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To White American Progressives: Vote Down Trump with the Rest of America


The Republican and Democratic party conventions held in July both staged a virtual political reality well removed from what is happening in America’s communities. The Democrats produced a carefully choreographed appearance of unity that masked deep divisions between its establishment and Sanders-inspired delegates. The Trump-dominated Republican convention appealed to profound dissatisfaction with the country’s prospects, but stoked the demonization of immigrants to protect the billionaires who are actually responsible for outsourcing jobs.

Meanwhile, state legitimacy is dissolving because of unconstrained shootings of non-white Americans by trigger-happy police.

Clinton’s acceptance speech showed clear signs of the influence of Sanders’ campaign, denouncing factory closings, economic inequality, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and money in politics; but while her speechwriters are attuned to the outcome of the primaries, they are insensitive to the disenchantment of many Americans with the political establishment. For these people, contrary to her message, America is not great. There is a pervasive anti-establishment populist movement in society based on a decline in middle-class jobs and living standards – above all, on a perception that there is no prospect of a better future – that has produced a fundamental shift in the relation between the political elite and the public.

This has created a dangerous desire for a powerful leader who will fix everything. The Associated Press reported: “After a recent Trump rally in West Virginia, countless news articles and academics dismissed Trump’s pledge to bring back coal as impossible, tied to market forces and geology. Chuck Keeney, a professor of political science and history at Southern Community College in Logan, often hears his students dismiss the criticism as the establishment, the very machine that ignored them for so long, beating up on Trump now, too. ‘What they see in their minds is the elite that looks down on them, mocks them, makes fun of them, thinks they’re stupid,’ Keeney said. ‘They see all those establishment groups ganging up on Donald Trump and that makes them root for him more’.”

Trump has leveraged the reaction against globalization and the rejection of political authority to take over the Republican party. Although his convention speeches were politically chaotic, they nevertheless succeeded in convincing his base that he could be president. Moreover, it articulated the appeal of his authoritarian rhetoric to the security forces and the rightwing NRA – not to mention the KKK.

A star speaker at the Republican convention was an African American police officer who denounced the Black Lives Matter movement. Milwaukee county sheriff David A. Clarke told the delegates: “What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest and violate the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.”

This is the true danger of Trumpism – its affinity with the authoritarianism of repressive state agencies built up under Bush and Obama. Max Blumenthal commented: “Clarke opened with what was perhaps the most successful applause line of the evening: ‘Ladies and gentleman, I would like to make one thing very clear: Blue lives matter in America!’ … Invoked on the national stage by culture war icons like Sheriff Clarke, Blue Lives Matter has become an integral component of the Republican base. It is not only a catch-all for opposition to Black Lives Matter and virtually any effort to spur police reform, but also a brand that conveys the racial backlash sensibility cultivated by the Trump campaign.”

The Democrats began their convention with party organizers maneuvering to contain dissent from Sanders’ supporters, and ended with Obama and Hillary Clinton staking out the Republican territory of American exceptionalism to deliver a message of patriotic optimism. Their election strategy appears to be one of winning over moderate Republican voters disenchanted with Trump and to pivot away from the concessions made to Sanders’ representatives on the platform committee.

“America is already great. America is already strong,” insisted Obama in his convention speech. According to the New York Times, “Democrats sought to seize on the traditional core of Republican campaign messaging: America as a place of virtue, optimism and exceptionalism. … Democrats celebrated the country’s diversity, with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, the vice-presidential nominee, ladling on the Spanish.” It’s a welcome sign of the times – but, as Greg Grandin points out, while Kaine speaks Spanish to market the presidential candidate, he still supports “the policies of free trade and militarization that produced the poverty, the violence, and the immigration [from] Central America.” The party’s leaders are simply blind to the contradiction between their professed aims of social justice and their close connections to corporate financial interests.

Alternet reported that “for most of the 1,900 Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, the convention was a turbulent and trying affair. It began with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz being forced to resign a day before it opened, after WikiLeaks posted emails of aides plotting against Sanders, but then she was rewarded with a top appointment to the Clinton campaign. That didn’t just affirm their suspicions about DNC bias, but it more ominously signaled that the party and Clinton campaign didn’t care about them.” Luis Eric Aguilar, a delegate from Illinois, told Democracy Now: “The theme of the DNC was to unify the party, but the delegates for Hillary get there early, reserve seats in the front rows so it shows good to the media, and then they push us to the back. … They tried taking away these signs, the ‘No TPP’ signs. All the homemade signs were taken away from us. But that is taking away our freedom of speech.”

By day four of the convention, Sanders’ supporters were arguing passionately about what to do next. They had expected to have more of an opportunity to express their critique of Clinton, but found themselves being shut down. Melissa Michelson, a member of Sanders’ California delegation, told Alternet: “We kind of understand where Sanders is going. We understand that he doesn’t want Donald Trump to win. However, he also told us that the political revolution is about us, not him… A lot of us are going to start getting involved in local politics. … We’re still skeptical how things will work out with this new relationship, you know [with Sanders endorsing and planning to campaign against Trump]. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton and I will not vote for Donald Trump either.”

A different view was expressed by a Texas delegate, Fawaz S. Anwar. He said: “I’m scared that Trump’s going to win now. And now that Clinton is sagging behind Trump, the most misogynistic, sexist, sexist, racist person that the Republicans have ever nominated, Clinton is slipping up. I just—I don’t know how else to say it. But our democracy is in danger if Trump becomes president. I’m in agreement with Bernie. I’m going to vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.”

Now that Sanders activists have reached the limits of the Democratic nomination campaign, they face a decision about the presidential election. In a discussion between Robert Reich and Chris Hedges hosted by Democracy Now, Reich said he saw no alternative to supporting Clinton because under a Trump presidency there would be negative changes that would irrevocably worsen the structure of the country, including appointments to the Supreme Court. He suggested that it was still possible to build “a multiracial, multiethnic coalition of the bottom 90 percent that is ready to fight to get big money out of politics, for more equality, for a system that is not rigged against average working people, where there are not going to be all of these redistributions upward from those of us who have paychecks” in order to take back democracy.

Hedges, advocating a vote for Green party candidate Jill Stein, responded that corporate power has already seized all the levers of control and the Democratic party was identical to the Republicans in this respect. “We’ve got to break away from political personalities and understand and examine and critique the structures of power,” he said. Obama “has been as obsequious to Wall Street as the Bush administration. … I don’t think it makes any difference. The TPP is going to go through, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Endless war is going to be continued, whether it’s Trump or Clinton.”

However, the majority of Americans are not going to abstain in this election, nor vote for a third party. For African and Latino Americans this is not an academic debate. They will vote overwhelmingly for Clinton because a Trump presidency is literally life-threatening for them. It would give the police carte blanche to gun down minorities without cause and Trump the power to use state force to suppress political opposition. White liberals have the luxury of potentially abstaining or voting for a third party, but this implies walking away from a long-term fight within the ranks of the Democratic party, and within the communities outside it, in order to change its leadership. It means giving up the struggle before it has begun. The left cannot use its criticisms of Clinton to avoid going through the experience of voting down Trump with the rest of America.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, aggressive policing, Bernie Sanders, Chris Hedges, Democratic Party, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, political analysis, State legitimacy, Uncategorized, Xenophobia

The struggle continues: Sanders’ supporters ready to keep up the fight for social justice


Bernie Sanders has annoyed political pundits and party strategists alike with his stubborn insistence on taking his campaign all the way to the Democratic party convention in July. On Tuesday evening he told supporters in Santa Monica, after the California primary: “We are going to fight hard to win the primary in Washington DC. And then we take our fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice to Philadelphia.”

The New York Times described his speech as one of “striking stubbornness” that “ignored the history-making achievement of his Democratic rival.” Although Clinton has presented her delegate count as a victory for women’s rights, it is more a victory for the Democratic party machine, aided by the media that announced her presumptive nomination for presidential candidate on Tuesday, just before voting began in California and five other primaries.

Even after Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren had formally endorsed Clinton on Thursday, Sanders’ supporters backed his decision to carry on. Iliana Jaime, 18, a high school senior, welcomed the stance and said she wanted Sanders to remain in the race until the convention next month. “I don’t think a revolution ends with a certain number of delegates,” she said. “It’s crucial he keeps going until the end. His impact is really obvious in a lot of ways aside from just being president. It would kind of be giving into the system that he is trying to reject if he did drop out at this point.”

Sanders told a rally in Washington DC that the campaign would go on because it is “based on a vision that our country must focus on social justice, on economic justice, on racial justice, on environmental justice. And when the overwhelming majority of young people support that vision, that will be the future of America.”

The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that “Clinton may take the nomination, but Sanders surely has won the political debate. … He has astounded even his supporters, winning more than 20 contests, 10 million votes and 1,500 pledged delegates, the most of any true insurgent in modern history. He has captured the support of young voters by record margins. And he did so less with personal charisma than with the power of his ideas and the force of the integrity demonstrated by spurning traditional deep-pocketed donors in favor of grass-roots fundraising. … Sanders has already nudged Clinton to the left on key issues during the campaign, including trade policy and the minimum wage. The Democratic National Committee made one important concession last month by allowing Sanders to name five strong progressive allies to the platform committee (though the DNC also vetoed one Sanders pick, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro, on the strange grounds that it did not want labor leaders on the candidate’s lists).”

While early on Clinton was able to leverage her appeal among African American voters, especially in the South, by the end of the campaign Sanders appeared to have overcome his early missteps with this section of the American public. The Washington Post reported: “Summoning congregants last week in a historic East Oakland sanctuary that helped give rise to the civil rights movement and the Black Panther Party, he spoke passionately about the plight of many blacks: Too many children are raised in poverty, too many youths can’t afford to go to college and can’t find jobs, too many adults are locked in jails. The system is rigged against them, and he vowed to change it. The audience rose in applause and affirmation. There were hurrahs and smiles and shouts of ‘Amen!’ ”

Sanders has headed a movement that is not going to go away after the presidential election. Unlike Obama’s campaign in 2008, the movement is independent of his campaign organization, being based on a grassroots bottom-up approach rather than a top-down model. In particular, he has energized youth to support his social democratic program. The Huffington Post commented: “Sanders has not demagogued his way into relevance among the impressionable youth. He has simply stated their legitimate grievances directly and forcefully. Young people have been hit hard by the country’s economic anemia. It’s not surprising that they gravitated to the candidate calling for a major overhaul of the system. … Bernie Sanders did not create the movement that political pundits like to credit him with. He has, instead, spent a year serving rather effectively as the voice of people left behind by a broken economy. And until that economy is fixed, the movement will not go away, no matter who rises to lead it.”

A major survey of youth voters between 17 and 19 years old found overwhelming support for Sanders: 1.94 million voted for Sanders compared to 727,000 for Clinton. The Guardian reported: “Jasmine Brown, a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, is one of those young voters. She grew up two hours east of Orangeburg in Georgetown, where, according to the 2010 census, 24.1% of people live below the poverty line, a figure that rises to 34.9% for those younger than 18…. Brown came away from [Sanders’ rally] inspired. She would go back to Georgetown, back to the projects where she grew up, to tell young people – some of them in danger of going down the wrong path – that there was hope for the future. … She travels back to her home city every weekend, revisiting the Georgetown projects where she grew up, speaking to students from her old school.”

Brown says many students look up to her as someone who came from that neighbourhood and made it to college. “I don’t brag about what I’m doing, but I let them know: ‘Just because you’re from this area you can go out and, you know, do big things’.” Even if Sanders does not win the nomination, Brown says, she will continue to support him away from the presidential race.

While most of Sanders’ supporters will vote for Clinton in November to keep out Trump, many of his passionate volunteers will turn to state and local political fights to advance the ideas of the campaign. “Brand New Congress,” co-founded by the former director of organizing technology in the Sanders campaign, intends to impact the 435 Congressional seats up for election in 2018. “The idea is to pull in people who have not necessarily been involved politics before, people who are not willing to compromise their principles, people who truly believe that we can regain our democracy,” Yolanda Gonzalez, a BNC Team Leader told AlterNet.

Gonzalez, a teacher for 20 years, was the Latino Outreach Coordinator for the Bernie Sanders campaign and has spent a large part of the past year volunteering for campaign events in the Southwest. “These same volunteers [that] are often dismissed by campaigns are super organized and passionate about the political revolution,” Gonzalez explained.

The House and state elections are the battleground that the plutocratic elite is also aiming for with their checkbooks: billionaires like the Koch brothers have given up on the presidential race because of the disarray in the Republican camp. Trump’s nomination has coincided with a fragmentation of the campaign after his racist attacks on the judge in the fraud case against the real estate “Trump University,” which stepped over a line even for conservatives.

It’s possible the Democrats will take both the Senate and the House in November, because of the Republican meltdown; but what will dominate the political future of the United States is the social movement that has built up rejecting Clinton’s neoliberalism and Trump’s racism.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Uncategorized

What Victory for Bernie and Trump in Michigan Means: American Workers Vote Against Neoliberalism


What the voting in the US presidential primaries has revealed so far are some important realignments in the social consensus underlying the two-party system. A surprise win for Bernie Sanders in the key rustbelt state of Michigan upset political commentators and the Democratic establishment and has led to renewed attention on class issues submerged under decades of neoliberalism. Meanwhile,  Trump’s win in the state’s Republican primary underlines the fact that he is the only Republican candidate to address working class fortunes directly.

Sanders’ consistent opposition to free trade deals contrasted sharply with Bill Clinton’s implementation of NAFTA in the 1990s: the state lost more than 46,000 jobs in the last 25 years because of that single deal. Exit polls reported that “nearly six in 10 voters thought trade took away American jobs – and nearly six in 10 of people who said that, backed Sanders. … This echoes the Republican side of the primary. More than half of voters thought that trade cost jobs; four in 10 of them backed Donald Trump.”

Hillary Clinton had relied heavily on identity politics to give her the vote, as it had in Nevada and South Carolina, and pollsters assumed that the black population of Detroit would go for Clinton in the same way. Instead, according to Politico, Sanders’ “appeal to youth voters busted through the color line – Clinton won blacks 60-40 (not 80-20, as she did in her Tuesday win in Mississippi) – and Sanders fought her to a draw among under-40 African Americans. … And she barely held on to win Genesee County, home to Flint, the emotional focal point of her Michigan effort – and, in many ways, her entire campaign.”

Sanders campaigned through the whole state, appealing to white and black workers alike, while Clinton focused on African American communities like Flint and Detroit in east Michigan. The New York Times reported: “Mr. Sanders crisscrossed the state, speaking to more than 41,000 people, and his campaign opened 13 offices and hired 44 staffers to carry his message. He also visited places that were largely overlooked by the Clinton campaign, including Traverse City and Kalamazoo.”

The rejection of candidates favored by the Republican establishment in that party’s primaries is evidence that their voters are motivated by more than resentment of immigration, since all the candidates have voiced opposition to legalizing undocumented people; they are antagonistic to what they perceive as a corrupt political system that has betrayed them, and consider the wealthy Trump to be independent of corporate manipulation.

Trump’s rallies attract disparate groups, ranging from white supremacists to people angry about jobs being outsourced abroad.  This creates a potent mix of people susceptible to group hysteria as Trump makes his outrageous attacks on Muslims and immigrants; but while the media focus on these remarks, the bulk of his populist message denounces trade agreements and America’s economic decline.

According to Guardian reporter Thomas Frank, a study carried out by a union-affiliated group found that the main attraction of Trump for white working-class voters in Cleveland and Pittsburgh was his blunt approach to these questions. “As far as issues are concerned, ‘immigration’ placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: ‘good jobs / the economy’,” notes Frank. “‘People are much more frightened than they are bigoted,’ is how the findings were described to me by Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America. The survey ‘confirmed what we heard all the time: people are fed up, people are hurting, they are very distressed about the fact that their kids don’t have a future’ and that ‘there still hasn’t been a recovery from the recession, that every family still suffers from it in one way or another’.”

The likelihood of Trump becoming their presidential candidate has thrown the Republican party establishment into panic mode. But the party is now too fragmented to be able to mount a strong alternative. The Republican-controlled legislature has reinforced Trump’s claim to better political management skills by its own undermining of government legitimacy, from the threat of government shutdown in 2011 to its refusal to even consider any candidate nominated by Obama for the Supreme Court. Moreover, in the debates “Trump, Cruz, and Rubio ascribe to Barack Obama any and all problems besetting the nation … the Republican critique reinforces reigning theories of presidential omnipotence. Just as an incompetent or ill-motivated chief executive can screw everything up, so, too, can a bold and skillful one set things right.”

The much more diverse Democratic voters are not in disagreement over policy so much as their judgment of the candidate most likely to defeat the Republicans. In fact, Trump has succeeded in energizing new sections of the Democratic base to prevent him coming to power. He has done more than the Democratic leadership to rouse voters’ enthusiasm since they are as guilty as the Republicans of undermining working class jobs and have moved well away from a New Deal perspective. Sanders seeks to restore this orientation, but while he appeals to millennial youth who are bearing the brunt of the continuing recession, many older Democrats see Clinton as the safer candidate to beat Trump.

Candidates’ support is also connected with their attitudes to the Obama administration: while Sanders is favored by white liberals critical of Obama’s presidency, most African Americans are supportive of Hillary Clinton, since they see Obama as having achieved small victories domestically. Black youth who face unemployment, police harassment, and huge college loan debt are far more sympathetic to Sanders.

Latinos who are critical of Obama for failing to carry out promises on immigration reform gave Sanders a victory in Colorado on Super Tuesday, where they make up nearly 15 percent of eligible voters in the state. Juan Gonzalez pointed out there has been a 40 percent increase nationwide since 2008 in the number of eligible Latinos that could vote in the coming election. He added: “You’ve seen Univision say that they’re going to use all of their television stations and their networks to promote a 3 million-voter registration drive among Latinos. I think what’s actually needed is more of a Freedom Summer campaign by the Latino youth of America, similar to what happened in the civil rights movement … where thousands of Latino youth go into their communities and say, ‘You’re not going to deport our parents. We’re American citizens, and we’re going to make a stand in terms of Basta Trump’.”

These shifts in electoral allegiances make it by no means certain that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, but if she does, she will have to adopt much of Sanders’ platform in order to defeat Trump’s populist appeal. Either way, new sections of the American working class have been energized by the redrawing of class lines in political discourse.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Michigan, Neoliberalism, republican primaries, Uncategorized

Waking Up to the Minority Vote, the New, Decisive Force in Post-Obama Politics


The South Carolina Democratic primary voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton as presidential candidate, by a margin of 50 percent over Bernie Sanders. Rather than analyzing the meaning of this vote, the media and the campaign professionals immediately turned to the candidates’ prospects on Super Tuesday, when a large number of states hold their primaries.

However, there are some important messages here which are obscured by a narrow focus on the political process. African Americans in South Carolina turned out in unprecedented numbers to participate in the primary – 6 out of 10 voters were black. And of those, 83 percent voted for Clinton. The Associated Press reported that in exit polls about 7 in 10 voters said they wanted the next president to continue Obama’s policies, indicating ideological agreement with Clinton’s strategy of building on his legacy.

The first thing to note is that the result should be seen as a class vote against the possibility of a Republican president. The relentless media reporting of Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim propaganda, together with the pronounced right-wing rhetoric of the Republican debates, are perceived rightly as a threat to black workers. Trump has succeeded in making abundantly explicit the racist basis of the Republican party, empowering extreme white supremacists, and making the Republican brand anathema among minorities. This goes a long way to undermining the Republican strategy of delegitimizing Democratic presidents and may lose them the Senate.

African Americans voted pragmatically for what they saw as the best candidate to defeat a Republican, and specifically, Trump.  Janell Ross commented in the Washington Post: “Black voters in South Carolina cast 6 in every 10 Democratic primary votes, according to CNN’s exit poll data. That ratio is huge — and sets a record-high in South Carolina black voter participation rate. The previous high was 55 percent, set in 2008, when the first black president was on his way to being elected. … these are its outcomes when black voters are convinced of their ability and authority to fundamentally shape American democracy. It is a result that should begin to crush the popular and often repeated myth that black political behavior in 2008 and 2012 was nothing more than a blip, a fleeting kind of emotion-only engagement inspired by a singular and history-making black candidate.”

Second, although a number of prominent black intellectuals like Michelle Alexander and Cornel West are highly critical of the Clintons’ record of legislation in the 1990s that led to mass incarceration of African American men and the dismantling of poverty programs, that message hasn’t reached the black working class. The history that black people remember is the vilification of Bill Clinton by the Republican Congress over the Monica Lewinsky affair, and, as Toni Morrison indicated by calling him the “first black president,” identified with his being hounded by the establishment.

Third, most black workers get their politics from their local churches and mainstream Democratic party leadership. And that was pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders. “A host of well-known, influential and well-connected black elected officials and leaders of civic and religious institutions have made their support for Clinton quite clear. And they have done everything possible to identify themselves as people opposed to a Sanders candidacy. … And, almost as if to say that the shooting death of an unarmed black person is the modern uber-black experience, the Clinton campaign has collected endorsements from several grieving black relatives. The mother of Trayvon Martin has even stumped for Clinton and explained her pro-Clinton voting rather logically in some detail. … Clinton [frames] issues like childcare and the gender wage gap, voting rights and criminal justice and gun policy reforms in ways that make their importance to black voters clear.”

Her political positioning as a champion of African American workers was prefigured in the Nevada primary. Clinton’s victory there was mainly due to the votes of casino workers in Las Vegas, who thanks to the efforts of Nevada senator Harry Reid were given time and opportunity to caucus at their places of work. In These Times contributor Steven Rosenfeld reported from one of the casinos: “Calvin Brooks, a Louisiana native, has been a bellman for 19 years in this hotel. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he explained why Clinton was his choice. ‘This is a union state. This is a union city. The president that we need today is somebody that will stand with us, to keep us together as a whole,’ he said. ‘My mind is made up for Hillary, someone who has been in the White House, not around it’.” Erlinda Falconer, an African-American women and blackjack dealer at the casino for 18 years, told Rosenfeld: “The majority of us realize how serious this election is and the impact it will have on our country and state. This is very, very important. There’s a lot on the line This isn’t a popularity contest. This is trying to get back on track.”

While earlier in the campaign Sanders took on board the criticisms of Black Lives Matter activists, he was too late to the party. Radicalized black youth may have challenged Clinton over her role in the 1990s, but they haven’t influenced the older majority. On Wednesday she was confronted at a fundraiser in Charleston by Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter protester, who demanded she apologize for the consequences of her husband’s 1994 crime bill and for having called black youth “super-predators” in a 1996 speech on crime.

Moreover, white progressives have difficulty dealing with race. Sanders’ attempt to reduce racial issues to economics are in line with his social-democratic outlook. But this perspective is inadequate to deal with the complex interrelations of class and race in America. The Washington Post commented: “Clinton doesn’t shy away from race. Sanders talks about race, too, of course. But he seems to do so at a remove, and his attempts to make a convincing link between his economic message and race continue to fall short. … Clinton openly talks about the necessary role that whites must play in healing and bridging the racial divide.” This has resonated with African Americans who resent being told that they are responsible for dealing with white resistance to acknowledging the role of slavery and the defeat of Reconstruction in American society.

Whoever wins the nomination and presidency, the social, cultural and demographic changes in the US are asserting themselves in the elections. The narrative of an “anti-establishment” vote is being superseded by a class consciousness that empowers African American and Latino voters. The realities of class struggle in America today require tackling racism head-on, something that the left has not attempted since the 1930s when the American Communist party sent members into the South to organize black and white workers into unions, risking their lives in the process.

Rather than tying the fortunes of the left to Sanders’ coat-tails, it needs to address the movements that have built up around this election and build an inclusive and pluralist movement that takes the heritage of the Occupy movement into new territory.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, occupy wall street, Republicans, Uncategorized

Obama’s Last State of the Union: A Flight of Fancy Dedicated to a Neoliberal Presidency


Obama made his final State of the Union speech last week a rhetorical rebuke to Trump and other Republican presidential contenders. He deprecated the fear being generated against immigrants and minorities, especially Muslims: “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people?” he asked.

But he showed himself singularly insensible to the actual political struggles of his presidency when he bemoaned the fact he had not been able to achieve bipartisanship in the manner of Lincoln. His failure to grasp the social roots of Republican intransigence parallels his misjudgment of the contribution of his own neoliberal administration to the cynicism Americans feel about government. Trump is able to capitalize on this feeling together with the decline of the American Dream to win support from working-class whites by imagining a new “greatness” for America based on racist attacks and demagogic threats of military force.

Obama himself boasted of US military prowess and the killing of Osama bin Laden in his speech, essentially coopting Republican rhetoric. As Roberto Lovado commented in Alternet: “Democrats have either coded and softened the right-wing message and politics of decline (i.e. Obama and the Dems standing up for Syrian refugee children while simultaneously jailing and deporting thousands of Central American refugee children) or simply not offered the kind of unifying narrative that appeals to the solidarity between working-class whites and other non-white working-class groups.”

The fears that Obama hoped to counter don’t grow out of nothing. Trump’s supporters “feel marginalized economically, politically, and socially … [but] their concerns for our future have led to an overwhelming need to see all of our problems as someone else’s fault,” writes Kaddie Abdul, who went to a Trump rally in her hijab to engage his followers in a dialog. “The people who used to be Tea Partiers, who supported Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin or any one of a number of politicians who’ve used this rhetoric before Trump – aren’t going to go away. Whether Trump wins or loses, his supporters will still be out there, longing for another leader to ‘make America great again’.”

His indifference to the social protests that have arisen during his presidency – Occupy Wall Street, the struggle against police shootings of black youth, the Fight for 15 campaign of low-paid workers, the Chicago teachers strike, the DREAM movement – and his detachment from the causes of the protests was expressed in his abstract sermonizing that: “democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.”

Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza commented: “The thing that I think was glaringly missing from the conversation last night was really the conversation around not just gun violence broadly, although that is a major issue in our country, but police violence as it relates to black communities … many people who have been involved in this movement certainly wanted to hear President Obama, possibly the last black president in our country’s history, really talk about what’s going on in black communities specifically … about what kinds of proposals are on the table to ensure that black people can live full lives in this country like everyone else.”

Obama’s leadership failed because he was constitutionally incapable of harnessing the social coalition that elected him in 2008. Once elected, he uncoupled from this mass movement and appointed a cabinet dominated by Wall Street insiders and neoliberals, leading to political capitulation over banking regulation and healthcare reform, and an inability to control the workings of the vast federal bureaucracy. The net effect was that he did little to shield the most vulnerable Americans from predatory capitalism.

In his speech he appropriated the language of Martin Luther King to argue for a corporatist version of politics. “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino … but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. They’re out there, those voices … I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board.” This flight of fantasy only has a basis in workers clocking extra shifts because they fear the closure of their plants and losing their jobs as part of America’s industrial decline, not out of brotherly love for their bosses.

But while the social movement Obama energized in 2008 may have dissipated as a political force, it has morphed into many other forms of resistance. In particular, the American labor movement is not dead. Although major strikes are infrequent, thanks to repressive legislation, when they do take place they are solid. For example, workers at Wisconsin’s Kohler Company stayed out picketing for over a month at the end of last year after a 94% strike vote against a two-tier wage system that gave younger workers 35% less than those on the top tier. They won an increase in the lower wage to $15 an hour; older workers on the picket lines said they were expressing their solidarity for the younger generation.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union has also voted overwhelmingly to strike if necessary, for the second time in three years. In 2012, the discredited Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, also exploited civil rights rhetoric to cover a neoliberal push to force give-backs from the teachers. As Shaun Richman notes, the public on the other hand “overwhelmingly viewed the CTU as striking for the common good. Partly, this was thanks to two years of deep and meaningful community organizing and partnerships that the union diligently pursued knowing there would likely be a strike. And partly, this was thanks to the union bargaining for school resources demands that resonated beyond just their membership.”

The Fight for 15 is another sign of growing resistance. Richman argues: “Some have dismissed the series of rolling one-day strikes for increases in the minimum wage and organizing rights as mere P.R. stunts. But there is something deeply radical and significant at play here. Workers who don’t even technically have a union are proving their value—and their power—to their bosses by withholding their labor. … The great potential of Fight for 15 is that unorganized workers see reflections of themselves in the strikers and begin to fantasize about what a job action could look like at their workplace.”

Obama’s legacy is a disappointment to many who voted for him, but there is a potential for Bernie Sanders to energize the kind of political excitement that Obama did in 2008. While Hillary Clinton is tied by her umbilical cord to Wall Street, Sanders is getting major support for his anti-corporate message. He still has to reach many voters in the south, however, although his willingness to take on board actual movements of dissent is a huge positive. And as his poll numbers rise, he will get more exposure to potential supporters who would respond to his call for universal healthcare and free higher education.

Whether or not he succeeds in becoming the Democratic presidential candidate, his campaign has connected with the same kind of anti-oligarchic sentiment as did Occupy Wall Street. The hunger for real hope and change is stronger than ever.

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Filed under Bernie Sanders, Fight for 15, Neoliberalism, Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Uncategorized

Eric Holder’s Legacy – Justice For All Except For Bankers


Eric Holder announced Thursday his decision to resign as Attorney General of Obama’s administration. His tenure has left a contradictory legacy, which in many ways mirrors that of Obama’s presidency. Both men believe in a strong federal state that will enforce civil rights. However, the corollary of this belief is that the state has to be kept strong by purging dissidents – whistleblowers like Edward Snowden from within and “terrorists” from without.

After Holder’s announcement, the NAACP called him “one of the finest attorneys general in the nation’s history,” while the ACLU on the other hand cited his record of approving the legality of drone killings of US citizens, approving the NSA’s mass surveillance program, failing to prosecute any Bush administration officials for torture, instead prosecuting whistleblowers and journalists.

His main achievements have been in the field of criminal justice policy: reforming federal drug law sentencing minimums, which disproportionately impacted African Americans, finding ways to sue states for passing discriminatory voter-ID laws even after the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, and criticizing “stand your ground” laws after Trayvon Martin’s killing. He met personally with Ferguson residents and activists to talk about racial profiling, and pressured the police department to stop officers wearing bracelets bearing the message “I am Darren Wilson,” the officer who shot Michael Brown.

Holder earned the enmity of Republican politicians for reinvigorating the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division. He challenged them soon after Obama’s inauguration: “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” he said. His bête noire, Republican congressman Darrell Issa, who had Congress declare him to be in contempt over the ill-fated “Operation Fast and Furious,” described Holder as the “most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history … needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement.” Surely there must be a market for t-shirts with the slogan: “I am in contempt of Darell Issa.”

The two radically different sides of his record were discussed in an important debate on Democracy Now: Robert Weissman of Public Citizen criticized his failure to prosecute any of the Wall Street executives responsible for the banking crash of 2008 and subsequent recession. The Justice Department “decided not to criminally prosecute them, on the grounds that they were too big to fail, or, as it became known, too big to jail. Essentially, a decision was taken that if you are a financial institution and you become big enough and powerful enough, you are above the criminal law.”

Sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson responded that Holder’s reforms of the justice system far outweighed his failure to prosecute bank criminals, because of the disproportionate imprisonment of the poor and minorities. He accused the left of neglecting “what is important to the masses and millions of people who were never under the purview even of the white left to be concerned about some of the issues that African-American people and Latino people … have been concerned about.”

Dyson argued that the left also underestimated the importance of racial politics in impeding black people in government taking an aggressive posture toward the banks. Since there had been uproar when Obama mildly criticized police who arrested Harvard professor Skip Gates, “in its real political context,” he said, “what do you think will happen then if Eric Holder, as the first African-American attorney general, is seen to be going after mostly white CEOs and other corporate titans within the economic infrastructure? … To ask him to … overcome an entire history of structural and perceptual inequalities that exist, I think is just asking too much.”

The flaw in Dyson’s argument is that he, like Obama and Holden, identifies power with the political establishment and not popular sovereignty. The uproar over the Skip Gates affair came entirely from within this establishment and its attendant media, not from the social movement that elected Obama precisely in order to settle accounts with the banks that defunded thousands of minority communities with subprime loans. It was Obama’s belief that banks are the “lifeblood of the economy” that led him to support the bank bailout, not his aversion to the headline “Nation’s First Black President Allows Financial Institutions to Fail.” Both he and Holder share an ideology that holds the rich must be allowed to continue enriching themselves for the poor to have equal rights – if not equal wealth.

The Occupy movement was in many ways a continuation of the movement that elected Obama, and far from having vanished, has splintered into a thousand community-based activist groups which are actively fighting on issues of concern to African Americans and Latinos, from housing to cancellation of subprime loans to low wages and lack of jobs.

Holder oversaw and encouraged the militarization of the nation’s police forces, which became concrete and visible in Ferguson. Security and constitutional rights issues may seem removed from the daily problems of the poor and minorities, but the build-up of resources in the name of Homeland Security is creating a force to suppress domestic resistance and preventing it from getting traction in poor communities.

Holder’s role model as Attorney General was Robert Kennedy – and in this lies the key to the contradictions in his record. He sees civil rights as something administered to the poor by an enlightened elite, relying on the federal state rather than social movements to enforce rights and ameliorate the excesses of a capitalist economy. But to be able to successfully do that, from this point of view, the elite and state must be protected by suppressing opponents and whistleblowers who could uncover the inner deliberations of the political class.

It was the determined protests by Ferguson residents that brought Holder to the city and made him push for federal intervention to reform the police department. That fight is by no means over, and looks set to continue until officer Darren Wilson is charged with Michael Brown’s killing. Justice under the law is one thing, but real social justice needs a much bigger movement to achieve it. The good news is that signs of such an inclusive and pluralist movement are present in the Fight for 15 and other struggles in America today.

[UPDATE] Anticipating Holder’s retirement, Cornel West told Salon in August that Obama sent Holder to Ferguson because he was “on his way out.” “He’s concerned about his legacy as if he’s somehow been swinging for black folk ever since he’s been in there,” he said. “That’s a lie … He’s made a couple of gestures in regards to the New Jim Crow and the prison-industrial complex, but that’s just lately, on his way out. He was there for six years and didn’t do nothing.” When Ferguson residents reacted to arbitrary police power, “what happens is you got Eric Holder going in trying to create the calm. But you also got Al Sharpton. And when you say the name Al Sharpton, the word integrity does not come to mind. So you got low-quality black leadership. Al Sharpton is who? He’s a cheerleader for Obama.”

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Filed under African Americans, Eric Holder, fast-food workers, Ferguson, Fight for 15, financiers, Obama, occupy wall street, Trayvon Martin

Take Note, Plutocrats: Populism is Not Just a Spectre – It’s Rule by the People, for the People.


A spectre is haunting the world’s plutocracy – the spectre of populism. According to Politico, “Economists, advisers to the wealthy and the wealthy themselves describe a deep-seated anxiety that the national – and even global – mood is turning against the super-rich in ways that ultimately could prove dangerous and hard to control.”

Their fears are well justified. The billionaire elite in the U.S. is virulently opposed to Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid, it is incensed by calls to increase the minimum wage, and through its proxies in Congress it has stopped an extension of long-term unemployment benefits. Anything that retards its wholesale looting of society’s wealth is anathema to it, including the Obama administration’s attempts to alleviate the worst effects of the economic downturn.

The plutocrats can maintain their hold on power only through their ideological grip on a large section of the American public – and challenges to that grip make them increasingly nervous.

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins, who made his money from Hewlett-Packard defense contracts, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich’.” He was echoed by real estate mogul Sam Zell: “The one percent are getting pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so,” he said, adding that the one percent simply “work harder” than everyone else.

Juan Cole points out how their outlook and that of congressional Republicans is totally out of step with the U.S. public: “What is odd, and damning of the current American political system, is that the Republican Party’s major platform positions are roundly rejected by the American people. That is, they are ideologically a minority party. And yet they manage to win elections. … We are a center-left country and the majority of Americans takes the same stance as I on most controversial issues. It is the House of Representatives that is extreme, far more right wing than the country it says it represents.”

They are so far to the right that a Coca-Cola ad aired during the Superbowl featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in different languages evoked howls of outrage from tea-party politicians who posted racist comments on Twitter.

Within the Republican party itself there are fractures over immigration that reveal tensions between this kind of xenophobic rhetoric and corporate interests; the party’s difficulties stem from its need to use racist messages to preserve a declining white electoral base that itself depends on state support, while advocating cuts in state spending that would benefit only the super-rich.

Popular resistance to cuts in education, healthcare, and benefits is what is worrying the plutocrats. Whether Republican or Democrat, the public is determined not to lose social security benefits or other entitlements, and the low-waged have embarked on a popular campaign to increase the minimum wage to a living wage.

This mood of resistance was reflected in Obama’s fifth State of the Union address. What was remarkable about it was the contrast between the grand themes of hope and change that characterized his election campaigns, and the limited nature of his proposals for executive action rather than legislation to address social issues. He maintained a difficult balancing act between corporate and public sentiment, acknowledging unsustainable inequality in America but advocating a neoliberal prescription for economic growth through the fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that can only lead to the loss of more jobs.

Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors clearly aimed to contain a vigorous movement within an electoral framework. However, his speech also serves to encourage a growing trend of lightning strikes and walkouts, inspired by the ideal of a $15 minimum that is closer to a living wage.Josh Eidelson has been reporting in Salon about the series of one-day strikes organized by the union-backed “Good Jobs Nation” campaign to force Obama’s hand on the issue. “As recently as this month, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who’ve rallied repeatedly with the strikers, told Salon the White House had been unresponsive to their pleas. ‘If we had never done this,’ said [Smithsonian McDonald’s worker] Alexis Vasquez, ‘we would have continued making $8.25 for the rest of our lives’. But the move announced today falls short of what Demos and Change to Win have urged. … Given that ‘the issues are still there,’ said Joseph Geevarghese [deputy director of the Change to Win union federation], including contractors’ alleged failure to follow the wage laws already on the books, ‘I think we’re going to see continued worker unrest going forward’.”

Obama’s plan for a “grand bargain” to rationalize state expenditure in which he could trade cuts in social security for token increased taxes on the rich was stymied by the grip of the tea-party Republicans on Congress. As the Washington Post reported, his address attempted to restore confidence in his presidency, as he faced “a tricky task: winning over a nation that has grown less trustful of his leadership after a year in which the federal government was partially shuttered for 16 days and the administration botched the rollout of Obama’s health-care law.”

Juan Cole assessed his presidency as politically passive, accepting the international role bequeathed him by the Bush administration and the Pentagon. “In the end, Obama seems to see himself as primarily a domestic president. That position is remarkable because the Tea Party Congress won’t actually let him do much domestically. … He says the right things about conventional uses of the military, but in his actions he is a Covert War hawk.” He said little about NSA spying apart from a throwaway statement about reform – and even that was forced on him by Edward Snowden’s revelations.

While Snowden is undoubtedly the person who changed the political dialog in 2013, this year’s heroes will be those like 22-year-old fast food worker Naquasia LeGrand who are fighting to change the lives of those at the cutting edge of poverty wages. She gave a spirited interview to comedian Stephen Colbert where she voiced the determination of the low-waged to get a better deal from the billionaires: “It’s not just me who is going through this. It’s all of us going through this. That’s what makes a union. Americans coming together to make a difference and have a voice together. … there is no reason why I should have a second job when these multi-billion dollar companies have the money to pay me in the work that I do.”

This is the kind of talk that has the plutocracy losing sleep at night. It is fueling more and more campaigns at the state level, such as in Oakland, CA, where a union-community coalition aims to put a measure on the ballot in November 2014 that would increase Oakland’s minimum wage from $8 an hour to $12.25, with future increases tied to inflation, and at least five annual sick days for all workers.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, austerity measures, debt limit impasse, Edward Snowden, fast-food workers, National Security Agency, Neoliberalism, Obama, Obamacare, populism, Republicans, Tea Party movement