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What is to be Done? Looking Past Trump’s Tyranny

Photo Source Bruce Berrien | CC BY 2.0

We live in dangerous times. Capitalism’s globalization has ended the post-WW-II “American Dream.” The U.S. economy is in a roller-coaster state, pulled by a decline in the joblessness rates but with stagnant wages as the rich are getting richer and inequality intensifies. Working people are being squeezed and getting increasingly desperate. This desperation contributed to Donald Trump’s 2016 victory and the continuing support from his core supporters.  It’s also driving some to engage in acts of politically-motivated terrorism to express their rage.

Pres. Trump’s rhetoric has long been inflammatory but now, as the 2018 midterm elections are approaching, it is getting more aggressive and fueling politically-motivated violence among some of his supports.  While he long promoted his notion of an “America First” foreign policy, at a recent Houston rally supporting Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) reelection, Trump assailed “globalists” and embraced being a “nationalist.”

Trump proclaimed his new political identity:

A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can’t have that. You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist.

“Nationalist. Nothing — use that word. Use that word.”

While clearly a nod to the white nationalist who support him, no direct connection can be drawn between Trump’s words and the series of recent violent murderous incidents and threats. Sadly, his words likely inspired the white men who committed the recent spate of horrendous acts.

The question posed in the face of the rising political climate is simple: What is to be done?  The answer is not simple.

***

On Wednesday, October 24th, 51-year-old Gregory Bush, attempted to force his way into Jeffersontown’s (outside Louisville) First Baptist Church, a predominately black church.  Unable to enter the building, he walked to a nearby Kroger supermarket and shot and killed two African-Americans, Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67.  Facing a standoff with an armed white man, he reportedly said, “Whites don’t kill whites,” and surrendered.

On Friday, October 26th, FBI agents arrested Cesar Sayoc in Miramar, FL, and charged him with sending at least 15 mail bombs to prominent Democrats, including former Pres. Obama, the Clintons, other politicians and still other notable anti-Trump figures. Sayoc has a long criminal history, seems to have been emotionally unstable and was a strong Trump supporter.

And then on Saturday, October 27th, 46-year-old Robert Bowers walked into Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh and committed the deadliest anti-Semitic crime in U.S. history. He was armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle and three handguns, murdering 11 worshipers.  According to an FBI affidavit, Bowers reported told police that he attacked the Jewish worshipers, “They’re committing genocide to my people. … I just want to kill Jews.”

Many are worried that Trump’s championing of nationalism and the recent spate of politically-motivated crimes raise the specter of creeping fascism.  Reactionary white nationalist provoked violent confrontations in Charlottesville, Huntington Beach, Berkeley and New York; groups like the Rise Above Movement (RAM) and Proud Boys push the envelope in terms of organized political violence adding to the growing fear.

***

Against such an ominous rise in creeping rightwing extremism, the upcoming midterm elections may offer some measure of solace, especially if (progressive) Democrats retake the House.  They could possible provide some checks on the reactionary madness promoted by Pres. Trump and facilitated by Congressional Republicans.

Unfortunately, elections – especially this coming one – are but a short-term tactic to address a long-term strategic challenge, the lives of ordinary Americans faced by globalizing capitalism.  The scope of how capitalist interests exercise power over the global economy is illuminated by Peter Phillips’s recent book, Giants: The Global Power EliteIt’s a scary book to read because it makes one realize just how powerless one really is.

Terms like the “1 percent” and “ruling class” are increasingly being used to explain the growing inequality defining American society. Phillips, a professor of political sociology at Sonoma State University, details exactly who – to revise the legendary sociologist’s C. Wright Mills’ phrase – the new “power elite” is and, more importantly, how they collude to ensure control over the global capitalist marketplace.

He aggregates the global power elite into four sectors: (i) “managers” are the financiers who oversee global capitalism; (ii) “facilitators” include bureaucrats and policy planners who oversee the global capitalist marketplace; (iii) protectors include what Phillips calls “the US/NATO military empire” (including the CIA) as well as for-profit military companies like the former Blackwater; and (iv) “ideologists” who, as the author notes, includes “nearly all content inside the global corporate media system that is pre-packaged, managed news, opinion, and entertainment.”

Phillips argues that these four sectors share a common goal: “Their constant objective is to find enough safe investment opportunities for a return on capital that allows for continued growth. Inadequate capital-placement opportunities lead to dangerous speculative investments, buying up of public assets, and permanent war spending.”  His book should be in everyone’s book case, like a good dictionary or atlas.

Equally critical in rethinking where to go beyond the 2018 election, one needs to re-envision of new economic world order. Since the 1970s but especially since the 2008 “great recession,” Americans have been subject to what can best be called “the big squeeze.” Income for most Americans has been flat while labor productivity has skyrocketed. One outcome has been the rise in inequality.

As globalization remade the national economy, giant conglomerates came to define all major sectors of business and social life, whether finance, high-tech, oil/gas, retailing, telecom, pharmaceuticals or entertainment, to name but a few. One is left wondering if there is a viable alternative to the big squeeze?

Nathan Schneider’s invaluable study, Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy, offers readers a guided tour into a possible alternative, the world of cooperatives.

Coops are jointly-owned and democratically-controlled businesses that promote the economic, social and cultural interests of their members. Schneider notes that such ventures take root when conventional capitalist enterprises fail to meet people’s need or they emerge during period of economic crisis. The author stresses that since the 2008 fiscal crisis, the cooperative movement has been rediscovered.

Schneider reminds readers that some 40,00 cooperative businesses operate in the U.S. and include such brand-name operations as Ace Hardware, Visa credit card, Wikipedia and Linux code. There might be a food coop in your neighborhood.  He traces their roots to Biblical times, functioned as medieval guilds and were immortalized in the Diggers, the True Levellers.

In the U.S., Schneider points out that coops date from the earliest days of the nation’s founding. He recalls the role of the Iroquois Confederacy cooperative spirit on the Continental Congress and notes early coops among striking tailors in New York in 1768, New Orleans free blacks and Benjamin Franklin’s public library and fire department. More critical, he discusses the role of coops in the recovery from the Great Depression, especially Pres. Roosevelt’s New Deal agricultural policies and rural electricity coops.

Most of the book consist of the examination of a wide variety of cooperative ventures ranging from local grocery stores, credit unions, healthcare services, taxi firms, housing and electrical utilities as well as a host of open-source software, app and system developers. He even considers an effort to create a fairer version of Bitcoin.

Schneider argues that “cooperation is no drop-in solution-for-everything. It’s a process that happens a million ways at once, a diversified democracy.” He critically considers how some long-lasting coops, notably agricultural and electrical, fell prey to “managerial capture,” by which membership democracy is forsaken for professional executives.

The author supports the introduction of what many identify as the “universal basic income” or a guaranteed income for all. He reminds readers that Pres. Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan “bore the resemblance to basic income …” It is “the idea of giving everyone enough money to provide for the necessities of life.” He stresses, “… the payouts would ensure that even an underemployed population could maintain the consumer demand that the robot [i.e., fully automated, workerless] companies would need to function.”

Finally, Schneider makes clear that a profound truth: “Co-ops are not an end in themselves. They’re not the destination. But they’re the passageway to a peer-to-peer commons.” They are a viable alternative to the big squeeze.

When considering Trump’s rants, rightwing terrorist acts or the upcoming midterm election, do keep it all in perspective. There is a world to be won.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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