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A Progressive Agenda

We will never move forward as a true progressive movement if we insist on personalizing the struggle and defining our position as anti-Trump.  The man was elected because he channelled real frustrations, and insofar as Trump’s policies attempt to address these frustrations we shouldn’t dismiss them before developing a reasoned critique as well as an alternative position that deals with the underlying causes of the frustration.

Take the issue of people who enter the country illegally.  The anti-Trump view is that immigration is good and that immigrants perform many jobs that Americans aren’t willing to do while at the same time providing cheap goods and services.  If you already have a job that pays a living wage this is a compelling argument and there is certainly truth in it, but isn’t it also true that illegal immigration artificially lowers pay in certain sectors, and it’s this lower pay that shuts out job opportunities for Americans?

Trump’s policies may appear to his supporters to address the problem of jobs, but by kicking out immigrants and throwing a lower-tax bone to corporations who will have to pay workers more, the solution creates more problems than it solves.  It will result in further wealth inequality and a toxic, xenophobic atmosphere.

Trump’s election shows that the problem is seen by a significant portion of the population to be real enough.  As America’s real economy continues to be hollowed-out by militarization and financialization the number of economic losers will continue to grow, and the battle over the remaining low-skilled jobs will only become more fierce.  So by failing to address the consequences of illegal immigration, the anti-Trump position will result in the same anti-immigrant hatred that we malign Trump for creating.

There is no doubt that the root problem is systemic.  It is the result of corporations who are legally bound to increase profits and ignore externalities like the country falling apart, and of a compromised government where any move to prevent illegal immigration or offer a pathway to citizenship is lobbied out of existence.  The socialist response is to tax the piles of cash corporations are sitting on and redistribute the money to economic losers so that they are compensated for their loss.  But this Danegeld approach doesn’t address the underlying issues, and it results in a bloated government papering over a situation that is unsustainable in the long run.

To address the government side of the problem real steps must be taken to prevent illegal immigration – even including a wall if that’s proven to be effective.  But a humane path to citizenship must also be put in place for those already in the country.  Corporations will not be happy because they’ll lose cheap labor, immigrants who entered the country legally may be resentful, and many Trump supporters will object to the laxity afforded these ‘illegals’; but this solution responds to the immediate concerns Trump claims he speaks for in the only way that is morally acceptable.  It’s also an agenda that progressives could unite behind with some hope of success in the short- to medium-term by appealing to reasonable people on both sides of the fence.

Addressing the more fundamental corporate side of the problem is more difficult and requires us to commit a heresy that no current political party is willing to do.  As long as strategies and decisions in our corporations are formulated by a small clique of upper-management executives and enforced in a top-down manner, our work lives are destined to be spent as subjects in an authoritarian system where income inequality will always predominate no matter what temporary gains the government or unions might secure.

Worker-owned and managed companies are the only kind that can provide a democratic, bottom-up decision-making process to guarantee against wealth inequality.  And it is the rare worker-owned cooperative that will decide to replace themselves with illegal immigrants or export their jobs overseas.  Professor Richard Wolff has dedicated himself to getting the message out about the benefits of this system, and the time is right for progressives to start listening.

Just as Bernie Sanders opened the possibility of Socialism to Americans, we must now be prepared to consider this more radical solution to capitalism’s failings.  It’s an approach that responds to the frustrations Trump has managed to channel in a way that makes a clean break with the greedy, narcissistic assumptions underlying his prescriptions.  And it’s a winning concept with the potential to unite people under the flag of a new progressive party.

Steve Cooper is an American ex-pat living in France.