one. They bought Hillary’s myth of inevitability, ….”

Hillary’s Defense of Wall Street Contributions is Backwards.

Why Hillary’s Defense of Wall Street Contributions is Backwards.

When Bernie Sanders challenges Hillary Clinton about her astronomical speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street financial interests, she responds by challenging him to name one specific vote that she changed because of receiving money from Wall Street. To which he responds by reiterating, correctly, of course — but slightly besides the point — that corporations and wealthy people don’t give such contributions out of personal generosity, but because they expect to get something for it. Which is obvious.

But the entire issue is framed backwards by Hillary, for obvious reasons. It’s not that Hillary Clinton changed votes because she received large corporate contributions from Wall Street, it’s that she received those contributions because Wall Street already knows they can count on her votes. They know that she is a corporate Liberal who fundamentally shares their economic and political world view. Thus they know they can count on her continuing support, and wish to reward and encourage her actions, and provide her with the wherewithal to carry on. That is why she was so enthusiastic in her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership while serving as Secretary of State, why she did not take a position against Fast Track early on in the campaign, when she did not feel she had to worry about Bernie Sanders’ primary challenge, and why her late found opposition to TPP has been mild, with no commitment to stop it if she gets elected — as Bernie Sanders has promised to do.

But Bernie has seemed to be unwilling to make this obvious point about her being a corporate Liberal — forcing her to make that promise of rejecting TPP if elected — because this would force him to criticize Obama as the corporate Liberal that he is. And Bernie obviously feels that he needs to downplay his opposition to Obama’s economics, perhaps because of his fear that that would alienate large sections of the Black vote, and possibly, of the Democratic base. And thus when Hillary responds to his challenge on her taking large Wall Street donations with noting that Obama did likewise, Bernie is left on the defensive, and his responses are weak.

Bernie would be on more solid ground, and true to his beliefs and proposals, if he would recognize that Obama is a corporate Liberal. That’s why Obama chose the economic advisors he did, why no corporate executives went to jail for ripping off the economy, why the Tea Party and the Left is justly outraged by the bailout of Wall Street and the failure to protect homeowners from foreclosures, why neither Clinton nor Obama want to talk about breaking up the big banks, why they have no major policies that would really address the increasing growth of income inequality, and why Obama is doing everything in his power to push through the corporate-designed TPP, against the opposition of the majority of the Democratic Party — which is, in this case, supported by the Tea Party!!

Bernie Sanders is correct in his claim that only a “political revolution” can significantly change the politics of this country, putting Main Street in power instead of Wall Street — however dubious such a revolution may be. And that Hillary Clinton — however much vastly to be preferred to any of the (corporately-controlled) Republican alternatives — is a corporate Liberal who would truly constitute continuity with Obama’s economic and political Wall Street-friendly agenda. We could do far worse. We may do far worse. But we need to do far better if we are to counter the growth of American oligarchic power, revitalize and preserve American democratic traditions, and effectively address the long-term structural threats to representative government.

Reflections on the Current State of US politics

Reflections on the Current State of US politics

As the 2016 election process begins in earnest, I thought it would be helpful to review the following selection from my chapter on “The American Enterprise”, from my most recent book, Critique of Western Philosophy and Social Theory. While the book was published a few years ago, the basics of the chapter were written in the early 70s. I think they were fairly prescient — and I believe their analysis sheds light on the current state of US culture and politics.

…from the middle of the nineteenth century onward the United States became “the most thoroughly Reformed Protestant Christian Commonwealth the world has ever known” To be an authentic Christian in America thus comes to require each individual to personally undergo a “re-birth” experience–to be “born again”–which, as time tends to institutionalize religious experience, seems to demand that every few generations need to carry out their own “revivalist” movement in order to challenge that inevitable sedimentation of religious practice through a “great awakening.”

Is it any wonder that such physical and psychic exuberance and material success were often experienced as practical signs of God’s favor, and taken as evidence that the successful had been so blessed by God that they could feel confident they were among God’s elect–that, in fact, God had shed his grace on them, literally crowning “thy (collective) good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”? Nor is it any wonder that this entire process was understood and found articulation through the language of the religious tradition out of which it emerged–thus seeing material accomplishments in trade, commerce, and conquest as divinely sanctioned.

The “divine election” that resulted from each individual’s success in working out their personal salvation through dedication and hard work–the freedom of enterprise to choose one’s life style and to bear the burden or reap the success of one’s individual effort–increasingly becomes the operative meaning of freedom and democracy, with Harry Truman even replacing Roosevelt’s “freedom from want and fear” with “freedom of enterprise.”

Thus private enterprise marginalizes Christianity’s communal spirit as well as classical Republicanism’s concern for the polity and civic well-being.

Tensions were ever-present, however, between the collective nature of the initial undertakings, without which none of them could have succeeded, and both the unlimited and uncontrollable opportunities for individual initiative that were offered by a practically unlimited frontier and the overwhelming pre-occupation of Reformed Christianity with the individual’s sense of guilt for his/her own sinfulness and the deep need of each person to work out their own salvation. Thus Habits of the Heart nicely contrasts the vision of collective and communal salvation of Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” with the more individual and down-to-earth turn that Benjamin Franklin gives to the moral program of Cotton Mather, what was then called the “Protestant ethic”, re-baptized as the American “work ethic”, however much now more honored “in the breach than in the observance thereof.”

Although, by the mid-20th Century, Americans had become far less enamored of the requirement of actually working to earn their wealth and power, they still felt the need to defend its possession in the name of its having been earned. Americans both justify those who “have it made” as having earned their success by personal hard work and ability–developing those “god-given” talents to their fullest so as to excel in the competitive struggle that is the condition of human life–and hold those who have failed to realize the opportunities provided by the free market and democratic society as individually responsible and implicitly morally culpable. Such individuals can only be “saved” from the condemnation their failure justly sanctions by both assuming full personal responsibility for it, and turning themselves over to the power of spiritual rebirth that will make them new individuals. It is but one more irony of American Protestant individualism, that not only is it given birth, sustained, and even nurtured by the collective culture, but the spiritual re-birth possible for the failed and fallen can only come to be within the context of a sustaining community, whose role is to both encourage self-abasement and to nurture individual responsibility. But whoever said that cultures are thematically linear and dramatically un-ambivalent and coherent.

It is here that we must situate the emergence in the last quarter of the twentieth century of the “New Right”, the “Moral Majority”, and the election first of Ronald Reagan, then of George W. Bush. The “politics of nostalgia” bemoans the fading of “The American Dream.” The psychic loss roots in the disintegration of local communities and traditional moral values, themselves the casualties of the unbounded faith of Americans in individual initiative and the “free market.” Meanwhile, Corporate America, legitimized by a faith that it itself has in fact long given up, uses these movements as cover for its efforts to recapture the economic and political initiative at home and abroad. This revitalized imperial mission in the service of private accumulation calls for military expansion to protect the free world from the “threat” of the “demonized”, first the Russians, then the Chinese and the Arabs. Who knows what others will have to be (con-)scripted to play the role of the “Evil One”.

But the contradictions are pervasive. As the unconstrained free market search for profitability undermines settled community life and traditional values, the latter gives expression to its attendant and increasing anxiety with more fervent support for expansion of the imperatives of corporate profitability. As the public sphere increasingly deteriorates under the push of unbridled corporate expansion, individuals retreat ever more into the privatized worlds of home and church, themselves ever more subject to the vagaries of a corporate power less and less understood and controllable. Meanwhile, the home becomes a bastion of security under continual threat from a public world, dominated by the corporations, but increasingly experienced as the locus of potential criminal assaults from them–themselves but the most pervasively exploited segments of a deteriorating social order in which it is every man or woman for him or herself. Thus the home (or church) as refuge is felt to be under constant attack. Similarly with the psyche, in this marketing world of idealized individualism, where every one is encouraged to compete for success at the expense of others, and to market him or herself in order to present the most attractive package. Americans can no longer know whether others are sincere, or simply more clever in the way they present them­selves in order to seem so. Not only is the home and family disintegrating under the impact of competitive individualism, but personal relations cut loose from the ties of sustaining communities, and increasingly from settled, not to say extended, families, tend to be reduced to short term contracts in which one must withhold one’s deeper feelings for fear of their being used against one. In any case, since moving is so pervasive, and human relations of such short duration, to get too involved risks a personal suffering to which only a masochist would look forward.

The home as refuge roots a “new feudalism” which is the social counterpart of the emerging “new colonialism” of the world of transnational corporations. In the contradiction between private accumulation and public decay–each feeding the other in a descending spiral–the “American Dream” withers, giving place to a resentful, revenge-prone, frightened psyche, seeking redress from them for what they are doing to it. At home, they are blacks, gays, women’s libbers, radicals, druggies, and aliens of various sorts. Abroad, they are bandits, Commies, Russians, drug lords, Arabs, Ayatollahs, terrorists, and those who “front” for them. All of this fits well with the economic imperatives of transnational corporations for a world free of political impediments to their search for profit, and free of those who would resist the life style which bureaucratic organization imposes upon its workers. (Of course, there are imperatives of behavior different for the ruling elite than for the rest of us, but that is another story.) At the center of this dynamic resides the twin axes of privatization and growth, as the ideological and psychic poles of attraction which seem to draw forth the energies of all Americans.

Section 4: Privatization and Growth: the universal elixir

America’s psychic needs have been coordinated with its cultural and institutional dynamic. Privatization and growth have thus been dialectically linked. Privatization has nourished and been nourished by the continual growth of the American Enterprise. The “American Dream” is the idealized expression of an unfettered individualism riding the crest of the wave of enterprise as it flowed across the continent, then washed onto alien shores, drowning under military arms and libratory rhetoric communities, nations, and peoples with the temerity to resist. Growth has made privatization possible, both by expanding the space for action and by providing the reduplicative commodities that might be individually possessed and privately used. Privatization, in turn, has fed growth through the creation of multiple needs, thus expanding the market for a practically unending series of “necessities”. What better marketing possibilities than those provided by the proliferation of suburban residences whose ideal was to be the self-sufficient refuge from the storms of public life. From dish-and clothes-washer and dryer, to swimming pool, tennis court, personal stereo, TV, games, toys, books, and, hopefully, cars — to each his own. In fact, middle class suburban Americans tend to apologize if they are not able to provide each of their children with their own room. Of course, such privatization helps avoid the need to share, to learn to accommodate one’s personal aspirations to the desires of others, and to develop the skills to constructively respond to conflictual interpersonal situations in an equalitarian fashion. The motto for group interaction has become “Lead, follow, or get out of the way,” as one poster so aptly puts it. The nuclear family has been the paired down social infrastructure whose light baggage was well suited to follow the dictates of the market in the search for advancement, while promising to each member both emotional support and personal space. Whether it can deliver on either is another question; as are the related concerns of the extent to which a family needs wider community roots in which to flourish, and whether psychic health is sustainable in the long run when grounded in such a narrow range of personal relations, themselves without historical depth.

Behind the nuclear family, however, and the twin dynamics of privat­ization and growth that have vitalized it, resides the institutionalized requirements of capitalism, both for expanding markets and a fluid labor force. As transnational corporations have consolidated their competitive position–horizontally, through the conquest of producers of similar commodities; vertically, through control of the process of production from raw material to marketed final product; and through diversification of product line and range of profitable endeavors–they have become quasi-autonomous empires, operating across political boundaries. Owing allegiance to no community, nor, increasingly, to any country, they are less and less geographically locatable. They exist rather as a network of operations. Localities are reduced to sources of exploitable raw materials, sources of cheap or skilled labor, markets, or tax havens. Transnationals shift resources around to take maximum advantage not only of climate, geography, and natural and human resources, but also to maximize political, economic, and military leverage. The world-wide scale of their operations facilitates the subtle, and often not so subtle, blackmail which seeks to insure a “favorable climate for business investment.”

Neighborhoods, localities, and even nations, thus become but manipulable instrumen­talities within the world-wide empires of transnational giants. The corporate network is replacing the nation state, instituting a New Colonialism, or, perhaps better, the Re-colonization of the New World and Retro-colonization of the Old World. Of course, these new colon­izers are no longer small expeditionary forces carrying the national flag, but transnational conglomerates controlling market forces and inter­national movements of capital, backed up by the “legitimate” military might of the “home” country–as well as its not so legitimate secret police with their subterranean alliances with the secret services of the “client” states. Increasingly, their power is being given transnational legal expression through purported “free trade” agreements that guarantee the free movement of capital at the expense of local or national autonomy and democratic self-government.

This New Colonialism can thus destroy jobs and relocate factories, or blackmail communities into accepting lower wages, granting extraordinary tax benefits, weakening environmental and health and safety regulations, and allowing the deterioration of social and human services; in short, the community is held hostage to the power of international capital. A vicious spiral is set in motion, as the lack of effective local control furthers the process of neighborhood deterioration, which itself increases the individual’s urge to withdraw from public in­volvement in community affairs. The retreat to the privacy of the home offers itself as a refuge from the impotence, disillusion, and social dis­integration, of which rising crime rates and growing juvenile delinquency and drug use become the symbolic expressions. (With wages being driven down by corporate globalization, and the social wage being progressively undermined through competitive disadvantage, and more and more families needing to have more than one wage earner, and for each of them to work ever longer hours, the process of withdrawal from civic engagement is still further exacerbated.) Of course, the less one is attached to one’s community, the easier it is to pack up and move on. Such mobility, while quite suitable to corporations, only serves to re­inforce the same descending spiral. Thus the world-wide market under corporate domination furthers the disintegration of communal bonds and collective morality.

As for the privatizing retreat of individuals into the refuge of their home–fleeing from an alien world felt to be out of their control–it is motivated by a growing resentment at the failure of personal expec­tations. The resultant anger tends to be directed not at the corporate forces responsible, but rather toward the major victims of exploitation. Those reduced to ghettos, poverty, and the violent struggle to keep their head above water–whether through disorganized crime or organized rebellion–tend to become targeted as the primary threats to the “American way of life”. Thus the legitimately engendered experience of vulnerability is easily and effectively translated at a conscious level into a pre-occupation with crime. Merging with the reality of a disintegrating social world that tends to increase actual criminal activity, the public portrayal of domestic dangers conveniently focuses upon “alien” minorities, themselves the major victims of transnational capitalism, effectively directing public attention away from systemic corporate evils toward individual criminality where such criminals tend to be young, male, poor, and black or hispanic. Middle America is led to believe that the major internal threat to its health and well-being comes from “the black,” “the poor,” or the immigrant, those “below them” in the socio-economic hierarchy, rather than from those above them, the wealthy and the corporate establishment. And why should they question those at the top? They are the ones who have made it, and deserve what they get. If we, on the other hand, have not made it as well, and if those below have not made it at all, well it’s simply our or their fault. Perhaps we will make it yet. Such, at least, is the “conventional wisdom”.

Thus TV programs often treat one-on-one crime by such individuals as the major dramatic problem in life. Local TV news is generally little more than sen­sationalized reporting of crime and disasters, interspersed with sports, weather, and commercials. Discussions of work-place hazards, contamination of air and water, deterioration of the “public sector” (except as an expression of “bureaucratic” indifference or union corruption), are covered at best in passing, with reference to individual failures without consideration of institutional factors–except, that is, for the occasional swipes at government bureaucrats, corrupt union officials, or greedy and lazy workers. While “bureaucrats” are fair game, “executives”–certainly as a class–seem to be almost beyond reproach, regardless of the few “rotten apples in the bunch.”

No wonder that the retreat into the private home is increasingly offered as an idyllic refuge from a “dog eat dog” public world. If the American’s home is his or her castle, improved electronic security systems are rapidly becoming the moats by which they seek to protect themselves from unwanted intruders, not to speak of the increasing development of gated communities. This process of re-feudalization constitutes a desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable effects of a world market, dominated by the profit requirements of transnational corporate empires, whose subtly disintegrative impact is completely undetectable by even the most sophisticated home burglary alarm systems.

A further and quite pervasive effect of these disintegrative forces that is almost invariably missed is their impact on youth. Members of the last two generations of the Twentieth Century were probably the first in American history that could not reason­ably expect to achieve a better material standard of living than their parents. Sensing, though not yet clearly grasping, the closing door of material advancement, they had at the same time to confront a culture that no longer offered a believable sense of historical mission. Americans will not “make the world safe for democracy”, however much its leaders proclaim that as their mission. The innocence and hope that was the meaning of the journey into the New World has given way first to a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate cynicism and disillusion, then to a fear of terrorism and the alien other. Americans have turned inward in increasing preoccupation with narrow and short-range personal goals. This self-centeredness has been encouraged by corporate advertising that, driven insatiably to increase sales, has expanded needs–often through the generation of anxiety about personal inadequacy, as trivially as that with bad breath or the lack of white teeth–and then justified immediate satisfaction of them. The traditional Protestant work ethic has been an inevitable victim of advanced capitalism’s “consumer society”, as the ethic of “self-indulgence” replaces that of self-denial and constructive effort. (It has even been provided with an economic rationale in the need to continually expand consumer demand in order to sustain economic growth.) Youth are thus invited to partake in the “celebration of commodities” at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain a satisfying job.

Meanwhile, as the future becomes shortened and narrowed, the demands of discipline and hard work are less impressive. Then there is terrorism and the bomb, as both symbol and reality–not to speak of “global warming” and the depletion of the ozone layer. Lurking on the horizon of our future, placing everything in doubt, is the sense that collectively we may have no future. What can long-term commit­ments mean in the face of this patent and uncontrollable reality? What can call youth to serious and sustained effort in such a world? Joined to the loss of history consequent upon the disintegration of extended family and settled community life, renewed each day by the narrowed vision and condensed time frame of commercial media, contemporary youth must make sense of their life and its possibilities confronting a world whose future is temporally shortened and culturally narrowed almost to the point of irrelevance. Cut loose from ties that can bind, sustain, and vitalize, many, with practically unlimited choices before them, drift purposelessly before the abyss, prey to each succeeding fad, caught up in an unending series of heightened moments leading nowhere.

If this analysis correctly portrays the dynamic forces currently tearing apart the “American Dream”, an exploration of possible alternative responses is all the more urgently called for. The strategies of Corporate America are fairly clear. With “The American Enterprise” being so pervasively squeezed, corporate strategy vacillates between trying to placate, channel, or repress dissatisfaction on the home front, and efforts to buy out, intimidate, or destroy challenges to its world supremacy internationally. From the “benign” managed capitalism with some welfare emoluments of the “Eastern Establishment” to the militant, proto-fascistic urgings of the Far Right, Christian fundamentalism, and the Military-Industrial-Security apparatus, the logic of trans-national ascendancy and corporate profitability remains the same. It is, however, beyond the scope of this chapter to explore these con­flicting strategies, their institutional foundations, and ideological expressions. Whatever these may be, one thing remains clear: business as usual is no longer possible, and the powers that be know it well. We need only recall the 1975 report of their Trilateral Commission to the effect that the world is suffering from “an excess of democracy”, not to speak of the “failure” of the Welfare State upon which the entire Reagan program was explicitly predicated.

On the other hand, this analysis suggests the need for an effective strategy to counter the growing imperial corporate offensive. It should be obvious that any such strategy requires both the development of an organized political opposition and the creation on an alternative world view that would make such an opposition credible. Such an opposition would have to be rooted in those social groups and institutions whose essential interests conflict with the imperatives of the transnational conglomerates. Further, any such attempts to effectively mobilize a political alternative must also come to terms with the psychic dynamics of American character, which is so deeply wedded to the myth of personal success through aggressive domination of the alien other–whether it be nature or other human beings–that it experiences material accumulation and social domination as essential psychic needs, (Not to mention the way in which this dynamic tends to be glossed in terms of America’s divine mission to bring freedom and democracy to the world.) If Americans are not “Number One” they tend to feel themselves to be failures. With­out a concrete strategy to effect affect, to transform a concern with quantity into one for quality, a preoccupation with exclusive goods into a concern for inclusive goods, any such constructive strategy is bound to fail. And such a strategy must be rooted in a compelling narrative that makes sense of personal effort by placing it in a wider and ennobling worldview, which worldview must disabuse itself of any claims to a divine world mission or providential destiny for America.

The depth of the challenge now facing America should thus be clear. Torn between frontier and garden, between individual and community, the American psyche is easily whipped into action against mythological enemies at home and abroad. If we fail to combat the America of executive supremacy, national secrecy, capitalist audacity, and imperialist penetration–almost always in the name of promoting freedom and democracy–America will be unable to avoid the disaster of benign fascism toward which it has been more than creeping.

The revitalization of America thus requires both the breaking of the power of the large corporations and the remolding of the psyche of Americans. Unless the success orientation rooted in the competitive accumulation of material wealth and personal privilege is transformed into a more modest communal attitude, the growing hostilities now tearing at the fabric of America’s personal and institutional life will not be able to be controlled. Save, that is, for the imposition from above of an increasingly repressive techno-bureaucratic order by those established bureaucracies of power and wealth. Such an order will protect the hierarchy of privilege of the controlling establishment while maintaining the class-based social antagonisms that permit the re­direction of middle Americans’ latent hostilities at the pressurized under­-classes at home and the Evil Enemy overseas.

America’s choices are at least relatively clear. Either it develops a moderately decentralized social system that, in coming to terms with its natural and social environment, revitalizes public life, or it faces the growing institutionalization of a mass society rooted in hierarchic privilege and repressive social control, coming, no doubt, in the guise of “national security” and in order to protect “the American Way of Life”.