Thursday, May 26, 2016

Democratic Socialism vs. Right Wing Barbarism

Related to the theme in the last post is a historical review in a piece in Salon that looks at the way in which progressive policies - democratic socialist policies, if you will - save America from the fate that befell Europe in the 1930's and 1940's.  Sadly, since the Reagan era, the very policies and political norms that made America great socially and economically have been seriously eroded - mostly because of policies pushed by the right/Republicans and too often acquiesced in by Democrats.  The solution to America's funk and the economic stress faced by more and more Americans is not Donald Trumps calls to fascism, but instead more progressive policies that can undo the damage wrought on the middle and working class.  Here are article excerpts: 
About a year after the launch of both Sen. Bernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns, it’s easy to conclude that the anti-establishment backlash of 2016 was somewhat inevitable. The incredulity that many in the establishment felt when these two candidates first climbed the polls and took their respective primaries by storm has passed, and now that Trump has locked up the Republican nomination, nothing seems beyond the realm of possibility (including, terrifyingly enough, a Donald Trump presidency).
Both Sanders and Trump have tapped into a widespread discontent with the political system, as well as a decline in economic prospects that many Americans have experienced since the Great Recession. But while the media has labeled them both “populist” (which is fair enough, populist can be an ambiguous term), the two candidates have diametrically opposed worldviews, with very different solutions (And I’m being generous by suggesting that Trump actually has any kind of real solutions).
Sanders is a democratic socialist, Trump is a right-wing nationalist (although some mainstream commentators have simply gone with “fascist”). The one thing that they do have in common, however, is that they are both leading revolts against the neoliberal status quo, which has prevailed for the past several decades.
The neoliberal era began sometime in the 1970s, following what is commonly called the Keynesian era, i.e. the post-War period (1945-1970s), which saw unprecedented economic growth and prosperity in the West, along with the spread of Social democracy in Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States. During this period, the capitalist system became gentler and friendlier towards the proletariat, which was not an accident.
By the time Keynes published his epochal book, Hitler and the Nazi’s had destroyed Germany’s short Democratic experiment, while Stalin had attained autocratic control in the Soviet Union. The capitalist system was being threatened from both sides, and its volatility and excesses had made it vulnerable to radical movements and revolt from below.
Keynes wanted to save market capitalism from itself by curbing its inequities and limiting the instability of the business cycle to help stave off extreme political movements that were threatening its very existence.
And in America and Europe this is exactly what Social democracy did. FDR’s New Deal rejected laissez-faire capitalism and promoted a mixed economy with strong labor unions and safety nets, which helped avert radical movements — particularly from the left. Economic inequality steadily declined during this period and wages increased proportionately with productivity. The proletariat became the middle class, and capitalism became an economic system that promoted widespread prosperity (of course, in America, minorities — especially African Americans — were largely excluded from this prosperity for decades). There was no longer any need for radicalism, and right-wing extremists were pushed to the fringe of the GOP (Dwight Eisenhower was the first Keynesian Republican).
Economic deregulation, corporatist trade deals, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization, welfare reform, union busting; these reactionary policies were embraced to an extent by both parties, and as the Democrats shifted to the right, the Republicans went even further.
Since this era began, labor unions have been decimated, while corporations have acquired unprecedented economic and political power. This is the direct opposite of what happened in the post-war period, when labor unions and workers managed to secure great political power and stand up to their employers, i.e. capitalists. Not surprisingly, the majority of workers have seen their wages stagnate during this period — even as productivity has increased rapidly — while the top one percent of income earners have seen their compensation surge. Additionally, since the recession, the top one percent of earners have received the majority of economic gains
Now, some may be thinking: what does this all have to do with the 2016 election?  . . . . Donald Trump has ridden a wave of right-wing populism that is reminiscent of another popular movement of Keynes’ time. In his widely shared column in the Washington Post, “This is how Fascism Comes to America,” Robert Kagan describes Trump’s strongman appeal, which is frighteningly similar to the appeal of 20th century fascist leaders.
[R]ather than offering real solutions, Trump has employed the same kind of scapegoating of minorities and foreigners that fascist leaders once used. Even on trade, instead of directing his rhetoric at the real foes — i.e. corporations and their incessant drive cheap labor and intellectual property expansions — he has gone after foreign countries and their impoverished citizens, who are exploited by American corporations.
History seems to be repeating itself, as it is apt to do. Over the past 40 years, the capitalist system has reverted back to being a highly unequal and unstable economic system, engendering widespread discontent; and in the wake of the Great Recession, both the left and right have made a political comeback. Neoliberalism has failed, and is now facing widespread revolt. The election of Trump is a terrifying prospect, but even more terrifying is the neo-fascist — otherwise known as the “alt-right” — movement that he has helped create.
Eighty years ago, Social democracy provided an alternative to the volatile and exploitive system of laissez faire capitalism, and warded off extremist politics; . . . . today’s era may require even more radical solutions (especially when considering the existential threat of climate change). But it seems clear after 2016 that neoliberalism is no longer viable for the long term health of America.

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