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Democratic Realism

We are defined by our opposition, in many ways. And a society is determined by the frame of opposition, the boundaries of allowable thought — such as right and left (or equivalent frame). This is how power has operated in the United States. In recent generations, this frame of the “political spectrum” has intentionally been kept extremely narrow. Sadly, it is precisely the supposed political left that has kept pushing right, such as the Clinton Democrats supporting the military-industrial complex, corporate deregulation, racist tough-on-crime laws, privatization of prisons, etc; not to mention supposed radical leftists like Noam Chomsky acting as sheepdogs for the one-party corporatist state.

In the past, right-wing reactionaries have often been successful by controlling the terms of debate, from co-opting language and redefining it (consider how libertarianism originated as part of the left-wing workers movement and how human biodiversity was conceived as a criticism of race realism) to the CIA in the Cold War funding moderate leftists (postmodernists, Soviet critics, etc) as part of a strategy to drown out radical leftists. This is how the most devious propaganda works, not primarily or entirely by silencing enemies of the state — although that happens as well — but through social control by means of thought control and public perception management. One might note that such propaganda has been implemented no matter which faction of plutocracy, Democrat or Republican, was in power.

This is how authoritarians create an oppressive society while hiding much of its overt violence behind a system of rhetoric. That is while the corporate media assists in not fully reporting on all of the poor and brown people killed abroad and imprisoned at home. Plus, there is systematic suppression of public awareness, public knowledge, and public debate about how immense is the slow violence of lead toxicity, poverty, inequality, segregation, disenfranchisement, etc). The propagandistic framing of thought control cripples the public mind and so paralyzes the body politic.

As such, any freedom-lover would not hope for an authoritarian left-wing to replace the present authoritarian right-wing. But we must become more savvy about authoritarianism. We Americans and other populations around the world have to become sophisticated in our intellectual defenses against rhetoric and propaganda. And we have to develop a counter-strategy to regain control of public fora in order to protect and ensure genuine public debate defined by a genuinely democratic public as an informed, engaged, and empowered citizenry. This would require a program of public education to teach what is authoritarianism, specifically how it operates and takes over societies, and also what relationship it has to the reactionary mind.

Before we get to that point, we need to free our minds from how the enforcement of authoritarian rhetoric becomes internalized as an ideological realism that is experienced as apathetic cynicism, as helpless and hopeless fatalism. So, let’s have a thought experiment and not limit ourselves to what the powers that be claim is possible. We could imagine a society where the right-wing and conservative opposition is represented by some combination of social democrats, progressives, bourgeois liberals, communitarians, and such. This far right and no further! There might be influential thought leaders acting as gatekeepers who would guard the ideological boundaries or else public shaming to maintain social norms in order keep out fascists, imperialists, and other outright authoritarians — ideological positions that would be considered immoral, dangerous, and taboo in respectable society.

Meanwhile, democratic socialists, municipal socialists, community organizers, environmentalists, civil rights advocates, and reformist groups would hold the position of moderate centrism. And on the other side of the equation, powerful social, economic and political forces of anarcho-syndicalism, radical liberationism, international labor movements, etc would constantly push the Overton window further and further to the the far left. This would allow the potential for center-left alliances to form strong political blocs.

This must require a strong culture of trust and a well developed system of democracy, not only democracy in politics but also in economics and as a holistic worldview that would be felt and practiced in everyday life. Democracy could never be part of the public debate for it would have to be the entire frame of public debate. Democracy is about the demos, the people, the public. Public debate, by definition, is and can only be democratic debate. Anything and everything could be tolerated, as long as it isn’t anti-democratic, which is why authoritarianism would be excluded by default. The public must develop a gut-level sense of what it means to live not only in a democratic society but as part of a democratic culture.

That would create immense breathing room for genuine, meaningful, and effective public debate that would be supported by a populist-driven political will with majority opinion situated to the left of what goes for the ‘left’ in the present ideological hegemony of the United States. That is our fantasy world, if not exactly a utopian vision. We could imagine many scenarios much more revolutionary and inspiring, but what we describe wouldn’t be a bad start. At the very least, it would be a more interesting and less depressing society to live in.

Rather than a political left always weakened and on the defense, often oppressed and brutalized and almost always demoralized, it would be an entire culture that had taken the broad ‘left’ as the full spectrum of ideological possibilities to be considered. As the revolutionary era led to the social construction of a post-feudal liberalism and conservatism, a 21st century revolution of the mind would imagine into existence a post-neo-feudal democratic left and democratic right. Democracy would be taken as an unquestioned and unquestionable given, based on the assumption of it representing the best of all possible worlds. In place of capitalist realism and fascist realism or even communist realism, we would have democratic realism.

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This post was inspired by a strong left-wing critique of the failures of social democracy in Western countries (see below). The author, Stephen Gowans, is a foreign policy analyst with several books in print. In his recent article, he argued that social democracy has been, in practice, fundamentally conservative in how capitalist societies and their political systems are designed or shaped by elites and so serve elite interests. We don’t know what to think of Gowans’ own political proclivities of old school leftism, but he makes a good point that we find compelling.

The bogeymen of communists, both in the Soviet Union and in the West, kept capitalist power in line and so curtailed fascism and other authoritarian tendencies. If not for the ideological threat of the Soviets as a global superpower, there likely would have been no leverage for radical leftists in the West to force political and economic elites to comply with the reforms they demanded. Similarly, it was the Soviet attack on the American oppression of blacks that gave the civil rights movement the ability to influence an otherwise unsympathetic government ruled by rich whites who benefited from their continued oppression.

Social democrats often are given the credit for these reforms, but the actual social and political force came from radical left-wingers. This is not unlike why Teddy Roosevelt openly argued that conservative and pro-capitalist progressives should listen to the grievances of socialists and communists so as to co-opt them. In offering their own solutions, such leaders on the political right could steal the thunder of left-wing rhetoric and moral force. So, Roosevelt could throw out some significant reforms to reign in big biz at home while simultaneously promoting am American imperialism that defended and expanded the interests of big biz abroad. He only offered any reforms at all because left-wingers were a real threat that needed to be neutralized.

So, once the external pressure of a threatening geopolitical opponent was gone, those very same elites could safely reverse the reforms they had previously been forced to allow, in fear of the alternative of a left-wing uprising. The object of their fear was eliminated and so the elites could once again show their true face of authoritarianism. What we added to this line of thought was, if social democrats have acted like conservatives under these conditions, then we should more accurately treat them as an ideology on the political right. In that case, what follows from this is then how to define the political center and political left.

Here is another thought, to extend the speculation about how our enemies shape us and hence the importance of carefully picking our enemies, which then defines our frame of reference. We are in another period of geopolitical contest that already is or is quickly becoming a second cold war, but this time the perceived enemy or rather enemies are no longer on the political left. What the ruling elites in the West offer up as a scapegoat for our anxieties are now all far right, if in a rather mixed up fasnion: Islamic Jihadists, Iranian theocrats, Russian oligarchs, Chinese fascists, and a North Korean dictator. In response to these right-wing threats, the Western authoritarians have pushed further right. This is different than in the past when, in facing down left-wing threats, the powerful interests of the time felt they had to relent in letting themselves be pulled left.

Apparently, according to this established dynamic of ideological forces, to make real our crazy fantasy of ideological realignment toward the political left what we need is a new left-wing bogeyman outside of the Western sphere, as a supposed threat to Western civilization. Better yet, make the perceived opposing left-wing ideology non-democratic or anti-democratic so that by being in knee-jerk opposition to it mainstream media and political figures in the West would be forced to be polarized in the other direction by adopting democratic rhetoric and democratic reforms. Sheer genius!

Social Democracy, Soviet Socialism and the Bottom 99 Percent
(text below is from link)

Many left-leaning US citizens are envious of countries that have strong social democratic parties, but their envy is based mainly on romantic illusions, not reality. Western Europe and Canada may be represented by mass parties at the Socialist International, but the subtitle of Lipset and Marks’ book, Why Socialism Failed in the United States, is just as applicable to these places as it is to the United States. For socialism—in the sense of a gradual accumulation of reforms secured through parliamentary means eventually leading to a radical transformation of capitalist society–not only failed in the United States, it failed too in the regions of the world that have long had a strong social democratic presence. Even a bourgeois socialism, a project to reform (though not transcend) capitalism, has failed.

This essay explores the reasons for this failure by examining three pressures that shape the agendas of social democratic parties (by which I mean parties that go by the name Socialist, Social Democrat, Labour, NDP, and so on.) These are pressures to:

• Broaden the party’s appeal.
• Avoid going to war with capital.
• Keep the media onside.

These pressures are an unavoidable part of contesting elections within capitalist democracies, and apply as strongly to parties dominated by business interests as they do to parties that claim to represent the interests of the working class, labour, or these days, ‘average’ people or ‘working families’. The behaviour and agenda of any party that is trapped within the skein of capitalist democracy and places great emphasis on electoral success—as social democratic parties do–is necessarily structured and constrained by the capitalist context. As such, while social democratic parties may self-consciously aim to represent the bottom 99 percent of society, they serve–whether intending to or not—the top one percent.

So how is it, then, that egalitarian reforms have been developed in capitalist democracies if not through the efforts of social democratic parties? It’s true that social democrats pose as the champions of these programs, and it’s also true that conservatives are understood to be their enemies, yet conservatives have played a significant role in pioneering them, and social democrats, as much as right-wing parties, have been at the forefront of efforts to weaken and dismantle them. Contrary to the mythology of social democratic parties, the architects of what measures exist in capitalist democracies for economic security and social welfare haven’t been social democrats uniquely or even principally, but often conservatives seeking to calm working class stirrings and secure the allegiance to capitalism of the bottom 99 percent of society against the counter-example (when it existed) of the Soviet Union. […]

Egalitarian reforms, however, have been achieved over the years in Western capitalist societies, despite these obstacles, and this reality would seem to call my argument into question. Yet the number and nature of the reforms have fallen short of the original ambitions of social democracy, and in recent decades, have been abridged, weakened and sometimes cancelled altogether, often by social democratic governments themselves. […]

The point, however, isn’t to explore the reasons for the Soviet Union’s demise, but to show that while it existed, the USSR provided a successful counter-example to capitalism. The ideological struggle of the capitalist democracies against the Soviet Union entailed the provision of robust social welfare programs and the translation of productivity gains into a monotonically rising standard of living. Once the ideological struggle came to an end with the closing of the Cold War, it was no longer necessary to impart these advantages to the working classes of North America, Western Europe and Japan. Despite rising productivity, growth in household incomes was capped, and social welfare measures were systematically scaled back.

Social democracy did nothing to reverse or arrest these trends. It was irrelevant. When strong social welfare measures and rising incomes were needed by the top one percent to undercut working class restlessness and the Soviet Union’s counter-example, these advantages were conferred on the bottom 99 percent by both social democratic and conservative governments. When these sops were no longer needed, both conservative and social democratic governments enacted measures to take them back. […]

Since capitalist forces would use the high-profile and visible platform of their mass media to vilify and discredit any party that openly espoused socialism or strongly promoted uncompromisingly progressive policies, social democratic parties willingly accept the capitalist straitjacket, embracing middle-of-the-road, pro-capitalist policies, while shunting their vestigial socialist ambitions to the side or abandoning them altogether. They planted themselves firmly on the left boundary of the possible, the possible being defined by conservative forces.

Conclusion

When social democratic parties espoused socialism as an objective, even if a very distant one, the socialism they espoused was to be achieved with the permission of capital on capital’s terms–an obvious impossibility. It is perhaps in recognizing this impossibility that most social democratic parties long ago abandoned socialism, if not in their formal programs, then certainly in their deeds. That social democratic parties should have shifted from democratic socialist ambitions to the acceptance of capitalism and the championing of reforms within it, and then finally to the dismantling of the reforms, is an inevitable outcome of the pressures cited above.

But the outcome is ultimately traceable to what history surely reveals to be a bankrupt strategy: trying to arrive at socialism, or at least, at a set of robust measures congenial to the interests of the bottom 99 percent, within the hostile framework of a system that is dominated by the top one percent. The best that has been accomplished, and its accomplishment cannot be attributed to social democratic parliamentary activism, is a set of revocable reforms that were conceded under the threat, even if unlikely, of revolution and in response to capitalism’s need to compete ideologically with the Soviet Union. These reforms are today being revoked, by conservative and social democratic governments alike. The reality is that social democracy, which had set out to reform capitalism on behalf of the bottom 99 percent, was reformed by it, and acts now to keep the top one percent happy in return for every now and then championing mild ameliorative measures that conservative forces would concede anyway under pressure.

Their Liberty and Your Death

Why is the ideal of liberty so strongly associated with economics? And why is it used to rationalize oppressive systems of hierarchy? What does it mean to use the language of liberty to favorably frame social Darwinism, plutocracy, and inverted totalitarianism? What kind of liberty is it when the Trump administration pushes for reopening the economy during a pandemic, even early on when potentially millions of deaths were predicted by leading experts around the world? What is this liberty? One thing is clear. Liberty is not freedom. It is about me getting mine; or else someone getting theirs. We must ask ourselves, when the mantra of “liberty or death” is repeated with real or implied threats of violence in watering the tree of liberty, whose death is being offered up on the altar of whose liberty.

Originally, in the Roman Empire, liberty simply meant the legal status of not being a slave while living under the threat and oppression of a slave society, an authoritarian hierarchy that imposed varying degrees of unfreedom. Or if a slave, according to Stoics and early Christians, it was the otherworldly faith that one’s soul was not enslaved even as was one’s body. This etymological and historical context offers a better understanding of what is meant by negative freedom as opposed to positive freedom, a pseudo-freedom of opportunity that rationalizes away the harsh reality of results and consequences. That is to say it’s not freedom at all. Genuine freedom is the complete opposite of such liberty, but the defenders of privileged liberty co-opt the rhetoric of freedom and, in conflating the two, degrade the very meaning of freedom, making it even more difficult to imagine an alternative.

When the American colonists demanded liberty, the context was their situation as imperial subjects in having been treated as second class citizens. A significant number of them were or descended from landless peasants, convicts and indentured servants, often not far above slaves. Earlier in the colonial era, most of the poor sent off to the colonies never lived long enough to know freedom, such as paying off the debt of their indenture; instead, they were typically worked to death. Inequality of wealth and power lessened to some degree by the late 1700s, but it was still quite stark and the majority were treated as cheap and expendable labor. Most of the colonies, after all, were established as for-profit ventures organized under corporate charters and so they were never intended to be free societies, much less democratic self-governing communities. Their only relative freedom came from the indifference of a distant imperial regime, as long as trade continued and profits kept rolling in.

By invoking liberty during the American Revolution, there was no necessarily implied demand of freedom for all, as few could even imagine such a utopian vision. It was the individual’s liberty at hand and only the liberty of particular kinds of individuals — primarily white men of the propertied class and mostly Protestant Christians at that; not women, not blacks, not Native Americans, not the poor, not the landless. Only a few radical rebels were actually demanding a genuinely free society, as an expression of a faint memory of the once independent tribes that formed the British ancestry prior to the Norman conquest. Freedom, as from the Germanic tongue, is etymologically related to friend. To be free means to belong to a free people, to be among friends who would defend one’s rights and fight on one’s behalf. It is the idea that the individual good was identical to or at least inseparable from the common good. In the American tradition, such freedom has always been subjugated to liberty, often by law and violent force. And the legacy of liberty retains its privileged position within the ideological order, what is proclaimed as reality itself.

This ideological realism continues to limit our public imagination. Yet it was always a weak foundation and the cracks have long been apparent, most of all during times of shared crisis. We see that now during this COVID-19 pandemic. The conventional frame of understanding is a conflict of extremes between the perceived authoritarians and the self-identified libertarians, but the social reality is more complex than the ideological rhetoric would allow. “This ambivalence is not a red-blue split. It is internal to both. On the right, laissez-faire economics chafe against Christian cultural intolerance, isolationism against imperialism. On the left, the Stalinists are still at war with the anarchists, the nanny-statists with the hippies, and a taste for utopian direct democracy, as in the Occupy movement, strains against a hunger for big government” (Judith Levine, The Pandemic Brings Out the Authoritarian and the Libertarian in Us All. Can We Meet in the Middle?). It’s a divide in the American soul and it makes our society schizoid.

There is a reason why hyper-individualistic societies that hold up liberty as an ideal so easily turn to authoritarian measures under stress. Even among self-identified libertarians, it is far from unusual for them to make anti-authoritarian arguments for authoritariansim, sometimes related to what some call libertarian paternalism but taking other forms as well, based on the self-serving conviction that most people have to be forced into ‘liberty’ against their will. In practice, this once again means liberty for the supposedly deserving and oppression for those who would threaten the liberty of the deserving — it just so happens that those with the most wealth, power and privilege, those who own the corporations and the government get to determine who is deserving and not. And so, in reality, this reactionary ideology is no different than the privileged elitism of the past, even if proclaiming a slightly different variety of ruling elite — Corey Robin discusses this reactionary mentality in great detail, in how it challenges old hierarchies so as to replace them with other authoritarian regimes.

Theoretical liberty of hypothetical choice, in its lazy slogans of apathetic submission to injustice, easily trumps the demanding awareness of real world harm, the uncomfortable knowledge of how oppression grinds people down and makes them bitter and cynical. And so to speak of freedom for all as a fully functioning social democracy, to speak of not only a government but a society and economy of the people, by the people, for the people gets dismissed as communism or worse. Oppression in society is preceded by an oppression of the mind, of radical imagination. What gets sacrificed is not only the public good but democracy itself, the supposed tyranny of the majority. So, instead, it becomes a contest between one’s preference of which minority should get to control all of society. Right-wing libertarians, like Randian Objectivists and anarcho-capitalists, can find a way to convince themselves that they’d make the best tyrants (The Moral Imagination of Fear, Freedom From Other People’s Freedom, & The Road to Neoliberalism).

Yet we shouldn’t dismiss the fears about authoritarianism. The problem is that there are cynical demagogues who will use those fears of authoritarianism to promote their own brand of authoritarianism. Historically and ideologically, liberty and authoritarianism are two sides of the same coin and it’s vital that we understand this, if we ever hope to build a fully free society. The equal danger is that, in too heavily focusing on the hypocrisy of liberty rhetoric, we open ourselves to the hypocrisy of those who wave away the real concerns about the loss of what freedoms we do have. Both competing groups heard in elite politics and corporate media are too often agreeing to attack freedom but from opposite directions, while the majority is being silenced and excluded from public debate. Being for or against liberty tells us nothing about one’s position on freedom, especially when the two are falsely invoked as the same.

This pandemic has shown the fractures in our society. There wouldn’t be so many worries about the economy if most people hadn’t been experiencing economic problems for about a half century, as markets and governments were taken over by oligarchic plutocracy and neoliberal corporatocracy, friendly fascism and inverted totalitarianism. The United States government has put itself in permanent debt with the military-industrial complex, big biz subsidies and bailouts, and tax cuts for the rich. Then we are told the working class have to go back to work during a pandemic in order to save the economy, er profits. Do the ruling elite of the capitalist class own not only most of the wealth, property and large corporations but also own the entire American economy, labor force, and political system? Do the opinions of most American citizens and workers not matter in political decisions? Shouldn’t they matter? If this were a democracy, they would matter more than anything else.

Dogmatic absolutism is the opposite of helpful. Even during lockdown, 70% of the American economy has remained open and running, and many states didn’t even go that far. Among the informed, contrary to what the ideologues would suggest, reasonable debate was never about either total authoritarian lockdown of all of society or total liberty and death imposed upon the masses. It was declared that we can’t afford to have the economy shut down because so many are out of work and struggling economically. As fake sympathy was offered to the jobless poor, what has gone ignored is the trillions upon trillions of dollars stolen from the public every year, not to mention the trillions of dollars committed to the oppressive and anti-libertarian War On Terror in response to the 9/11 casualties that were lower than a single day of deaths from COVID-19. We can afford all kinds of things when the plutocracy demands it.

As the economy is reopened, who is being put in harm’s way of infectious exposure? Mostly not the politicians, CEOs, upper management, stockholders, bankers, etc; nor the white collar workers and college-educated professionals. It’s the low-paid workers who are forced to deal directly with customers and to work in close contact in crowded workplaces. These working poor also are largely without healthcare and disproportionately minority. Liberty advocates and activists are mostly whites among the comfortable classes, whereas those with higher rates of COVID-19 are non-whites and the poor. Some populations are experiencing infections and fatalities at rates similar to the 1918 Flu pandemic while, for other populations, it’s as if there is no pandemic at all. If the whole country was similarly affected at such high rates, we’d be in the middle of mass panic and all these right-wing whites would now be demanding authoritarian measures to protect their own families and communities.

“As the pandemic became widely recognized,” noted Judith Butler, “some policy-makers seeking to reopen the markets and recover productivity sought recourse to the idea of herd immunity, which presumes that those who are strong enough to endure the virus will develop immunity and they will come to constitute over time a strong population able to work. One can see how the herd immunity thesis works quite well with social Darwinism, the idea that societies tend to evolve in which the most fit survive and the least fit do not. Under conditions of pandemic, it is, of course, black and brown minorities who count as vulnerable or not destined to survive” (Francis Wade, Judith Butler on the Violence of Neglect Amid a Health Crisis).

The plan was to simply to let the pandemic kill off the undesirables, the excess labor force of cheap and expendable lives, as the professional class worked safely from home and the rich isolated themselves far from the dirty and diseased masses. Most Americans, minorities and otherwise, disagree with this plan by the upper classes to sacrifice the poor and working class. But minorities disagree most strongly: “According to a new survey from Pew Research Center, health concerns about COVID-19 are much higher among Hispanics and blacks in the U.S. While 18% of white adults say they’re “very concerned” that they will get COVID-19 and require hospitalization, 43% of Hispanic respondents and 31% of black adults say they’re “very concerned” about that happening” (Allison Aubrey, Who’s Hit Hardest By COVID-19? Why Obesity, Stress And Race All Matter). It turns out that people generally don’t like to forced to die for the benefit of others who make no sacrifices at all. What is being asked of these people is no small risk.

“The health divide is even sharper than the economic one,” writes Jennifer Rubin. “The latest Post-Ipsos poll found that “nearly 6 in 10 Americans who are working outside their homes were concerned that they could be exposed to the virus at work and infect other members of their household. Those concerns were even higher for some: Roughly 7 in 10 black and Hispanic workers said they were worried about getting a household member sick if they are exposed at work.” Even more frightful, a third of those forced to leave the home for work “said they or a household member has a serious chronic illness, and 13 percent said they lack health insurance themselves.” The sick get sicker in this pandemic and in the altered economy it has created. By contrast, half of those employed can work from home — and 90 percent of those are white-collar workers.

“In short, if you are poor, a woman, nonwhite or live paycheck to paycheck in a blue-collar job, you have a greater chance of being unemployed or, if still employed, of getting sick and dying. (We saw this vividly in Georgia, where 80 percent of those hospitalized with the coronavirus were African American.) That is as stark a divide as we have ever seen in this country. The longer the virus rages without a vaccine, the longer the economy will be hobbled. And with that extended economic recession, we will see the gap between rich and poor, already huge, widen still further” (Inequality is now an issue of life and death).

Think about all of the protests and actions that have come from angry whites demanding the liberty to risk the lives of others with their proclamation of liberty or death, including the death of others. Now imagine masses of poor blacks did the same by likewise showing up with guns at state capitals and blocked the entrances to hospitals, and imagine there were numerous cases of poor blacks violently threatening and sometimes attacking workers who asked customers to follow safety measures — if that were to happen, it would not be tolerated so casually nor rationalized away as the necessary resistance to dangerous political power. Think about whose lives are being offered in exchange for liberty, whose liberty is prioritized and privileged. The public, poor minorities most of all, is not being asked to freely and willingly sacrifice their lives for the public good of the national economy but being told that their lives must be sacrificed against their will for the profit of big biz and the capitalist class, to keep the corporate behemoth running smoothly.

With that in mind, one might note that a major part of what is going on is a lack of trust. What is interesting is that it is precisely those who have most benefited from government who now attack it. They have the privilege to attack government with the assumption that government should serve them. Poor minorities have never been able to make that assumption. And so it’s unsurprising that a privileged white elite that has led this attack of public authority in order to promote their own authoritarian authority. It is a crisis of public trust that has built up over generations, beginning with President Ronald Reagan’s attack on public institutions that has continued with every Republican administration (although with no small help from conservative Democrats like Bill Clinton).

Interestingly, for all of this right-wing attack on governmental legitimacy, it is Trump that the American public trusts the least, whereas one of the few areas of majority support is found in the public trust of health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci. Despite all of the media obsession in reporting that makes the liberty protesters seem more numerous and significant than they are, the general public remains unconvinced that individual liberty should trump public health during a pandemic. Even most Republicans are opposed to a full, quick reopening of the economy. This position being forced upon us by certain elements of middle class activists, plutocratic elite, and corporate media does not indicate any actual public debate going on among most Americans. The average person does not see it as a forced choice between the extremes of liberty and death.

So, if not liberty, what is all of this staged conflict about? It’s not even about the actual mortality rate of COVID-19, in general or among specific demographics. This pandemic might not turn out as bad as expected or it yet might truly become a catastrophe — time will tell (Then the second wave of infections hit…). That isn’t the issue we are facing with an elite that is willing to sacrifice certain elements of society for their own self-interest and so as to maintain the status quo. This elite didn’t wait for the data to come in before deciding how many dead poor people and dead minorities would be the price they were willing to pay for their own continued prosperity, in ensuring their good life could be maintained. What we are dealing with here is ultimately a conflict between those who want freedom and those who don’t, and such freedom is about democracy and not liberty. Now, if well-armed angry white right-wingers were demanding democracy or death, freedom for all or death, then we could take them seriously.

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Yes, the government can restrict your liberty to protect public health
by Erwin Chemerinsky

But this does not mean that the government can do whatever it wants in the name of stopping the spread of a communicable disease. There is always a danger that government might use its power as an excuse for unnecessary restrictions on freedom. This has occurred during our current crisis in countries including Hungary, which canceled elections, and Thailand and Jordan, which have restricted speech critical of the government.

In the United States, a number of states have adopted regulations preventing abortions, including medically induced abortions that involve no surgical procedure at all. It is hard to see how such restrictions have a “real and substantial” relationship to stopping the spread of COVID-19 as opposed to attempts to use the crisis as a pretext for imposing additional limits on abortion.

And courts would probably look skeptically on banning a religious service if it involved people staying in their cars in a parking lot — a drive-in service, as some churches have instituted. Such gatherings present no valid public health threat, since they do not involve interpersonal contact.

Still, most closure orders are clearly constitutional. The right to swing your fist stops at another person’s nose. With coronavirus, your freedom stops when it endangers others by facilitating transmission of a highly communicable disease.

The coronavirus protesters’ false notions of freedom
by Steve Chapman

The rallies don’t represent public opinion. Three out of four Americans prefer to “keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed,” according to a recent Washington Post-Ipos poll.

The great majority of people understand that limitations that would normally be intolerable are justifiable in an emergency. No one, after all, objects to curfews and National Guard deployments in cities wrecked by hurricanes, floods or earthquakes.

Americans support drastic efforts to stop coronavirus, expect crisis to last for months in Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll
by Joel Shannon

Most Americans say saving lives by preventing the spread of COVID-19 should be the top priority for the U.S. government as the global coronavirus pandemic strains the nation’s health care system and social distancing measures ravage the economy, according to a new poll.

The Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll poll released Friday found the nation is becoming more accepting of drastic interventions to stop the virus’ spread, compared with a poll taken March 10 and 11. The increased support for restrictions comes as Americans believe coronavirus effects will be felt for the foreseeable future, the new survey found. […]

About nine out of 10 people now support canceling large-scale events, up from about four in 10 earlier this month. Nearly half of respondents now support grounding all domestic flights, when 22% had supported that measure. […]

Most survey respondents thought the crisis will continue for months, with 66% saying it will last “for a few months” or “at least six months.” Almost as many (55%)said they were prepared to put their normal lives on hold for those lengths of time. […]

among the majority (72%) of respondents who believe the government’s priority should be saving lives by stopping the spread of the virus, as opposed to sparing the economy.

Only about 1 in 5  said the government’s main priority should be saving the economy.

At the same time, the majority also believe the global economy and stock market are at a greater risk than their community or themselves personally.

To balance those concerns, more than 80% of those surveyed said they supported rebooting the economy slowly and carefully to avoid endangering lives.

Americans deeply wary of reopening as White House weighs ending covid-19 task force
by Matt Zapotosky, William Wan, Dan Balz, & Emily Guskin 

Americans remain deeply wary of eating at restaurants, shopping at stores and taking other steps to return to normalcy, a poll shows, even as the White House is contemplating shutting down its coronavirus task force.

With several covid-19 models taking a wrenching turn toward bleaker death forecasts in recent days because of reopening moves in some states, most Americans say they worry about getting the virus themselves and they oppose ending the restrictions meant to slow its spread, according to the Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. […]

Polling suggests that despite the economic turmoil, most Americans are far from ready for a rapid reboot of society.

More than half, 56 percent, say they are comfortable making a trip to the grocery store, something many Americans have continued doing, according to the Post-U. Md. poll. But 67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a clothing store, and 78 percent would be uneasy at a sit-down restaurant.

People in states with looser restrictions report similar levels of discomfort to those in states with stricter rules. […]

Americans continue to give Trump negative marks for his response to the outbreak, while offering widely positive assessments of their governors, a trend that has been consistent throughout the pandemic, according to the Post-U. Md. poll.

Trump’s ratings are 44 percent positive and 56 percent negative, in line with where he was two weeks ago, while governors earn positive marks from 75 percent of Americans. Partisan differences remain sizable, with nearly 8 in 10 Republicans and about 2 in 10 Democrats rating Trump positively. In contrast, governors earn big positive majorities across party lines. […]

Americans overwhelmingly approve of the way federal public health scientists, including Fauci, have dealt with the challenges from the coronavirus. Fauci’s positive rating stands at 74 percent. Public health scientists in the federal government overall are rated 71 percent positive. […]

Though the moves by some states toward reopening have been gradual, the Post-U. Md. poll indicates many residents oppose them.

The most significant opposition is to reopening movie theaters, with 82 percent of Americans saying they should not be allowed to open up in their state. There is also broad opposition to reopening gyms (78 percent opposed), dine-in restaurants and nail salons (both with 74 percent opposed).

The poll shows that Republicans are far more supportive of opening businesses than Democrats are.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents overwhelmingly oppose opening all types of businesses listed, while Republicans and Republican-leaning independents range from mostly in favor of opening (61 percent for golf courses) to mostly opposed (59 percent for dine-in restaurants).

Fear of infection, the poll finds, has not abated at all in recent weeks.

In the survey, 63 percent of Americans say they are either very or somewhat worried about getting the virus and becoming seriously ill, while 36 percent say they are not too worried or not at all worried.

We must prize our right to live over our liberties, for now, as COVID-19 spreads
by Steven Pokorny

[A]mong the three “unalienable rights” enumerated by Jefferson in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the first right is “life,” not “liberty.” The purpose of government first and foremost is to “secure” the right to “life” of the citizens governed. The rights of “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness” are rendered meaningless if government abdicates its paramount duty to safeguard the right to “life” and, instead, gives deferential preference to individual personal liberty.

Consistent with this understanding is a variant of a well-known phrase: “Your liberty ends where my life begins.” This expression is relevant and useful in explaining the current imposition by our nation’s governments of closures of non-essential businesses, of restrictions on freedom of movement and association, and of requirements of self-imposed quarantines by citizens who know they may have been exposed to the virus.

Quarantine protesters don’t represent all conservatives. Here’s why.
by Henry Olsen

The Declaration of Independence promised that people can “alter or abolish” their existing form of government to “effect their Safety and Happiness.” What happens when people believe a stronger government that infringes on some liberty is necessary to “effect their safety”? […]

These sentiments have again come to the fore during the covid-19 pandemic. A recent poll shows that 56 percent of Americans are more concerned about the public health impact of the pandemic than the economic impact. A slightly larger share, 60 percent, say that it’s more important for government to control the virus’s spread than to restore the economy. Even among Republicans, only a slight majority — 51 percent — say government policy should focus more on the economy.

This latter figure is consistent with decades of Republican voting preferences. As my co-author, University of New Hampshire professor Dante Scala, and I showed in our book “The Four Faces of the Republican Party,” movement conservatives are not even clearly a majority of the GOP. Other, less doctrinaire conservatives hold the balance of power within the Republican electorate, and they have voted against the movement’s preferred candidate in presidential primaries for decades. Even a majority of Republicans are mainly content with the large modern state.

President Trump must navigate these currents adroitly to avoid being swept out to sea with a movement conservative tide. If he tilts too strongly in favor of lockdowns and public safety, he breaks faith with the GOP’s most dedicated supporters. But if he tilts too much toward them, he risks alienating the larger — and more politically volatile — group of Americans who prioritize safety over liberty in the current crisis. Polls already suggest Trump’s pro-reopening rhetoric is hurting him among seniors, the demographic most at risk in the covid-19 crisis and presumably the ones who most favor safety over liberty. Trump risks throwing away the election by moving too rapidly or openly in favor of the noisy movement conservative minority who value liberty over safety.

They Are Giving You Death and Calling It Liberty
by Jamil Smith

Death overtakes us all at some point. However, we’re now being told to numb ourselves to mass casualties and the increased possibility of our own COVID-19 infections in order help a president win re-election. Or to help some stocks rally, or even save a business from folding. That is what is happening here. “If a majority believe that we got through this, they’re not afraid anymore about their health, the health of their family and they feel like the health of the economy is heading in the right direction, then I think he’s in good shape,” former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker recently told McClatchy. “If they have doubts on either or both of those, then I think it becomes really, really tough.”

The Republican rush to “reopen” is projecting a simulacrum of the American “normal” that existed before the pandemic. The genuine article needed improvement, seeing as the pandemic has revealed the fragility of our systems in health care, education, tech, criminal justice, and throughout our federal government supply infrastructure, just to name a few. And rather than noting how it has sought to unbalance and defund many of the very systems that have proven deficient during this crisis, the GOP has kept behaving as if the coronavirus’ calamities are part of some divine plan. As such, before they ever “reopened” a single state, Republicans were demanding that we willingly embrace a lesser life before we bow out early.

Many cultish movements have deadly culminations, so it only seems natural that some of Trump’s most avid fans might be willing not merely to use the fiction of what they understand as freedom, risking their health for Dear Leader. But whether or not that is true, Republicans offer this fraudulent version of liberty because their true goal, plutocracy, is the diametrical opposite of freedom. It is a life lived to spite other lives, and often take advantage of them. They have profited from the vulnerable, whose literal freedoms are limited in various ways that, at times, overlap: communities of color, incarcerated populations, service workers, the homeless, disabled people, and others for whom liberals regularly advocate.

The right has built a thin veneer that looks like independence and freedom, but the pandemic has stripped away that myth in a matter of weeks. We can love our country enough to want to build it stronger than it was before, not paint some shoddy lacquer over top of it and call it brand new again. Why should we lay our lives down for a system this fragile and rotten, and for people this desperate?

Whose Freedom Counts?
by Dahlia Lithwick

The words freedom and liberty have been invoked breathlessly in recent weeks to bolster the case for “reopening.” Protesters of state public safety measures readily locate in the Bill of Rights the varied and assorted freedom to not be masked, the freedom to have your toenails soaked and buffed, the freedom to open-carry weapons into the state capitol, the freedom to take your children to the polar bear cage, the freedom to worship even if it imperils public safety, and above all, the freedom to shoot the people who attempt to stop you from exercising such unenumerated but essential rights. Beyond a profound misunderstanding of the relationship between broad state police powers and federal constitutional rights in the midst of a deadly pandemic, this definition of freedom is perplexing, chiefly because it seems to assume not simply that other people should die for your individual liberties, but also that you have an affirmative right to harm, threaten, and even kill anyone who stands in the way of your exercising of the freedoms you demand. We tend to forget that even our most prized freedoms have limits, with regard to speech, assembly, or weaponry. Those constraints are not generally something one shoots one’s way out of, even in a pandemic, and simply insisting that your own rights are paramount because you super-duper want them doesn’t usually make it so.

To be sure, a good number of these “protesters” and “pundits” represent fringe groups, financed by other fringe groups and amplified by a press that adores conflict. The data continues to show that the vast majority of Americans are not out on the hustings fighting for the right to infect others for the sake of a McNugget. Also, it is not irrational in the least to fear a tyrannical government capitalizing on a pandemic; it’s happening around the world. But even for those millions of people genuinely suffering hardship and anxiety, it’s simply not the case that all freedoms are the same. And it’s certainly not the case that the federal Constitution protects everything you feel like doing, whenever you feel like doing it.

In a superb essay by Ibram X. Kendi in the Atlantic this week, we’re reminded that there is a long-standing difference between core notions of what he calls freedom to and freedom from. The freedom to harm, he points out, has its lineage in the slaveholder’s constitutional notion of freedom: “Slaveholders disavowed a state that secured any form of communal freedom—the freedom of the community from slavery, from disenfranchisement, from exploitation, from poverty, from all the demeaning and silencing and killing.” Kendi continues by pointing out that these two notions of freedom have long rubbed along uneasily side by side, but that those demanding that states “open up” so they may shop, or visit zoos, are peeling back the tension between the two:

From the beginning of the American project, the powerful individual has been battling for his constitutional freedom to harm, and the vulnerable community has been battling for its constitutional freedom from harm. Both freedoms were inscribed into the U.S. Constitution, into the American psyche. The history of the United States, the history of Americans, is the history of reconciling the unreconcilable: individual freedom and community freedom. There is no way to reconcile the enduring psyche of the slaveholder with the enduring psyche of the enslaved.

[…] We now find ourselves on the precipice of a moment in which Americans must decide whether the price they are willing to pay for the “freedom” of armed protesters, those determined to block hospitals, and pundits who want to visit the zoo, is their own health and safety. Polls show that the majority of Americans are still deeply devoted to the proposition that their government can protect them from a deadly virus, and that they trust their governors and scientists and data far more than they trust the Mission Accomplished Industrial Complex that would have them valuing free-floating ideas about liberty over the health and indeed lives of essential workers, the elderly, and their own well-being, despite the president’s recent insistence that this is what, all of us, as “warriors” must do. As Jamil Smith points out, this cultish view of “liberty” as demanding mass death in exchange for “liberty,” as in “freedom to” is an assembly-line, AstroTurf version of liberty pushed by those who are already very free. “Their true goal, plutocracy, is the diametrical opposite of freedom,” Smith writes. “It is a life lived to spite other lives, and often take advantage of them.”

In the coming weeks, we will see some relatively small portion of Americans with great big megaphones and well-financed backers start to openly attack the selfsame health care workers who were celebrated as heroes just a few weeks ago. We will see attacks on people wearing masks and attacks on people lawfully asking others to wear masks. Some leaders will buckle under the pressure to rescind orders with claims that in choosing between liberty and death, they went with liberty. Others, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, will respond by insisting that the brandishing of guns inside the state Capitol is not, in fact, “liberty,” and that if it is liberty and justice, it is hardly liberty and justice for all, but rather for a small minority of people who seek to define freedom as something they will seize and threaten and even kill for. A good rule of thumb for COVID-based discussions about “opening up” is that if someone is demanding it while threatening to hurt or kill you, you are probably not as “free” as they are, and that their project does nothing to increase freedom in America and everything to hoard a twisted idea of freedom for themselves.

When you hear someone demanding inchoate generalized “freedom,” ask whether he cares at all that millions of workers who clean the zoos and buff the nails and intubate the grandmas are not free. These people are cannon fodder for your liberty. The long-standing tension between individual liberty and the collective good is complicated, and as Kendi is quick to point out, the balance often tilts, trade-offs are made, federal and state governments shift clumsily along together, and the balance tilts again. Nobody denies that individual liberty is essential in a democracy, but in addition to parsing whether we as a collective do better in providing the “freedom from” while also offering some “freedom to,” it’s worth asking whether those making zero-sum claims about liberty are willing to sacrifice anything for freedom, or are just happily sacrificing you.

Give Me Liberty — No, Wait, Give Me Death
by Branko Marcetic

It may be hard to remember after the last four years of madness, but over the fifteen years leading up to Trump’s election, American conservatives spearheaded a successful campaign to reorient US domestic and foreign policy around waging a “war on terror.” After the attacks of September 11, 2011 left 2,753 people dead — a horrific number that now makes up just 3.5 percent of the death toll of the coronavirus pandemic so far, and is not much more than the number of Americans dying from the virus every day — the US right proceeded to pour absurd amounts of money and lives into counterproductive wars and various other initiatives aimed at preventing anything similar from happening again, shaming and attacking anyone who dissented as weak and even treasonous.

As the years went by and the nation’s bathtubs remained a bigger threat to American lives than acts of terrorism, the Right remained undeterred. By this point, they’d already erected a sprawling state infrastructure for global spying that more regularly violated the privacy of law-abiding Americans than it actually caught dangerous terrorists. Even so, they maintained, if getting rid of such programs cost even one life, the price wouldn’t be worth it. […]

Two-Party Hypocrisy

It’s hardly news that the Right are shameless hypocrites; they say whatever they need to say to achieve their political goals.

During the Bush era, those included funneling money to military contractors, building a security state to eventually destroy any future left-wing political movement, and beating up on Democrats and liberals as weak and dangerous, so bodily security and saving lives was the issue. Now, those goals have become keeping the wallets of all wealthy industrialists comfortably filled during the pandemic, preventing a sudden, mass contradiction of decades of neoliberal economic nonsense, and beating up on Democrats and liberals as tyrannical and dangerous, so freedom at any price is the issue.

The trouble is that America’s narrow political spectrum is dominated by two sides that flagrantly don’t believe anything they say and make little effort to pretend otherwise. One side spent eight years being the party of centralized government power for the sake of security, before spending eight years caterwauling about government tyranny, and now backs measures to tacitly murder tens of thousands of its own people. The other side spent eight years warning about the imminent, dictatorial danger of a centralized national security state, before quickly adopting and enlarging that same national security state for another eight years. It couldn’t even keep up the pretense that it stood for voting rights and sexual assault survivors for a mere three years before reversing itself on both.

It’s hard to predict where exactly a political system ends up when it’s dominated by cynical actors like these. But history suggests a growing army of people disillusioned and distrustful with an existing political order rarely goes well for the latter.

Liberty or death is a perilous policy for a pandemic
by E.J. Dionne Jr.

Considering this lack of leadership, what would a William James pragmatist do?

Virtually everyone except for Trump and his apologists understands the obvious: Reopening the economy requires, first, a national commitment to a robust testing program fully backed by the federal government. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed $30 billion in new emergency funding for a national testing strategy and called on Trump to use the Defense Production Act if that’s what’s needed to mobilize the private sector to produce the required tests.

Massachusetts’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, has created an expansive contact tracing program to track the virus’s spread. It could become a national model. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, Howard Bauchner and Joshua Sharfstein suggested giving the nation’s 20,000 incoming medical students a year off, with pay and health benefits, to contribute both to care and testing efforts. The AmeriCorps program could also be mobilized for this labor-intensive work.

What pragmatists know is that railing against formal distancing rules does nothing to solve the underlying problem. As several economist colleagues I contacted noted, the economy will not fully revive until Americans are given good reason to put aside their fears of infection. Yelling at governors won’t get us there.

“Even if the government-imposed social distancing rules are relaxed to encourage economic activity, risk-averse Americans will persist in social distancing, and that behavior, too, will restrain the hoped-for economic rebound,” Gary Burtless, a Brookings Institution economist, wrote me.

“Will customers return in-person to the retail or leisure/hospitality businesses anytime soon?” asked Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “Not if they feel unsafe, and not if their personal finances have been constricted by the downturn.”

Those who shout for opening the economy in the name of freedom don’t think much about the freedom of workers to protect themselves from a potentially deadly disease. And employers do not want to find themselves facing legal liabilities for infected employees.

If the economy is substantially reopened without adequate testing, said Thea Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, the most vulnerable would include “low-wage workers, women, people of color, immigrants, and the elderly.” They are “concentrated in the riskiest jobs, with the least financial cushion, and the least likely to have employer-provided benefits or protections,” she said.

On freedom, face masks, and government
by Scot Lehigh

Sadly, in some quarters, mask requirements are being viewed as an unacceptable infringement on individual liberty. No rights are absolute, however, and personal freedom comes with a well-established philosophical superstructure.

Consider how John Stuart Mill, the preeminent philosopher of liberty, elucidated the idea of individual autonomy — and what he would probably say about face-mask requirements in a time of public health crisis.

Mill was adamant that individuals could do whatever they wanted as long as those actions affected them alone. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign,” he wrote.

But even this fervent proponent of individual liberty carved out an exception when one person’s conduct could hurt someone else, writing that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Where would face-mask requirements, whether imposed by states, cities, or retail businesses, fall? Clearly on the side of justified infringements, since by not wearing a mask, a person can easily spread highly contagious COVID-19 to others. That’s all the more true when you consider that an estimated 56 percent of coronavirus infections come from pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers — and that for some who catch it, the disease will be a death sentence.

Thus the notion that these requirements are unwarranted or illicit or outrageous or unbearable by free people clearly doesn’t pass the test enunciated by the West’s great apostle of individual liberty.

A second great thinker, political philosopher John Rawls, also merits mention here, both for the helpful clarity his reasoning imparts and for a tragic aspect of his biography: When he was a boy, two of his younger brothers perished from diseases (diphtheria and pneumonia) they had contracted from him.

One of Rawls’s signal contributions is the “veil of ignorance,” a way of thinking designed to overcome the bias imparted by one’s own circumstances in life. To wit: As you consider what’s just or fair, assume that you don’t know your own sex, race, socio-economic status, abilities, and so forth.

In the matter of face masks, the veil of ignorance means not knowing whether you hold (or are likely to have) a job that requires you to interact frequently with the public or, say, are in circumstances that require your use of public transportation. Nor do you know whether you face a greater or lesser chance of death should you contract COVID-19.

From behind that veil, ask yourself this question: Do you favor or oppose the wearing of masks by everyone in the public circumstances outlined above?

All of this can be distilled to an exhortation not much more complicated than the Golden Rule. If the case for masks were presented by the president and governors and mayors and religious and community leaders as treating others as we’d like to be treated if in their place, I like to think people would overwhelmingly come to see them as an inconvenience all patriotic Americans can accept in these terrible times.

* * *

Below are some articles on the demographic disparities, socioeconomic divides, and structural prejudices showing those most vulnerable to viral exposure, infections, comorbidities, death, lack of healthcare, and other health factors of concern during the COVID-19 pandemic and in general.

COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups
from CDC

The other COVID-19 risk factors: How race, income, ZIP code can influence life and death
by Liz Szabo & Hannah Recht

13 Investigates: Cellphone data shows one reason why minorities are hit harder by COVID-19
by Ted Oberg and John Kelly, & Sarah Rafique

CT Latinos suffer high COVID-19 infection rates as their jobs force public interaction
by Ana Radelat

Higher COVID-19 fatality rates among urban minorities come down to air pollution
by David VanderGriend

How Poor Air Quality Affects COVID-19 Mortality Rates
by Rachel Fairbank

The coronavirus is amplifying the bias already embedded in our social fabric
by Michele L. Norris

Racism and Covid-19 Are a Lethal Combination
by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and William J. Barber III, JD

Racial health disparities already existed in America— the coronavirus just exacerbated them
by Courtney Connley

The covid-19 racial disparities could be even worse than we think
by Ronald J. Daniels & Marc H. Morial

Blacks make up as many as 30% of COVID-19 cases, per early CDC figures
by Mark Osborne, Emily Shapiro, & Ivan Pereira

COVID-19 death rates among blacks reflect structural inequalities
by Alexandra Newman

High rates of coronavirus among African Americans don’t tell the whole story
by Chinyere Osuji

The curious case of Latinos and Covid-19
by Esmy Jimenez

Latin America women, minorities ‘to suffer most’ by COVID-19
from Al Jazeera

‘The virus doesn’t discriminate but governments do’: Latinos disproportionately hit by coronavirus
by Maanvi Singh & Mario Koran

Disease Has Never Been Just Disease for Native Americans
by Jeffrey Ostler

The Coronavirus Makes Trump’s Cruelty Toward Indian Country Even More Deadly
by Zak Cheney-Rice

Native Americans being left out of US coronavirus data and labelled as ‘other’
by Rebecca Nagle

What Coronavirus Exposes About America’s Political Divide
by Ron Elving

Stop saying ‘we’re all in this together.’ You have money. It’s not the same.
by Mya Guarnieri

The Rich and Poor Don’t All Suffer Under the Pandemic Equally
by Shakti Jaising

The rich infected the poor as COVID-19 spread around the world
by Shashank Bengali , Kate Linthicum, & Victoria Kim

Imported by the rich, coronavirus now devastating Brazil’s poor
by Gram Slattery, Stephen Eisenhammer, & Amanda Perobelli

From Black Death to fatal flu, past pandemics show why people on the margins suffer most
by Lizzie Wade

The Black Death Killed Feudalism. What Does COVID-19 Mean for Capitalism?
by John Feffer

How COVID-19’s egregious impact on minorities can trigger change
by Andis Robeznieks

Why did a Social Democrat make himself a target by calling himself a Democratic Socialist?

In 2016 Bernie Sanders declared himself a Democratic Socialist, and in doing so assured he’d never be president. The issue, then as now, was the “S-word.” Why would you label yourself a Socialist if you want to run for office in America?
Especially – and this part is key – if you aren’t one?
~Winter Smith

My suspicion is that Bernie Sanders never planned on winning. Either he didn’t think he could win or didn’t want to win. So, he purposely created a self-defeating campaign. Even when attacked, he would not attack back in kind or even strongly defend himself. He simply placed himself on the altar as sacrifice to the DNC gods.

Maybe he figured he never had a chance and that, no matter what he said, he was going to be attacked as a socialist. So, he decided to embrace it as rhetoric to push the Overton Window back to the left. To be fair, if not for his last campaign, there would be now far less political and public debate about many of the issues and policies he ran on.

If that was his only purpose, he succeeded on some basic level. But succeeded to what end? In a political situation where ideological rhetoric is already fairly meaningless, he further added to the confusion of labels. I’m not sure how that was clearly a net gain for society, particularly for the political left.

The Covid-19 pandemic, for example, has pushed us far closer to healthcare reform than Sanders could ever hope to accomplish in all of his halfhearted campaign rhetoric. And calling it socialist healthcare reform probably wouldn’t be helpful. Most Americans already supported it. The problem was the political elite that Sanders is part of and the stranglehold of the two right wings of a one-party corporatocracy.

Sanders’ ultimate accomplishment, intentional or not, has been to act as a sheepdog to bring large segments of the political left back into the neocon fold. Did his doing so pull the Clinton Democrats from the precipice of the reactionary right-wing? Has the lesser evilism become less evil? Not that I can tell.

Now Sanders has thrown his weight behind Biden, a right-wing corporatist and deficit hawk, what could be called soft fascist, and certainly the complete opposite of socialist and (small ‘d’) democrat. You can dismiss the distinctions of social democracy and democratic socialism, as Biden is the enemy of both.

Anyway, what does this accomplish? Barring Trump dying from Covid-19 or the economy collapsing, Biden is almost guaranteed to lose bigly. For what gain did Sanders sell his soul? It might help Sanders’ career in getting favors from the DNC elite, but it won’t oust Trump from power, much less give a foothold to socialism or even moderate progressivism.

“What I really knew where Bernie, I think, has really overstepped his ground here is when his own staffers are not saying that they’re on board. Briahna Joy Gray openly tweeting, all respect in the world to Bernie Sanders, but I don’t endorse Joe. Same with David Sirota. And so my question is this. If Bernie Sanders can’t even get his own staff to vote for Joe Biden or endorse Joe Biden, what are they gonna do in the election? They don’t even have that personal loyalty and fealty to Bernie the way that his staffers do right.”
~Saagar Enjeti, co-host of The Hill’s Rising

* * *

Democratic Socialism, Social Democracy, and Bernie’s Big Mistake
by Winter Smith

Who can say what he was thinking as he tattooed the S-word on his forehead? Maybe, as Merelli suggests, he wanted to shock us – and we’re certainly a nation that could do with a little shocking. And given the practical concerns of reforming the American system it mattered not whether he called himself a Social Democrat, a Democratic Socialist or an ambisexual Martian. But from the perspective of winning, though…

In c. 2016 it would have been challenging enough to win by drawing a line to your candidacy from the New Deal, but it would have been considerably easier than dealing with the line your opponents were going to draw from Stalin. This is ‘Merica and labels matter a lot more than realities, more than policies, more than voting records, and Sanders had to know this.

For the love of Roosevelt, man, just call yourself a Social Democrat!

I was baffled in 2016 and still am, and despite my support for his candidacies I have to admit to a healthy dose of frustration. Sanders is a smart guy, so why would he do something so patently self-defeating? Is he playing eight-dimensional chess and I just don’t get it? Did he want to reframe the agenda and saw a Quixotean run at the White House as the best way of doing it? To be sure, much, if not most of what defined this cycle’s Democratic campaign revolved around issues he put on the table.

But … did he ever really want to be president?

I don’t have answers, but I suspect he did more damage to his bids than his opponents did.

Et Tu, Bernie?
by Chris Hedges

Sanders, who calls himself an independent, caucuses as a Democrat. The Democratic Party determines his assignments in the Senate. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who oversees Wall Street campaign donations to Democratic candidates, offered to make Sanders the head of the Senate Budget Committee if the Democrats won control of the Senate, in exchange for the Vermont senator’s support of Clinton and the hawkish, corporate neoliberal Democratic candidates running for the House and Senate. Sanders, swallowing whatever pride he has left, is now a loyal party apparatchik, squandering his legacy and his integrity. He routinely sends out appeals to raise money for party-selected candidates, including the 2016 Democratic senatorial candidates Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, Ted Strickland in Ohio and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada. Sanders made a blanket endorsement of every Democrat running in the 2017 election, including the worst corporate Democrats.

There was about $6 million left from the Sanders campaign, and it was used to form an organization called Our Revolution in August 2016. The organization was set up ostensibly to fund and support progressive candidates. It was soon taken over by Weaver, who ensured that it was not registered as a political action committee (PAC), a group that can give money directly to campaigns. It was set up as a 501(c)(4), a group prohibited from having direct contact with candidates and giving donations directly to candidates. The 501(c)(4) status allowed it to take and mask donations from wealthy donors such as Tom Steyer. Sanders’ decision to quietly solicit contributions from the billionaire oligarchs who funded the Hillary Clinton campaign and control the Democratic Party betrayed the core promise of his campaign. Yet, even as he created a mechanism to take money from wealthy donors he continued to write at the bottom of his emails “Paid for by Bernie Sanders, not the billionaires.”

Eight of the 13 staffers of Our Revolution resigned in protest. The organization is now adding a PAC.

* * *

Here is another piece worth looking at. It’s by David Sirota, a speechwriter and senior adviser of the Sanders’ campaign. Even though Sanders took on the strong label of ‘socialist’, he did not fight strongly — not only having not fought hard for socialism but even for moderate progressivism; he simply did not fight. Sirota gives some reasons why. But more importantly he explains the negative consequences.

The Tyranny of Decorum
A look back on the 2020 primary
by David Sirota

Even though Biden at times pathologically lied about some of these facts (at one point he actually insisted he didn’t help write his own bankruptcy bill!), this record is verifiable, it is not in dispute. A group of us believed it was important for this record to be spotlighted — because it was good strategy and good for democracy.

We didn’t push Bernie to “attack” Biden in some sort of vicious way. We pushed him to instead simply and very explicitly cast the primary as a choice between a vision of progressive change, and Biden’s promise to his donors that “nothing will fundamentally change.”

To his credit, Bernie at times worked with us and embraced the strategy — and when he did, it was successful (see his Social Security contrast with Biden in Iowa, and see his contrast with Wine Cave Pete in New Hampshire).

At other times, though, the campaign backed off and did not seize opportunities to explicitly and continually spell out big differences between the candidates.

Ultimately, Biden was able to avoid having to constantly try to explain his offensive record. Instead, he was allowed to depict himself as a safe, electable “unity” candidate.

Was it fun to always be one of the people pushing the campaign to be more aggressive, and also eating shit on Twitter for supposedly being “toxic” for simply tweeting a few videos of Biden pushing some grotesquely retrograde policy? No, it was not fun. I have more gray hair and less stomach lining because I pushed. I’m no hero or a martyr, but I can tell you it was awful, excruciating and heartbreaking.

But it was necessary. […]

I am confident, however, that a stronger contrast would have at least put us in a better position to survive when Beto, Klobuchar, and Wine Cave Pete all fell in behind Biden to help him seal Super Tuesday.

In absence of a tough critique early on and with no day-to-day focus on his record, Biden was able to solidify an “electability” argument he didn’t deserve or earn.

According to exit polls, Biden was able to win the largest share of Democratic voters in 15 states who said health care was their top priority, even though a majority of Democratic voters in those states said they support replacing private insurance with a government run plan — a position Biden opposes.

Biden won Midwest states that have been ravaged by the trade deals that he himself supported.

Biden even won the most Democratic voters in 11 states who said climate was their top issue, despite his far weaker climate plan.

By the time our campaign was finally comfortable consistently making a strong case against him, it was after Super Tuesday and it was too late. […]

This attempt to scandalize policy criticism supposedly reflected heightened concerns about “electability” — the idea promoted by Democratic politicians and pundits being that sharp contrasts might weaken the eventual Democratic nominee against the existential threat of Trump.

And yet, history argues exactly the opposite — tough, brutal primaries often end up battle-testing nominees and making them stronger (see President Barack Obama). In the same way the minor leagues can prepare players for the major leagues, brutal intraparty contests subject the eventual standard-bearers to training, and they also suss out potential weaknesses at an early point when a party can still make a different nomination choice.

By contrast, primaries dominated by demands for “good decorum,” “unity” and “decency” create coronations — and coronations run the risk of creating nominees who are not adequately road-tested, and who are only publicly vetted in the high-stakes general election, well after the party could have made a different choice.

That is where we are now — a tyranny of decorum has given us a presumptive nominee whose record hasn’t been well scrutinized or challenged. […]

We’re in the midst of unpleasant, uncivil and impolite emergencies that threaten our country and our planet. A global pandemic won’t be stopped by niceties. The corporations profiting off the health care crisis won’t be thwarted with good manners. The fossil fuel giants intensifying the climate cataclysm won’t be deterred by gentility. And elections will not be won by prioritizing good decorum over everything else.

In short: preventing a real contrast and a real conflict over ideas only serves the establishment and its politicians who know that scrutiny will weaken their power to decide nomination contests and control the future.

But winning nomination contests without real vetting not only serves corporate power, it also jeopardizes that much-vaunted quality that parties claim to care so much about: general election “electability.”

jlalbrecht commented:

I enjoyed this long debrief, but you ignored the elephant in the room. Bernie constantly saying that any of his opponents – particularly Biden – could defeat Trump.

I don’t work in politics, but I’ve had my share of relationships in my not-so-short life, I’ve been running my own business and negotiating with clients for 25+ years, and I went through a 14-year VERY contentious child visitation/custody battle (that I won). No one in their right mind tells the girl they are trying to woo or the client they are trying to win that their competition can get the job done too. Bernie made a lot of tactical errors (IMHO) in his two presidential runs, but this was one of the biggest. In this primary, it would have been simple to point out that in 2016 everyone thought Clinton would win, and we saw how that turned out. Everyone except Bernie, and especially Joe Biden was running one version or another of Hillary 2.0.

I could list many other tactical errors, but will limit myself to one. Joe lying to Bernie’s face in the last debate, and Bernie not calling him out, made Bernie look weak af because it IS weak af. Saying people should look it up on YouTube and decide for themselves is not what people look for in a leader. Anyone who knew about their records had to think, “Is this how Bernie would handle Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi if he wins the WH?” Most of the viewers who didn’t know about their records would side with the guy who was lying confidently rather than the guy who was sheepishly deflecting to a third party (YouTube) and the viewer to decide for themselves if Biden was lying.

Finnish Municipal Socialism

“Finland is the only EU country where homelessness is falling. Its secret? Giving people homes as soon as they need them – unconditionally.”

Finland, simply put, is socialist.

In the good ol’ days here in the United States of America, this is what used to be called sewer socialism or municipal socialism, what some would now prefer to more safely brand as social democracy but it’s the same difference. It was famous in Milwaukee, having lasted for almost three quarters of a century, from the Populism of the 1890s to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. This pragmatic socialist city was known all across the country as one of the most effectively governed at the time, praised during the early Cold War even by those who weren’t socialists.

Did you ever wonder why the citizens of Milwaukee were so happy in the tv sitcom Happy Days? It’s because they were living under this local form of democratic socialism, one of the few governments in U.S. history that literally was “of the people, by the people, for the people”. It truly was a good time to be a citizen of Milwaukee. The People had faith in their government and their government honored that faith by serving the public good. To put it far more simply, one might just call it democracy. What a crazy idea! Democracy, we should try it again sometime here in this country.

The sewer socialists were called such because they were the earliest American government to fund major public health projects. It was meant to be derogatory in the hope of dismissing their achievements as a mere obsession with sewers, but the socialists took it as a point of pride in it being a major advancement in dealing with the pollution of industrialization and the diseases of mass urbanization. Instead of only building sewers for the rich, they ensured all members of the community had hygienic living conditions and clean water, something that was novel during that period. Everyone was guaranteed to have basic needs met, including a public-owned-and-operated bakery. On top of this, they cleaned up organized crime and political cronyism. They were social and moral reformers.

Their success became the precedent that all other US cities followed and has since become standard all across the developed world. We now take this sewer socialism for granted since it has become central to every major country, either at the national or local level. Government municipalities are seen as a basic function of any well-functioning political system, but that wasn’t always the case. That was a profound change in the public perception of government’s role. Any country that lacks such basic amenities are presently judged as backwards or even as “third world”, as it is considered a sign of some combination of poverty, failure, and corruption.

Most important, sewer socialism is proven to work, proven again and again and again. It turns out improving the living conditions of the poor improves the living conditions of all of society. For those who have heard of Jesus Christ, you might remember him saying in no uncertain terms that, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Now consider this — as of 2010 in Finland, “church attendance is just 1.5 percent in the capital city region” (Nina Mustonen, Church Attendance Falls; Religion Seen as Private). So, why did it take the capital city in one of the most secular countries in the world to follow a central Christian dictum?

American Christians might want to contemplate that. All of us, Christian and otherwise, should rethink socialism, maybe rethink our entire society.

* * *

‘It’s a miracle’: Helsinki’s radical solution to homelessness
by Jon Henley, The Guardian

Housing First costs money, of course: Finland has spent €250m creating new homes and hiring 300 extra support workers. But a recent study showed the savings in emergency healthcare, social services and the justice system totalled as much as €15,000 a year for every homeless person in properly supported housing.

Interest in the policy beyond the country’s borders has been exceptional, from France to Australia, says Vesikansa. The British government is funding pilot schemes in Merseyside, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, whose Labour mayor, Andy Burnham, is due in Helsinki in July to see the policy in action.

But if Housing First is working in Helsinki, where half the country’s homeless people live, it is also because it is part of a much broader housing policy. More pilot schemes serve little real purpose, says Kaakinen: “We know what works. You can have all sorts of projects, but if you don’t have the actual homes … A sufficient supply of social housing is just crucial.”

And there, the Finnish capital is fortunate. Helsinki owns 60,000 social housing units; one in seven residents live in city-owned housing. It also owns 70% of the land within the city limits, runs its own construction company, and has a current target of building 7,000 more new homes – of all categories – a year.

In each new district, the city maintains a strict housing mix to limit social segregation: 25% social housing, 30% subsidised purchase, and 45% private sector. Helsinki also insists on no visible external differences between private and public housing stock, and sets no maximum income ceiling on its social housing tenants.

It has invested heavily, too, in homelessness prevention, setting up special teams to advise and help tenants in danger of losing their homes and halving the number of evictions from city-owned and social housing from 2008 to 2016.

“We own much of the land, we have a zoning monopoly, we run our own construction company,” says Riikka Karjalainen, senior planning officer. “That helped a lot with Housing First because simply, there is no way you will eradicate homelessness without a serious, big-picture housing policy.”

Non-White Elites and Ordinary Americans

Blacks and other minorities don’t like Bernie Sanders, an old white guy, because he is some combination of racist and out of touch. That is what some non-white elites keep repeating. I guess they’re hoping that if they repeat it enough voters will be persuaded to support the DNC establishment, which is to say the Clinton cronies. The implication seems to be that blacks should prioritize abstract identity politics over bread-and-butter progressivism. But most blacks aren’t persuaded. Maybe that is the reason for the ever more desperate obsession with this DNC talking point. What the elite fail to understand or else try to obfuscate is that economic populism cuts across the racial divide. Non-whites in the comfortable class are as much of problem as the rest.

This came up again in a clickbait article at The Roots, Bernie Sanders Is Not a Real Progressive by Terrell Jermaine Starr. I shouldn’t be surprised by still seeing this. But it is such  cynical ploy. Starr writes that, “All of this is fine with Trump’s supporters, as study after study after study (pdf) reveals that racism is what drives their support of him, not economic fears.Sanders seems unwilling to accept this. After robust criticism for lacking a racial analysis to complement his economic equality-heavy framework, he still insists on ignoring the fact that racial inequality is a leading concern of black voters in the United States and that racial anxiety was a motivating factor behind Trump’s base.” That is unreasonably simplistic. Much of the racism is xenophobia about immigrants stealing American jobs, which rather overtly makes it an economic concern. No one is arguing that it isn’t easy to rile up people with fear-mongering during economic hard times. Anyone who knows American history would be familiar with the reality that issues of race and economics have always been intertwined and often conflated. In fact, racism has been so powerful for the very reason it is typically how Americans talk about class, as the prevailing rhetoric has always been that the US isn’t a class-based society and hence that no class war exists. This is obvious bullshit. Even those pushing identity politics know it is bullshit. But just like the racist demagogues, the identitarian demagogues don’t want to talk about the problems of class and economics.

Continuing, he brings up this accusation: “So black and Latinx people aren’t concerned with bread-and-butter issues? We aren’t ordinary Americans? Why put such a break between race and economics? Sanders clearly means white Americans when he says “ordinary Americans.”” Sanders’ entire platform was based on the assumption that most Americans of all races and ethnicities are ordinary Americans who are concerned with bread-and-butter issues. It was his opponents who assumed otherwise, which is why like this author they keep trying to cynically use identity politics to divide these ordinary Americans. “Minorities disaffected with the political process should be Sanders’ true target,” is the suggestion he offers, apparently based on the view that many ordinary Americans are disaffected. I would agree and so would Sanders. So what is the point? The very demographics that Sanders won majority support from were those that were most disaffected in terms of low voter turnout, such as the poor and young minorities. But Sanders didn’t need to ‘target’ them to win their support. He just needed to treat them like normal humans, like ordinary Americans, and not as demographic categories in a campaign scheme to manipulate voters. Starr obviously doesn’t believe blacks are ordinary Americans and so should be treated differently. That is what Hillary Clinton did in her targeted speeches that shifted rhetoric according to demographics of each crowd. And that is why she lost the election.

The relentless accusations go on: “His most avid backers consistently point to his notable showing with young black voters in some states, while dismissing the votes of their parents and grandparents.” It’s progress that people this clueless are being forced to admit that many minorities did support Sanders after all. But even here he feels the need to lie about it. Sanders’ support of young minorities wasn’t limited to certain states, considering he won the majority of young minorities across the country. Look at the demographics. Starr comes across as an angry older black voter in his portraying young minorities as being told to, “Fuck your parents’ vote. And your parents’ parents’ vote, too.” If he really is concerned, maybe he should drop his paternalistic condescension toward young minorities. I’m sure young minorities know the reason they preferred Sanders. Just ask them. It’s not up to Sanders or any other white person to explain to cynical irate black journalists of the liberal class about why less economically secure younger minorities disagree about economic issues with more economically secure older minorities. Anyway, in speaking for older blacks, this black journalist’s words can be reversed: Fuck your kids’ vote. And your kids’ kids’ vote, too. But shouldn’t the younger generations be prioritized considering they represent the hope for the future and survival of our society? When older generations put their own interests before the well being of their children and grandchildren, that is a society that is on a suicidal decline. Besides, there is no need to make this into a generational fight, as presently Sanders’ popularity has grown beyond young minorities to now include most minorities over all. So, it appears there is no significant argument in the black population to sacrifice the future of the youth in order to appease old black voters with empty rhetoric. I suspect even older blacks, many of them having been loyal partisans, have begun to see through the con game that has been played on them by the Democratic establishment.

Racists like to complain that blacks all think alike and all vote alike. It’s amusing to see a black guy complaining that all blacks don’t behave in lockstep, daring to value their personal experience and economic position over identity politics. Why is it surprising that secular young minorities who are liberal progressives support different politicians than older black church ladies who are social conservatives? Related to this is the accusation that Sanders is not a Democrat. Sure. Then again, 70% of eligible voters aren’t Democrats either and that includes plenty of minorities. That is ignoring the further issue that a ton of eligible voters, across all races, don’t vote in most elections. This is what gets lost in identity politics. The average minority voter in the Democratic Party isn’t the same as the average minority in the general population. One argument used is that one in ten Sanders primary voters ended up voting for Trump. But the same pattern of one in ten was seen with Obama primary voters switching parties in the general election. I don’t know why it is surprising that there is a significant portion of non-partisans whose support of individual politicians doesn’t indicate any partisan loyalty. Besides, if that is evidence that Sanders isn’t a Democrat, then neither is Obama and Clinton. One in four of Clinton’s primary voters went to McCain in the general election, many of them having stated that racism was deciding factor. By the Clintonista’s own arguments, that proves that Clinton is a racist. And that point is emphasized by how much worse Clinton did among minorities compared to previous presidential candidates.

Obviously, Hillary Clinton was the favorite among conservative Democrats, including conservative blacks. The complaint seems to be that Sanders was ineffective in reaching out to conservatives, which is what establishment-supporting partisans call ‘moderate’. Well, why would someone on the political left appeal to those on the political right? And why would someone on the political left support those who are pushing the entire political spectrum toward the right? Asking why Sanders didn’t appeal to black conservatives is akin to asking why he didn’t appeal to black libertarians, black fascists, and black plutocrats. Sanders is a progressive liberal and so appealed to people who share his values and views. Should Sanders have cynically sacrificed all principles like Clinton in order to manipulate people to vote for him? Why should he do that when, while fighting a corrupt political system, he was already getting the largest crowds of any presidential candidate in US history? The point is that most blacks, like most other Americans, are far to the left of Clinton and her supporters. Why should most minority voters be dismissed for the sake of a small but influential group of older black church ladies and their liberal class handlers? Still, let’s keep in mind that not all older blacks are church ladies. Sanders still won a sizable portion of older blacks with Clinton only doing marginally better. It’s not as if Clinton won a landslide among minorities. She actually did quite badly.

Starr next brings the situation into the present: “For the moment, Sanders’ supporters are celebrating Donna Brazile’s allegations that Clinton hijacked the primary process. It will further bolster his base and the “Bernie would have won” crowd, but it will do nothing to unify the Democratic Party.” Considering that most Americans (including most minorities) are independents and not partisans, why should they be concerned about sucking the cock of the party establishment? Most Americans support Sanders even stronger now than they did a year ago. They don’t want the Democratic status quo. They want actual progressivism. No doubt they are pissed about having the election stolen from them. Most Americans are tired of the corruption and want functioning democracy. Even after admitting that Clinton was ‘seedy’, he sticks to his talking points: “None of this will help Sanders win over critical black and brown votes in the 2020 primaries, if he does decide to run.” That isn’t a problem. Sanders already is the most popular politician in the country. Why is that so hard to understand?

This is what stands out to me. This black journalist is the senior reporter for this respectable publication. He has had a successful career and, at this point, he is a professional firmly lodged within the liberal class. Yet he wants to pretend to speak for all black people. Most of the black people he interacts with on a regular basis would also be part of the liberal class. The media professionals working at The Root aren’t typical blacks, much less ordinary Americans. He is so disconnected from most blacks and most Americans that he can’t comprehend or even acknowledge why, among both whites and blacks, Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician. It appears that Sanders is speaking to blacks and they are listening, no matter what elite blacks may want to believe.

Let me bring this point home. One commenter summarized it well: “Still, nothing you say can change the fact that Sanders is, in reality, more popular among Latinx and black voters than he is among whites, and more popular among women than he is among men. This is shown to be true in poll after poll. […] Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America, and has been for some time, and continues to gain strength. He is viewed favourably by 92% of Democrats, and its more popular among Hillary voters than even Hillary is.” The most basic fact is that the policy positions of Bernie Sanders are rather moderate and smack in the center of public opinion. That is to say most Americans, across multiple demographics, agree with him. That is the actual center, the moral majority. If Sanders is a socialist, then so are the silenced majority. Why do some in positions of power and influence want to continue silencing this majority and those who speak to them and for them? I was about to say that Bernie Sanders represents the future. But the reality is that he represents the present, for most Americans. This is at a time when the American public is shifting left. If majority opinion matters whatsoever, including among the majority of minorities who soon will be the minority majority in the entire country, then the future will be far to the left of Bernie Sanders.

* * *

Skip to my Bayless
11/06/17 3:46pm
Everyone Bernie endorses loses.
This is completely false. So much so, that I’m not even going to take the time to correct you. Here’s the thing, what you libs don’t seem to get is that to us on the left, Bernie is the compromise. His policies are barely progressive enough. You all act like he’s a lunatic with these crazy assed ideas, when I see him as the only option. It’s crazy.
If you want to start stacking up losses, I’m down. 1,000 State Legislature Seats since 2009. 34 of 50 governorships. The House. The Senate. The Presidency. I guess Bernie started endorsing candidates to lose going back to 2009, now? Give me a fucking break.

Skip to my Bayless
11/06/17 4:00pm
Riiiiiight. The losses and the fact that the democratic party completely went to shit under Obama and Wasserman Schultz doesn’t count because Bernie is shallow. You people are legitimately insane. Seriously. I’ve never seen a group who has deluded themselves more. But you’re right. All I ever heard Obama and Clinton talk about was gerrymandering and the VRA and Citizens United (it was always thus). They wouldn’t shut the fuck up about it.
Even now, when Donna Brazile has basically said that the dems are a complete and total mess you just won’t come to terms with the fact that being “not the republicans” is not a platform that people will vote for. And then come the backhanded racism accusations. I’m shocked you didn’t slip something about russia in there. I think we’re done.

NoSale
11/06/17 10:39am
“Sanders isn’t the absolute, 100%, perfect candidate ever
…… so he’s trash, and I will never vote for him.”
This is how you get Donald Trump.

NoSale
11/06/17 11:25am
I’m not seeing that ‘act’ here. Economic insecurity affects minorities just as much if not more so than whites. Same with lack of universal healthcare, over-criminalization, and a poor minimum wage.
His whole message has been to not let anyone divide us up, and I feel like this over-analysis of this one statement (this article references another root article that basically says the same thing) is doing exactly that.

NoSale
11/06/17 11:30am
I really can’t answer that. It’s hard to be pragmatic and progressive. But you have a guy that wants to bring power to citizens and not corporations and obscenely rich people, all of which are verily skewed white. That has to count for a lot, and seems to be a rare thing.

NoSale
11/06/17 4:30pm
I feel like he’s done more than just tersely say it, though:
https://berniesanders.com/issues/racial-justice/
I also feel like Democrats have miserably failed to identify just how bad racism and sexism is here, and while there may be a few that have comprehensive plans to address the issue, I feel like they’ve been all talk, little to no results.
Bernie doesn’t have magical solutions for everything, but he’s getting PoCs and women involved in his orgs. I feel like he’s doing his best. Without corporate dollars or party backing. I’m willing to give him that benefit of the doubt.

skeffles
11/06/17 10:13am
There is another article up today asking why the left is failing. This article is why. Like him or loathe him, Sanders did more to energize the voting left than anyone else has done recently.

Skip to my Bayless
11/06/17 11:01am
Oh, let me make it more explicit for you: There are “crossover voters” in every election. The difference is that no Sanders surrogate went out and explicitly endorsed Trump. Brining this up as if it tipped the election is asinine. Your “claim” (if you can call it that) that Bernie did more harm than good (what metric are using and how are you defining those terms) because 10% of Sanders voters turned around and voted for Trump is dumb. Does that work for you?

Spencer Walker
11/06/17 6:47pm
More bernie supporters voted for Hillary than Hillary supporters voted for Obama what happened buttercup facts disagree with you

BazBake
11/06/17 11:52pm
Heh…
http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/329404-poll-bernie-sanders-countrys-most-popular-active-politician
Democrats: “This Bernie Sanders guy is awesome.”
Progressives: “This Bernie Sanders guy is amazing.”
Black folks: “This Bernie Sanders guy is great.”
Women of color: “This Bernie Sanders guy knows what he’s talking about.”
Latinos: “This Bernie Sanders guy is pretty good.”
Asians: “This Bernie Sanders guy seems solid.”
The Root: “Fuck this dude.”
Also, here’s the actual video everyone keeps linking Daily Beast quotes about. He’s not comparing economics to bigotry, he’s comparing economics to Russian crap.

dudebra
11/06/17 10:39am
The fact that nice, church going older black ladies lock stepped for “super predator” labeling Hillary is almost as weird to me as union members who vote for republicans. Hillary would have been much better than Trump but that is the lowest bar in American political history.
Hillary 2016 may have limited her racist dog whistles but she has never been progressive. There is no corporation, including all-time serial worker abusers Tyson and WalMart, that she wouldn’t sell out consumers or employees for.
Blacks, Hispanics, women and LGBTQ people, along with other oppressed groups, have to work for a living. Single payer health care and enforced, fair labor regulations would help 99% of all American citizens. That is the foundation of Progressive political thought and any hope of a just society is not possible without it. Bernie is not perfect but he is a thousandfold more Progressive than Hillary or the majority of the Democratic leadership.

11/06/17 11:01am
He did energize PoC. He energized PoC under 30.

Or do only “Older church-going black ladies” count as PoC?

RebZelmele
11/06/17 11:49am
From the sound of things, conservative old people who would normally move to the Republican party stick with the dems when they’re black despite still having a lot of Republican views on homosexuality, religion, and economics, and that gave Clinton an advantage with the black vote.

Juli
11/06/17 11:59am
Actually all of the church going black ladies I know voted for Sanders because they knew about Sanders. That’s the power of the media blackout. Church going black ladies who didn’t know they had options because they get their information from TV

Juli
11/06/17 12:05pm
This is not true. He energized POC when they knew about him. This is what happens when one candidate controls the party. This is so obvious. All of the manipulation of the debate schedule was so POC would not get this information. All of the media black outs. Showing Trump being offensive instead of streaming Sanders speeches was all so that POC would not get the information they needed to make an informed decision so the defaulted for the familiar instead of voting Trump (because duh) and she still lost. I am a black woman not a bro. But I don’t watch TV and Bernie Sanders is a progressive. Who paid for this nonsense.

Edgar
11/08/17 6:12am
Yes Congress votes on the bill my point was ,Do you honestly believe things would have been less progressive under his presidency . Like would things like abortion becoming illegal be a thing if Bernie were president? I don’t believe any of that was an actual worry for anyone . Theres nothing wrong with compromise , I don’t believe even you have a problem with a little compromise , I’m sure if you voted you most likely voted for Hillary which is proof that you don’t have an issue with compromise
Reply

Edgar
11/08/17 6:18am
This from the article you linked “If we are going to protect a woman’s right to choose, at the end of the day we’re going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation,” he said. “And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.” how is he wrong ? I find it easier to compromise by electing a Democrat that might be behind on a few issues but can be shown the light ,than compromising by electing a republican that would never consider progressive thought what do you think

Ole Olson
11/06/17 5:10pm
You’re correct, he’s NOT a Democrat. You know who else isn’t? 70% of eligible voters. If 2016 should have demonstrated one thing with absolute clarity it’s that we can’t win elections with Democrats alone, we need independents to win.
And who is the most popular person in any party with independents? Bernie Sanders. He’s actually the most popular member of Congress in the entire nation too with the best net favorability ratings to boot.
So the real question is: do you want to start winning elections for a change, or are you happy that our party has lost over 1,000 seats nationally, and ultra-right wing Republicans now dominate EVERY branch of the federal government and have a trifecta of power in two thirds of states?

austroberta
11/06/17 10:59am
It is really quite a telling assumption, as nowhere in quote do you hear anything to suggest that POC are not ordinary assumptions. The folks that hate Bernie have ceased to argue a point without grasping at straws.
When Sanders is referring to ordinary Americans, he is referring to the working class, which includes White AND Black AND Latinos AND LGBTQ citizens, who struggle against a very small sliver of American society that is wealthy, powerful and can create laws which benefit them and only them.
Many times this country has made significant strides in social justice and economic progress, when POC AND Whites join together to fight the forces that oppress. Not all whites are demons and not all of them are exclusionary.

CrunchyThoughts
11/06/17 11:51am
Posts like this spur thoughts that theRoot is simply another establishment beachhead in the battle for our minds. No, he’s (Sanders) not perfect, but black people and black media have backed the Clintons for decades, and they’ve done nothing substantively positive for black/brown people or race relations.
Black people are not in position for any mass of dramatic change or severing from the system. So why not work with this man if you’re going to, currently, support this paradigm? He’s offered solutions that would ease the economic burden for everyone, and lessen if not remove the economic stress that inhibits real dialog and listening on the topic of race (as it pertains to anything). Just like mama doesn’t care about whatever game her kid wants when she can’t keep food on the table, when folks are struggling with debt (the real enemy) and hope, they leave little mental and emotional space for doing anything but solving that subsistence problem.
Stop playing checkers and think about the next generations.

ArtistAtLarge
11/06/17 10:55am
This country has moved so far right that ANY halt or reversal, no matter how small, it very damn important!
Fuck this purity bullshit. This country is in deep, deep shit, Poster child police state, deep state.

FireroseNekowolf
11/06/17 10:36am
I been through this on another one earlier. I think you’re reading it wrong. I think you got his strategy wrong. I think, personally, some people don’t get it because they’re not of the same political mindset.
Edit: Which, well, I am. I am a social democrat. Or “socialist” if you want. Just don’t tell that to the Communists, oh boy they get so salty when you compare social democracy to socialism!
You’re right, he’s not a progressive. He’s a social democrat. He’s not a “liberal,” he’s a “socialist.”
I’m not saying he’s perfect, but I always hear about how he ignores race or however you’d prefer to put it, I’m not really sure myself, but I’ve never seen it really explained why. Just “he does.”
He’s not saying minorities are not concerned with economic issues. But yes, he is saying “equally or more important, economics.” Because he’s a social democrat!
Look. Who are the poorest demographics in the US? Black and Latino minorities, no? So who would benefit the most from economic changes? Those same minorities.
But “equally or more importantly,” look throughout modern history. Social politics is tied to the state of economics, and economics is more widespread than minority issues. This is not to invalidate those issues or to suggest they’re put on the back burner. Absolutely not. Both can be engaged at the same time, because we’re humans, not some fucking computer from the 70s that can only run one process at a time.
However, economics is a cornerstone to leading that social change, both for the benefit of minorities, who with a new economic landscape would be able to have health care, have college, which brings down future debts and improving quality of life while finally getting at least a foot in the door, at all, even if small, for some degree of upward economic mobility, and for the benefit of the social policies that affect them, because when people have greater economic protections, they are more likely to be convinced of changing social attitudes.
No, it won’t stop racism, or solve it, or whatever. What it would do, however, is help level the playing field by bringing minorities upward most significantly, thereby aiding, with concerted efforts among lawmakers and representative organizations, in tackling racism in a way that could be quite effective because you’ve weakened one of the greatest tools of those who seek superiority – economics.
After all, what’s one of the best ways to suppress a minority? Keeping them poor, because when they’re poor, they’re not as integrated into the wider social system. By bringing them up economically, it allows them to become more integrated, where they became closer to the familiarity of the superior, for a lack of a better way of phrasing it.
That’s how we social democrats look at this issue. It isn’t that racism doesn’t matter, it’s that you have to tackle the economic structure otherwise you won’t make fruitful gains in the arena of social policy as well as economics, and that’s not even going into the distinction of class politics, which encompasses whites, blacks, latinos, etc. So it’s kind of a “greater good” kind of thing, cause, you know, classism is kind of our biggest deal as a social democrat.

AarghAarghII
11/06/17 11:58am
Speak for yourself, I may not be black or Latinx, but I am still an immigrant and proud to be a Sanders supporter. Your repeated attempts to paint Sanders as a whites-only candidate while devoid of any substantial policy discussion is telling in itself – it’s not the policies that matter, it’s the cult of personality that matters to you. For me, Sanders’ position as the best candidate was cemented when he boldly stood up against the leverage of Israel in US politics during the primaries and advocated for Palestinians. That was one of the most exciting moments of the 2016 election for me, especially considering the debate took place in NYC.
I’ll tell you what matters to me: a candidate that is willing to swing back at the economic conservatives in the DNC and RNC who insist that all deficits are bad (see the MMT article from Splinter for more on this) and those that are willing to overlook the harmful effects of austerities in small towns all across the US, including Flint and now Oakland, MI, Kansas, Puerto Rico and Wisconsin. All disproportionately affecting poor people, certainly including people of color. I challenge you to point out the real, substantial differences in identity politics between Hillary and Sanders if you really believe that Sanders is a whites-only candidate. As far as I can tell, their differences in this area are miniscule at best, it is their economics that differ widely with one candidate deriding the other’s economic ambition as ‘ponies.’ I bet fiscal conservatives felt they were real clever when PROMESA was enacted, sounding fiscally prudent and all. Enjoy the big bill coming your way as I laugh at your pennywise, pound foolishness. We have seen this movie before from the Tequila crisis to Argentina to the IMF age to modern day Greece, and some of us will not go along with any candidate that endorses the perverse notion of socialism for the rich and monetarism for the poor.

Torslin
11/06/17 11:45am
Really whether Bernie would have won or not is predicated on one specific group. The Obama voters who voted for Trump.
If you believe they voted for Trump because he appealed directly to their racism and they voted for Obama because he offered policies he liked, while Romney offered neither, Trump would have won anyway.
If you believe they voted for Trump because either they were worried economically, or because the Clintons have been hated in the midwest since Bill backtracked on NAFTA. He would have won.
While most voters who voted for Trump went with the former, i think that small group went with the latter, just because i know how angry people get about Clinton in those areas and did well before sanders. In a way i think Sanders support was over inflated due to Clinton hate. There are plenty of middle of the road people i know who voted Sanders.
That said, an actual progressive who excites the base could make winning way easier, as republicans have shown crossover moderate plans don’t work anymore.

Nightfox360
11/06/17 11:35am
These articles talking about immagration from a non hispanic or non immigrant writers is like me a hispanic person writing an article about slavery or black issues. And as much as i hate hearing people say it as I fully understand what went down, Obama was known as the Deporter in Chief and as for Bernie he spoke of fundamental issues that will plauge Americans weither a Republican racist or a Social Liberal Democrat hold office. Talking about both race relations and other social issues is important but so are economic issues the two arent mutualy exclusive both play a part in both uniting and dividing people. Even I someone who Im sure lacks the education this writer was fortunate enough to attain knows fully well that racial equality and equality of opportunity are needed to create a strong and fully functioning society.

Parasitism vs Public Good

Here is a theory of mine. The US is an immigrant country founded on the populations and territories of multiple empires. The US doesn’t have it’s own stable traditional culture, although a few small sub-populations do.

Because of this, the US has developed a society and economy that is dependent on a constant influx of immigrants and hence a constant infusion of social capital that these immigrants bring. The American Dream is most strongly believed in by immigrants because that is what it is designed for, as advertising to sell a product.

There is a dysfunction at the heart of it all. The US depends on and devours the social capital that other stable societies produce, but doesn’t seem able to produce enough of its own. The US is in many ways a parasitic society.

If the US suddenly stopped immigration or immigrants stopped coming, there would be no more replacement social capital. Could the US survive that for long? Would Americans find a way to transform their society into something more stable and self-sustainable? Or would the whole thing collapse?

The US is a young country. It’s dynamic culture is its strength and weakness. It’s normal for a young country, like a young person, to be unstable and dependent on others. But for long-term survival, a young country has to eventually grow up and gain maturity, if only for the reason other countries will lose tolerance and patience with the immaturity.

Ready or not, the US has to enter adulthood. What kind of society will we grow up to be? Assuming we don’t kill ourselves first, as the young sometimes do.

* * *

As a comparison, what comes to mind are the other countries based on former colonies of the British Empire. Such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. All of them seem more mature and stable, compared to the US.

Maybe this relates to several factors. The main one is these other countries didn’t have as much good farmland to attract, employ, and feed such massive waves of immigrants. They also didn’t have such vast amounts of other natural resources that allowed the economic boom in the US.

Without such things, they were able avoid the misfortune of having their ruling elite tempted by imperialist aspirations. Instead, they were forced to develop more internal stability and national self-reliance.

Canada particularly stands out, as it is quite a bit younger than the US and yet shares the same continent along with much of the same history. When Canada was founded as a country, it had a population about the same as when the US was founded. A similar starting point that went in a different direction.

For whatever reason, Canada never had large waves of immigrants and I’m not sure they were ever interested in following the immigration example at their southern border. Canadians seem to have had more of an immigrant policy of quality, rather than quantity. As far as I know, they don’t have a gigantic statue with resounding words about inviting huddled masses to their shores.

Is a country like Canada somehow more stable and mature than the US? If so, what might be the reason for this? Is it just because of what I mentioned? Or is there more going on? What makes possible, within a country, the development, maintenance, and perpetuation of social capital and culture of trust?

* * *

Anu Partanen, in The Nordic Theory of Everything, has got me thinking about what countries both create within their own society and how they impact other societies.

One example is education. The US has low ratings for primary education, while the Nordic countries rate more highly. On the other hand, the US has a higher education system that ranks high on some measures, although this is quite misleading.

The major rankings of national higher education only look at the best schools from each country which creates an inherent bias against smaller countries with fewer college students and fewer schools. If including all students in all higher education within the US and Nordic countries, the latter actually ranks higher. So, per capita, the Nordic countries are better educating their populations at the primary and higher levels.

Still, it remains true that the US ivy league schools are among the best in the world. There is an important factor to be considered. A large part of ivy league professors, graduate teaching assistants, and students were born, raised, and received primary education in other countries. The US benefits from the brain drain of other countries, but the US doesn’t have to pay for creating this benefit. The most brilliant people in the world will usually want to work in the best schools in the world and this constantly stacks the deck in favor of particular countries.

As such, the US doesn’t have to improve its own primary education. It can simply rely upon other countries with awesome primary education to keep producing high quality students to attend the US ivy league schools. Even wealthy Americans who go to ivy leagues typically got their primary education from high quality schools in other countries or else private schools in the US that avoid the problems of the US education system, as they certainly weren’t going to be sent to crappy public schools in the US.

The US benefits in many other ways as well. Partanen offered some great examples in how well functioning social democracies help to create an atmosphere of public good that isn’t limited to a single country. A welfare state, what the author calls a well-being state, allows for experimentation and innovation without fear of the consequences of failure. It can be easier to try new things, when there is social capital and a culture of trust to support your endeavors.

Below is the relevant passage from The Nordic Theory of Everything (Kindle Locations 4278-4301):

“We’ve seen how successful Nordic businesses are, and to be sure, in the Nordic private sector, the desire to make money is a powerful motivator. But Nordic societies are also leading innovators in the public and nonprofit arena, which has contributed to their dynamic competitiveness and prosperity as well. The creativity and ambition of Nordic government and nonprofit sectors are living proof that people in a capitalist democracy can be motivated by much more than simple greed.

“Consider Denmark again, a country that is pursuing the world’s most ambitious engineering solution to address climate change. Copenhagen has set a goal of becoming carbon-neutral by as early as 2025, and has been installing an ultra-high-tech wireless network of smart streetlamps and traffic lights that themselves save energy and also help traffic move more efficiently, reducing fuel consumption. All this is good for the environment, the nonprofit public sector, and the private sector. By aiming to wean itself as a nation off fossil fuels before 2050, for example, Denmark has become a world leader in the wind-power industry.

“Sweden, meanwhile, has set itself the ambitious goal of completely eliminating deaths from traffic accidents, and in the process is reinventing city planning, road building, traffic rules, and the use of technology to make transport safer. The country established the goal in 1997, and since then has reduced road deaths by half. Today only three out of every one hundred thousand Swedes die on the roads each year, compared to almost eleven in the United States. Consequently transportation officials from around the world have started to seek Sweden’s advice on traffic safety, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has based his street safety plan on Sweden’s approach.

“Of course one could also argue that the biggest Nordic innovation of all is the whole concept and execution of the well-being state.

“Americans might be surprised, too, by the ways that some of the key building blocks of the global technology sector have been the result of nonprofit innovation. The core programming code of Linux, for example— the leading computer operating system running on the world’s servers, mainframe computers, and supercomputers— was developed in Finland by a student at Helsinki University, Linus Torvalds, who released it free of charge as an open-source application. When Torvalds later received some valuable stock options, they were a gift of gratitude from some software developers. In addition Finns have made other significant contributions to the global open-source software movement, a community of coders who volunteer their time and skills to create free software for anyone to use. One of the world’s most popular open-source databases, MySQL, was created by a Finn named Monty Widenius and his Swedish partners. Today just about all American corporate giants— including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Walmart— rely on MySQL. Widenius and his team have, in the years since, nevertheless made good money, but they did so by providing support and other services, while the software itself remains free to the world.”

 

A Dangerous Pragmatism

How often pragmatism leads to or belies shortsightedness and narrowmindedness. Or rather how often claims, justifications and rationalizations of realism undermine greater pragmatic results, capitalist realism allied with realpolitik cynicism often being the worst.

The question as always: Pragmatic toward what?

In education, what is sought to be achieved and created? Not just for the individual. Not just for the workforce and economy. But for all of society. What makes a morally and intellectually well-rounded human being? What makes a good citizen, both of a nation and of the world? What makes for the public good?

These questions are even more important in a democracy. When democracy is given short shrift, when democracy is devalued or made secondary, if not tertiary, that bodes not well for the long-term survival of a democratic society. Nor does it offer much hope for moral results of any kind. Freedom of the individual, freedom of markets, freedom of all of society is dependent on how each generation is raised and acculturated, trained and educated.

Every society seeks pragmatic results, as defined by their political structure and cultural traditions. The Nazis and Stalinists all sought to be pragmatic toward achieving their desired end. They were as caught up in their fascist realism and communist realism as we are caught up in our capitalist realism. How about some plain old civic-minded democracy instead?

Let us be pragmatic about something that truly matters, something that can inspire and benefit everyone. Let us be pragmatic about democracy in all of its forms.

Let us create and sustain a democratic system and citizenry. Let us create and sustain a democratic economy and democratic markets. Let us create and sustain a democratic education system.

Let us do all of this pragmatically, not just with rhetoric and propaganda, but with real world results. Let us finally for the first time in history take democracy seriously, both on the large-scale and for the long-term. Let us together build the practical infrastructure and the grassroots culture of democracy.

Let us begin with a new generation by preparing them for a new era of democracy. Let us fulfill the democratic promise of education for all.

Illiberal Arts
‘Is College Worth It?’ and ‘College (Un)bound’
By Andrew Delbanco
The New York Times
Published: June 21, 2013

The colleges that survive will be those, in Selingo’s words, that “prove their worth.” Fair enough. But there’s a problem with this formulation, which presumes a narrow definition of worth that can be captured in data like rates of early job attainment or levels of lifetime income.

In times of economic stress, it’s entirely reasonable for students and families to demand evidence that paying for college makes sense. Bennett construes college as a business proposition, but Selingo allows himself to reflect on what’s sacrificed in such a view: “I worry at times about what might be lost in an unbound, personalized experience for students. Will they discover subjects they never knew existed? If a computer is telling them where to sit for class discussions, will they make those random connections that lead to lifelong friends? Will they be able to develop friendships and mentors if they move from provider to provider?”

These are the right questions. In striving to “prove their worth,” America’s colleges risk losing their value as places young ­people enter as adventurous adolescents and from which they emerge as intellectually curious adults. Such a loss could never be compensated by any gain.

Conservative-Minded Conservatism

I was thinking about forms of socialism that are popularly supported among conservatives in particular social contexts and under certain conditions. The specific example that got me thinking was the public bank in North Dakota (see my previous post), a socialist institution in one of the most conservative states in the country.

In a comment to that previous post, I wrote:

The red states like the Upper Midwest are ‘conservative’ in the more normal dictionary-definition sense of the word. I’ve always thought that socialism, like communalism, with its emphasis on the group and on community is inherently ‘conservative’ in that it seeks to conserve the public good of group cohesion and community health.

They are also conservative in another sense in that they want socialist public good for those they identify with at the local level: their states, their cities, their communities. But they don’t want to participate in any socialism that might help anyone else they don’t identify with.

This interests me on a personal level in two ways. My parents are conservative and I’ve always sensed a certain kind of conservative tendency in myself.

Part of what appeals to me about American liberalism is its conservative-mindedness. That is the same thing that appeals to me about the Upper Midwestern conservatism as well. It is conservatism that means to conserve what is good and proven, useful and necessary. It is moderate in that it seeks to moderate against radical change, but doesn’t take a reactionary stance against reform. It emphasizes community and even communalism, emphasizes family and church, putting group interests first by promoting social responsibility and local autonomy.

North Dakota is one of the most conservative states in the country. It is precisely because they are so extremely conservative that they have a state owned and operated bank.

To mainstream thought in America, this appears incongruent to say the least. Anti-socialist conservatives and anti-conservative socialists would probably feel some cognitive dissonance when presented with what is either conservative-minded socialism or sociaist-minded conservatism, not that North Dakotans would use such labels to describe their public banking system.

Whatever you call it, mainstream thought tells us that such a thing shouldn’t be possible. Certainly, it shouldn’t be successful. But reality doesn’t always conform to our ideological expectations. It turns out such a thing is both possible and, at least in this instance, apparently quite successful.

The North Dakota public bank has been in operation for almost a century. The bank makes a profit and the profit is kept in the bank. They don’t get involved in risky banking schemes in the way other states do when they use private banks. North Dakota did well when the rest of the country experienced the recession caused by the banking scandals. The North Dakota bank required no bailout.

It turns out a socialist bank is a more fiscally responsible way of running a state, instead of investing public tax money in risky private banks. Being a fiscally responsible form of government, it is fiscally conservative. Allowing for state autonomy and self-responsibility, it is socially conservative as well. North Dakotans take care of their own financing and they take care of their own people. They are thus more independent of both big government and big banks.

What at first appears incongruent is in reality perfectly congruent. Some basic analysis of the facts at hand dispels the initial cognitive dissonance.

I’d like to see more of this kind of conservative-minded conservatism, with or without socialism.

Localized Democracy and Public Good

To give balance to recent blog posts, I’ll share my thoughts that arose with a discussion I had with my dad.

He is definitely a conservative in most ways, fiscally and socially. However, he is intelligent and well informed which has caused him to adjust his views over time. I often use him as a way of testing the direction of political winds, specifically which way mainstream conservatism is blowing.

I can lean strongly left at times and my father can lean strongly right. This often leads to disagreements, but maybe just as often leads to certain kinds of agreements. As conservatism and liberalism meets in the middle, the right-wing and left-wing meets in the political desert.

It’s my dad’s fiscal conservatism that saves him from the ideological blindness of partisan politics. He is an economically practical man who has worked in and taught business management. It has been his business to consider new information. My leftism has maybe served a similar role. It’s basically within the general realm of libertarianism that my father and I can find common ground, although neither of us is an ideologically committed libertarian.

The discussion we were having was fairly typical, not unlike any number of other discussions we’ve had. I guess it stood out to me because I sensed my dad was struggling with new info and so reassessing a bit. There is a newsletter he reads and the financial advisor who writes it doesn’t seem particularly conservative. He was reading this newsletter and the info was food for thought.

For example, my dad is slowly coming around to taking environmentalism more seriously. He was reading about how we as a society can’t continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere. This might seem obvious to those on the left, but this is the type of info my dad has spent a lifetime avoiding and the conservative media has helped him avoid it.

Environmentalism isn’t the main issue my dad brought up, rather economics as it relates to politics. Environmentalism only connected because my dad was considering the commentary that oil will no longer play the role as a cheap energy source. This is problematic as our entire society has been literally fueled by cheap energy and it could be a while before we develop a new cheap energy.

The economics and politics angle, I think, related to developing new energy sources. My dad was telling me about how this financial advisor was saying debt itself wasn’t the problem, but whether deficit spending was being used toward pragmatic investments or not. This goes against my dad’s fiscal conservatism.

Both my dad and I agree that bailing out banks was a bad idea. I was telling my dad about Iceland and he wasn’t familiar with that example.  I also mentioned Sweden that is doing well, even with a massive welfare state relative to GDP. I used this as a jumping off point for explaining my personal theory (or rather set of theories), and my dad agreed.

My dad is wary of what he calls ‘populism’, but I pointed out that the policies in Iceland and Sweden seem to have been popularly supported in those countries. My speculation is that these countries represent optimal conditions for societal and economic health.

I see several essential factors. First and foremost, democracy seems key which doesn’t imply any single form of democracy, moreso just the general principles of democracy in society overall (not just politics, but also in social institutions, community organizing and economic systems). I suspect that democracy only functions well under certain conditions.

There are obvious differences between the US and countries such as Iceland and Sweden. The US is massive in terms of both population and geographical territory. This might be the most important part as I have yet to see it proven that genuine democracy can function at all on the largescale. With this massiveness, there also comes massive diversity that disallows easy organizing and governing. In the US, every special interest group seems out for their own private good. There isn’t a single shared culture to create a sense of social solidarity and common good.

For these reasons, you can only find some well functioning democracy on the local level of American politics. And even on the local level, well functioning democracy in the US is more rare as local communities have been undermined and in many cases decimated. The federal government helped to end much oppression and corruption on the local level, yet often just shifted the problems to the federal level. The closest the US has ever come to something akin to the Northern European social democracies is, to use one of my favorite examples, the early 20th century municipal socialism of Milwaukee.

To my mind, democracy and local governance go hand in hand. However, that local governance has to be supported by a shared local culture. The problem of  many post-colonial countries is that their boundaries were created according to political demands and compromises. This has meant that a single country might contain multiple tribal cultures while any single tribal culture might be divided between multiple countries. Unsurprisingly, these are conflict-ridden societies.

The US seems to be in an impossible situation. I see no likely way of getting democracy to function in the US, definitely not on the federal level and probably not even on the state level. There are just two many special interests and too many lobby groups, not to mention that most of the founding elites never wanted democracy.

My sense of democracy is somewhat open-ended. Democracy maybe isn’t a single ideological system in the way capitalism is. Democracy applies to all aspects of society and can allow for many possible ideological systems. My ideal well functioning democracy could manifest quite diversely depending on the local culture. It could be more capitalist or more socialist or even more religious.

This does seem to be a more libertarian interpretation of democracy. This could be minarchist democracy, but I don’t know that it wouldn’t also allow larger political alliances that might resemble the government of a larger country or union.

The problem with actual functioning capitalism is that it is completely opposed to my vision of democracy. If capitalism is supposed to be a free market, I don’t know what kind of freedom this is or whose freedom it is. It certainly isn’t a democratic economy.

My dad could agree with much of what I said, but he struggles with the notion of a democratic economy for his fear of ‘populism’. Nonetheless, the fact that a mainstream conservative like my dad could agree with my general argument is impressive. There is already a lot of agreement in American society, but the anti-democratic system gets in the way.

I wonder when global society and local communities will get shook up enough to begin implementing something entirely new, beyond a few exceptions found in isolation.

Wickedness of Civilization & the Role of Government

I’ve become aware of an inner conflict in the American psyche that goes back to even before the country was founded. This inner conflict includes those on both the left and the right, but it often seems the clearest on the right since the right has taken a more radical stance these past decades.

This inner conflict was expressed by Thomas Paine.

On one side, Paine advised that the only role of government was in punishing wickedness. So, he saw the role of government more in preventing the negative than in promoting the positive. He stated this in no uncertain terms.

On the other side, Paine perceived that all of civilization was built on certain core issues of wickedness which meant such wickedness was immense and pervasive. So, he saw the necessity of a government strong enough and centralized enough to counteract the strong, centralized private power that had come to form in the colonies from the lack of a strong, centralized government (for, in the early centuries of the British colonies, the British government had a hands-off approach).

Paine fought against American elites as strongly as he did British elites. The problem was elitism along with the corruption and cronyism that followed from it, no matter it’s source.

It was Paine who first spoke of America in terms of being a united people. And it was Paine who most strongly spoke of economic and political inequality which led him to be the first American to describe in detail an early version of social security. Paine was a radical democrat, not an anarchist or a libertarian (his having placed fairness as being the necessary foundation for liberty). Paine believed in putting the power in the hands of the people, rather than in the hands of an elite. He believed a democratic government was the only way to accomplish this.

Today, someone like Paine might be called a liberal or progressive. Conservatives, if they met him now, would likely call him a Marxist or something. And it is true Paine’s words even all these centuries later still has a left-wing resonance about them. After all, by the time he came to America, he no longer was seeking reform from within the system as a centrist, moderate liberal would do and for damn sure he wasn’t interested in conserving all things British simply because he was born an Englishman, as was conservative Burke’s main concern.

Whatever Paine was or how we now perceive him, he was a profound thinker who was capable of complex understanding and not afraid of hard questions. But what makes him most interesting is how ordinary he was, only coming to revolutionary thinking in what is now called middle age (in a society where most people never lived that long). The kind of ideas he gave voice to had been in the air at that point for generations or even centuries, slowly percolating. He was both a man of his times and yet, in seeing more clearly than those around him, he was far ahead of his times.

It was this that allowed him to simultaneously see the problems of British rule of the colonies and the necessity of a new kind of self-rule, which is to say government was both the problem and the solution. That said, it’s true that he differentiated society from government and saw society as the more fundamental. He wrote that,

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.”

His point seems to have been that a necessary evil is still necessary. Also, what he meant is that government should serve society (i.e., the people), not the other way around. He came to this nuanced thinking because he realized there was no way to undo modern civilization without causing mass suffering. He agreed that the Native Americans had more basic liberty in their everyday lives, but the problem was that the colonial population was too large and growing to have that kind of lifestyle.

These two sides of Paine represent the two sides of the inner conflict that have haunted Americans ever since. Conservatives, in particular, find themselves in a tough spot in advocating one side of Paine while dismissing the other. Liberals, however, tend to agree more with Paine in emphasizing both sides. Still, both conservatives and liberals have failed in coming to terms with this inner conflict. The problem is that conservatives won’t even acknowledge the inner conflict. They’ll praise the side of Paine they like while ignoring the other side as if it didn’t exist.

Without Paine who inspired the masses to fight for democracy, the American Revolution wouldn’t have won. And if the American Revolution hadn’t been won, there would be no America in which the elite Founding Fathers could squash democracy by once again disenfranchising the majority. All that happened in early America is that we switched from one ruling elite to another. The problem of elites ruling politics was never dealt with.

Conservatives like to think that if we just had wise elites like in the past then all problems would be solved. They don’t mind having elites to rule over us like oligarchs, just as long as those oligarchs conform to conservative oligarchy. As for liberals, they’ve offered little in the way of a vision to counteract this belief in a conservative oligarchy, instead adding liberal reform to smooth out the sharp edges and cover up the uglier aspects. Liberal moderation and compromise has too often just meant weakness and complicity.

Radical liberals like Paine no longer have the influence as was seen in early America.