It’s spitting into the wind, I suppose, to suggest fast and fundamental changes in a country that couldn’t bring itself to convert to the metric system. Significant overhaul of the economy and politics is in order. Though, in truth, that overhaul may already be upon us. The question is whether we adapt and manage, or cruise complacently into catastrophe. Consider these realities:
- The world’s economy (at least in terms of employment) is undergoing a massive disruption due to automation. Experts predict that something close to half of the existing jobs in America will soon be erased — victims of machines more efficient than people.
- Major institutions in American society have lost the trust of the people. This includes a free press, which has been under attack from a number of presidential administrations, particularly this one.
- Climate change is not being adequately addressed; there’s still a”debate” about whether it is a real phenomenon. Sea-level rise alone threatens to wipe out NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and all of Florida within decades.
- Americans are more likely to drown in the bathtub than to be killed by a foreign terrorist, yet we are willing to spend untold billions of dollars and sacrifice civil liberties to hold down the mostly imagined threat of jihadists in our midst.
- Thomas Piketty explained in his bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, how unrestrained capitalism leads to the ever-increasing disparities we see in wealth and income. In The Price of Inequality, another landmark book of popularized economics, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz demonstrates the consequences of the trend. No one is doing anything about it.
- America has been at war for more than a decade and now is bombing six different countries, all without a declaration of war, all with no end in sight. Military spending accounts for two-thirds of every discretionary US tax dollar that is spent, and is growing faster than any other portion of the budget.
- There are threats to clean water worldwide. Private interests have taken note, and are buying up water rights so the market can “solve” the problem.
- Private interests are also chomping away at public education, the most important and certainly the most distinctively American of our institutions.
- Healthcare, which represents 20 percent of the American economy and has been the target of reform since the time of President Harry Truman, still resists solution. Poisoned by the financial needle in the arm of American politics, the system is unable to adopt the single-payer model that works so well in the rest of the developed world.
- The American political system is sewer of dirty money. Zephyr Teachout’s marvelous little book, Corruption in America, details with unassailable scholarship the change in what is a legal vision of corruption. You cannot read it and fail to see the absurdity that has become the legal norm.
It is true that each of these problems won’t lend themselves to a single solution. What they have in common, however, is that each has been with us for a long time and, like a pathogen, has developed resistance to the usual solutions. It is also true that not everyone recognizes these as problems. That is because of the root cause of their persistence — poor leadership.
But taken together, they nevertheless demand a sharp turn in policy. Driven by economic problems, voters all over the Western world have shown an appetite for change, but, in the US, their hunger has taken the ugly form of right-wing populism. The US managed somehow to elect Donald Trump, leaving progressive Democrats to cheer France as its socialist government passes to that of a neoliberal banker. Because the alternative was an outright fascist.
So far as the US is concerned, the Republican Party that gave us Trump — and before that, George W. Bush — appears incapable of offering wholesome, helpful, intelligent or honest leadership. As for the Democrats, it depends on who will now win the fight between the ideological heirs of the Clintons and Barack Obama, and the followers of Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich.
Only true progressives run on economic issues.
President Pence (get used to it) has long been an enemy of Social Security and Medicaid. He will have plenty of allies in the Republican Congress. This, and not the sanctity of the election system, is where the political battles will be fought. If it were the latter, Pence would also not become president because he became Vice President in the same, tainted election that yielded the Trump calamity.
Only true progressives will run on the economic issues. These are bold people who couldn’t care less if you call them socialists because they aren’t laissez-faire, free-market capitalists. They believe the economic order that worked for a long time following the Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944 requires some rearrangement because of economic inequality and the corporate domination of politics. Many of them are followers of the intriguing new thinking in economics called Modern Monetary Theory. Let’s hope these people prevail. If not, there will be no alternative to taking on the system and performing the Herculean and improbable work of forming a competitive third party.
To put it as plainly as possible, the time has come for a new, fundamentally different kind of political leadership. The status quo ante — Obama, a Republican Congress — fell on its face trying to deal with the problems listed above. Saving the country from imminent economic collapse was all we could ask for in a center-right figure like Obama, and he delivered. But it only forestalls the consequences of our failures of leadership.
In case you find fault with this line of thinking, consider that Jon Ossoff, a Clinton-Obama liberal, lost a hugely well-funded fight for Congress in Georgia’s recent special election while on that same night, Archie Parnell, an unapologetic progressive with almost no money, nearly toppled the Republican leviathan in South Carolina. South Carolina. The powers-that-be in the Democratic Party are has-beens. If the party is to renew and succeed, it must yield to new (read: New Deal) thinking.
This is not the sort of thing one suggests lightly or normally. It is the sort of thing that is required in an emergency. We will be told that there is no emergency, that we need to calm down and return to normal. Really? Read the list of problems again. It is just a sampler.