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


18 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

The material position of the next 9 percent

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

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

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

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

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

The economic foundation of pseudo-left politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identity politics and the next 9 percent

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

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

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

The party of the 99 percent vs. socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric London


Sweat: An honest depiction of the American working class

At the Public Theater in New York City

By Fred Mazelis
30 December 2016

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat is an unusual and rewarding play, depicting social reality not often seen in the American theater. Set in the decaying industrial city of Reading, Pennsylvania, the work shows, through the lives of its eight major characters, what decades of concessions, deindustrialization and plant shutdowns have done to the living standards and social conditions–and texture of existence–of tens of millions of workers and their families.

The play, directed by Kate Whoriskey, has just finished a successful two-month run at New York City’s Public Theater, and is headed to Broadway in the spring. The same writer-director team was responsible for Ruined, which appeared off-Broadway in 2009 and is set in the Congo during the long civil war there. Like Ruined, Sweat is the product of lengthy research. Nottage and a team of assistants spent more than two years interviewing about 100 people in Reading.

Lynn Nottage at Occupy Wall Street in 2011 (Photo: David Shankbone)

Nottage explained, in a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times, that she seeks to focus attention on “spaces that are under-illuminated.” She was drawn to Reading after hearing that the city of some 88,000, the fifth-largest in the state of Pennsylvania and only about 125 miles west of New York City, was the poorest city in the United States, according to 2010 census figures.

Reading, with 41.3 percent of its residents officially living in poverty, ranked highest among US cities with more than 65,000 people below the poverty line. However, it is only the first among near-equals. Its history and current economic state are not fundamentally different from those of many small and larger cities across the US.

The list of factories that have closed or drastically reduced operations in Reading in recent years is a long one. It includes the Hershey Company, AT&T, Lucent Technologies, the Dana Corporation and many others. The state of Pennsylvania, with a current population of about 12.8 million, lost 314,000 manufacturing jobs between 1998 and 2013.

While the characters and story line of Sweat are fictional, they are the product of the intensive research and interviews conducted by Nottage. The play is situated within a definite time and place, the action framed by exact dates that introduce, via supertitles, the various scenes in the narrative.

Much of the action is set in the year 2000. A brief prologue, however, takes place in 2008. A parole officer is interviewing two young men, Jason and Chris, who have just been released from prison for a crime which is not further explained at that point.

The play then proceeds to explore the background, leading up to events eight years earlier that changed the lives of these and the other characters.

After the introduction of Jason and Chris, the next scene flashes back eight years to a neighborhood bar, where we meet the other characters. They include Tracey and Cynthia, friends and co-workers at a local steel-tubing factory and the mothers of Jason and Chris, respectively; Jessie, another co-worker of theirs; Stan, the local bartender and a veteran worker at the same plant, who left after being injured on the job; Oscar, Stan’s helper and assistant at the bar, an immigrant from Colombia; and Brucie, the estranged husband of Cynthia, who, in the course of a 93-week lockout, succumbed to despair and to drugs.

The action unfolds over a period of several months. The atmosphere is one of increasing fear and helplessness in the face of the ever-present and mounting threat of a plant shutdown and job losses. At one point Tracey and Cynthia discuss the possibility of applying for a supervisory position in the plant. They both wind up applying, and Cynthia gets the job. Tension continues to grow as the threat of a lockout looms on August 4, 2000. The workers are replaced by scabs. Over the next three months the stresses expand to the boiling point. November 3, 2000 is the fateful day that charts the course of the next eight years for these characters.

Public Theater in New York City (Photo: Alex Lozupone)

The final scene, set on October 18, 2008 and including Chris, Jason, Stan and Oscar, brings the various strands of the story together in a grim, unsentimental and vaguely humanist conclusion. Sweat could hardly be more appropriate, in a presidential election year in which the cry of anger and desperation was heard, from voters and non-voters alike.

Lynn Nottage’s play is welcome for its honest depiction of life in Reading and, by extension, life for the majority of workers in the US and other advanced capitalist countries. The cast was excellent in every respect, including Will Pullen as Jason, Khris Davis as Chris, Carlo Albán as Oscar, Michelle Wilson as Cynthia, James Colby as Stan, Johanna Day as Tracey, Miriam Shor as Jessie and John Earl Jelks as Brucie. The play, which was co-commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Arena Stage in Washington DC, came to New York after appearing in Oregon and Washington.

One of the most positive elements of the play is its generally truthful accounting of the relationship between race and class in American society today. At a time when the theater–and cultural dialogue as a whole–is almost entirely dominated by talk of “white society,” “white privilege” and the allegedly unbridgeable gap between the races, Nottage shows that workers of different races and nationalities face the same conditions and the same challenges.

This is not to say that racial and ethnic tensions are ignored in the play. They are present, but they are depicted in a realistic and almost matter-of-fact manner. What emerges from the dialogue and the actual story of these workers and their families is how similar they all are, beneath the surface of their skin color. The city of Reading, according to latest figures, is about 48 percent white and 14 percent African American. More than half the population is Hispanic.

Tracey, who is white, at one point suggests that her African-American friend Cynthia obtained her management job because she was black. Tracey and Jessie do not trust Cynthia, and understandably suspect she is withholding information from them, as rumors swirl of equipment being moved out of the factory in expectation of a plant closure.

Brucie discusses racial divisions, including the struggle his own father had to get a job in the factory when, having picked “his last bale of cotton,” he came north in 1952 as part of the “Great Migration.”

Jason, meanwhile, is turning angry and bitter, while his friend Chris has more hopes for the future, and hopes to return to school. Oscar, the immigrant, adds another element to the story of the working class in 21st century America.

What emerges in the end is that, despite changes in the composition of the working class, the basic social issues remain.

Amidst the tensions between them, all of the characters express, in one fashion or another, their disgust with the existing system and its political representatives. In one scene, in March 2000, listening to discussion of the upcoming presidential election, the appearance of George W. Bush on television is met with general contempt. In August of that year, one character says that after “watching these candidates talking bullshit, I decided I’m not voting.” “Amen to that” is the reaction.

When the workers are forced to accept a 60 percent pay cut, they blame it on NAFTA (the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement passed during the Bill Clinton administration). The union offers a bag of groceries, comments one of the workers. “It’s fuckin’ humiliating,” says Jason about the lockout. “They won’t let me clean out my locker.”

Nottage makes a distinction between the black and white workers she met in Reading that contains a grain of truth if properly understood. The playwright, who is black, told the LA Times that “The language they [white workers] were using sounded very familiar to me, language that for 100 years or more African Americans have been using to describe our circumstances. ‘We feel marginalized,’ ‘We feel unheard.’ ‘We feel disenfranchised’ … I felt for the first time we all shared a narrative.”

Nottage is wrong to suggest that a “shared narrative” has just emerged, although perhaps she means that she hasn’t felt it previously. Despite the history of slavery, Jim Crow and pervasive racism in the century following the Civil War, there are numerous of instances of common struggle, from the days of the IWW to the organizing struggles of the 1930s and the battles for civil rights in the 1960s. Objectively, there is one working class in the US. But Nottage is right when she suggests that the artificial divisions that have been used to pit white and black workers against one another are being fatally undermined by the current crisis of the profit system. In that sense the “shared narrative” is a weapon against all those who seek to divide workers along racial lines. Sweat is not without weaknesses. There is much that is gripping and realistic, but, as in Ruined, the playwright stops well short of fully probing and exploring the roots of economic and social disaster. This weakens the overall effort.

To the extent the play communicates the desperation facing the working class, that there seems to be no way out of their dilemma through the established institutions, including the Democratic Party and the trade unions, it poses some crucial questions.

The play ends with a brief and understated plea for empathy and human connection. This is an increasingly common refrain from a section of the liberal middle class. The workers are portrayed simply as victims.

“Where do we go from here?” says Nottage in the abovementioned interview. “All of us are in pain. All of us feel a certain level of trauma. Are we going to remain divided? Or are we going to try to come together and heal?”

Who is going to come together and for what purpose? At this moment, of course, there are those who call for a “coming together” to rescue the Democratic Party after its latest electoral disaster. There are others who recognize the need for uniting the working class against the system that is responsible for the conditions depicted in Sweat. This is not the message of Sweat, although it is one conclusion that could be drawn from the suffering depicted on stage.


Can American Fascism Be Stopped?

Trump’s win was both a perfect storm and the culmination of long-term trends.

Photo Credit: Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

It is hard to contemplate the new administration without experiencing alarm bordering on despair: Alarm about the risks of war, the fate of constitutional democracy, the devastation of a century of social progress. Trump’s populism was a total fraud. Every single Trump appointment has come from the pool of far-right conservatives, crackpots, and billionaire kleptocrats. More alarming still is the man himself—his vanity, impulsivity, and willful ignorance, combined with an intuitive genius as a demagogue. A petulant fifth-grader with nuclear weapons will now control the awesome power of the U.S. government.

One has to nourish the hope that Trump can yet be contained. Above all, that will take passionate and strategic engagement, not just to resist but to win, to discredit him and get him out of office while this is still a democracy. We can feel sick at heart—we would be fools not to—but despair is not an option.

We need to insist that the era we are entering is not normal, not to be normalized. Just about everything in our daily routines conspires against that imperative. Ordinary life goes on. Nothing has changed, but everything has changed. It has the menacing, surreal feel of the 1930s. We are caught somewhere between the weary fatalism of T.S. Eliot’s hollow men and W.H. Auden’s haunting poem “September 1, 1939,” the day World War II began:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie  

I. How Did This Happen?

The Sunday before the election, a dear friend was rushed into emergency surgery. She survived and fully recovered, but it was a very close call. On the following Thursday, she was aroused from a medically induced coma. Like Rip van Winkle, she awoke to a revolution. Among her first words were, “Did we just have a coup d’état?”

Yes, my dear, we did. The coup had three ingredients: the flipping of an American election by Vladimir Putin; the suppression of hundreds of thousands of would-be voters; and the intervention of FBI Director James Comey to discredit an active presidential candidate, not once but twice. We have a true constitutional crisis, both in the character of the man who was elected and the fraudulent election. The new president has no legitimacy, but there is no process to dislodge him.

Suppose the situation had been reversed? Suppose Hillary Clinton had narrowly won the Electoral College while Donald Trump had won the popular vote by three million? What would Trump have said about a stolen election? Would he have urged his supporters to take to the streets? Would Congress have immediately moved to schedule more hearings on Clinton’s emails, and greeted her inauguration with a bill of impeachment? Paradoxically, there is the appearance of less of a legitimacy crisis with Trump having won rather than having lost.

History is a convergence of deep forces and random events, lucky or unlucky. The ascension of Donald Trump needs to be understood as both. If you limit your analysis to the election itself, you might reassure yourself that 2016 was a fluke—a perfect storm of bad breaks: email hell; meddling by both Russian and U.S. police agencies; Trump as a stunningly talented demagogue; a blemished establishment figure as Democratic nominee; allowing a bizarre billionaire to pose as faux-populist avenger. But it was also the culmination of longer-term trends that weakened democracy and destroyed the New Deal social contract.

For Trump to win, the media had to play into his hands. The press did not know what to do with a candidate who dwelled in his own parallel factual universe. The quest for balance gave equal play to Clinton’s relatively minor sins and Trump’s grotesqueries.

The cable channels covered Trump both as an amusing freak and as a conventional presidential contender. Both roles served his purposes. Once a Trump story became the outrage of the week, it could be discarded as yesterday’s news. Revelations that would have sunk an ordinary candidate were dispatched relatively early, never to be heard again. Did Trump University swindle thousands of students? Did Trump cheat his contractors? Grope women? Call Mexicans rapists? Propose a religious test for immigrants and refugees? Mock Muslim Gold Star parents? Did Trump really say that maybe the “Second Amendment people” could take care of Hillary? Yeah, yeah, we know all that. Old story.

What neither the media nor the Clinton campaign quite grasped was that disaffection ran so deep in much of America that the more outrageous Trump was, the more his supporters loved it. Was his language coarse? Anyone who watches TV or goes to the movies has heard worse. He mowed down the Republican field by breaking all the rules; well, maybe America needs that sort of strongman. He insulted the entire establishment, just as millions of ordinary people felt insulted by elites who talked down to them, and they loved that Trump was a bully because they could believe he was bullying on their behalf.

And once voters believed that, they were already in Trump’s post-fact world. Strategic framing theory has demonstrated through brain experiments that once you have accepted the framing of a proposition, evidence doesn’t matter. Did Trump stiff the hard-working contractors on his hotel projects? Maybe they did a lousy job. Did he brag about grabbing women “by the pussy”? That’s just guy talk. Six bankruptcies? Smart businessman—maybe he can fix the national debt. And so on. Trump took the art of cognitive dissonance to a whole new level. He altered reality so regularly that trying to challenge his views was like punching a vast fog of cotton candy.

One statistic is worth pondering long and hard. Hillary lost a majority of white women. How could that possibly be? Are most American women still victims of false consciousness? Did their husbands browbeat them into supporting Trump? I don’t think so. Clinton’s identification with a political and financial elite that Middle America came to detest proved more important than her gender breakthrough. The Clinton campaign compounded the problem by giving too much emphasis to the presumed rising electorate of people who identify by oppressed group, and not enough to a broader electorate losing income and status and feeling little stake in American democracy.

But that story has roots that date back at least three decades. Since the 1970s, the post-Roosevelt social contract that once served the vast majority of Americans has been under siege. In their embrace of one-way globalization, both parties declined to insist on a trading system of true reciprocity. American manufacturing was sacrificed to the mercantilism of other nations that were valued as Cold War allies. American finance became the dominant influence, economically and politically.

As AFL-CIO chief economist William Spriggs points out, the argument about why Democrats lost the white working class misses the point. The working class is substantially nonwhite. In the 2016 election, Democrats underperformed among the entire working class—white, black, Hispanic, Asian—relative to the Obama vote and to the vote Democrats should have gained among the non-rich.

The debate about whether Trump voters in the heartland were blue-collar workers or the fearful middle class also misses the point. When factory towns become ghost towns, the entire community goes down and the entire community feels betrayed. The proposition that the Democratic Party is the party of regular, working Americans is no longer credible to much of America.

The sense of a collapsing social contract went hand in hand with the erosion of American democracy, both in a civics-book sense and in a political economy sense. In a market economy, democracy is the only counterweight the people have to keep elites from making off with too much of the pie. Over the past several decades, money has crowded out real grassroots politics, causing politicians to spend more time cultivating fat cats than meeting with constituents. Mass membership organizations that were once robust have turned into letterhead groups, run by professional staff, without the sort of democratically run chapter organizations that were common in our grandparents’ day. The AARP is an insurance marketing operation disguised as an advocacy group for seniors. It has no local chapters. The labor movement, once the epitome of a democratically run mass organization by and for working people, has been decimated.

According to research by the political scientist Kay Schlozman and colleagues, there is almost a perfect correlation between intensity of civil and political participation and level of income. That was not always the case, and this participatory tilt reinforces the influence of affluence, in the phrase of political scientist Martin Gilens, at the expense of regular people. No wonder government, the Democratic Party, and democracy itself all lost legitimacy, opening the door to a Trump.

In short, the perfect storm of 2016 had been brewing for a third of a century.

II. Is Donald Trump an American Fascist?

Fascism, classically, includes a charismatic strongman who speaks directly to the mystical People, over the heads of the squabbling politicians who ruined the Nation. Or as Donald Trump put it at the Republican National Convention, “I am your voice. … I alone can fix it.” (Check.)

Fascism scapegoats some demonized other, or sets of others. (Check.)

Fascism can begin as illiberal democracy and mutate into full-blown tyranny, Mussolini-style. Or fascism can preserve the forms but eviscerate the realities of democracy, à la Putin. (Check.)

Fascism attracts unstable personalities, both the maximum leader himself and his more extreme followers. (Check.)

Fascists are superb at getting followers to believe what Adolf Hitler was the first to call the “big lie.” Repeat it often enough, people believe it. Whether it is true ceases to matter. Truth becomes subjective. (Check.)

Fascism papers over contradictions. Hitler, a short, swarthy Austrian, exalted the blond, blue-eyed German ideal. Silvio Berlusconi, a notoriously corrupt billionaire, mixed business interests with the business of government. Yet he was lionized by ordinary Italians fed up with the state’s corruption. Believers are willfully blind. (Check.)

Fascists use mobs or the threat of mobs to intimidate or physically assault opponents and silence critics. Hitler had his Brownshirts private militia of stormtroopers before he became chancellor. Then it became part of the state. The internet adds a new wrinkle. Trump impulsively uses tweets to incite cyber-mobs. When Trump personally attacked Chuck Jones, the president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, Jones got threatening phone calls. Journalists who have been attacked for criticizing Trump have been subjected to vile personal threats from Trump’s thugs. And all of this before he had state power.

America is an open society (or it has been). If Trump wants to sic mobs on us, either digitally or live, we are sitting ducks. Suddenly, any critic is in the same position as blacks early in the civil-rights era. A lynch mob could show up at your door, egged on by the local sheriff. Only the sheriff is now president of the United States. (Check.)

Fascists are not just charismatic but entertaining. Juan Domingo Perón and his wife, Eva, put on a terrific show. Likewise Benito Mussolini. And of course Hitler. They were so compelling to their followers that the contradictions were effectively invisible. (Check.)

One such contradiction is fascism’s habit of both bashing business and climbing into bed with business. Though fascists often condemn an international bankers’ conspiracy, fascists work with corporate elites. And business, either naïvely or cynically, often hopes to use fascists—to restore order, to create a favorable business climate, to help domestic business against imports, and to repress free labor unions. German industry and finance supported Hitler and thrived under Hitler. Much of Italy’s corporatist state, with heavy state financing and business-government interlocks, was developed under Mussolini. (Check.)

Despite a lot of blather about democracy and capitalism logically reinforcing each other because of common norms of transparency and rule of law, when push comes to shove capitalists are a weak firebreak against fascism. (Tom Friedman, take note.) As the financial collapse showed, rules are made to be gamed; transparency is for suckers.

We’ve known for a century that capitalists get along fine with dictators in third-world settings—such leaders operate a better business climate than messy democracies. Likewise at home. (Check—and maybe checkmate.)

Fascism also steals the left’s clothes. Fascists sponsor public-works projects and expand social benefits. “Nazi” was an abbreviation for National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Hitler ran a prodigious welfare state, as well as extensive public improvements. Here, however, Trump may botch the necessary tightrope act, because the bread is turning out to be far more meager than the circus. It’s not clear how long psychic income will substitute for real income.

There are two other key respects in which Trump is not a classic fascist. He did not come to office as candidate of a new out-party. His hostile takeover of the Republican Party will produce complications. Moreover, fascists usually take power with a clear agenda. Other than his own vanity, Trump doesn’t have a coherent agenda beyond vague slogans. Incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Vice President–elect Mike Pence are staffing Trump’s cabinet with conventional billionaire conservatives. But that’s not exactly the Tea Party’s cup of tea, nor is the bizarre alliance with Putin.

An astute observation is ascribed to Mark Twain: It is easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled. True enough, but the contradictions are piling up. Even hardcore Trump voters are starting to experience buyer’s remorse.

III. Undoing the Folded Lie

The first line of defense, surprisingly, may be other Republicans. As the CIA-Putin episode suggests, we are in a fateful race between Republican opportunism and the deeper concern of at least some Republicans for the republic; between Trump’s assumption that he was elected dictator and collapsing approval ratings—that may yet give pause to some of his allies—as well as the dawning realization that Trump is even crazier than they thought. The Republican view of Trump may be coming full circle, from contempt to ingratiation and back to contempt.

Several leading Republican senators have drawn the line at Trump’s rejection of the CIA and his footsie with Putin. And while Republicans may want to cut public spending, the plans of designated Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price of Georgia to make drastic cuts not just in welfare but in Social Security and Medicare will not sit well either with Trump voters or with several Republican senators. And some, such as Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, may not want to turn the EPA over to a leading climate denier.

Trump’s designs on Obamacare spell big losses for hospitals, which are in every congressional district. His version of economic nationalism will wreak havoc with supply chains without doing anything real for American workers. It will backfire if he keeps attacking Boeing, one of America’s few remaining export champions. Tragically, we can’t rely on big business to defend democracy, but we can expect business to fiercely defend its own interests.

In the short run, Trump’s combination of tax cuts and deregulation may produce an economic boom. But a majority of Federal Reserve governors have been spoiling for an excuse to raise interest rates. The widened deficit will give them one. Higher rates, in turn, will slow the economy, increase the value of the dollar and thus widen the trade deficit. Tighter money will also threaten the latest asset bubble in real estate and stocks. We could even see another financial crisis. This is a time to defend core democratic institutions, to amplify all of the contradictions between who Trump pretends to be and who he is. The Democrats need to force Republican legislators to take as many awkward, coalition-splitting votes as possible. They need to put forward affirmative policies that are far more attractive to workaday voters than Trump’s. They need to take some actions of conscience that could also be good politics, such as fervently defending the Dreamers. For the long term, they need to defend and expand a free society, beginning with Obama’s reported efforts on gerrymandering, which could be expanded to a general defense of democracy. Obama could play a far larger role as leader of the opposition. He is a counter–role model to Trump.

But one should not minimize the perils. Trump will wield a massive amount of executive power. This is a man with a short fuse and a long enemies list. As I wrote in a piece last summer that I assumed was merely a passing nightmare, titled “Donald Trump’s Constitution,” he can use the power of the presidency to conduct vast surveillance, threaten the commercial interests of the free press, selectively prosecute, and further weaken the labor movement while his allies in Congress change the ground rules of federalism to undermine progressive policies of blue states and cities. Trump will float above cadres of conservative professionals with detailed playbooks. They will try to back-load the impact of unpopular policies such as deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Even so, Trump may be too impaired to function as a competent leader. Mario Cuomo famously observed that you campaign in poetry but govern in prose. By analogy, Trump may campaign in an alternative, post-fact universe, but he will govern in a world constrained by reality. Missteps and plummeting public support will give his Republican allies second thoughts.

The words attributed to martyr Joe Hill, “Don’t mourn, organize,” were never more urgent. Obama’s audacious, maybe naïve, hope of bridging divides was crushed by Republican cynicism. The post-Trump consensus must be both tough and progressive, for nothing else will bring back the support of working Americans who felt deserted by the presidential Democratic Party.

The more fundamental challenge is to defend democracy itself. Trump can restrict voting rights, but he is unlikely to cancel the elections of 2018 or 2020. With a sour electorate still in an anti-incumbent mood, the incumbent will be Trump. He can’t prevail by promising that things will be great. He will have a record to defend, an all-Republican record. An abbreviated boom could well fizzle by 2018 or 2020. But with the Justice Department as the ministry of voter suppression, progressives can’t prevail by winning by a point or two. It will take a steal-proof margin—a blowout win of ten to fifteen points.

My friend, who narrowly survived urgent surgery, recovered. It is asking a lot to hope that American democracy will make a full recovery. Here at the Prospect, All we have is a voiceto undo the folded lie.

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect and a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His latest book is Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He writes columns for the Huffington Post, the Boston Globe and the New York Times international edition. 


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


By Jerry White
16 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Democrats debate identity politics


By Niles Niemuth
15 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Study on pay for young adults highlights plunge in US living standards


12 December 2016

A study released last week by a team of economists from Stanford, Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley found that the odds of American children growing up to earn more than their parents declined precipitously from 1970 to the present. Whereas in 1970, 92 percent of 30-year-olds earned more than their parents did at a similar age, that number fell to 51 percent by 2014.

The figures for males were even worse. As of 2014, only 41 percent of 30-year-old men earned more than their fathers at a similar age. The researchers also found that the decline in the ability of children to earn more than their parents was greatest in the Midwest, where decades of deindustrialization have had their most devastating social impact.

The economists concluded that even rapid economic growth would do little to reverse the downward trend because of the immense and ongoing growth of social inequality.

The authors of the study described their findings as a harsh verdict on the strength of what they called “the American dream.” In fact, their own findings add to a mass of social indices demonstrating that the much-vaunted but largely mythical “American dream” has turned into a nightmare. To the extent that this term, promoted to encourage illusions in American capitalism, ever corresponded to social reality, it was largely in connection with the belief that each young generation would enjoy a better standard of living than the one that preceded it.

Just last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that overall life expectancy in the US declined for the first time in more than two decades in 2015. The fall reflected rising death rates for a variety of diseases, an increase in unintentional injuries, accelerating suicide rates and an increase in infant mortality.

Earlier this year, a group of Harvard researchers reported that there was a 15-year life expectancy gap between men in the richest one percent of the population and those in the bottom one percent. Another reflection of the social crisis is the CDC’s finding that deaths from heroin overdoses surpassed gun homicides in 2015, while total annual deaths from all opioid overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2015.

The study on pay noted that the sharpest drop in the percentage of young adults earning more than their parents occurred from 1970 to about 1992—from 92 percent to 58 percent. The percentage stabilized for about a decade and began to fall again beginning in 2002.

There is a direct correlation between this downward trajectory in living standards and the decay of American capitalism. The 1970s was the decade when the unraveling of the post-World War II economic boom and the erosion of the dominance of American industry found open expression in the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system in 1971 and the growing share of global markets, including the US market, captured by rivals such as Germany and Japan.

At the end of the decade, the American ruling class initiated a major shift in its class policy, terminating the postwar period of relative class compromise and launching a class-war offensive aimed at breaking the militant resistance of the working class and reversing its previous social gains. A wave of plant closures and mass layoffs that began under the Democratic Carter administration was intensified under Reagan, who used the growth of unemployment along with union busting and wage cutting, made possible by the betrayals and collusion of the unions, to drive down working-class living standards.

This ruling-class offensive has continued ever since, under Democratic no less than Republican administrations. The pace of decline in working-class living standards slowed somewhat in the 1990s, with Clinton presiding over a transient upward trend in economic growth based on the removal of virtually all restraints on financial speculation and parasitism. The resulting dot.com bubble imploded in 2000, fueling a new wave of mass layoffs and wage cutting under both the Bush and Obama administrations. This offensive was stepped up in response to the Wall Street crash of 2008.

It is this social catastrophe, rooted in the decline of American capitalism, that underlies the political crisis of both big-business parties in the 2016 election and the victory of Trump—the personification of the economic, political and moral decay of the American ruling class.

The election was dominated by the growth of popular anger and disgust with both parties and the political and economic status quo. The broad popular support, particularly among young people and workers, for the Democratic primary campaign of Bernie Sanders, who presented himself as a “socialist” opponent of the “billionaire class” and social inequality, reflected the initial stages of a movement of the working class to the left. Sanders worked to channel this opposition behind the Democratic Party, culminating in his endorsement of and campaign for Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s campaign, the most right-wing in modern Democratic Party history, focused on scandalmongering against Trump and warmongering against Russia. She was broadly backed by Wall Street and the CIA and ran as the continuator of Obama’s supposed economic “recovery.” She utilized racial and gender politics to portray “white working class” support for Trump as motivated by racism and sexism and distract attention from the ongoing growth of social inequality and impoverishment of broad layers of working people.

In an election where the two candidates vied for the distinction of being the most despised presidential contenders in US history, and the biggest bloc of voters were those who saw no reason to vote, Trump was given a free path by the Democrats and Sanders to exploit the economic grievances of workers and middle-class people whose living standards had been devastated by the policies of both parties.

Both the Obama administration and the Clinton election campaign were the outcome of nearly five decades, beginning at the end of the 1960s, during which the Democratic Party has repudiated any connection to policies of social reform and moved ever more sharply to the right.

It will not take long for workers, including those who voted for Trump, to realize that they have been taken for a ride and face in his administration the most ferocious enemy of the working class. His cabinet of billionaire reactionaries and warmongering generals already makes clear that his will be the most right-wing, anti-working class government in US history.

Trump’s policies of social counterrevolution and war will do nothing to resolve the underlying crisis of American and world capitalism. They will only exacerbate the social crisis. The working class will face immense shocks in the coming months. It will move into struggle against a government that is preparing an unprecedented level of state repression in defense of the corporate-financial elite.

The interests and needs of the working class can find no expression within the existing political system. The defense of democratic and social rights must assume the conscious form of a socialist political movement of the working class against the capitalist system.

Niles Niemuth


Thanksgiving 2016 and the social crisis in America


November 2016

On October 3, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation authored by Secretary of State William H. Seward declaring the last Thursday of November “a day of thanksgiving.”

Despite a Civil War of “unequalled magnitude and severity,” the declaration stated, the conflict had not “arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship,” while “the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.” The proclamation concluded, “The country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

The ravages of the Civil War would last another year and a half. Nevertheless, it was true that society was being transformed by railroads, steamboats and the telegraph, an expansion in productive capacity that would accelerate with the rapid industrialization fostered by the Second American Revolution. The Civil War would clear the way for capitalist progress—and the explosive growth of the class struggle—by abolishing slavery.

As families throughout the United States gather to share a meal this Thanksgiving, relatively few will agree with Seward’s assessment that the country can expect “years with large increase of freedom.” Rather, for many, Thanksgiving will serve only to underline the economic hardship and oppression they face.

More than one in eight households will have had difficulty putting food on the table the year before, and millions will have a Thanksgiving meal only by standing in line at a food pantry or soup kitchen.

Over a million-and-a-half people were homeless last year, including some 300,000 children and 450,000 disabled people. Millions more live in substandard housing, doubled up with other families, or in motels. Such conditions may affect only a minority of American families directly. But the great majority of the population is economically insecure.

Forty-six percent of adults are so financially strapped that “they either could not cover an emergency expense costing $400, or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money,” according to a survey released by the Federal Reserve this year.

Under these circumstances, the announcement that the average premium under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), supposedly designed to insure lower-income people, will increase 25 percent next year means that millions will either lose their health coverage or face hundreds, or even thousands of dollars in additional expenses.

The terrific stress caused by living in households one accident or illness away from financial ruin, in which young people are burdened by debt and face narrowing prospects, while the elderly confront rising medical costs and decreasing retirement benefits, produces many signs of social distress.

The brutality of this society, compounded by militarism and police violence, falls hardest on the young. One study has found that the prevalence of serious depression among teenagers increased by 37 percent between 2005 and 2014. Another reported that children from 10 through 14 are for the first time more likely to die from suicide than from a car accident.

Perhaps the most devastating manifestation of the social malaise is America’s drug epidemic. This year, a shocking 28,000 people will die from opioid overdose, almost as many as the number killed in car accidents. For tens of thousands of families, Thanksgiving will be a time of mourning for those who have lost their lives to heroin, fentanyl or prescription painkillers.

Many of the states most affected by the drug epidemic are those worst hit by joblessness and deindustrialization. Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the “rust belt” states that backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but swung behind Donald Trump in the 2016 election, all saw their rates of opiate overdose increase by more than 10 percent between 2013 and 2014.

The social crisis in the United States is fueling an immense growth of oppositional sentiment, including significant signs of renewed class struggle and political radicalization that found only initial expression in the elections. This came first in the widespread support during the Democratic primaries for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who called himself a socialist and denounced the “billionaire class” and social inequality.

Sanders’ “political revolution” concluded ignominiously with an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, who ran on the claim that, in the words of President Obama, America is doing “pretty darn great.” The implication of this delusional narrative was that those who disagreed and were swayed by Republican candidate Donald Trump’s demagogic appeals to social discontent were part of the “white racist working class,” seeking to defend their “privileged” status against blacks and other minorities. Basing her campaign on various forms of identity politics, Clinton pitched her appeal to the affluent and complacent. The result was a sharp decline in votes for the Democratic candidate within all sections of the working class.

Trump, who is being installed in the White House with the blessings of the outgoing president and both parties, will not “make America great again.” Neither he nor any section of the ruling class has a solution to the social crisis gripping America. His “America first” economic nationalism will exacerbate the global capitalist crisis and mean sharper attacks on workers within the United States. His program of tax cuts for the wealthy, the elimination of regulations on corporations, cuts in social programs and an immense increase in military spending will fuel social discontent and anger.

Trump’s election marks a turning point in the looming showdown between the financial parasites he personifies and the great mass of the population, the working class.

Andre Damon