Thursday, August 1, 2019


Harry Targ

Demographics: Who Are the Potential Inside/Outside Activists?
On April 11, 2019, the Pew Research Center posted a document called “6 Demographic Trends Shaping the U.S. and the World in 2019.” These trends could be the basis for thinking about a new politics for the 21st century.

First, the Center pointed out that so-called Millenials (ages 23 to 38) will outnumber Baby Boomers (ages 55 to 73) in 2019. Millenials are more educated, diverse, slower to marry than prior generations at the same age. While the younger generation are earning more than those at comparable ages in earlier generations, they have less wealth. In part, this is because they are saddled with more student debt than their elders.
Second, the next cohort, Generation Z (ages 7 to 22) are expanding with the projection that nearly half the Zers will be racial or ethnic minorities. By 2020 13.3 percent of the population are projected to be Latinx, Blacks 12.5 percent, and whites declining from 76.4 percent in 2000 to 66.7 percent in 2020.

Third, there is an increase in the percentage of parents who are not married and the percent of children living with unmarried parents has doubled from 13 percent in 1968 to 32 percent in 2017. “Stay-at-home” parents constitute only 18 percent. Majorities of Americans see radical changes in families in the years ahead: less marriage and less children. Twentieth century sociologists used to regard the traditional nuclear family as the anchor of societal stability, the transfer of norms, the unit of consumption, and source of personal discipline.
Fourth, the immigrant percentage of the total population has increased modestly over the last one hundred years, the numbers of “unauthorized” immigrants in the U.S. has declined.

Finally, the Pew Research Center confirms that while incomes are rising, inequality has grown as well. What they call the middle class has declined. And about 56 percent of Americans recognize that being white is being advantageous (compared with Blacks and Latinx) in terms of economic advancement.
An Emerging Progressive Public

Peter Dreier reported on polling data in 2017 confirming that majorities of Americans are liberal or progressive on most issues relating to the economy, the distribution of wealth and income, money in politics, taxes, minimum wage and workers’ rights, health care, education, climate change, criminal justice, immigration, and gender issues. (see Peter Dreier, “Most Americans Are Liberal, Even If They Don’t Know It,” The American Prospect, November 10, 2017).

Data for Progress, a progressive data-analyzing organization issued a report commissioned by Justice Democrats in April, 2018 called “The Future of the Party: A Progressive Vision for a Populist Democratic Party.”  Data for Progress seeks to employ sophisticated social science techniques to gather information that might be of use to activist groups. They reported that Democratic primary voters want a tax on millionaires, increased regulation of banks, a government guaranteed program of health care, and policies to reduce economic inequality. Polling data suggests a shift toward more opposition to racial discrimination and support for immigrant rights. 

Perhaps the most important findings for the future were that non-voters preferred Clinton over Trump by a nine-point margin in 2016 and tapping a broader population of citizens “nonvoters and marginal voters are more supportive of progressive policies” than not. The report concluded that based upon a variety of responses that Democratic Party candidates “…are not representing the progressivism of their constituents.” Using the Rahm Emanuel strategy of appealing to centrists in prior elections, the report concluded that, even if it was a good strategy in 2006 to achieve Congressional victory, it was inappropriate for 2018 and beyond. For the base of the Democratic Party and those who are a part of the base but are less likely to vote, pursuing a progressive policy agenda is the only recipe for victory over Trumpism. And by implication, pursuing the centrism trope may be a recipe for disaster on 2020.
Finally, a Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reported that the idea of a Green New Deal has bipartisan support among the public. A sample survey indicated that 81 percent of registered voters either “strongly support” or “somewhat support “Green New Deal policy proposals. Researchers asked respondents to indicate their support or opposition to various policy components of the Green New Deal, including shifting from fossil fuels to green energy and a jobs agenda to train and reemploy workers. Most respondents had not heard of the GND and consequently had not heard that this was a key component of left/progressive Democratic politicians. In other words, disconnected from the toxicity and partisanship most registered voters, on their merits, saw the policies as worthy of support. And 82 percent of respondents indicated that they had heard “nothing at all” about the Green New Deal.

Anti-Trumpism: Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Movement, and the Emergence of Democratic Socialism
The rift within the Democratic Party was on full display at the California Democratic Party Convention on May 19 (2017) in Sacramento, California. Progressives joined members of National Nurses United, protesting the Democratic Party establishment’s refusal to support (a) single payer health care system. Rather than follow through with Democratic rhetoric that health care is a human right, establishment Democrats have responded to voters by scolding and attacking them. (Michael Sainato, “Tom Perez Bombs Speech, California Dem Chair Tells Protesters ‘Shut the F* Up’” Observer, May 20, 2017).

Since its inauguration, The Trump administration has been embroiled in a series of crises, with new ones emerging on almost a daily basis. The president is bombastic, ill-informed, and narcissistic. In response to his critics he engages in dangerous and unconventional efforts to transform the dominant narrative about his incompetence. He authorized ruthless bombings in Syria and Afghanistan and threatened war against enemies such as North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. In a 2017 diplomatic trip to the Middle East and Europe, he reached a deal to sell $110 billion in weaponry to a Saudi Arabian regime which supports terrorism throughout the Middle East and a devastating bombing campaign against Yemen. And at home he appointed cabinet members and advisors with long histories of white supremacy and anti-Semitism (almost in defiance of accepted minimal qualifications for public office). In 2019 his remaining foreign policy advisors, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and John Bolton, National Security Advisor, represent the most extreme elements of the neoconservative war faction of the two main political parties.

Trump’s core constituency all along has been sectors of finance capital, insurance, real estate, the military/industrial complex, and drug companies whose profits have come from domestic investments or sales and speculation overseas. It also includes portions of small and medium sized businesses whose viabilities have been threatened, not by big government, but by the further monopolization of the economy.

In addition, some workers displaced by the underside of neoliberalism, including capital flight, automation, and trade, have supported Trump because they saw no positive economic future in a Clinton presidency. Finally, the Trump constituency includes a sizeable percentage of voters who are ideological legatees of white supremacy.

Therefore, the Trump coalition consists of fractions of capital who will gain from a more muscular and economically nationalist policy agenda, marginalized portions of the so-called “middle class,” sectors of the working class, and portions of all of these whose political learning has centered on the history and consciousness of white supremacy (“make America great again”).

Trump’s major adversaries come from a core sector of the ruling class that has dominated the policy process at least since the 1980s, the neoliberal globalists. In response to the squeeze on profits of the 1970s, the capitalist elites began to promote a dramatic shift in the character of the economy in the direction of “neoliberalism.” Drawing upon an economic ideology with a long history from Adam Smith, to Milton Friedman, to mainstream neoclassical economists of the late twentieth century, every administration from Carter to Trump has engaged in deregulation of economic life, reducing government programs that help the poor and working classes, reducing the rights of unions, and privatizing virtually all public institutions. They “went global,” that is developing a network of economic ties via trade agreements, the globalization of production, and integrating corporate boards. Capitalist elites from every continent began to develop common approaches to national policy via such informal organizations as the Trilateral Commission, meetings of the G7 countries, and the annual World Economic forum.

Debt poor countries were the first to be forced to embrace neoliberal policies, followed by the former Socialist Bloc countries, then the Western European social democracies, and finally the United States. A significant portion of this qualitative change in the way capitalism works has involved increased financial speculation (as a proportion of the total gross domestic product), dramatic increases in global inequality in wealth and income, and increasing economic marginalization of workers, particularly women, people of color and immigrants.

Candidate Donald Trump orchestrated a campaign against the neoliberal globalists who dominated the political process in the United States since the 1980s. While he epitomized finance capital, albeit domestic as well as foreign, and represents the less than one percent who rule the world, he presented himself as a spokesperson of the economically marginalized. He attacked the capitalist class of which he is a member. In addition, he blamed the marginalization of the vast majority on some of their own; people of color, women, and immigrants.

Resistance Grows

Since the November 2016 election masses of people have been mobilizing in a variety of ways against the threatened agenda of the newly elected president. The women’s marches and rallies of January 21, 2017 and International Women’s Day on March 8 were historic in size and global reach. There have been huge mobilizations to reduce the use of fossil fuels and prevent climate disaster, to support immigrant rights, and to provide basic health care. Many of these manifestations of outrage and fear have occurred as planned events but also there have been numerous spontaneous acts at Congressional town hall meetings and even in airports challenging Trump directives to refuse people entry into the United States.

A multiplicity of groups have formed or increased in size since January, 2017: former Bernie Sanders supporters; anti-racists campaigns; those calling for sanctuary cities and defending the human rights of immigrants; progressive Democratic organizations; and women’s mobilizations. Traditional left organizations, such as the Democratic Socialists of America, benefiting from the Sanders campaign, tripled in size. And organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have reported large increases in financial contributions. The mobilization of millions of people has bolstered the spirits of progressives everywhere. They feel that at this point in history a new progressivism is about to be born. But the story is made complicated by the nature of the opposition to Trumpism.
Oppositions to Trumpism: Neoliberal and Progressive

Paradoxically, while this is a teachable moment as well as a movement building moment, progressive forces are struggling to be organized. In and around the Democratic Party there is a conflict over the vision and the politics it ought to embrace at this time and in the coming period. The Sanders supporters, inside and outside the Democratic Party, have marshalled much support for a progressive agenda: single-payer health care, a green jobs agenda, protecting the environment, tax reform, building not destroying immigrant rights, defending women’s rights, and cutting military spending. With the brutal policies advocated and already instituted by the new Trump administration, progressive democrats and their allies on the left are struggling mightily to articulate a program and create some organizational unity to challenge Trumpism.

However, on almost a daily basis stories have appeared in the mainstream media about Trump’s incompetence and irrational and ill-informed statements. Most importantly, allegations of the connection between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian spying, have dominated the news. As a result, the neoliberal globalist Democrats, activists in the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and leaders of the Democratic Party, have consciously embraced the Trump/Russia connection as the real reason why their candidate lost the election. By implication, they deny that there was anything perceived negatively about mainstream Democratic Party policies on trade, health care, mass incarceration, bank regulation, jobs and wages, and other neoliberal approaches to policy in the years when Democrats were in the White House. Clearly, Hillary Clinton was identified with this neoliberal agenda. But understanding the election outcome through the lens of Russiagate is a recipe for disaster.
The dilemma for progressives is that opposition to Trumpism and all it stands for has been and must be a key component of reigniting a progressive majority. But if it does not address the fundamental failures of the neoliberal agenda, including challenging neoliberal globalization, the current stage of capitalism, Trump’s grassroots support will continue. Working people who ordinarily would vote for more liberal candidates for public office need to believe that future candidates are prepared to address the issues, often economic, that concern them.

Therefore, the fundamental project for progressives today includes mobilizing against Trumpism while articulating an alternative political and economic analysis of the current state of capitalist development. In concrete terms, this approach means challenging the legitimacy of the Trump administration and its allies in Congress while articulating the perspective that mainstream Democrats, the neoliberal globalists, are part of the problem, not the solution.

This alternative analysis requires a bold challenge inside the electoral arena and in the streets that calls for radical reforms: single-payer health care; cutting the military-budget; creating government programs to put people to work on living wage jobs in infrastructure, social services, and public education; addressing climate change: and fiscal and regulatory policies that reduce the grotesque inequality of wealth and income which has increased since the 1980s.

The tasks are challenging but another world is possible.
A Postscript:

So far the data indicates that there is a base of solid support for a whole range of progressive policies and an additional subset of the population who might be inclined to support a progressive agenda. However, the Pew Research Center recently reported that “trust in government” is at an all-time low (17 percent) One can assume that those with distrust in government are less likely to vote. Therefore, since the potential base for building a progressive majority is great, there is a need to articulate and campaign around an agenda that can appeal to the disenchanted. Therefore political mobilization should first concentrate on mobilizing its activist progressive base and then mobilize  the “uncommitted” who as some of the data suggests would embrace progressivism. The final, and perhaps least plausible, population to engage would be those who oppose a progressive agenda.
Reflecting upon the globalization and perniciousness of neoliberal globalization, its transformation of the political economy of the United States and the global political economy, the increased marginalization of all who work, rising global inequality in wealth and income, the particular impacts of this system on people of color, women, and other socially marginalized groups, the progressive project of the near-term future is clear both for inside and outside political strategies. Boldly, convincingly, and with passion and respect, articulate a progressive agenda.

Harry Targ is a retired Professor of Political Science, Purdue University. He is currently a co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS).