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

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18 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

The material position of the next 9 percent

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

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

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

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

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

The economic foundation of pseudo-left politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identity politics and the next 9 percent

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

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

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

The party of the 99 percent vs. socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric London

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

Democrats debate identity politics

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By Niles Niemuth
15 December 2016

In the aftermath of the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, a heated debate has been raging in Democratic Party circles over the efficacy of identity politics and its role in the party’s electoral debacle.

Some figures within the party and its periphery have raised concerns that the overriding focus on racial and gender politics has prevented the Democrats from making an effective appeal to broader segments of society beyond those in better-off and more privileged layers of the middle class.

In a November 18 New York Times op-ed column titled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” Columbia University humanities professor Mark Lilla, seeking to draw the lessons of Clinton’s loss to Trump, writes: “In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”

While Clinton was “at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they related to our understanding of democracy,” he asserts, “when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, LGBT and women voters at every stop.”

This focus on identity was a “strategic mistake,” Lilla writes. He calls instead for a “post-identity” liberalism that places a greater emphasis on civic duty and a new nationalism, drawing inspiration, in part, from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Lilla’s column corresponds to remarks made by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders following the election. Sanders campaigned for Clinton after failing in his bid to win the Democratic nomination, but now he is implicitly criticizing her focus on racial and gender politics. “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me!’” he said in a recent speech. “What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

The actual content of Sanders’ proposals is reactionary. In the name of “taking on the corporations” he advocates an aggressive economic nationalism that echoes the “America-first” trade war program of Trump. Nor does Lilla propose any serious program to challenge the interests of the corporate elite. In his commentary he makes a vague reference to the Democrats’ long-abandoned policies of social reform, but he does so to advocate not a struggle against the corporate elite, but rather a new, “left” form of American nationalism. His “post-identity liberalism” would “speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.”

What is most striking, however, is the hysterical response such muted criticisms have evoked. The most vociferous attack on Lilla’s article has come from Columbia University law professor Katherine M. Franke, who equates Lilla with the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, in a blog post published by the Los Angeles Review of Books on November 21.

“In the new political climate we now inhabit, Duke and Lilla were contributing to the same ideological project, the former cloaked in a KKK hood, the latter in an academic gown,” Franke writes. “Both men are underwriting the whitening of American nationalism, and the re-centering of white lives as lives that matter most in the US. Duke is happy to own the white supremacy of his statements, while Lilla’s op-ed does the more nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.”

For Franke, any move away from a politics based on racial and gender identity is equivalent to the promotion of racism and misogyny. “Let me be blunt: this kind of liberalism is a liberalism of white supremacy,” she declares. “It is a liberalism that regards the efforts of people of color and women to call out forms of power that sustain white supremacy and patriarchy as a distraction. It is a liberalism that figures the lives and interests of white men as the neutral, unmarked terrain around which a politics of ‘common interest’ can and should be built.”

These remarks are echoed by Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, who denounces criticism of identity politics as the “primal scream of the straight white male.” She argues that those who want to “emphasise what we have in common instead of focusing on the differences” have a “delightfully kumbaya view of the world.”

Journalist Tasneem Raja, in a commentary published on National Public Radio’s Code Switch blog, which is dedicated to racial and identity politics, rejects Lilla’s criticisms as support for white supremacy. She accuses Lilla of being “keen on pulling the plug on conversations about multiculturalism and diversity” and thereby unconsciously playing “right into the hands of the newly emboldened neo-Nazis who helped put Trump in office…”

The unhinged response to Lilla’s column reflects entrenched social interests. Franke speaks on behalf of a layer of American academics for whom the politics of identity is a central mechanism for accessing positions of affluence and privilege.

Identity politics has become an entrenched industry. Many of its professional proponents have high-paying academic positions in black and gender studies. Such institutions are funded to the tune of billions of dollars and politically tied to the Democratic Party and corporate America.

According to her university biography, Franke’s research is focused on feminist, queer and critical race theory. She is the director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, a member of the Executive Committee for the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, and a member of the Steering Committee for the Center for the Study of Social Difference.

The relationship of the Democratic Party–and bourgeois politics as a whole–to identity politics is not accidental or secondary. The fixation on the politics of race and gender is inextricably bound up with the protracted shift of the Democratic Party to the right, in line with the drive by the ruling class to claw back all of the gains that workers won through bitter struggle, particularly in the 1930s and the decades following the Second World War.

For the past half century, as it abandoned any commitment to social reform, the Democratic Party adopted identity politics and programs such as Affirmative Action as its modus operandi, building up around it a privileged layer of the upper-middle class on this basis. This period has at the same time seen a historic growth in social inequality, including, and especially, within minority groups and among women.

Between 2005 and 2013, black households earning more than $75,000 were the fastest growing income group in the country, while the top one percent possessed more than 200 percent the wealth of the average black family. Despite the enrichment of this small but substantial and influential layer, the vast majority of African Americans remain deeply impoverished. Half of black households, nearly 7 million people, have little to no household worth.

At the same time, large parts of the country populated by supposedly privileged white workers, particularly in the so called Rust Belt states where Trump defeated Clinton, have been devastated economically by deindustrialization.

Identity politics found its consummate expression in the Clinton campaign, which was based on an alliance of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus and the right-wing purveyors of racial and gender politics.

The proponents of identity politics such as Franke are opposed to economic and social equality. They regard any orientation to working people on a class basis as a threat to their own racial- or gender-based privileges. They are deeply hostile to the working class—black and Latino as well as white.

The anger that these forces direct toward Lilla will be turned with even greater intensity against a politically independent movement of the working class

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/15/iden-d15.html

Bernie Sanders: ‘It Is Not Good Enough for Someone to Say, “I’m a Woman, Vote for Me”‘

ELECTION 2016
The insurgent who challenged Hillary Clinton said that the party needs to go “beyond identity politics.”

Photo Credit: twitter.com/BernieSanders

Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is stepping up his critique of the Democratic Party taking an indirect swing at Hillary Clinton and other party leaders who he said don’t pay enough attention to inequality.

Democrats, according to the independent Vermont senator, need “go beyond identity politics” and use economic arguments to win elections rather than rely primarily on racial or gender appeals.

Sanders made his remarks following a speech he gave on Sunday at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston when a supporter asked him what advice he might give to help her become the second Latina U.S. senator.

Acknowledging that he was responding to his questioner “in a way that you may not be happy with,” Sanders said that he cared less about a candidate’s outward appearance than he did about his or her ideas.

“It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

The debate over how to handle Clinton’s loss to Republican Donald Trump has been roiling the Democratic Party ever since Election Night. Sanders acknowledged the contention, saying that it revealed a “division within the Democratic Party.”

Despite his call for more of a focus on economic issues, Sanders repeatedly stressed that he supported racial and sexual diversity efforts, even if they were insufficient to get most Americans onboard.

“It goes without saying that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans. All of that is enormously important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen,” Sanders said before discussing populism.

Echoing themes that he had touched on throughout his presidential campaign (and that Bill Clinton had privately and futilely tried to get Democratic elites to accept), Sanders argued that Democrats had lost touch with typical Americans and that was what led to the Trump victory.

“The working class of this country is being decimated,” he said. “That’s why Donald Trump won. And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down, that young people in many parts of this country have a very limited future, that life expectancy for many workers is going down.”

He continued:

“People can’t afford health care, can’t afford medicine, can’t afford to send their kids to college. We need candidates — black and white and Latino and gay and male. We need all of that. But we need all of those candidates and public officials to have the guts to stand up to the oligarchy. That is the fight of today.”

Below is the full text of Sanders’ statement, as provided by Boston Magazine reporter Kyle Scott Clauss:

Let me respond to the question in a way that you may not be happy with.

It goes without saying that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans — all of that is enormously important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen.

But it is not good enough for somebody to say, “Hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me,” That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country, and is going to take on big money interests.

One of the struggles that we’re going to have right now, we lay on the table of the Democratic Party, is it’s not good enough to me to say, ‘OK, well, we’ve got X number of African Americans over here, we’ve got Y number of Latinos, we have Z number of women. We are a diverse party, a diverse nation. Not good enough. We need that diversity, that goes without saying. That is accepted. Right now, we’ve made some progress in getting women into politics. I think we got 20 women in the Senate now. We need 50 women in the Senate. We need more African-Americans.

But, but, here is my point, and this is where there is going to be division within the Democratic Party. It is not good enough for someone to say, “I’m a woman, vote for me.” No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.

In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African-American head or CEO of some major corporation. But you know what, if that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of his country and exploiting his workers, doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot if he’s black or white or Latino.

And some people may not agree with me, but that is the fight that we’re going to have right now in the Democratic Party. The working class of this country is being decimated. That’s why Donald Trump won. And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down, that young people in many parts of this country have a very limited future, that life expectancy for many workers is going down. People can’t afford health care, can’t afford medicine, can’t afford to send their kids to college.

We need candidates — black and white and Latino and gay and male. We need all of that. But we need all of those candidates and public officials to have the guts to stand up to the oligarchy. That is the fight of today.

 

Matthew Sheffield is a journalist currently working on a book about the future of the Republican Party. You may follow him on Twitter: @mattsheffield. This article is reprinted by permission from Praxis.

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/bernie-sanders-identity-politics?akid=14904.265072.5hf2Gu&rd=1&src=newsletter1067682&t=12

The crisis of the Democratic Party: Clinton’s poll numbers

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16 September 2016

The presidential contest in the United States has tightened considerably, with Democrat Hillary Clinton leading Republican Donald Trump by the barest of margins. Trump has erased most of the lead of eight to ten points Clinton enjoyed a month ago.

Thursday’s New York Times headlined the results of the latest CBS/Times poll, “Clinton, Trump Locked in Tight Race,” with its survey showing Clinton with a two-point lead over Trump head-to-head, 46 percent to 44 percent, and tied with Trump at 42 percent each in a four-way race, when Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are included.

Statewide polls showed Trump closing the gap or taking small leads in such battleground states as Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Florida and New Hampshire, although Clinton remained ahead in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina and was competitive in previously Republican states like Arizona and Georgia.

It is significant that the trend in the polls is at least as much a decline in support for Clinton as it is a rise in support for Trump. Clinton is doing particularly poorly with younger voters, who flocked to support Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. A Gallup poll last week found Clinton’s approval rating among voters age 18 to 29 was only 33 percent, the lowest for any age group.

There is enormous disaffection with the choice that the two-party system presents to the American people, particularly among younger voters and those not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties. In a Quinnipiac poll, 52 percent of independents and 62 percent of young people aged 18 to 34 said they would “consider voting” for a third-party candidate.

The obvious question is why, in the face of widespread popular revulsion, particularly among young people, against the racist bigotry and bullying authoritarianism of Donald Trump, the most unpopular figure ever nominated by one of the two major capitalist parties, the Clinton campaign is so obviously struggling.

The answer is that the Democrats—and Clinton in particular—are themselves deeply reviled. As a political organization, the Democratic Party represents an alliance between dominant sections of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus and the most privileged sections of the upper middle class. Behind its empty rhetoric, the attitude of these layers to the working class is one of hostility and contempt.

Clinton, in an unguarded moment before wealthy donors last week, let slip the outlook of the Democrat Party when she said that half of all Trump supporters made up a “basket of deplorables,” speaking of broad sections of the population as if they were another species. Those backing Trump, she said, were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.”

There is no question that Trump has appealed to all those forms of bigotry in the course of his campaign. However, he has also made an appeal, in an entirely demagogic way, to deep-seated economic grievances. Among white men without a college education, he leads Clinton by as much as 50 percentage points.

If there is unrest among white workers, the apologists of the Democratic Party claim, it is due entirely to racism, exacerbated by eight years of the administration of the first black president. President Obama repeatedly asserts that conditions in America are “pretty darn great,” and liberal pundits hailed, falsely, the latest Census report on income as proof that claims of widespread economic distress in America had no factual basis (see: “Further considerations on the household income report: Poverty and inequality in America”).

In fact, what is ultimately fueling social and political discontent is the enormous decline in living standards, over which the Democrats no less than the Republicans have presided. The association of the Democratic Party with liberal social reform belongs to a particular historical period—between the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs of the mid-1960s.

Since then, a half century has passed without a single meaningful social reform, as the Democrats have moved continuously to the right. During his time in office from 1977 to 1980, Jimmy Carter laid the foundation for the social counter-revolution that took place under Reagan during the 1980s. And during the years of Bill Clinton, the Democrats oversaw the dismantling of welfare, the end of the Glass-Steagall restraints on the banks and other right-wing measures.

Throughout this period, the trade unions transitioned from their alliance with the Democratic Party on the basis of ferocious anti-communism into outright instruments of the corporations and the state. They have and continue to collaborate in the “orderly shutdown” of factories and mines, after pushing through wage and benefit cuts on the bogus pretext of “saving jobs.”

The Democratic Party’s “liberalism” consists, not in advocating economic reforms, but in promoting identity politics—setting aside a portion of the profits and perks of the ruling elite for a small section of highly privileged blacks, women, gays, etc., to give a veneer of “diversity” to an increasingly unequal and undemocratic social order.

This reached its culmination in the election of Obama, the first African-American president, who promised “hope and change” and delivered war and economic stagnation. Now we have the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, who would be the first female president, presumably giving a feminine touch to the delivery of cruise missiles and 500-pound bombs and the evisceration of Social Security, Medicare and other social programs in the interests of big business.

What passes for “left” politics in the United States, from the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party to its supporters in the pseudo-left, is completely bankrupt. Yet this bankruptcy is an expression of a broader crisis of political legitimacy of the state apparatus as a whole.

In the end, the actual policy differences between Clinton and Trump are comparatively small. The next administration, regardless of who heads it, will escalate the drive to war against Russia and China, and intensify the ongoing assault on jobs, living standards and social benefits. But the rise of Trump points to new dangers in the political situation. The Trump campaign is tapping into the same social anger, and giving it a noxious right-wing expression, as similar political movements that have developed over the past decade in Europe.

The urgent conclusion that must be drawn from the political crisis in the United States is the necessity for building a revolutionary socialist movement–to unite working people across all lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc., in a struggle for common class interests: jobs, decent living standards, the rebuilding of the social infrastructure of roads, schools, water systems and hospitals, and an end to imperialist war and police violence.

 

Patrick Martin

WSWS

This Election Is Hillary Clinton’s to Lose, and She’s Screwing It Up

 Hillary Clinton raised $143 million in August—and still finds herself in a tight race with Donald Trump. (Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP)

You could not pick a worse, more inept, inexperienced or offensive joke of a presidential candidate than Donald Trump. The United States has become the butt of international ridicule over our very own “Kim Jong-Un.” Any candidate running against Trump from the opposing major party with a pulse ought to be beating him in the polls by double digits. But Hillary Clinton isn’t.

The Democratic nominee is barely ahead of “the most unpopular presidential candidate since the former head of the Ku Klux Klan,” and a recent CNN poll puts her at 2 percent behind Trump. Granted, it is only one poll, and several other recent polls have found her a few percentage points ahead. Still, no Democrat could ask for an easier Republican candidate to beat. In the history of American presidential races, it is likely we have never had a more comically unsuitable figure as Trump nominated by a major party. And yet Clinton is struggling to come out ahead.

The Democrat’s ardent supporters—those who have championed her from Day One—claim that we live in a sexist country and that her gender is what is standing in the way of most Americans embracing her. They assert that the media and her critics hold her to an unfairly high standard. But in a country where white women have benefited far more from affirmative action policies, how is it that we easily elected the nation’s first black president twice, only to stumble over a white female nominee?

The problem is not her gender. Of course, many might refuse to vote for a woman (as I’m sure racist Americans refused to vote for Obama simply because he is black), but many more might vote for her because she is a woman. While there is no way to be certain that the two forces cancel each other out, Clinton’s gender is not her biggest liability. Her refusal to even attempt to embrace bold progressive values and her inability to read the simmering nationwide anger over economic and racial injustice are the larger obstacles to her popularity.

In positioning herself first and foremost as what she is not—Trump—Clinton is picking only the low-hanging fruit. My 9-year-old son could make fun of Trump in clever ways, and does so routinely. For Clinton to fixate on Trump’s endless flaws suggests that her own platform has little substance. For example, in a recent speech she said of Trump, “He says he has a secret plan to defeat ISIS. The secret is, he has no plan.” While these kinds of statements might make for funny one-liners, Clinton’s main credential is that she once led the State Department, and she did so with such hawkishness that Americans who are weary of endless wars are not impressed by the experience. (Not to mention that she was caught telling lies about her private email server while secretary of state.) If she proposed diplomacy over war, a plan to exit Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria, a promise to withhold weapons from Saudi Arabia, a commitment to Palestinian human rights, and so on, voters might sit up and take note.

On domestic issues, Clinton is failing to articulate a progressive vision as well. A recently leaked memo revealed that the Democratic Party views Black Lives Matter as a “radical” movement and should not “offer support for concrete policy positions.” Troy Perry, who wrote the memo, now is part of Clinton’s campaign team. Rather than quickly rebutting the memo and affirming her full support for the movement, Clinton has remained silent. Meanwhile, BLM issued a pointed response, saying, “We deserve to be heard, not handled.”

Black voters tend to vote Democratic—a fact the party has taken for granted for decades. But if Clinton wants to earn those votes, she could take a page out of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s book and visit (or send a representative to visit) the ongoing occupation of Los Angeles City Hall by Black Lives Matter activists. BLM is calling on Mayor Eric Garcetti to fire Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck over a spate of killings by officers that has made his department the most violent of all departments nationwide. Instead, Clinton goes to Beverly Hills for a fundraiser to hobnob with wealthy donors and celebrities, including Garcetti.

Clinton has also failed to offer bold thinking on the hot-button issue of immigration. Trump, in a recent controversial visit to Mexico, reiterated his bizarre plan to build a border wall and have our southern neighbor pay for it. Though Clinton stands nowhere near such a plan—and does not embrace Trump’s announcement to ban Muslims—she does share with him some troubling aspects of an inhumane, enforcement-heavy approach to immigration, including the use of biometric data to track the undocumented. She has gone on record as saying, “I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in. … And I do think you have to control your borders.” She also voted for a 2006 bill that called for a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border that’s only a few hundred miles shorter than what Trump is proposing. If Clinton wanted to excite her Latino base, she could take a far bolder stance, admitting that she was wrong on her earlier positions and offering a humane vision, more in line with the one Bernie Sanders articulated that won him broad support.

Rather than reaching out to American voters on such issues, Clinton has been busy pandering to one particular community: the uber-rich. According to a New York Times article, she has made multiple trips to wealthy enclaves over the past month alone. In addition to Beverly Hills, she has visited Martha’s Vineyard and the Hamptons, rubbing elbows with celebrities and other rich elites. Just in August she raised more than $140 million through such fundraisers—easy fodder for the GOP to criticize in a new set of ads.

While making herself accessible to America’s upper classes, she has made herself almost completely unavailable to the press. Until Thursday, Clinton had not held a single news conference in 2016, inviting the unflattering comparison to President George W. Bush, who came under fire for avoiding interactions with the media. Bush was skewered for acting like he was hiding something, afraid the press might ask hard questions that would invite a blundering response. Clinton, one could argue, does not need to win over the press—most mainstream outlets already embrace her nomination and are pushing hard for her election. A recent article by Paul Krugman in the Times is a prime example. Ordinary Americans, however, continue to be unimpressed.

Perhaps Clinton feels that she can win without trying. After all, she has said publicly to her supporters, “I stand between you and the apocalypse.” She is positioning herself as a better option for president than the apocalyptic one. But that’s not saying much. And perhaps that is the point.

Maybe Clinton thinks she does not need to win over ordinary Americans. She knows she has the support of the Wall Street elite, the Pentagon war hawks and even a growing number of Republicans, one of whom implored his fellow Republicans to save the party by voting for Clinton.

And yet all of that may not be enough, as the polls are showing. What Americans are looking for is bold, visionary thinking that acknowledges how broken Washington, D.C., is at our collective expense. The majority of Americans do not want measured, lukewarm progressive positions that keep systems intact. This is why Sanders, in calling for a “political revolution,” attracted so many new and independent voters, especially young millennials. This is why Trump is gaining traction, because between the two major-party candidates, his pathetic piñata-inspiring figure is offering the bolder rhetoric.

If Clinton loses this election, it will not be because Americans are dumb, racist misogynists who would cut off their noses to spite their faces in refusing to elect a sane woman over an insane man. It will not be because too many Americans “selfishly” voted for a third party or didn’t vote at all. It will be because Clinton refused to compromise her allegiance to Wall Street and the morally bankrupt center-right establishment positions of her party and chose not to win over voters. This election is hers to lose, and if this nation ends up with President Trump, it will be most of all the fault of Clinton and the Democratic Party that backs her.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and executive producer of Uprising, a daily radio program at KPFK Pacifica Radio, soon to be on Free Speech TV (click here for the campaign to televise Uprising). She is also the Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based non-profit that supports women’s rights activists in Afghanistan and co-author of “Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence.”

TRUTHDIG

The socioeconomic basis of identity politics: Inequality and the rise of an African American elite

our_new_era_of_identity_politics

30 August 2016

Judging by many accounts in the media and from the statements of leading US politicians, race is a central issue in the 2016 elections.

At a point when the American people are more tolerant in their social views than at any previous time in history, they are informed on a daily basis that the US seethes with racial and ethnic hatreds, along with violent misogyny and homophobia.

The Democratic Party, supported by all of the various left-liberal and pseudo-left trends, is particularly aggressive and vociferous on this score. Identity politics, the self-centered, upper-middle-class obsession with race, gender and sexual identity, has become one of that party’s principal pillars.

As opposed to earlier periods, today the question of race is not associated with civil rights, with a major program of social reform, with improvements in the social conditions of the working class as a whole and certainly not with socialism. The debate on race is largely built around demands for the allocation of greater economic resources to sections of the black petty bourgeoisie. There is a marked and noticeable absence of democratic demands and sentiments within the leadership of these upper-middle-class movements.

The character of the present campaigns, including the narrow and vicious tone of much of the rhetoric about race, can be explained if one examines a singular fact: the sharp growth of social inequality within the African American population.

The data suggests that while African Americans still play a very limited role at the heights of the corporate hierarchy, there is a highly significant and influential section that has benefited enormously over the past several decades. These people live in another universe and are deeply estranged from the broad layers of the black working-class population, which has suffered continual impoverishment.

From the administration of Richard Nixon onward, US ruling-class policy has been to cultivate a black upper-middle class that would be loyal to the status quo. In return, this layer abandoned any connection to mass struggle, social protest and opposition to capitalism. This helps explain why there is no leading African American figure, in any field, who today speaks for and to the broad masses of the people.

The facts and figures are striking.

Nielsen, the global information and measurement company, produced a report in 2015, “Increasingly Affluent, Educated and Diverse,” which “focused specifically on a segment of African-Americans who are often overlooked, those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more. Their size and influence is growing faster than non-Hispanic Whites across all income segments above $60,000.” (The data comes from the US Census, American Community Survey, 2014.)

In fact, black households earning more than $75,000 are the fastest growing income group in the country. According to Nielsen, “In the years from 2005-2013, the income bracket with the largest increase for Black households occurred in the number of households earning over $200,000, with an increase of 138 percent, compared to an increase of 74 percent for the total population.”

In 1960, around the time E. Franklin Frazier wrote his pioneering work, The Black Bourgeoisie, there were an estimated 25 black millionaires in the US. That number has grown 1,400 times. Today there are an estimated 35,000 black millionaires.

The concentration of wealth among African Americans is extreme. According to the Pew Research Study, 35 percent of black households have negative or no net worth. Another 15 percent have less than $6,000 in total household worth. Nearly 7 million of the total of 14 million black households have little or nothing.

Commentator Antonio Moore in the Huffington Post this past May noted that the wealth difference between an American black household in the top 1 percent and the average black household was several times larger than that among comparable white households.

“[T]he median net worth of the few black households in the top 1 percent was $1.2 million dollars, while according to the Census, median net worth for all black households was about $6,000 in total. A black family in the 1 percent is worth a staggering 200 times that of an average black family. If black America were a country, we would be among the most wealth stratified in the world.”

“Income segregation,” i.e., the tendency of people to live in either poor or affluent neighborhoods, has increased sharply among black families since 1970. “Segregation by income among black families was lower than among white families in 1970, but grew four times as much between 1970 and 2009. By 2009, income segregation among black families was 65 percent greater than among white families.” (Residential Segregation by Income, 1970-2009, by Kendra Bischoff of Cornell University and Sean F. Reardon of Stanford)

According to the Washington Post in 2013, the black middle class, measured by the number of families earning at least $100,000 a year, has grown fivefold in the past 50 years. About one in 10 black households are now in that income category. Between 1970 and 1990, the percentage of black physicians, lawyers and engineers doubled. From 1990 to 2013, there was a 30 percent increase in the proportion of black managers and executives and a 38 percent increase in the proportion of black lawyers and engineers.

Decades of “black capitalism” and affirmative action have benefited a narrow but still substantial layer of the African American population. This is the social element that is most aggressively pursuing wealth and economic advantage today. It cannot be mere coincidence that the central figure in the University of Missouri protests in November 2015, hunger striker Jonathan Butler, came from this milieu. His father, Eric Butler, is executive vice president for marketing and sales at Union Pacific Corp. and raked in $2.9 million in total compensation in 2015.

Importantly, African Americans have gained virtual parity with whites in the professional upper echelons. By 2004, blacks with a doctorate had a median income of $74,207, slightly higher than the median income of whites with doctoral degrees ($73,993). (The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education)

As a recent report (“Closing the Race Gap: Alleviating Young African American Unemployment Through Education”) argued, “African Americans and whites have nearly equal probabilities of employment at high degrees of education.”

What are the implications of this relative parity?

The obsession with race and gender involves the striving for privileges by a layer of black and female professionals, determined to carve out careers and incomes—under conditions of an intensely competitive “marketplace”—at the expense of their white or male counterparts. The shrillness and falsity of the current campaigns on race and sexual violence has much to do with the need, in the face of the fact that there is no significant racial or gender pay gap for these already affluent layers, to leverage past crimes and injustice, and exaggerate the present conditions, to justify continued or greater privileges. This is a bitter conflict taking place within the richest 5 to 10 percent (approximately $190,000 to $130,000 in annual income) of the population.

There is nothing “progressive” or “left-wing” about these campaigns and conflicts. Whether or not the president of the United States is a man or woman or the CEO of a bank or major corporation is white or black is of no possible interest to the working class. E. Franklin Frazier noted half a century ago that black business and political interests had “exploited the Negro masses as ruthlessly as have whites.”

Socialists reject racialist politics in whatever form it appears. In the context of the 2016 elections, this means repudiating the racialist and nationalist filth promulgated by both the Democrats and Republicans and all those who orbit around bourgeois politics. The election campaign of the Socialist Equality Party alone represents the independent political and historical interests of the working class.

David Walsh

WSWS

For real progressives, Jill Stein is now the only choice

In a CNN town hall, Green party candidate Jill Stein showed that Clinton’s brand of liberalism does not represent the tone or spirit of the Sanders campaign.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein speaks during a rally of Bernie Sanders supporters outside the Wells Fargo Center on the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter
‘Stein and Baraka did not merely tell voters what to vote against, they also gave them something to vote for.’ Photograph: Dominick Reuter/Reuters

This was perhaps the only opportunity the presidential candidate I have endorsed – Jill Stein – and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, to have the ear of a large portion of the mainstream American electorate. There was little room for error.

They spent little time directly criticizing Donald Trump. This was a wise move, since virtually no one among Stein’s potential base of support is considering Trump as a viable option. Instead, she focused on Hillary Clinton.

At a moment where the Clinton campaign is still attempting to secure the support of frustrated Bernie Sanders primary voters, Stein demonstrated that Clinton’s brand of liberalism does not represent the tone or spirit of the Sanders campaign. By highlighting Clinton’s pro-corporate politics and active role in hawkish foreign policy, Stein raised considerable doubt about Clinton’s leftist bona fides.

“I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected,” Stein said. “I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected.”

Throughout the event, both Stein and Baraka rightly refuted the idea that superficial identity politics are enough to constitute a progressive movement. Stein destroyed the notion that a vote for Clinton is a feminist move, as Clinton’s pro-war stances and neoliberal economic policies have compromised the lives and prosperity of women and families around the globe. Baraka drew from Barack Obama’s presidential record to show that electing a black president has not signaled a turn away from anti-black racism at the systemic or interpersonal levels.

Stein also raised doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness. While these arguments are not new, they carried a different level of veracity when separated from the hypocritical and sexist “crooked Hillary” rhetoric of the Trump campaign. Drawing from Clinton’s own anti-Trump playbook, Stein used Clinton’s email scandal and missteps abroad as a springboard to question Clinton’s judgment.

Of course, such critiques would have been more effective if the possibility of a nuclear armed Trump weren’t lingering in the back of voter’s minds, but they nonetheless focused appropriate scrutiny to the secretary’s actions.

But Stein and Baraka did not merely tell voters what to vote against, they also gave them something to vote for.

Throughout the night, the candidates used their time to articulate the Green party’s vision for the future. Specifically, Stein talked about workable plans to create peace in the Middle East, a plan that includes nuclear disarmament, a call to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a loosening of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization’s economic strangleholds on the globe’s most vulnerable nations.

Baraka offered a workable vision of a nation without state violence, inner cities without police as occupying forces and vulnerable citizens not viewed as enemy combatants. For the first time since Bernie Sanders stepped out of the Democratic race, the American public was given an opportunity to dream out loud for a few hours about freedom, justice and true democracy.

Despite the town hall’s success, the Green party has a long way to go to snag a significant slice of undecided, Independent and Clinton-leaning voters. The challenge of the Stein-Baraka campaign will be to convince voters of a long-term political vision, one that isn’t prisoner to our collective obsession with individual elections or hyperbolic fear of particular candidates.

They will have to persuade voters to believe that the two-party system, when underwritten by endless corporate money, does not offer the “lesser of two evils” but a fundamental threat to democracy itself. Surely, they have a long way to go to achieve these goals. But they’ve made an incredible start.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/18/progressive-voters-jill-stein-green-party-candidate?CMP=fb_us#link_time=1471546668