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.

The Trump press conference: A ferocious conflict within the ruling elite

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17 February 2017

The news conference given by Donald Trump Thursday afternoon was extraordinary and unprecedented. The event took on a surreal character as, for more than 75 minutes, the US president traded insults with journalists and otherwise engaged in a bitter battle with his nemeses in the media. It is not comparable to anything seen before in modern American history, even at the height of the Watergate crisis.

In witnessing such a spectacle, it is always necessary to uncover the rational content, the underlying political dynamic. In this case, the press conference gave expression to a vicious conflict within the American ruling class over foreign policy as the United States hurtles toward war.

The news conference was initially called to announce Trump’s new pick for labor secretary, but this took up only one minute of the event. Trump began with a litany of achievements and actions he has taken since his inauguration, which was largely directed at the ruling elite in an appeal for support. The stock market has “hit record numbers,” corporate regulations are being eliminated, immigrants are being targeted for deportation, and Trump has ordered a “massive rebuilding” of the US military, among other right-wing measures.

However, from the media, channeling the US intelligence apparatus, questions focused almost exclusively on the ties of the Trump administration to Russia and the circumstances behind the forced resignation earlier this week of Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, over his pre-inauguration telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Trump responded with a diatribe in which the media served as a stand-in for his real opponents in the US ruling elite, comprising the bulk of the permanent military-intelligence apparatus that really runs the government, regardless of which party controls the White House or majorities in Congress. He repeatedly denounced what he called “illegal leaks” to the media from sources within the intelligence agencies.

It was remarkable that when Trump directly denounced the media as a mouthpiece for the intelligence agencies, there was no attempt to rebut him. Everyone knows it is true. Likewise, when he flatly denied any contact between his campaign and Russian intelligence agencies, not a single reporter could cite evidence to the contrary.

In the course of the press conference, Trump blurted out a number of astonishing comments that point to the extreme dangers facing the entire world.

Responding to questions about what he would do about a Russian ship conducting surveillance operations in international waters off the coast of Connecticut—the same type of operations US warships conduct on a much larger scale off the coasts of Russia and China—Trump said, “The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles off shore right out of the water. Everyone in this country’s going to say ‘oh, it’s so great.’” He continued, “If I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, ‘Oh, isn’t that wonderful.’”

Trump pointed out the implications of such a clash, given that Russia and the United States have the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. “We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they,” he said. “I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it: a nuclear holocaust would be like no other.” In other words, there are ongoing discussions, at the highest levels of the American government, about a potential nuclear war with Russia, for which preparations are well advanced.

When challenged by one reporter on why there was no response by the US government to a series of what he called “provocations” by Russia—largely consisting of incidents provoked by US and NATO war maneuvers along Russia’s borders—Trump replied, “I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don’t talk about military response.”

He expanded on this theme, declaring that he would not talk about military operations in Iraq, North Korea, Iran or anywhere else. “You know why? Because they shouldn’t know. And eventually, you guys are going to get tired of asking that question.”

Such conflicts within the ruling elite over foreign policy are usually fought out behind the scenes, as with discontent within the military-intelligence apparatus over Obama’s retreat from a direct military intervention in Syria in 2013, when he failed to enforce his so-called “red line” against the government of Bashar al-Assad.

This time, however, the conflict has exploded into the open. Aside from the specific form that the debate within the US state apparatus has taken, it is an expression of an underlying crisis of the entire capitalist order. Twenty-five years of unending war are metastasizing, with extreme rapidity, into a major conflict involving large nation-states. National security journals are full of articles in which there is open discussion about war with Russia, in which the question is not if, but when and how. Trump, on the other hand, has focused his attention on China. In either case, the consequences are incalculable.

What was perhaps most striking is how remote the entire press conference was from the sentiments and concerns of the vast majority of the American population. There was virtually no questioning at the press conference about Trump’s war against immigrant workers or the nationwide day of protest by immigrants and their supporters that was taking place at the same time.

Those participating in the mass protests that have erupted since Trump’s inauguration are not motivated by a desire to launch a war with Russia, but by hatred of Trump’s authoritarian, anti-democratic policies and the oligarchic government that he has set up.

Trump’s critics in the Democratic Party and media, however, are responding to powerful sections of the US ruling elite who welcome Trump’s ultra-reactionary domestic policies—tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation of corporations, attacks on democratic rights, persecution of immigrants—but regard his posture of seeking better relations with Russia as intolerable.

The Democrats have responded with passive handwringing while Trump has assembled his cabinet of billionaires, ex-generals and right-wing fanatics, and issued a series of reactionary and unconstitutional executive orders. But when given the opportunity to attack Trump as soft on Russia, they engage in savage witch-hunting that recalls nothing so much as McCarthyism.

There is no faction with the American ruling class that is opposed to imperialist war. In the struggle to prevent war, it is up to the working class to intervene independently, opposing both factions in the US ruling elite, both Trump and the line-up of the CIA, the media and the Democratic Party.

Patrick Martin

WSWS

Sanders ditches “political revolution” in Obamacare debate with Ted Cruz

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By Kate Randall
10 February 2017

Tuesday night’s CNN debate on Obamacare between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz was an exercise in cynicism and evasion.

The most notable feature of the event was the performance of Sanders. Where was the champion of the “99 percent” who railed against the “billionaire class” during the Democratic primary contest? Where was the “democratic socialist” who called for a “political revolution?”

That Sanders was nowhere to be found. He was replaced by a more “reasonable” politician who is more than willing to work with the Trump administration and the Republicans to refashion the Affordable Care Act, keeping its “good” features and revising its problematic ones.

The fact that Sanders even agreed to debate Cruz—an ultra-right Tea Party Republican who stands for a scorched-earth approach to health care and all other social programs—points to an effort to present him as a more “mainstream” politician and integrate him into the leadership of the Democratic Party. The hope is that popular illusions in Sanders that remain from his challenge to Hillary Clinton can be utilized to restore credibility to the Democrats following their electoral debacle. Sanders, who used his campaign to channel mass discontent behind Clinton, is himself fully onboard and highly conscious of his role.

There was nothing genuinely progressive in what Sanders had to propose for reforming the health care system or confronting the health insurance crisis faced by a majority of Americans. As for Cruz, he in turn insulted and patronized questioners from the audience, while dancing around issues as he spouted his pro-corporate, free-market agenda.

Sanders’ job was to allude to the excesses of the for-profit health care industry while offering only the vaguest palliatives as an alternative. After saying that if Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed, people with cancer, diabetes and other conditions will be charged more or denied coverage, he added, “That’s the function of private insurance.”

He failed to mention that Obamacare is based on and tailored to the interests of the private insurance companies. Its so-called “individual mandate” requires uninsured people to purchase coverage from for-profit insurers or pay a penalty. Sanders never questioned the ACA’s reliance on the private market during the debate.

It was left to Cruz to point out that under the ACA, the profits of the 10 largest health insurers had doubled, to $15 billion. To which Sanders responded: “I find myself in agreement with Ted. He’s right. The function of insurance companies is not to provide quality health care to all people. It’s to make as much money as they possibly can.”

Sanders immediately exposed the unseriousness of his rhetorical attacks on the insurance giants by appealing to the arch-reactionary Cruz to “work together on a Medicare for All single-payer program.”

The WSWS has analyzed in detail Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal. It has nothing in common with socialism or socialized medicine. Nowhere in his plan does Sanders propose to expropriate the multibillion-dollar health insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms and health care chains. He knows, moreover, that the health care industry will never voluntarily accept any restraints on its profits.

On the cost of health care, Cruz made the ludicrous claim that Americans pay more for health care than countries such as Canada and the UK with government-run health systems, which he falsely labeled socialized medicine, because, “We get a lot more and a lot better health care.” There is a mountain of factual evidence to the contrary, including a recent survey of adults in 11 advanced countries that placed the United States dead last in access to medical care and affordability.

Cruz also pointed to long wait times for procedures in other countries, which he described as rationing. He ignored the reality that in countries such as the UK, government funding for medical care is being cut at the same time the system is being increasingly privatized, leading to deteriorating care.

Sanders countered: “We have enormous rationing in this country. When you have 28 million people who have no health insurance, that’s rationing.” As a solution, he suggested that a “Medicare-care like public option” be offered on all of the Obamacare insurance exchanges, which would “provide real competition to the private sector.” But, as he well knows, the political establishment, including the Democratic Party, has repeatedly rejected even the fig leaf of a “public option.”

The words “working class” left the lips of the Vermont Senator only once over the course of the hour-and-a-half event. He said of health care in the US: “The way we do rationing is, if you are very rich, you can get the best health care in the world. I believe, right here in the United States. We should be proud of that.

“But if you are working class, you are going to be having a very difficult time affording the outrageous cost of health care.” He added: “Every single year, tens of thousands of our fellow Americans die because they don’t go to the doctor when they should,” and people give as the reason: “I didn’t have any insurance” or “My deductible was so high. I couldn’t go.”

This is indeed the brutal reality of health care in 21st century America. But neither the Affordable Care Act, nor its repeal and replacement by the Republicans, with the collaboration of Sanders and the Democrats, is going to change this state of affairs.

On the contrary, what is coming is an all-out assault on the existing health care programs Medicaid and Medicare. Carol, a woman in the audience suffering from multiple sclerosis, asked Cruz: “Senator Cruz, can you promise me that you and Republican leaders in Congress will have a replacement plan in place for people like me who depend on their Medicaid?”

To which Cruz replied: “Medicaid is a profoundly troubled program … we should have a system that allows as many people as possible to be on the private health insurance of your choice rather than Medicaid, because the Medicaid outcomes are not working and people are suffering.”

In other words, good luck with your struggle with multiple sclerosis, but Medicaid should be junked and the private insurance market allowed to work its magic. Cruz got to the heart of his agenda later in the program, saying: “I want a simple flat tax of 10 percent for everyone and to abolish the IRS. That ends the power of the lobbyists. It ends the power of Washington. That’s a solution that empowers the people.”

Such a regressive tax would deepen the chasm between rich and poor and lead to the gutting of health care and other vital social programs.

Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, favors block-granting of Medicaid and privatization of Medicare, the government insurance program for seniors and the disabled that covers some 55 million people.

The Democratic Party has vowed to work with Trump and his administration when they see “common ground.” In the realm of health care, that means maintaining the grip of the for-profit health care industry at the expense of the health and lives of the working class.

What Sanders offered up Tuesday night had nothing to do with “socialism” or fighting the for-profit health care industry. A genuine socialist solution to the health care crisis means nationalizing the giant insurers, drug companies and health chains, expropriating their wealth, and placing health care under the democratic control of a workers’ government.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/10/obam-f10.html

The mass protests against Trump and the role of the Democratic Party

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1 February 2017

On Tuesday, protests continued for a fourth day against the Trump administration’s cruel and extralegal executive order banning entry to the US for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries ravaged by the US military and barring refugees from around the world.

Hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in airports and city centers in the United States and around the world in opposition to this draconian measure and in defense of basic democratic and social rights. These protests are part of a political radicalization that is emerging in response to the coming to power of the most right-wing government in American history. After 16 years of the unending “war on terror,” waged under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, the protests demonstrate that masses of people have rejected the anti-Muslim chauvinism and militarism that have been promoted to justify imperialist aggression and war crimes.

Millions are outraged by the brutality inflicted on men, women and children who suddenly find themselves forcibly barred from returning to their homes, families and jobs.

Democratic politicians such as Barack Obama and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer are associating themselves with the protests in an effort to keep them within politically harmless channels. There is, however, a vast gulf separating the humane and democratic sentiments animating the protests and the fundamentally reactionary aims underlying the Democratic Party’s response to the Trump administration.

During the election campaign, the Democrats and their presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ran as the party of Wall Street and the military-intelligence complex, concentrating their criticism of Trump on his supposed “softness” toward Russia. They launched a neo-McCarthyite campaign claiming, without ever providing substantiation, that the government of President Vladimir Putin had manipulated the US election to support Trump. It was this reactionary theme, combined with the promotion of identity politics and indifference to the interests and concerns of the working class, which enabled Trump to demagogically pose as an opponent of the establishment.

While the first 10 days of the Trump presidency have aroused popular anger and revulsion over the threat of a mass anti-immigrant dragnet, the Muslim ban, bellicose threats of war and Trump’s open promotion of torture, the Democrats have by no means abandoned the reactionary themes of their election campaign.

Thus Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist who unconditionally backed Clinton, begins his latest column: “We’re just over a week into the Trump-Putin regime, and it’s already getting hard to keep track of the disasters.”

The differences between the Democrats and Trump do not reflect divergent class interests—both represent the same ruling oligarchy—nor are they about democratic principles. Rather, they center on the implementation of policies to advance the strategic interests of American imperialism. The overriding issue for them is how the Muslim ban and other policies pursued by Trump will affect the preparations for confrontation with Russia and China as well as the ongoing US military operations in the Middle East.

This is exemplified by a piece published Tuesday in the New York Times by columnist David Leonhardt entitled “Make China Great Again.” The tone for the entire column is set by its opening sentence: “America’s rivals and enemies have enjoyed a very good 10 days.”

Writing unabashedly as a partisan of US imperialism, Leonhardt goes on to warn that while ISIS will undoubtedly exploit the Muslim ban, “it is not a serious rival to the United States. The ultimate beneficiary is instead likely to be America’s biggest global rival, China.”

Among those brought forward to challenge the Trump administration’s executive order is the most unlikely champion for refugees and Muslim immigrants, Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA. A Clinton supporter, he was among the most vehement in denouncing alleged Russian interference in the US election and casting Trump as Putin’s agent.

Morell, who has publicly defended the torture and drone assassinations he oversaw, played no small role in turning millions into refugees and taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of others through the CIA-orchestrated wars for regime change in Libya and Syria. Interviewed on CBS News’ early morning program on Monday, he denounced Trump’s ban not for trampling on democratic rights, but for “playing right into the ISIS narrative,” i.e., disrupting US efforts to secure hegemony, by means of military violence, over the oil-rich Middle East.

Among Morell’s principal concerns was the inclusion of Iraqis who collaborated with the US military in the travel ban, saying that this would create “a disincentive for people to work closely with the US military.”

Morell also expressed sharp opposition to Trump’s executive order naming his “chief strategist,” the former Breitbart News boss Stephen Bannon, to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council (NSC), while limiting the participation of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence.

In its Tuesday editorial, the Times sounds this same theme. Entitled “President Bannon” and published together with a sinister-looking graphic imposing half of Bannon’s face on top of Trump’s, the editorial objects not so much to the fascistic politics of Trump’s White House strategist as to the danger that his appointment to the NSC will “politicize” national security and diminish the power of the military and the intelligence apparatus.

“Imagine tomorrow,” the editorial concludes, “if Mr. Trump is faced with a crisis involving China in the South China Sea or Russia in Ukraine. Will he look to his chief political provocateur, Mr. Bannon, with his penchant for blowing things up, or will he turn at last for counsel to the few more thoughtful experienced hands in his administration, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and General Dunford?”

The concern here is that the escalation of military threats to both Russia and China initiated under the Obama administration may be disrupted. These matters, the Times argues, must remain in the “experienced hands” of the Pentagon and the CIA.

Among the most revealing statements along these lines is a commentary posted Tuesday by the Atlantic magazine under the headline “Are Trump’s Generals Mounting a Defense of Democratic Institutions?” It states that when Trump nominated ex-military commanders as the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security as well as to the post of national security adviser, “some progressives worried that…the heavy presence of brass would undermine the cherished civilian control that is a hallmark of the United States government.”

Instead, the article suggests, “the generals could serve to constrain Trump,” adding that military officers are “well-versed in the law and their own obligations” and “care deeply about following rules and procedures, and for instilling a sense of order.”

The article goes on to note approvingly that it is “not unheard of for generals, usually active-duty ones, to play the role of a check on elected leaders, in various forms. In Turkey, the military has tended to view itself as the guardian of secular norms, and has repeatedly stepped in to topple civilian governments that generals feel have strayed from national principles.”

Apparently catching himself, the author adds, “Even if one thinks Trump is acting lawlessly, a de facto coup is also lawless. There’s no good option.”

Such is the logic of the policies of the Democratic Party and the breakdown of American democracy, under the weight of decades of war and ever-widening social inequality, that the rule of the military is posed as an alternative to the rule of Trump.

The crisis of US and global capitalism confronts the working class with grave dangers of war and dictatorship. It can defend its basic social and democratic rights solely by means of an irrevocable break with the Democratic Party and the mobilization of its independent strength in a political struggle to put an end to the capitalist system.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/01/pers-f01.html

Revolt Is the Only Barrier to a Fascist America

Posted on Jan 22, 2017

By Chris Hedges

  On the verge: Donald Trump waits to assume power at the kickoff of the inauguration process in Washington on Friday. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

This is a transcript of a talk Chris Hedges gave at the Inaugurate the Resistance rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

The ruling elites, terrified by the mobilization of the left in the 1960s, or by what [political scientist] Samuel P. Huntington called America’s “excess of democracy,” built counter-institutions to delegitimize and marginalize critics of corporate capitalism and imperialism. They bought the allegiances of the two main political parties. They imposed … obedience to the neoliberal ideology within academia and the press. This campaign, laid out by Lewis Powell in his 1971 memorandum titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” was the blueprint for the creeping corporate coup d’état that 45 years later is complete.

The destruction of democratic institutions, places where the citizen has agency and a voice, is far graver than the ascendancy to the White House of the demagogue Donald Trump. The coup destroyed our two-party system. It destroyed labor unions. It destroyed public education. It destroyed the judiciary. It destroyed the press. It destroyed academia. It destroyed consumer and environmental protection. It destroyed our industrial base. It destroyed communities and cities. And it destroyed the lives of tens of millions of Americans no longer able to find work that provides a living wage, cursed to live in chronic poverty or locked in cages in our monstrous system of mass incarceration.

This coup also destroyed the credibility of liberal democracy. Self-identified liberals such as the Clintons and Barack Obama mouthed the words of liberal democratic values while making war on these values in the service of corporate power. The revolt we see rippling across the country is a revolt not only against a corporate system that has betrayed workers, but also, for many, liberal democracy itself. This is very dangerous. It will allow the radical right under a Trump administration to cement into place an Americanized fascism.

“Ignorance allied with power,” James Baldwin wrote, “is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

It turns out, 45 years later, that those who truly hate us for our freedoms are not the array of dehumanized enemies cooked up by the war machine—the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians or even the Taliban, al-Qaida and ISIS. They are the financiers, bankers, politicians, public intellectuals and pundits, lawyers, journalists and businesspeople cultivated in the elite universities and business schools who sold us the utopian dream of neoliberalism.

We are entering the twilight phase of capitalism. Wealth is no longer created by producing or manufacturing. It is created by manipulating the prices of stocks and commodities and imposing a crippling debt peonage on the public. Our casino capitalism has merged with the gambling industry. The entire system is parasitic. It is designed to prey on the desperate—young men and women burdened by student loans, underpaid workers burdened by credit card debt and mortgages, towns and cities forced to borrow to maintain municipal services.

Casino magnates such as Sheldon Adelson and hedge fund managers such as Robert Mercer add nothing of value to society. They do not generate money but instead redistribute it upwards to the 1 percent. They use lobbyists and campaign contributions to built monopolies—this is how the drug company Mylan raised the price of an “EpiPen,” used to treat allergy reactions, from $57 in 2007 to about $500—and to rewrite laws and regulations. They have given themselves the legal power to carry out a tax boycott, loot the U.S. Treasury, close factories and send the jobs overseas, gut social service programs and impose austerity. They have, at the same time, militarized our police, built the most sophisticated security and surveillance apparatus in human history and used judicial fiat to strip us of our civil liberties. They are ready should we rise up in defiance.

These mandarins are, if we speak in the language of God and country, traitors. They are parasites. Financial speculation in 17th-century England was a crime. Speculators were hanged. The heads of most of [today’s] banks and hedge funds and the executives of large corporations, such as Walmart and Gap, that run sweatshop death traps for impoverished workers overseas deserve prison far more than most of the poor students of color I teach within the prison system, people who never had a fair trial or a chance in life.

When a tiny cabal seizes power—monarchist, communist, fascist or corporate—it creates a mafia economy and a mafia state. Donald Trump is not an anomaly. He is the grotesque visage of a collapsed democracy. Trump and his coterie of billionaires, generals, half-wits, Christian fascists, criminals, racists and deviants play the role of the Snopes clan in some of William Faulkner’s novels. The Snopeses filled the power vacuum of the decayed South and ruthlessly seized control from the degenerated, former slave-holding aristocratic elites. Flem Snopes and his extended family—which includes a killer, a pedophile, a bigamist, an arsonist, a mentally disabled man who copulates with a cow, and a relative who sells tickets to witness the bestiality—are fictional representations of the scum now elevated to the highest level of the federal government. They embody the moral rot unleashed by unfettered capitalism.

“The usual reference to ‘amorality,’ while accurate, is not sufficiently distinctive and by itself does not allow us to place them, as they should be placed, in a historical moment,” the critic Irving Howe wrote of the Snopeses. “Perhaps the most important thing to be said is that they are what comes afterwards: the creatures that emerge from the devastation, with the slime still upon their lips.”

“Let a world collapse, in the South or Russia, and there appear figures of coarse ambition driving their way up from beneath the social bottom, men to whom moral claims are not so much absurd as incomprehensible, sons of bushwhackers or muzhiks drifting in from nowhere and taking over through the sheer outrageousness of their monolithic force,” Howe wrote. “They become presidents of local banks and chairmen of party regional committees, and later, a trifle slicked up, they muscle their way into Congress or the Politburo. Scavengers without inhibition, they need not believe in the crumbling official code of their society; they need only learn to mimic its sounds.”

What comes next, history has shown, will not be pleasant. A corrupt and inept ruling elite, backed by the organs of state security and law enforcement, will unleash a naked kleptocracy. Workers will become serfs. The most benign dissent will be criminalized. The ravaging of the ecosystem propels us towards extinction. Hate talk will call for attacks against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, feminists, intellectuals, artists and dissidents, all of whom will be scapegoated for the country’s stagnation. Magical thinking will dominate our airwaves and be taught in our public schools. Art and culture will be degraded to nationalist kitsch. All the cultural and intellectual disciplines that allow us to view the world from the perspective of the other, that foster empathy, understanding and compassion, will be replaced by a grotesque and cruel hypermasculinity and hypermilitarism. Those in power will validate racism, bigotry, misogyny and homophobia.

Our only hope now is an unwavering noncooperation with the systems of corporate control. We must rebuild … democratic institutions from the ground up. We must not be seduced into trusting the power elites, including the Democratic Party, whose seven leading candidates to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee demonstrated the other night at George Washington University that they have no interest in defying corporate power or backing democratic populism. We must also acknowledge our own failures on the left, our elitism, arrogance and refusal to root our politics locally in our communities. Rosa Luxemburg understood that unless we first address the most pressing economic and physical needs of the destitute we will never gain credibility or build a resistance movement. Revolt, she said, is achieved only by building genuine relationships, including with people who do not think like us. Revolt surges up from below, exemplified by the water protectors at Standing Rock.

Politics is a game of fear. Those who do not have the ability to make power elites afraid do not succeed. The movements that opened up the democratic space in America—the abolitionists, suffragists, labor movement, communists, socialists, anarchists and civil rights and labor movements—developed a critical mass and militancy that forced the centers of power to respond. The platitudes about justice, equality and democracy are just that. Only when power is threatened does it react. Appealing to its better nature is useless. It doesn’t have one.

We once had within our capitalist democracy liberal institutions—the press, labor unions, third parties, civic and church groups, public broadcasting, well-funded public universities and a liberal wing of the Democratic Party—that were capable of responding to outside pressure from movements. They did so imperfectly. They provided only enough reforms to save the capitalist system from widespread unrest or, with the breakdown of capitalism in the 1930s, from revolution. They never addressed white supremacy and institutional racism or the cruelty that is endemic to capitalism. But they had the ability to ameliorate the suffering of working men and women. This safety valve no longer works. When reform becomes impossible, revolution becomes inevitable.

The days ahead will be dark and frightening. But as Immanuel Kant reminded us, “if justice perishes, human life on earth has lost its meaning.” We fight for the sacred. We fight for life. It is a fight we must not lose. To be a bystander is to be complicit in radical evil.

Revolt is a political necessity. It is a moral imperative. It is a defense of the sacred. It allows us to live in truth. It alone makes hope possible.

The moment we defy power, we are victorious. The moment we stand alongside the oppressed, and accept being treated like the oppressed, we are victorious. The moment we hold up a flickering light in the darkness for others to see, we are victorious. The moment we thwart the building of a pipeline or a fracking site, we are victorious. And the moment those in power become frightened of us, we are victorious.

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/revolt_is_the_only_barrier_to_a_fascist_america_20170122

Wealth distribution in the United States and the politics of the pseudo-left

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18 January 2017

A report published in December by University of California at Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman reveals unprecedented levels of social inequality in the United States.

The report documents an immense redistribution of wealth over a period of several decades from the working class to the rich. The bottom 50 percent’s pre-tax share of national income has fallen from 20 percent in 1970 to 12 percent in 2014, while the income share of the top 1 percent has almost doubled to 20 percent. The wealthiest 1 percent now owns over 37 percent of household wealth, while the bottom 50 percent—roughly 160 million people—owns almost nothing, a mere 0.1 percent.

Though the Piketty, Saez and Zucman report focuses on the top 1 percent, the underlying data sheds light on another phenomenon that is essential to understanding American society: the role of the 9 percent of the population that falls below the 1 percent (the “next 9 percent”). This layer consists, broadly speaking, of more affluent sections of the middle class.

Among the pseudo-left organizations that orbit the Democratic Party, it has become popular to refer to the need to build a “party of the 99 percent.”

The call for a party of the 99 percent conflates the interests of the 9 percent of the population that falls just below the top 1 percent with those of the bottom 90 percent. In fact, a chasm separates these two social layers. The WSWS has defined the pseudo-left as denoting “political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class.”

The material position of the next 9 percent

The next 9 percent is comprised of privileged individuals who possess net wealth of between $1 million and $8 million and whose household incomes are between $155,000 and $430,000. They are business executives, academics, successful attorneys, professionals, trade union executives and trust fund beneficiaries. Their social grievances are the product of their privileged position. In every index of quality of life—access to health care, life expectancy, water and air quality, housing and home location, college degrees, vacation time, etc.—they live a different existence from the bottom 90 percent.

Data from the UC Berkeley report shows that the next 9 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. The next 9 percent’s share of national income increased from 23.1 percent in 1970 to 27.6 percent in 2014. Over the same period, the national income of the bottom 90 percent decreased from 65.9 percent to 52.8 percent. The share of national income of the bottom 50 percent was cut in half over this period, from 19 percent to 10.3 percent. (These figures refer to “pre-tax factor income,” defined as the sum of all income flows before pensions, taxes and transfers. These are the only value sets for which data on the next 9 percent is available.)

In terms of net wealth (that is, total possessions, as opposed to annual income), the next 9 percent has also seen an increase since 1970. However, its share of household wealth is declining, but that is due entirely to the immensity of the increase in the share going to the top 1 percent. The share of household wealth of the next 9 percent has declined from 42.5 percent in 1970 to 34.9 percent today. Over this same period, the share of household wealth of the top 1 percent has increased from 22.5 percent to 37.2 percent. The bottom 90 percent’s share of wealth has declined to just over one quarter.

The next 9 percent acquires its wealth in a manner that increasingly parallels the parasitic and speculative methods of the top 1 percent. From 1970 to 2014, the next 9 percent’s share of total fiscal income increased from 24 percent to 28.6 percent.

This increase parallels the financialization of the top 1 percent’s earnings profile (though at a slower rate), but contrasts with the bottom 90 percent, which relies less and less on stocks and capital gains. While the top 1 percent owns about 40 percent of all stock, about 70 percent is owned by the top 5 percent. In contrast, 53 percent of households own no stock.

The economic foundation of pseudo-left politics

The political outlook of the next 9 percent is based on this economic reality. In aggregate, this social layer owes its position to rising share values, the exploitation of the working class and the dominant global position of American capitalism. At the same time, it regards the 1 percent as having acquired an unfair portion of the spoils. The ideology and politics of the next 9 percent dominate at the universities, where many members of this social layer serve as professors, administrators and department heads.

The extent of the chasm separating the bottom 90 percent from the top 10 percent endows the next 9 percent’s struggle for privilege with a ferocious character. Figures from prior studies show that in the United States, the gross income of a member of the 90th percentile (i.e., the lowest end of the next 9 percent group) is nearly 60 percent higher than a member of the 50th percentile. The gap in terms of net wealth is much higher. The margin in the United States has expanded significantly in recent decades and far outpaces similar statistics in other advanced countries.

Brookings Senior Fellow Richard Reeves noted in his September 2015 article titled “The dangerous separation of the American upper middle class”:

“The American upper middle class is separating, slowly but surely, from the rest of society… For many, the most attractive class dividing line is the one between those at the very, very top and everybody else. It is true that the top 1 percent is pulling away very dramatically from the bottom 99 percent. But the top 1 percent is by definition a small group. It is not plausible to claim that the individual or family in the 95th or 99th percentile is in any way part of mainstream America.” Two further studies co-authored by Reeves provide insight into how this social distance has produced a high degree of social anxiety among the privileged next 9 percent:

“America is becoming a more class-stratified society… This separation of the upper middle class by income, wealth, occupation and neighborhood has created a social distance between those of us who have been prospering in recent decades, and those who are feeling left behind, angry and resentful, and more likely to vote for To-Hell-With-Them-All populist politicians,” one report notes.

Another study titled “Why rich parents are terrified their kids will fall into the ‘middle class’” explains: “As the income gap has widened at the top, the consequences of falling out of the upper middle class have worsened. So the incentives of the upper middle class to keep themselves, and their children, up at the top have strengthened.”

Identity politics and the next 9 percent

In the face of these powerful pressures, identity politics becomes an important mechanism for increasing status and financial position.

The main impact of racial politics, including affirmative action, has been the elevation of a small layer of minority groups into the next 9 percent and the top 1 percent. A study from the Pew Research Center showed that from 2005 to 2009, the share of total wealth held by the top 10 percent of households among different racial groups increased drastically across races. The concentration of wealth is most acute among Hispanics, where the share of wealth controlled by the top 10 percent rose from 56 percent to 72 percent over this period, and among blacks, where the figure rose from 59 percent to 67 percent.

The Piketty, Saez and Zucman report also shows that among the top 10 percent, the share of women has risen steadily over the past four decades to roughly 27 percent. But women make up only about 16 percent of the employed population in the top 1 percent. Among the most affluent, the authors write, “the glass ceiling is not yet close to being shattered.” This helps explain why women in the next 9 percent saw Hillary Clinton’s pro-war, pro-Wall Street presidential campaign as a vehicle for advancing their own struggle for wealth and privilege.

The party of the 99 percent vs. socialism

The pseudo-left opposes any politics based on an analysis of economic class. This is the political basis for the call by pseudo-left organizations for a “party of the 99 percent.” Socialist Alternative, for example, has called for the building of a “multi-class” party. It published an article in the aftermath of the US presidential election titled “We need mass resistance to Trump and a new party of the 99 percent,” which read: “We must start today to build a genuine political alternative for the 99 percent against both corporate dominated parties and the right so that in 2020 we will not go through this disaster again.”

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has also called for “a mass, left alternative” comprised of “unions, movements and left parties.” It regularly advances the slogan of the “99 percent,” writing in 2014: “[W]e need a new party for the 99 Percent to confront the two parties of the 1 percent.” Other pseudo-left groups and publications like Jacobin and New Politics have echoed these slogans.

The use of this language is not accidental. The pseudo-left’s call for a “party of the 99 percent” serves two interrelated purposes.

First, the pseudo-left is seeking to subordinate the working class to the interests and grievances of the most affluent sections of the middle class, closest to the bourgeoisie. They are opposed to a socialist reorganization of society and even any measures that would significantly impact the distribution of wealth. Second, by employing empty “left” phraseology devoid of class content, the next 9 percent attempts to politically disarm the working class and channel social opposition behind the Democratic Party.

The pseudo-left’s orientation toward the Democratic Party is an essential component of its fight to advance its social interests. The Democratic Party is receptive to the use of race, gender and sexual orientation because it has rejected any program of social reform and instead appeals to the roughly 21 million people who comprise the next 9 percent as the constituency for a broader base.

Clearly, the vast majority of the population does not have the same economic interests as those whose net worth is over $1 million. The wealthiest 10 percent has acquired its wealth through the exploitation of the working class in the US and internationally. Vast levels of social inequality are not the product of an accidental process, but of definite policies implemented by both the Democratic and Republican parties and by their bourgeois counterparts around the world. Private profit is the product of the exploitation of the working class, and this is the rule under capitalism.

Extreme social polarization is an international phenomenon. A report published January 16 by Oxfam shows that eight billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people. The wealthiest 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent combined. A November 2016 Credit Suisse report showed that the top 10 percent controlled 89 percent of international wealth.

The class analysis made here with regard to the “party of the 99 percent” applies to similar populist appeals by the pseudo-left in countries all over the world.

The working class comprises the vast majority of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants and produces all of the world’s wealth. It possesses immense potential power. But it can advance its own interests only if it is armed with an anticapitalist and socialist program based on the class struggle. In advancing the slogan for a party of the 99 percent, the pseudo-left is perpetrating a fraud aimed at preventing the development of such a struggle and preserving the capitalist system.

Eric London

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/18/pers-j18.html

“Sanders in Trump Country”: Vermont senator peddles his own brand of economic nationalism

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By Jerry White
16 December 2016

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was the guest speaker at a town hall meeting in Kenosha, Wisconsin Monday, sponsored by the cable news network MSNBC. The event, dubbed “Bernie Sanders in Trump Country,” was hosted by Chris Hayes and included both Trump and Clinton voters in the hard-hit industrial town just south of Milwaukee.

The site was chosen, Hayes said, because the city of 99,000, long a stronghold of the unions and the Democratic Party, had cast a narrow majority of its ballots for Trump—the first time that city residents backed a Republican presidential candidate in 46 years. The state of Wisconsin voted Republican for the first time since Reagan in 1984.

Following Clinton’s crushing defeat, there has been a raging internal discussion within the Democratic Party over how her single-minded focus on racial and gender politics and disdain towards the concerns of working-class voters allowed Trump to win in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Iowa, which Obama had carried in 2008 and 2012.

Hayes, the former Washington, DC editor for the Nation magazine and senior editor of the union-backed publication In These Times, provided Sanders with a platform to rebrand the Democratic Party as the real champion of working people. To underscore Sanders’ close collaboration with the trade unions, the event was held in the hall of United Auto Workers Local 72, which once had 14,000 members before Chrysler shut its giant Kenosha plant in 1988.

Sanders said he did not believe the argument that Trump won because “many of his supporters are sexist, racist or homophobes.” Instead, he said, “There is a lot of pain in this country, people are scared and worried. Fifty percent of older workers have zero for retirement. This was [Trump’s] main success story: ‘I will stand up to the establishment, to business, government and the media.’”

As for workers, Sanders said, they thought, “‘We don’t want the same old, same old,’ and Trump comes along, a multi-billionaire saying, ‘I don’t pay taxes, I got companies in Turkey, in Mexico and in China, but I am going to stand up to the economic establishment and the political establishment,’ and a lot of people responded, ‘Ok, we’ll give this guy a shot.’”

The comments from workers participating in the forum who had supported Trump are revealing. Jamie Sebana, a divorced mother of two who has worked several jobs, said going online to get health insurance was “a massive disaster,” adding that she had to pay premiums of $300-400 a month and a $10,000 deductible. “That’s ridiculous. How can someone afford that?”

Another worker, Richard Bizer, who had voted for Obama in 2008 and for Sanders in the Democratic primary last April, said he supported Trump because “he wasn’t Hillary.” He added that he would have voted for Sanders if he had been the Democratic nominee.

Sanders thanked Bizer but did not say a word about Clinton, the favored candidate of Wall Street and the Pentagon, who Sanders spent months palming off as a “progressive” who would enact sweeping reforms to protect working people.

Matt Augustine, a union worker at a Snap-On tool manufacturer who retired after 30 years, said, “The leadership of the unions is lacking. The unions have lost their way over the last 20 years and they don’t represent the people like they used to.”

Sanders responded by praising the unions for creating “middle class living standards,” ignoring the complicity of these pro-corporate organizations in the systematic slashing of jobs, wages and benefits in the name of making US corporations more competitive and profitable.

It is significant that throughout the televised event, Sanders avoided the term “working class” and instead spoke only of the “middle class,” adopting the standard terminology of the American political establishment. During his primary election campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders routinely invoked the term “working class,” in line with his attempt to present himself as a “socialist” running in opposition to social inequality and the “billionaire class.”

Increasingly since his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and particularly since the election of Trump, Sanders has dropped any reference to the “working class.” This is not a small matter. Rather, it is part of his rightward move to accommodate himself to Trump’s election and further integrate himself into the Democratic Party establishment.

As a result, references to the “working class” are reserved for the extreme right, which presents itself as the defender of the working class in opposition to the “establishment.” Trump regularly makes use of the term.

Sanders’ effort to draw workers back into the fold of the Democratic Party has nothing to do with reversing its decades-long effort to dismantle the social reforms of the New Deal and Great Society—which it will not do, regardless of Sanders’ claims to the contrary. To a great extent, it simply boils down to out-Trumping Trump on economic nationalism and demands for trade war against China, Mexico and other countries.

After Sanders complained that Trump did not paid taxes, a worker in the audience pointed out that Jefferey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric had not paid taxes either, but that did not stop Obama from appointing him as a leading economic advisor.

Visibly flustered, Sanders said, “You are damn right, that was a stupid thing to do.” He quickly changed the subject from Obama and the Democratic Party, however, saying, “Many years ago Immelt got up before a group of people and said ‘when I see the future of General Electric, I see China, China and China.’”

Throughout the event Sanders promoted the hoary myth, long peddled by the UAW and other unions, that job cuts and declining living standards were caused by “unfair trade”—not the capitalist system and the relentless pursuit of profit by the global corporations.

Echoing Trump, Sanders said, “For years and years, we have been told by Republicans and many Democrats that our trade policy was working, that it was a good idea for America. Well, the American people don’t believe it. They think something is wrong with permanent normal trade relations with China and the Mexican free trade agreement. We have lost four million decent paying jobs. The American people want candidates who will stand up to the billionaire class and start representing the middle-class and working families of this country.”

This only underscores that Sanders has nothing to do with socialism. Nationalism, whether peddled by Trump and his alt-right advisor Stephen Bannon, or the “left” variant promoted by Sanders and the trade union bureaucracy, serves the same reactionary purpose.

Its aim is to block the development of class consciousness in the working class and prevent US workers from uniting with their class brothers internationally. Whatever their differences, both Sanders and Trump seek to subordinate workers to the profit interests of corporate America and the war drive of American imperialism. During the entire event Sanders never mentioned the danger of war.

As he had done throughout the primaries and afterwards, Sanders carefully sought to conceal the class character of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. Throughout the evening, he did not make the slightest criticism of Clinton, Obama or the Democrats. On the contrary, Sanders said there was “overwhelming evidence that we are better off than when Obama came in—but despite that the middle class continues to decline and millions are hurting and scared their kids will have a lower standard of living than they did.”

Sanders made no effort to square this contradiction. Yet it is impossible to understand how Trump was elected without understanding the impact of the anti-working class policies of the Democrats, which were escalated under Obama.

Nor did Sanders care to discuss his own role in facilitating Trump’s victory. Sanders overwhelmingly defeated Clinton in the state’s Democratic Party primary last April, winning every county except Milwaukee County, and trounced her by 15 percentage points in Kenosha County.

Addressing Sanders, a retired toolmaker said, “For the people I know it was either Trump or you, that’s from a grassroots point of view. They liked Trump or Bernie because they talked to the people. Everybody else was talking hogwash, they were talking over us.”

Sanders’ support for Clinton, the favored candidate of Wall Street, the corporate-controlled media and the political and military establishment, gave Trump an open field to run as the sole anti-establishment candidate and monopolize social discontent.

As the World Socialist Web Site warned from the beginning, Sanders’ campaign was aimed at corralling anti-capitalist sentiment and containing it within the Democratic Party. Sanders now wants to prevent workers from drawing lessons from the 2016 elections and understanding how the Democrats paved the way for the most right-wing government in US history. Along with the rest of the Democrats, the Vermont Senator has already signaled his willingness to collaborate with Trump.

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