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.


KING: Obama and the Clintons still have no earthly idea why the Democratic Party lost the presidential election 


Over the past few days, the Obamas and the Clintons have made a series of statements on why the Democratic Party lost the presidential election to Donald Trump. The statements, if anything, reveal what happens when politicians are isolated from the American public for so long. While some nuggets of truth could be found there — by and large they all severely miss the mark on how and why Hillary Clinton lost. Instead of looking internally at mistakes they made, they continue to look outward — casting blame on anybody and everybody but themselves.

Both Bill and Hillary have blamed the loss on the FBI. While this is becoming a popular trope among the Democratic establishment, it’s a terrible excuse for Hillary’s loss. First off, the FBI investigation into the Clinton email mess was admittedly a bit of a public fiasco, but Hillary has openly admitted that she mismanaged the safety and security of her emails. In spite of it all, for months on end, Clinton denied violating any policies or laws — when the investigation revealed that she actually violated them repeatedly. She has to own her primary role in that debacle. Secondly, this is Obama’s FBI.

After first putting some of the blame on a mix of media mistreatment and Russian interference, President Obama has finally started to suggest that the Clinton campaign made a mistake by failing to properly campaign outside of America’s largest city centers. While this gets closer to owning the problem, even it does not honestly diagnose the real failures of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.

Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate to run against Donald Trump. Of course the Obama and Clinton families will never say this, but she was. I honestly believe that she may have been the only leading Democrat that Donald Trump could’ve beaten. Next to him, she was among the least popular politicians to ever run for president. Her weaknesses and challenges counterbalanced those of Trump time after time after time. Trump is a rich, unethical liar with major character problems. To beat him, you run the opposite of that. Clinton, true or not, was not seen as the opposite, but the Democratic equivalent.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or even Joe Biden or Cory Booker would’ve all matched up better against Trump and his weaknesses, but you couldn’t tell the Democratic Party that. They had it all figured out from the very beginning.

Secondly, the Democratic Party needed to be the party of progressive populism to beat the rise of Trump’s phony conservative populism, but they chose candidates and strategies that simply could not do this. Whereas Trump tapped into the anger and frustration of his voter base, the Democratic Party failed to do the same thing on issues that had widespread grassroots support from coast to coast.

The Black Lives Matter Movement never really believed Clinton cared. She all but ignored the Dakota Access Pipeline – in spite of the fact that millions of people were outraged about it. While workers and unions and everyday people had joined the #FightFor15 minimum wage battle, Clinton and her team waffled on it every chance they got. Documents revealed that she supported fracking. Terry McAuliffe, who by all accounts is among the closest confidantes of the Clinton family, openly said she would flip on TPP once elected. Instead of being anti-war, she was seen as a hawk.

In other words, while progressives were fighting against police brutality, against the Dakota Access Pipeline, against TPP, against fracking and for a $15 minimum wage, Clinton was consistently on the wrong side of each of those issues.

That’s what cost her the election. Each of those issues are fueled by an energized base of supporters who knew full well that they did not have a true friend and ally in her or the Democratic Party establishment. It’s why she struggled to fill arenas as Bernie regularly spoke to thousands of supporters.

Bernie is not an amazing speaker. He’s not even that charismatic, but doggone it, people believed him when he speak out on the issues that mattered most.

White supremacy made a difference.

The FBI debacle made a difference.

Russian interference made a difference

Those things are all true, but the Clinton campaign lost because they ran a bad campaign for the time that we actually live in. The Democratic Party put out the wrong candidate, but even with her, they could and should’ve still won this election, but they repeatedly ignored and dismissed progressive people and causes that could’ve tipped it in her favor. As nice as Tim Kaine is, they chose a Vice President who was safe, but did nothing to move the needle even marginally.

Even now, as the Democratic establishment seems hell-bent on not choosing Keith Ellison as the leader of the DNC — in spite of widespread progressive support for him. I’ve never seen anything like it. Hundreds of thousands of people have come forward to say they want Keith to lead the party, but the party stalls and stalls and stalls, and seems determined to do anything other than pick the progressive choice.

If the Democratic Party is going to have any success moving forward, it must lean into progressive populism and not away from it. So far, I don’t see this happening and the Obamas and Clintons don’t seem to be taking us there.

It Is Time to Consider Progressive Secession


A Vision of Principled Nation States Where Humanistic Values Predominate

Progressive minds should be open to the possibility of putting secession on the table of political options.

Photo Credit: canadastock / Shutterstock

The stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton this month provides a painful reminder of the size and scale, diversity and divisions, of the United States. Democratic candidate Clinton won the popular vote by close to 2 million votes, but she lost the Electoral College by a significant margin because of losing three, large, typically blue states by razor-thin margins. The entire West Coast of the U.S.—Washington, Oregon and California—voted for Clinton by a margin of more than 60 percent, but because regional blocs are meaningless by themselves in the American political system, the Left Coast gains no direct path toward influencing the new administration.

The American method of choosing presidents seems especially painful this month with the imminent inauguration of Donald Trump, a right-wing populist who appealed openly to base fears and prejudices. Trump’s opponents are strongest in the most dynamic, educated and cosmopolitan parts of the U.S. Yet these bastions of progressive values face four years of powerlessness, at least in the executive branch of government. One immediate fear is that President Trump will appoint far-right justices to the Supreme Court, killing progressive ideals and aspirations for a generation in the judicial branch, which supposedly serves as a vital check on presidential power.

Losing elections breeds blame and frustration. The Democratic Party’s candidate could have been more charismatic. Clinton’s corporate neoliberal reputation, and her decision to choose a pro-corporate moderate as her vice president rather than reaching out to a person of color or an economic populist in the mold of Bernie Sanders, seems a major misstep in retrospect. One response is to talk of tactical changes and the need to mount a “50 state campaign,” to quote Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Nervous chatter about who might emerge as a compelling candidate to defeat Trump in 2020 has already begun.

Yet, the marginalization of progressive movements in the U.S. reflects the deeply conservative, even anti-democratic structure of the U.S. political system. After the surprise of Clinton’s defeat, and despite the vows of progressive U.S. senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to fight President-elect Donald Trump at every turn, these barriers to democratic reform now seem insurmountable.

Perhaps predictably, in the dark days after Trump’s stunning victory, the emergence in California and Oregon of infant movements for these states to secede from the U.S. seem destined to wither and die quickly. Should these movements be dismissed as the siren songs of the desperate, panaceas for the perplexed? In this article, I aim to start a long-term conversation among progressives about the merits of secession, about the need to turn frustration into future visions of principled nation-states in which progressive humanistic values predominate.

To begin, we must rethink, reconceive and redefine the secessionist impulse. Secessionism is a political option long demonized by progressives, and much misunderstood. Secession, simply put, refers to the pursuit of revolutionary change through the breakup of the United States into smaller pieces. The impulse to secede need not be viewed as reactionary. Indeed, talk of a new kind of secession—progressive secession, or p-secession for short—might be one way of honoring Sanders’ call for continued “political revolution.”

In one p-secession scenario, California could become its own sovereign nation-state. Parts of Vermont or Washington state might join Canada. Or the South could secede again (as some right-wingers fantasize) in a replay of the political revolt that ignited the Civil War. Texas, briefly an independent republic in the 1840s, might reprise its experience of nationhood. In theory, the new pieces, or political units made by possible by secessionist movements, would better represent the aspirations of their people and more clearly reflect the generally accepted principle of self-determination.

Other than the staggering defeat to Trump, and the promise of right-wing control of the Supreme Court for a generation, why should progressives think more seriously about secession as an ideal? And how might a national conversation about p-secession help democratic reformers of all stripes—of both the progressive and the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party—to gain more leverage and bring more pressure against the new right-wing Republican ascendancy?

First, let’s step back and look again at the structural barriers that are strangling the voices of American political revolutionaries. First, the winner-take-all system of federal elections means that progressives and left-wing radicals have virtually no influence on national politics. Minority parties invariably die. Even progressive influence on the Democratic Party presidential candidates seems scant. The progressive path in healthcare reform, best illustrated by the single-payer approach, was actually opposed by President Obama in his first term. The president also dismissed progressive objections to his practice of personally selecting assassination targets around the world. President Obama also ignored progressive appeals to create a federal jobs program, nationalize large banks deemed too big to fail, and sharply increase taxes on the wealthy (rather than merely seek to “restore” the Bush II tax cuts).

In Europe and some other parts of the world, the parliamentary system allows small political parties of all persuasions, including the far right, to gain some influence at the national level. Parliamentary democracy has flaws, notably the lack of any direct election of party leaders who become heads of state. The system also promotes fragmentation and can produce its own kind of political gridlock, when governments of national unity form out of a country’s two chief rivals. But for progressives in America, parliamentary elections, at both national and state levels, would offer a rich bounty. The left would possess bargaining chips, and possibly in the formation of coalition governments, a seat at the table. However, to introduce parliamentary governance in the U.S. would require constitutional changes that seem highly unlikely, if not inconceivable. It seems easier to imagine the peaceful secession of progressive pieces of the U.S. than to divine how a national constitutional convention would revamp our political structure in ways most progressives deem progressive.

Traditionally, progressives have resigned themselves to their marginalized status by embracing the idea, espoused by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in a 1932 dissent, that the states are “laboratories of democracy.” The existence of state governments, Brandeis argued, meant that “a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Hence, the conventional wisdom has long been that progressives should seek to capture statehouses or at least win influence in state capitols and innovate at the state level, and then watch as progressive innovations are adopted nationally.

Increasingly, however, states are not laboratories of progressive innovation, but laboratories of conservative reaction. Legislation expanding so-called religious freedom and gun rights have swept through many states, illustrating how the far right incubates reactionary ideas at the subnational level. With the important though limited exceptions of gay rights and marijuana usage, whenever progressive solutions take root in individual states—and they do—they often become trapped in these states. In short, good progressive ideas don’t get adopted at the federal level. Witness the frosty reception given the New York state ban on the environmentally destructive practice of fracking, imposed in 2015. Rather than signaling a national ban on fracking, the New York ban remains an isolated success for progressives.

The trend is clear. “The problem is, just when we need their innovative energies, the states are looking less and less likely to be fountainheads of new federal policy over the next generation,” Aaron K. Chatterji, a former economic adviser to President Obama, wrote in 2015.

Perhaps the best recent example of how states aren’t any longer laboratories for democracy for the nation comes from California, the richest state by economic activity and largest by population. In 2014, California enacted a 1 percent surcharge on incomes over $1 million; the surcharge comes on top of progressive tax rates that rise from 9.3 percent on incomes above $260,000 to 12.3 percent on incomes above $520,000. Critics warned of a massive exodus of wealthy people, raising fears of super-talents fleeing Hollywood and Silicon Valley. That hasn’t happened. The wealthy have stayed and the state’s fiscal health and public services have greatly benefited from additional revenues.

Under Brandeis’ logic, Californian’s tax innovation should have taught national lawmakers that higher taxes on the wealthy are the quickest way to improve the fiscal health of the U.S. And despite popular support among California voters, the state’s large and powerful Democratic congressional delegation hasn’t pushed as a priority any similar federal tax increase on the nation’s wealthy. Now, with the election of Trump, the Republican-dominated Congress is expected to cut taxes on the wealthy! In short, despite the support of our nation’s largest, richest state for higher taxes on the wealthy, raising taxes on the wealthy across the U.S. appears politically impossible. So much for California’s influence on the nation.

The situation says much about why p-secession is worth exploring. The election of Trump dramatically shows that the U.S. is not fundamentally a progressive country with periodic lapses of reaction. Rather, the Trump victory demonstrates anew the brittleness, shallowness and bankruptcy of the influential view, first expressed by the late historian Eric F. Goldman in a 1952 book, that American reformers have arendezvous with destiny.” From the vantage point of 2016 and a Trump electoral victory, American reformers instead seem to have a date with the dung-heap of history. Under this alternate reading of American history, the nation is basically a profoundly conservative polity with occasional lapses of progressivism and reform.

The second stubborn reality about secession is that, historically, the impulse to break up the Union is synonymous with reactionary forces. Secessionists in the American past have been the slaveholder, the racist, the bigot and the violent extremist. Since the run-up to the Civil War and President Lincoln’s insistence that the American Union must be held together at any cost, promotion of secession has been viewed as fundamentally right-wing. After all, defenders of the South’s withdrawal from the U.S. were slaveholders bent on protecting the odious institution of human bondage. The cost of preserving the union, for progressives, was the bloodiest war in human history (up to that point). The Civil War, decisively won by the North, resulted in a U.S. national government that was (from the 1880s to the 1950s) insidiously controlled by the political heirs of the former secessionists. Southern politicians defiantly opposed social reforms and “massively resisted” racial equality at a cost in justice for all Americans that is often lost on enthusiasts of President Lincoln.

The Civil War haunts Americans, and tempts enthusiasts of secession. Despite the passage of 150 years, the distinctive regional society and subculture of the American South and Southwest continues to challenge the emergence of a national political consensus around crime and punishment, natives and immigrants, the role of government and the power of the private sector. As the Economistmagazine observed in an April 4, 2015 survey of the U.S. titled, “The Present Past,” the former Confederate states persist in following an exceptional sociopolitical trajectory:

“Today, only five states have no minimum wage laws; all were Confederate 150 years ago. Of the ten states that lock up the highest proportion of their citizens, seven were Confederate. A further two that make the top ten—Oklahoma and Arizona—were created since 1865 and settled in the late 19th century by southerners escaping the depression that followed defeat. In only 12 states do most residents think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Five were in the Confederacy.”

“That a war that cost over 600,000 lives should leave scars is unsurprising,” the Economist conceded, and then added, “What is strange is that the line that divided the Union from the Confederacy should still be so visible, even though the South has long since been transformed by civil rights and air conditioning.”


Demonizing secession, it turns out, carries large costs for progressives. A leading thinker on the morality of secession, Allen Buchanan, a philosopher at Duke University, has written, “Because many, perhaps most, Northerners believed that the primary if not the exclusive war aim was to preserve the Union (and that, as Lincoln actually said, abolition of slavery was justified only as a means towards that end), it is not surprising that the commitment to improving the condition of blacks waned once the crisis of disunion was past. My sense is that most Americans to this day have not squarely faced the moral issues raised by Southern secession.”

The association of right-wing extremism and the secessionist ideal is documented. A survey by Reuters in September 2014 found that one in four Americans responded favorably to the question, “Do you support or oppose the idea of your state peacefully withdrawing from the United States of America and the federal government?” The majority of the yea-sayers identified themselves as Republicans. “Secession got more support from Republicans than Democrats,” Reuters reported, “more from right- than left-leaning independents, more from younger than older people, more from lower- than higher-income brackets, more from high school than college grads. But there was a surprising amount of support in every group and region, especially the Rocky Mountain states, the Southwest and the old Confederacy, but also in places like Illinois and Kansas. And of the people who said they identified with the Tea Party, supporters of secession were actually in the majority, with 53 percent.”

While the Reuters poll actually found that only 9 percent of those surveyed had “strong support” for some form of secession, the fascination with the S-word among right-wingers ranges far and wide. Douglas MacKinnon, a former speechwriter for presidents Reagan and Bush last fall published The Secessionist States of America, on the merits of forming a new nation from the old confederacy. MacKinnon argues that secession is permitted by the constitution and that Lincoln erred in going to war against the Southern secessionists.

Meanwhile, self-styled libertarians held a conference on secession in 2015, where organizers advanced an idea they called “libertarian secession.” One of the organizers, Llewellyn Rockwell Jr., a former staff member to retired Congress member Ron Paul said,

“For a century and a half, the idea of secession has been systematically demonized among the American public. The government schools spin fairy tales about the ‘indivisible Union’ and the wise statesmen who fought to preserve it. Decentralization is portrayed as unsophisticated and backward, while nationalism and centralization are made to seem progressive and inevitable. When a smaller political unit wishes to withdraw from a larger one, its motives must be disreputable and base, while the motivations of the central power seeking to keep that unit in an arrangement it does not want are portrayed as selfless and patriotic, if they are considered at all.”

Influential readings of the Civil War and postwar Reconstruction—that the fight to maintain the Union, however bloody, was just and that integrating the South back into the Union, however imperfectly, was the right thing to do—continue to shape current thinking on secession. However, now the roles are reversed. Once right-wingers fantasized about the South winning the Civil War and remaining independent; today, knowing progressives imagine the opposite, the North winning the war and refusing to take back the South.

Lefties now vividly see the possibility that Lincoln, however much a hero and a charismatic authority, may have erred in waging war on the South in the first place. Among the most appealing examples of counter-history is to imagine the political trajectory of a North and a West, unhinged from the reactionary South, and becoming over the late 19th and 20th centuries the kind of social democracies that have thrived in northern Europe. Instead Southern Democrats suffocated progressive policies until a brief opening in the 1960s. Once again, the South and Southwest, now under the dominion of the Republican and Tea parties, continue to constrain if not cancel reform energies.

Today, the situation looks bleak for progressives. Federal courts now impose their activist, backward agenda over the will of the people and even the votes of elected representatives. The Supreme Court, led by Republican-appointee John Roberts, and about to be reshaped by a Trump presidency, provides vivid illustrations of why progressives need to embrace the S-word, if not on moral grounds then for tactical gain. What could be less democratic than declaring the voting rights act illegal, though the act was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. The same judicial overthrow of democratic legislation occurred when the court tossed out campaign-finance restrictions that were widely approved of by lawmakers and citizens alike.

The usual response to flagrantly bad Supreme Court decisions is patience. Democrats are expected to wait their turn. Legislative action, ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to add new members to the Supreme Court in order evade Republican opposition to his Depression-fighting policies, has been viewed as a fool’s errand; the court itself has the authority to abolish such reforms even if legally enacted.

The lone route open to radical critics of the court is constitutional change. A limit on the age of judges could be proposed, for instance, and would require (as would any constitutional change) approval by two-thirds of the state legislatures. Reaching the threshold seems impossible—so impossible, actually, that by contrast secession of states and localities wishing to evade the Supreme Court’s right-wing domination would seem to offer a smoother path.


For progressives, advancing their own approaches to talking about progressive secession may bring two benefits. The first is tactical. The far-right increasingly presents withdrawal from the U.S. as a viable alternative form of opposition to American policies and practices they reject. Favorites to massively resist are gay rights, immigrant rights, higher taxes on the wealthy, and environmental measures in response to climate change. Can progressives give right-wingers a dose of their own medicine? Can we encourage right-wing secessionists to make good on their dare with the knowledge that, in departing, these radical conservatives would leave the U.S. with its liberal and reform-oriented states in possession of greater power?

So the first tactical outcome could be for progressives to loudly cheer when right-wingers and libertarians openly express their yearning to secede. Why not encourage these right-wing secessionists to act on their dare. “Please leave,” we might shout from the rooftops. “We’re better off without you.”

The benefits aren’t merely that a rump U.S. consisting of the wealthiest and most educated states would enact social democratic policies at home and progressive policies abroad. There would also likely be economic benefits.

The federal tax code currently redistributes money from rich liberal states to poorer conservative states. The pattern has gone on for decades, according to the most reliable study by the Tax Foundation, which analyzed results from 1980 to 2005. Most states in the Northeast, around the Great Lakes and on the West Coast paid more federal taxes than they got back. Most Sunbelt states received more federal taxes than they paid in. The swings are rather large. Californians and New Yorkers paid from $1,300 to $2,200 more than they got back. Louisianans and Alabamans got back in spending $3,800 and $4,200 per resident.

The numbers tell a story. Progressives not only suffer politically from right-wing states, they subsidize government services for them. One benefit of progressive states’ threat to withdraw from the union might be to move right-wing politicians toward the center.

How might progressive secessionists get attention? Ballot measures may provide the smoothest path. Elsewhere in the world, secession is more firmly on the political agenda. Scottish voters last year rejected, in a binding plebiscite, the choice of separating from Britain. Binding ballots, however, simply mask the host of complexities that separating a region or state from a large political body would involve. More sensible are non-binding votes, such as the ballot held by the Catalan region of Spain. More than 2 million people expressed their preferences on two questions; whether they wanted Catalonia to be a state and whether they wanted that state to be independent. Four out of five voters said yes to both.

The Catalan vote sent a symbolic message to a central Spanish government that for decades has ignored specific needs of the discontented region, which includes the city of Barcelona. Might states such as California or Oregon, which hold ballot measures regularly, offer voters a non-binding expression of their preferences? What political leverage might accrue after a majority of voters in California—home to Silicon Valley and Hollywood—expressed various levels of interest in separating from the rest of the U.S.?

Sub-states are already viewing secession talk as a way to express discontent with the rightward turn in American politics. Activists in the progressive rump of Arizona, around Tucson, have periodically raised the possibility of finding an exit from their red state. Last October, the mayor of South Miami cast the deciding vote in a measure that calls for splitting Florida into two states. South Florida would contain the endangered coastal parts of this polarized state in the hopes that, having discarded right-wing opponents of climate change, the new state of South Florida could begin taking steps to prevent Miami and other coastal cities from suffering endless rounds of flooding.

For states and counties bordering Canada, there could be symbolic discussions on a merger. Difficult conceptual issues can be explored, such as whether secession is constitutional (legal philosophers disagree) and whether the concept of self-determination, a basic principle of international law, can be applied to sections of American states or sub-states where sentiment in favor of separation runs high but is not unanimous. As Don H. Doyle, a scholar on the subject of secession at the University of South Carolina, wrote in 2010 in his introduction to Secession as an International Phenomenon: “Even if we accept the principle of a people’s right to secede based on just cause or choice, there are practical implications that accompany secession arising from the untidy diversity of human society, which rarely produces homogenous peoples, let alone like-minded populations within clearly defined territories.”

As I insisted at the outset, my aim isn’t to win converts to the secessionist cause, but rather to open progressive minds to the possibility of putting secession on the table of political options. To be sure, there would be a multitude of problems arising from any new political arrangements. Would residents of departing states or regions continue to use the American dollar; receive their Social Security benefits; come under the protective umbrella of the U.S. military? Would dropouts owe money to the national government for past investments?

Trying to settle these questions in advance is far less important than maintaining an open and curious mind to the predicament faced by American progressives; that under no evidence-based scenario do Americans escape a near-future of political polarization, stagnation and dysfunction. By clearing away rubbish and debris that surrounds thinking about secession, progressives can at least begin to seriously discuss reinventing political structures in ways that evade the structural impediments to promoting social justice at home and peaceful coexistence internationally. In short, under the grim circumstances of a Trump-led right-wing takeover of the U.S. government, why not imagine new political arrangements and structures, with talk of progressive secession as one of the drivers for doing so? At the very least, one concrete benefit would be to rescue the S-word from the conservatives and reactionaries who exploit and abuse the secessionist specter to limit and even silence progressive activists.

One final point: Freed from the sour legacy of the Civil War, the idea of secession might regain the gravity, significance and appeal that the concept had for the leaders of the first American revolution in the 1770s. Revolutionary changes in political institutions may be the only antidote for the implosion of American democracy. For talk of secession is, at its core, revolutionary talk. As Thomas Paine observed in 1792 in The Rights of Man, the American Revolution was “a revolution in the principles and practice of government” and not “merely a separation from England.” For progressives, Paine’s point is worth renewing: that the only secession worth presenting as desirable—and worth pursuing as inevitable—is a revolutionary secession, a progressive political breakup of these United States.

G. Pascal Zachary, a frequent contributor to AlterNet, is the author of Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century.

The DNC Is One Big Corporate Bribe


Drink up—it’s on us! Then go protest the TPP to your heart’s content.

To get to the Democratic National Convention, you take the subway to the AT&T Station and walk to the Wells Fargo Center. Along the way, you’ll stroll by the Comcast Xfinity Live complex, where delegates and honored guests can booze it up. You’ll also see the “Cars Move America” exhibit, an actual showroom sponsored by Ford, GM, Toyota, and others. Finally, you’ll reach your seat and watch Democrats explain why we have to reduce the power of big corporations in America.

Party conventions have always been collection points for big money. But many major corporations sat out last week’s Republican gathering for fear of Trump contamination. There’s no such reticence here in Philadelphia; in fact, it feels like they’re making up for that lack of investment.

It’s hard to ferret out all the special interests at the DNC, because there’s no full public schedule. Invitations are doled out individually, and people whisper about this or that event. But enter any official hotel where a delegation is staying, or any Philadelphia landmark, and you’re likely to have a complimentary drink thrust into your hand.

As Politico’s Ben White reported on Monday, private equity firm Blackstone has a meet-and-greet on Thursday. Independence Blue Cross, the southeastern Pennsylvania arm of the large insurer, held a host-committee reception Tuesday; their chief executive is the finance chair of that host committee. The same day, Le Meridien hotel had a private event for Bloomberg LP, and the Logan Hotel hosted “Inspiring Women, a Luncheon Discussion.” The sponsors included Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, AFLAC, the Financial Services Roundtable (the industry trade lobby), and New York Life. (How many people were they serving, given the number of corporations involved?)

Facebook commandeered a bar inside the Wells Fargo Center for delegates and guests. Twitter rented out an entire restaurant, bestowing attendees with free breakfast, lunch and an open bar. (Full disclosure: I had a slider and some salad. The way I see it, I’ve boosted their market value through the free labor of tweeting and deserve something back.) And when the speeches end, convention-goers fan out to a sea of mostly industry-sponsored parties. A particular favorite of convention delegates is the Distilled Spirits Council kickoff, which in Philadelphia featured music from Jason Isbell and former Eagle Joe Walsh.

Those are just the liquor and cocktail-weenie bribes. An entire other category of corporate cash goes toward “policy discussions,” must-see educational roundtables with a host of luminaries. On Tuesday, Obama campaign guru David Plouffe (now with Uber) and Gore consultant Chris Lehane (now with Airbnb) unveiled new polling data on the sharing economy; a second Airbnb event celebrated the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Party, featuring actor Bryan Cranston. On Wednesday, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation convenes its own technology conference, featuring four members of Congress, a Federal Trade Commission member, the president of the biotech lobby, representatives from Microsoft and Facebook, and former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, now at Amazon.

A softer version—in perfect concert with the “Hillary works for families and children” theme of the week—is the corporate PR booth, highlighting charitable work, usually with children. JPMorgan Chase has its summer youth employment program. Johnson & Johnson (they get around) has the Save the Children Action Network, committed to eradicating rural poverty. I saw House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn holding court at their booth when I passed by yesterday.

None of this is considered money toward the convention, which is being entirely privately funded for the first time. The donors who are actually paying for the festivitities in Philly are anonymous. So God (and Debbie Wasserman Shultz) only knows where it all comes from. And clearly the DNC wants to keep it that way.

The DNC’s host committee refuses to disclose the names despite a court order, allowing corporate benefactors to hide behind anonymity. The 2014 “CRomnibus” budget law massively increased contribution limits for political convention committees, which can raise up to $800,000 from a single donor per year. And overlooked by emails showing possible anti-Bernie Sanders bias by DNC officials in the Democratic primaries, the WikiLeaks trove released last Friday actually detailedhow the DNC woos big donors with gifts and perks.

The whole spectacle is not technically considered lobbying, but it may have a more insidious effect. Not only are elected officials compromised by their proximity to big money—a version of this happens daily in Washington, after all—but the delegates, usually the grassroots activists most likely to pressure their members of Congress to stand up for Democratic values, get caught up in the muck as well.

Big money didn’t necessarily overshadow Day 2 of the convention, with the historic selection of the first female president and a succession of speakers hailing Hillary Clinton’s lifetime of work. But it pervaded the whole scene. Right before the roll-call vote, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, himself one of the most prodigious corporate fundraisers in Democratic history, addressed the convention. In an interview directly afterward, he suggested that Clinton would eventually come around and support the Trans-Pacific Partnership corporate trade deal, “with some tweaks.” Clinton campaign aide John Podesta had to refute McAuliffe; for his part,  Podesta has jumped in and out of government and corporate lobbying for three decades.

Wasserman Schultz, supposedly banished to Florida after resigning as DNC chair, was still hanging around Philadelphia, and slipped into the Wells Fargo Center to watch the roll call. She got to see the vice presidential nomination of her predecessor as lead party fundraiser, Tim Kaine, who ran the DNC from 2009 to 2011. During the roll call, lobbyists with the Society for Human Resource Management, which helpedstall the signature equal pay bill in Congress, cheered from the floor.

Former Attorney General and corporate lawyer Eric Holder took time off from his work with Uber and Airbnb to address the convention. Former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, now Global Chief Communications Officer for McDonald’s, showed up in a video. Howard Dean praised Hillary Clinton on health care, but strangely left out her support for the public option. Perhaps that’s because he’s a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, which doesn’t want government insurance plans driving down prices. Even former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who added her praise of Clinton to others’ on Tuesday night, has her own lobbying firm. And Tuesday closer Bill Clinton also has a certain, er, comfort with the corporate world.

The best speech I saw on Tuesday happened five miles from the Wells Fargo Center. In an afternoon address she should have unleashed the previous night—and not sponsored by anyone but her own Senate office—Elizabeth Warren gave a couple hundred delegates a Power Point presentation showing how the economy shifted from broadly shared prosperity to a funnel of practically everything to the very top.

The average American holds 15 times more debt than a generation ago, Warren noted, and one in three with a credit file is dealing with a debt collector. “I went to college for $50 a semester,” Warren said, but now fixed costs on education and health care have skyrocketed, making it impossible for the middle class to keep up. The reason: disinvestment in the public good, deregulation of banks and industry, and policies that pushed practically all economic gains upward.

Warren pointed the finger directly at lobbying, which grew seven-fold in the past 30 years. After the speech, I asked her about the corporate underwriting of practically everything in Philadelphia this week. “Too many CEOs have learned that they can invest millions in Washington and get billions in return with special deals with the government,” she said. “This is the central issue of 2016.”

You wouldn’t know that from the official, industry-sponsored proceedings. Maybe the ideological split within the Democratic Party has something to do with Bernie Sanders’s supporters distaste for the ostentatious display of corporate money, and how it has affected the party. The rare moment when overturning Citizens United gets a mention in a convention speech, loud whoops and cheers go up. But corporate influence on the party goes way beyond SuperPACs and campaign contributions; in Philadelphia, it is everywhere.

I won’t be shamed into voting for Clinton

Liberal supporters of the Democrats save their nastiest attacks not for Republicans but for anyone who criticizes them from the left. Khury Petersen-Smith says he’s tired of it.

Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail

Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail


They tolerated–barely–the progressive campaign of Bernie Sanders so long as he never came too close to threatening Hillary Clinton’s hold on the Democratic presidential nomination. As dismaying as his on-the-mark criticisms of Clinton’s Wall Street-connected candidacy might have been, he was at least bringing some enthusiasm to an uninspiring election and a stale Democratic Party.

But now, the managers of the Democratic Party machine and their allies in the mainstream media are speaking with one voice: The party’s over.

Those who were excited about Sanders’ candidacy–and the notion that the U.S. political system could offer something besides austerity, war and oppression–should be thankful for the memories of a hopeful winter and spring. But now, goes the argument, they need to accept Hillary Clinton as the candidate to support this fall.

We should all take note that it isn’t the right wing campaigning against universal health care, free college tuition and student loan debt relief, and other planks of Sanders’ social democratic platform as “unrealistic.” They’re too busy scrambling to manage their own crisis in the form of Donald Trump and his impact on the endlessly pathetic and dysfunctional Republican Party.

It is, instead, the Democrats who are doing their best to dash the hopes and lower the expectations of people who dared to think that U.S. politics might have something to offer to working class people, women, people of color or LGBT people.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HOW WILL they do it? How will the Democratic Party corral a generation that has become aware of and sickened by racist mass incarceration, Wall Street’s dictatorship over the U.S. economy and politics, and permanent war–and get them to support a candidate who has devoted her political career to championing those very things?

One tactic has been to get political figures seen–rightly or wrongly–as the most party’s most “progressive” faces out front in backing Clinton: Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama and, yes, Bernie Sanders himself.

But that’s not all.

Party leaders and their liberal supporters are cynically using outrage at racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and economic inequality–generated and crystallized by resistance movements, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter–to shame progressives and leftists into supporting Clinton.

Liberal commentators have in particular targeted Sanders supporters who, disgusted by the various undemocratic maneuvers used against their candidate and by Clinton’s own dismal record, say they can’t stomach voting for a candidate who epitomizes everything Sanders’ “political revolution” was supposed to be against.

But their insults extend to anyone who challenges Clinton and the Democrats from the left and want something better.

In March, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow took to the Times op-ed pages to denounce as “bonkers” people on the left who question whether Clinton deserves their vote in November.

Blow began by recounting an exchange between Sanders supporter Susan Sarandon and MSNBC host Chris Hayes. In the midst of other remarks, Sarandon said that she wasn’t sure what she would do in November if Clinton were the Democratic nominee, but that some argue a Trump presidency would be so over the top that it would force a needed revolution.

Blow hit the roof. “The comments smacked of petulance and privilege,” he wrote scornfully. “No member of an American minority group–whether ethnic, racial, queer-identified, immigrant, refugee or poor–would (or should) assume the luxury of uttering such a imbecilic phrase, filled with lust for doom.”

It was another example of a proven fact about liberalism–Democrats and their media cheerleaders save their deepest contempt not for right wingers, but for those who challenge them from the left.

The idea that the left should hope for a Trump presidency to provoke resistance is wrong. But Sarandon’s aside about that prospect wasn’t the central thrust of her interview anyway. She spoke for the most part about her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, militarized police, sexism and discrimination, and the ruin of the working and middle classes by corporate greed–all of which give her strong reasons to oppose Clinton.

Blow conveniently ignored the political points, while baiting Sarandon–and, by extension, other Clinton critics–along the lines of race, sexuality and nationality.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BLOW ISN’T the only one. On the blog, Mari Brighe wrote: “The point is that if you’re happy to let a GOP candidate win the presidency because Sanders isn’t the Democratic candidate, you’re not nearly as progressive as you think you are, and you probably should examine your own social privilege.”

Instead of acknowledging the countless actions that Barack Obama’s Democratic Party has taken to alienate previously enthusiastic supporters–the record number of deportations and bombing no less than seven countries in the past seven years, to name a couple–Brighe shifts the blame to those who refuse to ignore these injustices.

It turns out that we’re the real enemies of the oppressed in this country–because we won’t “look past your signs, your ideals, your clever slogans and your movement, and realize that you’re standing on our necks,” Brighe concluded.

Michael Arceneaux, writing for the Guardian, wheels out another old line to claim that the people most committed to the principles of solidarity with the oppressed, here and abroad, are the problem, not the solution. “Cling to your self-righteousness all you want,” Arceneaux writes, “but be very clear that only some people can afford this kind of sacrifice.”

So taking action to make Black Lives Matter, building solidarity with Palestine, resisting Wall Street, defending women’s right to choose abortion–all fights that Hillary Clinton has, during her career, helped to make necessary–are sideshows compared to our concern for our own egos. Arceneaux lectures us to “do something besides pretending that your lack of vote does anything but suit your own moral superiority at the expense of others.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

WHAT THESE writers are doing is taking disgust at Clinton’s conservatism and twisting it. They present principled opposition to oppression and inequality as privileged self-indulgence.

But in the face of so many outrages–from legal decisions that blame rape survivors for the actions of their assailants or that further empower already out-of-control police, to the unending destruction of the environment–principled opposition to injustice is something that we need more of, not less.

But the scolders in the service of Hillary Clinton are prepared to demean the awareness raised, for example, by the Ferguson and Baltimore uprisings by trying to harness it for a candidate whose support for the criminalization of African American youth is clear.

These writers are also disregarding what seems to be a greater willingness among progressives and leftists–Black activists in particular–to defy the logic that we have to accept the “lesser evil” to fight the greater evil.

Are they calling Samaria Rice–the mother of Tamir Rice, murdered by the Cleveland police, who has seen nothing but betrayal from politicians–“privileged” for her refusal to endorse a presidential candidate? Similarly, Michelle Alexander, author of the The New Jim Crow, is hardly speaking from a position of blinding self-involvement when she identifies the Clintons as central architects of mass incarceration and calls for a political alternative.

Those who try to shame us into voting for Clinton avoid the substance of criticism so as to avoid acknowledging her long record of political crimes. Adding to those already mentioned, consider Clinton’s call for the detention and deportation of child migrantsfrom Central America in 2014.

Or her personal role in defending and promoting the 2009 coup in Honduras. The coup continues to have catastrophic repercussions in Honduras, including the recent assassination of human rights activist Berta Caceras. Yet Clinton takes pride in her role in in her memoir Tough Choices.

These opinion articles and blog statements that attempt to shame us into supporting a politician we oppose share other features in common. They accept the all-or-nothing, narrow logic of the U.S. elections–the idea that if you aren’t actively supporting a Democrat’s bid for office, then you’re assisting a Republican’s victory.

It isn’t the fault of ordinary people outraged by injustice that the U.S. electoral system is so undemocratic that it offers such a limited “choice.” Perhaps the shamers should examine the hidden-in-plain-sight secret of U.S. “democracy”: Most people don’t vote. An honest look at that reality would reveal widespread alienation from politicians and from a government that is disinterested in representing the will or interests of regular people.

Instead, the blame is heaped on us. This points to the conservatism of writers like Charles Blow. Behind the shaming of Clinton’s critics on the left is an embrace of the status quo.

Thus, in the same column cited above, Blow writes that “there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Not only that, but…there were also 84 federal judiciary vacancies with 49 pending nominees. The question of who makes those appointments matters immensely.”

Yet when you consider the injustice handed down in the Stanford rape case and the countless acquittals and non-indictments of cops who murdered Black people, the undemocratic and oppressive role that courts play in this country should be questioned.

Instead, Blow points to the justice system as a reason to participate in Election 2016. The idea that we should vote for Clinton in the belief that she might be more likely to appoint justices sympathetic to oppressed groups and social movements is a celebration of an arena where we’re powerless.

It’s one of many examples where Democrats implore us to vote for our enemy and hope for the best. Don’t blame us for refusing to do so.

Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her


Since the June 7 California primary, the historic upheaval that coalesced around Bernie Sanders’ campaign has continued to defy the demands of the political establishment, but has also increasingly turned into a search for the way forward. After a powerful, year-long mass campaign over the hostile terrain of a rigged primary, our political revolution is at a crossroads.

The post-California period began with a revolt, following the AP’s preemptive anointment of Clinton. In the hours and days after this corporate media assault and the initial ballot results, there was a wave of angry social media reaffirming Sandernistas’ rejection of the establishment’s demands for capitulation. Elizabeth Warren’s full-throated endorsement of Clinton came shortly thereafter, and hundreds of thousands of people un-liked her Facebook page and otherwise registered their disgust online. The petition that Movement4Bernie and I launched two months ago, calling for Sanders to run independent or Green, caught on fire. It tripled its number of signatures in just a few days time, at an initial rate of 1,000 people an hour, and now has over 115,000 total.

A huge debate is unfolding among millions of Bernie’s backers, providing an enormous opportunity for the left to raise the need for a political alternative to the Democratic Party. That’s why Movement4Bernie and Socialist Alternative are organizing a series of forums in dozens of cities across the country titled “Beyond Bernie: We Need a Party for the 99%.” These forums will both mobilize for the largest possible protests at the Democratic National Convention and create space for a broad-based debate on the way forward for the political revolution. My message at the events will be clear: If Bernie refuses to break from the Democratic Party, our movement should back Jill Stein as the strongest left alternative in the presidential election and use 2016 to prepare the ground for building a new movement-based political alternative.

Unfortunately, Bernie’s livestream speech a week after California pointed in a different direction. While Bernie refused to formally concede and reaffirmed his intention to continue the political revolution into the Democratic National Convention, he also sent the message that he was beginning to retire his campaign. His plan to contest the nomination in Philadelphia was left aside, while he took further steps toward Hillary in saying he looked forward to working with her to change the Democratic Party.

It was one part political revolution, one part concession, and five parts Democratic Party reform. Speeches by Bernie since then have further developed this changed approach. This has helped kick off a process that, no doubt, has some Sandernistas beginning to second guess their commitment to not support Wall Street’s favored candidate, Hillary Clinton.

But the rebellion is far from subdued. A Bloomberg Politics poll on June 14 showed that barely half of Sanders supporters are prepared to vote for Hillary.

While the Bloomberg poll left out Green Party candidate Jill Stein – the clear standard bearer for our political revolution going forward in this election – the latest poll that does include Stein shows support for her has increased to 7% nationally. While still an early reading that does not yet reflect the huge coming pressures to support “the lesser-evil” Clinton, it does show potential. It’s clear that despite a large majority of people still being unaware of Stein’s campaign and politics, there’s a real opportunity to win a strong left vote, numbering in the millions, to continue our political revolution.

Jill Stein’s platform has a great many similarities to Sanders’. She’s calling for Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage nationally, a rapid transition to renewable energy, and an end to mass incarceration. In some ways she goes further than Bernie, calling, for example, to cancel student debt altogether – which is absolutely correct – rather than merely reducing it. Her campaign and the Green Party also have political weaknesses, and I don’t agree with them about everything, but there can be no doubt that Stein deserves the strongest possible support from Sandernistas. If a large section of our movement is able to resist the growing pressure to fall into line behind Clinton, and instead put its energies into Stein’s campaign, it will spur the development of a much bigger fightback and lay the groundwork for building a new party of the 99%.

But while the recent polls show that a great many Sanders supporters aren’t ready to drink the Clinton Kool-Aid, they also hint at the largely unanswered questions many hold at present: whether to support Stein, to hold their noses and vote corporate Clinton, or to protest instead by voting right-wing “anti-establishment” with either libertarian Johnson or billionaire bigot Donald Trump. Johnson is at 9%, which gives a sense of where things could go if the left fails to build for Stein. This spread also illustrates something that my organization, Socialist Alternative, has been saying since long before this year’s race got underway: if we want to defeat the right we cannot do so by supporting corporate, neoliberal Democratic politicians. Until we build an organized left alternative, the political void will be up for grabs, and the establishment will move again to re-insert itself.

Dozens of high-profile messengers, including a long parade of left luminaries, will each in different ways make the case for a lesser-evil vote for Clinton in the coming weeks and months.

While these arguments will increasingly have a big effect, the genie has come out of the bottle, and even the corporate establishment is beginning to recognize that U.S. politics are not going to go back to the way they were.

But nothing is automatic. The right wing can also potentially strengthen itself out of this mass anger, just as the Tea Party built itself out of the fury at the Wall Street bailouts, while the left largely made excuses for Obama. For the left to win the things Bernie Sanders has demanded and we have fought for, we will need build a powerful mass movement based on our political independence from the two parties of neoliberalism.

To succeed at this we’ll need to confront and answer the genuine fears people have about not voting for Clinton to stop Trump. We should recognize we’ll be running up against decades of propaganda which has attacked independent politics and asserted that progressives must “vote blue, no matter what.” We need to sympathetically explain the case for supporting the strongest vote for Jill Stein; the case for a new mass party of the 99%; and why voting for Clinton undermines our political revolution. But we should not exaggerate or damage our own arguments, by saying things like “Clinton is worse than Trump,” or that there is “no difference,” or that it “doesn’t matter” if Trump wins. We have to genuinely and politically take on lesser evilism, by addressing the strategic questions about what’s really necessary to defeat the right. We won’t win over everyone right now. But our goal is to bring as many people with us as possible to not capitulate to the Democratic Party in November. The discussions with those we don’t convince will continue next year as they experience (most likely) Hillary Clinton in office.

As I explained recently in Jacobin, collapsing our movement behind a neoliberal Democratic politician like Hillary Clinton would sabotage the political revolution, abandon the incredible momentum and energy we have built over the past year, and in the end would help right-wing populists to gain strength. It would effectively throw more fuel on the fire, because it is the genuine anger of middle and working class people at bipartisan and blatantly pro-corporate policies that has helped created the basis, in a distorted way, for Donald Trump in the first place. We need to present a clear pro-worker alternative. The most important task will be building powerful mass movements of working people and youth to fight boldly for our interests and against the disastrous system of capitalism. Occupy Wall Street, the Fight for 15, and Black Lives matter, all show what is possible, only we need to take the fight to a higher level and on a much greater scale.

But we cannot ignore the presidential race in a presidential election year. Concretely, the continuation of the political revolution after Sanders means supporting Jill Stein.

The People’s Summit

The stated purpose of The People’s Summit last weekend was a mass discussion about the way forward. The event brought together an estimated 3,500 people in Chicago. The enormous potential to build a powerful movement was clear, with so many coming together eagerly looking for how to continue the political revolution.

Unfortunately, the answers to the key questions facing Sandernistas were not on offer: discussion of who to vote for in November was shockingly kept off the agenda, Jill Stein was denied a chance to speak, concrete strategies were not put forward (except to support “down ballot” Bernie Democrats), no organizational forms were proposed, and audience participation (by “the people”) was excluded.

At the Summit’s first session, Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! opened by telling a cautionary tale of 1968, when some activists refused to vote for establishment Democrat Hubert Humphrey, ending with a warning not to repeat the “mistakes of the past” (translation: not voting Democratic). These comments were later repeated and fleshed out for Monday’s Democracy Now! audience.

Of course the balking at demands to vote for Humphrey, especially by young people, had everything to do with a (correct) rejection of a Democratic Party administration that had just escalated the horrors of the Vietnam War. And what Gonzalez left out of his political parable was the broader outcome of the anti-establishment movement’s refusal to support the Democratic Party’s candidate that year. Republican Richard Nixon, under enormous pressure from that same revolt of youth and working people that was refusing to back down, was forced to concede more gains to the 99% than virtually any other president in U.S. history (with the exception of FDR’s concessions to the labor and socialist movements with the New Deal). These included the creation of major public programs for environmental protection (the Environmental Protection Agency), for workplace safety (the Occupational Safety and Health Act), and for racial and gender equality (Affirmative Action). It also resulted in, for the first time in U.S. history, a war being stopped by a protest movement, including a powerful revolt of the soldiers themselves.

None of this was because these policies in any way matched the conservative Nixon’s politics – they reflected instead the establishment’s need to stave off a deeper radicalization and upheaval driven by that same militant movement.

Had activists instead fallen in line and poured their energies into making a lesser-evil case for Humphrey, the brakes would have been put on the struggle, it would have been demobilized and demoralized. The apologetics for Humphrey, Johnson, and the Democratic Party would have become the theme of 1968, instead of revolution. Fortunately, what did happen was a powerful, ongoing, anti-establishment revolt that not only forced massive concessions from Nixon, but also later led to the outright defeat of a sitting president, again for the first time in U.S. history.

Bernie Sanders’ supporters are witnessing the beginnings of a spectacle of lesser evilism that will play out in multiple acts, over multiple weeks, in the time remaining before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. While paying lip service to the “political revolution,” its underlying intent is the exact opposite – to charm, sway, and bully Sandernistas to finally support Clinton.

There was a reason, of course, why this was done indirectly in Chicago. When Frances Fox Piven (co-chair of Democratic Socialists of America), in the “Democratic Socialism” workshop where I spoke, disagreed with my call for Sanders to run independent or on the Green Party ticket with Jill Stein, she also openly said that she would be voting for Clinton. There were boos from the crowd – a very large number of Sanders supporters are still angrily rejecting such appeals. The slow wooing of Sandernistas is the whole point of this carefully controlled dance.

For my workshop, I was warned in advance not to talk about third party politics. But I did it anyway, for which I was admonished multiple times by the chair of my session. Meanwhile, no Bernie Or Bust representative of any stripe was allowed on the main stage.

We did hear some discordant notes. National Nurses United Executive Director, RoseAnn DeMoro, blasted the Democratic establishment in the first session on Friday night. The day before on Democracy Now!she had gone even further, wondering aloud whether the Democratic Party could be reformed: “We saw the manipulation in the DNC of this election. We saw the horrendous campaign obstacles that we had to confront. It was a real eye-opener for the nurses, in particular, because they were across the country on the Sanders campaign, and they were, at first, quite stunned by the level of corruption, but eventually understood that you have to change things at a systemic level. So when Senator Sanders says that we have to transform the Democratic Party, we all kind of turn and look at each other and wonder, ‘With Wall Street’s money so invested in that party, is that possible any longer?’”

DeMoro raised the issue on the minds of many Sanders supporters. She’s absolutely right to pose the question, but it also urgently needs answering, because Sandernistas will increasingly be on the receiving end of some very bad advice, from people they thought they could trust.

The Next Five Months

If we take real stock of the situation, we have to recognize that Bernie said all along he was going to support the nominee of the Democratic Party. This was a fundamental contradiction built into his campaign when he launched it. When he chose to fight a political revolution against the billionaire class from within a party controlled by that same billionaire class, he also signaled his intent to support Wall Street’s candidate if he wasn’t able to defeat her in the rigged primary.

But leaving Bernie aside, a lot has been learned by Sandernistas along the way this last year.

An important minority, having experienced both the successes and limits of the Sanders primary campaign, now sees clearly the corporate and corrupt character of the Democratic Party. They’ve witnessed a seemingly endless series of undemocratic events over the past months, as well as the exposure of a number of prominent “left” Democrats.

Not least of which was the recent example provided by Elizabeth Warren.

It says a great deal about both Warren and the Democratic Party, in which she is the most high-profile “left” politician, that she never endorsed Bernie and has now enthusiastically endorsed Hillary. It would not be a stretch to say that had Warren endorsed and campaigned for Sanders, it could well have been the difference needed to defeat Clinton in the primary. But she did not.

It says a great deal about the whole of the Democratic Party leadership – which claims that its key priority is to defeat Trump – that it has fiercely backed Clinton in spite of the fact that the polls have shown Sanders to be the far stronger candidate in every matchup.

Because of course the problem is much larger than just Warren, Clinton, or Debbie Wasserman Schultz. At the heart of the matter is a political party that is thoroughly undemocratic and corrupt to its very core – one that answers to Wall Street, not working people. It’s the second most pro-capitalist party in the world, after the Republican Party.

If we are to break the stranglehold of corporate politics and stop the economic and environmental disaster they are creating, ordinary people will need to build a new mass party of our own – a party of the 99%. This is not optional. We will never win what we’re fighting for without our own political organization that fights with us, rather than against us. Had it not been for the backing of my organization, I would never have been elected and re-elected as a socialist in Seattle, because the Democratic Party has opposed me at every stage.

The next five months present a historic opportunity to build on what we’ve started and take a huge step in organizing the progressive forces prepared to take the next step. We simply can’t afford to waste that.

We can’t only fight against Clinton and Trump, we also have to be clear about what we are fighting for.

We need a party that, like Bernie, rejects all corporate cash and corporate influence. That fights alongside our movements. A party with genuine democratic structures; with a binding party platform; and with a bold, fighting, socialist program basing itself on solidarity and needs of the 99%. That stands for working people, youth, the LGBTQ community, people of color, women, the poor, and all the oppressed.

Such a party would need an active mass membership holding its elected leaders accountable, and with the ability to democratically recall them. It should include the participation of other smaller parties like the Green Party and Socialist Alternative, who could affiliate and make the case for their own politics inside it, while also helping to build it.

It is precisely these sorts of mass working class political parties that helped lead to real gains for ordinary people where they have existed. Bernie has often referred to how programs like socialized medicine, free higher education, and paid parental leave have been implemented in virtually every other major country. This is true, but they did not just materialize out of thin air or because of cultural peculiarities. They were won, in large part, because the working class rejected the “leadership” of big business and organized their own political parties. No genuine gains happen for working people under the rotten system of capitalism without an almighty battle – and for that our organized political independence will be vital.

With Bernie stepping out of the race, and likely endorsing Clinton, it will be up to us to continue the political revolution and to stand up against both Clintonism and Trumpism.

I hope you can attend our Beyond Bernie meetings, and get involved in the ongoing struggle. And if you haven’t already, please sign ourpetition calling on Bernie to run all the way, and share it widely.

Lastly, the Democratic National Convention at the end of July will be pivotal for our movement. This will be a huge organizing opportunity, if we use it effectively, to stand up en masse against the Democratic Party leadership and build support for Jill Stein. Organizing a huge turnout in Philadelphia, ideally with big walkouts from the DNC itself, can be a powerful act in driving our movement forward.

See you in Philly.


Kshama Sawant is Seattle City Council Woman and member of Socialist Alternative.

Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her

Is America Undergoing a Major Political Sea Change?

 Inside the Rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump

The political spectrum doesn’t want more conventional thinking.

Photo Credit:

America’s political center, if it ever really existed, appears to be shrinking.

On the left, Bernie Sanders’ issue-oriented presidential campaign of economic justice is drawing the crowds and generating the most passion, eclipsing his more moderate competitors. And on the right, Donald Trump’s loud promises to use his dealmaking moxie to fix the country, with a dose of racist comments thrown in, has pushed him to the top of the polls in 2016’s early states.

There’s no shortage of pundits writing off their surges. Surely, you’ve heard them all, which amount to saying that when the campaign gets serious, they will seriously falter. The latest analyses from this past weekend’s polling noted that both were doing well in two of the whitest states—Iowa and New Hampshire—but not in bigger, more diverse ones. So now these hallowed presidential proving grounds prove nothing?

But there is one explanation you won’t find among the politicos who are parsing the interior numbers in polls—such as the negative approval ratings, or appeal by race and gender. That explanation is that the political spectrum is changing, or stretching toward its blunter extremes, which also accounts for the muted enthusiasm for both party’s leading establishment candidates, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

A shifting electorate is the last thing many pundits want to confront. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, pointing to four recent polls, merely says Hillary should worry about her rising unpopularity. He does not touch the deeper question: is she out of tune with what’s engaging the public now? His colleague, Phillip Bump says she’s lagging among whites in Iowa and New Hampshire, but climbs back up in later states where she appeals to non-whites. Sanders and Trump aren’t doing that, he said.

At Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, another go-to site for reporters to get zeitgeist quotes, the reflex is to dismiss both Trumps and Sanders for different reasons, rather than probe how the electorate may be shifting. Trump’s surge, according to associate editor Geoffrey Skelly, is because he’s well-known, loud, in a crowded field, and keeps getting press coverage. Even worse, the GOP idiotically tied participation in its upcoming presidential debate to how candidates are polling, he said, where Trump will be “attacked from all sides.”

One can go very far in political analysis by being cynical. But that does not mean you’ve got your finger on a changing pulse. Politico’s  piece on Trump’s latest rise in New Hampshire and Iowa points to the politics of anger, especially against Washington power-brokers, which includes the GOP’s congressional majority.

“Just 16 percent among all Republicans (15 percent of Republican registered voters… [and] 50 percent of Democrats (51 percent of Democratic registered voters) feel that they are [well] represented in the nation’s capital,” it reported. “Among independents, just 27 percent feel well-represented.”

What are people angry about? Who is giving voice to their problems, or offering solutions? CNN says the top concerns facing voters are the economy (44 percent), health care (20 percent) and terrorism (12 percent). If those numbers are accurate, it is not surprising that Sanders and Trump, on the left and right, have captivated voters because they are speaking outside the safe centrist political box.

Trump’s bragging that most of politics comes down to being the best negotiator has an appeal when the Republican-controlled Congress is bumbling at best. His slaps at immigrants are ugly, but there have always been racists in modern Republican ranks. Today’s GOP is not the party of Lincoln, nor is it Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-corporate reformers. Most of their 2016 candidates have been recycling Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric or predictable policies benefitting the upper classes.

While it remains to be seen what broad new agenda will emerge on the right, it is not surprising that the cliché-ridden remedies spouted by a field of predictable candidates isn’t creating much excitement, even as they try to out-do each other on the far right. Trump’s rise strongly suggests something in the GOP’s base is shifting.

Bernie Sanders’ surge is more easily traced, and also shows shifting voter sensibilities. His messaging has been saturated with specifics, from his speeches to e-mails. On Monday morning, he sent out a long missive seeking $3 donations that listed 12 issue areas and his solutions: jobs, jobs, jobs; raising wages; wealth and income inequality; reforming Wall St.; campaign finance reform; fighting climate change; health care for all; protecting our most vulnerable; expanding opportunity and equality; dismantling structural racism; college for all; war and peace. This is not political fundraising as usual.

It is easy to say that Sanders, like Elizabeth Warren before him, is pulling the Democrats closer to their progressive heart. But Sanders would not be as successful as he has been if Democrats in the electorate were not embracing his message. As one of Iowa’s leading pro-Democrat bloggers,, wrote this weekend, “Bernie Sanders continues to draw the largest crowds in Iowa–including roughly 1,200 people in West Des Moines on Friday—and polls indicate that he is cutting into Hillary Clinton’s lead among likely Democratic caucus-goers.”

Clinton still led Sanders by 29 points, 55 percent to 26 percent, with Martin O’Malley at 4 percent and Jim Webb at 2 percent, it reported, citing the latest polls. But “his message is resonating with a sizable part of the Democratic base, as anyone could see on Friday night during his town-hall meeting at West Des Moines Valley High School. I challenge any Democrat to find one substantive point to disagree with in Sanders’ stump speech. Many people who attend his events are already ‘feeling the Bern.’ My impression is that the undecideds who show up walk away giving him their serious consideration. I doubt anyone leaves a Sanders event thinking, ‘I could never caucus for that guy.’”

BleedingHeartland continued, “Listening to Sanders on Friday, I was again struck by the senator’s distinctive way of speaking. He packs a lot of facts and figures into his remarks without sounding wonky. He conveys a lot of passion without raising his voice often. Compared to many candidates, he says very little about his children and grandchildren. Still, his feelings about family come through loud and clear when he contrasts Republican ideas about ‘family values’ (a ‘woman shouldn’t be able to control her own body’) with what family values should mean (for instance, a mom and dad having paid time off from work so they can get to know their new baby). Although the Sanders stump speech is overly long—pushed well past the one-hour mark by many interruptions for applause—he keeps his listeners’ attention. Even my 12-year-old was still engaged….”

Next years’ presidential caucuses are a long way off, and the November election is even further away. It’s easy for pundits to dismiss Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, for different reasons, with respect to their eventual prospects. But doing so can overlook what’s happening now, which is the assumed frames, views and mood of the electorate are shifting, or stretching, or changing, and favoring the blunt and unconventional.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).