Rising death rate for middle-aged US workers driven by “deaths of despair”

By Niles Niemuth
24 March 2017

The latest research on rising mortality rates by Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, presented this week at the Brookings Institution, shines new light on the depth of the social crisis which has devastated the American working class since the year 2000.

Building off their initial 2015 study which documented a sharp rise in the mortality rate for white, middle-aged working-class Americans, Case and Deaton conclude that the rising death rate is being driven by what they define as “deaths of despair,” those due to drug overdoses, complications from alcohol and suicide. The mortality rate for these causes grew by half a percent annually between 1999 and 2013.

During the course of the 20th century, the annual mortality rate for all middle-aged whites fell from 1,400 per 100,000 to 400 per 100,000. The US experienced a 100-year period of almost uninterrupted improvements in death rates and life expectancy. In this context Case and Deaton identify the recent rise in middle-aged mortality as “extraordinary and unanticipated.”

Midlife deaths of despair across countries

The epidemic of deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide was initially seen in the American Southwest in the year 2000 but soon spread to the Appalachian region and Florida and is now nationwide, affecting rural and urban areas alike.

While every region of the US has seen an increase in the rate of “deaths of despair” among middle-aged whites over the last 15 years, the hardest-hit states are in the South (Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi). Large urban and suburban areas have been the least affected, rural areas the most.

The mortality rate for working-class whites was also pushed up by a slowing and then stagnation of the decline in deaths from heart disease for white Americans between 2009 and 2015. On top of this the decline in mortality from lung cancer, caused by smoking and occupational hazards, slowed for white men 45-54 between 2000 and 2014, while mortality actually increased for white women 45-49 between 2000 and 2010.

Case and Deaton found that midlife mortality for middle-aged, working-class, white Americans surpassed the midlife mortality for all African Americans for the first time in 2008, and by 2015 mortality for working-class whites was 30 percent higher than for blacks. More significantly, their data shows that the gap in mortality between whites and blacks in the working class has all but disappeared. This is the outcome of a general decline in mortality for blacks and a rapid increase for whites over the last decade-and-a-half, though in recent years the mortality rate for working-class blacks has begun rising along with that of whites.

Case and Deaton’s report is supported by the most recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data concerning suicides and overdoses.

The CDC found that after declining between 1986 and 1999 the US suicide rate rose gradually between 2000 and 2015, with the rate growing most rapidly in smaller cities and rural areas after the 2007-2008 economic collapse. Whites and Native Americans had the highest suicide rates, with both groups seeing noticeable increases. All told there were 600,000 suicides in the US between 1999 and 2015—the equivalent of the loss of a major city, more than the total estimated deaths in the Syrian civil war.

Another recent CDC report found that overdoses from all drugs has more than doubled since 1999, with middle-aged Americans having the highest rate of overdoses. The overdose rate for whites has more than tripled since 1999 and is now more than double the rate for blacks and Hispanics combined. Nearly 13,000 people died from heroin overdoses alone in 2015, more than four times the number of deaths recorded in 2010.

Midlife mortality by all causes in the US

The data collected and analyzed by Case and Deaton reflects a deeply sick society, the outcome of a social counterrevolution which has accelerated since the 2008 crash.

Their research makes clear that the American working class, regardless of race, is being made to pay the price for the failure of capitalism, exposing the lie repeated by pseudo-left groups and the practitioners of identity politics about the “privileged white working class.”

In the period reviewed by Case and Deaton, the Democratic Party completed its repudiation of a political program which in any way addressed the needs or interests of the working class, in favor of middle-class identity politics. This found its culmination in the election of Barack Obama, the first black president, who funneled trillions of dollars into Wall Street and expanded the wars in the Middle East. In the last year of his presidency, which had seen such catastrophes as the lead poisoning of Flint and the BP oil spill, and seven years of wage stagnation, Obama asserted that things were “pretty darn great” in America.

The immiseration of the American working class has also been made possible by betrayals of the trade unions which over the last four decades have collaborated with and integrated themselves ever more closely with the corporations in order to shutter factories, eliminate jobs and enforce wage and benefit cuts.

The period in which the American working class has been subjected to unrelenting attacks has seen the growth of historically unprecedented levels of social inequality. The resources of society and the wealth created by the working class have been plundered and funneled into the hands of an ever wealthier financial aristocracy. This process will only accelerate under Trump.

While it is claimed there is “no money” to pay for decent wages or social services in the US, the country claims eight of the world’s 10 wealthiest billionaires and spends more than the next seven countries combined on its military. The health care overhaul and budget cuts being proposed by the Trump administration are guaranteed to accelerate the social counterrevolution.

In this regard it is striking to note the overlap between the areas of the country particularly devastated by “deaths of despair” in the period examined by Case and Deaton and those with a large vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The anti-working class policies pursued in the Obama years paved the way for Trump.

The residents of these areas, either rural or devastated by years of factory closures, voted for Trump not out of racial animus—an assertion often made by the mainstream media and pseudo-left—but as a cry of desperation, incipient anger and complete disgust with the political establishment.

These people have been at the frontlines of the onslaught against the working class, facilitated by Democrats and Republicans alike. As far as Trump identified himself as an outsider, opposed to the political establishment which facilitated the plunder of the working class, he drew significant support. These same working people are quickly being disabused of any illusions they may have held in the billionaire businessman.

The fundamental question raised by Case and Deaton’s research is the struggle of the working class against the capitalist system and for socialism. Social inequality has never been higher and the rich have never been richer. The working class is the only force which can reverse this counterrevolution. Workers must turn to socialism and fight to build a mass independent movement which will fight for political power and take control of the wealth plundered from them, putting it to use for the common good.

 

WSWS

US health care debate: A bipartisan drive to lower life expectancy

16 March 2017

The new overhaul in the US health care system that is being prepared is a highpoint in a war against the working class in the United States. The debate in Washington and the media obscures the basic motivation guiding both big business parties: to restrict access to affordable health care and sharply reduce the life expectancy of American workers.

The divisions between the Democrats and Republicans are over secondary and tactical questions. Far from “repealing and replacing” Obamacare, the Republican proposal builds on its basic framework while driving up the number of uninsured workers, making health care unaffordable for older, lower- and middle-income workers, and accelerating the destruction of Medicaid and Medicare.

The aim is to free up resources for a massive increase in military spending, while funneling even more money to the stock market and the financial aristocracy. It is a continuation of a decades-long social counterrevolution, pursued regardless which party controlled the White House and Congress.

According to the Congressional Budget Office report released Monday, 21 million Americans will lose coverage by 2020, and 24 million by 2026. How many of these people will die as a consequence?

Under the Republican House plan, a 64-year-old worker earning $26,500 will see his or her premium increase from $1,700 to $14,600 by 2026 due to the disproportionate cuts in tax credits for older consumers. A 21-year-old earning the same amount would see his or her premium drop from $1,700 to $1,450.

In so far as overall premiums drop, this is because older workers—whose health care costs are higher—will simply leave the market because they can no longer pay for insurance. The result will be a sharp increase in mortality and fall in life expectancy, which is already on the decline in the US due to the rise in suicides, drug abuse and other social ills.

These changes are only a prelude to raising the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 and beyond and transforming it into a voucher program. At the same time, the Republican plan would slash funding for Medicaid—the federal entitlement program for the poor—by 25 percent by 2026, reducing the number of Medicaid beneficiaries by 17 percent, or 14 million people. Trump’s appointee to head the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Seema Verma, has already tested out work requirements for Medicaid and health savings accounts in Indiana.

When Medicare was passed in 1965, a byproduct of a powerful wave of social struggles, the average life expectancy of a male in the US was 66.8 years, and for working class men it was even lower. At the time, the government program was designed to provide a couple of years of health care. But to the growing horror of the American ruling class, increased access to health care and major advances in science and medicine led to a significant increase in life expectancy, with the government paying out benefits for a decade or two longer than had been anticipated.

The mid-1960s was also the period when many workers secured pensions and won retiree health care benefits, which enabled them to live many years after they stopped producing profits for corporate America.

This has provoked ever-greater anger and bitterness in the ruling class. By the 1990s, there was a chorus of complaints about the aging population, and how out-of-control health care costs were undermining the global competitiveness of US businesses. In 2005, Delphi CEO Steve Miller complained that “people are living longer these days.” He declared that employer-paid benefits made sense only in an era when “you worked for one employer till age 65 and then died at age 70…”

Obamacare was the first significant effort to reverse this trend by undermining the system of employer-paid health benefits and shifting the costs of medical care from the corporations and the government onto the backs of workers. The plan, drawn up by insurance and medical business interests, rationed care and dumped low-income workers into barebones plans.

In opposition to all of those who claimed Obamacare was a progressive social reform, the WSWS explained that it was the opening shot of a health care counterrevolution aimed at stripping the working class of access to affordable and decent coverage, and substantially reducing life expectancy. This assault is now being vastly expanded.

The war against the working class in the US is inseparable from the criminal wars being fought abroad. In a major article in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2016, entitled, “Preserving Primacy: A Defense Strategy for the New Administration,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry and national security strategist Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr. concluded that expanding US military operations against China, Russia, Iran and preserving US military domination would require taking on “the expanding cost of entitlement programs.” The main confrontation the next administration would have would be on “the domestic front,” they wrote.

The assault on health care, like the attack on jobs and living standards, the attack on immigrants and democratic rights, and the drive to war, will provoke enormous social opposition. The fight against Trump requires a fight against the bankrupt capitalist system and both big business parties, which laid the groundwork for the most reactionary government in US history.

This requires the building of a revolutionary leadership to unite every form of social opposition in mass political movement of the working class for a workers’ government and socialism. This is the only way that profit can be taken out of health care and high quality medical coverage established as a social right for all.

Jerry White

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/16/pers-m16.html

Bernie Sanders on Trump and the Resistance: ‘Despair Is Not an Option’

NEWS & POLITICS

The senator talks about taking progressive populism to the heartland in order to topple Trump.

Photo Credit: Scott P / Flickr

When Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress 10 days ago, sticking dutifully, for once, to the teleprompter, the media praised him for sounding statesmanlike and presidential. But one person, sitting in a front-row seat just a few feet away, thought differently.

Bernie Sanders was growing more aghast with every sentence. Then, when Trump began to talk about the environment, the 75-year-old independent senator from Vermont nearly laughed out loud. Earlier that day, the president signed an executive order that gutted federal controls against the pollution of rivers and waterways. Now he was standing before US legislators pledging to “promote clean air and clear water”.

“The hypocrisy was beyond belief!” says Sanders, still scarcely able to contain himself. “To talk about protecting clean air and water on the same day that you issue an order that will increase pollution of air and water!”

Sanders’ Senate office in DC has an untouched quality, as though the rocket launcher that propelled him last year from relative obscurity to credible contender for the White House has left no trace. The office walls display quaint photographs of his home state – a field of cows labeled Spring in Vermont – and there’s a bookshelf stacked with distinctly Bernie-esque titles such as Never Give In and The Induced Ignorance of Power.

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/us-news/video/2017/mar/10/bernie-sanders-on-the-resistance-movement-in-trumps-america-video

Sanders sweeps into the room wearing a casual sweater. His white hair is tousled, and he has the distracted look of someone dragged away from concentrated study. But when we start talking, he is immediately transfixing. In a flash, it is clear why so many have felt the Bern: because he feels it so intensely himself.

“These are very scary times for the people of the United States, and … for the whole world. We have a president who is a pathological liar. Trump lies all of the time.” And Sanders believes the lying is not accidental: “He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.” Take his “wild attacks against the media, that virtually everything the mainstream media says is a lie.” Or Trump’s denigration of one of George W Bush’s judicial appointees as a “so-called judge”, and his false claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in the election. Such statements, which Sanders calls “delusional”, are meant to lead to only one conclusion, he says: “that the only person in America who stands for the American people, who is telling the truth, the only person who gets it right, is the president of the United States, Donald Trump. That is unprecedented in American history.”

He travels even deeper into dystopian territory when I ask what, in his view, Trump’s endgame might be. “What he wants is to end up as leader of a nation that has moved a significant degree towards authoritarianism; where the president of the United States has extraordinary powers, far more than our constitution has provided for.”

Sanders is well into his stride by now, conducting the interview with great waves of his arms, punching out words in that distinctive Brooklyn-Vermont growl. It’s impossible not to be drawn in by a man who comes across as this authentic.

Sanders occupies an exalted pedestal in American politics today. In 2016 he won 23 primary and caucus races to Clinton’s 34, notching up 13 million votes. Given the odds stacked against him – Clinton’s establishment firepower; the skewed weighting of the “superdelegates” that tipped the primaries in her direction by reserving 15% of the votes for the party establishment; and the cynical efforts of the party machine through the Democratic national convention to undermine Sanders’ campaign by casting aspersions on his leadership abilities and religious beliefs, as revealed in the Russian-hacked WikiLeaks emails – that was no mean achievement.

If he had won the nomination, would he have beaten Trump? I feel a blowback to the question even as I pose it. Sanders’ body language expresses displeasure as crushingly as any verbal putdown: his face crumples, his shoulders hunch, and he looks as though someone is jabbing him with needles. “I don’t think it’s a worthwhile speculation,” he says. “The answer is: who knows? Possibly yes, possibly no.”

Moving swiftly on. Did he anticipate the result on election night, or was he as shocked as many others when Trump began to sweep rust belt states such as Michigan and Wisconsin – states, incidentally, in which Sanders also defeated Clinton in the primary/caucus stage? “I wasn’t expecting it, but it wasn’t a shock. When I went to bed the night before, I thought it was two-to-one, three-to-one that Clinton would win, but it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, there’s no chance Trump could do it’. That was never my belief.”

Sanders’ sanguine response was rooted in his familiar critique of modern capitalism – that it has left the US, alongside the UK and other major democracies, vulnerable to rightwing assault. This is how he connects Trump with Brexit, and in turn with the jitters gripping continental Europe ahead of elections in France and Germany – common manifestations all, he believes, of the ravages of globalization.

“One of the reasons for Brexit, for Trump’s victory, for the rise of ultra-nationalist rightwing candidates all over Europe, is the fact that the global economy has been very good for large multinational corporations, has in many ways been a positive thing for well-educated people, but there are millions of people in this country and all over the world who have been left behind.”

I tell him that last September I had an epiphany as I watched Trump tell a ballroom of billionaires at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan that he would get all the steelworkers back to work. Steelworkers? How on Earth did the Democratic party, the party of labour, cede so much political ground that a billionaire – “phoney billionaire”, Sanders corrects me, firmly – could stand before other billionaires at the Waldorf and pose as the champion of steelworkers?

“That is an excellent question,” he says, needles turning to roses. “Over the last 30 or 40 years the Democratic party has transformed itself from a party of the working class – of white workers, black workers, immigrant workers – to a party significantly controlled by a liberal elite which has moved very far away from the needs of … working families in this country.”

He goes on to lament what he sees as an unnecessary dichotomy between the identity politics favoured by those liberal elites and the traditional labour roots of the movement – steelworkers, say. He is so incensed about this false division that it even dictates his self-perception: “I consider myself a progressive and not a liberal for that reason alone,” he says.

I ask him to flesh out the thought. He replies that the liberal left’s focus on sectional interests – whether defined by gender, race or immigrant status – has obscured the needs of a shrinking middle class suffering from huge levels of income inequality. It didn’t need to have been that way. “The truth is, we can and should do both. It’s not an either/or, it’s both.”

Does he see a similar pattern in the trajectory of Britain’s Labour party? His face starts to crumple again, UK politics apparently also being on his list of undesirable discussion topics. “I don’t want to say I know more than I do,” he says, adding, after a beat, “but obviously I am somewhat informed.”

There is a cord that ties Sanders to the UK, in the form of his elder brother, Larry, who lives in Oxford and who ran unsuccessfully last October as a Green party candidate for the Witney seat left vacant by the departure of former prime minister David Cameron. Sanders has described Larry as a large influence on his life, though he says they haven’t been in touch lately. “We talk once in a while.”

Add family matters to the needle category. He’s reticent, too, about discussing Jeremy Corbyn, deflecting a question about the current travails of the Labour leader by again saying: “I don’t know all the details.”

But he is happy to take an implicit poke at Tony Blair and New Labour, which he suggests fell into the same profound hole that the current US Democratic party is in. “Corbyn has established that there is a huge gap between what was the Labour party leadership and the rank-and-file Labour party activists – he made that as clear as clear could be … Leadership has got to reflect where working people and young people are in the UK.”

It’s all starting to sound pretty depressing. Much of the modern left has detached itself from working people; the vacuum created has in turn permitted that Waldorf moment where steelworkers turn to (phoney) billionaires for salvation; in the ensuing melee we see the rise of Trump, Brexit and the far right, hurtling the world’s leading democracies into the abyss.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the narrative. Sanders is too driven a person, too committed to his own worldview, to leave us dangling in a dystopian fog. And with reason: he remains a formidable force to be reckoned with. Though he’s less in the conversation these days than he was at the height of his epic battle with Clinton, no one should make the error of thinking that Sanders is done.

Technically still an independent, he is busily lobbying to reform the internal rules of the Democratic party to give more clout to rank-and-file voters and less to party insiders, in order, he says, to tighten that gap between liberal elite and steelworker. He also continues to use the force of his grassroots activism to push the party towards a more radical economic position, based on regulating Wall Street and taxing the wealthy – and claims some success in that regard.

“The platform of the Democratic party doesn’t go as far as I would like,” he says, “but I worked on it with Clinton and it is far and away the most progressive platform in the history of American politics.”

In the Senate, too, he’s active in the confirmation process for Trump’s nominations. In particular, he vows to give the president’s pick for the vacant seat on the US supreme court, Neil Gorsuch, a rough ride over his stances on abortion and the Citizens United campaign finance ruling, which unleashed corporate money into elections.

Gorsuch hasn’t ruled on abortion directly, but he has indicated that he believes that the “intentional taking of human life is always wrong”, and on campaign finance he has hinted that he would open up the political process to even more private cash.

I ask Sanders why he isn’t minded to go further with Gorsuch. Why not take a leaf from the Republican book and just say no – after all, they refused even to consider Obama’s supreme court choice, Merrick Garland, effectively stealing the seat from the Democrats.

“There are reasons to say no. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to vote no before I even know who the candidate is.’”

But that’s what the Republicans did, I press.

“I think it’s more effective to give a rational reason,” he replies with finality.

But the real work of Sanders and the resistance begins when the lights of his Senate office are turned off, the squabbles of DC are left behind, and he takes his brand of progressive populism out to the American heartlands. He’s doing it largely unnoticed – not stealthily, but quietly, without much fanfare. But it’s happening, and with a clear goal: to rebuild the progressive movement from the bottom up.

There are shades here of the Tea Party movement, the disruptive rightwing grassroots group that in two short years destabilized Obama’s presidency and paved the way for everything we are witnessing today. So, is that it? Is that what Sanders is doing when he travels the country, attends rallies, addresses his legions of still adoring young supporters and urges them to resist? Is he putting down the foundations of a progressive Tea Party – as influential voices, such as the three former congressional staffers who co-authored a guide to resistance called Indivisible, have implored?

Unsurprisingly, Sanders fails to embrace the concept. But much of what he is doing, amplified by the network that grew out of his presidential campaign, Our Revolution, does follow a similar playbook: start local, shift the debate to a more radical posture, one primary election at a time.

“My job is to substantially increase the number of people participating in the political process. We’ve been quite successful in this, getting more and more people to run for office. That’s what I’m focusing on.”

Here’s where a shaft of light pierces through the gloom: he is convinced that the resistance is already working. In a 14-minute video posted to Facebook Live immediately after Trump’s joint session to Congress, Sanders went so far as to say that Republicans were on the defensive.

Really? Defensive? That seems a bold statement, given the daily stream of executive orders and the bonfire of regulations coming out of the White House. As evidence, Sanders points to Trump and the Republicans’ much-touted plan to scrap the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Well, a funny thing happened,” the senator says. “Millions of people have been actively involved in saying, ‘Excuse me, if you want to improve the Affordable Care Act, let’s do it, but you are not simply going to repeal it and throw 20 million people out on the streets without any health insurance … Now the Republicans are scrambling, they are embarrassed, and that tells me they are on the defensive on that area.”

He gives another, more lurid, example. Republican leaders holding regular town hall meetings across the country have been accosted in recent weeks by angry, banner-wielding protesters opposing the repeal of the healthcare law, and in some cases police have been called. In the wake of the feisty encounters, conservative leaders demanded more security at such events, which Sanders finds indicative: “When Republicans now are literally afraid to hold public meetings – some of them are arguing, ‘Oh my God, we are afraid of security issues!’ – that tells me they know that the American people are prepared to stand up and fight.”

Stand up and fight: it’s classic Bernie Sanders. And it brings us back to the original quandary: how to respond to the authoritarian threat that is Trump. What word of advice would he give a young person, a twentysomething who is scared and who feels that their country is moving against them? What should they do?

“This is what they should do,” he says, pumping out the Bern. “They should take a deep reflection about the history of this country, understand that absolutely these are very difficult and frightening times. But also understand that in moments of crisis, what has happened, time and time again, is that people have stood up and fought back. So despair is absolutely not an option.”

Ed Pilkington is the chief reporter for Guardian US. He is a former national and foreign editor of the paper, and author of Beyond the Mother Country.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/bernie-sanders-trump-and-resistance-despair-not-option?akid=15290.265072.MwBSbX&rd=1&src=newsletter1073711&t=6

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

wealthdividecompressed

18 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

The material position of the next 9 percent

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

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

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

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

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

The economic foundation of pseudo-left politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identity politics and the next 9 percent

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

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

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

The party of the 99 percent vs. socialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric London

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

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.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/30/swea-d30.html

Can American Fascism Be Stopped?

ELECTION 2016
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. 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/can-american-fascism-be-stopped?akid=15019.265072.FfDum2&rd=1&src=newsletter1069107&t=4

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

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By Jerry White
16 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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