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On Reading GDS

On Reading GDS

By Dennis Loo (5/8/18)

A reader of Globalization and the Demolition of Society tells me that he agrees with all he has read (he has nearly finished the book by now) but “it seems awfully pessimistic.” I said to him that I wasn’t pessimistic and although it’s very late for planet earth, I think a revolution is still quite possible. In a subsequent talk with him, asking him why he said that, he told me that I am assuming new leaders will come forward, and he just doesn’t believe that will happen. His wife disagrees with him about that, citing instances from the Sixties such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., coming forward in conjunction with those movements.

I got to thinking about his statement, however, and I would like to address it.

You don’t see movements emerge without leaders. It just doesn’t happen.

I think it may also reflect the fact that when I talk about the host of problems we face (e.g., this) and point out that it a systemic-problem and you have to address a systemic-problem on a system-level, rather than primarily on an individual-level, that might seem very difficult to him and even pessimistic.

It is easier to accept the system as it more or less is and, say, elect the “right” people: that seems much easier to do and achievable. And he is right, it seems more achievable. In fact, the PTB are making this very same argument, all the time now. Nobody would be believable in their ranks now if they weren’t singing the “change” mantra. What does that tell you that they have to do that?

Wasn’t that exactly what people had in mind when they voted in Obama and then Trump? And didn’t Obama and Trump both directly and almost entirely play to that end? “Tired of the same old do-nothing but bad deals for you? I represent something new.”

To which my response has been to say: if you were paying attention, how did Obama work out for you and yours? Beyond the cosmetic? And even if you are not paying too much attention, how has the relati-TV star worked out as POTUS?

The fact is that even if Trump hadn’t been a surprise choice – he expected to do well enough but still lose – and Hillary Clinton was POTUS now, the system would still be in place and people would be justifiably unhappy with the results. Not just because some people will never accept a woman, but because fundamentally they didn’t like neoliberal policies. They would have a lot of company in that, from the Left and the Right, in fact, most of the world and most of the country would feel that way.

That is why you see all over the world people like Trump coming to power or making gains that surprise so many.

Immigrants are actually good for the economies they go to. They work very hard for less than what citizens would work for and they pay taxes and are not qualified for a lot of the benefits they make possible.

Let’s examine a recent article that was widely read at Vox “The Myth of an Ending: Why Even Removing Trump From Office Won’t Save This Democracy” in this context. The author does a decent job of recounting some of what’s out there, then goes onto make these points:

Those are the optimistic scenarios in which Trump’s presidency and the forces it represents are turned back. But dystopian thought has been on the rise too. We’ve seen a surge of concern and scenario building premised around Trump’s erosion of American political institutions.

It’s fair to worry about the threat Trump poses to the rule of law and certain democratic norms, but //medium.com/@yonatanzunger/trial-balloon-for-a-coup-e024990891d5">unhinged and wacky dystopias have arisen as well, where the concern is less a gradual erosion of important norms and more a palpable fear that Trump is preparing an Alberto Fujimori-style auto-coup where he seizes full-on dictatorial powers. (Yale historian Timothy Snyder, whose book On Tyranny was one of the first big best-sellers of the Trump era, has declared it “pretty much inevitable” that Trump will attempt a dictatorial seizure of power.)

Concerns about presidential authoritarianism are nothing new, just as desires for a presidency to reach an early end are nothing new. But they’ve taken on new potency in the Trump era. That’s partially because Trump is historically awful. But it’s also because we have a sense that things just can’t go on like this, that the intense dysfunction and corruption of the American system of government has to come to an end eventually, in a big and dramatic and permanent fashion.

Here he advocates his solution – we will muddle along. He might be right, but why if he is, then is there a growing popularity for fascist and authoritarian solutions? Remember Trump was elected! And the premise of this piece is that the system cannot go forward as it has.

For more sophisticated observers who know that the forces that produced Trump will continue after he’s gone, you see either a wallowing into dystopia — musing about an American descent into outright tyranny, of the kind occurring in the formerly democratic Hungary and Poland right now. Or you see fantasies of utopia, as in Bernie Sanders’s characterization of the anti-Trump resistance as a broader “political revolution, something long overdue” that will sweep into power “an agenda that works for the working families of our country and not just the billionaire class.”

Spend less time fantasizing about the system blowing up and more time thinking about how best to muddle through

For the past few months, I’ve been making my way through Mike Duncan’s excellent podcast season on the French Revolution, which begins with a brief explication of the many dysfunctions of the Ancien Régime. Power was somehow both too concentrated in the king — creating problems when someone as ill-suited to the role as Louis XVI ascended to the position — and too diffusely distributed across the nobility, clergy, and judiciary.

The French people ultimately decided to fix their problems by taking to the streets to force, first a constitutional monarchy, and then a revolutionary republic. But a quarter-century and millions of dead strewn across Europe later, the Bourbon dynasty returned and status quo ante prevailed.

As the clichéd, apocryphal Zhou Enlai quote goes, it’s too early to know if the French Revolution was a good idea or not, but it clearly failed at achieving its near- or medium-term goals: achieving a durable, stable political system that was more responsive than the Bourbons and that would stand the test of time.

Now, few people outright argue for revolutionary overthrow of the American system of government. The closest we get to calls for revolution or overthrow are celebrations of the Chinese model of dictatorship from both Chinese and Western admirers who see a nation that, unlike a vetocratic America, can just do things, with the implicit idea being that America could use a turn toward autocracy.

But other than that discourse, revolutionary or extraconstitutional thought is basically absent.

Even the newly vibrant American socialist movement is composed almost exclusively of reformist social democrats rather than revolutionary socialists. [Almost, but not quite: there are revolutionary communists such as the RCP, but they have turned to a wrong assessment of the Trump presidency and called it incorrectly a “juggernaut.”]

In a way, I think there should be more talk of revolution, if only to expand the bounds of debate. The political system is badly defective, and revolution is honestly one of the few proposals to fix it that’s equal to the scale of the problem. It deserves a fair hearing, even if I think it would be a terrible mistake — after all, most revolutions tend to fail, we’ve learned over the past few centuries. [According to this author, America would be better if the American Revolution had never happened.]

So where does this leave us? Absent a revolutionary shock to create a radically new political order, the best we can do is just muddle along.

What does that look like? An unsatisfying litany of heavy political lifts, most of which will fail, and each of which on its own would only mildly improve matters if adopted. We should abolish the filibuster and Electoral College and eliminate midterm elections by having the House, Senate, and president serve concurrent four-year terms. We should adopt the Fair Representation Act to end gerrymandering and move toward proportional representation. We need a robust right to vote in the Constitution, public financing for elections, and more transparency for corporate and nonprofit political spending.

How many people does he see backing the inadequate measures he advocates? Moreover, why over the past forty years, have both major parties in this country and almost the world over enthusiastically been embracing and enacting neoliberal policies? Do you think that less than one hundred individuals who now own half of the world’s wealth will just give it up?

He is right that many believe that getting rid of Trump and some believe or want Pence too to go, want something more to happen than is likely. Those people live under an illusion that neoliberal policies just came out of sprang up from out of nowhere and are not backed by entrenched and powerful forces that are not going to just reform themselves away.

 

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