by Inderjeet Parmar
This op-ed was originally published on The Wire: http://thewire.in/2016/04/27/americas-moment-or-how-to-turn-a-crisis-into-an-opportunity-32037/
A defence of the status quo that focuses too much on Trump and Sanders (and Brexit) as threats, rather than as pointing the way to a new order, is a road to nowhere but the rise of the radical Right and the forces of backward-looking nationalism and chauvinism.
Barack Obama’s recent visit to the United Kingdom to intervene in support of the Remain (in the European Union) campaign was an attempt to prevent the further unravelling of the US-led world system which is in severe crisis at home and facing significant problems abroad.
A united Europe – as a bulwark against the Soviet ‘threat’ and as a market for US goods and investment – was an American project. Today, it is threatening to disintegrate under the pressure of the Eurozone crisis, the refugee problem engulfing the continent as a result of past US interventions in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and the rise of European nationalisms on the Left and extreme Right. The solution: forge a new grand bargain at home and abroad that allows for diffused leadership serving a broader range of national and class interests in the global polity. In concrete terms, this means either more democracy and equality (and less liberty and more state regulation), or outright control of the forces of the market that have devastated working class and poor communities through unrestrained globalisation.
The American president’s intervention in the Brexit debate links his position on the issue to the crisis of Europe, where the Right is on the march – predictably, he drew a thinly-coded race card response from Boris Johnson and others from the Vote Leave (the EU) campaign – but also the Middle East, where the US and Britain actively disordered the region after 9-11 that led directly to the rise of Islamic State. His position is also a reflection of the anti-establishment turmoil in the US primaries.
Obama’s intervention points to the crisis of an international order established in the 1940s that froze power relations and has changed little over the past 70 years, and a domestic party system inaugurated by Reaganomics and social conservatism in 1980 that has yielded power to the market and Wall Street corporations.
Yet, the world has changed and power relations need to change with it. America’s imperial paternalism – that brooks no one else’s nationalism and even brands some variants of its own as ‘isolationism’ – needs to diminish to permit others to exercise the responsibilities of statehood, to develop a stronger stake in the global order, and better manage the world of the 21st century. And that grand bargain must be reflected and anchored at home in a political realignment – currently being fashioned by the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders insurgencies. This realignment must take into account the interests of young people, the working poor and the squeezed middle class, and engineer a more socially responsible and politically-accountable financial elite – the 0.1% that since the 1990s has led the corporate takeover of American politics and the current inequalities of income, wealth and power.
Many frame the issue from conservative positions – producing blueprints for a slightly reformed US-led order. One has only to look at the reports coming out of Brookings, the Council on Foreign Relations and the legion of scholars at America’s many elite academies – such as Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School (for example,). But their flawed, US-centric framing leads to a status quoist set of conclusions, while actually there is an historic opportunity presented by the crisis for a renegotiation of global order or perhaps a series of negotiations – thematic and regional – to reshape and fashion a new settlement for the new century.
Dominant framings of the issue lead to an omission of any serious consideration of the opportunities presented by Donald Trump’s critique of the US role in world, especially his questioning of its principal post-1945 institutions and relationships. For raising those questions alone, the GOP’s primaries front-runner is branded an isolationist. But Trump’s challenge is more than “isolationism”; isolationism is an epithet used by the US foreign policy establishment to undermine practically any opposition to its interpretation of America’s global role. Trump is an “America First-er”, not an isolationist, and questions the various alliances and institutions that the US-led order built and rests upon. Trump’s challenge – whether or not he wins the nomination or the general election – will not go away, because it’s one raised on the Left by Bernie Sanders too. Between Trump and Sanders, and the ratchet effect of Sanders on Hillary Clinton, there is a structural problem highlighted by their current popularity that is deep-seated and enduring and has now come to a head in a popular revolt against the American elite.
The conservatism of entirely US-centric solutions and critiques of Trump (and Sanders) also elides serious critiques of either the inequalities of the US-led international order or of its effects at home. The majority of Americans have seen their income shares and wealth diminish steadily since the 1970s and are fully aware of the inequities of power and wealth distributions. That is why they are rejecting the elites of both parties in such great numbers.
Need for realignment
The domestic crisis of US liberal order and its global problems are related but are not insoluble. They require a realignment at home and abroad. Otherwise, narrow nationalist impulses will come to the fore while at the moment there is an opportunity to redefine and reshape globalisation to benefit and not damage so many people – instead of carrying on which the old project of hollowing out the state in its social functions, cutting adrift large swathes of people.
This may be an historic moment of opportunity presented by crisis; the dominant concepts are no longer working adequately, fixed in old global power relations from 1945, slightly tweaked and absorbed in the 1970s, broadly incorporating as apprentices global south ‘middle class’ powers like India, China and Brazil. When the West was confronted with the rise of the oil-producing states of the Arab world and the challenge of the G-77 third world countries demanding a New International Economic Order, its elites did what they’d done with the domestic rise of working class reform movements – they bought them off. Those days, and that kind of thinking, may be long gone.
Defending the status quo is to defend the iniquitous past. A defence of the status quo that focuses too much on Trump and Sanders (and Brexit) as threats, rather than as pointing the way to a new order, is a road to nowhere but the rise of the radical Right and the forces of backward-looking nationalism and chauvinism. There is sufficient force in the rise of Trump and Sanders which suggests there are significant bases for future positive change.
What the new order will look like is the big issue, not whether there should be one at all. This is the major question of our time.
Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics, and co-director of the Centre for International Policy Studies, at City University London. Follow him on Twitter and via his blog.
by Bastiaan van Apeldoorn and Naná de Graaff
This blog is an adaption and translation from a blog originally published in Dutch on the Ad Valvas website: http://www.advalvas.vu.nl/blog-item/trump-kent-zijn-kiezers-als-geen-ander
Since their resounding victories in their home states, both Trump and Clinton have moved a lot closer to their respective nominations. Back into the winning mood, and soundly beating Kasich and Cruz, Trump has shown once more that he understands the needs and sentiments of the Republican voters much better than the GOP party establishment.
Many voters on the right are less worried about abortion, or about government being “too big”, but are above all worried about their jobs. Jobs they risk losing – or have already lost – because they have been outsourced to China or other low-wage countries. These voters do not only feel threatened by immigration and the alleged danger of the 1.6 billion Muslims world-wide (xenophobic and racist sentiments whipped up by Trump himself), but are also frustrated about staying behind as the one-percent continues to enrich itself. The real income of “Joe Six-pack” has not gone up for decades and has actually fallen in recent years.
After the financial bubble – which also gave America’s working classes the illusion of material progress – burst in 2008, many conservatively inclined Americans have come to realise that the neoliberal economic policies embraced by the Republican elite over the years in fact do not serve their interests. Understanding this better than the rest of the GOP, Trump, has never cared about being a true conservative but has deliberately deviated from the party line, positioning himself in some respects to the left of Hillary Clinton. Particularly when it comes to free trade, Trump has staked out a much more critical position than Clinton, who has only become critical of the free trade she previously championed (for instance as Secretary of State) since the rise of Bernie Sanders. Strikingly, and in contrast to all other GOP candidates, Trump also wants to preserve America’s (minimalistic) social security, this after years of the Tea Party calling for its radical overhaul in its battle against the tax-hungry beast of the federal government. Earlier in the campaign Trump also sharply criticised hedge funds, though, probably because he did not want to antagonize them too much with an eye on the New York primary, more recently he did not repeat these lines. Trump’s voters do not want to see further retrenchment of social security, and they certainly do not want more free trade or to see yet further empowerment of banks and corporations. On the contrary, they seek more security and protection against neoliberal globalisation.
The lesson we can draw from all of this is that in spite of years of “culture wars” raging in America and the obvious attachment to guns, God and country among many GOP voters, socio-economic class actually matters and leads to new fault lines in American politics. And Trump has a really good political antenna in this regard. When recently asked what his number one priority was for their country, his answer was simply: jobs! So in this respect, the Tea Party, which always attracted a large part of the working class vote but represents a politics completely opposed to working class interests, has been clearly outmanoeuvred by Trump. Even if Trump’s own policies may ultimately not serve their interests either, at least the real estate mogul better than anyone understands which policies many people are fed up with. A Trump nomination, even if it does not lead to the presidency, may yet spell the end for the Tea Party movement, or at least the small-government libertarian version of it. In any case, many lower educated voters that used to support the Tea Party are now moving in their droves to get behind Trump, who welcomes them by exclaiming: “I love the poorly educated!”
The real political revolution may have to wait until after 2016
Bernie Sanders, whose momentum after seven victories in a row has now faltered, is of course in many respects the left-wing, progressive answer to the same socio-economic problems driving the rise of Trump. More explicitly yet (and more authentically) than the businessman-entertainer turned politician, the Vermont Senator blames these problems on globalization and on America’s power elite. Though they both appeal to the same economic anxieties and the anti-elitist sentiments these produce, the differences – and not just in style – between these two revolts against the establishment are bigger than the similarities. One big difference is of course that Trump himself is a member of the “billionaire class” that Sanders rails against in his campaign, and which he always mentions in his repeated speeches against inequality. And while Trump’s anti-free trade rhetoric does worry his fellow billionaires, the material interests of the one-percent are probably pretty safe (at least in the short-term) in the event of Trump becoming the next occupant of the White House. In fact, as Fortune has calculated, Trump’s tax plans will make income inequality grow considerably, with the ultra-rich in particular (among whom include Trump himself) benefiting from the large tax cuts Trump proposes. And those same rich are, according to the Manhattan oligarch, indispensable: “To make America great again.”
“We need the rich in order to make the country great, I am sorry to tell you,” as he recently put it.
Now that it looks as if the battle will be between Trump and Clinton in the fall (even if the Republican party establishment will make an ultimate attempt to prevent this) we may begin to conclude that what began as a revolt against the elite in Iowa and New Hampshire will in fact not likely lead to a real revolution in American politics yet. With Trump versus Clinton, American voters will have the choice between a billionaire who will allow the rich to get richer, and Hillary Clinton, whose campaign is again financed by other billionaires and banks, and who has more friends on Wall Street than most D.C. politicians (which is quite a feat given the close nexus between Washington and the New York financial elite). The political revolution that Sanders has announced might therefore have to wait. Nevertheless, the fires fanned by these elections will not easily be put out. On both the left and the right of the American political spectrum it has become clear that there is a large group of voters that is fed up with the economic policies of the previous decades, and whose grievances can no longer be ignored.
Bastiaan van Apeldoorn and Naná de Graaff teach international relations at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and are the authors of American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks: The Open Door since the End of the Cold War (Routledge, 2016). Follow Bastiaan van Apeldoorn and Naná de Graaff on Twitter.
by Inderjeet Parmar
This op-ed was originally published on The Wire: http://thewire.in/2016/04/14/the-american-establishment-is-sabotaging-the-sanders-and-trump-insurgencies-29568/
The Republican and Democratic party establishments, and their corporate-media allies, are trying to maintain the status quo and channel change to strengthen the structure of power.
As the forward march of the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders primary campaigns continues to defy expert predictions, the GOP and Democratic party establishments, and their corporate-media allies, are busily trying to win back the initiative by sabotage and intrigue. Their efforts have already had an effect and are likely to intensify as the summer nominating conventions draw closer. It makes for a fascinating case study of how established power works not just to maintain the status quo but to manage and channel change into directions that do not fundamentally endanger, but strengthen, the structure of power, which is a long-term project. The immediate tools at their disposal include playing the ‘race’ card, malicious legal challenges, creative misuse of party resources, denial of media air time, voter exclusion and fraud. In the long run, they have the capacity to reimagine and promote reform that might dissipate demands for more radical change. But use any metaphor you like – holding back the tide or keeping a lid on a boiling kettle – fact is that the US elite has been up to now largely unsuccessful in halting the mighty movement for change and against inequality of power and wealth in the US. The popular tide shows little sign of abating, but that is not for a want of trying. Elites are throwing everything at it but the anti-establishment tide is proving too powerful at the moment.
Derailing Trump’s campaign
The GOP convention is already being framed as likely to be violent by party ‘pollsters’ like Frank Luntz, who predicts violence and maybe killings at future Trump rallies. While this is a possibility, Luntz’s GOP establishment credentials suggest that this is another dangerous game playing on people’s emotions – his particular speciality, honed over decades. That does not make violence any less or more likely but it shows how seriously the GOP and its supporters are taking Trump now. Luntz is well known for mind games; his way of politics is part of the reason why there is such disrespect among American political opponents nowadays – he plays with words and word association to colour perceptions through language manipulation. In the 1990s, it was Luntz who taught the likes of Newt Gingrich that associating the Democrats with ‘corrupt,’ ‘greedy,’ ‘sick,’ ‘devour,’ ‘hypocrisy,’ ‘liberal’ and so on was essential to changing popular perceptions of the GOPs opponents. He is also credited with, among other things, replacing the term ‘global warming’ to describe global warming with the neutral-sounding ‘climate change,’ now part of the conventional political discourse. Predictions of violence at Trump rallies from Luntz express a desire for that very violence, to discredit Trump’s campaign and boost both Ted Cruz and John Kasich and, thereby, ensuring a contested convention.
Luntz’s intervention came on the heels of several other GOP initiatives to ‘derail’ Trump – Mitt Romney’s call to Republicans to shun his former friend and campaign donor – which backfired; the open letter from over a hundred ‘respectable Republicans/conservatives’ – many of whom were implicated in disastrous support and planning for the Iraq War of 2003; the suggestion from a former head of the CIA and NSA that the US military would likely disobey commander-in-chief Trump; and GOP Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, preparing ‘down ballot’ congressional and senatorial candidates to disassociate themselves from the Trump presidential campaign, should he manage to win the Republican nomination in July.
There is a cumulative effect on the Trump campaign: Nate Silver, the US election expert, suggests that theRepublican convention is likely to be contested, a prediction made more likely by Cruz’s victory in the Wisconsin primary. At this stage of a ‘normal’ contest, the front-runner would usually be expected to win the nomination with a delegate majority. But not this time.
Trump’s chances of winning the nomination are now below 50% from a campaign high of over 70% just a few weeks ago. He no longer has a majority of delegates once Marco Rubio’s delegates are accounted for. And it is becoming apparent that the actual delegates from each state are not duty-bound to vote for Trump even if he’s won the state. Most delegates – members of the party machines in each state – are anti-Trump and could already be campaigning informally to overturn pro-Trump sentiment. That could lead to delegates calling for a rule-change at the GOP’s Cleveland nominating convention and deciding to permit a free vote. This would be highly controversial but remains an option for the GOP establishment. There are also rumours of greater backing for Cruz as well as pushing Kasich or, possibly, Paul Ryan, to derail the Trump machine. And Trump’s threat to renege on his pledge at the North Carolina primary, among others – where he won all 50 delegates – to support the eventual GOP nominee should he lose the vote, has further damaged his chances.
But according to Silver’s FiveThirtyEight US election website, Trump is exposing some key weaknesses in America’s political institutions, including the GOP. He’s also shown that America is neither post-racial nor post-racist, as some claim, and that racism and nationalism remain potent political forces. He’s also shown up and benefited from the corporate media’s complicity in establishment politics. FiveThirtyEight argues that whatever happens to Trump, “the problems he’s exposed were years in the making, and they’ll take years to sort out.”
Trump has benefited from media coverage more than any other candidate. He has certainly played his cards well and managed to inflame public opinion with outrageous statements against minorities, Muslims and women. Yet, surveys of media coverage show that Trump managed to secure far more air time as compared with other GOP candidates. And the type of coverage also suggests greater focus on his polling data than on the content of his messages, a critical dissection of his racist, Islamophobic and murderous suggestions for how to tackle terrorism.
The principal reason for such coverage is that Trump’s thunder is right-wing, in a country which has no Left and whose politics is variations of right wing ideology – every tenet of conservative ‘Americanism’ militates against any form of leftist or even centrist ideas. The emphasis on extreme individualism, individual liberty, free enterprise and the market, rejection of the very idea of the welfare state or socialised medicine and the worship of the gospel of wealth feeds the right, normalises it and makes other thoughts almost unthinkable. And the media – owned by corporations and soaked in the same version of Americanism – privileges Trump’s basic political outlook, even where it smirks at his boorishness rather than conduct a thorough critique of what is appearing as an increasingly extreme right-wing racist appeal based on hate and resentment against practically everyone else. Trump’s racism, misogyny, and encouragement of violence at his rallies have hardly been called out in media coverage let alone his calls for illegal torture methods, and killing of women and children as US foreign policy. And his unpopularity ratings among key sections of voters, including women, have hardly received attention, severely affecting the possibility of his election in November 2016.
Impairing Sanders’ candidacy
Nowhere is the structural corporate-media bias more glaringly demonstrated than in its coverage of Sanders’ democratic socialist campaign. Sanders has, in contrast with Trump and Hillary Clinton, been virtually ignored by the corporate media. Even establishment candidate Clinton is usually covered in a negative light despite her lead in the polls and generally high favourability ratings as compared with Trump. Trump’s free media coverage is equivalent to around $2 billion while Sanders received $321 million, and Clinton secured $746 million. And the bias against Sanders is not confined to the right wing media. The New York Times has adopted a mocking attitude to the socialist candidate, showing its ideological attachments and political support for Clinton. Up to December 2015, ABC World News had devoted 81 minutes to covering Trump and just a single minute covering Sanders even though both candidates attracted between 20-30% support in opinion polls.
Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s secretary of labour, summed it up well: “The major media have come to see much of America through the eyes of the establishment. That’s not surprising. After all, they depend on establishment corporations for advertising revenues, their reporters and columnists rely on the establishment for news and access, their top media personalities socialize with the rich and powerful and are themselves rich and powerful, and their publishers and senior executives are themselves part of the establishment.”
This is not a free market of ideas – it’s the politics of a corporate media in the hands of a narrow section of American society that is saturated in a right-wing, anti-socialist version of Americanism.
The most formidable opponent facing Sanders, and complementing the mass media, is the Democratic party machine. The range of tactics has included attacks on Sanders’ credibility by Clinton allies in the media, denial of access to the party’s voter database, scheduling fewer debates (just six in 2016 compared with 26 in 2008) andrestricting them to unpopular times, opaque ballot counting procedures, permitting corporate donations directly to the Democratic National Committee (DNC; President Barack Obama had stopped that) and limiting voter registration.
The veteran civil rights campaigner John Lewis, in endorsing Clinton, claimed that he’d never seen Sanders on a civil rights march, undermining the candidate’s actual record on the question. Other Clinton allies among mainstream economists challenged Sanders’s economic programmes, while defying mainstream economics logics about the necessity and effects of large scale infrastructure investments in the US. The Democratic party has not focused with great vigour on voter registration drives, leaving large numbers off the rolls, especially young voters on college campuses. Party leaders – mayors, congressmen, senators, governors – have endorsed Clinton and are hardly making an effort to mobilise young voters, the vast majority of whom have backed Sanders in the primaries. And the DNC has lifted all restrictions on Wall Street and other corporate funding of the DNC itself, which is jointly raising funds for the Clinton campaign. Wall Street – overtly opposed by Sanders – has moved to the very heart of the Democratic party, raising millions of dollars for Clinton. And the system of super-delegates – loyal to the party leadership – was designed by the DNC for the specific purpose of stopping the likes of Sanders, as DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz explained: “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.”
Obama has briefed against Sanders and for Clinton despite the fact that there were, at the time, over 20 primaries and caucuses to come. Democratic senators have suggested Sanders either step down or discuss matters that unite him and Clinton against Trump, as if the latter is a safe bet to win the GOP nomination. The Clinton machine, with the full support of the DNC, media allies, Washington, lobbyists and labour organisations, is trying to make a Clinton win appear inevitable, despite the results of recent primaries and the increasingly strong position of Sanders in national polls (one of which actually puts him in the lead).
The real story is as American as apple pie: the battle of a relatively obscure candidate, with few links with the US establishment, to speak truth to power and rally a popular movement against the corporate takeover of American politics. Yet it’s a story that’s hardly been told because the powers that be who define what’s American control the levers of power.
It was hardly ever the case that ordinary Americans overwhelmingly rejected socialism: socialism has been smeared and misrepresented by corporate elites and their political and ideological allies and, in combination with that, through outright state and state-authorised violence through ‘red scares’. Socialism remains the biggest threat to the American establishment today, even the relatively mild social democratic variant offered by Sanders. So we should expect to see more dubious tactics from party and media elites to maintain the boundaries of thinkable thought. And longer term moves to incorporate, domesticate and ultimately extinguish the politics of mass dissent.
Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics, and co-director of the Centre for International Policy Studies, at City University London. Follow him on Twitter and via his blog.
by Inderjeet Parmar
This op-ed was originally published on The Wire: http://thewire.in/2016/04/04/to-the-american-establishment-mass-mobilisations-are-an-excess-of-democracy-27279/
In the WASP, male-dominated establishment spread across both parties and based on corporate wealth and mental universes constructed by elite universities, foundations and think tanks, participatory democracy appears as disorder and chaos.
An un-American set of institutions have been running America, a land supposedly free of aristocracies or ruling classes, or any other classes, for that matter. Yet, while around half of all Americans now say they’re working class, the rest remain in a beleaguered middle class, and they all seem to know about the 1% that controls America.
Donald Trump rails against the establishment, as does Ted Cruz, his Republican challenger for the party’s presidential nomination. Famously, the GOP’s establishment is said to dislike Cruz, but maybe not so much as they fear Trump. The democratic socialist Bernie Sanders attacks the establishment and says that Hillary Clinton is part of it due to her Wall Street connections. The establishment, then, appears to encompass both main political parties or, as Tanzania’s former president Julius Nyrere famously suggested, America is a one-party state with two parties.
In 1975, the Trilateral Commission, an elite international organisation founded by David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Columbia University professor and, later, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, issued a candid report on how democracies function and when they don’t. And their diagnosis and prescriptions seem apt for American establishment mindsets today and their likely responses to the crisis that is apparent in the US political system.
According to Samuel Huntington, Harvard professor and author of the US section of the Trilateral Commission’s report, The Crisis of Democracy (1975), the 1960s were a “decade of democratic surge and of the reassertion of democratic egalitarianism,” undermining democratic government. Opposition to the Vietnam war, racism, the oppression of women, corruption in government led the people to question “the legitimacy of hierarchy, coercion, discipline, secrecy, and deception – all of which are…. inescapable attributes of the process of government.”
Too many people, Huntington argued, mobilised and participated far too much and caused an overload on the system. “Previously passive or unorganized groups in the population, blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students, and women now embarked on concerted efforts to establish their claims to opportunities, positions, rewards, and privileges, which they had not considered themselves entitled [to] before.” The root of the problem is that there is an “excess of democracy,” he insisted.
There was a golden age that Huntington yearned for – the age of President Harry Truman, who was lucky enough to “govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers.” A small number of men ran America – the president and his executive office, the federal bureaucracy, US congress “and the more important businesses, banks, law firms, foundations, and media, which constitute the private establishment.” He could have added Harvard and Yale and the other ivy league universities that spawned the managing ideologies and state intellectuals in the postwar military-industrial complex. But the picture of what good government looks like is clear – and the people are conspicuous by their absence.
And Huntington’s attitude echoes that of American Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, who noted, “The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and, however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true to fact. The people are turbulent and changing, they seldom judge or determine right.”
Huntington’s cure? “The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and non-involvement on the part of some individuals and groups,” and although this was undemocratic, it permitted politics as usual dominated by the men of power, as C. Wright Mills noted in 1956 – the elite few making the big decisions shaping American lives. Restoring apathy was Huntington’s remedy.
Herein lies the clue to what the American establishment really is: a male-dominated set of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, with some minority clones in high positions, spread across both main political parties, based on corporate wealth (Wall Street), and mental universes constructed by elite universities, foundations and Washington, DC-beltway think tanks.
In this logic, participatory democracy appears as disorder, chaos, and a crisis. All those young people behind Sanders – that’s a problem; all those marginal white workers backing Trump need to know their place.
The establishment’s problem is that too many Americans have rejected Huntington’s diagnosis and cure: from the Tea Party to the Occupy movements, Americans have had enough and the left-right split in American politics seems to be constructing the basis of a new politics. The precise contours of this new politics will become clearer over time but the insightful conservative intellectual, Bill Domenech, has an interesting if worrying scenario for the future of the GOP should Trump’s ideas triumph (including Trumpism without Trump, though he (Domenech) does not take the logic so far):
“….it would set America’s political path on a direction along the lines of what we have seen in democracies in Europe,” Domenech fears.
The GOP would split and its principal faction would be dominated by a reactive white identity politics, declasse elements pitting their demands and dreams of restoration to cultural and political power against other ethnic identities in a nation heading for ‘majority-minority’ status in the next quarter century (non-hispanic whites will be a minority by around 2050, according to demographers). This is, for all intents and purposes, a new party dominated by White Power. Yet, Domenech speculates that US politics could resemble those of France, divided between “on the one hand, a centre-left/technocratic party, full of elites with shared pedigrees of experience and education, and on the other a nativist right/populist party, which represents a constant reactive force to the dominant elite.”
Trump’s “brand of conservatism is frequently xenophobic, anti-capitalist, vaguely militarist, pro-state, and consistently anti-Semitic. If you criticise Donald Trump, it is exactly the sort of hate mail you should expect to receive,” Domenech laments.
As an analyst of the Right, Domenech is insightful but as to the Left, he has little to say. With wins in six of the last seven Democratic primaries and caucuses, bringing Bernie Sanders closer to Clinton’s pledged delegates tally, there may well be no centre-ground in American politics by the summer of 2016. If Clinton wants to co-opt the youthful energy of the Sanders campaign, she will have to move a lot more convincingly to the Left. As Dan Cantor, the executive director of a pro-Sanders labour-backed progressive party with deep roots in New York politics says, “The political revolution is growing. Every day, Bernie Sanders is inspiring Americans to take the brave step of voting for the future we want to see, and not just what the political and financial elite tells us we’re allowed to have.”
According to Ralph Nader, consumer rights advocate and independent presidential candidate in 2004, “should Clinton overcome Sanders, the Democratic party will continue to be the champion of war and Wall Street…. But perhaps after the comparative success of Sanders’s campaign, this state of affairs will invigorate more courageous candidates to follow his lead in challenging establishment, commercialized politics.” Socialism without Sanders.
Whatever happens, the American establishment’s crisis of “too much democracy” ruining their attempts to continue politics as usual looks likely to continue for some time yet, mobilising new groups of voters, realigning party politics, and re-energising the broader democratic political culture. But don’t expect the establishment to do nothing to derail, channel or dissipate discontent. A crisis is also an opportunity, after all.
Inderjeet Parmar is a professor of international politics at City University London.
by Inderjeet Parmar
This op-ed was originally published on The Wire: http://thewire.in/2016/03/29/the-american-elites-political-crisis-26504/
The current crisis in the US Right and the insurgency from the Left are shattering the consensus forged over decades and centred on the might of the market. A major political realignment may be in the offing.
American sociologist Alvin Gouldner once noted that if there is an iron law of oligarchy, there must also be an iron law of democracy. Power is all too frequently concentrated in fewer hands, corrupting democracy in the process and debasing the broader political culture. But nothing lasts forever and perhaps the most dangerous time for any system is when its guardians are most comfortable, made complacent and even smug by the feeling of “we’ve never had it so good”.
For the American political elite – regardless of their party affliations – 2016 must increasingly feel like 1973: then, the elites complained that the biggest threat facing them came from “a highly educated, mobilised, and participant society”. To many, that’s democracy. To elites, as Bill Domenech noted recently, mass mobilisations look like chaos and disorder. In 2016, just like in 1973, elites want to shepherd the enraged sheep back into their pen to resume their allotted place, voting every couple of years and otherwise enjoying life as consumer-sovereigns. But the sheep don’t appear to be listening at the moment because the market is not delivering.
The current crisis in the US Right and the insurgency from the Left are shattering the consensus forged over decades and centred on the might of the market. But the mental universe of elites has rendered invisible the plight of the many while they’ve been enjoying the spoils of privatisation, the profits of globalisation and the licence of corporate non-regulation, presided over by a political class more or less completely in the grip of Wall Street mentalities. They do not see that the world has moved on, that there are working and middle class people whose living standards and prospects bear no relationship to the classless utopia or American dream of some golden age. In truth, the golden age disappeared around 1973 and, for minorities, its lustre was a mere mirage.
The pent up rage on the Right represents the shrill cry of people in the shadows upon whose psychic and social plight Donald Trump’s demagoguery has shone an energising ray of light. Many of them would hardly shrink, might even celebrate, the subliminal slogan at the heart of Trumpism – white, working class power. It may be a road to nowhere but division by mobilising resentment and pain through irresponsible, but well thought out, knee-jerk bigotry and ethnocentrism. Yet its adherents look to a golden past when America was theirs, as was the world. At home and abroad, they see defeat and humiliation at the hands of lesser peoples, including a supposed Muslim foreigner in the White House. So they want their country back and to make it great again. In this scenario, perhaps Trump is like Benito Mussolini restoring the Roman empire. Racial antipathy among marginal white workers appears to have conjoined two forces that conventionally pull in opposite directions; class matters in America but in usual ways. President Barack Obama has unwittingly proved a prime target for racist anti-elitists.
The frustrations of the many young workers and middle classes rest on the Left with Bernie Sanders’s socialism. The under-thirties don’t care about the Cold war and its constructed ‘Red Scare’ that the over-fifties were force-fed and imbibed for decades after 1947; they want Swedish welfare capitalism in spades, to be relieved of lifelong indebtedness incurred at college and the costs of corporate-controlled healthcare. They would rather divert war spending to building a new America worthy of the American dream, tax the rich, stem the flow of big money into politics, and restore the healthier public political culture of the 1960s – built by a mobilised, educated and participatory populace who had had enough of racial and gender oppression, militarism and war, and a corrupt, arrogant elite.
Sanders talks the politics of class, which actually accords with the cry of white workers backing Trump – but the latter cannot see past their identity politics of ethno-racial loss. So the two groups with so many complaints and demands in common remain divided, one of the reasons sociologist Werner Sombart gave over a century ago in answer to his question: “Why is there no socialism in the United States?”
With Ted Cruz still on the margins of the Republican elite’s affections, only Hillary Clinton stands unequivocally for defence of the existing system, explaining why Republicans – the creators of “Stop Trump” organisations – may end up holding their noses and voting Democratic in November. But they may not get the chance if Sanders continues to surprise by adding more wins to add to his current 11, especially in big states like California and New York.
The short term political prospects are pretty bleak and Americans are prepared for a bumpy ride into the summer nominating conventions. But the discontent is so intense that there’s likely to be a correction. The US system has proved very flexible in the past, including when it was captured by corporate money and then recaptured/recalibrated by more enlightened elements allied with reformist politicians. The Gilded Age of ‘robber barons’ – Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt et al – in the 1880s and 1890s gave way to leftist and conservative progressivism (both state building programmes against the excesses of the market); in turn, progressivism gave way to red scares after 1918 and the free market jamboree of the ‘20s that ended in the Wall Street crash of 1929. The New Deal of the 1930s inaugurated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt just about outlived the second world war but came under the intense scrutiny of the FBI and McCarthyism. And the pendulum swung again with the Great Society programmes under Lyndon Johnson, and again with Reaganomics in the 1980s and 1990s (by then known as the Third Way).
Major party realignments in the US seem to happen every 30 or 40 years – 1896, 1932/6, 1968, possibly 1994. The country may be heading towards another one, although it is early days still. The Republican party’s days look numbered, while the Democratic party is reeling under the Sanders insurgency. That’s the terrain on which a new politics will probably emerge, but only if organised constituencies develop to maintain pressure on their leaders to remind them where their interest lie. Gouldner’s iron law of democracy demands it.
Inderjeet Parmar is a professor of international politics at City University London.
by Inderjeet Parmar
This op-ed was originally published on The Wire: http://thewire.in/2016/03/21/americas-little-rebellion-against-its-political-elite-is-the-storm-before-the-calm-25422/
The established political system in America is in shock, and it does not look as if this firestorm is likely to burn itself out anytime soon. But it is the storm before the calm. As Thomas Jefferson said of Shays’ armed rebellion against heavier taxes levied to pay the war loans of rich merchants, “a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing” for a republic. It brings to the surface the simmering frustrations of the people which forces governments to act.
This has happened before, of course: In the late 1890s, social reform followed the outbreak of violent Populism, the Great Depression of the 1930s brought forth the New Deal, and, in the 1960s major democratic and civic reforms followed the upheavals of the Civil Rights movement. Hence, there is little reason to suppose the American political system is not flexible enough to weather the Trump storm and come out stronger, more representative and resilient.
What voters seem to want is a newly-realigned order that can steer the US away from where it is today: an increasingly unequal society with fewer opportunities to achieve the American dream.
The symptoms of an unsustainable order are evident in the churning that both the GOP and Democratic primaries are witnessing. So intense is the feeling of violent anger on the right, but also idealism on the left, that the corporate-domination of American politics is under the spotlight more intensely than at any time since the early 1970s. Establishing a new equilibrium means the correction which should have occurred after the Iraq War and especially following the 2008 financial crisis must happen under the watch of the next president, regardless of which party is in office.
But let’s get back to Jefferson. A democratic government like America’s “has a great deal of good in it,” he said. “It has its evils, too, the principal of which is the turbulence to which it is subject… I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people, which have produced them…. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”
Therein lies the secret of American government and why the current political crisis will most likely pass even if it wrecks careers and political parties in its wake. Yet, a society riled up as the US is at present would do well to fear what Jefferson commented a year later: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” With around 300 million private firearms in America, owned by anywhere from 40% to 50% of the population, and Donald Trump’s rallies becoming increasingly raucous and aggressive as protests against his attacks on Muslims, Mexicans and other minorities mount, the danger of escalating violence hangs in the air. Should Hillary Clinton and Trump slug it out in the contest for the White House, the degree of polarisation could well lead to general ugliness – and even serious outbreaks of violence.
Ironically, a Trump-Sanders contest might bring forth a more interesting political struggle – for the hearts and minds of those who’ve missed out on the American dream and blame globalisation, the outsourcing of American jobs, and the takeover of life and politics by big corporations. The real schism is hardly between black and white or Mexicans or Muslims but between the super-wealthy and the majority of Americans. Trump’s base – his hard core support – consists of non-college educated working class whites who reject conservative small government or cuts to welfare and who want heavier taxes on the rich and big business. Their ethno-centrism prevents them from joining the Sanders people. Sanders is the only real “class” candidate who stands for working people, while Clinton wins among blacks, and whites with annual incomes over $200,000, losing among young people by wide margins.
Sanders faces a fundamental structural problem – the lack of a strong political machine or movement nurtured over time, which reaches from the pinnacles of national politics down to the local ward. Clinton has the Democratic party machine with and behind her, in her very DNA. She raises millions of dollars for local senate and congressional races. She has a history with black voters that Sanders cannot even dream of.
Sanders knows this, of course, and is glad of the endorsement of Democracy for America, a million-strong group backing progressive candidates in mainly local races around the US. Such backing means local campaigners will knock on doors, put up posters and bumper stickers, and make Sanders visible everywhere and not just on national TV. But even so, this is unlikely to be enough to provide significant political backing in Congress to President Sanders. If elected, he will not be able to govern.
More likely is a strong showing for Sanders in a closely-fought contest which allows him to make progressive demands on the Clinton campaign in the run up to November – on healthcare, college tuition fees, heavier taxes on the rich, protection of social security and pensions. And a dampener on higher military spending. In those conditions, a victorious Clinton would find it difficult openly to deliver the White House to Wall Street. There is such contempt for corporate-fuelled politics that Sanders might harness the movement to demand more from Clinton than she is currently promising.
It appears, at least superficially, that a great political realignment has begun in the US, but unless this process alters the orientation of the dominant parties, the change will not endure. Trump’s demolition of the Republican party is continuing apace and impacting his principal opponent – Ted Cruz, a ‘frenemy’ of the GOP establishment. Ironically, Sanders may be strengthening the Democratic party by hoovering up major discontent and pulling Clinton to the left. His pledged delegate count, regardless of the final outcome of the nomination contest, is likely to be so high that he could rightfully demand Clinton’s presidential election platform move further to the left than she would prefer – given her indebtedness to corporate donors.
The core message from Trump and Sanders is that the economic system is failing most Americans, increasing corporate wealth, income and wealth inequality, and polarising society and politics. The votes for Sanders and Trump are really screams against a political establishment that has been taken over by corporations, corporate mentalities and agendas – lower taxes and more state subsidies for the rich, the outsourcing of well paid jobs through globalisation to low-wage societies. It is a delayed-reaction demand for a recalibration of the system after the long reign of neo-liberal, free-markets-know-it-all politics. The ideological dominance of neoliberalism is now under severe strain. Markets do not correct themselves, politics does.
It’s the storm before the calm of which Jefferson would have approved, refreshing the tree of liberty, the health of government, and the happiness of the people.
Inderjeet Parmar is a professor of international politics at City University London.
THE ELITE POWER BLOG
On this page one of the EPIC members as well as occasional guests will regularly publish blogs commenting on news and developments in world politics showing the power of elites or the resistance to elite power