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May 16 2016

USA 2016: a four-player game in a two party system.

On April 24th I was in New Haven (CT), visiting a friend in Yale. She was kind enough to give me a tour of the odd “Oxbridge” architecture characterising many of the buildings of the University, to kill some time. We were waiting to attend a much anticipated rally of the Sanders Campaign. The bad results of New York behind us, five new States (including Connecticut) ahead.

My estimate is that there were something short of 10’000 people. Number then circulated was 14’000 (it seems the habit to pump up numbers a bit is valid everywhere), which apparently is a record for the city in the past 30 years. Incidentally, the panorama photo I have shot granted me my most shared and liked tweet ever… and of course it happened with a Tweet showing a misspelled “rally”, which freaked out my mild OCD side.

Now for the interesting things.

The speech was what we expected: a well tested repertoire with the right pauses for cheers and claps and an extra punch well targeted against the insanity of having one of the most prestigious (and rich) university in the world few hundred meters (some more yards) away from neighbours where kids cannot afford to go to school. By the end of the speech, though, there was something different, that I did not recognise from previous speeches and TV debates. Sanders was and still is climbing a hill: simple math is against him and chances were already very slim that he could actually win the contest for the pledged delegates. So towards the end (minute 52:30 in the video below) he goes on a series of examples to prove that “Real change always takes place from the bottom up”.

And it takes a lot of time. Civil rights movement, women’s movement, the fight for the abolition of child labour, better work conditions etc. they all required organization, time and… conflict. Bernie himself has been arrested in the ’60s, so he is not talking metaphors, and this is not just a rhetoric point. Well done comrade!

But, wait, is he talking about a social movement or the agenda of a structured and established political party? Is he planning to move the Democratic party to the left or does he hope to direct the energy of his campaign beyond the borders of the democratic party? For once I will be incredibly optimistic and the main reason is…

Bathrooms bills!

Yes, this is currently part of the debate in the US (let me know where you are from and we can easily find the local equivalent, these are fantastic times… if you are Italian, don’t bother, it’s too easy). Tea party, theocon and similar strange, (non-)imaginary scary monsters, live the delusion that the majority of people in their country is really interested in discussing exchanges of fluids during sex and release of fluids in bathrooms. What’s more, the delusion states God the all mighty is very interested and has a whole set of special rules that dictate how to exchange fluids during sex and how to release fluids in bathroom. He (she) really gets pissed off if you don’t impose this particular set of rules to everyone! If I am not mistaken, this interest really started with Bush (“What would Jesus do?” Bomb brown people, apparently) and escalated with Sarah Palin in 2008 (yes, well done, McCain!). The North Carolina affair is going on well, but it is the series of “incidents” like this one (Georgia and Mississipi come to mind) that is really telling us the sad story of a party that is breaking apart. On one side religious fundamentalists, on the other side the Neoliberalism fundamentalists: our first two players in the quartet.

Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden)

Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden)

These two have some serious problems when they try to be together. It is not a matter of conflict of ideology. Of course neoliberalalism has its own set of imaginary rules (defined by an invisible hand rather than a divine entity) that defy empirical data and require pure faith to be trusted. Nonetheless, the problem is of pragmatic coexistence: the delusional set of fluid-rules dictated by God is bad for business. Let’s face it, if the Republican Party becomes bad for business and corporations, then it doesn’t really have that many purposes left in life, does it? From the point of view of the capital, pressing the agenda (or avoiding step-backs) of the civil right movements is not a problem. As long as you are not asking a decent salary, sick and maternity leave and of course as long as you don’t really ask any of them to pay fair taxes, you can have all the civil rights you want!

The remaining two players

This scenario makes of the democratic party the privileged speaker of the big interests in the US. They still mean business, Obama showed they are not shy in stepping in with trillions of dollars to protect the system from its constant suicidal attempts (I’d go again with the collapse of the GM example, but to avoid repeating myself I will also add this time the $831 billions of economic stimulus approved for the period 2009-2019) and they are very keen in sponsoring international treaties (NAFTA, TTIP) which are for the big money eyes only (no, they are not beneficial for the workers, let’s be serious, Hillary!). Fair enough, some reforms are not really appreciated: the democrats can also express social concerns and force a few constraints on labour and to “protect the environment” (even NATO is now in the very long list of those baffled by the stupidity of climate change deniers: see RESOLUTION 427). The republicans might also promise to reach a no tax zone for whoever is rich, but if you can’t sell you products/services, the perspective on taxes and freedom to pollute or to have disposable employees loses part of its appeal.

Privileged relation with the corporations, weakness of the Republican Party… let’s add the changing demographics and we have a Democratic Party doomed to win again and again in the near future, carrying on with the same agenda we have seen applied in the past 7 years. Everything seems fine, if not for the damn’ increased social inequality.

Distribution of income today in the US is worse than it was in 1774, under the magnanimous, socialist-democrat, King George III.

First time I have read this I also thought it sounded like a joke, but the data clearly show it is brutal realityGeneral rule for the past 150 years, when the system smashes workers and middle class, the political reaction will pop out either from the radical left or from the populist right. This is the reason why Trump has had a clean path towards victory against both the players just described in the Republican Party. If you are losing your job or even worse, if you are stuck in a minimum wage job, with no chances to increase your social status and good chances to get worse, you don’t have time to waste to fight acquired equal rights and passed bathroom bills! Nor you really appreciate people selling the idea that more money to the rich is going to make your life better when you work for $7.5 per hour and have the certainty of being fired as soon as you get a flu. There is no possible compromise, mediation or middle ground because awry conditions call for enemies. Either you find your enemy in the system -the way it works and it is structured- and you try to change it with the tools you have at hand, or you think the system is fine and it is somebody’s fault it doesn’t work, so you need to expel the alien element, the scapegoat that has been pointed out for you. In Europe the second option is very popular at the moment and even worse, we lack a continental path leading to the first. When a single EU country tries to deal with the system and its brutal inequities, via passing laws (or even just conceiving laws) that might result in some forms of redistribution programs or increased state intervention and spending, it is condemned to fail. A single country clashing against continental powers in the EU has its equivalent in a hypothetical Bernie Sanders trying to pass his reforms of social justice in just one State in the US. Not going to work.

Good news for the US, Bernie is indeed a National phenomenon and it seems he might really be moulding the politics of the whole nation for years to come. To do so, he is working on the social divide in the democratic party, but he still needs time, a detailed political agenda (the one he has now is simple and conceived to be good for campaigning) and a long term strategy. So for the moment he cannot stop his campaign for the primaries and the spotlight attached to it, even if the numbers are against him.

1. They say he’s draining resources form Hillary’s campaign that should be used against Trump. But he’s continuing to mobilize and energize voters about the most important issue in this election – the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top, and why it’s harming our economy and democracy. If the Democratic Party stands for anything, it should be to reverse this trend.
2. They say he doesn’t have a chance of winning the nomination. But he’s on a roll. He’s won 18 primaries, including West Virginia this week and Indiana last week, and has a good chance of taking Oregon and Kentucky next week, and perhaps even California June 7. Independent voters are flocking to him, and independents will be the single largest force in the general election. Besides, a big reason why she’s got so many delegates is she’s rounded up so many Democratic-insider superdelegates.
3. They say he’s forcing Hillary to spend time in primary states rather in battlegrounds that will decide the general election. But isn’t this why we have primaries – so that voters can have a choice of primary candidates? As long as Bernie has any chance at all, it’s his right and obligation to fight on.

Robert Reich

Epilogue: the best case scenario (wild dreams)

Clinton should understand she is not going to get easily the vote of all Bernie’s supporters. She represents different interests. Of course Trump is much worse than Clinton, especially for the US (Clinton’s foreign policy is quite bad, but nobody -not even Trump- knows Trump’s ideas on that side), but this simple truth will not make the case of West Virginia disappear or even become an isolated one.

Still, Hillary Clinton is the likely winner in the predicted scenario of a “contentious convention”, and it would be disastrous if Bernie’s supporters really opted for breaking with Hillary (the “independent radical movement” option). The left of the democratic party is not yet organised nor it has established roots somewhere or in any specific work field (e.g. unions): the main risk the left has to avoid relies in its volatility. The left has to establish itself following the example of the teo-con, and avoiding becoming a personalised movement, if it aspires to endure the inevitable decline of appealing of Senator Bernie Sanders.

Hence, the most rational path is to force Clinton to take a clear position on issues that matter to the left agenda (I know, easier to say than to succeed) and point out when she will step out of the social justice and/or environmentalist path. Meanwhile the real challenge is to organise, win future elections for senators and governors, build a new establishment. Only then, it would make sense to try to take over the party via primaries (4/8 years from now?) or maybe break it, an option which probably doesn’t suit the american system, as much as it does the -continental- European left, but… times they are changing.

That’s it: my whole 2 cents. All considered, it is a good time to be an activist: a lot of space and risks to take.

PS Here is the whole video of the rally in New Haven, if you are curious.

Two extra links that make interesting reading on the issue:

http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-ideological-operational-divide-in-the-g-o-p

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/21/bernie-hillary-and-the-new-democratic-party

April 24 2016 New Haven Connecticut

Sanders rally, April 24 2016
New Haven Connecticut

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