United States: Looking for a coalition against Trump
Wednesday, February 20, 2019, 11:53 pm
Most electors rejected Donald Trump, by 2.8 million votes, before losing to him through the electoral college system – and there’s now a push to mobilise that majority against him. Lee Duffield says Trump’s surprise 2016 victory stirred up a new left-wing movement alongside or within the opposition Democratic Party, amongst other things thinking of the Presidential election next year. He profiles the newly-arrived politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and takes a comparative look at a sometimes very similar, and also different American figure, Michelle Obama.
The time was right for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (picture), 29, to win a seat in Congress last year, with Trump’s Republican Party becoming unpopular especially with young voters and minorities.
Together with Rashida Tlaib (picture) from Michigan, the first Muslim woman to enter the House of Representatives, she was elected as a Democrat but endorsed by the resurgent left-wing movement, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
From a Puerto Rican community in New York City, Ocasio-Cortez has branded an uncompromising up-front form of socialist politics — and taken a gigantic personal social media following into the legislature.
With the veteran independent Senator Bernie Sanders (picture) she has already been sponsoring radical moves like the “Green New Deal”, and generating coverage like this from CBS television:
Rookie lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making a splash in Congress by championing everything from sharply higher taxes on the rich to immigrant rights…
SEEING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
The attention has generated a hateful reaction among legions on the conservative side.
Those might be the first to wonder why more socialist ideas had not been catching up with them as they brought the neo-liberal agenda of the last four decades to its present stage: billionaires in numbers versus actual impoverishment for many; low wages and war on unions; threats of a 19th Century boom-and-bust cycle because of the unregulated economy, with fears that the next dip will be worse than their Global Financial Crisis; no answer to climate change and a shutting-down of world ecology, because the “system” needs constant growth, and exploitation of resources; corrupt actions to try and keep power, like gerrymandering of electorates by Republican state administrations — or confecting of fake national emergencies to get some despotic authority.
The question becomes: so long as the system is democratic, why not some taxes on billionaires to get government revenue for services and “social” needs, like public housing, adequate hospitals, and public transport, and good public schools? Why not environmental laws to preserve what we have and keep the Earth productive and beautiful?
So why not some democratic big government?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez presents as exactly the kind of fire-cracker to worry the other side, and there has already been much barking on the notoriously savage right-wing talk shows, or in “fake news” on line: she doesn’t know this or that policy area, they say; she looked discomfited when Trump was giving his State of the Union address; she is impetuous, (read: young, female, a “spic”, a “commie”).
Among the lower ranks, the person’s ethnicity, forthright ways and arresting good looks are bound to frighten socially inept “ethno-nationalist” blackshirts – in an armed society there has to be concern for her safety.
Even within the Democratic Party there is impetus to “quieten her down” and get her at least a little into line –to avoid frightening the horses in more conservative constituencies. She did agree to back the veteran Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker, conditional on finding her stance to be suitable and outpacing possible alternatives.
The advent of such new leaders is a reflection in many ways of earlier campaigns, the most recent being the Obama movement in 2008, getting out otherwise dormant or suppressed support among African Americans and other minorities, and grass-roots campaigning, pitched at helping ordinary folks get a place in the sun.
Just as the politics of 2019 heats up, Michelle LeVaughn Robinson Obama (picture) has been hitting best-seller peaks with her memoir, Becoming, telling how it is when popular leaders on the left-hand side make a challenge to dug-in conservative interests.
Michelle and Barack Obama made it on scholarships to Harvard Law School, signed on to big firms, but transferred to leading positions where they could give service in working class neighbourhoods – for example Michelle’s job directing Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Centre.
AMERICANA, JUSTICE AND GETTING A CHANCE IN LIFE
They had no socialist pitch, unless you count reforms like public health care, but wanted to help people get opportunities, bringing out the “good side” of the American success ideology.
The memoir is peppered with Americana, expressions of pride in country, where Michelle Obama became an avid supporter of military families, and, to Australian readers, casualness with commercial brand names: where a politician might withhold a free endorsement and just mention going to a large store, she says “Target”.
This excerpt might give a flavour of both the culture and the social aspirations together, where the writer reflects on how or why she “swerved” from an orthodox career to activism and commitment:
Had it been on the summer night when I lowered my icecream cone and leaned in to kiss Barack for the first time? … My mind sometimes landed back in the church basement in Oseland, on the Far South Side of Chicago, where I’d gone 25 years earlier to be with Barack as he spoke to a neighbourhood group that was struggling to push back on hopelessness and indifference…
As First Lady Michelle Obama became a popular figure, attractive and energetic, forcefully organising national programs on children’s nutrition, or promoting life chances for girls world-wide, all with statistically measurable positive outcomes –they started calling her America’s “mom in chief”.
She also documents the kind of murderous opposition that gets generated in conservative or reactionary America where hopeful change is placed on the agenda.
It started on the presidential campaign trail where they began circulating lies about the candidate’s birthplace or religious faith, then turned on the unsuspecting wife:
Over time, I’d gotten better about not measuring my self-worth strictly in terms of standard, by-the-book achievement, but I did tend to believe that if I worked diligently and honestly, I’d avoid the bullies and always be seen as myself. This belief, though, was about to come undone.
Giving a speech she had explained how she enjoyed promoting the campaign’s message of hope, incorporating the expression: “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.” (page 260 in the book)
It was stripped of context and thrashed in Republican media and again the “fake news” on line, making her be an angry, black, unpatriotic ideologue.
Such things would have a wearing effect, like the strongly partisan blocking actions against the Obama program in government, as in 2011:
A group of obstinate Congressional Republicans refused to authorise the issuing of new government bonds – a relatively routine process known as raising the debt ceiling – unless he made a series of painful cuts to government programs like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, which he opposed because they would hurt the people who were struggling the most… (pp 366-67)
She was cruelly afflicted by the death of Hayida Pendelton (picture), a high school girl from her hometown in Chicago, casually shot by a juvenile gang member, like hundreds of other young victims. They had not met but Hayida had been to Washington to march in the second Obama inauguration parade. (p 381)
Because of the Republican numbers in parliament nothing could be achieved to get gun control in America.
The book is honest about such bitter experience and frustrated hopes for change:
Because people often ask, I’ll say it here directly: I have no intention of running for office, ever. I’ve never been a fan of politics, and my experience over the last ten years has done nothing to change that. (419)
The former First Lady is sternly contemptuous of the successor President:
Donald Trump had announced his candidacy … standing inside Trump Tower in Manhattan and railing on Mexican immigrants – “rapists” he called them – as well as the “losers” he said were running the country… Nothing in how he conducted himself suggested that he was serious about wanting to govern… Since childhood, I’d believed it was important to speak out against bullies while also not stooping to their level. And to be clear, we were now up against a bully, a man who among other things demeaned minorities and expressed contempt for prisoners of war, challenging the dignity of our country with practically his every utterance. I wanted Americans to understand that words matter … I am not a political person, so I am not going to attempt to offer an analysis of the results … I just wish more people had turned out to vote. (pp 400-411)
FAST FORWARD TO 2019
These reminiscences echo through the mobilisation movement of the Democratic Socialists in 2019:
We had youth on our side. Our organisation was powered by the energy and idealism of twenty-two to twenty-five year-olds who had dropped everything … to join the campaign, each one carrying some permutation of the gene that had compelled Barack to take the organising job in Chicago all those years ago…. (p 245)
Isaac Silver (picture) from Chicago, is an organiser with the DSA, a calmly rational and articulate speaker just as his opposite numbers on the radical right are wild and abusive.
LEFT MOVEMENT BUILDING UP IN AMERICA
In Australia to speak at a conference of the Socialist Alliance last month, he effortlessly tossed up a concept cloud of related ideas to outline a view of America and issues demanding change:
- White nationalism stirred up since the time of trump’s election.
- A systematic racism and black poverty.
- Fundamentalist ideas on the religious right-wing.
- A neo-fascist movement in the streets.
- Attacks on democracy, like the gerrymandering, and “felon disenfranchisement” – permanently denying the vote to ex-prisoners. Numbers of prison inmates have been bloated since the Reagan era of the 1980s. Other devices to prevent voting are applied, like i.d. rules working against less educated voters.
- Deliberate loading of courts with conservatives or reactionaries on the bench, up to and including the Supreme Court.
- Controls on day-to-day life, and micromanagement, not by government but by business corporations, along with commercial lobbies being positioned within government.
- Cases like disruptive impacts of US corporations that were let into Mexico under free trade in the 1990s – impoverishment feeding into present-day chaos in the country and the migration “crisis”.
- Militarisation of the country’s borders.
- Undermining of law and order, police well-armed, poorly disciplined, many politicised, voting for Trump, themselves an element in constant shootings across the country.
- An environmental crisis, nothing being done about it, or government making it worse.
Another set of indications has arisen, pushing in the other direction:
- Consistent low polling of Trump and allies on voter intentions and other issues like climate change denial.
- Economic crisis and accompanying pubic disillusionment, as with the Global Financial Crisis and wages paralysis.
- The rise of opposition movements like the DSA and actions it has been engaged in:
- A strong immigrant youth movement.
- “Black Lives Matter” against disproportionate African American deaths including shooting by police.
- Younger Americans getting behind change.
- The occupation of the Wisconsin capital, sparking strike action by teachers, and gains for teachers, in several states.
- Other industrial awakening, like action by air traffic controllers, the workforce attacked by the Reagan administration, over the government shut-down in 2019 – called the “shut down ended by workers’ action”.
- The climate movement reaching mass level activity since 2014.
Isaac Silver produces polling done by his organisation that tends to contradict the idea of a passive population under the conservative thumb: Half of Democratic voters who were “millennials”, aged 29-38, identified themselves as socialist or democratic socialist in orientation; respondents viewed labour unions more favourably than they did corporations; 70% wanted full medicare for all up to 65 (then taken up by Medicaid); similar support for job guarantees in the workforce, and 58% support for a higher minimum wage (to $US15 per hour, appx. A$43000 p.a. – about half the Australian median wage); 57% saying break up big banks.
It’s a movement that makes a point of operating on small donations, averaging $US27 versus $US7000-a-plate fund-raisers for more conservative politicians in the Democratic Party “mainstream”. It has set up 189 branches in 49 states (the hold-out about to change), and has endorsed 70 candidates (Democratic, Green, Socialist or independent) at city, state and national levels, backing them with active campaigns.
It’s a mostly urban movement with strong “white” participation as well as from minorities while extending without trouble into regional areas and the smaller states.
NOT RADICAL IDEAS
In Brisbane, Silver made a point that the program and objectives of the new movement are for reform, not directed at revolutionising society – no dragging billionaires out of their mansions and shooting them in the street.
(The public have had enough shooting in the streets of America).
“We would say medicare for all, and nobody to go hungry”, he said.
“These are not radical ideas, it is about clarity on what can be done, about what people need, and we will fight for that against a system favouring a few at the expense of the many.”
What is the thinking on the intense pressure on Donald Trump from the legal investigators, on the Russian connection or obstruction of justice? Being human, might he crack politically?
“It is possible he might crack under that pressure”.
Pictures: wikipedia, pbs, politico
First published in Independent Australia, 20.2.19