By Al Markowitz
And now it’s winter.
Winter in America
And all of the healers have been killed or been betrayed
Yeah, but the people know, people know . . .
– Gill Scott-Heron
As the days shrink into the deep darkness to come, it’s important that we take some time to examine how we arrived here. Much of the responsibility for Donald Trump’s ascension to the Presidency lies with the corporate media – not only the Ailes disinformation machine of FOX and talk radio but the Democrat connected New York Times, MSNBC and CNN who value ratings and narratives more than the reporting of facts. Their coverage of Trump exceeded that of all other candidates combined while candidates like Sanders were ignored. The omissions, bias and “fake news” they spread added to the electoral debacle. The corporate media has done more to divide us into warring tribes, based on biased reporting and misinformation, than any other force.
They are a big and continuing part of the problem, but much, if not most of the blame for Trump’s success rests with the Democratic Party. Partly it is the chasm between liberal rhetoric and the reality of the policies they have backed – polices not so different from those pushed by the GOP which have gutted and impoverished the working class.
Ronald Reagan set the stage for our economic decline. Bill Clinton continued and exacerbated Reaganomics or, neoliberal economics. In essence, the mainstays of neoliberal economics are; corporate deregulation, treaties like NAFTA and TPP and globalization of markets and capital. In the process, it empowers multinational corporations, leading to the export of jobs to where labor is cheapest. Neoliberal economics also require privatization of public infrastructure and services. These policies, enforced by the World Bank and IMF, have devastated countries around the globe. It has taken longer for us to feel the effects, but thanks to corporate-driven neoliberal economics, we have come to increasingly resemble third-world countries as the standard of living for most of us plummets.
Bill Clinton was, by their own definition, the best Republican of the 20th century. Not only did he legislate these corporate-friendly policies, he ensconced them at the core of the Democratic Party through the establishment of the Democratic Leadership Council which changed the party of FDR’s New Deal into the party of Wall Street. Economic policy aside, though the Democrats have been better by far on social policy and protecting the rights of Women and minorities, they have also backed fracking, oil drilling on public lands, interventions, endless war and many of the same corporate-friendly policies a more moderate GOP would pursue. They became, in fact, moderate Republicans as the GOP drifted toward the fascist extremism that now defines it.
The devastating effects of the neoliberal economics pushed by both corporate parties played a big role in the influence populism had in this election. The Democrats could and should have easily beaten Trump by big numbers, if the party leadership had not been so arrogant and condescendingly deaf to the reality of what their own base was telling them. Bernie Sanders would easily have trounced Trump! He remains among the most popular politicians in the country because he tapped the real anger and dissatisfaction of those who took progressive rhetoric seriously. Sanders spoke the truth that many of us know. We are hurting for lack of decent paying jobs. We see a system owned by and representing the highest bidder and a planet on the brink of ecological collapse. It isn’t just Bernie. Had the Democrats run Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Lee, Jim Hightower or Raul Grijalva it would have been an incontestable victory.
Instead, against all advice, they ran Hillary Clinton, baggage and all. They did this through electoral legerdemain during the primaries; the dumping of registered Democrats from the rolls in places like New York City, the undermining of polling places in California, the miscounting of votes and the use of “super-delegates.” They spread awful lies about Sanders; they hired trolls and generally treated progressives like the enemy. Then, rather than running on issues people really cared about, they ran on Hillary being a woman, they ran against Russia and they ran on not being Trump. This was not sufficient. As economist Thomas Piketty recently wrote, “Let it be said at once: Trump’s victory is primarily due to the explosion in economic and geographic inequality in the United States over several decades and the inability of successive governments to deal with this. Both the Clinton and the Obama administrations frequently went along with the market liberalization launched under Reagan and both Bush presidencies. At times they even outdid them: the financial and commercial deregulation carried out under Clinton is an example. What sealed the deal, though, was the suspicion that the Democrats were too close to Wall Street – and the inability of the Democratic media elite to learn the lessons from the Sanders vote.”
In this election, I heard Democrats say the most ridiculous and offensive things which included denial of history, condemnation of truth-tellers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, red-baiting and even exhortations of “America love it or leave it.” Instead of listening to hard-hit working people in the post-industrial economic wasteland, I heard defense of trade deals and globalization. I heard denial of the painful realities of a failing economy at the ground level. Echoing the smug arrogance of the Clintons, Democratic party loyalists moved to the hard right against progressives calling us things like “Bernie Bros,” “Russian agents” and “spoiled basement dwellers” while assuring themselves of victory and denying the danger that was obvious; especially after the British Brexit debacle.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote, “Put simply, Democrats knowingly chose to nominate a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption. It’s astonishing that those of us who tried frantically to warn Democrats that nominating Hillary Clinton was a huge and scary gamble — that all empirical evidence showed that she could lose to anyone and that Bernie Sanders would be a much stronger candidate, especially in this climate — are now the ones being blamed by the very same people who insisted on ignoring all that data and nominating her anyway.” In doing so, though Clinton still received over 2 million more votes, they gave us Trump and the rise of angry, bigoted irrational fascism.
Not that I’m bitter.
As for Trump, one can only judge a person by their history, statements and associates. The most dangerous and telling of Trump’s close associates is Steve Bannon, founder of Breitbart News and Trump’s chief strategist. Breitbart News unapologetically publishes racist and anti-Semitic opinion pieces. Bannon, associates aside, describes himself as an “economic nationalist” stating, “”I’m not a white nationalist, I’m an economic nationalist.” He describes himself as an “America First nationalist” saying about his “economic nationalism” that “It will be as exciting as the 1930s.” We know what nationalism in the 1930’s looked like. Many died either as victims of it or in the struggle to defeat it.
Economic nationalism is Fascism, a form of corporate rule marked by extreme authoritarian nationalism. The progressive opposite is not globalism but internationalism. Internationalism places national pride in the context of global solidarity recognizing national interests and culture in the context of our global interdependence. Its about cooperation, not vicious competition. The idea of nationalism cannot be separated from competitive tribalism, bigotry or its extreme — fascism.
As a textbook fascist, Trump not only pushes nationalism but is loading his administration with corporate lobbyists, political insiders and Generals. Far from the phony populism the press confers on him, Trump’s cabinet picks include conspiracy theorist and hyper-nationalist Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist, former Goldman Sachs executive and “foreclosure king” Steven Mnuchin as treasury Secretary, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary, Verizon consultant Jeff Eisenach and former Sprint lobbyist Mark Jamisonto to head the FCC, billionaire and former Michigan Republican Party chair and advocate for school privatization Betsy DeVos to head the Dept of Education and others, including a climate denier to head the EPA. As I write this, Trump is even considering Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State!
These people want to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. They want to privatize public education and undo climate progress including regulations on filthy fossil fuels and international treaties. They vow to undo Obamacare including healthcare access that many now have and to eliminate womens’ right to control their own bodies and have life-saving abortions. They want to eliminate Civil Rights legislation and voting rights, to further empower and militarize our police, limit press and free speech freedoms and further deregulate inadequately regulated banks and big business, creating new tax breaks for the wealthiest.
The question for most of us is where do we go from here? Certainly, in the wake of a shameful defeat, the Democratic party desperately needs a major overhaul. In fact, it needs a serious purging. The era of the DLC must be over. As I write this, Senator Bernie Sanders is probably the most influential person in the Democratic party. There is a move to elect Representative Keith Ellison, member of the Progressive Caucus, to head the Democratic National Committee. This is a needed move if the Democrats are not to join the Whigs in the shadows of history. It is vital to our future that actual progressive populists take over the party’s leadership, returning it to its roots as a party more representative of working people.
And then there are the rest of us.
I am proud that our area and state voted against Trump by a significant margin. I’m glad that we have Democratic leadership in our state and in Norfolk. Beyond resistance to the racism and reactionary politics Trump brings with him, outright defiance is called for.
As reported in the New Yorker magazine: “On the day after the election, Kevin de León, the pro-tempore president of the California Senate, and Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the California Assembly, released a joint statement whose opening sentence – ‘Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land‘ – perfectly summarized the disorientation that millions of Americans were experiencing. More important, the statement pointed out that Trump’s bigotry and misogyny were at odds with California’s values of inclusiveness and tolerance, and, the authors vowed, ‘we will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.’”
Three days later, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, stated that New Yorkers “have fundamentally different philosophies than what Donald Trump laid out in his campaign.” He continued:“Whether you are gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, black or white or brown, we respect all people in the state of New York. It’s the very core of what we believe and who we are. But it’s not just what we say, we passed laws that reflect it, and we will continue to do so, no matter what happens nationally.”
As the New Yorker article goes on to point out, “Both Eric Garcetti and Bill de Blasio, the mayors of Los Angeles and New York, vowed to protect vulnerable populations in their cities. (Sanctuary cities across the nation, including Chicago, Seattle, and Denver, did the same. Charlie Beck, the chief of the L.A.P.D., added, “We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts. That is not our job, nor will I make it our job.”
Norfolk should join in defiance of the ugly racism engendered by Trump and appointees like Sessions (who should not be approved as Attorney General) Norfolk needs to become a Sanctuary city and we should pressure City Council to make it official.
The greatest threat to our country, in my opinion, is not Trump or the extremism he brings with him. It is the division of Americans into antagonistic tribes. The most important thing we can and must to is to bridge this manipulated divide. We must realize that neither corporate party really represents us. We must realize that our common ground is much greater than the things that divide us. According to a Reuters poll, 72% of Americans voting in this election believed that, “the economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful.” 68% agreed that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.” That is a lot of common ground. Most people oppose corruption and want integrity and honestly in leadership. Most of us want our interests to be represented and our voices heard. Most of us want security, economic opportunity, access to health care, drinkable water and a safe environment for ourselves and our children. Beyond partisan loyalty, most of us can agree on many issues. We must do everything we can to bridge the divide – not to increase it. For liberals, this must must include listening and building bridges with the many who voted out of frustration and anger or who voted against Clinton more than for Trump. Our future depends on decent people coming together.
As citizens, we need more than ever to reach out to one another. White people especially need to reach out to Blacks, Muslims, Gays, Hispanics and others threatened by bigotry, letting them know we stand with them. We need to strengthen and support our citizen organizations both locally and nationally. This is no time for cynicism, hopelessness or surrender.
Locally, we have grassroots organizations like Virginia Organizing, The Hampton Roads Justice Network, the Sierra Club, the Virginia Interfaith Center and the Norfolk Catholic Worker. Nationally, Sanders’ organization “Our Revolution” continues to be a force legislatively as well as in support of progressive candidates at all levels. Now that we have no room for comfort and delusion, now that the mask has fallen from the monster of corporate oligarchy, there has never been a better opportunity or a more important moment for us to build an authentically populist progressive citizen movement to insure a future we can live in. We have no choice. In the darkest moments of winter, we must build for a new spring.