The current administration continues its reactionary campaign to “Make America Great Again” by rolling back progress in key areas of labor, environmental, health, and civil rights.
A rising and brazen alt-right movement, with its calls for a white ethnostate, empowered by Trump’s victory, continues to grow ever more vocal at campuses across the country. Immigrants are being targeted for deportation, building on authority laid down by the past administrations. Trump’s saber rattling creates the real possibility of a military showdown between the US and North Korea. And the new federal tax law, fueled by plutocratic influence, will exacerbate income inequality by shifting even more money from working Americans to wealthy people and corporations.
How did we get here? The liberal technocratic class at the heart of the Democratic constituency was stunned at the election of Trump, despite a lackluster, campaign based on stale ideas. Despite all this, many were shocked the morning of November 9, 2016, not only because of Trump’s crass mannerisms and reactionary and divisive politics, but because he won against an anointed insider candidate with strong support from mainstream institutions.
What lessons emerge from Trump’s election? The Democrats seemed to have learned little from one of the most humiliating losses at the ballot box in American history, reiterating their centrism and calls for bipartisanship and value-free governance. Worse still, elites have doubled down on their politics of condescension, offering What’s the Matter with Kansas explanations pondering why working-class white workers voted against their own interest, without pausing to consider the elite neoliberal consensus that has alienated voters, providing them with little real choice at the ballot box.
Mainstream media outlets have looked for answers in the “economic anxiety” of the white working class, without much substantive analysis of what this means, or how the situation faced by millions of white and non-white Americans is the result of decades of bipartisan policy agreement in favor of austerity and a low-wage economy.
Discontent with neoliberal globalization creates serious risks of a resurgent right organized around its own neo-nationalist agenda. But it also presents opportunities for new constituencies to form around concrete struggles such as Medicare for All, the Fight for Fifteen, investments in infrastructure and other public institutions that represent our democratic commons. We cannot afford to leave this in the hands of politicians who counter atavistic racial appeals and billionaire populism with the claim that “America is Already Great.”
For a generation of young people facing stagnant wages, decreasing upward mobility, and an uncertain future, there needs to be a political agenda that speaks to their sense that things need to change fundamentally.
The good news is that we have seen a surge in democratic participation, including widespread and persistent political mobilization that succeeded in defeating efforts to repeal Obamacare. New progressive candidates are running for state and federal offices, much to the chagrin of Democratic gatekeepers. We have seen sporadic protests that attest to a growing dissatisfaction with the centrist status quo.
Catalyzed by the movement for Black Lives, the West Virginia teacher’s strike, the Women’s March, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and the #MeToo movement, an unprecedented number of people are speaking up to challenge workplace sexual harassment, wage disparities, and other forms of patriarchal economic and social oppression.
Now is the time to rethink issues of basic political economy to form the basis of a new politics that seeks to reduce inequality and wealth disparity, and reinvigorate civil rights protections for disadvantaged communities.