The Republican plunge into Trumpism has made the party especially unhinged and dangerous, but its basic ideology has long been a shameless assault on minimal standards of human decency. Now — while Democratic leaders and most corporate media outlets are suitably condemning the fascist tendencies of Trump and his followers — deeper analysis and stepped-up progressive organizing are urgently needed.
Economic injustice — disproportionately harming people of color — constantly propels U.S. society in a downward spiral. Poverty, economic insecurity and political disempowerment go together. Systemic racism continues to thrive, enmeshed with the predatory routines of corporate power.
After becoming a member of Congress last week, Cori Bush wrote in the Washington Post: “Many have said that what transpired on Wednesday was not America. They are wrong. This is the America that Black people know. To declare that this is not America is to deny the reality that Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate incited this coup by treasonously working to overturn the results of the presidential election.”
And, Bush added, “what my Republican colleagues call ‘fraud’ actually refers to the valid votes of Black, brown and Indigenous voters across this country who, in the midst of a pandemic that disproportionately kills us, overcame voter suppression in all of its forms to deliver an election victory for Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris.”
Yet that election victory — which was a huge blow to right-wing forces and a triumph for the progressive forces that made it possible — assures us of little. The same establishment-oriented corporate and militaristic mindsets that reigned supreme in the executive branch during the Obama administration are being reconfigured for the Biden administration. Similar mentalities at the top of the Democratic Party a decade ago are replicated today.
But, at the grassroots, progressive outlooks are much more prevalent than a decade ago — and left-leaning forces are much better positioned. There’s far less naiveté about Joe Biden on the verge of his presidency than there was a dozen years ago on the verge of Barack Obama’s. And much stronger communication and organizing capacities are in place for progressive individuals and groups in 2021 than was true in 2009.
In short, as Biden prepares to move into the White House, progressives are in much better shape to put up a fight — not only against the right wing but also against corporate Democratic elites, who are uninterested in delivering the kind of broad-based economic uplift that could undermine the pseudo-populist propaganda coming from the Republican Party.
A day after the orchestrated mob assault at the Capitol, Bernie Sanders appeared on CNN and provided a cogent summary of what must be done to effectively push back against the Republicans. In contrast to standard-issue Democratic Party talking points, what he had to say went to the core of key economic and political realities.
While countless Democratic politicians and pundits were taking the easy route of only condemning Trump and his acolytes, Sanders went far deeper.
“We must not lose sight of the unprecedented pain and desperation felt by working people across the country as the pandemic surges and the economy declines,” Sanders wrote to supporters on Sunday. “We must, immediately, address those needs.”
Sanders pointed out that “right now, hunger is at the highest levels in decades in this country and the family that couldn’t afford to put food on the table last week still cannot afford to put food on the table this week, and they need our help.” Among the ongoing realities he cited were these:
+ “The 500,000 Americans who were homeless and the 30 million more facing eviction last week are still worried about keeping a roof over their heads this week, and they need our help.”
+ “During the midst of a murderous pandemic which is getting worse and worse every day, the 90 million Americans who were uninsured or underinsured last week still are worried about being able to afford to go to a doctor this week, and they need our help.”
+ “The millions of Americans working two or three jobs to pay the bills because we have a national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour this week will still be getting paid a starvation wage next week, and they need our help.”
Such help will not come from merely denouncing the villainy of Trump and other Republicans. And it won’t come from reflexively deferring to the Biden administration. On the contrary, it can come from insisting that there must be no honeymoon for the incoming administration if we want to meet the crying needs of working-class people.
Some progressives believe that we should give Biden a break as his presidency gets underway. But in early 1993, we were told to give President Clinton a break. Wall Streeters went into the Cabinet, NAFTA soon followed — and, in 1994, Republicans roared back and took Congress. Later came cruel “welfare reform,” deregulation of the banking industry, and much more.
In early 2009, we were told to give a break to President Obama. Wall Streeters went into the Cabinet, big banks were bailed out while people with their houses under water lost their homes — and, in 2010, Republicans roared back and took Congress. Later came economic policies that undermined support and turnout from the Democratic Party base, helping Trump win four years ago.
As Bernie Sanders says, “The old way of thinking is what brought us Donald Trump.”
The Sanders prescriptions for antidotes to right-wing poisons are absolutely correct. Along with ending Trump’s toxic political career, Sanders wrote four days after the Capitol events, “we must also start passing an aggressive agenda that speaks to the needs of the working class in this country: income and wealth inequality, health care, climate change, education, racial justice, immigration and so many other vitally important issues. We must lift people out of poverty, revitalize American democracy, end the collapse of the middle class, and make certain our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy a quality of life that brings them health, prosperity, security and joy.”
Sound impossible? It isn’t. But to make such a future possible will require not only crushing the Republican Party but also dislodging the current Democratic Party leadership to make way for truly progressive elected Democrats — like Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ro Khanna and others — who understand that they must be part of transformative social movements that are our only hope.