Friday, November 11, 2016

Presidential election postmortem: the role of neoliberalism

There are many evaluations of the election results pouring out from all over the place, of course. I'm trying to post to at least a few of the ones I find particularly insightful. There will be no shortage of "liberal concern troll" commentary from the usual suspects about how the Mean Libruls need to show sympathy with the Real Americans by not criticizing Trump and also by adopting his positions.

Here are several that focus on the critical issues of neoliberalism and developing a political movement, including a reformed Democratic Party, that starts to combat it effectively in both electioneering and policy.

Judith Meyer writes for DiEM25 that position support for rightwing populists in the context of the political dominance of the neoliberal economic/social outlook (The Establishment Gambled and Lost 11/10/2016):

We hear about the hurt in almost every article written after each of these failures: the centre-right and the centre-left have allied over the past couple decades to impose Neoliberal policies which left 80% of the population worse off. The rising numbers of unemployed and working poor are the primary target audiences for new anti-establishment xenophobic nationalists that can be found not just in America and the UK but also France, the Netherlands, Germany and other European countries (a ‘Nationalist International’). However, it would be a grave mistake to say that only the poor (often conflated with the uneducated) vote for these. Politics have been so one-sidedly in favour of the 1% that even the middle class does not feel safe in its position anymore. Many of Germany’s nationalists have a middle class or former middle class background, and so did many Trump voters.

In previous years and decades, the establishment could absorb the greatest part of the votes of those who feel betrayed and left behind by their government. People switched their vote from one established party to the other. Barack Obama won as an establishment candidate promising Change. Now however, one-sided, pay-to-play politics have eroded public trust to such extent that NO kind of establishment politician is trusted to have the interests of the people at heart, only outsiders like Donald Trump might, possibly.

Harold Meyerson also analyzes the outcome in similar terms (Catastrophe: The revolt of the Rust Belt The American Prospect 11/09/2016):

It wasn’t James Comey who did her in. It sure wasn’t Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. It was her husband.

No, not because of Bill Clinton’s personal financial dealings or sexual behavior. Because of his economic policy, which was the establishment economic policy.

NAFTA. Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. Signing financial legislation that crucially omitted any regulation of derivatives.

Last night, the Rust Belt—whose rust buildup Bill Clinton signally contributed to by signing deals that offshored millions of decent-paying jobs—revolted. Last night, from Pennsylvania in the east to Iowa in the West, one formerly-solid Democratic state after another saw their white working class, their small town and rural voters, get vengeance against an establishment that had left much of their economy in ruins. In many of those small towns, left all their economy in ruins. (That President Obama persisted in his campaign for the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a move that may end up nullifying much of his legacy—surely didn’t help Hillary Clinton, either.)
And he emphasizes the very important mediating institution between macroeconomics conditions and the individual voter, the labor union:

Exit polls going back to the Nixon presidency have shown that white working-class union members have voted Democratic at a rate roughly 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts. In two decades following World War II in many of those states, close to half of white working-class men were union members. But deindustrialization, offshoring of jobs, shuttering of factories, and four decades of nearly fanatical opposition to unions from Republican politicians and most American employers took a huge toll on Rust Belt unions. Today, the rate of unionization among private sector workers is under 7 percent, and it’s not much higher in the Rust Belt states.
The Democrats as they rebuild to reassume national power - someday - they need to make increasing unionization a central part of their strategy and the program they deliver when that day eventually comes.

Deutsche Welle reports on the singular nature of Trump's election Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency is historically unprecedented 10.11.2016. They quote Bob McElvaine defending the honor of Andrew Jackson as a symbol of democratic politics and the Democratic Party:

The only president that could even be remotely compared to Trump - and it's a stretch, say the experts - is Andrew Jackson. Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, like Donald Trump, was a political outsider.

While most American presidents during the 1820s were members of Virginia's highly educated upper class, Jackson was a backwoodsman from Tennessee who was known to spell the same word several different ways in a couple of sentences, said McElvaine. And that's where the Trump-Jackson analogy rests on shaky ground because Trump was born into a wealthy New York family and received an elite education.

Jackson, like Trump, mixed up the political elite of the country by positioning himself as the voice of the people and by vowing to clean up Washington. "But even Jackson had a military and political background” said McElvaine.
Robert Reich in Democrats once represented the working class. Not any more Guardian 11/10/2016, he reds the election results as "a repudiation of the American power structure."

At the core of that structure are the political leaders of both parties, their political operatives, and fundraisers; the major media, centered in New York and Washington DC; the country’s biggest corporations, their top executives, and Washington lobbyists and trade associations; the biggest Wall Street banks, their top officers, traders, hedge-fund and private-equity managers, and their lackeys in Washington; and the wealthy individuals who invest directly in politics.
A good summary of who the American ruling class is. Or, in the populist terminology, the Elite.

Despite the prominent backing of some much of that distinguished group:

There had been hints of the political earthquake to come. Trump had won the Republican primaries, after all. More tellingly, Clinton had been challenged in the Democratic primaries by the unlikeliest of candidates – a 74-year-old Jewish senator from Vermont who described himself as a democratic socialist and who was not even a Democrat. Bernie Sanders went on to win 22 states and 47% of the vote in those primaries. Sanders’ major theme was that the country’s political and economic system was rigged in favor of big corporations, Wall Street and the very wealthy.
While the economic conditions are fundamental to the formation of political opinion, their effects on a particular election are mixed with other factors and mediated in many ways. But they matter:

Median family income is lower now than it was 16 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Workers without college degrees – the old working class – have fallen furthest. Most economic gains, meanwhile, have gone to top. These gains have translated into political power to elicit bank bailouts, corporate subsidies, special tax loopholes, favorable trade deals and increasing market power without interference by anti-monopoly enforcement – all of which have further reduced wages and pulled up profits. ...

Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years, and for four of those years had control of both houses of Congress. But in that time they failed to reverse the decline in working-class wages and economic security. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.

They stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class – failing to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violate them, or help workers form unions with simple up-or-down votes. Partly as a result, union membership sank from 22% of all workers when Bill Clinton was elected president to less than 12% today, and the working class lost bargaining leverage to get a share of the economy’s gains.
Marcy Wheeler looks back to a famous moment in the 2008 primary campaign to make a point about this critical economic context (The Unlearned Lessons of Obama's Guns, God, and Religion Comments Emptywheel 11/10/2016):

Hillary pounced on the comments, accusing Obama of being tone deaf about rural issues. But over the course of the year, Obama worked to win the votes of these people.

Eight years later, this very same disheartened voters, who remain cynical that the government can do anything for them, voted for a billionaire grifter who thinks wages are too high.

That’s a bad enough story. It’s bad enough that giving people access to (too expensive and complicated) health insurance didn’t provide needed relief.

But then Hillary missed the importance of these same rural areas, because the algorithm that did all the campaign’s thinking underestimated it and so Hillary made few or no campaign stops there.
And, unfortunately, she's correct in her diagnosis of the magnitude of the Democratic Party's failure. "Hillary failed Obama’s challenge — convincing people that we can make progress when there’s little evidence of it. That said, I think in the White House, Obama failed that challenge as well."

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