Monday, May 22, 2017

The Challenge Facing Progressives


When it comes to Donald Trump, Robin Sears writes, progressives face the challenge of dealing with a man who lies as easily as he breathes. But progressives face a bigger challenge than Trump:

Like U.K. Labour, French Socialists and German Social Democrats — for that matter, much of the progressive democratic world — The Democrats have failed in addressing three transformative changes: job-killing artificial intelligence, globalization’s undermining of national economic decision-making, and climate change. The last is the hardest for progressives, in that the level of public support for the dramatic changes of direction required is weak. Worse still they have communicated a snobbery towards fat, racist, opioid-wounded, angry, white, working-class voters.

Each of these failures has contributed to most damaging defeat for the postwar consensus of every progressive government: greater equality must always be a priority. Until recently, even conservatives accepted the wisdom of a progressive tax system. Until recently, memory of real poverty and its impact on children, families, and society itself was still powerful for most leaders. Today’s progressive elites have few such memories let alone experience.

The progressive failure to articulate a believable vision created a huge opening for the same dishonest political frauds that ruined the first half of the last century. The collapse of the more astonishingly wicked or dumb among them — Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen — is little comfort. 

Trump has proved a gold mine for late night comics. But Sears warns that blistering humour -- deserved though it may be -- is not what will defeat the Great Orange Id. Progressives need "a coherent vision of how they could restore hope for an increasingly stressed class of voters that includes many key elements of their traditional base."

Until progressives can give those who have been left behind a reason to believe in that vision, Trump and his clones will continue to lie and get away with it.

Image: The Challenge Roundtable

16 comments:

Steve said...

In our own country the NDP in both Ontario and Federally have become nothing but opportunists.

Owen Gray said...

Sears worked for years as an NDP strategist, Steve. He's aware of his party's shortcomings.

The Mound of Sound said...

I had a long conversation yesterday with a friend, a small "c" conservative type, the sort to closely follow the markets, etc. She, too, sees the urgent need for change and says most of her even more conservative friends agree. The crunch came when I asked what changes we most needed and how she saw that being achieved. That was when the conversation fell over the cliff.

Surely the solution must begin by understanding how neoliberalism took hold, how it became embedded in our politics and economies, and how it metastasized into the monster confronting us today.

How did it take hold? It took more than Hayek and Friedman although they planted the seed. It took Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney. They sold us on an ideology, an entirely faith-based promise of more and better jobs in a "new economy." We would become masters of the "information age" whilst our "old economy" jobs would find their natural home in low wage corners of the world. It helps if you think of it as a malignancy and this was the earliest stage when the disease was still easily treatable.

Globalized free trade ensued, second stage. For the first time, national sovereignty was diluted, to some extent shared with a new player, global corporatism. We provided the vehicle whereby the corporate sector was increasingly able to insinuate itself between the electorate and the legislators they installed. From that point forward we would be ruled, not governed. The political caste became technocrats, petit fonctionairres. They would do, not as we willed but as they thought best for the nation and for themselves.

Globalization seemed to work, for a while, but it gradually faltered for all but a few. That's where the disease became terminal. Some of us, Ralston Saul and others, recognized, by the turn of the century, that globalism had failed. More recently, even the IMF and World Bank acknowledged its failure. Yet it is still here. Neoliberalism is here to stay and it's not going anywhere at least not without a fight.

Globalism and the neoliberal free market capitalists saw their answer waS not to shrink government but to capture it. The process began with legislative capture, think America's "bought and paid for" Congress. Think of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Why legislative capture? Because there's no better way to transfer wealth from the masses to the few. Stiglitz in "The Price of Inequality" shows how modern inequality has almost nothing to do with merit or market forces and is almost entirely legislated - tax policy, subsidies, transfer of public property to private interests for well below fair market value, etc.

- cont'd

The Mound of Sound said...


Following legislative capture the follow-on step was "regulatory capture" that really took off under Bush-Cheney. Boards and tribunals became stacked with representatives from the very industries being regulated. He who owns the legislator and the regulator is essentially self-governing. What better way to suppress organized labour, environmental regulation, and such? Better yet if the oligarchic right can concentrate ownership of the media, turning it from information to messaging, and thereby conditioning the voting public.

Now we have executive capture with the presidency itself and the bulk of cabinet power under the control of corporate interests. The Gullibillies can angrily, even fearfully cling to their man even as he guts their healthcare, cuts taxes for the wealthiest (again) and leads the country nowhere.

With this power structure America has transitioned in just over three decades from liberal democracy to illiberal democracy to functional oligarchy (Gilens and Page study, Princeton). Neoliberalism is now the default operating system, politically and economically. This is a very late stage malignancy.

Robin Sears argues for reform without dwelling on how that is to be achieved. How do we restore progressivism when, collectively, we no longer know what that is? Ask someone to explain progressivism in the context of the sovereign state versus capital or, better yet, the struggle between labour and capital. Prepare yourself for a lot of blank stares.

It was at this point in our conversation that my "lightly conservative" friend, to my delight, came to the conclusion that upheaval of some sort, perhaps even revolution, is the only sure way out of this. I was surprised and delighted and yet, once you connect the dots of our political and economic course of the past 30 plus years, you can realize that neoliberalism is too deeply embedded in our economy and our government to be dispatched by a hopeful narrative.

When you look at the changes besetting the world - the gamut of climate change impacts, overpopulation and over-consumption - the future looks more authoritarian, not less. That would seem to be the very sector of the compass in which neoliberalism thrives.

liberalandlovingit! said...

All of that- is mostly BS.

WTF does he even know about the opioid-wounded, anyway.
Here, Robin, you can borrow somma my opioid-meth-coke & booze...............dead......

The Mound of Sound said...

Marie, at a Puff of Absurdity, offers this passage from Hedges' latest column -

"If the deep state replaces Trump, whose ineptitude and imbecility are embarrassing to the empire, that action will not restore our democracy any more than replacing Commodus restored democracy in Rome. Our republic is dead. . . . Corporations, cannibalizing the federal budget, legally empower themselves to exploit and pillage. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil. . . . The executive branch of government has empowered itself to assassinate U.S. citizens. . . . The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are meaningless theater. . . . The relationship between the state and the citizen who is watched constantly is one of master and slave. And the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears."

http://apuffofabsurdity.blogspot.ca/2017/05/hedges-on-impeaching-trump.html
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_death_of_the_republic_20170521

Owen Gray said...

Like your conservative-lite friend, I hoped that the revolution would be non-violent, Mound. But even the Quiet Revolution in Quebec wasn't quiet. I'm afraid that when the storm hits -- and it will hit -- it will be exceedingly nasty.

Owen Gray said...

The M of S sees the weakness in Sears' argument, lovingit. But what Sears says about addressing those who have been abandoned remains absolutely true.

Owen Gray said...

I wish Hedges' analysis was simply over the top, Mound. But, as time passes, he seems to see the future pretty accurately.

Marie Snyder said...

I was going to add there that he doesn't offer a solution in that essay, but elsewhere he's pretty clear, like Mound, that we need a revolution to change anything or else it's just going to get horrifyingly worse.

liberalandlovingit! said...

It's just like in my old job serving seniors, whereby the mngmt says 'precedent' demands the 'right-of-way'....I know....I'm now, an Honourary Member of Local 88.
Thanks for all the fishes, Jeff. And Jerry. And Blackburn, Buzz, Mistah Hoffa....
lezzee--did I fa'get any??

Sorta like when thee ol' HarperCon's signed the ARMZ deal and now the L's are
goin' with it. Like sheeples.....

Precedent, folks......learn to love it or hate it. Your call..........................

Owen Gray said...

That's my impression, too, Marie. There's no easy way out of this.

Owen Gray said...

South of the border, the precedent of "separate but equal" lasted for over a hundred years,lovingit. Getting rid of some precedents takes a long time.

liberalandlovingit! said...

I know, Owen.

The Mound of Sound said...

Krugman's column today focuses on America's descent into a neo-feudal state.

"You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry “freedom” the loudest."

Not exactly the conditions to nurture a progressive restoration, eh?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/22/opinion/american-workers-noncompete-agreements.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=1

Owen Gray said...

Ironic, isn't it, Mound, that the title of Hayek's magnum opus was called, "The Road to Serfdom?"