2018 promises to be a fateful year in the United States. If the Republicans can hold on to their majorities in Congress and maintain power in state legislatures, they will have weathered an intense storm created by the backlash to Donald Trump’s presidency and their own extremely narrow legislative agenda. On the other hand, if current projections of a Democratic wave hold true, there may be a chance for a new beginning and a reversal of the decades-long neoliberal agenda.
The degradation of the norms of democracy has been underway for many years, but its pace has accelerated since Donald Trump took office. The number of lies that issue from the White House and Congress on a daily basis dwarfs any truths they may happen to utter. This dishonesty undermines one of the very premises of representative government: that citizens, either as individuals or through elected representatives, can work together to address society’s problems and mediate conflicts of interest. For such an arrangement to have any chance of success, there have to be ground rules about acceptable behavior as well as a common understanding of the truth. Both are in short supply in our stressed republic.
In his recent report, “Reversing Inequality: Unleashing the Transformative Potential of an Equitable Economy,” Chuck Collins explores the structural dimensions of inequality in the U.S. and proposes fundamental changes to “rewire” the economy. It’s a long article, but worth reading because it describes the systemic problems of the U.S. economy and recommends dramatic policies that progressives should be thinking about as they look ahead to 2018.
In a recent op-ed in the Roanoke Times, activist and organic farmer Anthony Flaccavento argues that Democrats must pay a lot more attention to rural America if they hope to rebuild the party. It is a startling proposition, if only because it rarely gets articulated, but one that should be a central part of a progressive agenda in 2018 and beyond. It also takes aim at the stale debate in democratic and progressive circles about whether the party should “lean to the center” to try to appeal to imagined swing voters, including the so-called “white working class,” or aim instead to “energize the base.”
The failed attempts by the republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) have yielded some surprising results. The process itself spurred many Americans to pay close attention to health care policy and to republican shenanigans. In the end, instead of sneaking the legislation through quickly with minimal deliberation, conservative senators and representatives were confronted by firestorms of opposition at town hall meetings. Press coverage and continued protests have kept the issue alive.
Even more consequential, as a result of the awful bills put forward (and passed in the House), there has been a shift in public opinion toward the view that everyone has a right to affordable health insurance. Polling has found increasing support for single payer or Medicare for all laws. In addition, many governors, including republican governors, actively opposed the repeal legislation, because of what it would do to Medicaid and the prospect that large numbers of their constituents would lose insurance. And if we consider GOP claims about the legislation–dishonest as they were–that it would improve healthcare and reduce costs for everyone, it is clear they had no choice but to play this game on a field where healthcare for all was a basic ground rule.
With the election of Donald Trump and the ascendance of a radical republican party, it is a commonplace to assert that the United States is passing through a moment of great uncertainty and great peril. At the same time, there has been a flowering of progressive movements–going back several years in many cases–and political activism. But for many progressives it is not clear how activism translates into political change.
If you are wondering how the power of protest works, Francis Fox Piven’s Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America offers some answers. Despite the fact that this book was written in 2006–a lifetime ago given the current pace of dizzying events–Piven’s conceptual approach and historical analysis lend many helpful insights about how protest movements can affect political coalitions and electoral politics.
We live in perilous and confusing times. On the one hand, the US government is dominated by a reactionary two-headed regime that is attempting to throw over 20 million citizens off of health insurance, while giving a huge tax break to the wealthiest 1 percent. On the other hand, the idea of universal healthcare appears to be catching on fast in progressive circles and possibly across the political spectrum in the United States. The Kaiser Family Foundation has noticed a shift in attitudes and even conservative commentators George Will and Charles Krauthammer have recently predicted that the US will eventually have a single payer system. Whatever the outcome of the current effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, universal health care will be on the agenda.
But, as we have seen countless times in the past several years, nothing is inevitable and everything is contested. There are extremely powerful forces that find universal healthcare abhorrent. In a “normal’ political system, a bill that had an approval rating of under 20% would have no chance of making it through Congress, but given the power of the insurance industries, the outsized influence of billionaires like the Koch brothers, and the right-wing media and blogosphere cheerleading for cruelty, this awful bill had a good chance of becoming law. The clear implication is that while universal healthcare is catching on as an idea among newly energized progressive groups, there is a very difficult and expensive fight ahead to make it a reality. If progressives are not prepared, they may lose the best chance in decades to pass a law that guarantees health care to all Americans.
After six months of chaos, it has become apparent that we have entered a terrifying political realm where the leader of the country operates in his own reality and constant turbulence is the order of the day. Let’s call it “Trumpworld,” a place where the man and his ill-considered tweets and statements are everywhere, absorbing media attention and distracting everyone else. His outrageous behavior may not be presidential, but it derives from his personality. He is not going to change.
This presents a problem for democrats and other opposition forces who are struggling to find political traction. On the one hand, Trump’s behavior appears to be more-or-less for the benefit of his most ardent supporters. They welcome his brash, offensive style and will likely stick with him for his entire term. On the other hand, there is little value to scrutinizing every Trump misdeed as his support is already very low and is unlikely to fall much farther. To condemn him is only to draw more attention to him; to play on his field. At the same time, it is extremely difficult to ignore outrageous statements and actions by a sitting president. All of this makes it nearly impossible to make political headway in the media storm that Trump kicks up almost every day. What are democrats and progressives to do?
In left-progressive circles the term “intersectionality” has gained a certain currency. To be sure, it is an awkward term that sounds like academic jargon. But it is an important concept because it explains some of the various ways injustice and discrimination work as well as the opposition to injustice. The classic case is of black women workers who face both race and gender discrimination. Race and gender “intersect” to put them in a double bind. And if we add class to the mix, the forces of discrimination and repression only multiply.
Resisting such discrimination and power imbalances could go in two directions. In one, power relations and identities could isolate these women from potential allies such as African American men, non-black women, and other working-class people. The other direction is where broader power imbalances that victimize ethnic minorities, women, and laborers expand the potential for solidarity among them. This second scenario suggests the potential to build alliances across race, class, and other identity lines, a potential, it so happens, that is already being activated.
Given the urgency of responding to accelerating climate change, the announcement by Donald Trump that the US was withdrawing from the Paris climate framework is a potential disaster for the future of humanity. For many in the US and around the world, it is also dismaying to see the US revert to the role played by the George Bush administration as spoiler–but in this case, times ten.