The lurch to the right by the entire US political establishment over the last twenty years has been both significant and alarming.
I was recently reminded of how bad things have gotten by the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, an event that sparked a brief period of radical resistance in the US, and which jump-started my own activism. As I sifted through my memories from that time, I realized that a lot has changed.
Back in the spring of 2000, I started volunteering for the Ralph Nader/Green Party presidential campaign. I ended up working for it until the election, very intensely during the last two months. I enthusiastically supported the Nader/Green platform because it was both pro-environment and anti-war, as well as being strong on social justice issues. Some of the details:
Legal abortion paid for by universal health care
Gay rights, including marriage
Opposition to the death penalty
Replacing drug war incarceration with treatment
Reducing greenhouse gases
Rejection of NAFTA, GATT & WTO
Redistribution of wealth through taxes
Negative income tax to lift people above poverty line
Restore entitlement programs eviscerated by Clinton
Abolition of nuclear weapons
Cutting defense budget by 50%
Many of these items are on the current wish lists of voters who consider themselves progressive, but not all of them, and usually not the most important ones. The last two—nuclear disarmament and slashing the military budget—are pretty much off the table these days. Nobody really talks about defense cuts anymore, except a few peacenik freaks on the leftiest left or an even smaller number on the libertarian right. Back in the 80s, candidates for the Democratic Party nomination still raised these subjects, but Clintonism suppressed that wing and now it’s extinct. There is no longer any rationale for considering the Democrats to be a peace or antiwar party in any meaningful sense, even relative to the Republicans.
The lack of opposition to militarism is a really big deal. No serious progress can be made on addressing environmental degradation and climate change without a) bringing the world’s largest institutional polluter to heel and b) ending US bullying so the world can focus on cooperating. These points can’t be stressed enough considering how insistently they are being ignored, especially by the big green non-profits.
To say nothing of the fact that you can’t pay for social programs and war. It’s one or the other, not both. This has been known since the ’60s when LBJ sacrificed full implementation of the Great Society programs to pursue brutal imperialism in southeast Asia instead.
The current state of the environment is much worse than it was two decades ago, which means that opposition to militarism should be proportionally higher, but it’s not. It’s far weaker and this is a manifestation of the rightward lurch we’ve suffered. It’s not just that Republicans have gotten more conservative and Democrats less liberal; it’s that many progressives have also tacked starboard.
Back in 2000, the Nader campaign attracted a lot of the same kinds of people who are Sanders supporters now. That’s where the enthusiastic energy was, not behind Gore. Nader was holding rallies around the country that were attracting unprecedented crowds, his support was almost exclusively from individual donors, and he was either ignored or maligned by the corporate media. Sound familiar?
Nader ended up getting nearly 3,000,000 votes, which was a little over 2 1/2% of the total. Those of us working on his campaign were disappointed that he didn’t cross the 5% threshold, which would have scored federal funds for the Greens. But I think a lot of us figured that this was only a stepping stone, and that in 2004, the numbers could be higher. Little did we know that this would end up being the high water mark for Green presidential candidates, and indeed for progressive politics in general for the next twenty years (and counting).
The Democrats’ propaganda that blames Nader for Gore’s defeat is one of the great lies of recent history. There was never a legitimate case for it and it’s been thoroughly debunked. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.) They just wanted a scapegoat.
But even though it was a myth, the “spoiler” story was severely damaging to our society: it brushed aside the fact that a national election had just been stolen in broad daylight by a right-wing cabal, which paved the way for more of the same. At the time, I remember feeling deep dread. “If they get away with this,” I wondered to myself, “what will they get away with next?”
That turned out to be a new global war, frightful attacks on civil liberties, further dismantling of the social safety net, worsening income inequality, and the stripping of even more environmental protections, among other crimes against people and planet.
Virtually all of this was pushed through with bipartisan consensus.
The Democrats of today are where the Republicans were in the ’90s except on a handful of social issues, and the Republicans have staked out new territory even further to the right. We’re at the threshold of fascism, and the current occupant of the White House is merely the next logical step in this perverse process, not the aberration he is made out to be.
The falsehood that Nader “spoiled” the 2000 election played no small part in this rightward degeneration of US politics. It was the foundation for a fallacious narrative façade that’s since been constructed from innumerable other deceptions. Insidiously, it also served as a way of demonizing left-of-liberal political ideals by associating them with a manufactured villain.
“Russiagate” was a repeat of the “spoiler” lie on steroids. Again, the Democrats chose to foist a fairy tale on the public rather than admitting the actual facts, which in this case involved widespread election fraud including racist disenfranchisement, closed polling stations, malfunctioning voting machines and uncounted votes. A serious investigation into these elements, including hand recounts (which Jill Stein unsuccessfully attempted to initiate) could very well have reversed the outcome. Historians will likely view the results as fraudulent.
Now here we are with another election coming up and unless serious steps are taken, it’s likely to be stolen again. Millions of likely Democratic voters have been illegally kicked off the voter rolls by Republican operatives, in no small part because of the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act (see here, here & here) during Obama’s administration and his lack of a response to such overt racism. We don’t actually have free-and-fair elections here in the US, which should be a scandal but somehow isn’t.
I don’t know if there’s a way for us to back out of this disaster. Nominally progressive people are projecting their hopes on Sanders, but he’s no Nader, that’s for sure. That he’s considered “antiwar” shows just how pathetically watered down that concept has become. Apparently all you have to do to earn the badge these days is vote against some military bills when a Republican is president (but not as many when a Democrat is in office). It’s no longer part of the progressive conversation (let alone the liberal one) to speak against nuclear weapons or waging wars. That’s some weak broth and it’s not enough for me or for our dire situation.
For those of us who oppose the bombing of children, it’s a lonely time.