Bernie Sanders on Trump and the Resistance: ‘Despair Is Not an Option’

NEWS & POLITICS

The senator talks about taking progressive populism to the heartland in order to topple Trump.

Photo Credit: Scott P / Flickr

When Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress 10 days ago, sticking dutifully, for once, to the teleprompter, the media praised him for sounding statesmanlike and presidential. But one person, sitting in a front-row seat just a few feet away, thought differently.

Bernie Sanders was growing more aghast with every sentence. Then, when Trump began to talk about the environment, the 75-year-old independent senator from Vermont nearly laughed out loud. Earlier that day, the president signed an executive order that gutted federal controls against the pollution of rivers and waterways. Now he was standing before US legislators pledging to “promote clean air and clear water”.

“The hypocrisy was beyond belief!” says Sanders, still scarcely able to contain himself. “To talk about protecting clean air and water on the same day that you issue an order that will increase pollution of air and water!”

Sanders’ Senate office in DC has an untouched quality, as though the rocket launcher that propelled him last year from relative obscurity to credible contender for the White House has left no trace. The office walls display quaint photographs of his home state – a field of cows labeled Spring in Vermont – and there’s a bookshelf stacked with distinctly Bernie-esque titles such as Never Give In and The Induced Ignorance of Power.

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Sanders sweeps into the room wearing a casual sweater. His white hair is tousled, and he has the distracted look of someone dragged away from concentrated study. But when we start talking, he is immediately transfixing. In a flash, it is clear why so many have felt the Bern: because he feels it so intensely himself.

“These are very scary times for the people of the United States, and … for the whole world. We have a president who is a pathological liar. Trump lies all of the time.” And Sanders believes the lying is not accidental: “He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.” Take his “wild attacks against the media, that virtually everything the mainstream media says is a lie.” Or Trump’s denigration of one of George W Bush’s judicial appointees as a “so-called judge”, and his false claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in the election. Such statements, which Sanders calls “delusional”, are meant to lead to only one conclusion, he says: “that the only person in America who stands for the American people, who is telling the truth, the only person who gets it right, is the president of the United States, Donald Trump. That is unprecedented in American history.”

He travels even deeper into dystopian territory when I ask what, in his view, Trump’s endgame might be. “What he wants is to end up as leader of a nation that has moved a significant degree towards authoritarianism; where the president of the United States has extraordinary powers, far more than our constitution has provided for.”

Sanders is well into his stride by now, conducting the interview with great waves of his arms, punching out words in that distinctive Brooklyn-Vermont growl. It’s impossible not to be drawn in by a man who comes across as this authentic.

Sanders occupies an exalted pedestal in American politics today. In 2016 he won 23 primary and caucus races to Clinton’s 34, notching up 13 million votes. Given the odds stacked against him – Clinton’s establishment firepower; the skewed weighting of the “superdelegates” that tipped the primaries in her direction by reserving 15% of the votes for the party establishment; and the cynical efforts of the party machine through the Democratic national convention to undermine Sanders’ campaign by casting aspersions on his leadership abilities and religious beliefs, as revealed in the Russian-hacked WikiLeaks emails – that was no mean achievement.

If he had won the nomination, would he have beaten Trump? I feel a blowback to the question even as I pose it. Sanders’ body language expresses displeasure as crushingly as any verbal putdown: his face crumples, his shoulders hunch, and he looks as though someone is jabbing him with needles. “I don’t think it’s a worthwhile speculation,” he says. “The answer is: who knows? Possibly yes, possibly no.”

Moving swiftly on. Did he anticipate the result on election night, or was he as shocked as many others when Trump began to sweep rust belt states such as Michigan and Wisconsin – states, incidentally, in which Sanders also defeated Clinton in the primary/caucus stage? “I wasn’t expecting it, but it wasn’t a shock. When I went to bed the night before, I thought it was two-to-one, three-to-one that Clinton would win, but it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, there’s no chance Trump could do it’. That was never my belief.”

Sanders’ sanguine response was rooted in his familiar critique of modern capitalism – that it has left the US, alongside the UK and other major democracies, vulnerable to rightwing assault. This is how he connects Trump with Brexit, and in turn with the jitters gripping continental Europe ahead of elections in France and Germany – common manifestations all, he believes, of the ravages of globalization.

“One of the reasons for Brexit, for Trump’s victory, for the rise of ultra-nationalist rightwing candidates all over Europe, is the fact that the global economy has been very good for large multinational corporations, has in many ways been a positive thing for well-educated people, but there are millions of people in this country and all over the world who have been left behind.”

I tell him that last September I had an epiphany as I watched Trump tell a ballroom of billionaires at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan that he would get all the steelworkers back to work. Steelworkers? How on Earth did the Democratic party, the party of labour, cede so much political ground that a billionaire – “phoney billionaire”, Sanders corrects me, firmly – could stand before other billionaires at the Waldorf and pose as the champion of steelworkers?

“That is an excellent question,” he says, needles turning to roses. “Over the last 30 or 40 years the Democratic party has transformed itself from a party of the working class – of white workers, black workers, immigrant workers – to a party significantly controlled by a liberal elite which has moved very far away from the needs of … working families in this country.”

He goes on to lament what he sees as an unnecessary dichotomy between the identity politics favoured by those liberal elites and the traditional labour roots of the movement – steelworkers, say. He is so incensed about this false division that it even dictates his self-perception: “I consider myself a progressive and not a liberal for that reason alone,” he says.

I ask him to flesh out the thought. He replies that the liberal left’s focus on sectional interests – whether defined by gender, race or immigrant status – has obscured the needs of a shrinking middle class suffering from huge levels of income inequality. It didn’t need to have been that way. “The truth is, we can and should do both. It’s not an either/or, it’s both.”

Does he see a similar pattern in the trajectory of Britain’s Labour party? His face starts to crumple again, UK politics apparently also being on his list of undesirable discussion topics. “I don’t want to say I know more than I do,” he says, adding, after a beat, “but obviously I am somewhat informed.”

There is a cord that ties Sanders to the UK, in the form of his elder brother, Larry, who lives in Oxford and who ran unsuccessfully last October as a Green party candidate for the Witney seat left vacant by the departure of former prime minister David Cameron. Sanders has described Larry as a large influence on his life, though he says they haven’t been in touch lately. “We talk once in a while.”

Add family matters to the needle category. He’s reticent, too, about discussing Jeremy Corbyn, deflecting a question about the current travails of the Labour leader by again saying: “I don’t know all the details.”

But he is happy to take an implicit poke at Tony Blair and New Labour, which he suggests fell into the same profound hole that the current US Democratic party is in. “Corbyn has established that there is a huge gap between what was the Labour party leadership and the rank-and-file Labour party activists – he made that as clear as clear could be … Leadership has got to reflect where working people and young people are in the UK.”

It’s all starting to sound pretty depressing. Much of the modern left has detached itself from working people; the vacuum created has in turn permitted that Waldorf moment where steelworkers turn to (phoney) billionaires for salvation; in the ensuing melee we see the rise of Trump, Brexit and the far right, hurtling the world’s leading democracies into the abyss.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the narrative. Sanders is too driven a person, too committed to his own worldview, to leave us dangling in a dystopian fog. And with reason: he remains a formidable force to be reckoned with. Though he’s less in the conversation these days than he was at the height of his epic battle with Clinton, no one should make the error of thinking that Sanders is done.

Technically still an independent, he is busily lobbying to reform the internal rules of the Democratic party to give more clout to rank-and-file voters and less to party insiders, in order, he says, to tighten that gap between liberal elite and steelworker. He also continues to use the force of his grassroots activism to push the party towards a more radical economic position, based on regulating Wall Street and taxing the wealthy – and claims some success in that regard.

“The platform of the Democratic party doesn’t go as far as I would like,” he says, “but I worked on it with Clinton and it is far and away the most progressive platform in the history of American politics.”

In the Senate, too, he’s active in the confirmation process for Trump’s nominations. In particular, he vows to give the president’s pick for the vacant seat on the US supreme court, Neil Gorsuch, a rough ride over his stances on abortion and the Citizens United campaign finance ruling, which unleashed corporate money into elections.

Gorsuch hasn’t ruled on abortion directly, but he has indicated that he believes that the “intentional taking of human life is always wrong”, and on campaign finance he has hinted that he would open up the political process to even more private cash.

I ask Sanders why he isn’t minded to go further with Gorsuch. Why not take a leaf from the Republican book and just say no – after all, they refused even to consider Obama’s supreme court choice, Merrick Garland, effectively stealing the seat from the Democrats.

“There are reasons to say no. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to vote no before I even know who the candidate is.’”

But that’s what the Republicans did, I press.

“I think it’s more effective to give a rational reason,” he replies with finality.

But the real work of Sanders and the resistance begins when the lights of his Senate office are turned off, the squabbles of DC are left behind, and he takes his brand of progressive populism out to the American heartlands. He’s doing it largely unnoticed – not stealthily, but quietly, without much fanfare. But it’s happening, and with a clear goal: to rebuild the progressive movement from the bottom up.

There are shades here of the Tea Party movement, the disruptive rightwing grassroots group that in two short years destabilized Obama’s presidency and paved the way for everything we are witnessing today. So, is that it? Is that what Sanders is doing when he travels the country, attends rallies, addresses his legions of still adoring young supporters and urges them to resist? Is he putting down the foundations of a progressive Tea Party – as influential voices, such as the three former congressional staffers who co-authored a guide to resistance called Indivisible, have implored?

Unsurprisingly, Sanders fails to embrace the concept. But much of what he is doing, amplified by the network that grew out of his presidential campaign, Our Revolution, does follow a similar playbook: start local, shift the debate to a more radical posture, one primary election at a time.

“My job is to substantially increase the number of people participating in the political process. We’ve been quite successful in this, getting more and more people to run for office. That’s what I’m focusing on.”

Here’s where a shaft of light pierces through the gloom: he is convinced that the resistance is already working. In a 14-minute video posted to Facebook Live immediately after Trump’s joint session to Congress, Sanders went so far as to say that Republicans were on the defensive.

Really? Defensive? That seems a bold statement, given the daily stream of executive orders and the bonfire of regulations coming out of the White House. As evidence, Sanders points to Trump and the Republicans’ much-touted plan to scrap the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Well, a funny thing happened,” the senator says. “Millions of people have been actively involved in saying, ‘Excuse me, if you want to improve the Affordable Care Act, let’s do it, but you are not simply going to repeal it and throw 20 million people out on the streets without any health insurance … Now the Republicans are scrambling, they are embarrassed, and that tells me they are on the defensive on that area.”

He gives another, more lurid, example. Republican leaders holding regular town hall meetings across the country have been accosted in recent weeks by angry, banner-wielding protesters opposing the repeal of the healthcare law, and in some cases police have been called. In the wake of the feisty encounters, conservative leaders demanded more security at such events, which Sanders finds indicative: “When Republicans now are literally afraid to hold public meetings – some of them are arguing, ‘Oh my God, we are afraid of security issues!’ – that tells me they know that the American people are prepared to stand up and fight.”

Stand up and fight: it’s classic Bernie Sanders. And it brings us back to the original quandary: how to respond to the authoritarian threat that is Trump. What word of advice would he give a young person, a twentysomething who is scared and who feels that their country is moving against them? What should they do?

“This is what they should do,” he says, pumping out the Bern. “They should take a deep reflection about the history of this country, understand that absolutely these are very difficult and frightening times. But also understand that in moments of crisis, what has happened, time and time again, is that people have stood up and fought back. So despair is absolutely not an option.”

Ed Pilkington is the chief reporter for Guardian US. He is a former national and foreign editor of the paper, and author of Beyond the Mother Country.

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WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

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WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks!” And he had good reason to display affection to this website run by accused rapist Julian Assange. By releasing reams of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, WikiLeaks helped tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

As president, Trump hasn’t come out and said anything laudatory about WikiLeaks following its massive disclosure of CIA secrets on Tuesday — a treasure trove that some experts already believe may be more damaging than Edward Snowden’s revelations. But Trump hasn’t condemned WikiLeaks. The recent entries on his Twitter feed — a pure reflection of his unbridled id — contain vicious attacks on, among other things, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the New York Times, and Barack Obama but not a word about WikiLeaks. Did the president not notice that the intelligence community he commands has just suffered a devastating breach of security? Or did he simply not feel compelled to comment?

Actually there is a third, even more discomfiting, possibility:

Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks’ latest revelations.

Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks’ latest revelations.On Saturday, recall, Trump was making wild-eyed accusations that Obama had ordered the U.S. intelligence community to wiretap him. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” The White House could not come up with one iota of evidence to support this irresponsible allegation, which was denied by FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. But Trump would not be dissuaded from pursuing this charge, which serves as a convenient distraction from the far more serious accusations of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin while Russia was interfering with the presidential campaign.

Is it just a coincidence that WikiLeaks dumped a massive database pertaining to CIA hacking and wiretapping just three days after Trump made wiretapping a major political issue? Perhaps so. But there is cause for suspicion.

In the first place, WikiLeaks has often timed its leaks for maximum political impact. It released 20,000 stolen DNC emails just three days before the Democratic National Convention on July 25, 2016. As expected, WikiLeaks generated headlines about DNC staffers disparaging Sen. Bernie Sanders, buttressing a Trump campaign effort to prevent Clinton from consolidating Sanders supporters. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as a result, and the Clinton campaign suffered significant public relations damage.

In the second place, WikiLeaks, which has often leaked American but never Russian secrets, has been identified by the U.S. intelligence community as a front for Russian intelligence. In January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified estimate that found “with high confidence that Russian military intelligence … relayed material to WikiLeaks.” This was done with a definite purpose: “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Trump has consistently resisted the intelligence agency’s conclusions, insisting that some 400-pound couch potato might have committed the hacking before grudgingly accepting the findings but continuing to claim that the Russian hack had no impact on the election. (Given that 70,000 votes in three states were his margin of victory, how does he know what affected the outcome and what didn’t? And if WikiLeaks was so inconsequential, why did he tout its revelations in almost every appearance during the last month of the campaign?)

The intelligence community’s finding that Putin helped him win the election spurred Trump to pursue a vendetta against it. For example, he accused the spooks — with no support — of being behind BuzzFeed’s publication of a damning dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer claiming that the Kremlin had compiled compromising materials on him. Trump outrageously tweeted: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” His animus against the intelligence agencies has continued down to his more recent accusations that they allowed themselves to be used by Obama to wiretap him. The consistent (if hardly believable) storyline from Trump is that he has no connections to Russia, and that he is a victim of the nefarious machinations of the American “deep state.”

It is significant, therefore, that one of the major storylines to emerge from the latest WikiLeaks release is that the CIA supposedly has a program to reuse computer codes from foreign hackers, thus disguising CIA fingerprints on a hacking operation. Never mind that there is no evidence that the codes used to break into the DNC were part of this CIA database. Right-wing outlets are nevertheless trumpeting these revelations with headlines such as this one on Breitbart: “WikiLeaks: CIA Uses ‘Stolen’ Malware to ‘Attribute’ Cyberattacks to Nations Like Russia.” Russian-controlled Internet “bots” are also said to be playing up these claims online.

The implication is clear. Trump was a victim of a “false flag” operation wherein CIA hackers broke into the DNC and blamed the Russians. This may be nutty, but it’s eminently believable to an audience conditioned to believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged — favorite tropes of the radio talk-show host Alex Jones, whose work Trump has praised. Other WikiLeaks revelations — for instance, that the CIA can use Samsung smart TVs as listening devices — lend further credence to Trump’s charge that he was secretly wiretapped.

Quite apart from its specifics, the WikiLeaks release changes the subject after a bad few days for Trump highlighted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from any Kremlingate probe after he was revealed to have lied under oath when he denied meeting any Russian representatives. Last week it was Trump on the defensive. Now it’s his nemeses in the U.S. intelligence community who are answering embarrassing questions about how this leak could have occurred and the contents of the leaked information.

Again, maybe this is entirely coincidental, but WikiLeaks’ history of being used by Russian intelligence to support Trump should lead to much greater scrutiny not only of who leaked this information — is there a mole in the CIA? — but why it was released now. Even if there is no active collusion between the White House and the Kremlin, the extent to which their agendas coincide is striking. Both Putin and Trump want to discredit the U.S. intelligence community because they see it as an obstacle to their power.

Photo credit: OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

Months After Calling the Prospect ‘Crazy,’ Facebook Brags About Its Ability to Swing Elections

Posted on Mar 4, 2017

Facebook, whose founder Mark Zuckerberg called arguments that the tech giant helped swing the presidential election toward Donald Trump “crazy” and “extremely unlikely,” is now boasting of its ability to influence elections for pay.

Adam Peck reports at ThinkProgress:

Facebook’s marketing department has a web page set up to document success stories. Most of them are examples of businesses that leveraged Facebook’s advertising network into higher sales, larger audiences, and better customer reviews. But nestled somewhere between the pages for Panera Bread and Cheetos are pages for politicians like Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and former Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

On each page, Facebook’s business team breaks down some metrics about how these political campaigns leveraged the platform to boost donations and turnout on election day. On Johnson’s page, Facebook boasts of a 6.8-point bump in the candidate’s favorability numbers among moderate voters.

But it is wording on Sen. Toomey’s “success story” that has struck a troubling chord. After noting that Toomey was facing a tough re-election in 2016, Facebook touted it’s ability to “significantly shift voter intent and increase favorability,” and that the campaign’s “made-for-Facebook creative strategy was an essential component to Senator Pat Toomey’s re-election, as the senator won by less than 100,000 votes (of nearly 6 million votes cast).”

The Philadelphia Business Journal noted that Toomey’s campaign outspent Democratic rival Katie McGinty by more than a two to one margin on digital content, most of that directed towards Facebook. In return, the campaign was able to create more content specifically tailored to Facebook’s platform rather than recycling things like television ads.

Read more here.

12 Glaring Omissions, Contradictions and Lies Bernie Sanders Spotted in Trump’s Address

NEWS & POLITICS
The Vermont senator slammed the president’s speech in a video response.

Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear issued a formal Democratic response to Trump’s address to Congress Tuesday. But the most blistering reply may belong to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who took to Facebook shortly thereafter. “I wanted to say a few words about what [Trump] didn’t say, because when you analyze the speech sometimes what is more important is what somebody does not say as opposed to what they actually say,” he began.

Below are 12 glaring omissions, contradictions and lies Sanders spotted in Trump’s address.

1. Social Security and Medicare

“At a time when over half of all older Americans have no retirement savings, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word about Social Security or Medicare,” Sanders pointed out.

“During the campaign, as we all remember, President Trump promised over and over and over again that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. But in his first address [to Congress], he didn’t even mention Social Security or Medicare once, not a single time.”

While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted the programs would not be touched in an interview this past weekend, President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has defended such cuts.

“I urge President Trump, keep your promises, tell the American people, tweet to the American people that you will not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” Sanders said.

2. Income and Wealth Inequality

Trump’s speech to Congress briefly touched on poverty in America. However, Sanders “did not hear President Trump mention the words ‘income and wealth inequality’ or the fact that we now have the widest gap between the very rich and everyone else since the 1920’s.”

3. Campaign Finance

“I did not hear President Trump mention the fact that as a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, a five-to-four decision, we now have a corrupt campaign finance system that is allowing billionaires to buy elections and undermine American democracy,” Sanders said.

To the first-time politician who has repeatedly boasted about funding his own campaign, Sanders asked, “How could you give a speech to the nation and not talk about that enormously important issue?”

4. Voter Suppression

In his speech, President Trump used the phrase “guided by the well-being of American citizens.”

“[But] not only did President Trump not mention the issue of voter suppression, what Republican governors are doing all over this country to make it harder for people to participate in our democracy, but the truth of the matter is his administration is now working, working overtime, with Republican governors to make it harder for young people, low-income people, senior citizens and people of color to vote,” Sanders explained. “That is an outrage.”

5. Climate Change

Perhaps most astoundingly, at a time when the scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that it is already causing devastating problems in our country and all over the world, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word, about the need to combat climate change, the greatest environmental threat facing our planet,” Sanders hammered.

Not only did Trump not mention climate change, “he pledged to increase our dependency on fossil fuels,” Sanders added.

6. Criminal Justice

“At a time when we have more people in jail than any other country on earth, disproportionately African American, Latino, Native American, I did not hear President Trump say one word about how he was going to fix a broken criminal justice system,” Sanders pointed out.

“Yes, we must support the hard work of men and women in the police departments, in the sheriff’s departments all over this country, but we must also end the disgrace of having more people in jail than any other country on earth,” he added.

7. Higher Education

“At a time when we need the best-educated workforce in the world to compete in a highly competitive global economy, I did not hear President Trump say one word, not one word, about the need to lower the cost of college and to do what countries all over the world are doing, and that is to make public colleges and universities tuition-free,” Sanders said.

8. ‘Drain the Swamp’

“During his campaign, President Trump told us that he was going to take on Wall Street and ‘drain the swamp,'” Sanders reminded viewers. “Well, the swamp, big-time, is now in his administration, which has more millionaires and billionaires than any presidential administration in history.”

“Amazingly enough, for somebody who was going to ‘drain the swamp,’ who’s going to take on Wall Street, his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is the former president of Goldman Sachs, one of the major financial institutions that pay billions of dollars in fines for their illegal activity,” Sanders added.

9. Glass-Steagall Act

“I did not hear President Trump say one word about another campaign promise that he made to the American people, and that was to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.”

In his speech, President Trump proposed a $1 trillion investment in American infrastructure, “but the specifics of the financing plan that he has provided us with so far are absolutely wrong,” Sanders concluded. “We cannot rebuild our infrastructure by providing billions of dollars in tax breaks to Wall Street and large corporations.”

10. Clean Water Rules

“Donald Trump said tonight that we need to ‘promote clean air and clean water.’… I had a difficult time not laughing out loud when he said that,” Sanders admitted, since, “On this very, very day, he signed an executive order rolling back President Obama’s clean water rules and has appointed the most anti-environmental EPA administrator in our nation’s history.”

11. Military Spending

“President Trump said [Tuesday night] that he wants to substantially increase funding for the Pentagon,” Sanders recalled. “What he didn’t say tonight is that he will come up with that $84 billion in increased funding for the Pentagon by slashing programs that benefit the working people of this country, that benefit the elderly, that benefit the children, the sick and the poor.”

12. Prescription Drug Costs

“As he did during his campaign, Donald Trump claimed that he would bring down the cost of prescription drugs,” Sanders told viewers. “A few weeks ago, he even said that the pharmaceutical industry was ‘getting away with murder,’ but if Donald Trump really wanted to take on the pharmaceutical industry, he would have told his Republican friends in the House and the Senate to pass legislation, which I [re]introduced today with 20 senators allowing Americans to import safe low-cost medicine from Canada.”

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Total resistance or selective engagement? Economist Gerald Epstein on how progressives should counter Trumponomics

Fascism, crony capitalism or Reaganomics reborn? Progressive economist says Trump blends them all in a toxic stew

Total resistance or selective engagement? Economist Gerald Epstein on how progressives should counter Trumponomics
(Credit: Getty/Tom Pennington/Reuters/Scott Audette/GettyJustin Sullivan)

Among progressives, the immediate response to Donald Trump’s election was conflicted. Some rejected him completely, and others — most notably Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — expressed an attitude of selective cooperation: Opposition to Trump’s racism, bigotry and xenophobia, but a willingness to work with him on economic proposals purportedly designed to aid the working class.

The mood of progressives has since shifted sharply away from cooperation in light of how Trump has conducted himself. But things could shift again as attention finally starts being paid to Trump’s budget proposals, with other economic concerns likely to follow. What approach should progressives take toward Trump’s economic policies — and why?

That’s the question taken up by University of Massachusetts economist Gerald Epstein in a new article in Challenge magazine, “Trumponomics: Should We Just Say ‘No?’” He argues that economists need to significantly reorient themselves to deal with Trump, as his intentions are markedly different in intent from the neoliberalism of the past several decades. Both Trump’s kleptocratic tendencies and his proto-fascist orientation raise problems that defy the standard methods used to critique neoliberal economics.

Although Epstein was largely writing to other progressive economists, his arguments warrant a wider audience for several reasons. First, we need to understand the kinds of arguments that Epstein is urging progressive economists to make. We cannot simply take things on faith, the way that conservatives routinely do. Second, we need a broad public understanding of these arguments. If there had been such a broad understanding in advance, then arguably the differences between Trump and the Sanders-Warren camp would never have become so blurred as to get Trump elected in the first place. Which is why I interviewed Epstein, to help develop that understanding for the battles ahead. (Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

In your paper, you argue that Trumponomics is something new to America, and that the response it calls for from economists needs to reflect that. In particular, you argue that “Trumpism is a protofascist social formation.” What does that mean in terms of economic goals, and how they’re married to political goals?

By proto-fascist, what I mean is that in in the social formation, or group, there are a lot of different tendencies, from neoliberal Republicans to nativist xenophobic fascists, probably best represented in his government by Steve Bannon. So “proto-fascist” means it’s on the road to a kind of fascist movement. It’s hard to know exactly how it’s going to play out, depending on the relative power [of] these various groups that are vying for power.

But the idea about proto-fascism is that those in power use racist, nativist, xenophobic ideologies to try and divide and conquer a political system, for their own goals. That can be for personal enrichment. In the case of Trump it’s self-aggrandizement, in the case of others who are associated with him, it’s probably enrichment and the implementation of a destructive ideology. So they use economic policies to mobilize power [and] achieve their own political power, and then they parse out the spoils to various groups in their coalition.

You write that your analysis of the social formation leads you to advise a “political economy precautionary principle.” What do you mean by that?

That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the basic idea is I’m trying to argue against economists — and particularly progressive economists, leftist economists, heterodox economists, whatever you want to call them — from doing business as usual. I think the Trump phenomenon is unusual if not unique in the United States, though we’ve seen these phenomena elsewhere in the world at different times. As I said to Joseph Stiglitz when I saw him recently, “You know we economists – and you probably better than most of us – know how to analyze neoliberalism, and we’ve been looking at neoliberalism now for 20, 30 years. We know how to analyze that. But we don’t have much experience analyzing fascism, and I think that requires a different approach.

In neoliberalism and other economic policies, we’re used to looking at it piecemeal. Each policy we analyze: Is it good? Is it bad? What’s the impact? On income distribution? On efficiency? On economic growth? We’re not used to looking at these policies not only as an economic package — that is how they  support or relate to each other—but also how they support the accumulation of political power.

And since one of the key goals of a proto-fascist or fascist formation is to accumulate and sustain political power for destructive ends, I think we as economists have to look at how these policies will affect the accumulation of power. So a progressive “political economy precautionary principle” takes the idea that you look at the risk associated — like a new drug, at the Food and Drug Administration — and if there’s a reasonable chance that this new policy is going to further the destructive goals of fascism, then you should raise red flags about it, even if on its own terms it might seem to be helpful to some constituencies within the economy that you support. So that’s the idea.

It’s also different in that it’s like a pass/fail grade, isn’t it? You don’t halfway raise a red flag.

Yes. You raise a red flag, but you don’t raise the red flag and just badmouth it. You give your reasons. You analyze it. Why are we raising the red flag? What I’m most concerned about is policies that seem like they are the same as progressives have been proposing for years, if not decades: Managed trade, renegotiating trade agreements, infrastructure investment. Trump has talked about those, and recently we’ve seen some labor unions jump on those bandwagons.

But the question is: Are these really the same kinds of policies that progressives have promoted? Who would they help? Who would they hurt? How will this help Trump accumulate more power? We analyze that, and if it seems as though this is going in a bad direction, we raise that red flag. And yes, it’s kind of a pass/fail.

An important part of your paper is looking at Trumponomics in terms of various economic “frameworks of understanding.” You lay out six of those. Can you run through them and say a few words about each?

Economists are trying to figure out, What is Trumponomics? What family does this belong to? Some have said, well, it’s kind of Keynesian economics, because it relies on tax cuts, government spending, a demand-side approach to getting the economy going. Others have pointed out that maybe it’s Keynesian, but it’s a reactionary type of Keynesian, building on the concept John Kenneth Galbraith promoted years ago. That is, it does depend on fiscal expansion to get the economy going, but its impact is likely to be very unequal, it’s going to help the rich more than the poor or the middle class, maybe it’s going to involve more military spending, etc. So that’s reactionary Keynesianism.

It’s similar to the third one, a “military Keynesianism,” which people started analyzing when they were looking, for example, at the Vietnam War and the economic expansion in the ’60 and early ’70s. It’s an expansionary fiscal policy built around extending the military and the military-industrial complex. Yes, maybe this will create jobs and get the economy going, but you end up producing a lot of destructive stuff that could be used for destructive purposes through imperialist adventures.

The fourth one I call “Reaganomics redux.” Jeff Maddrick, who is one of the editors of Challenge magazine says, well no, this really isn’t demand-side at all. This is being justified as a supply-side policy, [as in] Reaganomics, the idea that if you cut taxes on the rich, their incentives for investing and innovating go up, so you can have such a burst of economic growth in output that while the tax rate is going to decline total tax revenues go up, and this will reduce the budget deficit. Supply-side Reaganomics has been shown not to work. Under Reagan, there was a massive increase in budget deficits when they cut taxes for wealthy people, and there wasn’t a big burst of investment. There was a big increase in speculation and moving capital abroad.

The fifth is relatively new for Americans, but not for other countries around the world — what I call crony capitalism or kleptocracy. I think economists and others were slow to realize this, but the big danger in Trump’s regime is just that they steal stuff, billions of dollars worth of stuff, through their control of the government. This can go way beyond trying to sell Ivanka’s jewelry. We’re talking about massive looting of billions of dollars through various programs, including, for example, the infrastructure program. I think this has to be a key part of our analysis of Trumponomics.

Yes, there will be elements of all the previous four, but this new element which we are not that used to analyzing has to be central. I have economics colleagues who think that, well, the real problem is neoliberalism, it’s capitalism, this is kind of a sidelight. But I think when you think about Trumponomics, kleptocracy is a central component.

The final one, number six, is the one I worry most about, though: Right-wing populism. I gave it a kind of cheeky term, “Schacht therapy.” I’m drawing on the example of Hjalmar Schacht, who was Hitler’s economic minister and head of the Bundesbank during significant parts of Hitler’s reign. Schacht was responsible for developing and implementing a massive public works program, he helped to build the autobahns — the infrastructure, in other words.

That got the economy going in the short run, and it was very popular. Schacht was also responsible for figuring out how to raise funds to rebuild the military, to rearm Hitler’s Germany. This generated a lot of jobs too, and was very popular. In addition he develops a very elaborate kind of managed trade system, not free-trade at all, but [more like] “make Germany great again.”

These policies, on their face, did seem to work in the short term. They did increase jobs and get Germany going again, and help generate a lot of support for Hitler. But we know where the story ends, and it’s in a very destructive place. So I’m worried that unless we open our eyes we can have another kind of Schacht therapy in the United States. If we don’t look carefully at these trade and infrastructure and other kinds of policies that Trump is proposing, and look at what kind of role they really will play in our politics and our economy.

In the paper, you suggest a fivefold approach to analyzing Trump’s economic proposals, assessing the impact on climate change, human rights and democracy, and on the distribution of power in two forms. First between citizens and corporations, and second between groups that have historically protected the interests of workers and those who typically undermine them. 

Let me talk first about climate change. When I think about the problems that we face, and how economists have analyzed them, we have always treated climate change as a secondary issue, if at all. But in terms of Trump’s climate denial and  in light of all the fossil-fuel advocates placed into important roles in his government, I would say we are in a climate emergency.

So I’m suggesting that as part of our analysis of Trumponomics, we have to put his impact on climate change front and center. So even if an infrastructure program does create some jobs in the short run, if it’s not oriented towards dealing with reliance on fossil fuels and worsens our climate problems, then that’s a red flag. That’s not a net macroeconomic policy we should be pursuing now, and as my colleagues Bob Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier pointed out, there are great ways to generate good paying jobs by investing in green energy, rather than fossil fuels. So I say to my colleagues, please put climate change up there when you’re trying to analyze the policy.

On human rights, I think it’s an important signal for understanding the path of fascism. I wrote this article in anticipation, though no knowledge, that Trump would start implementing his war on immigrants and Muslims and foreign citizens. I was raising that as a red flag to say, look, this is a sign that the fascist forces are gaining some ascendancy in his coalition, and when we think about analyzing economics and economic policies, we have to think about whether these policies going to generate support for those gross violations of human rights. That should be a red flag.

The same thing for democracy. Lots of people are worried about autocracy, and how Trump’s goal is to aggrandize himself and achieve more power. As he rails against the press, judges, the CIA and others, any possible opposition to his power, that’s a red flag. This right-wing populist — fascist, if you will — aspect of this movement is gaining ascendancy. Any economic policy that generates support for that kind of movement raises a red flag. So these are all things that we need to worry about with this kind of Schacht therapy, this proto-fascist movement.

You present an overview of some expected Trump policies and divide them into three categories: Ugly, uglier and ugliest. Could you explain how that division can clarify our thinking?

Well, again, I was being a little tongue-in-cheek. As I define it, the ugly ones are the ones that, first of all, we can analyze pretty easily using the toolkit that we’re used to — in terms of being inefficient, in terms of generating more inequality of income and wealth, and even in the sense of generating crony-capitalist outcomes where you bestow a lot of benefits to a few corporate leaders, and not many benefits to anybody else. And ones that might lead to financial instabilities.

The one that I’m most familiar with is getting rid of Dodd-Frank, and deregulating finance. We know that this is likely to generate, at least in the short run, a lot of profits to the Goldman Sachs friends of Trump by letting them do whatever they want to do with borrowed money. We’ve seen this picture before, and we know that it’s not going to end well. We know that it could lead to more financial instability and maybe even another economic crisis, and then the government will be placed in the same kind of bind it was before. Do we bail out the too-big-to-fail banks, or do we let them drag down the entire economy? So nothing will have been learned, and more destruction is likely.

So we know how to use our tools to analyze these ugly policies. Take the tax cuts. We analyzed the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, so we know that they’re going to not lead to a burst of supply-side magic. We know that they’re going to lead to some economic growth, because that’s what tax cuts do, but we also know that they’re going to be very un-equalizing, so these are ugly policies.

Uglier policies are ones that start have kind of a shade of respectability, or some interest to progressive forces and the middle class, but we know that they are very destructive. Some of these for example are privatizing Social Security or block-granting Medicare. These we’ve analyzed before, and we know that these will be very destructive of long-standing social policies that the right wing, the Paul Ryans of the world and the Koch brothers, have wanted to get rid of for decades.

The ugliest are the ones that I’ve been talking about mostly so far, the ones that seem to be really progressive. For a long time, progressive economists have talked about, you know managing trade, renegotiating trade agreements and making infrastructure investments. These you can partly analyze just by looking at them.

Let’s look at infrastructure. What Trump is proposing is not really a massive public works program. To the extent it’s clear what he is proposing, he’s proposing a privatization plan: Huge tax subsidies for wealthy investors and hedge funds and private equity funds and bankers, to privatize public bridges, roads and things like that. [He wants to] start charging tolls to pay for them, and again it’s a huge subsidy, it’s a crony kind of policy, and are most likely they are going to use labor that’s not unionized. They’ll probably use these kinds of policies as leverage to get other kinds of reactionary policies they want.

That’s a very specific example, in a case where Trump’s plan has already been put out there.  What’s the broader lessons we can draw from that example? 

The broader lesson is that we have to look under the rhetoric. These people are masters at using the words we think we understand, like “infrastructure program.” First of all, look under the rhetoric to see what it really is, and give it its proper name, and use that proper name. So in this case it’s a privatization plan. No. 2, analyze it for its crony-capitalism aspects, my fifth category of Trumponomics. Then analyze it for its environmental implications, and finally look at how it’s going to be used to mobilize power for Trump and his allies, his corporate allies, his base, and so forth. And then analyze what impact it will have on the middle class and working class in the long run, if he is successful.

I think if you do that, the political economy analysis, the climate analysis, the crony-capitalism analysis and then just the standard income distribution efficiency analysis, you will find that very few of these policies are going to come out smelling good.

It’s very important not to get caught up in the appearances of what Trumponomics is proposing. One needs to look underneath the words to the real policies, and be very skeptical and analytical. Skeptical at first to understand what is being proposed. Analytical in the sense of who’s going to benefit, not just in terms of income and wealth but in terms of who’s going to gain power and who’s going to lose power. Don’t be afraid to stand up and say, no, this is a package that if you look at its power effects is going to lead us down a very destructive path, and we’re not going to go there.

There’s a positive side to all this that we haven’t talked about yet. There are a lot of positive alternatives being developed at the state and local level by progressives, but also in coalition with just pragmatic people. I would say that progressive economists and progressive politicians should link up with what’s happening on the state and local level, and get more involved in analyzing and helping to promote those kinds of initiatives.

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.

6 Diseases That Could Skyrocket or Become Far More Deadly If the Affordable Care Act Is Repealed

PERSONAL HEALTH
Bernie Sanders may have been underestimating when he said 36,000 per year will die if the health care law is dashed.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

When senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz debated the merits of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, aka Obamacare, on February 7, Sanders had a dire prediction: “We are moving into an era where millions of people who develop terrible illnesses will not be able to get insurance, and God only knows how many of them will die.” The Vermont senator, who favors a single payer or “Medicare for all” system, was right to be concerned. It remains to be seen when or how Republicans in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives will repeal the ACA; Sen. Rand Paul has been complaining that repeal is taking much too long and that fellow Republicans don’t appear to be in a hurry to repeal it. But the Urban Institute estimates that if and when Republicans do repeal the ACA, “The number of uninsured people would rise from 28.9 million to 58.7 million in 2019, an increase of 29.8 million people”—and Sanders has predicted that “36,000 people will die yearly as a result.”

Sanders is not exaggerating about the potential death toll; if anything, he is being optimistic. In 2009, a pre-ACA Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance study found that almost 45,000 Americans were dying annually due to lack of health insurance. Shortcomings and all, the ACA—according to Gallup—has reduced the number of uninsured Americans aged 18-64 from 18% in 2013 to 11.9% in late 2015. And that includes millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma. The ACA has not only made it illegal for insurance companies to exclude people due to pre-existing conditions, but it has also emphasized preventive care and screenings, which can prevent chronic conditions from developing or at least treat them after a diagnosis. Without those protections, it stands to reason that diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other potentially life-threatening illnesses will be on the rise.

Here are several diseases that are likely to increase or have much worse outcomes if Republicans succeed in abolishing Obamacare and render millions of Americans uninsured.

1. Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes, while another 86 million have prediabetes. For those 116 million Americans, access to health care is crucial; diabetes, if not managed and controlled, can lead to everything from amputations to heart disease, stroke and blindness. And when prediabetes is managed, patients have a much better chance of avoiding full-blown diabetes. Bearing those things in mind, the American Diabetes Association sent members of Congress a letter in December warning them how dire the consequences could be for Americans with diabetes or prediabetes if the ACA is repealed without a suitable replacement.

“The ACA,” the American Diabetes Association told Congress in the letter, “ended fundamental inequities in access to adequate and affordable health insurance that separated Americans with diabetes from the tools they needed in the fight against the horrific and costly complications of diabetes, including blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and death. Repealing the ACA will create huge access barriers for millions of Americans, especially if no fully defined replacement is put in place immediately to meet the health care needs of individuals with chronic health conditions like diabetes.”

In 2016, medical researchers Rebecca Myerson and Neda Laiteerapong examined the ACA’s possible effects on diagnosis and treatment of Type 2 diabetes. The physicians found that 23% of American adults, aged 18-64, with diabetes lacked health insurance in 2009/2010, but said it was “likely that a significant fraction became insured in the subsequent years due to ACA provisions.”

2. HIV/AIDS

Jennifer Kates, director of HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, has described the ACA as a “watershed moment” for Americans living with HIV, and the Centers for Disease Control called it “one of the most important pieces of legislation in the fight against HIV/AIDS in our history.” Kaiser research has indicated that 200,000 HIV-positive Americans may have gained coverage through the ACA, and according to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the ACA brought insurance to 12,000 HIV-positive Illinois residents.

With HIV treatment, one of the goals is avoiding full-blown AIDS. In a recent article for The Advocate, Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, warned that ACA repeal could be devastating for Americans living with HIV and that access to treatment can be a matter of survival.

“If Congress repeals the ACA without simultaneously replacing it with programs that ensure comprehensive health coverage for the same, if not more, individuals, the private insurance market will become unstable—and people with HIV and others would lose access to the care and treatment that they rely on to remain healthy,” Schmid said. “People with HIV, who depend on a daily drug regimen, cannot risk losing access to their health coverage—not even for a single day… We cannot afford to go backwards by eliminating or destabilizing the health care that the ACA provides.”

3. Cancer

In January, Gregory Cooper and his colleagues at University Hospitals’ Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio released a study that compared access to cancer screenings before and after the ACA, which they found was making it easier to obtain mammograms but needed to do more to encourage colonoscopies. Cooper, reflecting on GOP plans to repeal the ACA, stressed that the U.S. needs more cancer screening, not less, saying, “If you take away people’s health insurance and they’re going to pay out of pocket for health care, are they going to get a mammogram, or are they going to buy food? People are going to do what gives them the best benefit in the short term, which is food and shelter.”

Amino, Inc., researching 129 insurance companies, has offered some estimates on possible out-of-pocket costs for cancer screening in a post-ACA environment; in Alaska, for example, the costs could be almost $500 for a routine mammogram or $2,565 for a colonoscopy. And as Cooper pointed out, Americans will put off or avoid potentially life-saving tests when they become cost-prohibitive.

4.  Blood Pressure and Hypertension

In 2015, researchers at George Washington University School of Public Health released a study on the effect the ACA was having on hypertension, a major factor in heart disease and stroke. The researchers reported that 78 million Americans suffer from hypertension and that “lack of insurance coverage is a critical barrier to better treatment of hypertension,” and they predicted that if ACA expansion continued, it “would lead to a 5.1% increase in the treatment rate among hypertensive patients.”

5. High Cholesterol

In 2015, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published a study that linked the ACA with better outcomes for three conditions: diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The study found that uninsured people suffering from any of those conditions were much less likely to find out they had a problem, whereas insured people had a 14% greater chance of finding out if they had diabetes or high cholesterol and a 9% greater chance of finding out they had high blood pressure. And for those who those who were diagnosed, the Chan School found, being insured greatly improved one’s chances of controlling blood sugar, total cholesterol or systolic blood pressure.

Joshua Saloman, a senior author of the study, said, “These effects constitute a major positive outcome from the ACA. Our study suggests that insurance expansion is likely to have a large and meaningful effect on diagnosis and management of some of the most chronic illnesses affecting the U.S. population.”

But instead of insurance expansion, Republicans could significantly reduce coverage. Even John Kasich, right-wing governor of Ohio and one of the many Republicans who lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, sounded a lot like a Democrat when he said that while there is “room for improvement” with the ACA, he was worried about what would happen to “these people who have very high cholesterol” if it is repealed without a solid replacement.

6. Asthma

Before the ACA, the term “pre-existing condition” as defined by health insurance companies was far-reaching; anything from multiple scleroses to kidney disease to anemia was grounds for rejecting an application for coverage. For people with asthma, obtaining health insurance was difficult or impossible. 17.7 million adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control, suffer from asthma in the U.S., and when asthma is not treated or controlled, it can become life-threatening (in 2014, CDC attributed more than 3600 deaths annually in the U.S. to asthma).

In 2013, a Harvard Medical School study cited lack of health insurance as the main reason asthma care for young adults deteriorated when they turned 18; emergency room visits became more frequent, and medications often became cost-prohibitive. But with the ACA’s implementation, young asthmatics could stay on their parents’ health plans until 26—and asthmatics, regardless of age, could not legally be refused coverage because of their condition. With full ACA repeal, however, it could once again become legal for insurance companies to deny coverage to asthmatics. And even partial ACA repeal could make asthma care cost-prohibitive.

While ACA repeal is likely, it remains to be seen what, if anything, Republicans would replace it with. Rep. Steve King has made it clear he couldn’t care less if the ACA is repealed without a replacement. However, Rep. Tom Price, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, has proposed replacing it with a plan that would eliminate Medicaid expansion, thus making coverage more expensive for Americans with preexisting conditions. And President Trump has promised that after the ACA, Americans can look forward to more comprehensive coverage at much lower prices. But it’s an empty promise because he has yet to offer any specifics.

In other words, Republican plans for an ACA alternative range from terrible to woefully inadequate to nonexistent. To make matters worse, Rep. Paul Ryan is still pushing for Medicare privatization, meaning that Americans who suffer from ACA repeal could be facing additional hardships if they live to see 65. With Republicans going out of their way to make access to health care difficult or impossible for millions of Americans, the future looks grim for anyone suffering from cancer, HIV, hypertension or other potentially deadly illness.

Alex Henderson’s work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.

http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/6-diseases-could-skyrocket-or-become-far-more-deadly-if-affordable-care-act-repealed?akid=15228.265072.2xuNye&rd=1&src=newsletter1072659&t=4

Will the Trumpian nightmare lead to a real “political revolution” after all?

Out of darkness, light:

Slavoj Žižek argued Trump would be better for the left than Clinton — and if we survive this, he might be right

Out of darkness, light: Will the Trumpian nightmare lead to a real "political revolution" after all?
(Credit: Getty/Win McNamee/Andrew Harrer)

Last November, the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek turned a lot of heads when he announced shortly before the 2016 presidential election that if he were American, he would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton — not because he thought Trump was the lesser evil, but precisely because he was the greater evil.

The Slovenian intellectual’s hope was that the election of a vulgar, right-wing extremist like Trump would “be a kind of big awakening” that would trigger “new political processes” in America. In other words, with a reactionary demagogue as transparently abhorrent and dangerous as Trump in the White House, a popular movement on the left would emerge to challenge not only Trump’s reactionary populism, but the neoliberal status quo that had long prevailed in Washington. Clinton, argued Žižek, stood for an “absolute inertia” that would stifle a populist movement on the left, and while there was great danger in a Trump presidency, there was also great danger in electing Clinton — especially in the long run.

This was obviously a controversial — and very Žižekian — opinion that most on the left did not espouse. One of the most prominent leftist intellectuals of our time, Noam Chomsky, called it a “terrible point,” remarking that “it was the same point that people like him said about Hitler in the early ’30s.” Chomsky means the German Communists, who in the early 1930s were more critical of the reformist Social Democratic Party — which they preposterously labeled a “social fascist” party — than they were of the Nazis.

“The left could have been organized to keeping [Clinton’s] feet to the fire,” noted  Chomsky in an interview with Al Jazeera. “What it will be doing now is trying to protect rights … gains that have been achieved, from being destroyed. That’s completely regressive.”

While Chomsky is absolutely correct — the Trump administration’s assault on civil liberties, democracy and the Constitution has only just begun, and the left will be on the political defensive for the next four years — Žižek’s point was perhaps not quite as far off as as Chomsky believed.

Shortly before the election, many people wondered what would become of the far-right populist movement that had been energized under Trump after the election, which most assumed he would lose. It is doubtful that it would have just withered away, as many liberals no doubt hoped. With Clinton in the White House, the Democrats would have been at a clear disadvantage in both the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 elections (think of the Obama backlash during the 2010 midterm elections, and then consider how much more well-liked Obama was than Clinton).

This is particularly important when you consider that 2020 is a census year, which means that the party that comes out on top will have greater control of redrawing district lines across the country. The GOP has been able to maintain control of the House since 2010 in large part because of the extreme gerrymandering that was implemented after the 2010 Obama backlash — and in four years the winning party will have similar power (currently, Republicans control state legislatures in 24 states, while Democrats only control five).

Of course, this is still some distance away, and a lot can happen in the interim. Though we are just one month into Trump’s term, his presidency has already surpassed all recent predecessors in scandal and controversy, and the dysfunction is palpable. At times it is hard to imagine how the United States can survive another 47 weeks of this unhinged and extremist administration. While many had hoped that Trump would curb his divisive rhetoric as president and take a more pragmatic approach to governing, the exact opposite has occurred, and it is now clear that fanatics like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are running the show (and that Trump’s erratic, impulsive and thin-skinned personality cannot be controlled).

Thus, Chomsky’s pessimism was well-founded when he said that the government is now in the hands of the “most dangerous organization in world history.”

At the same time, it appears that some of Žižek’s hopes are materializing as well. The clearest example of this was the massive Women’s March in Washington — along with hundreds of sister marches across the country — the day after Trump’s inauguration. According to various political scientists, it was the single largest day of protests in American history — and peaceful demonstrations have continued ever since.

Trump’s controversial executive orders and cabinet picks have led to a sustained grassroots resistance in the first month of his presidency, and it is unlikely to die down anytime soon. Moumita Ahmed, who founded the Facebook group “Millennials for Revolution” (originally “Millennials for Bernie”), recently told CNN that she believes this is “not just the beginning of the ‘tea party of the left’ but a larger movement for civil rights that could make history,” and that the protests will “continue and get bigger and bigger.”

As long as Trump is in the White House, the demonstrations are likely to grow. What remains unclear is whether this grassroots resistance will be as effective in shaping electoral politics as the Tea Party was back in 2010 — and whether the Democratic Party will be as welcoming to the populist left as the GOP was to the populist right.

The current tension between progressive activists protesting on the street and the Democratic establishment was displayed by an interesting exchange last week between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and an NYU student at a CNN town hall. After pointing out that a majority of millennials no longer support the capitalist system, the young student asked Pelosi whether she felt that the Democratic Party could “move farther left to a more populist message, the way the alt-right has sort of captured this populist strain on the right wing,” and if the Democrats “could make a more stark contrast to right-wing economics?” The question — or, more explicitly, the statement that young people are rejecting capitalism — made Pelosi visibly uncomfortable, and the congresswoman felt it necessary to emphasize the Democratic Party’s loyalty: “I have to say, we’re capitalist ― and that’s just the way it is.”

This is understandable — after all, the Democratic Party does support capitalist party, and the House minority leader can’t be expected to make radical pronouncements. But Pelosi was so concerned with defending the sanctity of capitalism that she failed to answer whether the Democrats could or should espouse a more populist economic message, akin to the social-democratic platform that nearly carried Bernie Sanders to victory over Clinton.

That kind of Democratic resistance to economic populism is making many progressives question whether the party is ready to lead a viable resistance against right-wing populism. Some progressives are starting to join other left-wing organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Of course, it is a truism in American politics that third parties are not viable alternatives if the goal is to succeed in electoral politics — and as long as there is a winner-takes-all system in place, this will obstinately remain true. The pragmatic approach for the populist left is to work to transform the Democratic Party itself, as groups like Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats have set out to do, while sustaining a popular movement on the ground.

Likewise, the pragmatic approach for the Democratic leadership is to embrace the growing grassroots left and combat Trump-style populism with their own anti-establishment message. With a historically low approval rating, Trump is already the most unpopular president in modern history, and his party is now the “establishment.” That means the Democrats will have the perfect opportunity to lead a popular and successful resistance in 2018 and 2020 if they can adopt a compelling populist message of their own.

With the many profound crises that currently face humanity, there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the future. The worst-case scenario is that the Trump presidency could sound a “death knell for the human species,” as Chomsky put it last year. But if we are lucky enough to avoid World War III, this nightmare could also bring about the “big awakening” that Žižek imagines — and could trigger a popular movement to reverse the damage that has been done over the past 50 years.

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.