Trump and Mussolini: 11 Key Lessons from Historical Fascism

Italian fascism provides a better model for our moment than Nazi Germany—and the comparison is not encouraging.

Photo Credit: By Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije (USHMM Photograph #89908) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fascism is a religion. The 20th century will be known in history as the century of fascism.
— Benito Mussolini

I’d like to draw some comparisons and contrasts between our present situation and that of fascist Italy between 1922 and 1945. I choose fascist Italy rather than Nazi Germany because it has always seemed to me a better comparison. Nazi Germany was the extreme militarist, racist and totalitarian variant of Italian fascism, which was more adaptable, pragmatic, rooted in reality and also more incompetent, ineffectual and half-hearted, all of which seem true to our condition today. Italy was the original form, while Germany was an offshoot. Although there have been many European and some Latin American varieties of fascism since then, the Italian model was the first and the one that has had the most lasting influence.

Mussolini drew on strong existing left-wing European currents such as anarcho-syndicalism, wanting to offer the world an alternative to what he saw as the failures of the Western democracies. His was a revolutionary agenda, designed to turn the world order upside down, rooted deeply in romantic and even avant-garde sensibilities. To see fascism as stemming ultimately from liberalism might sound surprising, but this is true of both socialism as well as fascism, because finally it is liberalism’s principle of human perfectibility from which these impulses derive. Fascism, we might say, is liberal romanticism gone haywire. In its healthy state, liberalism gives us constitutional democracy, but in its unhealthy state we end up with totalitarianism.

Futurism, one of the leading modernist movements of the time, fed easily into fascism. F.T. Marinetti, who believed in war as “hygiene,” was a keen Mussolini supporter, as was the playwright Luigi Pirandello, though he had a different aesthetic tendency. Many philosophers, academics and artists were already sick of the mundane, transactional, enervating nature of democracy under leaders like Giovanni Giolitti, prime minister several times in the two decades preceding fascism.

Benedetto Croce, on the other hand, was the great Italian idealist philosopher, an optimistic Hegelian who believed that liberal constitutionalism was forever on the move, boosted by the Italian Risorgimento (unification) of the mid-19th century, even if its progress couldn’t always be detected. Mussolini never openly persecuted Croce, partly for reasons of credibility — some internal criticism had to be allowed, to preserve the façade of diversity of opinion — but mostly because, with a slight twist, Croce’s Hegelian logic can easily lead to fascism.

To discuss Italian fascism in the context of Trumpism is not to draw silly one-on-one comparisons, because many material factors are different today, but to understand current developments there must be some historical basis for analysis. What this exercise attempts is to show that the myth of American exceptionalism is just that, a myth, and that we have traveled so far from our national founding impulses that other tendencies, namely forms of what used to be considered peculiarly European anxieties, have now become the defining features of our polity.

1. Fascism rechannels economic anxiety

The German condition in the 1920s, with the economic instability then prevalent, is well known, but this was also true of European countries in general in the wake of World War I. Especially after the Russian Revolution, the urgent question for all of Europe became: Was socialism the right path, or capitalism? And in either case, was a new political order required?

In Italy, socialism became quite popular after the war, making industrialists and large agriculturalists very worried. The fascist squads, which at first had arisen spontaneously, came in handy to break the back of socialist cooperatives, both in industry and agriculture, particularly in northern Italy which was more advanced than the south. In the early part of his career, the opportunist Mussolini was anti-war (he didn’t want Italy to join the war), as were socialists in general. But during the course of World War I he changed his tune. Evidence shows that he was financed by oligarchic foreign interests who wanted Italy to get into the war, which of course it did.

For the same money men, the question became, after the war, what to do with the mobilized energy of the arditi, or the squadrists? The original fascists, Mussolini included, were very socialist in inclination, and their manifestos reflected that. Mussolini’s initial program for fascism could pass, with some changes, as an egalitarian dream. The founders of fascism were big on workers’ rights, expropriation of leading industries and even women’s right to equality. The violent contest between socialists and fascists in the countryside had already abated by the time Mussolini came to power. Yet the oligarchic powers sought, in Mussolini, a figure to permanently channel and mobilize the violent social energy on behalf of capitalism.

The most recent phase of globalization, which took off during the 1990s, has created similar anxieties around the world as the class dislocations did following World War I. For the elites who propagated the “Washington consensus” in the 1990s, supported by such popularizers as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, there was nothing complicated about globalization: Incomes would rise around the world, inequality would fall and liberal tolerance would flourish. This rosy picture is so far from reality as to be laughable, and it is a truth evident to the world’s peoples, except for the transnational elites still beholden to the abstract propositions. Thus the question arises again, with as much urgency as in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution: What shall be the world’s economic order? Is it possible to conceive, at this late date, of globalization with a human face? Or is something more revolutionary needed?

The problem today is that socialism, unfortunately, became discredited in the eyes of liberals in the West because of the failed Soviet experiment. Socialism did not have to go the authoritarian route, but that is sadly how it turned out. So today we have a clear problem, i.e., burgeoning inequality on an almost unprecedented scale, and no ideological solution in sight, at least not one that majorities of liberals can agree on.

Into this vacuum, fascists all over the Western world are entering to redirect the majority white population’s nervousness into xenophobic and imperialist aims. Each country, depending on its power structure, will pursue these aims, once it succumbs to the fascist virus, differently. It is worth remembering, however, that it was liberalism, with its absurd triumphant mentality in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, that took away movement toward any form of socialism as a legitimate path, and therefore made the rise of fascism inevitable.

2. Liberal institutions have already been fatally weakened

We are currently lamenting Trump’s evisceration of the media and other institutions of democracy, but he would not be having such success, at least with half of the population, if those institutions were not already seriously compromised. It is easy to dismiss his mockery of the “fake media,” but before Trump did anyone take the media, with some venerable exceptions, seriously anyway? The mass media have never been interested in the nuances of policy, and are focused instead on personality, celebrity and spectacle. Most of the print media are also compromised because of loyalty to American exceptionalism.

It is no coincidence that Trump has merged his critique of the “fake media” with exceptionalism, because it allows him to present the media as tools of a discredited ideology. Before Trump, the media were tied, as a general rule, to the consensus on neoliberalism, and their bias became all the more evident during the last campaign. When it comes to telling the truth about power, the media have not been interested in doing so for a long time. They may now be reacting viscerally against Trump, because of the crude way in which he takes on their shallowness, but it doesn’t mean anything to his supporters. Trump’s critique of the media applies to all our liberal institutions prior to his arrival on the scene.

Mussolini’s fascist program landed in the middle of deep disillusionment with liberal institutions. Italy had experienced a rapid spurt of growth due to industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the rewards weren’t equally distributed. The south was poor and undeveloped, overcome by feudal values, while the north was unsure about empowering labor to share the fruits of growth. The strong labor movement started shading into anarcho-syndicalism, quite similar to the original fascist manifesto. The situation is not exactly comparable today, because ours is a mature economy with declining traditional industrial sectors, while Italy’s was an emerging economy with growing industries. But the sense that the institutions of democracy were failing to support a fair standard of living was widespread.

The Italian parliamentary system was marked by a tendency toward transformismo or “transformism,” to which our strongest parallel would be Bill (or Hillary) Clinton’s triangulation. In many ways Clinton can be seen as a parallel to Giolitti, with the same ability to throw doubt on the health of liberal democracy, even as deals are cut right and left). Transformismo, or triangulation, appeals to career civil servants, politicians and media people, but its chameleon-like tendency to absorb the ideas of the opposition and to neutralize them and make them invisible leaves a profoundly disillusioning aftertaste. Ideology desperately wants to make a comeback, which was true in transactional Italy, and is certainly true of America now.

3. Internal strongmen tussles don’t mean anything

In the beginning Mussolini didn’t seem the most obvious choice to lead the fascist movement. Italy’s best-known provocateur, Gabriele d’Annunzio, a flamboyant writer with a continental reputation, beat him to it by organizing a militia to lay siege to Fiume, a small territory on the northeast coast, part of the unredeemed lands claimed by the irredentist movement. In his short-lived siege, d’Annunzio perfected a fascist style — harangues prompting back-and-forth exchanges from balconies overlooking vast public squares, the symbolic elaboration of the myth of martyrdom in the cause of the nation and the articulation of an emotional method for communicating reality — that Mussolini, and all later fascists, would adopt. D’Annunzio — a legendary womanizer and decadent — was one of the most colorful of all Europeans, and his peculiar interpretation of Nietzschean values has become a permanent challenge to liberal democracy.

But when push came to shove, Mussolini was seen as the more pliable agent of fascist change by his corporate benefactors, and Mussolini was quick to sideline d’Annunzio’s claim to leadership. There were always more assertive fascists around than Mussolini — for example, Roberto Farinacci, the ras (or leader) of Cremona, who later became fond of Hitler’s henchmen — but Mussolini was able to keep them in check. He was a master at playing one competitor against another, exploiting their vulnerabilities to always stay in power. The squadrist militias under control of the provincial ras, like Farinacci and others, were at first used by Mussolini to send terror into the hearts of wavering capitalists and later, in different stages, were controlled and even neutralized as competing power centers, all of them absorbed in the mostly subservient National Fascist Party (PNF).

At the moment, Trump is our Farinacci, the most assertive of the ras, compared to whom all the Cabinet secretaries — even the ones who most frighten us for their racism (Attorney General Jeff Sessions) or Islamophobia (Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly) — seem tame in comparison. No matter the insanity of the secretaries in charge of the environment, education, energy or other departments, none seems as willing to openly flout the rule of law as Trump. Or we can say that in our case the showman d’Annunzio has taken power, rather than a more grounded journalist-turned-politician like Mussolini. We confront the speculative exercise of trying to imagine how it would have turned out for fascism had d’Annunzio, not Mussolini, been the leader.

Nonetheless, we ought not to be swayed by the temporary ascendancies of this or that group within the fascist hierarchy, whether it is Steve Bannon or Michael Flynn who rises or falls. Fascism is greater than the individuals who make up its core at any given moment. Fascism requires the strongman at the center to make it move, yet if a given personality fails to do the job, another can be found as replacement.

4. Fascism keeps mutating

Before fascism was formalized by Mussolini in 1919, organizing the scattered energies of the displaced combatants, it was in many ways an aesthetic movement. It was certainly radically socialist in orientation, with a strong attraction to equality for workers. Then, just before taking power, it became a movement for capitalist law and order, suppressing the demands of socialists. Once in power it adopted some of the modes of parliamentary behavior, but with great irritation, as it sought to preserve a democratic façade. After the consolidation of the dictatorship in 1925, it became almost a developmental state, strongly interested in Italy’s economic growth. A corporatist state, with strong autarkic goals (such as the “Battle for Wheat,” to make Italy self-sufficient, or the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes), was clearly articulated, eliciting approval from the world’s leading capitalist powers.

With the onset of worldwide depression, however, fascism realized the intractability of economic problems and turned its attention to imperialism. The PNF, which had become relatively quiet during the period of capitalist development, was revived as a harsh ideological force, with growing tentacles in every part of Italian society. This phase began in the early 1930s and lasted until defeat in World War II. Fascism was not particularly racist to begin with, as Mussolini, like most Italians, took exception to Nazi anti-Semitism; but as Italy threw in its lot with Germany in the late 1930s, “scientific” racism became a central fascist platform. After Mussolini was overthrown by his own Grand Council in 1943, for the last two years of the war he held fort in the Republic of Salò, in the northern part of Italy, supported by Hitler’s fading power. The Republic of Salò backtracked to the original socialist principles enunciated at the formation of fascism.

What this shows is that fascism is highly adaptable to different needs and conditions, just as its opposite, democracy, is similarly flexible. This also suggests that fascism is a viable ideology just like democracy, because it can appear in different guises at different times, even under the same leadership, without losing credibility. In considering Trump and the movement he has sparked, we would be better off looking at the overall aims of the regime, rather than get carried away by feints in one direction or another. Their aim, it should be clear, is to end democracy, since that is the energy fascism feeds on.

Trump is fully capable of showing an apparently “presidential” side, for example in his first speech to Congress. The priority has shifted from eradicating immigrants to passing the neoliberal agenda on taxation, social spending, education, energy and the environment, so a slightly modified relationship is needed with the corporate world and the media for the immediate future, which Trump should easily be able to accomplish. Mussolini, though an inveterate atheist, made peace with the Vatican, in the famous Lateran Accords of 1929, abandoning his most cherished beliefs in order to gain the complicity of the Catholic church. Earlier in the 1920s, he installed corporate-friendly ministers to work with Italy’s industrialists to enact an agenda they could be comfortable with. Such mutations are par for the course for fascists, they’re nothing to get excited about.

5. Fascism is eternally recurring

Just as democracy is eternal, so is fascism. There have always been authoritarian or dictatorial responses to democracy since the beginning of modern civilization, but fascism, with its imprint of spectacle, theater and mass communication, was a particular permutation that arose once the Western democracies had been consolidated. Italy and Germany were two of the late bloomers, but democracy had mostly been attained by the time they turned to fascism. Fascism could not have arisen were democracy still an evolving condition, as was true of parts of the West in the 19th century. So fascism is an indication of maturity, once democracy’s initial bloom is off.

Many historians were eager to write off Italy’s fascist experience as an aberration, as something so abnormal that it did not properly belong to Italian culture, but the opposite is true. Fascism will often borrow the symbolism, legal architecture and academic norms of pre-existing society, rather than throw them overboard. In Italy’s case, all the existing tendencies of aesthetic modernism came in handy, as well as the legacies of socialist, anarchist and syndicalist cultures. In northern cities like Turin and Milan, fascism flourished side by side with avant-garde political and cultural thinking. Once the dominant liberal culture succumbed, it wasn’t as difficult to impose fascism’s content upon the less democratic south’s institutions.

Fascism was not an aberration for Italy, nor is this the case anywhere it occurs. It is inherent in the DNA of any given culture, an authoritarian side that goes along with, and is even a necessary prop for, democracy. The interwar years marked industrialization’s maturity in the Western world, which had been preceded by a huge burst of globalization, leading up to World War I. A fascism drawing energy from the masses employed in industrialized occupations, as was the case between the wars, is going to manifest very differently than the post-industrial environment of 21st-century America. But the differences are more stylistic than foundational.

6. Of course it’s a minority affair

To note that Trump did not win the popular vote (as was true of George W. Bush in 2000), does not take away from the power of fascism. Given civilized norms in a democratic society, it is always going to be difficult for fascists to muster an outright numerical majority. The point is their relative strength in terms of raw power. Moreover, in periods of emergencies (such as Bush after 9/11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq war), more than a majority can usually be cobbled together. This speaks strongly to the hidden patriotic foundation of what passes for liberalism, its inherent weakness which can so easily be converted to mass militarism.

Mussolini, though he established his regime on the myth of the March on Rome, was actually appointed by King Victor Emmanuel III when Mussolini seemed like the only figure, compared to the discredited liberal politicians, who could bring order to the country. Trump too is trying to make predictions of chaos and violence a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this is a staple of all fascist regimes: They bring about and thrive on the disorder that they then claim to be the only ones to be able to suppress. There was actually no such thing as the March on Rome; the king had already invited Mussolini to Rome to come and form the government when the march took place. Had the king given the order — and this looked possible until the last fateful moment — the army would easily have crushed the ragtag bunch of nobodies who had showed up from all parts of Italy.

Only a small minority need give overt consent. The rest can be quiet, or complacent, or complicit, unless they feel their personal security threatened, for example because of war that might spin out of control. That is all that’s needed for fascism to go on its merry way, so it’s quite beside the point to argue its minority status. Most bloody revolutions are minority affairs.

7. There is an ideology behind the chaos of ideologies

Just as Italian historians after the fact claimed that fascism was an aberration that didn’t belong to Italy’s history proper, contemporary observers often insisted that there was never a fascist ideology. Partly this is because of the mutational aspect of fascism. But primarily this is due to intellectual laziness. Liberal scholars, after all, are not likely to credit their mortal opponent with ideological clarity. We too, lazily, ascribe the same lack of ideology to Trumpism, and interpret events in terms of personality and contingency. I would say that fascist ideology has always, since its inception a hundred years ago, been so strong that it takes democracy an extremely favorable environment, and a huge amount of luck, to sustain itself.

Fascist ideology aims for nothing but to weaken and end democracy. It is democracy’s successes, whether in Weimar Germany, or in a strange way in Giolitti’s Italy, or in countercultural America of the 1960s, that breed the opposite tendency which wants to swallow it up.

Mussolini pursued imperialistic goals in wanting an empire in North Africa, East Africa and the Balkans, but was his pursuit of empire (the New Rome) the same as Britain’s, for example, in the 19th century? For Britain, the empire made financial sense. For Italy, all its wars were financially ruinous (and this has been true of our own wars after 9/11 as well), exerting unsustainable pressures. To the extent that the wars undermined democracy, breeding fascism at home, they were certainly successful. In our present and future wars, that is the criterion we must keep in mind. It’s not what a particular policy is doing to the budget or our diplomatic standing or the state of the culture, but how a policy serves to undermine democracy.

8. Its cultural style makes no sense to elites

This is where I felt the Bush incarnation of fascism fell short, and this is where Trump too is having a difficult time. Milo Yiannopoulos proved in the end to be too exotic even to his sponsors at Breitbart, and the campy, decadent d’Annunzian style, of which Milo is an heir, has its limits in evangelical America, committed to bourgeois verities despite the fascistic overlay. Our homegrown brew of Fox News, Breitbart, Alex Jones, border militias like the Minutemen, millenarian Christianity, the Tea Party and gun culture, combined with simplistic beliefs in “free market” capitalism and American exceptionalism, seems to me a particularly tame cultural concoction. It doesn’t have traction with anyone with the least amount of liberal education. Mussolini was working with more resonant cultural stuff, as the emergence of industrial capitalism since the Risorgimento had set up a cultural platform that was malleable enough to work for fascism.

Trump and his successors will have to work with less potent stuff. So-called conspiratorial thinking is a unifying strand — I already mentioned Alex Jones — which connects many of the strands of ultra-conservative ideology throughout the past century. The Reds become Jews and then Muslims; the substitutions are not that difficult to make. But although the elites will remain incredulous toward fascism’s cultural style, there seems to be enough of a momentum, with all the tendencies beginning to attain critical mass together. Thus the successful transition from Bush to Trump, which suggests that our homegrown fascist style is strong enough now not to need a leader.

Masculinity — or shall we say faux masculinity — is an important part of this cultural style, perhaps the principal reason why Yiannopoulos couldn’t last. It is a reaction to the perceived effeminacy of liberalism, and is a blast (along with racism) against what is seen as the failed order. Fascism relies on activation of our most atavistic, violent and primitive selves, by wanting to return women to invisibility, along with condemning the darker races. Needless to say, Italian fascism reconstructed women as facilitators of warrior-masculinity in all the active fields of life, depriving women of organizational visibility even when they were outstanding fascists.

9. Fascism leads inexorably to suicidal war

It’s possible to argue that Mussolini was sucked into World War II against his will, He knew it was going to end his regime since Italy was not prepared. We might credit it to Hitler’s powers of manipulation over Mussolini that Italy entered a disastrous war. The truth is that from the beginning Mussolini had been biding his time to exert Italian power abroad. He had no respect for diplomats, exactly like Trump, and chose to go his own way, believing himself to be a master strategist. He made increasingly assertive forays into war-making, from the little adventure in Corfu in 1923, all the way to the massive commitment to the Ethiopian war in 1936, along the way proclaiming himself “protector of Islam.”

Fascism, like all forms of government not based on the consent of the majority, requires more and more energy to keep the population under control as time goes by. Once the façade of virile domesticity starts getting exposed, war becomes the only option to keep the regime going. Fascism always claims that war is not of its choosing, that it is forced into war by others, but it is a voluntary, even eager, action to perpetuate the regime. At some point, the boomeranging negative energy — violence inflicted upon the fascist power in return — is so great that the tide of opinion turns. Even if war might be fought to an end, the internal consensus, including among fascist believers, is gone. We are, obviously, a long way from that.

10. Racism is inherent to fascism

It is absolutely key that Trump began his campaign by proclaiming a genocidal manifesto against Mexicans — and then Muslims and Arabs — and has continued to keep it as his central point of action. Because fascism is not competing on an even ideological terrain — most people in any civilized country are not given to violence — it must imagine enemies powerful enough to sustain a majority reaction.

Mussolini and his lieutenants used to mock Hitler’s racial animus, both before and after he became chancellor, holding that Italians had no anti-Semitic sentiment, which was quite true. Some of Mussolini’s most ardent early supporters were Jewish, and he had prominent Jewish lovers, like his biographer Margherita Sarfatti. But after the goodwill from the Ethiopian war started fading in the late 1930s, and a closer alliance with Germany became inevitable, Italy turned around and instituted an official anti-Semitism that deprived Jews of their honor, property and basic rights. The situation never got as bad as in Germany, with most Italians harboring deep suspicions toward the newfound anti-Semitism and the construction of Italians as a superior Aryan race, but the damage was done.

Just as war is inevitable, so is virulent racism. Both go together in fascism. One provides an external enemy while the other provides an internal enemy. If they can be linked together — the worldwide Jewish banking conspiracy, or the worldwide Islamic terror conspiracy — so much the better. War becomes more comprehensible, for fascist supporters, when the internal enemy is attached to the endless cycle of wars abroad, which is said to stem from the same root threat to virile nationalist probity.

11. No form of resistance works

Finally, how do you fight fascism? Is there a magic formula, has anything ever worked? Or are we, too, assuming that we are launched on our own fascist cycle, doomed to repeat the familiar pattern until the end? Can liberalism awaken itself in time, once it recognizes the mortal danger, to defeat fascism? Will the citizenry in a liberal democratic nation, once prompted to the threat, find resources it hadn’t counted on before to invalidate and eventually suppress fascism? Can violence, in short, be defeated by nonviolence? We would have to presume this to be true, unless we accept that liberals would take up arms to defeat fascism, which is not likely and probably defeatist anyway.

The Italian press, when Mussolini took over the country, was extremely vigorous. Political parties of every persuasion were highly energized, and they all had their vocal newspapers. Mussolini himself had run socialist newspapers — first Avanti! and then Il Popolo d’Italia — for the majority of his adult career, and knew that to neutralize the press was his first order of business. He did so in stages, eventually ushering in a regime of complete censorship after 1925, particularly after failed assassination attempts gave him the excuse. He installed fascist stooges at all the newspapers and carefully monitored their every word for the rest of his regime. Loyalty oaths were likewise instituted everywhere, from higher education to civil service. The institutions appeared the same; they were not abolished, but they had been hollowed out.

The press went underground, numerous political activists went into exile, particularly in France, and the communists, socialists, conservatives, liberals, monarchists and Catholics bided their time, engaging in resistance when they could, hoping for an awakening of mass consciousness. Neutralizing the church with the Lateran Accords, and thereafter depoliticizing Catholic Action — the organization competing with Mussolini’s numerous social and leisure organizations — was important, and the church never regained its full voice. Exiles abroad were killed or injured in large numbers; many died in the Spanish Civil War. It was not until Mussolini’s own Grand Council deposed him in 1943, when it was clear that Italy had lost the war, that the country divided into two and the partisans emerged to slowly recover Italian democracy in stages.

Italians tried every form of resistance we can imagine, including getting themselves and their families killed or imprisoned, as countless lives were lost in the fascist tyranny. Nothing worked. Nothing ever works until fascism’s logic, the logic of empire, stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media coverup is possible anymore.

Some final thoughts

The thing to notice is that fascism, in all the places it’s been known to arise, converts an admittedly minority point of view into a mass energy that soon overwhelms every civilized instinct. Perhaps Trump doesn’t need to do this footwork; perhaps much of this foundational work was already accomplished in the Bush era. What should really concern us is that fascism now seems to have a certain stability that we have not seen in earlier models that relied on a single charismatic leader. Despite the Obama interlude, Trump has resumed where George W. Bush in his most feverish mood had left off. This suggests that fascism has become permanently stabilized in this country. It is the most worrisome aspect of the present situation.

Fascism would never have gotten such traction here had liberalism not already succumbed, over the course of 40 years, to various abridgments of rights in the name of community or security or risk-aversion, which defines much of liberal discourse today. Fascism cannot thrive on true individualism, which is inherently opposed to mass delusions, but liberalism took the lead long ago in giving up individualism for forms of imagined community. This is ultimately the breeding ground for fascism, and this is why it is an affair that envelops all of us, not just a certain segment of the population that we can condemn as fascist and be done with it.

One remarkable similarity — among many others — between Trump and Mussolini is their total preoccupation with coverage in the media. Trump regularly consumes the “shows,” apparently getting most of his news and information from TV, and has little use for time-consuming memoranda and policy documents. He obsessively monitors what the media says about him. Mussolini, it could be said, was almost a full-time journalist during his 23 years of power. Just as Trump’s Oval Office desk is littered with the “papers,” so was Mussolini’s time taken up with controlling every word that was printed about the regime. Obsessively detailed veline went out every day to the country’s newspapers, instructing them on how to interpret every event. There were to be no pictures of Mussolini appearing in less than heroic posture, no mention of crime or poverty or violence, no disparagement of the fascist regime.

The inordinate amount of time Mussolini (and Trump) spent cultivating his image does not have anything to do with a personality disorder. It has to do with democracy’s failure to live up to its egalitarian ideals, so that the lie about equality becomes more important than actual equality. The liberal democratic and fascist authoritarian versions of this lie have much in common. It is futile to look for tanks on the street as a marker of fascism; there were no tanks in the streets in fascist Italy either. What is important to notice are the weak spots of liberal democracy, which fascism exploits, such as the gradual loss of faith in our voting and electoral systems. What is important to notice is the symbolic order, which becomes more and more different until one day it becomes a vehicle for a different ideology than the majority ever bargained for.

 

Anis Shivani’s books in the last year include Soraya: Sonnets and Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems. His book Assessing Literary Writing in the Twenty-First Century comes out in early 2017. 

Donald Trump’s Greatest Allies Are the Liberal Elites

Posted on Mar 5, 2017

By Chris Hedges

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The liberal elites, who bear significant responsibility for the death of our democracy, now hold themselves up as the saviors of the republic. They have embarked, despite their own corruption and their complicity in neoliberalism and the crimes of empire, on a self-righteous moral crusade to topple Donald Trump. It is quite a show. They attack Trump’s “lies,” denounce executive orders such as his travel ban as un-American and blame Trump’s election on Russia or FBI Director James Comey rather than the failed neoliberal policies they themselves advanced.

Where was this moral outrage when our privacy was taken from us by the security and surveillance state, the criminals on Wall Street were bailed out, we were stripped of our civil liberties and 2.3 million men and women were packed into our prisons, most of them poor people of color? Why did they not thunder with indignation as money replaced the vote and elected officials and corporate lobbyists instituted our system of legalized bribery? Where were the impassioned critiques of the absurd idea of allowing a nation to be governed by the dictates of corporations, banks and hedge fund managers? Why did they cater to the foibles and utterings of fellow elites, all the while blacklisting critics of the corporate state and ignoring the misery of the poor and the working class? Where was their moral righteousness when the United States committed war crimes in the Middle East and our militarized police carried out murderous rampages? What the liberal elites do now is not moral. It is self-exaltation disguised as piety. It is part of the carnival act.

The liberal class, ranging from Hollywood and the Democratic leadership to The New York Times and CNN, refuses to acknowledge that it sold the Democratic Party to corporate bidders; collaborated in the evisceration of our civil liberties; helped destroy programs such as welfare, orchestrate the job-killing North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, wage endless war, debase our public institutions including the press and build the world’s largest prison system.

“The truth is hard to find. The truth is hard to know. The truth is more important than ever,” reads a television ad for The New York Times. What the paper fails to add is that the hardest place to find the truth about the forces affecting the life of the average American and the truth about empire is in The New York Times itself. News organizations, from the Times to the tawdry forms of entertainment masquerading as news on television, have rendered most people and their concerns invisible. Liberal institutions, especially the press, function, as the journalist and author Matt Taibbi says, as “the guardians” of the neoliberal and imperial orthodoxy.

It is the job of the guardians of orthodoxy to plaster over the brutal reality and cruelty of neoliberalism and empire with a patina of civility or entertainment. They pay homage to a nonexistent democracy and nonexistent American virtues. The elites, who live in enclaves of privilege in cities such as New York, Washington and San Francisco, scold an enraged population. They tell those they dismiss as inferiors to calm down, be reasonable and patient and trust in the goodness of the old ruling class and the American system. African-Americans have heard this kind of cant preached by the white ruling class for a couple of centuries.

Because the system works for the elites, and because the elites interact only with other elites, they are mystified about the revolt rising up from the decayed cities they fly over in the middle of the country. They think they can stuff this inexplicable rage back in the box. They continue to offer up absurd solutions to deindustrialization and despair, such as Thomas Friedman’s endorsement of “a culture of entrepreneurship” and “an ethic of pluralism.” These kinds of bromides are advertising jingles. They bear no more connection to reality than Trump promising to make America great again.

I walked into the Harvard Club in New York City after midnight on election night. The well-heeled New York elites stood, their mouths agape, looking up at the television screens in the oak-paneled bar while wearing their Clinton campaign straw hats. They could not speak. They were in shock. The system they funded to prevent anyone from outside their circle, Republican or Democrat, from achieving the presidency had inexplicably collapsed.

Taibbi, when I interviewed him in New York, said political power in our corporate state is controlled by “a tripartite system.” “You have to have the assent of the press, the donor class, and one of the two [major] political parties to get in,” said Taibbi, author of “Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus.” “It’s an exclusive club. It’s like a membership system. They all have to agree and confer their blessing on the candidate. Trump somehow managed to get past all three of those obstacles. And he did it essentially by putting all of them on trial. He put the press on trial and villainized them with the public. I think it was a brilliant masterstroke that nobody saw coming. But it wouldn’t have been possible if their unpopularity hadn’t been building for years and years and years.”

“It’s a kind of Stockholm syndrome,” he said of the press. “The reporters, candidates, and candidates’ aides are all thrown together. They’re stuck in the same environment with each other day after day, month after month. After a while, they start to unconsciously adopt each other’s values. Then they start to live in the same neighborhoods. They go to the same parties. Then it becomes a year-after-year kind of thing. Then after that, they’re the same people. It’s a total perversion of what’s supposed to happen. We’re [the press] supposed to be on the outside, not identifying with these people. But now, it’s a club. Journalists enjoy the experience of being close to power.”

CONTINUED:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/donald_trumps_greatest_allies_are_the_liberal_elites_20170305

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.

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

Out of darkness, light:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noam Chomsky: Explaining the ‘Collapse’ That Gave Us Donald Trump

ELECTION 2016
Noam Chomsky interviewed by Kenneth Palmer and Richard Yarrow.

Photo Credit: photo story / Shutterstock.com

Noam Chomsky is a philosopher, social critic, political activist, and pioneering linguist. Having served as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955, Chomsky is the author of dozens of books, with his most recent book, Who Rules the World?, published in 2016. Chomsky spoke with HIR editors Kenneth Palmer and Richard Yarrow about his reflections on politics in the West, and what issues he thinks it has failed to properly address.

What would you consider the origin of the rise in populist sentiments, illustrated by the referenda in the United Kingdom and Colombia and the ascent of Trump in the United States? Do you see a common thread between these developments?

Colombia is quite different, but what’s happening in Europe and the United States has certain similarities. It fundamentally traces back, I think, to the new liberal programs of the past generation which have just cast a huge number of people to the side. These programs have improved corporate profit, kept wages stagnant, and highly concentrated wealth and power. They’ve undermined democracy. People have no faith or trust in institutions in Europe—it’s actually worse than [in the United States]. Decisions are basically made in Brussels; people can elect whoever they like, but [the EU elections] have almost no implications for policy. As [economist and Columbia University professor] Joe Stiglitz pointed out, it’s basically one dollar, one vote, and one of the reactions is just anger at everything.

So for example, Brexit interacts with the Thatcherite programs of de-industrializing England. Financial manipulations enriched southeast England and left the rest to wither on the vine. People are angry about that, but they picked, in my view, an irrational answer, since leaving Europe doesn’t help—Europe didn’t elect Thatcher, Major, Blair, or Cameron. My guess is that Brexit will even make it worse, but you can see what the source of the anger is. On the continent it’s pretty similar: the austerity programs have severely harmed the economy, but they’ve also essentially undermined democratic functioning: the centrist parties are collapsing, and there’s no faith in institutions. You see it in both the Trump and the Sanders phenomena—different ways of reacting to this collapse of functioning policies that [once existed] for the benefit of the population.

Trump supporters are not necessarily very poor—some of them are moderately well-off, they have jobs, but then, the image that’s been used, which is not a bad one, I think, is that they are people who see themselves as standing in line trying to get ahead. That they’ve worked hard, they’ve “done” their place in line, and they’re stuck there. The people ahead of them are shooting off into the stratosphere, and the people behind them, in their view, are being pushed ahead in the line by the federal government. That’s what the federal government does [in their view]—it takes people who are behind them and who haven’t worked hard enough they way they have, and pushes them ahead by some supportive programs. They listen to talk radio, for example, and hear laments about how Syrian immigrants are treated like kings while “I can’t get my kids my college.”

Recently, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton identified a marked decrease in life expectancies or increase in mortality rates among white, middle-aged Americans, often due to drug abuse or suicide. How would you say that change in mortality rates has been affecting American culture or society?

It’s the other way around, I think: the changes in American culture and society have led to the mortality rates. This is a sector of exactly the kind of people I was describing, mostly white and mostly male, in the sort of working age period of their lives, who are apparently suffering from depression, loss of face, lack of sense of any self-worth, and turning to drugs and alcoholism. Something similar happened in Russia during the market reforms of the 1990s. There was a huge increase in the death rate, and probably millions of people died. And a lot of it was the same sense that “everything’s falling apart, we have nothing, I’ll just drink myself to death.”

Do you think that the changes in mortality rates are necessarily connected with the changes in politics—that it’s all part of a similar phenomenon?

I think it’s a reflection of it. Very much like, in another way, the Brexit vote is. That is, “I have no way out, so I’ll scream.” It would be quite different if, say, there was an organized labor movement, which could mobilize people. In the 1930s the situation was objectively far worse, but there was a sense of hopefulness. I am old enough to remember—there was militant labor action, CIO organizing, left-wing parties, and a relatively sympathetic administration, and so somehow we were going to get out of this. And now people don’t have that. It’s a striking difference.

You’ve talked a lot about the use of drones and, especially during the Obama administration, have criticized their use. Do you think there are ever conditions under which drone strikes are justified? What would be necessary to meet a moral threshold?

For example, just recently, ISIS was blocked with a drone that had an explosive in it. Would that be legitimate? It’s wartime, [the launchers of the drone were] under attack, they’re using a weapon for self-defense. I don’t approve of it because I don’t approve of them, but in that kind of situation I guess you could argue that it’s like any other kind of weapon. On the other hand, when it’s a technique of assassination of suspects, it’s a different story. I mean, it’s not a question of drones. Suppose we sent killers to assassinate people who we think are planning attacks on us. Would that be legitimate? Suppose they did it to us—would that be legitimate? The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major newspapers have published op-eds saying we should bomb Iran now, not wait. So would Iran be justified in sending somebody to assassinate the editors? How would we react?

Do you think that US politics has been changing in its attitude toward humanitarian issues, or toward using drones in a better way?

Take a look at US history. We’ve been at war for five hundred years without a break. The people who lived here were driven out or exterminated. Up until the twentieth century it was clearing what we now call the national territory, with constant war and vicious, brutal war. Immediately after that it expanded to other parts of the world. It’s five hundred years, virtually without a break, and the policies really haven’t changed much.

Do you see potential for greater change, and by what means? How do you think the attitude towards humanitarian issues could change?

It has in some respects. Take, say, torture again. The popular negative reaction was sufficient, so that it’s now apparently not being used like the way it was being used under Bush. On the other hand, we shouldn’t exaggerate. Take maximum security prisons in the United States: they’re torture chambers. I mean, prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement, which is torture, for long periods, maybe a large part of their life, so torture still goes on all the time.

Psychologist Steven Pinker argues that over time we’ve been able to use reason and the “better angels of our nature” to make improvements in reducing violence. Would you agree with his analysis?

There’s something to that, but the story that he presents is pretty shaky. I mean, ninety-five percent, roughly, of human history is in hunter-gatherer societies. He claims that they were very violent and brutal, but the specialists on the topic don’t agree with him. There’s work by some of the leading people who work on indigenous societies—Brian Ferguson, Douglas Fry, Stephen Cory—they just claim [that Pinker’s notion about hunter-gatherers is] completely false. The large-scale killings are pretty much associated with the origin of cities and the state system. One [of Pinker’s] strongest arguments is in what’s called the “democratic peace,” that democracies don’t fight each other. Almost all the evidence for that comes from the post-Second World War period, but during this period non-democracies don’t fight each other either. Russia and China have been virtually at war, but never broke out into a war. They’re not democracies, but the United States and Russia also didn’t go to war, and Russia’s certainly not a democracy. What happened in 1945 is that great powers, or powers of some scale, recognized that you just can’t go to war anymore. If you do, everything’s destroyed. So Europe had centuries of murders and internal wars, but not after 1945 because the next one’s the end. I don’t think that shows anything about the better angels of our nature. In fact, most of the wars since 1945 have been exported, and if you take a look at the way Pinker handles these, he mostly blames the victims. The wars, he says, are in Southeast Asia and Muslim areas. I mean, is that because of the Iraqis and the Vietnamese?

What do you think is the most important issue in international politics that is not being adequately discussed today?

Well, there are two huge issues, neither of them being adequately discussed. One is an increasing and very serious threat of possible nuclear war, especially at the Russian border. The other’s an environmental catastrophe, which is coming at us very fast, and there’s nothing much being done about it. These are issues of species survival, really, beyond anything that’s ever been written about in human history. Take, say, the [last US presidential] election campaign. [These two problems were] barely mentioned, which is just astounding. Here we have an election campaign in the most powerful state in human history, which is going to have a major effect on determining what happens in the future, and the most crucial issues that have ever arisen in human history are just not being discussed. What we’re discussing is Trump’s 3 a.m. tweets and things like “did Hillary lie in her emails?”

Why do you think those issues are not being discussed more broadly?

I think there’s a kind of a tacit recognition that people should be kept out of the democratic system. It’s not their area, so divert them with something else.

That can be consumerism, that can be obscene remarks about women, anything, but not the major issues. I don’t think that’s a conscious choice, but it’s just kind of implicit in a subconscious, elite recognition of the way the world is supposed to work.

Does that apply for these issues as well—the nuclear threat and the environmental threat?

If you start looking at the nuclear threat, you have to ask yourself a lot of questions that maybe are best kept under the rug. Like, for example, why did NATO expand to the East? In fact, why does NATO exist? NATO was supposed to be a defense against the Russians. No Russians after 1991, so why NATO? A lot of questions like that are quite serious, and of course, it’s not that they’re not discussed at all. There’s scholarship, but they’re not in part of the mainstream. The way we talk about it is demonizing Russia, and they’re doing plenty of rotten things, but there are other questions.

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His newest book is Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016). His website is www.chomsky.info.

Kenneth Palmer is a staff member for the Harvard International Review. He is a contributor to the Writing and Copy Editing boards at the HIR.

Richard Yarrow is a senior staff member and the Head Copy Editor of the Harvard International Review, and is also an Associate Editor in the Soliciting Board.

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Why Millennials Aren’t Afraid of Socialism

 

It’s an old idea, but the people who will make it happen are young—and tired of the unequal world they’ve inherited.

On Wednesday, November 9, at 9:47 am, BuzzFeed News sent out a push notification: “Trump is leading a global nationalist wave. The liberal world order is nearly over and the age of populism is here.” This, from a publication better known for listicles than sweeping political pronouncements. If even BuzzFeed felt it necessary to ring the death knell for the “liberal world order,” then liberalism must be really, really dead.

But what, besides global nationalism, can replace it? The answer is clear if we look at the 2016 election from its inception. The race we should be remembering is not just Clinton versus Trump, but Sanders versus Clinton. For nearly a year, millions of Americans supported an avowed socialist, and many of those people were young—like me.

This new New Left renaissance isn’t confined to the United States: Our British neighbors witnessed a similar wave of enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn. It’s kind of funny, if you think about it: The two most prominent politicians to galvanize young people in the United States and the United Kingdom over the last year are old white dudes. Sanders and Corbyn both look like my dad, except even older and less cool.

And it’s not just them—their ideas are old too. Or so it would seem to anyone who came of age before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Socialism, the redistribution of wealth, providing vital benefits and social services through the mechanism of the state—people were talking about this in the 1960s. And in the 1930s. And in the 19-teens. And now Sanders and Corbyn are recycling those hoary ideas (or so the argument goes), their only concession to the 21st century being the incorporation of racial-, queer-, and climate-justice rhetoric. (We can argue about how earnest they are and how successful that’s been).

And yet, in the 2016 primaries, Sanders won more votes from people under 30 than Clinton and Trump combined. Bernie pulled in more than 2 million of us; Clinton and Trump trailed far behind, with approximately 770,000 and 830,000, respectively.

Corbyn’s signature achievement thus far has been nearly tripling the size of the UK Labour Party. With over 550,000 members, it’s the largest political party in Western Europe. Though Corbyn’s supporters are not as strikingly youthful as Sanders’s—the influx of new members has barely changed the party’s average age—the youngest among them have a similar enthusiasm.

If you spent last year wondering why all these young people (“millennials,” as the headlines love to shout) have flocked to dudes even older and less cool than my dad, consider this: I’m 22. I was born in 1994. Bill Clinton was president. It was the era of the New Democrats in the United States and New Labour in the UK. Five years earlier, Francis Fukuyama had famously declared “the end of history,” and neither September 11 nor the global financial collapse had yet shaken that sense of security. My birth, and that of my generation, coincided with a huge geopolitical shift: For the first time in 50 years, the world wasn’t split in two along the familiar capitalist/communist lines of the Cold War. Seemingly, it had become whole.

George W. Bush was president for most of my childhood. My parents were Democrats in a red state, and at that point primarily defined their politics as being against the Iraq War and for same-sex marriage. Things like class, exploitation, and inequality were never mentioned, let alone a systematic way—like socialism—to think about them. I took up these anti-Republican positions with righteous gusto. In fact, I was co-president of my high school’s Young Democrats chapter, where I organized a screening of Jesus Camp and led discussions about the hypocrisy of the right’s “family values” agenda. Those were my politics.

The first president I voted for was Barack Obama, in 2012. By then, the shiny hope-and-change stuff had worn off a bit. I vaguely knew that drones were bad and that those responsible for the financial catastrophe a few years earlier had gotten off easy, but I didn’t think about it much. I was too busy binge-drinking in sweaty college basements—and hey, I’d voted for a Democrat. That was chill, right?

A child of the ’90s, I knew only neoliberalism. Socialism was brand-new.

It was during Obama’s second term that I began to understand how bad the financial crisis was and who was responsible (hint: the financial sector). Occupy Wall Street started to seem less like agenda-less rabble-rousing, as I had thought when I was co-president of the Young Democrats, and more like people confronting wealth and power in an unprecedented—and incisive—way. Thomas Piketty published his neo-Marxist tome, and its introduction alone fundamentally changed the way I understood economics. There was that viral video, based on a 2011 academic study of Americans’ perceptions of inequality, that used stacks of money to illustrate the wealth gap in United States. I must’ve seen it 30 times.

Four years later, as I finished college, Bernie Sanders shuffled onto the national political stage and offered an analysis: Poverty isn’t a natural phenomenon; it exists because a few people own far more than their fair share. He also offered a solution: The government could act on behalf of those of us just barely treading water. The government’s role, Sanders argued, is to correct the rampant inequality in this country by taxing the rich and using that money to offer real social services.

The erasure of socialist ideas from serious political discourse throughout most of my life wasn’t a historical fluke. The West’s victory in the Cold War—liberal democracy for everyone!—came at the price of iconoclasm, much of it celebratory. In Prague, there used to be a giant socialist-realist statue of Stalin and other communist leaders standing in a line on a hill overlooking the city from the north. Czechs called it the “meat line,” a joke about the long lines they had to wait in to get groceries. Now kids skateboard on the platform where the dictator once kept watch. To visit Prague now—or Budapest, or Sofia, or Bucharest, or Berlin—you might think that communism never happened. All that’s left are a few tacky museums and somber monuments.

So communism was killed, and along with it went any discussion of socialism and Marxism. This was the world of my childhood and adolescence, full of establishment progressives who were aggressively centrist and just as willing as conservatives to privilege the interests of capital over those of labor: think of the reckless expansion of so-called free trade, or the brutal military-industrial complex. For most of my life, I would have been hard-pressed to define capitalism, because in the news and in my textbooks, no other ways of organizing an economy were even acknowledged. I didn’t know that there could be an alternative.

It occurred to me recently that my peers and I will come of age in the era of Trump. It’s a bleak generational landmark, and not one I anticipated, but ideological capitulation and despair are not the answer. In the 1930s and 1940s, many of the most dedicated antifascists were communists. The antidote to radical exploitation and exclusion is radical egalitarianism and inclusion.

So we will be the opposition—but we’re not starting from scratch. The Fight for $15, organized in part by Socialist Alternative, went from a fringe dream to a political reality that has thus far spread to at least 10 cities and two states. Heterodox economists like Ha-Joon Chang, Mariana Mazzucato, and Stephanie Kelton are reshaping their discipline. And while Trump has dominated the headlines, there is still plenty of momentum around the socialist ideas that Bernie used to inspire America. Our Revolution is working hard to take the fight to the states; there it will be joined by groups like the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America, whose membership has grown by more than 50 percent since November 8. That’s more than 4,000 new members.

When I heard Bernie say, out loud, that the billionaire class was ruthless and exploitative, that sounded groundbreaking. Not only did he name the right problem—inequality, not poverty—he named the culprit. I didn’t know you could do that. To me, and to hundreds of thousands of my peers, Sanders’s (and Corbyn’s) socialism doesn’t feel antiquated. Instead, it feels fresh and vital precisely because it has been silenced for so long—and because we need it now more than ever.

My dad—slightly younger and slightly cooler than Sanders and Corbyn—picked me up from the airport the day before Thanksgiving. In the car, he confessed: “I liked a lot of the things Bernie had to say, but I just didn’t think he could get elected.” He sighed, ran a hand through his white hair, and pushed his glasses up his nose. “I thought Hillary had a better shot, but she couldn’t pull it off. Maybe Bernie could have… Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio…”

My dad sounded humble. Trump’s election, which to so many of us feels like a tragedy, prompted him to consider a new way of thinking. Maybe socialism isn’t a lost cause after all. Maybe it’s our best hope.

Sanders’ Social Democracy vs. Trump’s Authoritarian Doctrine

What Trump’s semi-success at the Carrier plant means for the future.

adult experienced industrial worker during heavy industry machinery assembling on production line manufacturing workshop
Photo Credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky

President-elect Trump scored a remarkable victory by saving 1,000 of the 2,100 jobs that Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, were outsourcing to Mexico. During the campaign, Trump pledged to stop those jobs from leaving the country and he has come through (much credit should be given to the United Steelworkers for keeping this issue alive).

Trump used the plight of those workers, represented by the United Steelworkers, as a battering ram to pummel Hillary Clinton on trade and the loss of decent paying U.S. manufacturing jobs. Now, his partial success could lead to a mass exodus of working people from Democratic party.

The Myth of the White Working Class

Post-election pundits are propagating the false equation that “industrial workers” equals “white working class,” and that Clinton’s crushing defeat in the Rust Belt was the result of a white worker revolt against political correctness — i.e., they’re racists!

But America’s industrial workforce reflects the future, not the past. The 1,400-person Carrier workforce in Indianapolis, for example, is 50 percent African American. Women make up half of the workers on its assembly lines, and 10 percent of the employees are Burmese immigrants.

This means Donald Trump, bigot in chief, has just saved the decent-paying, unionized jobs of women, African Americans, immigrants and white workers. Look out Democrats.

Benign Neglect at the Democratic Party

Trump’s effort to save these jobs contrasts starkly with the failure of the established Democratic Party to do anything at all about such devastating plant closures. President Obama has never used his bully pulpit to mention even one of the thousands of facilities that shifted abroad under his watch. Similarly, Hillary Clinton remained silent about Carrier during her entire campaign, thereby allowing Trump to morph into the champion of the working class.

But none of that is particularly surprising given how deeply Wall Street/corporate elites are embedded within the Democratic Party. More troubling still is that party elites believe these relocations are economically justifiable.

Neoliberal ideology (the holiness of tax cuts, privatization, deregulation, and the free movement of capital) has become the conventional wisdom of the entire political establishment of both parties. The media in particular echoes the inaccurate notion that these facilities must move so that the parent company can keep up with competition. (Carrier, in fact, is leaving in order to secure more funds for stock-buybacks to enrich hedge funds and top corporate officers.) All of this capital mobility is pictured as result of globalization—a force akin to an act of God.

Virtually every article on Carrier opines that Trump’s quick fix cannot alter the technological march that surely will displace these blue collar workers. What they are really saying is the corporations have the right and obligation to move wherever and whenever they wish in order to boost profits and “shareholder value.” Mainstream economists then assure us that, overall, society is better off due lower-cost imported goods and higher value-added domestic jobs, even if a few workers are sacrificed along the way.

But a “few workers” have turned into millions of family members and members of devastated communities who have seen their lives deteriorate. They are heading Trump’s way.

Sanders to the Rescue?

Bernie Sanders saw all this coming. That’s why he challenged Clinton in the first place, and that’s why he’s now trying to capture the Democratic Party and turn it into the champion of working people against Wall Street and “the billionaire class.”

In the case of Carrier, Sanders is calling on Trump not to accept a compromise that will still allow half of the jobs to be moved to Mexico. Staying true to his radical politics, Sanders also is calling for new “Outsourcing Prevention Act” that would:

  1. Bar companies from receiving future contracts, tax breaks, grants or loans from the federal government if they have announced plans to outsource more than 50 jobs to other countries;

  2. Require all companies to pay back all federal tax breaks, grants and loans they have received from the federal government over the last decade if they outsource more than 50 jobs in a given year;

  3. Impose a tax on all companies that outsource jobs. The tax would be equal to the amount of savings achieved by outsourcing jobs or 35 percent of its profits, whichever is higher.

  4. Prohibit companies that offshore jobs from enriching executives through golden parachutes, stock options, bonuses, or other forms of compensation by imposing stiff tax penalties on this compensation.

Reactionary versus Progressive Populism

The stage is set for an epic struggle between Trump’s right wing populism and Sanders-style social democracy. The corporate-driven Democrats may soon be irrelevant. Either they go along with Sanders and compete for the allegiance with working people, or they get pummeled by more working class defections to Trump’s brand of populism.

Sanders believes that neoliberalism is heart of our problem — that it leads to runaway inequality, a rigged political system, an exploitative Wall Street, and the full-scale assault on the living and working conditions of working people — black, brown, white, gay and straight. That system, he believes, also leads to the dramatic rise of incarceration, urban and rural poverty, and the stalling of real wages for the vast majority of the population.

Sanders understands we only can win significant social democratic reforms if we link together the full set of victims (most of the 99%). He’s talking about the kind of programs that will appreciably improve our lives — free higher education, single-payer health care, a major attack on climate change, massive public job creation, real criminal justice and immigration reform, a Wall Street speculation tax and now the Outsourcing Prevention Act.

Getting it Right

It’s too late to take the Carrier victory away form Trump. It won’t work to belittle Trump by claiming it only covers 1,000 jobs, or that too many public tax breaks were tossed to the corporation, or that globalization will eventually make those jobs go away. One thousand jobs means 1,000 families who will not see their incomes slashed in half, or worse. More importantly it means hope, that maybe outsourcing to low-wage countries can be ameliorated.

As a result, Sanders is making a difficult request both of the Democratic Party, and of progressive activists in general. He is asking us to place working people at the center of our work: “The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” Sanders said. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”

To get there, Sanders is fanning a contentious debate: He argues that the current practice of identity politics is not a complete political program. As he bluntly stated, “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That is 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 industries.”

So what does this mean for the efforts of tens of thousands of progressive activists who are deeply engaged in halting climate change, preventing police violence, securing equal rights the LGBTQ community, protecting immigrants, and working on a myriad of other significant causes?

Sanders implies that for any of us to succeed, we all must join the fight to enhance the lives of working people. No matter what our priority issue, we will need to devote time and resources to fight for universal programs that lift us all up. In short, we have to expand our issue silos so that fighting Wall Street and the billionaire class can link us together.Sanders could not be clearer: Either we become a broad-based class movement or we lose. The choice is ours, not Trump’s.

 

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute in New York, and author of How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America’s Wealth (J. Wiley and Sons, 2013).

 

 

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