Are social media bots a threat to democracy?

Ryan de Laureal analyzes the push to get Silicon Valley to clamp down on promoters of “fake news”–and argues that the solution isn’t censorship, but transparency.

Are social media bots a threat to democracy? (Eric Ruder | SW)

TECH GIANTS Facebook, Google and Twitter have found themselves under fire as the latest details have emerged about the use of fake Russian social media accounts and political ads in last year’s presidential election.

The furor over various attempts to manipulate public opinion by spreading “fake news” during the 2016 campaign began almost immediately after Donald Trump’s shocking victory, resulting in a storm of criticism toward companies like Facebook, which were accused of failing to crack down on the abuse of their platforms by Russian fakesters.

The issue was revived again on September 6, when Facebook announced it had discovered that about $100,000 worth of political ads that were purchased from June 2015 to May 2017 by accounts with potential links to the Russian government, many of them posing as fake American users.

In the following weeks, the company handed over thousands of these ads to Congressional investigators and announced steps to limit the impact of such content in the future.

After Facebook, Twitter and Google were the next ones to be caught up in the investigation.

In Twitter’s case, a primary focus was on the use of so-called “bots”–automated accounts that can be programmed to post and share content, and can often be made to appear indistinguishable from real users. Hundreds of such bots were apparently used by Russian actors to spread propaganda during the election.

The alarm being raised by Democrats about this Russian influence campaign should be taken looked at skeptically. Rather than being a smoking gun, the ad spending uncovered thus far by Facebook raises serious doubts about how extensive and impactful this campaign really was.

To begin with, $100,000 is an almost laughably minuscule amount of money compared to what presidential campaigns typically spend on political propaganda. While it is possible that more Russian ad spending may come to light, the fact remains that the Trump and Clinton campaigns each spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2016 presidential race, large portions of which were dedicated to advertising.

Even if an extra $100,000 bump for the Trump campaign by Russian actors is taken into account, Clinton still outspent Trump by over $200 million, and even Green Party candidate Jill Stein outspent the Russians 50 times over.

If the claim that Russian propaganda activity cost the Democrats the election is taken seriously, it reveals either superhuman ability on the part of the Russians or total ineptitude on the part of the Democrats, who failed to defeat Trump despite burning through buckets of money in their attempt to do so.

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THAT ISN’T to say that there aren’t genuine concerns raised by the issue of Twitter bots and fake accounts.

Though certain bot functions–such as liking posts, following users en masse and sending direct messages–technically violate Twitter’s terms of service, the company still encourages the use of automated accounts, and there are a proliferation of services available online that allow for abuse of the platform even by those who are not tech-savvy.

Certain products allow customers to create and control thousands of bot accounts in an instant, and Twitter’s low standards for account verification (little more than an e-mail address is needed to create an account) have made bots desirable tools for anybody wishing to influence public opinion, Russians or not–which is precisely why the current concern among Democrats about their use falls short.

Allowing anonymous users to create thousands of fake accounts at the click of a button and use them to impersonate real people and spread lies certainly is something that should be of public concern. This is especially true when–as was the case with many of the pro-Trump Russian bots and fake accounts active during the campaign–they are used to incite xenophobia and bolster society’s racist, far-right fringe.

But thus far, the Democrats’ only apparent concern is the use of bots and fake accounts by the Russians–even though bots have become a fairly regular feature of U.S. political campaigns over the past few years, with Republicans and Democrats alike investing in automated Twitter traffic to spread their campaign propaganda, alongside more traditional advertising routes.

An analysis of selected Twitter traffic during the 2016 election by the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project found that over 10 percent of users tweeting election-related hashtags were potential bots–and it’s likely that most of them weren’t Russian.

Though the concentration of bot activity was stronger for accounts tweeting pro-Trump content, bots were also used to spread pro-Clinton content in 2016.

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DESPITE THE often narrow, jingoistic focus of the current frenzy over “fake news,” and its obvious use for Democrats as a political tool in their ongoing Russia inquiry, there are clear problems posed by bots and other forms of modern technological propaganda that should be taken seriously.

Addressing these problems must go hand in hand with the fight to defend the Internet as a free and open form of communication.

The ease and anonymity with which platforms such as Twitter can be abused make them attractive venues for wealthy and powerful actors–from dictatorial regimes to corporate interest groups–to manipulate public opinion, sow confusion and quell dissent.

In addition to their use by multiple players in the 2016 U.S. election, bots have been used extensively by the widely despised Institutional Revolutionary Party of Mexico to manufacture fake support for its candidates and silence criticism online. Pro-government bots have also been used by repressive regimes in Syria and Turkey to spread propaganda in support of the Assad and Erdoğan dictatorships.

A number of solutions have been proposed by the government and by companies such as Twitter and Facebook in response to the current Russia scandal, including tighter regulation and greater transparency in online political advertising, more aggressive enforcement of terms of service rules by social media companies, and greater collaboration between Silicon Valley and the national security state.

While some proposals, such as greater transparency around online ads and automated accounts, could be welcomed, many of these are quite dangerous. Of particular concern are measures that would lead to greater control over the Internet or censorship powers against online speech by either the state or corporations or both.

One example of these dangers can be found in the debate over the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, which is currently gaining traction in the Senate.

While the bill has the ostensible purpose of cracking down on sex trafficking, it has been criticized by Internet advocacy groups for its proposal to limit the application of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 has been described as “the law that built the modern Internet” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):

Section 230 says that for purposes of enforcing certain laws affecting speech online, an intermediary”–such as a company, website, or organization that provides a platform for others to share speech and content–“cannot be held legally responsible for any content created by others. The law thus protects intermediaries against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them liable for what others say and do on their platforms.

It’s thanks to Section 230 that social media exists in the way that we know it today. The proposal to limit it, which could make companies like Facebook or Twitter open to lawsuits for illegal content posted by users, means that any organization providing an online platform for speech would be incentivized to more heavily police and censor content.

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THIS DEMAND to be more vigilant in finding and removing malicious content is essentially what many have been making of Facebook and Twitter in the current Russian hacking scandal.

But what counts as malicious is subjective–whether there are human moderators on the other end screening ads and content and deciding what gets approved, and even more especially, when the moderators themselves are bots.

The enormous amount of advertising that is bought and sold on platforms like Facebook makes it impossible for a human to review and approve every ad purchase. An attractive alternative for tech companies is bots, programmed with an algorithm that allows them to automatically review and flag content as potentially troublesome.

If Internet companies censor content more heavily, it won’t be humans doing the moderating. Instead, as the EFF argues, increased sanctioning for online platforms will actually lead to a greater automation of this function.

A number of programs like this already exist, such as Google’s recently rolled out Perspective, a programming interface designed to fight online trolls by automatically moderating comment threads and flagging posts based on their “toxicity.”

The danger posed to free speech by programs like Perspective isn’t hard to see. After its rollout, users experimenting with it discovered a discriminatory streak in the kinds of statements flagged as toxic.

A statement such as “I am a man” is flagged as 20 percent likely to be seen as toxic, while “I am a Black man” is flagged at 80 percent. “I am a woman” is 41 percent, and “I am a gay Black woman” is flagged as 87 percent.

The problem is that algorithms can’t understand things like human intent. They can search posts for key words–like “Black” or “Jew”–that might be used by racist online trolls, but they have trouble distinguishing between actually racist posts containing these words from ones that aren’t racist.

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SPAMBOTS AND fake news are legitimate problems. They muddy the waters of online speech and are ripe for abuse. Governments, including the U.S., use them for psychological operations to spread false ideas and silence dissent, and they can also be used by hackers to spread malware.

But sanctioning Internet companies for the actions of their users and giving them more power to censor content online is a route that could chill the Internet as a venue for free speech.

There are better ways to handle bots. If Twitter were simply to disclose which of its user accounts were automated–in the same way that it has been proposed to create greater transparency around Facebook ads by disclosing who bought them–it would go a long way toward eliminating the ability to disguise bots as real users.

There are trickier Internet questions out there, such as how to handle the epidemic of online harassment. But when it comes to bots, increased transparency may not be the best solution for Silicon Valley’s profit margins, but it would make for a better Internet for the rest of us.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/12/are-social-media-bots-a-threat-to-democracy

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More than 52 million Americans live in economically distressed communities

By Sandy English
28 September 2017

A new analysis of Census data shows that the so-called economic recovery under the Obama administration was an unmitigated catastrophe for the 20 percent of the American population that live in the poorest areas of the United States and that gains of jobs and income have gone overwhelming to the top 20 percent richest areas.

The 2017 Distressed Communities Report,” published by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), analyzes the census data for 2011-2015 for people living in each of the nearly 7,500 American zip codes according to several criteria.

The EIG’s Distressed Communities Index (DCI) considers the percentage of the population without a high school diploma, the percentage of housing vacancies, the percentage of adults working, the percentage of the population in poverty, the median income ratio (the percentage of median income that a zip code has for its state), the change in employment from 2011 to 2015, and the change in the number of businesses in the same period.

The report divides the findings for zip codes into five quintiles based on these indicators, rated from worst- to best-performing: distressed, at risk, mid-tier, comfortable, and prosperous.

The results show that distressed communities—52.3 million people or 17 percent of the American population—experienced an average 6 percent drop in the number of adults working and a 6.3 percent average drop in the number of business establishments.

“Far from achieving even anemic growth from 2011 to 2015,” the report notes, “distressed communities instead experienced what amounts to a deep ongoing recession.”

Further, “fully one third of the approximately 44 million Americans receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps) and other cash public assistance benefits (such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)) live in distressed communities.” The report notes that most distressed communities have seen zero net job growth since 2000.

Residents in these zip codes are five times more likely to die than those in prosperous zip codes. Deaths from cancer, pregnancy complications, suicide, and violence are even higher. “Mental and substance abuse disorders are 64 percent higher in distressed counties than prosperous ones, with major clusters in Appalachia and Native American communities where rates exceed four or five times the national average,” the report continues.

One other important and alarming fact which the report highlights is that over a third of the distressed zip codes contain so-called “brownfield” sites—areas which are polluted or contaminated in some way. Not only do these have impacts on real estate and business development, they present a whole array of health hazards to the very poorest Americans.

Distressed communities can be found all over the United States but are concentrated in the South: 43 percent of Mississippi’s zip codes are distressed, followed by Alabama, West Virginia, Arkansas and Louisiana. According to the report, [the South] “is home to a staggering 52 percent of all Americans living in distressed zip codes—far above its 37.5 percent share of the country’s total population.”

After this, the Southwest and Great Lakes region have the largest share. In the Northeast, most distressed communities tend to be found in urban areas and in the South, primarily in rural areas.

The biggest cities with the largest numbers of distressed zip codes are Cleveland, Ohio, Newark, New Jersey, Buffalo, New York, Detroit, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. Mid-sized cities with the highest number of distressed zip codes include Youngstown, Ohio, Trenton, New Jersey, Camden, New Jersey, Gary, Indiana, Hartford, Connecticut and Flint, Michigan.

Urban counties with the highest number of distressed zip codes include Cook County in Illinois, with Chicago at its center, Los Angeles County in California, Harris County in Texas, with Houston at its center, and Wayne County in Michigan, encompassing Detroit. Most of these urban areas were once industrial centers and home to the industrial working class.

Zip codes that have a majority of minorities living in them are more than twice as likely to be distressed as zip codes that are majority white. “In total,” the report notes, “45 percent of the country’s majority-minority zip codes are distressed and only 7 percent of them are prosperous.” At the same time there are numerous distressed communities that are almost completely white. A quarter of the total distressed population is under 18.

The report found that the economic benefits of the recovery after the 2008 recessions have gone to the top quintile of zip codes, where the wealthier layers of the population live, including not only the very rich but also the upper middle class.

These areas, which the DCI terms prosperous, and make up roughly 85 million Americans or 27 percent of the US population, have for the most part the economic wherewithal to finance higher levels of education, have the lowest housing vacancy, highest percentage of working adults, and have had the lion’s share of job and business expansion.

“The job growth rate in the top quintile was 2.6 times higher than nationally from 2011 to 2015, and business establishments proliferated three times faster than they did at the national level,” the report notes. “Prosperous zip codes stand worlds apart from their distressed counterparts, seemingly insulated from many of the challenges with which other communities must grapple. The poverty rate is more than 20 points lower in the average prosperous community than it is in the average distressed one.”

The report makes much less of an analysis of the other three, middle quintiles, the at risk, mid-tier, and comfortable categories, but it does note some factors that address the overall trends nation-wide. “A remarkably small proportion of places fuel national increases in jobs and businesses in today’s economy. High growth in these local economic powerhouses buoys national numbers while obscuring stagnant or declining economic activity in other parts of the country.”

One of the more telling aspects of the report is that extreme poverty in the US is presided over by both capitalist parties: Democratic and Republic politicians have equal numbers of distressed communities in their constituencies. Democrats, in fact, “represent six of the 10 most distressed congressional districts.”

Another observation from the voting data, and one of the few that looks at conditions beyond the bottom and top quintiles, is worth quoting in full:

“President Trump accumulated a 3.5 million vote lead in counties that fell into the bottom three quintiles of well-being (equivalent to 9.4 percent of all votes cast in these counties). A vast array of factors determined voting patterns in the 2016 election, but it stands that the ‘continuity’ candidate performed better in the places benefiting most from the status quo, while the ‘change’ candidate performed better in the places one would expect to find more dissatisfaction.”

Broader figures and the historical view of wealth distribution in the US—that one percent of the population control 40 percent of the wealth or the decades-long decline in the percentage of the national income that goes to the working class—are not brought out in the report but the data add to a complete picture of social conditions across the United States, the character and geographical distribution of social and economic conditions in a country of more than 320 million.

The portrait provided by the EIG report is not simply one of increasing misery and poverty for the bottom 20 percent, and not only one in which only a minority of Americans are achieving anything like “prosperity,” but of growing and explosive dissent among tens of millions.

It exposes as a bare-faced lie the claim that President Obama made at the end of his second term, that “things have never been better” in America.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/09/28/pove-s28.html

Was Facebook Fooled by the Russians, or Did It Know All Along?

ELECTION 2016
Facebook’s role in influencing the 2016 election is only now being understood.

Photo Credit: YouTube.com

Facebook’s political troubles do not appear to be anywhere near ending, despite mea culpas by founder Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg that the global social media giant now recognizes its platform was used by Russian troll accounts to influence the 2016 election and its automated advertising platform can be gamed to foment racist messaging.

The past two weeks’ media revelations about how, as one New York Times piece put it, Zuckerberg created a 21st-century Frankenstein, a behemoth he cannot control, read like a screenplay from the latest Netflix political thriller. Last weekend, the Washington Post reported that Facebook discovered a Russian-based operation “as it was getting underway” in June 2016, using its platform to spread anti-Democratic Party propaganda. Facebook alerted the FBI. After Facebook traced “a series of shadowy accounts” that were promoting the stolen emails and other Democratic campaign documents, it “once again contacted the FBI.”

But Facebook “did not find clear evidence of Russian disinformation or ad purchases by Russian-linked accounts,” the Post reported. “Nor did any U.S. law enforcement or intelligence officials visit the company to lay out what they knew.” Instead, it was preoccupied with a rash of highly propagandistic partisan pages, both left and right, that came out of nowhere in 2016, the Post reported. These websites stole content from real news sites and twisted it into incendiary claims, drawing readers and shares that exploited Facebook’s royalty-producing business model. “The company found that most of the groups behind the problematic pages had clear financial motives, which suggested that they weren’t working for a foreign government,” the Post said.

This messaging fog prompted Zuckerberg to say it was “crazy” for anyone to suggest that fake news on Facebook played a role in Trump’s electoral victory and the GOP triumph. The Post’s biggest scoop—after noting that Facebook was telling federal agencies during the election about Russian trolling activities, even if it misread them—was President Obama pulling Zuckerberg aside at an international conference, where “Obama made a personal appeal to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously… [or] it would only get worse in the next presidential race.”

The Post’s account is a remarkable example of Washington-based reporting. Sources inside Facebook, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are saying that they held in their hands the dots that are only being connected today—much like the federal agents who were tracking some of the 9/11 hijackers before the terrorist attack. Facebook has since changed its tune, giving special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia-Trump campaign collusion and congressional inquests 3,000 Facebook ads placed by one Russian front group. Zuckerberg also issued an online video last week, in which he said, “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy,” and pledged Facebook would now disclose the names of businesses that place political ads.

Meanwhile, after ProPublica this month reported it could use Facebook’s automated ad placement service to target people describing themselves as “Jew haters” or who used terms like “how to burn Jews,” Sandberg announced the colossus had badly erred, and would revamp its ad filtering and targeting system. “The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part,” she said. “Hate has no place on Facebook, and as a Jew, as a mother and as a human being, I know the damage that can come from hate.”

But even as Zuckerberg makes public commitments about supporting American democracy, and Sandberg makes heartfelt declarations against enabling hate, top technology writers and editorial pages aren’t quite buying Facebook’s mea culpas. The most sympathetic pieces say there was no willful malice on Facebook’s part. They add that when Facebook asked the feds to help them figure out the Russia puzzle, they were met with silence from federal law enforcement agencies. That deer-in-the-headlights narrative has led to characterizing its trials as “Facebook’s Frankenstein moment.” As New York Times business writer Kevin Roose quoted a former Facebook advertising executive, “The reality is that if you’re at the help of a machine that has two billion screaming, whiny humans, it’s basically impossible to predict each and every nefarious use case… It’s a whack-a-mole problem.”

The Times editorial page was less forgiving, calling Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s awakening “belated,” noting that Facebook has opposed federal regulation of online political messaging, and that Zuckerberg’s remedy of disclosing names of businesses that place ads is easily evaded by campaign operatives. “Disclosing the name of Facebook business accounts placing political ads, for instance, will be of little value if purchasers can disguise their real identity—calling themselves, say, Americans for Motherhood and Apple Pie,” the Times said. “Further, even if Facebook succeeds in driving away foreign propaganda, the same material could pop up on Twitter or other social media sites.”

Actually, the Post reported that Facebook has recently deployed software that was able to “disable 30,000 fake accounts” in May’s French national election, and that software was successfully used last weekend in Germany’s national election. That disclosure by the Post, and other investigative reporting by the Times about how Facebook has worked with foreign governments to censor posts by critics and posted pro-regime propaganda, suggests Facebook is not quite the innocent bystander it professes to be.

The Times ran an extensive piece on how Facebook’s future lies with finding hundreds of millions of new users overseas, including in countries where governments want to control the media. Part of trying to access markets like China, where Facebook has been banned, include allowing Chinese state media outlets to buy pro-government ads targeting Facebook’s Hong Kong users. In other words, its ad sales business model has looked past political propaganda to cash in, which Russia adroitly exploited in 2016. Of course, there is a double-standard here. Russia was using Facebook to aim at U.S. elections, upsetting America’s political establishment; whereas when China and other nations used Facebook for political purposes, it’s apparently okay.

Last week Jim Rutenberg, the Times’ “Mediator” columnist, wrote there’s a veritable mountain of detail that still has not been made public by Facebook concerning 2016’s election. This goes far beyond releasing the 3,000 ads bought by a single Russian troll account it shared with Mueller and congressional committees. So far, we know the ads amplified “divisive social and political messages,” that the users who bought the ads were fabricated, and that some ads targeted specific states and voter segments. But what we don’t know, Rutenberg noted, is what those ads looked like, what they specifically said, whose accounts sent them, how many people saw and shared them, which states and counties were targeted, and what actions the ads urged people to take. The Daily Beast reported that at least one ad organized an anti-refugee rally in Idaho, and another report said Russian trolls promoted 17 Trump rallies in Florida.

On Monday afternoon, the Post reported it had spoken to congressional sources familiar with the contents of the 3,000 ads, who said they used references to groups like Black Lives Matter to incite different blocs of voters. “The Russian campaign—taking advantage of Facebook’s ability to simultaneously send contrary messages to different groups of users based on their political and demographic characteristics—also sought to sow discord among religious groups. Other ads highlighted support for Democrat Hillary Clinton among Muslim women,” the Post said.

For these reasons and others, Facebook’s political troubles do not appear to be ending soon. Predictably, some Democratic lawmakers are saying it’s time to require anyone who buys an online political ad to disclose it. But that notion, apart from going nowhere in a GOP-majority Congress, only scratches the surface of what’s going on. Campaign finance laws have proven to be utterly incapable of stopping so-called dark money in recent years, such as front groups created by the Koch brothers or state chambers of commerce. These laws can only regulate explicit political speech, such as ads telling people to vote for or against a certain candidate. How are they going to prevent innuendo-filled messaging, from fake messengers, on a deregulated internet?

Companies like Facebook, which track and parse the behavior of multi-millions of Americans online and sell ads based on those metrics, have embraced all the benefits of its business model. But they have avoided taking the lead to prevent nefarious uses of their platforms, until they’re shamed in public, such as ProPublica’s recent outing of Facebook’s automated ad platform that can be gamed by anti-Semites, or disclosures like the Post report that Obama tried to give Zuckerberg a wakeup call last November.

Internet “companies act as if they own our data. There’s no reason why that should be the case…That data is an x-ray of our soul,” Franklin Foer, author of the new book, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, told KQED-FM in San Francisco on Monday. But these companies aren’t regulated in the U.S. The firms own vast files on virtually anyone who is likely to vote, let alone shop. And their automated systems rolled out the red carpet to anyone seeking to target 2016’s voters, from the presidential campaigns to Russian trolls.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/was-facebook-taken-ride-russia-2016s-election?akid=16125.265072.uT5l_Y&rd=1&src=newsletter1083038&t=4

Why identity politics and class politics can’t be separated

Some liberals are eager to detach identity politics from economic populism. But economic justice is social justice

09.23.20173:00 AM
During last year’s Democratic primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the disagreements between the two candidates were most apparent when it came to the economy. While Sanders built his campaign around economic issues like income and wealth inequality, campaign finance and free trade, Clinton often downplayed the importance of economic issues and even tried to characterize Sanders’ focus on things like inequality and Wall Street corruption as an unhealthy obsession.

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” said Clinton at one point during a speech to her supporters. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

“No!” replied the triumphant crowd, as if their candidate had just delivered a devastating coup de grâce to her opponent.

Of course, no one — not least Sanders — had ever made the absurd claim that breaking up big banks or addressing any other economic problem would magically end racism or sexism or any other kind of bigotry. This was a deliberate attempt by Clinton to smear her opponent — who had much more credibility on economic justice than she did — as being out of touch with the concerns of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. More importantly, though, it was an attempt to separate the economic realm from the social and cultural realms, which made it easier for Clinton to prove her progressive bona fides.

As an economic centrist who had long taken big donations (or speaking fees) from Wall Street and corporate America, Clinton lacked credibility with progressives when it came to economic issues. Thus she tried to discredit Sanders as an “angry white male” who couldn’t grasp the real concerns of women and people of color (even though Sanders is a Jew who grew up in 1940s America and has an equal if not better record than Clinton on social issues like LGBTQ equality).

Ultimately, Clinton and other corporate Democrats were trying to muddy the waters with these disingenuous arguments in order to create a false tension between economic populism and social liberalism. Only a straight white male like Sanders, the logic went, could become so fixated on economic issues like income and wealth inequality, because he did not experience racism, sexism or homophobia on a daily basis. This argument was based not only on a cynical version of identity politics that gave greater importance to a candidate’s race or gender than his or her politics, but on a false dilemma between class politics and identity politics. Furthermore, it implied that the social democratic policies advocated by Sanders — e.g., Medicare for All, raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening Social Security, defending labor unions, etc. — would disproportionately benefit white males.

This implication is, as many progressives pointed out at the time, utterly untrue. In fact, women and people of color would almost certainly benefit more from Sanders’ populist economic agenda, as they are disproportionately affected by the economic injustices it was designed to counteract. Sanders made this point during his campaign last year when he observed that African-Americans were hit the hardest during the financial crisis, losing half their collective wealth after being unfairly targeted by the big banks (along with other minority groups) with subprime mortgages during the buildup of the housing bubble.

That economic justice and racial justice are deeply intertwined was given further credence last week when a new study was released by the Institute for Policy Studies revealing that median black household wealth in the United States will fall to zero by 2053 if current trends continue, while the median white household wealth is on path to climb to $137,000.

“By 2020 median Black and Latino households stand to lose nearly 18% and 12% of the wealth they held in 2013, respectively, while median White household wealth increases 3%,” write the authors. “At that point — just three years from now — White households are projected to own 85 times more wealth than Black households and 68 times more wealth than Latino households.”

These stunning numbers display how much the economic problems that Sanders highlighted during his campaign impact the very people he was unfairly accused of ignoring. They also demonstrate how class politics and identity politics are closely linked, and that the dichotomy or binary opposition between them, as created or perceived by certain liberals, is spurious.

After Clinton lost to Donald Trump last November, Sanders argued that the Democratic Party must adopt a populist economic agenda in order to come back strong from 2016. This predictably set off a backlash from neoliberals, who accused Sanders of being a “white male brogressive” who wanted to put women, minorities and LGBTQ people “on the backburner for economic populism.” One critic even opined that Sanders wanted to “defend white male supremacy.”

The fact that Sanders’ economic populism would help the very people he is accused of putting on the “backburner” demonstrates the sheer lunacy of these attacks. If Sanders were advocating completely jettisoning identity politics for economic populism, of course, it would be another story. But only confused liberals see class politics and identity politics as incompatible and invariably at odds with each other. The senator was actually making the opposite point: “To think of diversity purely in racial and gender terms is not sufficient,” wrote Sanders. “Our rights and economic lives are intertwined.” Rather than calling for the Democratic Party to drop identity politics, he was making the point that race, gender and class are interconnected, and that economic justice is social justice.

Sanders was, however, rejecting the cynical form of identity politics that — as Briahna Joy Gray puts it in her excellent Current Affairs essay “How Identity Became a Weapon Against the Left” — wields identity to “neutralize political pushback.” The kind of identity politics, in other words, that Clinton frequently deployed during her campaign to counter legitimate criticisms — exemplified by the time she suggested that she couldn’t be a part of the “establishment” because she is a woman.

Over the past few decades, as economic inequality has skyrocketed to pre-Great Depression levels and communities of color have seen their wealth decline, the economic and corporate elite have co-opted the language of diversity and weaponized identity to defend the economic status quo. But the same people neoliberals claim to represent are the ones who suffer most under the status quo. As the authors of the aforementioned study write, “without a serious change in course, the country is heading towards a racial and economic apartheid state.” Economic populism offers an alternative, and a politics of class solidarity is the way to achieve this alternative.

CONOR LYNCH
Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

U.S. Political System Requires a Fundamental Transformation

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally of health care advocates, grass-roots activists and others outside the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Leaders of both major parties are wrong to think of the 2016 election as some kind of fluke. I believe a political realignment is underway, and those who fail to discern its outlines could end up powerless and irrelevant.

With all respect to Hillary Clinton, her newly published memoir, “What Happened,” doesn’t really tell what happened. It is perhaps inevitable that she would focus on the daily twists and turns of the campaign. It is understandable that she would blame James Comey, Vladimir Putin and the media for damaging her prospects—and that she would downplay her own strategic and tactical missteps.

But take a step back and look at the election through a wider lens. Clinton, with all her vast experience and proven ability, was defeated by Donald Trump, a reality television star who had never before run for office, displayed near-total ignorance of the issues, broke every rule of political rhetoric and was caught on videotape bragging of how he sexually assaulted random women by grabbing their crotches.

That’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. At least it should have been, according to everything we knew—or thought we knew—about politics. Yes, Comey’s last-minute revival of Clinton’s email scandal robbed her of momentum. Yes, her neglect of the Rust Belt was a terrible mistake. Yes, the Russians were working hard to defeat her, with the blessing—and at least the attempted collusion—of the Trump campaign.

But the election never should have been close enough for relatively minor voting shifts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to elect the likes of Trump. The election never should have been close enough for Clinton to lose Florida and barely eke out a win in Virginia.

In retrospect, the alarming possibility of an election-night surprise should have been apparent. Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.

None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.

My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political axis that we’re all so familiar with is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion. And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.

I don’t think Trump can see the new spectrum either, as evidenced by the way his approval ratings have plunged since his inauguration. But both he and Sanders deserve credit for seeing that the old model has outlived its usefulness.

Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement. Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers. Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home. Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure. Both contended “the system” was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises. The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking—as is the contrast between what both Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.

Trump was uniquely transgressive on one issue—immigration. He addressed the anxieties of white working-class voters by presenting immigrants as all-purpose scapegoats.

The Trump and Sanders campaigns revealed that there are large numbers of voters whose views are not being reflected by Democratic or Republican orthodox positions. Are the parties adapting? Democrats seem to be inching toward support of truly universal health care, while Republicans have thus far thought better of taking health insurance away from millions of people. Perhaps this is a start.

But I see no evidence yet that either party is engaged in the kind of fundamental rethinking I believe is called for. So it is a mistake to assume that Trump is necessarily a one-term president or that Sanders is done politically. You know the saying: In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.

Contributor
EUGENE ROBINSON uses his twice-weekly column in The Washington Post to pick American society apart and then put it back together again in unexpected, and revelatory, new ways. …

A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

Bernie’s new book is a forward-thinking guide for the young; Hillary’s looks back at who she can blame for 2016

Well before folks could get their hands on Hillary Clinton’s new memoir of the 2016 presidential election, “What Happened,” word was out that VIP tickets for her book tour were running upwards of $2,000. In contrast, Bernie Sanders launched “Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution” with a few media interviews and a slate of agenda items for the new Senate session to consider. Folks wanting a copy of the book could find it in the teen non-fiction section of their local bookstore.

The contrast between high priced VIP tickets to an event for a memoir about losing the election and a down-to-earth how-to guide for progressive politics aimed at young readers offers us clear evidence of the vastly different ways that Clinton and Sanders see their roles as national leaders.

Sanders is looking forward and Clinton is looking back. Sanders is engaging the young and working to build momentum for his progressive agenda. Clinton is naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and cashing in.

While Clinton’s book hits stores on September 12, enough of it has been leaked to show that at least one goal of the memoir is to blame Sanders for inflicting “lasting damage” on her campaign during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Even more, she argues that the Sanders campaign helped Trump win.

She also has some blame for President Obama, whom she faults for telling her to hold back in her attacks on Sanders. According to Clinton’s version of events, if she had gone after Sanders more aggressively, she might have won. She felt, she writes, like Obama put her in a “straightjacket.”

Before I move on to comparing the tenor of these two books and the fact that they confirm the vast difference between Clinton and Sanders, not just on policy but on leadership itself, let’s start by saying something obvious. If anyone should be writing a “what happened” memoir, it is Sanders, not Clinton.

While the lawsuit that alleged fraud over the Democratic National Committee’s handling of the 2016 presidential primary came to an end a couple of weeks ago, the legal proceedings, along with the hacked DNC emails, showed that the DNC leadership exhibited a clear case of bias against the Sanders campaign. DNC lawyers argued that they did not have a legal obligation to be neutral. And so the case was dropped.

The lawsuit is really only the tip of a much larger iceberg that surrounded the #DemExit movement. From the debate schedule to superdelegates to the disputes over the DNC platform itself, Sanders and his supporters had plenty to gripe about.

But rather than write a book about all of the ways that he got screwed by the DNC, Sanders took the high road and helped campaign for Clinton, then, after she lost, he focused on advancing his agenda. Meanwhile basically every public statement Clinton has issued since the election has focused on how the presidency was stolen from her.

After he lost his presidential run, Sanders launched the “Our Revolution” website to help continue his campaign’s momentum well after he was running. Its goal was to support and empower a new generation of progressive political leaders. In contrast, Clinton supporter Peter Daou just launched Verrit, a site endorsed by Clinton which offers users verified pro-Clinton quotes they can share online. Many of these sharable quotes are meant to show how awesome she is.

The leaked sections of “What Happened” portray Clinton as a victim of Sanders, of Obama, of Putin, of Comey and so on, but also as someone still indignant about the reality of her loss. Despite the fact that the book is meant to offer an intimate side of her, it reads like the petty account of a sore loser.

In contrast, Sanders offers his book as a gesture of solidarity towards future political activists. When he discusses his campaign in the opening of the book, he does so with pride, mentioning the fact that he won more of the millennial vote than Clinton and Trump combined.

He also dedicates the book to the younger generation, which he praises as the most tolerant and intelligent in U.S. history. “The current generation of young people is the smartest, most idealistic, and least prejudiced generation in the modern history of the United States,” Sanders writes. “This is a generation that is prepared to think big and move this country in a very different direction than we have been traveling for years.” The goal of his book, he explains, is to help the young turn their idealism into action.

Where Clinton’s attacks on Sanders get really low is in her resuscitation of the Bernie Bros myth. In the passage where she complains about the Sanders campaign, she goes on to write, “Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros, took to harassing my supporters online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist.”

Now, here’s the problem: Clinton was, in fact, the target of a whole lot of misogyny, but the sources of those attacks were not the so-called Bernie Bros. In fact, the “Bernie Bro” narrative, as Glenn Greenwald explained for the Intercept back in January 2016, was a potent political tactic  and a journalistic disgrace:

It’s intended to imply two equally false claims: (1) a refusal to march enthusiastically behind the Wall Street-enriched, multiple-war-advocating, despot-embracing Hillary Clinton is explainable not by ideology or political conviction, but largely if not exclusively by sexism: demonstrated by the fact that men, not women, support Sanders (his supporters are ‘bros’); and (2) Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive and misogynistic in their online behavior.

Back when Greenwald wrote the piece, an Iowa poll showed Sanders with a 15-point lead over Clinton among women under 45, while one-third of Iowa women over 45 supported him. Even more recently, Sanders had a 58 percent favorability rating among all women voters and an 80 percent one among Democrats. That poll, conducted in April of this year, concluded that Sanders was the most popular active politician in the nation.

But, still, for Clinton, she lost because Sanders impugned her character and allowed his supporters to hurl sexist epithets her way.

Another stark difference between the new books by Sanders and Clinton is the way that they treat the idea of party loyalty.  Sanders’ volume really doesn’t talk about political parties per se, although it does clearly divide what he describes as left and right political agendas. Instead it focuses on policy, platforms and effective means of political action. Nowhere does he speak of loyalty to a party or even a cause. Instead the key word he uses to link his readers to his vision is “solidarity.”

Meanwhile, Clinton goes on a tirade about Sanders as a disrupter of the Democratic Party. She points out, rightly, that Sanders was not a DNC insider and professed no “loyalty” to the party. But when she ends her adulatory jag about the Democrats, she writes, “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.”

She wishes he were proud to be a Democrat too? Seriously?

It’s not just a weird passage that exposes how Clinton favors party loyalty over listening to the needs of the people; it’s also completely tone-deaf politically. In the latest Gallup poll numbers, only 28 percent of American identify as Democrats and 41 percent are Independents. It’s Clinton’s attachment to party loyalty that is the problem. It favors a cronyist DNC oligarchy over paying attention to what voters want.

Sanders is a leader who advocates solidarity. Clinton wants party loyalty. It’s a clear breakdown in political leadership. One vision is of a leader working with and for the people. The other is a vision of how the people serve the leader and the system. Clinton’s assumption that Sanders voters should have been hers is another clear sign of how she thinks of voters as belonging to her, rather than having their own right to vote the way they want.

But perhaps the best sign of how these two books teach us about the radically different leadership styles of Clinton and Sanders takes place as Clinton dismisses Sanders on policy. Clinton mocks Sanders for what she saw as copying her ideas and then “super-sizing” them to make himself more appealing to voters. She describes him as a “serial over-promiser.”

She goes on to recount how Jake Sullivan, her top policy aide, told her that Sanders’ campaign strategy reminded him of a scene from the movie “There’s Something About Mary,” where a hitchhiker says he has a plan to roll out seven-minute abs to top the famous eight-minute abs.

“Why, why not six-minutes abs?” Ben Stiller’s character asks.

Clinton mocks: “That’s what it was like in policy debates with Bernie. We would promise a bold infrastructure investment plan or an ambitious new apprenticeship program for young people, and then Bernie would announce basically the same thing, but bigger. On issue after issue, it was like he kept promising four-minute abs, or even no-minutes abs. Magic abs!”

But here’s the thing. The Sanders vision is not equivalent to “magic abs.” In fact, as his book clearly shows, his policy ideas are progressive, practical and possible. And even more, they are what the nation wants.

“The Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Action” is actually filled with clear and helpful information designed to help young activists better understand the challenges facing this nation. It contains infographics, illustrations and resources that help break down issues like income inequality, climate change, healthcare, law enforcement reform, prison system reform and student loan debt. Each chapter includes ways to learn more about an issue and ways to get involved. It is straightforward, concise and inspiring.

While Clinton is going on about “magic abs,” Sanders is writing a book that helps his readers understand how current government structure works and what they can do to make it better. The contrast couldn’t be starker.

In one excellent example, Sanders walks readers through the effects of a low minimum wage, revealing how a “starvation wage” that has workers earning less than the cost of living but putting in 40 hours a week actually serves to subsidize companies like Walmart. He shows how it is middle class taxpayers who help subsidize the cheap labor used by Walmart since their employees need federal and local assistance to survive.

And, while Clinton mocks Sanders for his idealistic desire to think big, Sanders starts his book reminding readers that his views are those of the bulk of Americans: “On major issue after major issue, the vast majority of Americans support a progressive agenda.” For Clinton, though, the progressive agenda wanted by the majority is nothing more than the hocus pocus of magic abs or the dreams of those who want a pony.

This tweet from David Sirota says it all:

There are so many things a leader could do at this moment of crisis. Clinton chose to slam Bernie Bros & hawk Verrit. I wonder why she lost?

That’s the real tragedy to Clinton’s discourse. She literally sees political vision as nothing but a fantasy. She has so thoroughly imbibed the corporatist, pro-status quo version of the Democratic party that she can’t even notice how pathetically uninspiring her positions are for those young voters she referred to as basement dwellers on the campaign trail.

Against the snarky, negative tone of Clinton’s book, Sanders offers his readers a combination of political passion and practical advice. When it refers to him personally, it does so by quoting a Sanders tweet that links to the issue being covered. The tweets are used to show how Sanders has been standing up for these issues for years. It is a technique that privileges the cause, not the ego. The effect is a subtle form of leadership that is grounded in the idea that a progressive leader is only as strong as the people being inspired and mentored.

“Young people are the future of our country,” Sanders explained to Teen Vogue. “As citizens of the United States, they have a responsibility to participate in our democracy and to help create a government which works for all, rather than just the few. This book will expose them to an unusual political campaign, the excitement of politics and what being a progressive is all about.”

Some will likely say that it is not fair to compare two books that have such radically different goals. Clinton’s is a look back at what happened with her campaign; Sanders’s is a book designed to help energize and guide future progressive political action. Hers is a memoir; his is a political guide to action. One is personal. The other is about political vision and action.

Or maybe comparing these books is exactly what we should be doing because they portray vastly different ideas for the future of left politics in this nation.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that media coverage of the two books has been vastly uneven. Article after article has covered Clinton’s attacks on Sanders. Not one piece I have seen thus far on Clinton’s Bernie-bashing has considered the fact that he has a book out now, too.

Those stories that have covered it often missed the point. Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day” interviewed Sanders about his new book and suggested that some have been reading it as a sign of a potential future run for the presidency. Cuomo asked Sanders whether he planned to run again or back a younger candidate with a progressive message.

Demonstrating why Sanders is a completely different type of leader than Clinton, he quipped back, “Well there is a third school of thought, Chris, and that is that the media never, ever gives up,” said Sanders. “And instead of focusing on real issues, they keep talking about never-ending campaigns.”

Perfectly demonstrating that for Sanders, as it is for many of us, the goal is political progress, not ego-building, he went on: “We never stop elections, people are sick and tired of it. They want me to go back to Washington to deal with climate change, to deal with healthcare, to deal with education, to deal with issues that impact their lives,” he continued. “They do not want to see never ending elections.”

And they really don’t want to spend all their time thinking back on a lost election.

These two books offer different visions of political leadership, different narratives about political possibility and different views about our future. One is constructed to build collective support; the other is a story about a leader betrayed and unfairly thwarted. One offers a practical guide to political action; the other is filled with stories of magic abs and ponies. One hopes to make a real difference in our nation; the other mocks the idea of even trying.

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.

Sanders promised a “revolution,” but campaigned as a democratic reformer. Ultimately that may not be enough

Bernie Sanders’ revolution is still alive — but is democratic socialism a realistic goal?

Since Bernie Sanders’ historic presidential run ended last year, the senator from Vermont has attempted to keep his “political revolution” alive in order to bring about lasting change. Though he lost his Democratic primary run against Hillary Clinton more than a year ago, today Sanders is the undisputed face of progressive politics in America, and consistently ranks as the most popular politician in the country. He is in a very good position, then, to promote his cause and continue his political revolution.

Yet even as Sanders has become a household name in America, some uncertainty has lingered about his political revolution and what it truly represents. Is, for example, Sanders a democratic socialist — as he calls himself — or is he more of a social democrat? And just how radical — and revolutionary — is his political revolution? The word revolution does, after all, historically denote the abrupt and often violent overthrow of a government and/or social system.

In one interview with Rolling Stone last year, Sanders was explicitly asked by Tim Dickinson whether he supported an “overthrow of the capitalist system” like one of his political heroes, five-time Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs. The senator’s response was unequivocal. “No, no, no. Now you’re being provocative,” said Sanders, who went on to lay out what he actually meant by political revolution:

What we have got to do is not only overturn Citizens United, but we have got to move, in my view, to public funding of elections. We have to pass universal legislation that makes everybody in this country who is 18 or older eligible to vote, so we do away with the Republican voter suppression around the country.

This, of course, is what one would call a reformist agenda rather than a revolutionary one — which is essentially what the Sanders campaign was all about. Though Sanders identified as a “democratic socialist” and advocated a “political revolution,” in reality the Vermont senator was more of a social democrat who espoused a bold though decidedly moderate agenda. Sanders did not advocate an overthrow of the government or the collective ownership of the means of production, but a nonviolent popular movement fighting for progressive reforms akin to the New Deal legislation of the 1930s.

And this is ultimately what Sanders meant by a political revolution. Using the Democratic primaries as a launch pad, the senator aimed to create a sustained grassroots movement similar to transformative social movements of the past (e.g., the Civil Rights movement, women’s suffrage, the labor and socialist movements, etc.). “Change never takes place from the top down, it comes from the bottom up,” the senator frequently repeated during his run, suggesting that electoral politics is limited in what it can accomplish.

Whether one believes in reform or revolution (or, indeed, counterrevolution), it is hard to argue with this theory of change. History shows us that social movements drive progress and that political apathy is the lifeblood of the ruling class. This may sound like common sense, but Americans have become so accustomed to the spectator sport that is modern electoral politics that it was actually radical for Sanders to drive this point home last year. And he has continued to do so over the past year. Indeed, last week he made a stop in Naperville, Illinois to give a presentation on his new book, “Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution,” and the message was familiar.

“The struggle of American democracy has been to become a more encompassing democracy, to involve more and more people,” said Sanders to group of high school students. ”And none of that happened by accident. It happened because people stood up and struggled and fought to make that happen.”

Not surprisingly, the senator’s new “guide” to political revolution advocates reforming the system rather than overthrowing it. This is to be expected from a social democrat like Sanders, who believes that it is both possible and preferable to reform our political system and economy through legislative means. But not all of Sanders’ supporters are on the same page. There is a growing subset of progressives who believe that while social democratic reform is a step in the right direction, the end goal should be true democratic socialism — meaning an economic democracy in which workers rather than plutocrats hold power.

This debate between social democrats and democratic socialists was recently on display in the pages of the New Republic and Jacobin Magazine. In the former publication, veteran progressive journalist John Judis wrote an  excellent article on the resurgence of the American left and why he believes it should embrace a social democratic agenda going forward.

The “old nostrums about ownership and control of the means of production simply don’t resonate in 2017,” writes Judis, who contends that social democracy, “while lacking in utopian appeal, does provide a vision that goes very far beyond the status quo in the United States.” The author of “The Populist Explosion” goes on to suggest that American socialists should “do what the Europeans did after World War II and bid goodbye to the Marxist vision of democratic control and ownership of the means of production.”

“They need to recognize that what is necessary now — and also conceivable — is not to abolish capitalism, but to create socialism within it,” Judis concludes.

Responding to Judis’ piece in Jacobin, founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara and Joseph Schwartz, national vice chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, observe that while Judis has good intentions, his reformist vision would ultimately lead progressives “into the dead end of twentieth-century social democracy.”

“History shows us that achieving a stable welfare state while leaving capital’s power over the economy largely intact is itself far from viable,” they write. “Even if we wanted to stop at socialism within capitalism, it’s not clear that we could.”

This is a crucial point that social democrats like Judis must grapple with. Even the French economist Thomas Piketty — an avowed European social democrat — concludes in his bestselling book on inequality, “Capital In the Twenty-First Century,” that the “golden age” of capitalism in the mid-20th century, when inequality levels actually declined, was a historical aberration that is unlikely to repeat itself. While social democrats are often seen as the pragmatists of the left, it is the democratic socialists who recognize the structural forces of capitalism and the inevitable antagonism between labor and capital.

Of course, the question of political pragmatism depends largely on one’s perspective. In the short term, the social democrats who are currently trying to take over the Democratic Party and carry out a progressive agenda in the halls of Congress are certainly more pragmatic than the democratic socialists who obstinately reject the Democrats. The United States has a winner-takes-all voting system that favors two major parties. Until we see electoral reforms that not only eliminate money from politics but create proportional representation  and ranked-choice voting, working with (and within) the Democratic Party seems to be a necessity. This does not mean the left should limit itself to electoral politics, however; as Sanders has argued over the past two years, there must also be a sustained popular movement that pressures elected officials to pass the needed reforms.

This may be the pragmatic way forward in the short term, but in the long run the left must also deal with the question of what comes after the current stage of capitalism and how to create this future. Social democracy cannot be the end goal, lest we repeat what happened at the end of the 20th century. At the present moment it is imperative to work within the system and fight for meaningful reforms. But eventually a true “political revolution” may be necessary to confront capital in the 21st century.

 Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.