Filed under: Ami du Radical, Analysis, Anarchist Movement, Critique, Featured, The State, US
Over the past six months, the facade of the American Empire has frayed significantly. The mythology of this nation, purported to be a grand temple of personal liberty, even-handed government, and financial opportunity, has been wholly exposed as a complete fabrication. As of this writing, a scant 20% of Americans have any trust left in the government, a decline of roughly 60% since the golden years of Truman’s postwar exceptionalism . A fifth of the adult population ranks dissatisfaction with the government as their top concern .
At the heart of this deterioration are the establishment parties, the monolithic political bodies which operate not as competing guardians of the people, but as rival houses of the aristocracy, vying for the loyalties of workers who inevitably suffer under the policies generated by the state. Now, neither one can keep a firm grip on the population, and so drastic measures are being taken to ensure the loyalty of their voting blocs.
To the right, the Republican party has submitted wholeheartedly to an authoritarian, jackbooted form of governance which openly opposes human rights, encourages violent repression through the military and police, celebrates Western chauvinism, and delegitimizes the press, universities, intellectualism, and scientific fact. Conservative voters, enticed with nationalistic promises of wealth and prosperity after years of financial distress and simmering racial resentment, are now caught between the man condemning them to illness and poverty, and the emboldened alt-right, who will accept nothing less than a fully-realized fascist regime.
Just left of the Republicans, the Democrats have scrambled to reinvent themselves after the catastrophic failure of the Clinton campaign. Unmasked as a flock of shameless, arrogant vultures, they have been embarrassed by constant failure: after Clinton came expensive losses in special elections, most notably the Ossoff campaign. With these fumbling attempts at political expedition behind them, the Democratic party has taken an even more sickening turn towards “radical centrism,” tendering bipartisan cooperation by bartering away single-payer, reproductive rights, and the false anti-war sentiment which strengthened the Obama campaign early on. Many of their voters have abandoned them, but a loyalist faction remains, hypnotized by Russian conspiracies and ephemeral plans for 2018 and 2020.
And naturally, both these parties have played off of the rising of the left, a rhetorically useful enemy which has blossomed within their fading dynasty. Conservatives have been unsubtle in their use of antifascism as a boogeyman, from the infamous anti-leftist NRA video, to their cooperation with the Alt-Right and far-Right militias, and the recent blending of conservative news outlets with patently false smears of the antifascist movement – Jesse Waters, in particular, exemplifying how clueless a media personality can be without losing their job. But the liberal bloc has developed an especially crass and shallow way to write off the left, while re-legitimating their own useless party of choice: the invention of the “alt-left,” another faceless enemy to blame for social unrest and disappointment.
False enemies are not invented without reason. They survive conceptually only if they serve a purpose in public discourse. The Democrats have no intention of dismantling capitalism, extending health care and clean water to the citizenry, or halting global warfare. To prevent mutiny from spreading, they will need to paint themselves as the only hope for progress and a return to normalcy. This requires the shaming or scaring of disillusioned liberals into loyalty, and away from any movement that can’t be placated by moderate concessions alone.
This essay will examine the creation of the alt-left label, as it relates to a broader historical pattern of liberal centrists isolating and weakening leftist causes whenever revolutionary movements have threatened the sociopolitical aristocracy of America.
ARTHUR CHU AND RESPECTABILITY POLITICS
To state the obvious, there is no such thing as the “alt-left.” The very term presupposes that the “alt” prefix is merely a slur, to mark a movement as unsavory or taboo. This is a grave misreading of both the right and left traditions in America.
The Alt-Right, as such, never needed to be named by an opponent; Richard Spencer birthed the movement, name and all, intending it to be an alternative to the modern conservative movement which, in the style of George Bush, had done away with flagrant Buckley-esque white supremacy. It grew thereafter, gaining traction through 4chan boards, absorbing the Men’s Rights and Gamergate movements, adding outright fascists and neo-nazis to its ranks along the way. It developed out of a mixture of hedonistic transgressions against social consciousness, based on racism, anti-feminism, and a general hatred of modernity. It is a return to the most gruesome chapters of rightist history and white patriarchal supremacy, but could justifiably be classified as a modern, stand-alone fascist movement.
Leftism, conversely, never died out in America. On the soil of this continent, there is a lineage of resistance to oppression stretching from the colonies’ genocidal birth, to the liberation and labor movements of the mid-19th century, all the way to Black Lives Matter, the DAPL conflict, and the rejuvenation of worker solidarity and contemporary antifascism. But to an uninitiated liberal, the more immediate (and mentally pleasing) explanation is that antifascism is a new invention, something copied from European extremists by frustrated pinkos in America. And so the imaginary “Alt-Left” has been incrementally conjured up to explain away street-level opposition to the Democrats’ agenda of “compassionate capitalism” and soft-handed reforms of the carceral system.
There are two versions of the alt-left myth. The first is summarized by a twitter thread from Arthur Chu.
In this telling, the Alt-Left is a fringe element that is less numerous, less powerful, and more annoying than the Alt-Right, but shares its core traits. Evidently, Chu believes that the “alt” label describes movements which conceal self-serving ulterior motives behind overzealousness, people who conflate unrelated issues to shame and silence opponents. In his opinion, true progressivism comes from a place of compatibility with the state: in a piece entitled “I Like Bernie Sanders: His Supporters? Not So Much,” Chu laments the condition of Bernie supporters as white, entitled, male voters who accuse everything of being part of “the Establishment.” . He attributes their loudness to a youthful impatience, claiming that it takes a more nuanced, gradual, and compromising approach to politics to achieve real change:
“What I’ve liked about Sanders as a person and a candidate so far has been that he’s better than his fans. In his time in the Senate he has done the hard work of making things happen within the existing system rather than piously opining on how the system is corrupt.”
It’s a prime example of liberal ideology. Despite his writings on the importance of diversity in pop culture, the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement, and his understanding that white patriarchal supremacy underpins the greatest evils of American history (he wrote a stinging piece against the “All Lives Matter” crowd by referencing America’s bombing of Japan), Chu nonetheless balks at the idea of societal change which arrives too suddenly. To the greater liberal bloc, stability is ultimately more important than liberation. It is preferable, in their minds, to have Hillary Clinton in the White House – a woman whose wartime doctrine would have resulted, by her own admission, in greater Syrian civilian casualties and a probable air war with Russia – than risk some kind of revolt. The end result of this halfhearted approach is now upon us, and that revolt is no less likely.
As detailed by Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, the very mechanism behind the “Bernie Bro” accusation which became so popular in 2016 is to smooth over the duplicities of Clinton and her two-faced methodology, by cherry-picking particularly abrasive Twitter comments:
“If you’re a Clinton media supporter, the last thing you want to do is talk about her record in helping to construct the supremely oppressive and racist U.S. penal state. You don’t even want to acknowledge what [Michelle] Alexander and [Ta-Nehisi] Coates wrote [about Clinton]. You most certainly don’t want to talk about how she’s drowning both personally and politically in Wall Street money. You sure don’t want to talk about what her bombing campaign did to Libya, or the military risks that her no-fly zone in Syria would entail, or the great admiration and affection she proclaimed for Egyptian despot Hosni Mubarak, or revisit her steadfast advocacy of the greatest political crime of this generation, the invasion of Iraq. You don’t want to talk about her vile condemnation of “superpredators,” or her record on jobs-destroying trade agreements, or the fact that she changed her position from vehement opposition to support for marriage equality only after polls and most Democratic politicians switched sides… It’s much better to re-direct the focus away from Hillary Clinton’s history of beliefs and policy choices onto the repugnant, stray comments of obscure, unknown, anonymous people on the internet claiming (accurately or not) to be supporters of Bernie Sanders.” ~ Glenn Greenwald 
This is a well-worn gimmick in American history: presenting one’s self as a rational and freedom-loving progressive sort, while at the same time silencing or downplaying anything or anyone which conflicts with one’s personal threshold of social restructuring. Take, for instance, the crooked nature of the American Federation of Labor, during the Samuel Gompers administration. On the one hand, Gompers and his AFL brothers spoke loftily of socialism, solidarity, the rights of the worker, and opposition to maltreatment at the hands of employers. Yet the daily behavior of the AFL leadership demonstrated a bargain struck not on behalf of all laboring humans, but between a select few craftsmen and their employers.
Most notably, the AFL excluded women and black workers. This was done in part because racial segregation was beneficial to white workers, but also because without accepting racial discrimination as a social norm, the AFL would be brought into direct conflict with capitalism itself. When W. E. B. Du Bois wrote “The Black Man and the Unions” in 1918, he mourned the fact that despite collective bargaining raising the status of many workers to something acceptable, many of the papers in which he read about the struggles of those bargaining workers soberly assured the reader that black hands did not take part in the printing of those publications. This was socialism without emancipation; stillborn progress.
The AFL under Samuel Gompers did not represent “unskilled” laborers, nor did it have any particular interest in racial harmony between workers. Gompers himself held a conservative viewpoint regarding bosses and industrialists, once saying that “The greatest crime an employer can perpetrate on his employees is to fail to operate at a profit.” Though himself an immigrant’s son, Gompers (and the AFL) supported the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, reasoning that by denying citizenship and employment to foreigners, a white worker’s wages could be kept higher. He concerned himself with how immigrant workers could be “Americanized.” On the subject of his support for the Exclusion Act, he declared:
“I agree with you, too, that it is hardly fair to have our people crowded out of employment by those who simply come here for the purpose of working at low wages — higher than those they may be accustomed to in their own countries– and then after a while return there.”
In short, both Gompers and the AFL he oversaw were not interested in “progress” or “socialism,” no more so than Bernie Sanders was. They concerned themselves with working towards objectives which would not upset the established system overmuch, nor risk their own socioeconomic position. They worked within the existing system.
The AFL did not universally represent “the worker,” nor did they blaze a trail towards a more equitable future. Rather, they sought to carve out a niche of their own within a brutal system of worker exploitation, winning public support by holding up employer concessions as victories, while simultaneously refusing to adopt the radicalism of the IWW because it would be too disruptive, too dicey for a relatively well-off craftsman who benefited as a member of the petit-bourgeois. Better to work day-to-day for incremental benefits, Gompers would have them believe, than to jeopardize themselves by breaking racial barriers, accepting women into their ranks, and mingling with foreigners. Better to break bread with the ancestral powers of capitalism and make slight adjustments, than go to war with it and face the police and courts in the process. Unsurprisingly, Gompers and his fellow labor leaders became good friends with the very employers whose abuses supposedly birthed the labor movement in the first place.
And when capitalism suffered a sucking wound during the Great Depression, it was this “cautious” form of so-called progress which cauterized the wounded working class, without endangering the interests of the dominant class in America. President Roosevelt, looking for a means by which to both stabilize capitalism and prevent a revolt from the working class, instituted the New Deal, a series of agreements which would preserve the dominance of the ownership class by pacifying enough labor sectors to make mass organizing impossible. The Agricultural Adjustment Act was ostensibly meant to return purchasing power to struggling farmers, but the limits imposed by the AAA – stripping away one third of all national cotton production – necessarily benefited the large, landowning farmers who would see a boost in profit by shrinking their crop supply, while the poorest tenant farmers suffered when demand for their labor was consequently reduced.
In FDR and Gompers we find two halves of the pacification technique in which Chu has unwittingly participated, whatever his personal feelings about Bernie Sanders, socialism, and social progress. The powerful gain the support of the powerless by promising immediate relief – concessions from employers for Gompers, government support for workers from FDR – in exchange for not losing their privileged positions, and preventing an all-out rebellion. Gompers competed with the IWW, the more radical labor movement, shaming them for using more aggressive tactics against their employers. FDR used anti-strike laws to constrain the power of the unions, and rallied nationalistic support for the government by linking the worker’s’ identity to the war in Europe – anyone who didn’t participate in the “war effort” risked public shaming.
Arthur Chu has bought into a lesser version of this belief, the idea that pragmatism is ideal path, that the state is a mechanism which can be operated by anyone, and can be repaired through public consensus. The alt-left, as he sees it, is an outgrowth of irrationality and greed, not a desire for radical change and human liberation. The liberal bloc can pat itself on the back for reducing “resistance” to those forms of public outcry which pose the least threat to the government, and therefore are received with open arms by the ruling class. Petitions and ballots are the uppermost limit of this praxis.
So, fair enough: Arthur Chu has no stomach for the idealistic opening of leftists. He doesn’t see the value in asking why, according to examination by Princeton University, America’s government does not materially represent the interests of its voters . It is a matter for another day that, decades after being afforded suffrage, black voters are still suppressed, legally and openly, as they were in North Carolina last year . The “alt-left” should do more than pontificate about a system which, after billions of votes, hasn’t ended slavery, child labor, mass incarceration, lynchings, anti-LGBT+ laws, illegal warfare, or land theft. Our path forward is through the voting booth, just the same.
Maybe Chu was dealing with a particularly crass Twitter commentator when he formed his opinion, shown above, about the so-called alt-left. But “working within the system” is a meaningless sentiment, just as it was in the time of Samuel Gompers. Nancy Pelosi demands a capitalist system, and so does the GOP, and so single-payer is unquestionably out of our reach. Obama ran as an anti-war candidate; the endless warfare he helped create through seven bombing campaigns is now in the hands of Donald Trump, who is carrying out the same level of violence Clinton would have unleashed , and the same interventionism Sanders supported when – despite expressing “concern” over Trump’s air strikes against Assad – he nonetheless voiced support for “regime change,” the very policy he decried during his campaign.
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) April 9, 2017
For all his praise of working within the system, what did that system deliver to Arthur Chu himself? The DNC, as revealed in their own emails, had a distaste for Bernie Sanders from the start of the 2016 election cycle. That “impartial” group knowingly worked against him on multiple fronts. Wasserman-Schultz was called out for her hand in tilting the campaign debates in Clinton’s favor, and was forced to resign over the behavior revealed in the Podesta emails. Clinton’s use of the joint fundraising arrangement was compared to a money laundering scheme by certain campaign finance watchdogs . A lawsuit has been brought against the DNC itself, to address the theft of Sanders supporters’ donations, the leaking of debate questions to Clinton, and the uneven superdelegate system, to name a few factors . What loyalty does Chu owe to an electoral system under which his preferred candidate never even stood a chance of being nominated?
ERIC GARLAND AND COMMUNIST HYSTERIA
The more disturbing version of the alt-left myth has been employed by Eric Garland, the man behind the most convoluted, rambling, unreadable twitter thread in recent memory.
Garland is perahps second only to Louise Mensch in his unhinged pursuit of the “Kremlin conspiracy,” a sprawling yarn-and-thumbtack explanation for how Donald Trump is, in reality, a treasonous agent of “Soviet” Moscow. The theory itself requires ignoring the obvious: there is nothing new about superpower nations meddling with one another’s news cycles or elections. Bill Clinton himself rescued a despised Boris Yeltsin from disaster by manufacturing support for that drunken, unloved capitalist .
Conveniently, this theory also glosses over the fact that the greatest boost to Trump’s campaign came from Hillary Clinton’s camp, as revealed in the Podesta emails, which were acquired not by a James Bondian act of cyber-villainy, but through everyday, pedestrian email phishing.  The “pied piper” technique worked far better than the queen-in-waiting anticipated, and by encouraging far-right ideology to be brought to the fore, Clinton unwittingly planted the seeds of ur-fascism and made Donald Trump a hero to the alt-right .
But the grand tale of Russian conspiracy has taken root in the Democratic party, and in the liberal bloc, to whom the idea of international leaders trading favors for political advantage is alien and frightening. Four in ten Democrats will name Russia as the greatest threat to the United States . Eric Garland has gone a step further, and now accuses anything left of Clinton as being part of this same conspiracy. In his analysis, there is a small band of Russian psyop warriors which has infiltrated America, and is now engineering pockets of rebellion to gradually destabilize the nation. To him, the alt-left isn’t just a replica of the alt-right, it’s one branch of a colossal, multi-pronged assault on the American government courtesy of her underhanded Cold War foes in the Kremlin.
It’s an explanation that served the United States well during the Red Scare, and was just as effective in stifling leftist outcries as FDR’s more gentle approach. During the Great Depression, and in its wake, Americans had been confronted with the nightmares of a nation where true poverty is not confined to a small group of citizens. Just as in revolutionary Russia, the influence of Communism and socialism in general had arisen in America, a way of life which would entrust working class with their own wellbeing. Strikes and local organizers had demonstrated that workers, without the leadership of Washington, could attend to their own problems, fighting back against the concentrated wealth of industrialists and the violence of strikebreakers and police officers. Writing in his book, “A People’s History of the United States,” author Howard Zinn explains the problem this posed to the American aristocracy:
“The left had become very influential in the hard times of the thirties, and during the war against Fascism. The actual membership of the Communist party was not large – fewer than 100,000 probably – but it was a potent force in the trade unions numbering millions of members, in the arts, and among countless Americans who may have been led by the failure of the capitalist system in the thirties to look favorably upon Communism and Socialism. Thus, if the Establishment, after World War II, was to make capitalism secure in the country, and to build a consensus of support for the American Empire, it had to weaken and isolate the left.”
It was in this atmosphere, where the balance of public opinion had begun to tilt away from the government, that President Truman passed Executive Order 9835, the Loyalty Order. It authorized the FBI to conduct investigations of all federal employees for signs of subversive behavior or ideology. Between 1948 and 1958, about 4.5 million of these interviews were conducted on current employees and those applying for occupation. But the early backbone of the anti-communist paranoia which gripped the nation was HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee. Following WWII, HUAC used its power of subpoena to bring innocent citizens before the committee, grill them over their political beliefs and behaviors, and use any other names supplied by their testimony to begin new investigations.
Everyone from politicians and business owners to teachers and entertainers suffered this unjust treatment, threatened with prison although they had broken no laws. Those who refused were held in contempt, or branded as “Reds” when they invoked their Fifth Amendment rights. Being blacklisted meant losing one’s livelihood, their place in their neighborhood, and maybe more. High on the list of crimes for which HUAC carried out an inquisition was involvement in strikes or unions. Certain books were removed from libraries. Demonstrators, like those at the HUAC hearings in San Francisco in May of 1960, were accused of being a witless mob engineered by Russian agents. HAUC’s film, “Operation Abolition,” used doctored footage and manufactured timelines of the events of that day to suggest that Communist provocateurs were stirring up conflict in America where, otherwise, there would be harmony. Films like “I Married a Communist,” from 1949, helped to spread the trope of the “hidden enemy.:
And then came Senator McCarthy, who developed to a science the method called “red-baiting,” whereby a person accused of conspiracy or treason as a Communist had to answer HUAC’s call, for to be silent in the face of a witch hunt was the same as admitting guilt. But while McCarthy was a Republican himself, Democrats were no less stern in their pursuit of communists. Sens. John Butler, a Republican, and Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat, joined their efforts in crafting a bill which became the Communist Control Act of 1954, the same year McCarthy finally went too far by investigating the military, rather than average citizens, of communist ties. The act criminalized membership in the Communist Party, arguing that “The Communist Party of the United States, though purportedly a political party, is in fact an instrumentality of a conspiracy to overthrow the Government of the United States.”
Altogether, this semi-controlled hysteria served to bring the upsurge in American leftism to heel. With it came violence against leftists. In 1949, in Foley Square in Manhattan, the FBI prosecuted eleven leaders of the Communist Party USA. They were sentenced to five years apiece; a hundred more members would be convicted in the early ’50s. The FBI infiltrated the party itself, and the party’s membership dwindled as it became more and more dangerous for a person to even subscribe to a communist newspaper. All the while, union members and communists alike were brutalized by fellow citizens and by police. The Hollywood Ten had become a symbol of what could happen to – or what was deserved by – those who crossed the American government.
Eric Garland has not suggested anything as cruel and unjust as what was suffered by leftists in earlier decades be repeated today. But the methods of those years are far from dead. During the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore, the FBI conducted aerial surveillance of protesters; 18 hours of their footage has been released to the public . NYPD officers gained access to the text messages of BLM activists by infiltrating their organizing groups, working undercover during protests to film and report on protesters . The J20 protesters face ludicrous prison sentences based on vaguely defined legal motivations. One activist in D.C. had their home raided by police in connection to the inauguration protest . As covered by Unicorn Riot and Shadowproof, the FBI coordinated with military intelligence contractor TigerSwan to identify, infiltrate, monitor, and prosecute water protectors at the DAPL conflict .
So while Garland wrings his hands over Soviet infiltrators and baselessly accuses the “agitators” of protests of being agents of Moscow, a very real invasion of privacy is being conducted by his own government, targeting anybody who has strayed too far from the state’s authority, specifically in a leftward direction. Garland is too concerned with imaginary spies plotting to sow discord in the hearts of innocent Americans, the US government has carried out a sustained campaign of human rights violations to silence, imprison, intimidate, or monitor citizens based on their political views. This heavy-handed approach to policing the public also deliberately overlooks or downplays the violence of the alt-right. Police have coordinated with fascists to secure spaces for their rallies, they have preemptively put antifascists on the defensive by disarming or attacking them unprovoked, and they have used information supplied by the alt-right to identify leftists. The only “paid agitators” conspiring against American citizens are on the payroll of the US government, and they work to isolate leftists by making it physically dangerous to be one.
While he spins his stories about “alt-left” internet cyber-warriors plotting to elect Vladimir Putin to the presidency, Garland has little to say about the rise of American Naziism, or the string of violent murders carried out by vigilante members of the alt-right. Like the bulk of the liberal bloc, he is undisturbed by the knowledge that the NRA is using a false image of the antifascist movement to call for lethal violence against its members, or that militiamen with ties to the Alt-Right are being recruited as private security for Portland Republicans.
By constructing another monolithic, mythological enemy to confront – a gang of thick-accented movie villains infiltrating America under orders of the Kremlin – Garland is, in his own small way, helping to delegitimize and isolate leftists by making them an extension of a cartoonish “enemy within,” easily disregarded when they become victims of violence.
A DYING PARTY
Beyond the smokescreen of the Alt-Left, lurking behind their embittered loyalists, the Democratic Party has undergone an inevitable metamorphosis. Realizing that they cannot compete with Trump and the far-right, the Democrats have done what liberals have done dozens of times in the past: they have moved rightward, and copied their rivals’ notes verbatim.
To recover from the disaster of the Clinton campaign, and completely devoid of creative solutions for their future, the Democratic party has taken steps to imitate the populism of the Trump campaign. Beginning with Tom Perez’s “radical centrism,” the Democrats have made it clear that they are a party of compromise and moderate positions, friendly towards nationalism and capitalism both. Nancy Pelosi restated her dedication to a capitalist economy, and suggested doing away with such “litmus tests” as support for legal abortion. Multiple Democratic senators support Trump’s attacks on Syria, including Chuck Schumer, and while they might oppose a direct attack on the DPRK, they nonetheless are willing to pursue a policy of disarmament . But their craven masquerading goes beyond mere compromise with Herr Trump.
Unveiling their new slogan, the Democrats made a clear attempt to rebrand themselves in the style of Trumpist populism: “Better jobs, Better wages, Better future.” The public immediately laughed down this absurd, impotent, and blatantly pandering charade. Not only does the “Better Deal” take its name from FDR’s stabilizing economic plan, but it also reveals the very root of the Democrats’ core dilemma: their party is obsolete. And Schumer admitted as much . From NPR’s article on the new slogan:
“‘When you lose an election with someone who has, say, 40 percent popularity, you look in the mirror and say what did we do wrong?’ Schumer said, speaking on ABC’s This Week Sunday. ‘And the No. 1 thing that we did wrong is … we didn’t tell people what we stood for.'”
But the Democrats went a little deeper into the pool of economic nationalism with their statement to the public:
“‘We will aggressively crack down on unfair foreign trade and fight back against corporations that outsource American jobs,’ the Democratic leadership said in a statement. ‘We will fight to ensure a living wage for all Americans and keep our promise to millions of workers who earned a pension, Social Security and Medicare, so seniors can retire with dignity.'”
Nowhere in their new policy is there room for seriously addressing the brutality of the military or the police, state organs upon which the Democrats rely just as heavily as the Republicans. Racial justice, an end to the many forms in which people are deprived of their basic rights, a commitment to clean water for every citizen… these fundamental expectations, the very reasons for which a central government is ostensibly necessary to society, are absent from the Democrats’ rediscovered love for the downtrodden. Like their forebearers, they have no intention of dramatically changing the structure of society; rather, they are concerned with offering a slight improvement on living conditions, delivered to just enough people, to prevent the long-overdue death of their party.
They will nominally adopt the rhetoric of as many left-leaning organizations and movements as they can, coopting the sentiment of the Fight for 15, while maintaining the new capitalist paradigm of a fading empire. Their plan is to become, in their own words, a national party, or a “party of the people.” Tim Kaine, in a piece published by USA Today , invoked the spirit of the New Deal:
“Better skills in our people and communities… will make us more competitive in a world where talent is now the most precious resource. We need to double down on retraining people whose jobs are destroyed by shifts in trade. And when the main economic disruptor is not trade but technological advances, better skills are the most certain way for people and communities to keep up and get ahead… Fighting for workers’ rights must stay central to what we do. Better health and child care allow people to work more productively. Incentives to promote job growth in rural America and our inner cities are critical. Pushing for sustained investment in our nation’s infrastructure — transportation, broadband, clean energy, school renovation — with the skills training to get the work done is a way to expand job opportunities while continually raising the platform for economic success.”
Competitiveness. Investment in the nation’s infrastructure. Incentives to promote growth. It is everything that Trump promised, everything that makes American workers pine for the rose-colored vignettes of the New Deal. Between the lines, one can read promises to maintain the gig economy, Uber drivers and unpaid interns learning “job skills” without ever seeing a day of job security in their lives. It pins the blame for low wages on overseas workers, neglecting to mention that America’s superpower ranking in the world relies entirely on extracting resources and labor from other nations. It glosses over the fact that the idea of “returning jobs to America” is fundamentally impossible, as Trump learned himself very recently. Ben Casselman, writing for FiveThirtyEight, begged politicians to end the tradition of promising another New Deal:
“Since the recession ended in 2009, manufacturing output — the value of all the goods that U.S. factories produce, adjusted for inflation — has risen by more than 20 percent, because of a combination of “reshoring” and increased domestic demand. But manufacturing employment is up just 5 percent. And much of that job growth represents a rebound from the recession, not a sustainable trend… In 1994 there were 3.5 million more Americans working in manufacturing than in retail. Today, those numbers have almost exactly reversed, and the gap is widening. More than 80 percent of all private jobs are now in the service sector.”
American workers are underpaid, overextended, largely working in retail sectors where their labor can be replaced with a phone call, and they can be fired without reason thanks to the contracts they sign with their employers. Arbitration clauses can deprive workers of the right to sue for violations of labor laws regarding overtime pay, discrimination, or unjust dismissal . Temp work has allowed companies to abuse a worker, sometimes causing a person’s death by neglecting to train or properly ensure that person’s safety, without taking any responsibility. And no job training program in the world will do anything to address the fact that just over 60% of us don’t have the savings to cover an unexpected $500 dollar expense, meaning we are one missed paycheck away from insolvency .
The Democrats will tell their voters they are the “party of the people,” and promise to improve their wages, improve their jobs, and give them a better future. But they have no concept of what “better” would mean to their own voter base. And while Trump managed to harness the anger and frustration of his loyalists, the Democrats cannot successfully do the same, unless they either A) become a genuine leftist party overnight, or B) merely try to copy Trump’s rhetoric, tweak the details, and score a majority of the American public through concessions and compromises, neither of which will do anything meaningful for the average citizen, at least not for very long.
The myth of the “Alt-Left” and the myth of the “Second New Deal” are one in the same. The rhetoric pacifies some, diminishes the importance of others, and seeks a middle ground of consensus from an exhausted and uncertain public. At the end of the day, the Democrats and liberal bloc simply don’t have the guts to acknowledge what the left can already see. The Democratic Party is a sickly creature on its death bed, and the American Empire is in decline. There is no level of appeasement, engagement, or compromise that will liberate the worker from the yoke. Polite discussion didn’t end the 12-hour day. That wasn’t granted by working with the established order; it was taken.
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