50 Years Later, Here Are 3 Big Ways the Summer of Love Is Still with Us

CULTURE
The ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through American culture.

Members of Jefferson Airplane performing at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin County, California, United States in June, 1967
Photo Credit: Bryan Costales ©2009 Bryan Costales, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0-Bcx.Org: http://www.bcx.org/photos/events/concerts/ffair/?file=KFRCFantasyFair19670603_7464SBCX.jpg, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0; Jefferson Airplane, Marin County, CA, 1967

Born of the simple intention to unite people in the name of connection and love, an event on the polo fields of Golden Gate Park half a century ago sparked a cultural paradigm shift unrivaled in the U.S. since World War II. But this time it was the antithesis to war that would reshape America: the Summer of Love.

The impetus for that fateful summer was called the Human Be-In, in a nod to the peaceful sit-ins waged by university students in the preceding years against racial segregation. In the years surrounding the Summer of Love, the frigid prospect of nuclear war loomed, minorities and women were rising up against myriad oppressions and the government was cracking down on mind-altering substances like LSD and cannabis. The Summer of Love and its values of free expression, love, peace, activism, and psychedelic exploration of consciousness were the backlash.

The early acid-rock sounds of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and others mixed with the words of boundary-pushing poets and psychedelic pioneers to gather 75,000 or so young people in the park. They spilled out into the five-block radius of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood with fresh smells, sounds and ideals that came to shape the era’s iconography.

Bill McCarthy, founder of the Unity Foundation, co-produced a 50-year anniversary celebration of the Be-In in San Francisco this week.

“It’s important that we celebrate the past, celebrate the victories, triumphs and challenges of the past, but at the same time look at what’s happening today,” he said. “We’re saying yes, in 1967 this all happened, so let’s rededicate ourselves to that. But let’s also see what’s happening today that can build community, build empathy with people all over the world that are struggling.”

He said given the current political climate, with Trump’s impending inauguration and all that’s bound to come with it, there is more reason than ever to “activate ourselves.” He said when you take the “long view” from 1967 to now, it’s obvious that we’re moving forward.

“The values we treasure and movements we created are still stronger than they ever have been,” he said. “When there’s darkness in the world, the thing that feeds darkness is fear. The last thing we should do right now is be fearful.”

Fifty years since the Be-In, as the digital age re-molds the economy, values and skylines of San Francisco and beyond, the ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through our culture in ways we rarely pause to acknowledge. From the sounds of activism to the shape of companies to that box of free stuff out on the corner, many hippie dreams are alive and well in 2017.

Annie Oak, founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress, a nonprofit dedicated to exploring altered states of consciousness, says the prevalence of psychedelics in the 1960s and ’70s is directly related to the ideas put forth by young people at the time.

“These substances allowed people to think way outside the box and also question social systems,” she said. “The hippies here really put forward a liberal political consciousness and humanist values that impacted society.”

Here are three modern cultural shifts that have their roots in the psychedelic Summer of Love.

1. Collectivism, from communal living to open-source software. 

Annie Oak says communal living, which is everywhere now, was born in the Summer of Love. So, she says, are collectivist projects like the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which is still in operation, offering medical treatment free of charge.

“These ideas of collectivism really launched larger ideas like the open-source software movement and creative commerce,” she notes. “These are ideas that are commonplace now.”

Michael Gosney has produced Digital Be-Ins over the years at Be-In anniversaries to pay homage to the initial Be-In of ’67 and to look to the future. He was involved in early desktop publishing and digital media in San Francisco in the late ’80s. It was the dawn of personal computers, and his magazine was covering early Macintosh creativity. He describes the publication as a “nexus of artists and tech people coming together.”

Between ’85 and ’92 he observed that psychedelics—which made their debut in modern culture during the Summer of Love—heavily influenced the creation of digital media. He says the software programmers who worked on digital music, animation, photography and video were influenced by psychedelics.

“I noticed the preponderance of psychedelic influence in the programming community with the engineers that were inventing these new tools,” he said. “Psychedelic influence was extremely powerful, and really that’s how people were seeing the vision of digital networks and so forth. It very much came out of the influence of psychedelics.”

2. Activism and alternative media.

The mainstream newspapers in 1967 were not about to promote the Be-In event. An underground, independent zine called the Oracle, produced for free in Haight-Ashbury, was the first to cover what would become the catalyst for the hippie days and cultural revolution.

“The Oracle was the first to write about the Be-In, so it helped launch the alternative press,” Annie Oak of WVC says. “And there were also underground radio stations that helped promote the events, so the whole alternative media movement really was moved along by the Be-In and the Summer of Love.”

Oak notes that the environmental movement was also taking place in Haight-Ashbury at the time. The local community organized in the ’60s against a proposed freeway project that would run through the panhandle portion of Golden Gate park, connecting Golden Gate Bridge with the Peninsula. The community organized in protest on the same polo grounds where the initial Be-In took place, and their uprising eventually killed the freeway project. This was in 1964, but Oak says the power of community organizing was a key motif of the ’67 Be-In and its cultural imprints.

“The freeway was one of the important predecessors of the Be-In activism and gathering that took place also in the polo grounds three years later, and the later protests against the war,” she said. “Timothy Leary kind of set the tone with his famous phrase, turn on, tune in, drop out, which kind of set the tone for the Be-In. But what really happened here is people kind of turned on to activism, and then took over. They took over big sections of our culture and changed it in positive ways.”

Oak notes the irony that because of the proposed freeway project, which would have displaced many residents, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood harbored lower-income residents like students and minorities. As the years passed following the Summer of Love, the neighborhood became an iconic tourist destination. Today, as wealthy techies have been drawn to the city for its iconic allure, lower-income residents are priced out.

“Haight-Ashbury sort of personified the transition between the beat generation—the poets and jazz hipsters that were embracing a lot of the black jazz culture—and the hippies, who then kind of came into what was then a black neighborhood,” Oak says. “And, to some degree, later that movement ironically gentrified the neighborhood, and a lot of the black community then left. It was a very complex form of gentrification, and that gentrification is still happening.”

Bill McCarthy of Unity Foundation said in planning the Be-In anniversary this year he had a conversation with author and historian Dennis McNally about how the mainstream media of the time co-opted the Summer of Love.

“[McNally] was saying… the media created the hippie and created this—how we should look at the culture, and that was part of the downfall,” McCarthy said. “And to that I said, well, Dennis, the beautiful thing now is we can create our own media. We’re not saddled by ABC, NBC, CBS, whatever anymore. We have our own media vehicles.”

3. Cannabis legalization and psychedelic science are influencing mainstream medicine.

Two years prior to the Summer of Love, the psychedelic beloved by many young people who associated LSD with spiritual enlightenment and creative expression was criminalized, like cannabis before it. Retaliating against the Summer of Love and the progressive concepts it launched, President Richard Nixon waged the racist, violent (and ultimately failed) war on drugs that vilified psychedelics and cannabis in the public eye for decades.

Cannabis and most psychedelics remain federally illegal to this day, though the pendulum is starting to swing back. Eight U.S. states have legalized weed for adult use, and this decade the first U.S. government-approved human trials assessing psychedelics in tandem with psychotherapy treatment are showing overwhelmingly positive results. Most of the studies are sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit group founded by Rick Doblin in 1986.

Doblin said the Summer of Love set society on a path toward important cultural shifts.

“Since the iconic Summer of Love, 50 years ago, marijuana has gone from being a heavily demonized drug used by rebellious youth to a medicine, with one of the largest growing demographics being elderly people,” he said. “Psychedelics now are being investigated as tools used in scientific research for therapeutic uses, a catalyst of spirituality, art and creativity, acceptance of death and we are now facing their legitimization and acceptance as medical tools.”

In addition, MAPS is conducting studies of MDMA’s potential to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, researching the use of ibogaine for opiate addiction and “implementing ayahuasca research for PTSD and broadening psychedelic harm reduction outreach for more widespread acceptance into our culture,” Doblin said. Similar to the path of cannabis in culture, he predicts psychedelics will first be accepted medicinally, then for their broadened spiritual and cultural uses.

“One day people will take for granted that psychedelics are legal, are highly prized, and help people make positive contributions to society,” he said.

April M. Short is a yoga teacher and writer who previously worked as AlterNet’s drugs and health editor. She currently works part-time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide. 

http://www.alternet.org/culture/50-years-later-here-are-3-big-ways-summer-love-still-us?akid=15118.265072.82O0Sv&rd=1&src=newsletter1070698&t=14

Economic nationalism and the breakdown of the post-war order

economic-nationalism-jpg-w560h282

11 January 2017

In contrast to 2016, the new year has opened with relative stability in global financial markets. A year ago, markets experienced considerable turbulence in the context of the US Federal Reserve’s decision to lift interest rates by 0.25 percentage points, a sharp downturn in the price of oil, and a plunge in bank shares.

Thus far in 2017, it has been all quiet on the financial front, with US markets continuing to hover around the record highs they reached in December in the surge triggered by Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.

Behind the appearance of relative calm, however, major shifts have taken place that will have far-reaching consequences, not just for financial markets, but for the world economy more broadly.

One of the most significant features of 2016 was the rise of economic nationalism and the growth of right-wing nationalist and populist movements. The turn to economic nationalism is reflected in many areas of the world, but has found its sharpest expression in the “America First” policies espoused by incoming President Trump and the appointment to his cabinet of figures who openly advance this agenda, with China designated as one of the central targets.

The shift in orientation by the US ruling class has profound historical significance. One of the lessons drawn by the American ruling elites following the disasters produced by the decade of the 1930s, when the division of the world economy into currency and trading blocs led to World War II, was the need to base the post-war order on free trade, with protectionism eschewed at all cost.

What was called the “liberal” trade agenda was itself based on, and underwritten by, the unchallenged global economic dominance of American capitalism, which emerged relatively unscathed from the carnage of the Second World War, in contrast to the devastation of Europe and much of Asia. The war amplified the already dominant position of US industry and finance. American capitalism sponsored the establishment of a set of institutions and programmes—the dollar-based Bretton Woods monetary system, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Marshall Plan—to stabilise and pry open the world market to its exports and investments and facilitate the profit-making of US corporations.

Today, after decades of protracted decline, US economic hegemony is a thing of the past and American capitalism finds itself threatened by the rise, in particular, of China. This is fundamentally what underlies the breakdown of the post-war economic order and the turn of the American ruling class to unbridled economic nationalism.

This has given rise to considerable concern about where the global economic system, and with it the entire system of political relations on which the stability of world capitalism has rested, is now headed.

Fears about the new US orientation were voiced in a column by Financial Times economics correspondent Martin Wolf published on January 6. It was headlined “The long and painful journey to world disorder.”

“It is not true that humanity cannot learn from history,” Wolf began. “It can and, in the case of the lessons of the dark period between 1914 and 1945, the west did. But it seems to have forgotten those lessons. We are living, once again, in an era of strident nationalism and xenophobia. The hopes of a brave new world of progress, harmony and democracy, raised by the market opening of the 1980s and the collapse of Soviet communism between 1989 and 1991, have turned to ashes.”

What lies ahead, he asked, for the US under a president who repudiates permanent alliances and embraces protectionism, and a battered European Union facing “illiberal democracy” in the east, Brexit, and the possibility that Marine Le Pen could be elected to the presidency in France?

Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman also devoted his first piece of the year to the same processes. Before Trump promised to “Make America Great Again,” he wrote, China, Russia and Turkey had already turned to what he called “nostalgic nationalism.” In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was leading an energetic campaign for “national revival,” while in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was combining a push to “modernise India” with an appeal to “Hindu pride.”

There was also a strong appeal to nationalism in the Brexit referendum, with the Leave campaign’s stress on a “Global Britain,” an attempt to appeal to “memories of the time when the UK was a dominant world power, not just a member of the club of 28 European nations.”

Rachman noted that it was somewhat difficult for any party in Germany to openly campaign on the slogan “Make Germany Great Again.” But while the slogan might be absent, at least to this point, similar forces are at work there—above all in key foreign policy, military and academic circles, where the assertion is heard repeatedly that Germany cannot simply function as a power within Europe, but must exercise its influence on a global scale.

The turn to economic nationalism is not rooted in the personality or psychology of Trump, Le Pen or any of the other political leaders. Nor is it simply a device by various politicians to exploit seething popular dissatisfaction with the existing economic and political order and use it for their own political advantage.

Such calculations are present, of course. But underneath the political manoeuvres and propaganda, profound objective forces are at work. These forces can be identified by reviewing the course of the world economy since the eruption of the US-based global financial crisis of 2008. This, as the World Socialist Web Site stressed at the time, was not a conjunctural downturn, but a breakdown in the functioning of the world capitalist economy.

At their first meeting in 2009, the leaders of the G-20 group of nations, representing 85 percent of the world economy, in confronting the most severe financial crisis since 1929, recognised the inherent dangers of a return to the conditions of the 1930s. From the outset, and at all subsequent meetings, they pledged to avoid protectionist and trade war measures. But the contradictions of the capitalist economy have proven to be more powerful than the pledges of capitalist politicians.

The policies enacted in response to the financial meltdown and the ensuing Great Recession were based on so-called quantitative easing, under which the world’s major central banks—the US Fed, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan—pumped trillions of dollars into the financial system. These measures were accompanied in China by a massive stimulus package, based on government spending and the rapid expansion of credit.

The policies of the major central banks averted a total financial meltdown, while the Chinese stimulus provided a significant boost for commodity-exporting countries, from Latin America and Africa to Australia. For a brief period, this created the illusion that the so-called BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—could provide a new base of stability for world capitalism. That prospect proved to be short-lived.

The unprecedented injection of money into the financial system did little or nothing to promote real economic growth in the major economies, on which the BRICS countries are ultimately dependent, but simply enriched a global financial oligarchy, while the broad mass of the working class were forced to pay for the financial largesse through cuts in real wages, social programmes and living standards, amid a rise in social inequality to record levels.

In the years following the financial crisis, the central bankers and capitalist politicians insisted that the financial measures they had enacted would eventually bring about an economic recovery. But this fiction has now been well and truly exposed. Investment, the key driver of the economy, remains persistently below pre-crisis trends. Productivity is falling. Deflation has become widespread. And, most significantly, world trade growth has slowed markedly. Last September, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) noted that in 2016, the growth in world trade would fall below the rate of growth in global gross domestic product, only the second such occurrence since 1982.

The overall situation is graphically depicted by the fact that the world economy as a whole is one sixth smaller than it would have been had pre-crisis growth trends been maintained.

In response to this situation, the past year has seen, as the WTO noted, the increased use of protectionist measures, especially by the major economies, notwithstanding all the pledges to the contrary. It is within this broad economic context that Trump and his “America First” agenda, and the turn to such economic nationalist policies by other major powers, must be placed.

In the final analysis, they are the response by the ruling elites to their inability to devise any measures to promote sustainable economic growth. Consequently, the world market is increasingly becoming a battleground—a development that will become ever more apparent in the coming year.

There are striking historical parallels here. In the aftermath of the economic breakdown that led to World War I, there were numerous efforts in the decade of the 1920s to devise measures to revive the belle époque that had preceded the war. All of them failed, and the major powers responded to the contraction of the world market with a war of each against all, leading ultimately to World War II.

There are many differences between the situation today and that of 90 years ago. But the basic trends remain the same. In fact, the basic contradiction between the development of an interdependent global economy and its division into rival and conflicting nation-states has intensified.

This is reflected in the lamentations of bourgeois economic commentators such as Martin Wolf over the breakdown of globalisation. Just over a century ago, the international capitalist elites implemented their response to the breakdown of the nation-state system, unleashing on mankind the horrors of world war. Three years later, the international working class, through the conscious leadership provided by the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin and Trotsky, gave its response to the crisis—the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, the first shot in the world socialist revolution.

There are, indeed, lessons of history that must be drawn. If mankind is to avert another catastrophe, the deepening social hostility to the present economic and political order must be transformed into a conscious struggle by the working class for the programme of international socialism, not as some kind of distant hope, but as the only viable and practical programme of the day.

Nick Beams

WSWS 

Capitalism Is Collapsing — and Nothing Is Rising to Replace It

ECONOMY
Author Wolfgang Streeck describes the phenomenon as “a death from a thousand cuts.”

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/durantelallera

Some anonymous wise person once observed that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. But Wolfgang Streeck, a 70-year-old German sociologist and director emeritus of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, thinks capitalism’s end is inevitable and fast approaching. He has no idea what, if anything, will replace it.

This is the premise of his latest book, How Will Capitalism End?, which goes well beyond Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Piketty thinks capitalism is getting back into the saddle after being ruined in two world wars. Streeck thinks capitalism is its own worst enemy and has effectively cut itself off from all hope of rescue by destroying all its potential rescuers.

“The end of capitalism,” he writes in the introduction, “can then be imagined as a death from a thousand cuts… No effective opposition being left, and no practicable successor model waiting in the wings of history, capitalism’s accumulation of defects, alongside its accumulation of capital, may be seen… as an entirely endogenous dynamic of self-destruction.”

According to Streeck, salvation doesn’t lie in going back to Marx, or social democracy, or any other system, because there is no salvation at all. “What comes after capitalism in its final crisis, now under way, is, I suggest, not socialism or some other defined social order, but a lasting interregnum — no new world system equilibrium… but a prolonged period of social entropy or disorder.”

Five developments, three crises

If we need a historical parallel, the interregnum between the fall of Rome and the rise of feudalism might serve. The slave economy of Rome ended in a chaos of warlords, walled towns and fortress-estates, and enclaves ruled by migrant barbarians. That went on for centuries, with warlords calling themselves “Caesar” and pretending the Empire hadn’t fallen. Streeck sees the interregnum emerging from five developments, each aggravating the others: “stagnation, oligarchic redistribution, the plundering of the public domain, corruption, and global anarchy.”

All these problems and more have grown through “three crises: the global inflation of the 1970s, the explosion of public debt in the 1980s, and rapidly rising private indebtedness in the subsequent decade, resulting in the collapse of financial markets in 2008.” Anyone of a certain age in  British Columbia has vivid personal recollections of these crises and the hurt they caused. The strikes and inflation of the 1970s preceded the Socreds’ “restraint” era, and now we mortgage our lives for a foothold in the housing market. Streeck reminds us that it was nothing personal, just business. We weren’t just coping with one damn thing after another; given his perspective, we can see how it all fit together with an awful inevitability.

When the bubble pops

And it continues to fit together. Temporary foreign workers and other immigrants make unions’ jobs harder. “Recovery” amounts to replacing unemployment with underemployment. Education is an expensive holding tank to keep young people off the labour market. Women are encouraged to work so they can be taxed. But middle-class families need two incomes anyway to maintain their status, so they import underpaid immigrant women as nannies. At some point soon these nannies will be sent back to their home countries when Vancouver’s housing bubble pops.

Perhaps the middle-class families will then make their payments by taking in boarders. Streeck’s essays were written over the past few years, and are sometimes a bit dated. For example, he writes that “American oligarchs, unlike their counterparts in other societies like Ukraine or Russia, are of a ‘non-ruling’ type, since they are content to live alongside a public bureaucracy, a state of law, and an elected government run by professional politicians.”

That changed on Nov. 8, when the American oligarchs ousted noncompliant professional politicians and assumed direct power through Donald Trump and his cabinet. (We may yet see an analysis of Trump on Streeck’s blog.) In one essay, Streeck shows how the economic crisis of the 1970s led to the political crisis of today. Postwar Europe and America rebuilt the world by “Fordism” — mass production of durable goods at an affordable price, with few or no options. But Fordism eventually glutted the market with all-too-durable goods. In the 1960s, I wore the hand-me-down nylon socks my father had bought in the 1940s.

In 1972 my wife and I bought a washer and dryer that still run reliably in 2016, without repairs. That couldn’t last, especially as the baby boom tapered off. Capitalism’s solution was to offer customized, short-lived products that didn’t just meet your needs, but met your wants as well. That meant avocado-coloured refrigerators in the 1970s and granite kitchen countertops today, but nothing that really made life easier. It just let consumers express their changing personal tastes and status. And it wasn’t just consumer goods — it was information as well. Streeck notes that public broadcasting systems and a few private networks dominated the media for decades. Now we have hundreds of private channels competing for our attention (and our money).

Public media like the CBC have tried to compete with private radio and TV, with generally awful results: instead of classical music, CBC Radio 2 gives us Mozart’s greatest hits plus Mozart gossip. Radio 1 promotes the careers of inarticulate hip-hop artists and reports commuter woes caused by housing prices and the lack of decent public transit.

Politics as personal fashion statement

What Streeck calls the “individualization of the individual” has afflicted whole nations, including Canada. We no longer vote for a party because our family always has, or because we support most of its policies. We want avocado-coloured day care programs, and granite-counter “world-class” pipeline safety, and if we don’t get both in one party, we stay home and sulk. In effect, we prefer to be consumers of politics as personal fashion statement rather than actually take part in running the country. Marx thought communism would see the withering-away of the state. Instead, capitalism has reduced the state until its chief functions are protecting the rich and policing the poor.

But in the process, capitalism has killed off its rescuers. Who’s going to save the banks in the next collapse? Who’s going to bail out the masters of the financial universe when artificial intelligence takes their jobs? And who’s going to police the poor when taxpayers can’t pay for the cops and the rich are hiring cops for their own gated communities? Wolfgang Streeck sees neither a single cause of capitalism’s collapse nor any obvious successor regime.

The European Union may break up. Climate change may drown south Florida, including Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Refugees will keep coming north; they will eventually overwhelm the fences and guards and create new enclaves in Europe and the U.S.A. and Canada.

New pandemics will sweep unchallenged around the world. No coherent political communities will be there to respond to such disasters. Such communities may arise centuries from now, but if Streeck is right, capitalism has ensured that we and our children will never live in them.

Can American Fascism Be Stopped?

ELECTION 2016
Trump’s win was both a perfect storm and the culmination of long-term trends.

Photo Credit: Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

It is hard to contemplate the new administration without experiencing alarm bordering on despair: Alarm about the risks of war, the fate of constitutional democracy, the devastation of a century of social progress. Trump’s populism was a total fraud. Every single Trump appointment has come from the pool of far-right conservatives, crackpots, and billionaire kleptocrats. More alarming still is the man himself—his vanity, impulsivity, and willful ignorance, combined with an intuitive genius as a demagogue. A petulant fifth-grader with nuclear weapons will now control the awesome power of the U.S. government.

One has to nourish the hope that Trump can yet be contained. Above all, that will take passionate and strategic engagement, not just to resist but to win, to discredit him and get him out of office while this is still a democracy. We can feel sick at heart—we would be fools not to—but despair is not an option.

We need to insist that the era we are entering is not normal, not to be normalized. Just about everything in our daily routines conspires against that imperative. Ordinary life goes on. Nothing has changed, but everything has changed. It has the menacing, surreal feel of the 1930s. We are caught somewhere between the weary fatalism of T.S. Eliot’s hollow men and W.H. Auden’s haunting poem “September 1, 1939,” the day World War II began:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
….
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie  

I. How Did This Happen?

The Sunday before the election, a dear friend was rushed into emergency surgery. She survived and fully recovered, but it was a very close call. On the following Thursday, she was aroused from a medically induced coma. Like Rip van Winkle, she awoke to a revolution. Among her first words were, “Did we just have a coup d’état?”

Yes, my dear, we did. The coup had three ingredients: the flipping of an American election by Vladimir Putin; the suppression of hundreds of thousands of would-be voters; and the intervention of FBI Director James Comey to discredit an active presidential candidate, not once but twice. We have a true constitutional crisis, both in the character of the man who was elected and the fraudulent election. The new president has no legitimacy, but there is no process to dislodge him.

Suppose the situation had been reversed? Suppose Hillary Clinton had narrowly won the Electoral College while Donald Trump had won the popular vote by three million? What would Trump have said about a stolen election? Would he have urged his supporters to take to the streets? Would Congress have immediately moved to schedule more hearings on Clinton’s emails, and greeted her inauguration with a bill of impeachment? Paradoxically, there is the appearance of less of a legitimacy crisis with Trump having won rather than having lost.

History is a convergence of deep forces and random events, lucky or unlucky. The ascension of Donald Trump needs to be understood as both. If you limit your analysis to the election itself, you might reassure yourself that 2016 was a fluke—a perfect storm of bad breaks: email hell; meddling by both Russian and U.S. police agencies; Trump as a stunningly talented demagogue; a blemished establishment figure as Democratic nominee; allowing a bizarre billionaire to pose as faux-populist avenger. But it was also the culmination of longer-term trends that weakened democracy and destroyed the New Deal social contract.

For Trump to win, the media had to play into his hands. The press did not know what to do with a candidate who dwelled in his own parallel factual universe. The quest for balance gave equal play to Clinton’s relatively minor sins and Trump’s grotesqueries.

The cable channels covered Trump both as an amusing freak and as a conventional presidential contender. Both roles served his purposes. Once a Trump story became the outrage of the week, it could be discarded as yesterday’s news. Revelations that would have sunk an ordinary candidate were dispatched relatively early, never to be heard again. Did Trump University swindle thousands of students? Did Trump cheat his contractors? Grope women? Call Mexicans rapists? Propose a religious test for immigrants and refugees? Mock Muslim Gold Star parents? Did Trump really say that maybe the “Second Amendment people” could take care of Hillary? Yeah, yeah, we know all that. Old story.

What neither the media nor the Clinton campaign quite grasped was that disaffection ran so deep in much of America that the more outrageous Trump was, the more his supporters loved it. Was his language coarse? Anyone who watches TV or goes to the movies has heard worse. He mowed down the Republican field by breaking all the rules; well, maybe America needs that sort of strongman. He insulted the entire establishment, just as millions of ordinary people felt insulted by elites who talked down to them, and they loved that Trump was a bully because they could believe he was bullying on their behalf.

And once voters believed that, they were already in Trump’s post-fact world. Strategic framing theory has demonstrated through brain experiments that once you have accepted the framing of a proposition, evidence doesn’t matter. Did Trump stiff the hard-working contractors on his hotel projects? Maybe they did a lousy job. Did he brag about grabbing women “by the pussy”? That’s just guy talk. Six bankruptcies? Smart businessman—maybe he can fix the national debt. And so on. Trump took the art of cognitive dissonance to a whole new level. He altered reality so regularly that trying to challenge his views was like punching a vast fog of cotton candy.

One statistic is worth pondering long and hard. Hillary lost a majority of white women. How could that possibly be? Are most American women still victims of false consciousness? Did their husbands browbeat them into supporting Trump? I don’t think so. Clinton’s identification with a political and financial elite that Middle America came to detest proved more important than her gender breakthrough. The Clinton campaign compounded the problem by giving too much emphasis to the presumed rising electorate of people who identify by oppressed group, and not enough to a broader electorate losing income and status and feeling little stake in American democracy.

But that story has roots that date back at least three decades. Since the 1970s, the post-Roosevelt social contract that once served the vast majority of Americans has been under siege. In their embrace of one-way globalization, both parties declined to insist on a trading system of true reciprocity. American manufacturing was sacrificed to the mercantilism of other nations that were valued as Cold War allies. American finance became the dominant influence, economically and politically.

As AFL-CIO chief economist William Spriggs points out, the argument about why Democrats lost the white working class misses the point. The working class is substantially nonwhite. In the 2016 election, Democrats underperformed among the entire working class—white, black, Hispanic, Asian—relative to the Obama vote and to the vote Democrats should have gained among the non-rich.

The debate about whether Trump voters in the heartland were blue-collar workers or the fearful middle class also misses the point. When factory towns become ghost towns, the entire community goes down and the entire community feels betrayed. The proposition that the Democratic Party is the party of regular, working Americans is no longer credible to much of America.

The sense of a collapsing social contract went hand in hand with the erosion of American democracy, both in a civics-book sense and in a political economy sense. In a market economy, democracy is the only counterweight the people have to keep elites from making off with too much of the pie. Over the past several decades, money has crowded out real grassroots politics, causing politicians to spend more time cultivating fat cats than meeting with constituents. Mass membership organizations that were once robust have turned into letterhead groups, run by professional staff, without the sort of democratically run chapter organizations that were common in our grandparents’ day. The AARP is an insurance marketing operation disguised as an advocacy group for seniors. It has no local chapters. The labor movement, once the epitome of a democratically run mass organization by and for working people, has been decimated.

According to research by the political scientist Kay Schlozman and colleagues, there is almost a perfect correlation between intensity of civil and political participation and level of income. That was not always the case, and this participatory tilt reinforces the influence of affluence, in the phrase of political scientist Martin Gilens, at the expense of regular people. No wonder government, the Democratic Party, and democracy itself all lost legitimacy, opening the door to a Trump.

In short, the perfect storm of 2016 had been brewing for a third of a century.

II. Is Donald Trump an American Fascist?

Fascism, classically, includes a charismatic strongman who speaks directly to the mystical People, over the heads of the squabbling politicians who ruined the Nation. Or as Donald Trump put it at the Republican National Convention, “I am your voice. … I alone can fix it.” (Check.)

Fascism scapegoats some demonized other, or sets of others. (Check.)

Fascism can begin as illiberal democracy and mutate into full-blown tyranny, Mussolini-style. Or fascism can preserve the forms but eviscerate the realities of democracy, à la Putin. (Check.)

Fascism attracts unstable personalities, both the maximum leader himself and his more extreme followers. (Check.)

Fascists are superb at getting followers to believe what Adolf Hitler was the first to call the “big lie.” Repeat it often enough, people believe it. Whether it is true ceases to matter. Truth becomes subjective. (Check.)

Fascism papers over contradictions. Hitler, a short, swarthy Austrian, exalted the blond, blue-eyed German ideal. Silvio Berlusconi, a notoriously corrupt billionaire, mixed business interests with the business of government. Yet he was lionized by ordinary Italians fed up with the state’s corruption. Believers are willfully blind. (Check.)

Fascists use mobs or the threat of mobs to intimidate or physically assault opponents and silence critics. Hitler had his Brownshirts private militia of stormtroopers before he became chancellor. Then it became part of the state. The internet adds a new wrinkle. Trump impulsively uses tweets to incite cyber-mobs. When Trump personally attacked Chuck Jones, the president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, Jones got threatening phone calls. Journalists who have been attacked for criticizing Trump have been subjected to vile personal threats from Trump’s thugs. And all of this before he had state power.

America is an open society (or it has been). If Trump wants to sic mobs on us, either digitally or live, we are sitting ducks. Suddenly, any critic is in the same position as blacks early in the civil-rights era. A lynch mob could show up at your door, egged on by the local sheriff. Only the sheriff is now president of the United States. (Check.)

Fascists are not just charismatic but entertaining. Juan Domingo Perón and his wife, Eva, put on a terrific show. Likewise Benito Mussolini. And of course Hitler. They were so compelling to their followers that the contradictions were effectively invisible. (Check.)

One such contradiction is fascism’s habit of both bashing business and climbing into bed with business. Though fascists often condemn an international bankers’ conspiracy, fascists work with corporate elites. And business, either naïvely or cynically, often hopes to use fascists—to restore order, to create a favorable business climate, to help domestic business against imports, and to repress free labor unions. German industry and finance supported Hitler and thrived under Hitler. Much of Italy’s corporatist state, with heavy state financing and business-government interlocks, was developed under Mussolini. (Check.)

Despite a lot of blather about democracy and capitalism logically reinforcing each other because of common norms of transparency and rule of law, when push comes to shove capitalists are a weak firebreak against fascism. (Tom Friedman, take note.) As the financial collapse showed, rules are made to be gamed; transparency is for suckers.

We’ve known for a century that capitalists get along fine with dictators in third-world settings—such leaders operate a better business climate than messy democracies. Likewise at home. (Check—and maybe checkmate.)

Fascism also steals the left’s clothes. Fascists sponsor public-works projects and expand social benefits. “Nazi” was an abbreviation for National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Hitler ran a prodigious welfare state, as well as extensive public improvements. Here, however, Trump may botch the necessary tightrope act, because the bread is turning out to be far more meager than the circus. It’s not clear how long psychic income will substitute for real income.

There are two other key respects in which Trump is not a classic fascist. He did not come to office as candidate of a new out-party. His hostile takeover of the Republican Party will produce complications. Moreover, fascists usually take power with a clear agenda. Other than his own vanity, Trump doesn’t have a coherent agenda beyond vague slogans. Incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Vice President–elect Mike Pence are staffing Trump’s cabinet with conventional billionaire conservatives. But that’s not exactly the Tea Party’s cup of tea, nor is the bizarre alliance with Putin.

An astute observation is ascribed to Mark Twain: It is easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled. True enough, but the contradictions are piling up. Even hardcore Trump voters are starting to experience buyer’s remorse.

III. Undoing the Folded Lie

The first line of defense, surprisingly, may be other Republicans. As the CIA-Putin episode suggests, we are in a fateful race between Republican opportunism and the deeper concern of at least some Republicans for the republic; between Trump’s assumption that he was elected dictator and collapsing approval ratings—that may yet give pause to some of his allies—as well as the dawning realization that Trump is even crazier than they thought. The Republican view of Trump may be coming full circle, from contempt to ingratiation and back to contempt.

Several leading Republican senators have drawn the line at Trump’s rejection of the CIA and his footsie with Putin. And while Republicans may want to cut public spending, the plans of designated Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price of Georgia to make drastic cuts not just in welfare but in Social Security and Medicare will not sit well either with Trump voters or with several Republican senators. And some, such as Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, may not want to turn the EPA over to a leading climate denier.

Trump’s designs on Obamacare spell big losses for hospitals, which are in every congressional district. His version of economic nationalism will wreak havoc with supply chains without doing anything real for American workers. It will backfire if he keeps attacking Boeing, one of America’s few remaining export champions. Tragically, we can’t rely on big business to defend democracy, but we can expect business to fiercely defend its own interests.

In the short run, Trump’s combination of tax cuts and deregulation may produce an economic boom. But a majority of Federal Reserve governors have been spoiling for an excuse to raise interest rates. The widened deficit will give them one. Higher rates, in turn, will slow the economy, increase the value of the dollar and thus widen the trade deficit. Tighter money will also threaten the latest asset bubble in real estate and stocks. We could even see another financial crisis. This is a time to defend core democratic institutions, to amplify all of the contradictions between who Trump pretends to be and who he is. The Democrats need to force Republican legislators to take as many awkward, coalition-splitting votes as possible. They need to put forward affirmative policies that are far more attractive to workaday voters than Trump’s. They need to take some actions of conscience that could also be good politics, such as fervently defending the Dreamers. For the long term, they need to defend and expand a free society, beginning with Obama’s reported efforts on gerrymandering, which could be expanded to a general defense of democracy. Obama could play a far larger role as leader of the opposition. He is a counter–role model to Trump.

But one should not minimize the perils. Trump will wield a massive amount of executive power. This is a man with a short fuse and a long enemies list. As I wrote in a piece last summer that I assumed was merely a passing nightmare, titled “Donald Trump’s Constitution,” he can use the power of the presidency to conduct vast surveillance, threaten the commercial interests of the free press, selectively prosecute, and further weaken the labor movement while his allies in Congress change the ground rules of federalism to undermine progressive policies of blue states and cities. Trump will float above cadres of conservative professionals with detailed playbooks. They will try to back-load the impact of unpopular policies such as deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Even so, Trump may be too impaired to function as a competent leader. Mario Cuomo famously observed that you campaign in poetry but govern in prose. By analogy, Trump may campaign in an alternative, post-fact universe, but he will govern in a world constrained by reality. Missteps and plummeting public support will give his Republican allies second thoughts.

The words attributed to martyr Joe Hill, “Don’t mourn, organize,” were never more urgent. Obama’s audacious, maybe naïve, hope of bridging divides was crushed by Republican cynicism. The post-Trump consensus must be both tough and progressive, for nothing else will bring back the support of working Americans who felt deserted by the presidential Democratic Party.

The more fundamental challenge is to defend democracy itself. Trump can restrict voting rights, but he is unlikely to cancel the elections of 2018 or 2020. With a sour electorate still in an anti-incumbent mood, the incumbent will be Trump. He can’t prevail by promising that things will be great. He will have a record to defend, an all-Republican record. An abbreviated boom could well fizzle by 2018 or 2020. But with the Justice Department as the ministry of voter suppression, progressives can’t prevail by winning by a point or two. It will take a steal-proof margin—a blowout win of ten to fifteen points.

My friend, who narrowly survived urgent surgery, recovered. It is asking a lot to hope that American democracy will make a full recovery. Here at the Prospect, All we have is a voiceto undo the folded lie.

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect and a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His latest book is Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He writes columns for the Huffington Post, the Boston Globe and the New York Times international edition. 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/can-american-fascism-be-stopped?akid=15019.265072.FfDum2&rd=1&src=newsletter1069107&t=4

Chomsky: Is the American Dream Dead?

ELECTION 2016

Why class mobility is a thing of the past.

Noam Chomsky.
Photo Credit: screenshot via Democracy Now!

The United States is rapidly declining on numerous fronts — collapsing infrastructure, a huge gap between haves and have-nots, stagnant wages, high infant mortality rates, the highest incarceration rate in the world — and it continues to be the only country in the advanced world without a universal health care system. Thus, questions about the nature of the US’s economy and its dysfunctional political system are more critical than ever, including questions about the status of the so-called American Dream, which has long served as an inspiration point for Americans and prospective immigrants alike. Indeed, in a recent documentary, Noam Chomsky, long considered one of America’s voices of conscience and one of the world’s leading public intellectuals, spoke of the end of the American Dream. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Chomsky discusses some of the problems facing the United States today, and whether the American Dream is “dead” — if it ever existed in the first place.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, in several of your writings you question the usual view of the United States as an archetypical capitalist economy. Please explain.

Noam Chomsky: Consider this: Every time there is a crisis, the taxpayer is called on to bail out the banks and the major financial institutions. If you had a real capitalist economy in place, that would not be happening. Capitalists who made risky investments and failed would be wiped out. But the rich and powerful do not want a capitalist system. They want to be able to run the nanny state so when they are in trouble the taxpayer will bail them out. The conventional phrase is “too big to fail.”

The IMF did an interesting study a few years ago on profits of the big US banks. It attributed most of them to the many advantages that come from the implicit government insurance policy — not just the featured bailouts, but access to cheap credit and much else — including things the IMF researchers didn’t consider, like the incentive to undertake risky transactions, hence highly profitable in the short term, and if anything goes wrong, there’s always the taxpayer. Bloomberg Businessweek estimated the implicit taxpayer subsidy at over $80 billion per year.

CJP: Much has been said and written about economic inequality. Is economic inequality in the contemporary capitalist era very different from what it was in other post-slavery periods of American history?

NC: The inequality in the contemporary period is almost unprecedented. If you look at total inequality, it ranks amongst the worse periods of American history. However, if you look at inequality more closely, you see that it comes from wealth that is in the hands of a tiny sector of the population. There were periods of American history, such as during the Gilded Age in the 1920s and the roaring 1990s, when something similar was going on. But the current period is extreme because inequality comes from super wealth. Literally, the top one-tenth of a percent are just super wealthy. This is not only extremely unjust in itself, but represents a development that has corrosive effects on democracy and on the vision of a decent society.

CJP: What does all this mean in terms of the American Dream? Is it dead?

NC: The “American Dream” was all about class mobility. You were born poor, but could get out of poverty through hard work and provide a better future for your children. It was possible for [some workers] to find a decent-paying job, buy a home, a car and pay for a kid’s education. It’s all collapsed — and we shouldn’t have too many illusions about when it was partially real. Today social mobility in the US is below other rich societies.

CJP: Is the US then a democracy in name only?

NC: The US professes to be a democracy, but it has clearly become something of a plutocracy, although it is still an open and free society by comparative standards. But let’s be clear about what democracy means. In a democracy, the public influences policy and then the government carries out actions determined by the public. For the most part, the US government carries out actions that benefit corporate and financial interests. It is also important to understand that privileged and powerful sectors in society have never liked democracy, for good reasons. Democracy places power in the hands of the population and takes it away from them. In fact, the privileged and powerful classes of this country have always sought to find ways to limit power from being placed in the hands of the general population — and they are breaking no new ground in this regard.

CJP: Concentration of wealth yields to concentration of power. I think this is an undeniable fact. And since capitalism always leads in the end to concentration of wealth, doesn’t it follow that capitalism is antithetical to democracy?

NC: Concentration of wealth leads naturally to concentration of power, which in turn translates to legislation favoring the interests of the rich and powerful and thereby increasing even further the concentration of power and wealth. Various political measures, such as fiscal policy, deregulation, and rules for corporate governance are designed to increase the concentration of wealth and power. And that’s what we’ve been seeing during the neoliberal era. It is a vicious cycle in constant progress. The state is there to provide security and support to the interests of the privileged and powerful sectors in society while the rest of the population is left to experience the brutal reality of capitalism. Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.

So, yes, in that sense capitalism actually works to undermine democracy. But what has just been described — that is, the vicious cycle of concentration of power and wealth — is so traditional that it is even described by Adam Smith in 1776. He says in his famous Wealth of Nations that, in England, the people who own society, in his days the merchants and the manufacturers, are “the principal architects of policy.” And they make sure that their interests are very well cared for, however grievous the impact of the policies they advocate and implement through government is on the people of England or others.

Now, it’s not merchants and manufacturers who own society and dictate policy. It is financial institutions and multinational corporations. Today they are the groups that Adam Smith called the masters of mankind. And they are following the same vile maxim that he formulated: All for ourselves and nothing for anyone else. They will pursue policies that benefit them and harm everyone else because capitalist interests dictate that they do so. It’s in the nature of the system. And in the absence of a general, popular reaction, that’s pretty much all you will get.

CJP: Let’s return to the idea of the American Dream and talk about the origins of the American political system. I mean, it was never intended to be a democracy (actually the term always used to describe the architecture of the American political system was “republic,” which is very different from a democracy, as the ancient Romans well understood), and there had always been a struggle for freedom and democracy from below, which continues to this day. In this context, wasn’t the American Dream built at least partly on a myth?

NC: Sure. Right through American history, there’s been an ongoing clash between pressure for more freedom and democracy coming from below and efforts at elite control and domination from above. It goes back to the founding of the country, as you pointed out. The “founding fathers,” even James Madison, the main framer, who was as much a believer in democracy as any other leading political figure in those days, felt that the United States political system should be in the hands of the wealthy because the wealthy are the “more responsible set of men.” And, thus, the structure of the formal constitutional system placed more power in the hands of the Senate, which was not elected in those days. It was selected from the wealthy men who, as Madison put it, had sympathy for the owners of wealth and private property.

This is clear when you read the debates of the Constitutional Convention. As Madison said, a major concern of the political order has to be “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” And he had arguments. If everyone had a vote freely, he said, the majority of the poor would get together and they would organize to take away the property of the rich. That, he added, would be obviously unjust, so the constitutional system had to be set up to prevent democracy.

Recall that Aristotle had said something similar in his Politics. Of all political systems, he felt that democracy was the best. But he saw the same problem that Madison saw in a true democracy, which is that the poor might organize to take away the property of the rich. The solution that he proposed, however, was something like a welfare state with the aim of reducing economic inequality. The other alternative, pursued by the “founding fathers,” is to reduce democracy.

Now, the so-called American Dream was always based partly in myth and partly in reality. From the early 19th century onward and up until fairly recently, working-class people, including immigrants, had expectations that their lives would improve in American society through hard work. And that was partly true, although it did not apply for the most part to African Americans and women until much later. This no longer seems to be the case. Stagnating incomes, declining living standards, outrageous student debt levels, and hard-to-come-by decent-paying jobs have created a sense of hopelessness among many Americans, who are beginning to look with certain nostalgia toward the past. This explains, to a great extent, the rise of the likes of Donald Trump and the appeal among the youth of the political message of someone like Bernie Sanders.

CJP: After World War II, and pretty much up until the mid-1970s, there was a movement in the US in the direction of a more egalitarian society and toward greater freedom, in spite of great resistance and oppression from the elite and various government agencies. What happened afterward that rolled back the economic progress of the post-war era, creating in the process a new socio-economic order that has come to be identified as that of neoliberalism?

NC: Beginning in the 1970s, partly because of the economic crisis that erupted in the early years of that decade and the decline in the rate of profit, but also partly because of the view that democracy had become too widespread, an enormous, concentrated, coordinated business offensive was begun to try to beat back the egalitarian efforts of the post-war era, which only intensified as time went on. The economy itself shifted to financialization. Financial institutions expanded enormously. By 2007, right before the crash for which they had considerable responsibility, financial institutions accounted for a stunning 40 percent of corporate profit. A vicious cycle between concentrated capital and politics accelerated, while increasingly, wealth concentrated in the financial sector. Politicians, faced with the rising cost of campaigns, were driven ever deeper into the pockets of wealthy backers. And politicians rewarded them by pushing policies favorable to Wall Street and other powerful business interests. Throughout this period, we have a renewed form of class warfare directed by the business class against the working people and the poor, along with a conscious attempt to roll back the gains of the previous decades.

CJP: Now that Trump is the president-elect, is the Bernie Sanders political revolution over?

NC: That’s up to us and others to determine. The Sanders “political revolution” was quite a remarkable phenomenon. I was certainly surprised, and pleased. But we should remember that the term “revolution” is somewhat misleading. Sanders is an honest and committed New Dealer. His policies would not have surprised Eisenhower very much. The fact that he’s considered “radical” tells us how far the elite political spectrum has shifted to the right during the neoliberal period. There have been some promising offshoots of the Sanders mobilization, like the Brand New Congress movement and several others.

There could, and should, also be efforts to develop a genuine independent left party, one that doesn’t just show up every four years but is working constantly at the grassroots, both at the electoral level (everything from school boards to town meetings to state legislatures and on up) and in all the other ways that can be pursued. There are plenty of opportunities — and the stakes are substantial, particularly when we turn attention to the two enormous shadows that hover over everything: nuclear war and environmental catastrophe, both ominous, demanding urgent action.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

 

C.J. Polychroniou is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He is the author of several books, and his articles have appeared in a variety of publications.

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/chomsky-american-dream-dead?akid=14994.265072._SC7ni&rd=1&src=newsletter1068780&t=6

Identity politics vs. populist economics?

It’s a false choice – liberals need to look in the mirror

Economic justice and civil rights are not separate; the issue isn’t “identity politics” but liberalism’s failures

Identity politics vs. populist economics? It's a false choice – liberals need to look in the mirror
(Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Andrew Harnik/Reuters/Scott Audette)

For many Democrats, the fact that the Obama years have ended with one of the biggest party implosions in American history — and not the implosion of the Republican Party, as most had anticipated — remains a difficult reality to accept. Thanks to the Democratic Party’s historic collapse, Republicans will soon have complete control of all levels of government in the United States: All three branches of federal government, a large majority of state legislatures and an even larger majority of state governorships.

Facing this bleak reality, one would expect Democrats to quickly take a step back for some reflection, if only to figure out how to start winning elections again. As the country braces for a Trump presidency, it is absolutely critical that Democrats accurately assess what happened last month and learn the right lessons.

Unfortunately, many Democratic partisans have taken another approach; one that is all too familiar. As The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald reported last week:

Democrats have spent the last 10 days flailing around blaming everyone except for themselves, constructing a carousel of villains and scapegoats — from Julian AssangeVladimir PutinJames Comeythe electoral college“fake news,” and Facebook, to Susan SarandonJill SteinmillennialsBernie SandersClinton-critical journalists, and, most of all, insubordinate voters themselves — to blame them for failing to fulfill the responsibility that the Democratic Party, and it alone, bears: to elect Democratic candidates.

There is plenty of blame to go around, of course, and some of the scapegoats that Greenwald lists probably did have some impact, albeit minimal, on electing Trump. But when one looks at this year’s election objectively — not just at the Democratic Party’s failure to stop Trump, but at its failure to retake the Senate or make any gains at the state and local levels (Republicans now control 33 governorships and 32 state legislatures) — one has to be delusional not to recognize that the party itself is primarily responsible for this implosion.

Donald Trump — whom the majority of Americans view unfavorably and consider unqualified to be president — was a gift to the Democrats, and his nomination should have led to an easy electoral triumph. Instead, they nominated one of the most flawed candidates in history, and ran as an establishment party during a time when most Americans were practically begging for anti-establishment politics. As Trump’s loathsome chief strategist Steve Bannon recently put it: “Hillary Clinton was the perfect foil for Trump’s message. From her e-mail server, to her lavishly paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, to her FBI problems, she represented everything that middle-class Americans had had enough of.”

Trump’s victory was all the more depressing for progressives who had warned about the risk of nominating an establishment candidate with almost endless political baggage (in a season of angry populist politics, no less). During the Democratic primaries, these criticisms were either dismissed by establishment Democrats or critics were bitterly attacked for pointing them out. Recall back in February, for example, when Hillary Clinton implied that her progressive opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, was sexist for claiming that she represented the establishment: “Sen. Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment.”

Though Clinton did not explicitly call Sanders sexist, her campaign was eager to paint the senator and his supporters as misogynists who opposed Clinton solely because she was a woman. The “Bernie Bro” narrative — which portrayed Sanders supporters as a bunch of white sexist frat-boy types, harassing women and people of color online — was propagated by the Clinton campaign and sympathetic journalists. It was also discredited time and again, particularly by the fact that the Sanders-Clinton split was more of a generational divide than anything else — as evinced by Sanders’ 37-point advantage among millennial women (ages 18 to 29) across 27 states and his popularity among younger black and Hispanic voters.

The kind of self-serving identity politics that we saw from the Clinton camp during the Democratic primaries leads into what has been the most contentious debate among Democrats and progressives since the election: Whether the party has become too preoccupied with the politics of identity and political correctness, while straying too far from a class-based politics that addresses the structural inequities of capitalism. Not surprisingly, the debate has been full of deliberate misinterpretations.

Consider how various news outlets reported on comments made by Sanders on his book tour last week while discussing diversity in political leadership. “We need diversity, that goes without saying,” noted Sanders, who was responding to a question from a woman asking for tips on how to become the second Latina senator, after this year’s election of Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada. “But it is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries.”

From this comment, the New York Times reported that Sanders had said “Democrats need to focus more on economic struggles and less on the grievances of minorities and women,” while the popular liberal website Talking Points Memo posted the misleading headline: “Sanders Urges Supporters: Ditch Identity Politics And Embrace The Working Class.” These reports are both founded on a false dichotomy pitting economic justice and civil rights against each other. This was also illustrated by a tweet from the Times shortly after the election:

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI is going to decimate middle class jobs

stephen hawking scientist science physics

British scientist Prof. Stephen Hawking gives his ‘The Origin of the Universe’ lecture to a packed hall December 14, 2006 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Hawking suffers from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrigs disease), which has rendered him quadriplegic, and is able to speak only via a computerized voice synthesizer which is operated by batting his eyelids. David Silverman/Getty Images

Artificial intelligence and increasing automation is going to decimate middle class jobs, worsening inequality and risking significant political upheaval, Stephen Hawking has warned.

In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that“the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”

He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines.

Technology has already gutted many traditional manufacturing and working class jobs — but now it may be poised to wreak similar havoc with the middle classes.

A report put out in February 2016 by Citibank in partnership with the University of Oxford predicted that 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation. In the UK, 35% are. In China, it’s a whopping 77% — while across the OECD it’s an average of 57%.

And three of the world’s 10 largest employers are now replacing their workers with robots.

Automation will, “in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world,” Hawking wrote. “The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”

He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.”

Combined with other issues — overpopulation, climate change, disease — we are, Hawking warns ominously, at “the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.” Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.

Stephen Hawking has previously expressed concerns about artificial intelligence for a different reason — that it might overtake and replace humans. “The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he said in late 2014. “It would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

 

 

http://www.businessinsider.com/stephen-hawking-ai-automation-middle-class-jobs-most-dangerous-moment-humanity-2016-12?r=UK&IR=T