By Robert A. Vella
We progressives, that is; and, our ranks are thinning with each passing day. But, we are still fighting; and, we’ll continue to do so despite the mounting odds against us. Why, you ask? Because what we’re fighting for is both central to our very nature as progressives, and because the world would be in even worse shape should our collective voices fall silent.
First of all, I shall dispel a myth. Progressivism is not synonymous with, nor is it aligned with, the Democratic Party or any political party. It emerged in the 1890s as a social movement against the rampant abuses of corporate power prevalent in the Gilded Age. In fact, two of the leading champions of progressivism were originally Republicans – President Theodore Roosevelt and prominent Wisconsin politician Robert La Follette.
The reason why today’s Democratic Party is commonly misperceived as being progressive results from the monumental legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who pursued progressive policies, to a degree unmatched either before or since, as a necessary remedy for the Great Depression. In no respect can the leadership of today’s Democratic Party, personified by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, be equated with true progressives like the aforementioned turn-of-the-century politicians or a classic liberal like FDR who fully embraced progressivism. Rather, the current Democratic Party establishment that took control following the Reagan Revolution reflects a centrist, neoliberal ideology which employs pragmatic, corporatist, and technocratic methods. Proponents are usually described as New Democrats or Third Way Democrats.
This may be unsettling or even shocking news to Democratic supporters desperate to unite the party in opposition against the megalomaniac GOP candidate for president Donald Trump, but neoliberalism, corporatism, and technocracy are fundamentally antithetical to progressive values and to democracy. This is an unbridgeable ideological divide. Asking us to sacrifice our most cherished principles, even to defeat a dangerous sociopath like Trump, is asking too much. This reasoning may seem incomprehensible or aggravating to Democratic Party supporters, but that’s just the way it is. All Americans have the right to vote as they see fit. For 2016, Democrats can take solace in the fact that the number of progressives who feel this way is quite small.
For more detailed rationale on why the policies and practices of modern-day centrism are rejected by progressives, I offer the following.
From Campaign for America’s Future – As Republicans Defect, Will Clinton Be Tempted To Tack Right?:
The sense of panic among elite Republicans is palpable. They’re beginning to understand that when they look at Donald Trump they’re staring into the orange-hued face of their party’s potential demise.
The GOP defections to Team Hillary were already well underway by the time of last week’s Democratic National Convention, which featured endorsement speeches from billionaire ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg and other Republicans.
Since then Hewlett-Packard executive and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has come out for Clinton. So has Republican-leaning hedge fund billionaire Seth Karman and Republican Congressman Richard Hanna. A CNN poll showed that nearly one in four self-identified conservative voters said they would support Clinton over Trump.
From a tactical point of view, it makes sense for Clinton to welcome their support. But it poses a dangerous temptation for her – especially when, as is the case with Bloomberg, Whitman, and Klarman, it presumably comes with buckets full of campaign cash. She may see this support as a mandate to form something like a unity government with Republicans, a call to tack right toward the failed “centrism” and “bipartisanship” of the past several decades.
That would be a tragic error, but it would it follow a well-worn groove in recent American politics.
“Bipartisanship,” in this context, is the notion that government works best when corporate-backed politicians from both parties get together behind closed doors and decide what’s best for the country. The “bipartisan” ideology gave rise to Washington’s long obsession with deficit reduction at the expense of more pressing concerns. It nearly led to a cut in Social Security benefits, which would have been disastrous for millions of seniors, disabled people, and children. It is responsible for the government spending cuts that, as economist Robert Scott explains, have been largely responsible for the weakness and slow pace of our current recovery.
This ideology has failed – but it hasn’t died.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, reducing the election to personalities is kind of infantile at this point. The fact is, we live in a system that Sheldon Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism. It’s a system where corporate power has seized all of the levers of control. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil or Raytheon. We’ve lost our privacy. We’ve seen, under Obama, an assault against civil liberties that has outstripped what George W. Bush carried out. We’ve seen the executive branch misinterpret the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act as giving itself the right to assassinate American citizens, including children. I speak of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son. We have bailed out the banks, pushed through programs of austerity. This has been a bipartisan effort, because they’ve both been captured by corporate power. We have undergone what John Ralston Saul correctly calls a corporate coup d’état in slow motion, and it’s over.
I just came back from Poland, which is a kind of case study of how neoliberal poison destroys a society and creates figures like Trump. Poland has gone, I think we can argue, into a neofascism. First, it dislocated the working class, deindustrialized the country. Then, in the name of austerity, it destroyed public institutions, education, public broadcasting. And then it poisoned the political system. And we are now watching, in Poland, them create a 30,000 to 40,000 armed militia. You know, they have an army. The Parliament, nothing works. And I think that this political system in the United States has seized up in exactly the same form.
And, this provocative post shared recently by our fellow WordPress blogger JoAnn Chateau gets right to the heart of neoliberal advocacy for unrestrained capitalism:
… capitalist bosses have no incentive whatsoever to keep their workers healthy. Ideally they want their workers to be just healthy enough to do their work. From an employer’s perspective, any excess of health is wasteful and dangerous. Workers who are too healthy generally get restive when they’re forced to work for an abusive and exploitative boss.
In general, the most docile workers are those who are moderately depressed and apathetic. If people stop being depressed, they want to either 1) quit their jobs or 2) rebel.