FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Democratic Party, Working Class Arousal and Puerto Rico

Two political situations are ripening to become laboratory – type demonstrations of how, maybe, unified working people can secure justice. In Puerto Rico, home to social disaster, preparations are ready. In the United States the process of resuming struggle following Donald Trump’s victory is only beginning. He won through a splintering of the working class, and so the object is to build unity. Who will take the lead isn’t clear.

One observer thinks Puerto Rico is having “its great depression, the most severe in 100 years.”  The U.S. government in 1996 ended manufacturers’ exemption from paying taxes on earnings from factories on the island.  Factories departed, jobs disappeared – since 2007 almost 300,000  – and living conditions worsened.  Now only 40.7 percent of working-age Puerto Ricans are employed or are looking for a job.  Some 45 percent of Puerto Ricans live in poverty, including 58 percent of the children.  In 2014, “84,000 people left Puerto Rico for the U.S. mainland, a 38% increase from 2010.”

Puerto Rico’s government cannot pay debt obligations amounting to $73 billion, yet under U. S. law it may not file for bankruptcy. Since 2007, 70,000 public service jobs are gone. Social services have shrunk. Now a U.S. financial control board controls the island’s finances, budgetary processes, and ultimately political decision-making.  . On November 8, 42 percent of eligible Puerto Ricans did not vote; 22 percent didn’t in 2012, 21 percent in 2008.  The island colony is home to 15 U. S. military bases.

A reckoning between social classes may be imminent in Puerto Rico, while in the United States general consciousness of a face-off is developing, but slowly. Social class does count, and in surprising ways. Donald Trump, for example, abuses women in word and apparently in deed. Yet the 53 percent of white women voting for him were more loyal to the interests of their social class than they were concerned about the candidate’s misogyny. And the Republican Party now portrays itself as the defender of the working class.

Having downplayed the role of social class and thus set the stage for Trump, liberals in power paradoxically succeeded in elevating class as a matter for political strategizing. Two class-war veterans from abroad weigh in on that, having examined the U.S. election results. Their critiques of the Democratic Party are similar.

Carlos Borrero of Puerto Rico’s Communist Party finds a “high grade of political disorientation” in the United States. Condemning “the incessant campaign to promote identity politics,” he observes that, “While the Democratic Party coalition has been based on the black population, on women, white ‘liberals,’ and Latinos, the Republicans depend on support from the so-called ‘white working class’ mobilized under the banner of national chauvinism.”  With their emphasis on placing under-represented minorities in positions of power, Democrats have promoted a “pernicious and divisive consciousness”.

They’ve “weakened the capacity of the working masses to struggle together,” and there’s no “ideological center capable of guiding massive discontent.” Borrero thinks identity politics led to a “political vacuum” to be filled by Donald Trump.

Vicente Navarro, writing from Barcelona, agrees. The former Johns Hopkins University public health expert and student of race – class interplay notes that: “The Democratic Party (considered with excessive generosity as the left in the United States) emphasized, instead of class-based politics, a politics directed at integrating minorities and women into the political system in order to combat discrimination.”

“But the main beneficiaries,” he adds “were high-income, middle class persons. There was generally no improvement of the social and economic welfare of most minority people and women, who belonged to the working class. … Identity politics without attention to class (supposedly disappeared) didn’t alter the power of the dominant class in the country.”

Ultimately, “the disappearance of social class as a socio-political category on the part of the Democratic Party (as also occurred with social democracy) entailed the abandonment of redistributive politics.”

Both writers want far-reaching change. Borrero sees the necessity to create new instruments of struggle and present new ways of doing politics for the working class.”  That’s not a priority, however, for newly- empowered, upwardly-mobile political leaders focused on the destinies of individuals and particular population groups.

Assumptions about class in the United States are in shambles.  Not only do white workers back the Republican Party, but labor unions are apparently on a leave of absence.  And, maybe to be expected, workers supporting Trump have a relatively high median income.

Cultural alienation mars working – class cohesiveness with divisions like: rural and urban, suburbs and cities, new and old Protestants, condescending bureaucrats and contrarian citizens, and settled Americans and new arrivals – who in their differences are seen as threatening. “Everyone’s sticking together in their groups,” a Long Island suburbanite told the New York Times, “so white people have to, too.”

Puerto Rico offers a better short – term prospect for a united and combative working class than does the United States.  But even there struggles over particular issues will emerge, and resisting together might become a habit. That could prepare the way for more ambitious projects, notably formation of a political party dedicated to advancing what the working class needs.

Some good news:  David Brooks, the Washington correspondent for La Jornada of Mexico (not the columnist David Brooks of the New York Times) suggests that “peoples of the world … may begin to prepare international brigades of solidarity with the resistance now cropping up in these [U. S.] streets.” Unfortunately Mr. Brooks has a sense of humor.

More articles by:

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail