Street art in West Harlem, NYC, USA,
by artist Alexander Keto (for #NotACrime in collaboration with Street Art Anarchy).
Photo by Jaime Rojo (bsa).
Street art in West Harlem, NYC, USA,
by artist Alexander Keto (for #NotACrime in collaboration with Street Art Anarchy).
Photo by Jaime Rojo (bsa).
BY ANDREW WHITE
Editorial intern at Complex. Sharing life’s narratives from a passionate perspective for Complex Life.
SEP 23, 2016
Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images
Three days after the new broke that Keith Scott was killed by a police officer in Charlotte, Alicia Garza, one of three founders of the Black Lives Matter organization, says she hasn’t watched videos of the incident that have made the rounds through media and fueled intense protests.
“I’ve chosen not to,” Garza told Complex in an exclusive interview. “I think we know what it looks like when somebody is murdered.”
Instead, Garza says she’s has been paying attention to the protests that began Tuesday evening. Those protests turned violent Wednesday with the fatal shooting of one protester by another civilian. Despite the previous night’s shooting, protesters were back out Thursday and continued to demand justice for Scott.
Garza says, with so much media focus on the violent elements of the protests in Charlotte, many have lost sight on the injustice that sparked them.
“The thing that people get so concerned about is how do we stop the violence in Charlotte, but yet we’re not thinking about the fact that there’s been violence in Charlotte since way before whatever is happening there has happened,” Garza says. “The brother who was killed is a form of state violence. He was killed and the police will not release the video. The police are not taking accountability for the violence that they enact in our communities and yet there isn’t as much outrage about that as there is about some broken windows and lost property.”
According to Garza, those who are concerned with violent protests in Charlotte should focus instead on the conditions that create them. Indeed, studies find that not only is the city of Charlotte intensely segregated by race and income but as of 2014, 70 of Charlotte’s 79 high-poverty tracts were majority non-white. In fact, the median income for white families in the city is 86 percent higher than for black and Latino ones.
“How do we stop violence, looting, and riots? The way that we stop that is by making sure that people have the things that they need to thrive,” Garza says. “When people are systematically denied their right to adequate housing, adequate schools, to adequate food, to dignity—this is a response and a reaction that we should absolutely expect.”
Garza also proposes an unconventional solution to brutality by law enforcement in Charlotte and around the country: “police-free communities.”
“Ultimately, policing in and of itself is problematic,” Garza says. “I know that in this country we give a lot of veneration to police. In the ethos of this country, police can do no wrong. And if and when police do wrong, it’s a case of individual bad apples, as opposed to a corroded and corrupt system… Quite frankly, many of our [Black Lives Matter] members are continuing to investigate what it would mean to have police-free communities. I think what we’ve continued to see over time is that no moral appeal is actually stopping the deaths of black people, whether they be armed or unarmed.”
Finally, Garza told Complex that in the midst of so much attention paid to cases of black men killed by police, it’s important that those interested in the movement for black lives not lose sight of the black women who’ve also lost their lives to violence, like Korryn Gaines in Baltimore and Kayla Moore in Berkley.
“This is a perfect moment for us to have each other’s backs,” Garza says, “to call out the names of people who have been killed like the brother who was killed in Charlotte and the brother who was killed in Tulsa, but to also remember that this isn’t just a problem impacting black men, but it’s a problem that is impacting black people. For us to advance on this front, we have to bring everyone along with us.”
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Americans expect to be number one. First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as “the greatest country that has ever been created.” Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness. He’s predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload. “We’re going to win so much,” he told supporters. “You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President … don’t win so much’ … And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again … We’re gonna keep winning.’”
As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously. Look no further than the U.S. gold medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next highest total? Great Britain’s 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the eighteenth century, the nation’s ur-victory. The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the twentieth century.
In the intervening years, the United States built up a gaudy military record — slaughtering native tribes, punishing Mexico, pummeling Spain — but the best was yet to come. “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,”boasted President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that “America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen.”
In the years between those two moments of high-flown rhetoric, the U.S. military fought in nine conflicts, according to a 2015 briefing produced by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the umbrella organization for America’s most elite forces including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets. The record of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, according to SOCOM: zero wins, two losses and seven ties.
This dismal record is catalogued in a briefing slide produced by SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate last September and obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act. “A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” — a timeline of conflicts ranked as wins, losses and ties — examines the last 100 years of America’s wars and interventions.
“Gray zone” is an increasingly popular term of the trade for operations conducted somewhere on the continuum between war and peace. “Traditional war is the paradigm,” the briefing slide asserts. “Gray zone conflict is the norm.”
While he finds a great deal to fault in SOCOM’s analysis, retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes its assessment of post-9/11 conflicts “is quite accurate.” Although American politicians like Hillary Clinton regularly insist that the United States possesses “the greatest military” on the planet, they avoid addressing the question of what the country’s armed interventions have actually accomplished when it comes to policy goals — the true measure of success in war. “We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost,” Bacevich says. “That’s simply a fact.”
The greatest journeyman military in history?
Twelve wins and nine losses. In baseball, it’s the annual record of a journeyman pitcher like Bill Caudill of the Seattle Mariners in 1982, Dave LaPoint of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1983, or Norm Charlton of the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, to mention just three examples. It’s certainly not the record of an ace.
Likewise, 12 victories and nine losses is a far-from-dazzling stat when it comes to warfare, especially for a nation that prides itself on its martial prowess. But that was the SOCOM Intelligence Directorate’s assessment of the last century of American war: 12 and nine with a mind-boggling 43 “ties.”
Among those 64 conflicts, the command counts just five full-fledged wars in which the United States has come up with three wins (World War I, World War II and Desert Storm), one loss (Vietnam) and one tie (Korea). In the gray zone — what SOCOM calls “the norm” when it comes to conflict — the record is far bleaker, the barest of winning percentages at nine victories, eight losses and 42 draws.
“If you accept the terms of analysis, that things can be reduced to win, loss and tie, then this record is not very good,” Bacevich says. “While there aren’t many losses — according to how they code — there’s a hell of a lot of ties, which would beg the question of why, based on these criteria, U.S. policy has seemingly been so ineffective.”
The assessments of, and in some instances the very inclusion of, numerous operations, missions and interventions by SOCOM are dubious. Bacevich, for example, questions its decision to include pre-World War II U.S. military missions in China (a draw according to the command). “I don’t know on what basis one would say ‘China, 1912 to 1941’ qualifies as a tie,” he adds, noting on the other hand that a good case could be made for classifying two of SOCOM’S gray zone “ties” — in Haiti and Nicaragua — during the same era as wins instead of draws based on the achievement of policy aims alone.
It’s even harder to imagine why, for example, limited assistance to Chad in its conflict with Libya and indigenous rebels in 1983 or military assistance in evacuating U.S. personnel from Albania in 1997 should make the list. Meanwhile, America’s so-calledlongest war, in Afghanistan, inexplicably ends in 2014 on SOCOM’S timeline. (That was, of course, the year that the Obama administration formally ended the “combat mission” in that country, but it would assuredly be news to the 8,400 troops, including special operators, still conducting missions there today.) Beyond that, for reasons unexplained, SOCOM doesn’t even classify Afghanistan as a “war.” Instead, it’s considered one of 59 gray-zone challenges, on a par with the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift or small-scale deployments to the restive Congo in the 1960s. No less bizarre, the command categorizes America’s 2003-2011 occupation of Iraq in a similar fashion. “It deserves to be in the same category as Korea and Vietnam,” says Bacevich, the author of “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.”
Killing people and breaking things
Can the post-9/11 U.S. military simultaneously be the finest fighting force in history and unable to win wars or quasi-wars? It may depend on our understanding of what exactly the Department of Defense and its military services are meant to do.
While the 1789 act that established its precursor, the Department of War, is sparse on details about its raison d’être, the very name suggests its purpose — presumably preparing for, fighting and winning wars. The 1947 legislation creating its successor, the “National Military Establishment” was similarly light on specifics concerning the ultimate aims of the organization, as were the amendments of 1949 that recast it as the Department of Defense (DoD).
During a Republican primary debate earlier this year, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered his own definition. He asserted that the “purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” Some in the armed forces took umbrage at that, though the military has, in fact, done both to great effect in a great many places for a very long time. For its part, the DoD sees its purpose quite differently: “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.”
If, in SOCOM’s accounting, the United States has engaged in relatively few actual wars, don’t credit “deterrence.” Instead, the command has done its best to simply redefine war out of existence, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favor of those “gray zone challenges.” If one accepts that quasi-wars are actually war, then the Defense Department has done little to deter conflict. The United States has, in fact, been involved in some kind of military action — by SOCOM’s definition — in every year since 1980.
Beyond its single sentence mission statement, a DoD directive delineating the “functions of the Department of Defense and its major components” provides slightly more details. The DoD, it states, “shall maintain and use armed forces to:
a. Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
b. Ensure, by timely and effective military action, the security of the United States, its possessions and areas vital to its interest.
c. Uphold and advance the national policies and interests of the United States.”
Since the Department of Defense came into existence, the United States has — as the SOCOM briefing slide notes — carried out deployments, interventions and other undertakings in Lebanon (1958), Congo (1964 and 1967), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1975), Iran (1980), El Salvador (1980-1992), Grenada (1983), Chad (1983), Libya (1986), the Persian Gulf (1987-1988), Honduras (1988), Panama (1989), Somalia (1992-1995), Haiti (1994-1995) and Albania (1997), among other countries.
You may have no memory of some (perhaps many) of these interventions, no less a sense of why they occurred or their results — and that might be the most salient take-away from SOCOM’s list. So many of these conflicts have, by now, disappeared into the gray zone of American memory.
Were these operations targeting enemies which actually posed a threat to the U.S. Constitution? Did ceaseless operations across the globe actually ensure the safety and security of the United States? Did they truly advance U.S. policy interests and if so, how?
From the above list, according to SOCOM, only El Salvador, Grenada, Libya and Panama were “wins,” but what, exactly, did America win? Did any of these quasi-wars fully meet the Defense Department’s own criteria? What about the Korean War (tie), the Bay of Pigs (loss), the Vietnam War (loss) or the not-so-secret “secret war” in Laos (loss)? And have any of SOCOM’s eight losses or ties in the post-9/11 era accomplished the Defense Department’s stated mission?
“I have killed people and broken things in war, but, as a military officer, that was never the end. There was a purpose, a reason, a goal,” wrote Major Matt Cavanaugh, a U.S. Army strategist, in response to Huckabee’s comment. He then drew attention to the fact that “Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States” asserts that “military power is integrated with other instruments of national power to advance and defend U.S. values, interests and objectives.”
Did the wars in Vietnam or Laos defend those same values? What about the war waged in Iraq by the “finest fighting force” in world history?
In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out U.S aims for that conflict. “Our goal is to defend the American people, and to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi people,” he said, before offering even more specific objectives, such as having U.S. troops “search for, capture [and] drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq.” Of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq would turn that country into a terrorist magnet, leading to theultimate safe harbor; a terror caliphate extending over swaths of that country and neighboring Syria. The elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would prove impossible for obvious reasons. The “liberation” of its people would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands; the forced displacement of millions; and a country divided along sectarian lines, where up to 50 percent of its 33 million inhabitants may suffer from the effects of trauma brought on by the last few decades of war. And what about the defense of the American people? They certainly don’t feel defended. According to recent polling, more Americans fear terrorism today than just after 9/11. And the particular threat Americans fear most? The terror group born and bredin America’s Iraqi prison camps: ISIS.
This record seems to matter little to the presidential candidate who, as a senator, voted for the invasion of Iraq. Regarding that war and other military missions, Hillary Clinton, as Bacevich notes, continues to avoid asking the most obvious question: “Is the use of the American military conclusively, and at reasonable costs, achieving our political objectives?”
Trump’s perspective seems to better fit SOCOM’s assessment when it comes to America’s warfighting prowess in these years. “We don’t win. We can’t beat ISIS. Can you imagine General Douglas MacArthur or General Patton? Can [you] imagine they are spinning in their grave right now when they see the way we fight,” he recentlytold FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly, invoking the names of those military luminaries who both served in a “draw” in Mexico in the 1910s and U.S. victories in World Wars I and II, and in the case of MacArthur a stalemate in Korea as well.
Neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns responded to TomDispatch’s requests for comment. SOCOM similarly failed to respond before publication to questions about the conclusions to be drawn from its timeline, but its figures alone — especially regarding post-9/11 conflicts — speak volumes.
“In order to evaluate our recent military history and the gap between the rhetoric and the results,” says Bacevich, “the angle of analysis must be one that acknowledges our capacity to break things and kill people, indeed that acknowledges that U.S. forces have performed brilliantly at breaking things and killing people, whether it be breaking a building — by putting a precision missile through the window — or breaking countries by invading them and producing chaos as a consequence.”
SOCOM’s briefing slide seems to recognize this fact. The United States has carried out a century of conflict, killing people from Nicaragua and Haiti to Germany and Japan; battering countries from the Koreas and Vietnams to Iraq and Afghanistan; fighting on a constant basis since 1980. All that death and devastation, however, led to few victories. Worse yet for the armed forces, the win-loss record of this highly professionalized, technologically sophisticated and exceptionally well-funded military has, since assuming the mantle of the finest fighting force in the history of the world, plummeted precipitously, as SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate points out.
An American century of carnage and combat has yielded many lessons learned, but not, it seems, the most important one when it comes to military conflict. “We can kill people, we can break things,” Bacevich observes, “but we don’t accomplish our political goals.”
Street art in Angers, France,
by Outings project – moved from museums walls to the streets.
A world participative project.
Photo by outings-project.org
The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a political and cultural abomination. It demonstrated, in both style and substance, the thoroughgoing decay of American capitalist society over many decades.
It says a great deal about the US political system that, out of 330 million people in America, the choice for president has been narrowed down to these two individuals, both members of the financial aristocracy—they last met face-to-face when the Clintons attended Trump’s third wedding in 2005—and both deeply and deservedly hated by a large majority of the population.
There was not the slightest intellectual substance or reasoned political content to the so-called “debate.” No topic was addressed with either intelligence or honesty. Both candidates lied without effort or shame, slinging insults and prepared one-liners against each other while posturing as advocates of working people.
The capitalist two-party system in America has never put a premium on intelligence or truth. It has always been based on politicians who represent the interests of a narrow stratum at the top of society, while pretending to speak for all of the people. But by 2016, this pretense has lost all credibility.
Trump is the personification of business gangsterism, a billionaire who built his fortune on swindles, bankruptcies, the theft of wages and deals with the Mafia. When Clinton charged him with profiteering from the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, which touched off the 2008 financial collapse, he retorted, “That’s business.” When she accused him of paying no taxes on his vast fortune, he boasted, “That makes me smart.”
Clinton is the personification of political gangsterism, deeply implicated in the crimes of American capitalism over a quarter century, from the destruction of social welfare programs, to the criminalization of minority youth, to the launching of imperialist wars that have killed millions. At one point in the debate she declared that her strategy for defeating ISIS was focused on the assassination of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She alluded to her role in “taking out” Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and said she would make such killings “an organizing principle” of her foreign policy.
Clinton came into the debate as the favorite of the media and the American ruling elite, a tested servant of the financial aristocracy who can be relied on to serve as the political figurehead for the military-intelligence apparatus. She found her voice in the event as the representative of identity politics in the service of imperialism, making repeated appeals along racial and gender lines while threatening Russia with war and presenting the crisis in the Middle East as something that could be resolved by killing the right people.
Trump has attracted support by appearing to give voice to anger over the catastrophic decline in the social position of working people, citing plant closings, mass unemployment, rising poverty, the deterioration of roads, schools, airports, etc. But he offers no solution except the elimination of every restraint on the operations of big business: slashing taxes on corporations in half and scrapping business regulations.
The fascistic billionaire made perhaps the only truthful statement in the debate when he declared that American capitalism faced disaster after a “recovery” that was already the worst since the Great Depression. “We are in a big fat ugly bubble that’s going to come crashing down as soon the Fed raises interest rates,” he said. This recalls the remark by President George W. Bush during the financial meltdown of September 2008, when he blurted out, “This sucker’s going down.”
The media apologists of the Democrats and Republicans blabbed both before and after the debate about the need for fact-checking of the candidates. But the entire debate was a lie, from beginning to end. The falsehoods uttered by Trump and Clinton are picayune compared to the overarching lie that these candidates offer a genuine choice to the American people.
Whatever the outcome of the election, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton replaces Barack Obama in the White House, the next administration will be the most reactionary government in the history of the country, committed to a program of imperialist war, social austerity and attacks on democratic rights.
The task of the working class is to prepare itself politically for the struggles that will be generated by the drive to war and the deepening crisis of world capitalism.
After her loss to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, few predicted that Hillary Clinton would leave the world of presidential politics. On the contrary, it was widely believed that she would make another run for the White House.
Anticipating such a run, the renowned political scientist and activist Frances Fox Piven, along with sociologist Fred Block, penned an open letter calling on Clinton, who had just left the State Department, to “step forward” and “launch a national debate about poverty and welfare.”
“Specifically,” Piven and Block wrote, “we are asking for you to open a conversation about the shortcomings of the 1996 welfare legislation that was passed when you and Bill Clinton were in the White House.”
The letter was not unprovoked: In the years immediately following welfare reform’s implementation, Hillary Clinton was an ardent defender of its underlying logic, arguing that it was a “critical first step” in the broader move toward a more effective system.
And Clinton’s defenses of the law didn’t cease even as evidence of its harmful effects became increasingly prominent. Indeed, in 2008, the New York Times reported that, in an interview, “Clinton expressed no misgivings about the 1996 legislation.”
In 2016, circumstances changed. Faced with a primary opponent running far to her left, Clinton shifted: “Now we have to take a hard look at” welfare reform, Clinton said in April, citing the entirely predictable failure of the now almost non-existent safety net to catch those harmed by the financial crisis.
Fast-forward several months, however, and the issue has all but vanished from the scene; no such “hard look” appears to be forthcoming.
Welfare reform’s absence was especially conspicuous in Clinton’s recent Times op-ed, in which she outlined her “plan for helping America’s poor.”
Clinton highlighted her tenure as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, where she was mentored by Marian Wright Edelman, the organization’s founder. But the issue that prompted a rather bitter split between the two was left unmentioned.
Prior to its passage, welfare reform garnered striking bipartisan support. But dissent was there, and it was forceful. Edelman’s voice was among the most powerful, the most insistent, and, to those reading her words today, the most prescient.
“It would be wrong to leave millions of voteless, voiceless children to the vagaries of 50 state bureaucracies and politics, as both the Senate and House bills will do,” she wrote in the Washington Post. “It would be wrong to strip children of or weaken current ensured help for their daily survival and during economic recessions and natural disasters, as both the Senate and House bills will do. It would be wrong to exacerbate rather than alleviate the current shameful and epidemic child poverty that no decent, rich nation should tolerate for even one child.”
Her pleas fell upon deaf ears; welfare reform passed and was implemented, and its successes in booting millions off of “the dole” and diverting money away from poor families and into the coffers of state governments—which were given tremendous latitude in how they could spend the money — were cheered by Democrats and Republicans alike.
But for the most vulnerable, there was little to celebrate.
Some found work, largely in low-wage jobs; those who didn’t, or couldn’t, slipped into deep poverty. The research of Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, noted the Washington Post‘s Max Ehrenfreund in February, “shows that the number of people living on $2 a day or less in cash has increased more than twofold, to 1.6 million households” since welfare reform’s passage.
The impact on children has been profound. “Under TANF,” a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “the number of children living in deep poverty—with incomes below half the poverty line, using a comprehensive poverty measure—has risen significantly, placing large numbers of children at risk for long-term negative academic, employment, and health outcomes.”
It is significant that Hillary Clinton has consistently downplayed this reality. In her Times piece, she acknowledges in passing that “extreme poverty has increased,” but she does little to explain how such destitution arose in the world’s wealthiest nation.
And, as Ryan Cooper explains, while many of the proposals Clinton puts forward are welcome and necessary—from her emphasis on affordable housing to her support for paid family and medical leave — her plan taken as a whole is “woefully inadequate.”
“The problem, at root, is the same one Paul Ryan has with his various anti-poverty ideas—a wildly disproportionate focus on work, and a corresponding lack of attention to the welfare policies that could seriously cut poverty,” Cooper argues.
Citing the research of Matt Bruenig, Cooper writes that Clinton’s work-centric approach would do little to alleviate poverty because a “huge majority of poor people are not employable.”
Bruenig calls this large group “the CEDS bloc“: It consists of children, the elderly, those with disabilities, and students. And, Bruenig notes, “no matter which common poverty measure you use,” 60 to 65 percent of the poor fall in one of these four categories. Add to that the 20 percent represented by “carers and those who faced a spell of involuntarily unemployment during the year,” and you have a picture of poverty that is entirely different than that painted by the nation’s two major political parties.
“So, all together,” Bruenig concludes, “the CEDS bloc plus carers and those who faced a spell of involuntarily unemployment make up around 80-85% of the poor in any given year.”
Given this context, Clinton’s assertion that “The best way to help families lift themselves out of poverty is to make it easier to find good-paying jobs” is, at best, disconnected, both from the lived experience of impoverished families and from statistical realities. Cooper notes that, of course, “more and better-paying jobs are a great policy objective, but it will have little purchase on the problem of poverty.”
That work is nonetheless at the center of Clinton’s anti-poverty strategy—as opposed to, say, the most effective approach to reducing poverty—is indicative of the ideological limitations not just of Hillary Clinton’s agenda, but of the Democratic Party more broadly. It is not merely, to use Adolph Reed’s phrase, an “atrophy of political imagination” that imposes such strictures; it is also the party’s active commitments, both to its donor base and to dominant economic and political ideas.
Perhaps the most apt description of the party’s ethos comes from former Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips, who once remarked that the Democratic Party is “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.”
“They do not interfere with capitalist momentum,” he added, “but wait for excesses and the inevitable popular reaction.”
Far from defying this tradition—one that consolidated power during the administration of Bill Clinton—Hillary Clinton is advancing it, embracing a political status quo in which big money dominates and celebrating the relationship between America’s dominant institutions and the nation’s economic direction.
“Hillary Clinton is a capitalist,” Emmett Rensin summarizes, “and even within a capitalist party, she is in both perception and in practice unusually comfortable with capitalism’s worst practices.”
Often characterized as clear-headed pragmatism, Clinton’s approach to poverty lays bare the deep conservatism of the party that claims for itself, despite contradictory evidence, the label “progressive.” But such conservatism is not surprising if one considers the significant changes that have taken place within the party over the last several decades.
Thomas Frank has documented the extent to which the Democratic Party has come to consist of professionals and technocrats, and this is reflected in voting patterns: As Lee Drutman has noted, as Democrats have moved rightward, theirs has increasingly become “the preferred party of the very wealthy.”
Hillary Clinton’s embrace of the anti-Trump members of the billionaire class provides only a superficial marker of this shift; the most consequential shifts have taken place just below this surface.
If we have learned anything in recent years, it is that the interests of the wealthy almost always win out.
As such, Edsall concludes, “Instead of serving as the political arm of working and middle class voters seeking to move up the ladder, the Democratic Party faces the prospect of becoming the party of the winners, in collaboration with many of those in the top 20 percent who are determined to protect and secure their economic and social status.”
A party committed to securing the privileges of elite sectors of society cannot also push the aggressive (but remarkably simple) measures necessary to eradicate poverty; the party of Goldman Sachs, the party of ultra-rich professionals, and the party of oil lobbyists cannot also be the party of the poor.
In 2009, Peter Edelman—the husband of Marian Wright Edelman—and Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a scathing critique of the new anti-poverty discourse, whose adherents “consider poverty a voluntary condition, one curable with a quick kick in the pants and the opportunity to work for minimum wage.”
This view persists in the present, on both sides of the political aisle; it is, in effect, a way of omitting the systemic causes of destitution, invoking in their place a critique not of capitalism, but of those victimized by it.
If we are to wage a successful war on poverty, we cannot, in the words of Mathew Snow, “accept capital’s terms for addressing its own problems or purported moral imperatives that presuppose them. We can [we must] overturn those terms completely.”