Saturday, December 31, 2016

The New Year and Beyond

So, at fifty years, I look at the world around me and view it through the eyes of Antonio Gramsci. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Gramsci wrestled with the question of why working people would align themselves with the reactionary right (fascists and others) who smashed unions, curtailed basic rights, and attacked working class interests. His conclusion was that the wealthy had achieved an ideological hegemony. Not only did the wealthy control the financial resources in the nation, they also controlled the production of ideas. People were sold on the ideas that foreigners, Jews, socialists, and lazy people were the source of their problems. Sound familiar?

Due to the Great Recession brought about by the conservative policies to redistribute wealth to the already wealthy, we live in a time very similar to the aftermath of the Great Depression. After the Great Depression, the world split into radical left movements for economic justice, including anarchists, communists, and socialists and the reactionary right, promoting the interests of the wealthy, including corporatist elitists and fascists. In Spain, equality and anarchist principles had enjoyed a short victory before the world conspired to support the fascists, crushing the embryonic movement of freedom and autonomy. On the other side was the reactionary right, the fascists - the corporatists who felt government on behalf of corporations is a government that favors people, especially if you can eliminate undesirable people from your borders. Again, sound familiar?

While we do not have the pseudo-scientific fiction of eugenics to drive the murderous intentions of fascists, we do have a resurgence of xenophobia and race hate in the world community. Governments vacillate between the democratic socialist policies of Bolivia and the corporatism of Pinochet’s Chile. In the US, Sanders’ popularity is the flowering of the despair with the current system. Trump is the infection taking hold, fed by astro-turfing the reactionary right tea-party movement. The Tea-Party Frankenstein’s monster Republicans struggle to control preys upon the same dissatisfaction with the future under our current system, but gives it a distinctly racialized and xenophobic twist. But, let’s not confuse all who supported Trump with those who exhibit the most appalling characteristics of the fascist (renamed “alt-right") movement. The support for change that tilted toward Trump is drawn from the same well as those who supported change exhibited by Sanders.

At this point, perhaps some clarification is overdue. When we talk about conservative and liberal, they have very precise political and economic definitions. However, most people do not use these precise definitions outside of political or the academic world. It is also important to note that what conservative and liberal politicians say publicly is very different from their actual policies. Conservatives have been anything but fiscally responsible and liberals have instituted policies that undermine people of color and the poor. When I critique conservative and liberal, I am talking specifically about the party leadership and intellectual roots. Conservatives, as a rule, like liberals, are not really fully aware of, or agree with, the very specific (and nearly always unstated) economic and foreign policy objectives of the parties. I think we need to get beyond this false dichotomy of conservative and liberal in the population. Both conservative and liberal folks need to shuck those ridiculously outdated labels and see their common interests and struggles. If not, the reality of hateful clashes of the past few years will only grow in intensity.

Another important point of clarification, conservatives have controlled the majority of governorships, state legislatures, and congress since about 2010. So, when people argued to drain the swamp, it was the conservatives sitting on the stumps with big, fat fuckin grins on their faces admiring the fact that people completely missed the conservative control of government. People who voted for a “change” were really saying “I love this shit sandwich; is it possible to turn this into a full-on fecal buffet!”

The task at hand, according to Gramsci, is to create a counter-hegemony to help us make sense of the world around us - to allow the folks who seek change under Trump to come together with those who seek change under Sanders. Even my own analysis of fascism makes this difficult, but I feel we need to call things what they are. We need to identify what is really going on, but in doing so, we must be surgically precise. Not all Trump followers are fascists, and not all Clinton supporters have your best interests in mind. If the Democratic party had the insight of political economy and were willing to challenge our current corporate dominated economy, they would have won this election handily. Instead, they spit in the face of working people by rigging the system in favor of a very contentious candidate and ignoring the issues that really concern working folks.

Democrats had reality on their side. Conservatives have orchestrated every deficit in the recent past to fuel defense spending, while Democrats have balanced budgets. Wisconsin and Minnesota are great examples of two very different trajectories. Wisconsin is mired in slow job growth, low wage levels, and a state deficit while Minnesota is one of the best states for business, solid economic recovery, and has a $1.5 billion surplus in its state budget. The recent control of both houses of the state legislature by conservatives threatens Minnesota’s more comfortable economic position. Low tax states like Texas, Kansas, and South Dakota are some the worst places to live if you actually work for a living. Unemployment is higher, wages are lower, and social services are slashed to favor the accumulation of wealth by the very wealthiest in our society.

What did Democrats do with this information? Nothing! They did not want to offend the folks that butter their bread, so they keep their mouth shut, said the same shit the Republicans did, and really did not pose an alternative. The failure to keep someone as offensive as Trump out of the White House falls squarely on the strategists in the Democratic party. They did not create or utilize an existing counter-hegemony to give people a reason to believe that they would be any different than the alternative.

The next fifty years are going to be shaped by this movement of history - the struggle of working people against the wealthy. As we face a world where social policy is designed to wrest decision making out of democratic processes and locate it among few elite interests, we will see budgets and legislation that will make addressing future concerns near impossible. The goal of conservatives is to ratchet down the options for budgets, increasingly privatize social goods like retirement, and promote election laws favoring the wealthy. Once budgets are slashed, prisons and schools are privatized, your health care and retirement is a function of the stock market, it will be painfully difficult to fix the problems these trends will create.

The gross deficits are not a failure of conservative policy (or supposed tax-and-spend liberals), but a concerted success by conservatives to fuck us. By creating a deficit, conservatives posit the only alternative, cutting programs. The whole point was to cut the programs that meet the needs of the majority of the population, but by insanely inflating the deficit, conservatives find little opposition to budget cuts. As his first priority, Walker intentionally unbalanced the Wisconsin budget so he could fuck the working people of Wisconsin. The current budget deficit is a conscious policy of Walker’s pro-wealthy agenda to continue to call for budget austerity and further “fuck you” budget cuts to those that truly need economic relief. When it comes time to address the gaping hole in the budget and the crumbling infrastructure, returning to previous tax levels is nearly impossible. Any time tax levels are restored prior levels, the conservatives can blame the liberals for “tax increases.”

Right now, the buck is being passed from the federal to the state and down to the municipal level. Budget cuts at the federal level show up as increased fees such as licences and tuition, bond measures, and tax increases locally. Fucked up tax policy favoring the wealthy promotes tax increases elsewhere. After creating the conditions that require shifting tax burdens, conservatives conveniently hold up liberals as the promoters of high taxes. It is great fukin racket. Destroy the budget, then piss on your neighbor and say he dribbled on himself.

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