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Time for a New Revolution in American Western Political History?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Americans come around to doing the right thing after they have tried all the wrong ways”-Winston Churchill

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] P [/yt_dropcap] redictably, while the pundits continue focusing on the vulgarities and enormities of Donald Trump’s ongoing circus or political reality show, Bernie Sanders’ political principles are still around clamoring for attention, and are beginning to be revived and discussed; that is, if the Democratic Party is to get ready for a come-back.

As we all remember, when Sanders announced his campaign for president last year, he was readily dismissed by many in the media as a fringe candidate whose politics were too radical to connect with Democratic voters. One thing can no longer be ignored: Sanders, despite the political machinations within the Democratic Party’s apparatus which torpedoed his aspirations, has proven that identifying as a democratic socialist will no longer prevent the democratic politician of the future from winning in big diverse states. The popularity of Bernie Sanders, especially among millennials, continues unabated as we speak, thus confounding the political experts who misguidedly continue to characterized his policies as extreme and unwelcome, smelling of ideological propaganda for Communism.

Sanders’ campaign confronted some urgent middle class issues facing working people in Michigan and other big states, connecting voters’ anxieties to a system that benefits Wall Street and corporations at the expense of the middle class. He made rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure—including outdated and compromised water systems—central to his policy agenda. He had planned to invest $1 trillion over 5 years by cracking down on corporations ducking taxes by moving their profits offshore. Running on a message of economic justice and critical of corporate power, free trade deals and a broken criminal justice system, Sanders was able to put forward a genuinely populist message and offer a modicum of hope to a despondent middle class whose prospects have been eclipsed in the last thirty years or so, beginning with the Reagan years.

Far from being judged too radical by voters, these positions helped Sanders carry the Great Lakes state. If over half a million Democrats in Michigan—a state not exactly known for its radicalism—are willing to vote for a democratic socialist, it seems clear that such a term, with the inevitable specter of Communism may not prove to be a major hindrance in the future. Sanders, after all, won 71% of independents and the majority of voters making under $50,000 a year. The question that must persistently be asked is this: is America ready for a new revolution led by a democratic socialist? Is such a revolution desirable and indeed necessary if Western Democracy and Western civilization are to survive? So far, with so many Trojan horses of the right planted all over democratic Europe, the omens are not very encouraging.

The more pragmatic question seems to be this: can a democratic socialist win a general election in America, in a post Ronald Regan era? Let’s see.

In the first place it is worth mentioning that Sanders’ political appeal was based on much more than the thrill of an anti-establishment insurgent or some unexpected love affair of millennials (those born after 1986) with a Brooklyn socialist. Part of what has given Sanders his strength is how mainstream many of his standard political arguments are. If one listens to what he has been saying, it is possible to see that Sanders is not that radical at all. In many respects, his campaign directly addresses fundamental concerns that a wide range of Americans presently have about their future.

The best known issue in Sanders’ ideological arsenal was the claim that in the present political system in America there is too much money in politics. The government is constantly unable to respond to the concerns of many Americans, not so much because the parties don’t like each other or because the mainstream media creates a destructive environment, but because big interest groups and lobbyists have disproportionate power in Washington as a result of their donations. In their landmark book, Winner Take All Politics, the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson provide a powerful account of how the growth of corporate lobbies in the 1970s produced changes in public policy that greatly worsened income inequality. The breakdown of the post-Watergate campaign finance system, culminating with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, has produced a political process where there are almost no barriers to flooding politicians with dollars.

Without reforming this process, it is unrealistic to expect that any president or Congress will be able to enact substantive changes that challenge the status quo. For, as William James wisely wrote: if you wish to know what people really believe in, don’t listen to what they tell you, watch their actions. For many years now, social scientists have demonstrated how middle-class Americans have become much less secure as a result of cuts to the social safety net and the exodus of good, secure jobs overseas while the separation between the rich and poor becomes more extreme.

Americans tune in when Sanders says that “It is the tragic reality that for the last 40 years the great middle class of our country — once the envy of the world — has been disappearing” and that we need to create an economy “that works for all, and not just the 1 %.” An economy, that is, that creates incentives for job growth here in the United States and programs that help to elevate the economic health of working Americans, including progressive tax policies and a robust public works program to build the nation’s infrastructure.

This is not radical at all, despite what the pundits proclaim. Much of the democratic socialist rhetoric is really just that of a New Deal liberal that thinks government is a good, that supports the expanded use of government to help social conditions, and believes that much of what federal officials do helps society. For too long, the conventional wisdom has argued mistakenly that Americans reject government. We are children of Ronald Reagan, they say, seeing government as a problem not the solution.

Polls have consistently shown that Americans like government much more than the pundits suspect. When asked generally about government, Americans can be negative. But when asked about specific programs like Social Security or the minimum wage, they heartily approve. Many things are done well by government. Though conservatives will argue this is radical, in many states, including red states, polls show something different. Many people seem to be ready for a political revolution driven by powerful ideas.

Also worth considering here is the brilliant analysis of Thomas Piketty, whom many consider one of the most influential economic thinker economist of our times. He wrote an article for Le Monde which was subsequently republished in English by The Guardian. In this article Piketty explains why he is impressed by the rise of Senator Sanders. He outlines why in his opinion the ascent of the populist senator spells the virtual “end of the politico-ideological cycle begun by Ronald Regan in 1980. Piketty argues that even if he does not win, Sanders will have created a necessary opening for similar candidates in the future who could conceivably change the face of the country as now constituted.

What is particularly interesting in Piketty’s analysis is that he doesn’t see a future American social democracy as following in the footsteps of Europe’s social democratic models, the Scandinavian countries being the best example, but rather one leading the United States toward a possible return to the nation’s pioneering 20th century experiments with extremely progressive taxation and social spending. He points to the fact that, prior to Reagan, 20th century fiscal policy in the U.S. was aggressive in taxing the wealthy — much more so than the European counterparts that American leftists are so fond of looking to for inspiration today. He writes that “In the interwar years the country invented a highly progressive income and estate tax and set up levels of fiscal progressiveness never used on our side of the Atlantic. From 1930 to 1980 — for half a century – the rate for the highest U.S. income (over $1 million per year) was on average 82%, with peaks of 91% from the 1940s to 1960s (from Roosevelt to Kennedy), and still as high as 70% during Reagan’s election in 1980.” Those rates beat any taxation by any Scandinavia country.

Without bringing in the scare tactics of Communism, it bears pointing out with Piketty that those rates were a tremendous help in creating social equality in America for the government to provide robust social programs (at first dubbed socialist and opposed by social Darwinists) introduced during Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society. Moreover, estate taxes were established which were extremely steep and dwarfed rates in France and Germany. That all changed after Reagan won the White House. In a bid to “restore a mythical capitalism to have existed in the past,” as Piketty put it, he took an axe to the tax code and lowered the rate for the highest incomes to 28%.

Since Reagan, the Democratic Party has largely operated within the paradigm carved out by Reagan: very high tax rates are somehow thought to be un-American; keeping the deficit low is of paramount importance even if children are poisoned by bad water; and spending on social services are worthwhile but should not be overly generous to prevent welfare queens to go shopping with food stamps in their Cadillac….as the current mythology goes. For Piketty Sanders represents a meaningful break from it, a return to a third way in between the archconservatives and the ultra-liberals. As he writes “Sander’s success portends the fact that much of America is tired of rising inequality and these so-called political changes, and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism.”

This envisioned future scenario may sound utopic, even unrealistic, given the current despairing climate among Democrats, but the silver lining is that, with the road paved by the Sanders’ campaign, next time around it may prove successful after Mr. Trump’s billionaire’s scheme has been tried and tested and disillusion sets in once again. That, of course, remains to be seen but it can safely be predicted that the billionaire class, the so called job creators, will only help themselves and exploit the people, as is their ingrained custom. In any case, at the very least Sanders’ message has moved befuddled establishment candidates, still unable to explain to themselves what happened, to begin considering the desirability, indeed the necessity, of a social-democratic point of view, if Western democracy, and indeed Western civilization are to have a chance at survival.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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