By Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk”, March 13, 2020)
“The Democratic establishment won’t care. They don’t care. The Dem establishment will gladly enable a second Trump term before it will get behind a progressive nomination. They would rather lose to the right most party, even an ever-more fascistic and apocalyptic GOP, than to the moderately social-democratic left wing of their own party.” Paul Street
There is a natural antagonism between the rich and the rest of us. The interests of the rich are not our interests. The truths of the rich are not our truths. The lives of the rich are not our lives. Great wealth not only breeds contempt for those who do not have it, but it empowers oligarchs to pay armies of lawyers, publicists, politicians, judges, academics and journalists to censure and control public debate and stifle dissent.
The oligarchs are happy to talk about race, sexual identity, patriotism, religion, immigration, abortion and gun control. However, they are not happy to talk about class. These issues used to divide the public, to fuel virulent hatreds and antagonisms.
The culture wars give the oligarchs, both Democrats and Republicans, the cover to continue the pillage. There are few substantial differences between the two ruling political parties in the United States. This is why oligarchs like Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg can switch effortlessly from one party to the other. Once oligarchs seize power, Aristotle wrote, a society must either accept tyranny or choose revolution.
During the 1930s, the United States stood on the cusp of revolution — a fact President Franklin Roosevelt acknowledged in his private correspondence — amid the breakdown of capitalism. Roosevelt responded by aggressively curbing the power of the oligarchs. The federal government dealt with massive unemployment by creating 12 million jobs, making the government the largest employer in the country. It legalised unions and empowered organising.
President Roosevelt heavily taxed the rich and corporations up to 91% of earned income. His administration instituted programs such as Social Security and a public pension program. It provided financial assistance to farmers and migrant workers. It funded arts and culture. It created the United States Housing Authority, established the minimum wage and set a limit on mandatory work hours.
This heavy government intervention lifted the country out of the Great Depression. It also made Roosevelt, who was elected to an unprecedented fourth term, and the Democratic Party wildly popular among working and middle-class families. The Democratic Party, should it resurrect such policies, would win every election in a landslide.
But the New Deal was hated by the oligarchs. They gradually dismantled the regulations and programs that had not only saved capitalism but arguably democracy itself. Americans live in an oligarchic state. The oligarchs control politics, the economy, culture, education and the press.
Donald Trump occasionally hits out against the rich who ship jobs abroad. He, like Bernie Sanders, speaks about the forbidden topic — class. But Trump, though an embarrassment to the oligarchs, does not, like Sanders, pose a genuine threat to them. Trump incites violence against the vulnerable, widens the cultural and social divides and consolidates tyranny, but he will leave the rich alone. It is Sanders whom the oligarchs fear and hate.
The Democratic Party elites used every and any mechanism, no matter how undemocratic, to prevent Sanders from obtaining the nomination even if it leads to Sanders’ supporters abandoning the party in disgust.
Sanders’ democratic socialism is essentially that of a New Deal Democrat. His political views would be part of the mainstream in Europe where democratic socialism is an accepted part of the political landscape. It is routinely challenged as too accommodationist by communists and radical socialists.
Sanders calls for an end to our foreign wars, a reduction of the military budget, Medicare for All, abolishing the death penalty, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and private prisons, raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, cancelling student debt, eliminating the Electoral College and breaking up agribusinesses. This does not qualify as a revolutionary agenda.
Sanders does not propose nationalising the banks, the fossil fuel and arms industries or the criminal prosecution of the financial elites who trashed the global economy or the politicians and generals who lied to launch pre-emptive wars, defined under international law as criminal wars of aggression, which have devastated much of the Middle East, resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees and displaced people, and cost the nation between $5 trillion and $7 trillion. He does not call for worker ownership of factories and businesses. He does not promise to halt the government’s wholesale surveillance of the public. Most importantly, he believes that the political system, including the Democratic Party, can be reformed from within. On the political spectrum, he is, at best, an enlightened moderate.
The Democrats, like the Republicans, serve the interests of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, defence contractors and the fossil fuel industry. The Democrats, along with the Republicans, authorised $738 billion military and do not oppose the endless wars in the Middle East, took from us our civil liberties, including the right to privacy, freedom from wholesale government surveillance, and due process. The Democrats, like the Republicans, legalised unlimited funding from the rich and corporations to transform our electoral process into a system of legalised bribery. The Democrats, like the Republicans built a system of mass incarceration that has 25% of the world’s prisoners, although the United States has only 5% of the world’s population. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are the political face of the oligarchy.
The leaders of the Democratic Party — the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez would rather implode the party and the democratic state than surrender their positions of privilege. The Democratic Party is not a bulwark against despotism. It is the guarantor of despotism. It is a full partner in the class project. Its lies, deceit, betrayal of working men and women and empowering of corporate pillage made a demagogue like Trump possible. Any threat to the class project, even the tepid one that would be offered by Sanders as the party’s nominee, will see the Democratic elites unite with the Republicans to keep Trump in power.
Until the poor and working people understand this fact, they will play along and make choices that will be to their detriment. Our responsibility is to tell no lies and claim no easy victories.
(Most of this column came from a longer piece by Chris Hedges entitled ‘Class: The Little Word The Elite Hates’.)
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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