Nothing Left

Does the political left even exist in any meaningful way in the US today?  As a lifelong card-carrying member of the left since the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War, I believe that the left exists now in splintered ways and primarily in its many expressions on the Internet. In terms of the left online, I can make an argument that words without actions don’t amount to a political or economic hill of beans. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the left exists only online.

Looking at the left in the pushback to Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault and harassment by Joe Biden is instructive. It’s another Hillary Clinton moment when her vocal supporters came down in 2016 like a plague on anyone with a voice who dared to oppose her failed election bid.  Don’t criticize the lesser of two evils on the left or your voice will be banished. Within a few years of Clinton’s loss to Trump, the Women’s March splintered and generally withered as accusations of intolerance shook its ranks. A serious question must be raised about any lasting effects of the women’s movement when allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled at Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination to the Supreme Court. Faced with efforts made to stop his bid for the Supreme Court, none were ultimately effective and an alleged predator sits on that court today.

Similar observations could be made about the endless rear-guard battles to preserve women’s reproductive rights. As a twelve-year veteran as an escort at women’s health clinics, I know well how the real achievements of the women’s movement have been ripped apart by the far right.

There are several lessons here: Shut up if you’re on the left and object mildly or not at all to objectionable behavior. Expect to have serious allegations abandoned against the powerful, and never, ever speak up against evil when it’s staring you right in the face and the allegations are leveled against Democrats.

Donald Trump has the support of religious fundamentalists while he boasts of being able to “grab pussy” and Joe Biden refuses to open his archived files at the University of Delaware, a potential source of information about Tara Reade. Perhaps there is truth to the critical analysis of the women’s movement that it ended up being a conduit for upper middle-class women to reach the pinnacle of some positions of power and wealth within a post-industrial capitalist system, leaving masses of working-class and lower middle-class women behind. I guess if a political and social movement works for some, then it works to a degree, but that’s a hell of a poor left critique.  When Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren support Biden, one wonders about substantive support for women’s rights (“Biden sexual assault claim divides Democrats as Republicans ponce,” Guardian, May 10, 2020).

The hegemony of wealth and power will tolerate the most egregious level of human behavior!

The antiwar movement is yet another example of the left’s failure in the US. The antiwar movement shuttered its windows and folded up its tents following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Obama’s “hope and change” rhetoric, along with his expansion of the war in Afghanistan, went unanswered by most of the left. Without masses of people with their “skin in the game” of war, the antiwar movement withered. It was pathetic!

Antinuclear sentiments that gained rhetorical traction during the nuclear freeze movement of the early 1980s, never rose again even in the face of the massive nuclear outlays by both the Obama and Trump administrations. The modernization of the US nuclear arsenal, and US jabs at China and others, have brought the doomsday clock at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to 100 seconds before midnight and almost nobody seems to care.

One success story on the streets over the past several decades has been the movement for gay rights and that movement’s successful demand for medicines to treat AIDS.

There are some actions to support social distancing and self-isolation on the left, but the actions of far-right groups, many carrying semi-automatic weapons in public, point to yet another failure of the left to generate support for efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 and the spread of the political right in the US. The global race to find medicines to treat this pandemic and develop a vaccine raise questions about who will be treated with these medicines when they are discovered and produced and who will profit. This will not be a Jonas Salk moment.

Despite the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day in late April 2020, the devastating effects of greenhouse gases on the planet continue. The bluer skies now seen around the world happened by accident and not through political will or action. It is impossible to predict with any accuracy just how a global economy will resume following the end of the coronavirus and if the race to destroy the environment will return with a vengeance. This species can’t get out of its own way even as life on Earth depends upon its demonstrative actions.

The duopoly, and the neoliberals in particular, have given us environmental ruin, disastrous trade deals, deregulation of wealth, endless wars, militarized police, mass incarceration, a frontal attack against civil liberties, privatized schools, the military-industrial-financial complex, and relentless pandering to candidates who couldn’t care less about the common good; who couldn’t care less about ordinary working people.

The left in the US will emerge from this pandemic with all of its warts and general inability to act in the face of existential threats.  Will the far right further demonize the left as part of its march toward political and economic hegemony for wealth and power? A prediction, based on the left’s history in the recent past, is that political correctness and identity politics will emerge from the pandemic’s rubble in some of the same ways that it existed before the disease took hold. Anything else would be welcomed, but highly surprising. We may not ever rise again on the left.

Some readers might ask, what have you done to champion a left agenda? In 2018, I organized a demonstration to protest the horrific treatment of immigrants and especially immigrant children by the racist Trump administration (Obama was not far behind in his treatment of immigrants). A person didn’t need to know the differences between Maoism and Leninism, or the horrors that can be visited on masses of people by way of the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat to know there was something inherently wrong with the treatment of innocent immigrant children in a predatory capitalist society.

When a small fraction of the US left turned to revolutionary violence during the Vietnam antiwar movement, some adventurists on the left moved from strident ideology and targeting property to insane expressions of violence against people. The vast majority in the antiwar movement viewed civil disobedience as superior to acts of violence. The plan to bomb a dance of NCOs at a military base in the US was one example, while the murderous Brinks robbery was yet another. Three members of the radical Weathermen blew themselves up in a townhouse on West 11th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1970. Tragically, the founding of Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1960s, with its call for participatory democracy, led some, a minority, not to self-defense, but to wild-eyed mindless destruction.

One need not know the particulars of Trotskyism, or why Joseph Stalin wanted Trotsky dead, although the history of left thought and politics is handy as a reference tool. All a person needs to know is that life on this planet faces existential threats that require action.

Chris Hedges said it best on acTVism (“Bernie just wanted to be part of the club & failed us,” May 9, 2020): “There is no American left.”

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).