Can We Be Honest About What This Moment Demands?
The constant focus on Trump by the media, as well as the daily barrage of information ranging from the trivial to the potentially earth-changing on top of the frogs slowly coming to a boil nature of our lives, seem to make it difficult for important information to make a lasting impression on our collective psyche. The media plays Trump like he’s some exceptional thing that happened with no other context than racism instead of the culmination he is of a multitude of failures by our representative government to center the basic needs of its constituents and the citizens of the world more generally. I shield myself from this constant barrage, like everyone, but periodically try to take stock of the major problems facing us. My most recent incomplete accounting:
- we have 12 years to curtail catastrophic climate change
- up to 45, 000 people die due to lack of healthcare or medicine,
- 10% are uninsured,~28 million
- ~41 million people are underinsured, more than a quarter of insured are underinsured
- 78% of citizens live paycheck to paycheck
- 40% of citizens can’t afford a $400 emergency
- we are responsible, along with Saudi Arabia for genocide in Yemen
Direction 1. We nominate a candidate who recognizes the precarity of the system and the moment who is interested in challenging the reach of late-stage capitalism by de-commodifying multiple areas of the economy as part of a global movement to stave off the effects of climate collapse who even in failing to meet that standard immediately is capable of offering the kind of motivation that continues to propel that vision.
Direction 2. (a) We nominate someone who offers reforms of the current system who ensures four more years of Trump.
(b) We nominate someone who offers reforms of the current system who wins the presidency whose administration is followed by something worse than Trump in the way that Obama’s administration was followed by something worse than Bush.
I used to ask in relation to Republican presidents, but it’s worth asking now, observing the state of Black wealth following the administration of the first Black president and the long term effects of the policies of his Democratic predecessor–When have Black people in the US been better off following a presidential administration than they were before it? When have working class people? I have no real idea how to answer these questions, what metrics to use, but they’re worth considering if you, like me, are interested in Direction 1, or simply don’t want another Trump term. Despite the desire to blame racism for Trump’s victory over Clinton, listening to the voices from the Venn that includes Black voters and working-class voters, they’ve abandoned the Democrats, because the Democrats have abandoned them. There’s nothing I can see the Dems have done since 2016 to ensure those voters will return in 2020. Even before the announcement of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential exploratory committee, I noted people speaking of 2020 as if it were already assured and it’s just a matter of selecting the correct Dem to step into the role. It smells of all too familiar hubris to me. I shared a thought on Facebook after Warren’s announcement that I’d like to share here.
The people who seem so confident about Dem prospects in 2020 appear to be forgetting what might be needed to overcome the power of incumbency, especially since the constant focus on Russia rather than policy objectives has Trump polling higher than he has any right. Certainly, things may change drastically before any voting occurs but it’s dangerous to project an easy win right now. I think most of the prospective Dem candidates have things in their past or temperament which make them vulnerable to Trump. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Joe Biden, or Elizabeth Warren may win the presidency as the Dem nominee, I think Trump’s lack of actual position and willingness to lie against a candidate who is balancing the needs of voters with the desires of their donors will win. Regardless, even in winning, I think each of them represents Direction 2. Rather than explore aspects of each Dem’s past that leads me to this conclusion I think it’s more useful to focus on Elizabeth Warren. To a great degree, conventional wisdom portrays both Warren and Bernie Sanders as progressives who are almost interchangeable. The conventional wisdom is completely wrong and the differences are significant.
In his Jacobin article, “Why the Differences Between Warren and Sanders Matter,” Zaid Jillani states the clearest distinction as,
Sanders tends to focus on “post-distribution” remedies, meaning he prefers to use the government’s power to tax and spend to directly meet Americans’ needs– or replace the market altogether. His social-democratic ideas, like free college and single-payer health care, are now policies most Democrats have to tip their hat to at least for electoral reasons. Warren wants to empower regulators and rejigger markets to shape “pre-distribution” income, before taxes. Less likely to push for big-ticket programs, she wants to re-regulate Wall Street and make life easier for consumers.
In other words, their political projects are the difference between Direction 1 and Direction 2. Jilani also says, “Elizabeth Warren is no moderate.” There’s enough evidence to suggest that he might be wrong. Co-host of podcast, Dead Pundits Society, Aimee Terese, and scholar Benjamin Studebaker both separately and together on a recent episode of the podcast have forcefully made the case for why the Senator, a Republican until 1996, is clearly a moderate. In her Twitter feed, Terese spent a few days going through Warren’s writings from her book on the middle class to her cookbook and looking at her history, law career and framing. Studebaker reiterates his points from the show in his blog post “Elizabeth Warren is Not Left-Wing” returning to the themes of his post from October, “The Decline and Fall of Elizabeth Warren” which he lays out in four stages:
- Stage I: Picking Hillary over Bernie
- Stage II: Rejecting Democratic Socialism and Ignoring Indigenous Causes
- Stage III: Falling for Trump’s Trolling and Embarrassing Our Movement
- Stage IV: Attempting to Split the Left Vote in 2020, to the Advantage of the Center
Any president has a limited amount of political capital and limited congressional support, and therefore has to pick their battles. Those battles can be very expensive — the health care industry spent over a hundred million dollars fighting the Affordable Care Act, a law that left the industry mostly intact. One can easily imagine health care firms spreading a billion dollars to stop Medicare for All, which would wipe it out. What the next president chooses to pursue in the face of political reality is heavily dependent on their core worldview and values.
I can easily imagine not just healthcare firms but corporations across several sectors spending multiple billions not just to stop Medicare for All, but to stop a Sanders presidency from happening. The centrist advocacy group Third Wayhas been attacking him steadily since 16 and has already begun spending before he’s even announced. Many on the left feel that they and the interests they represent would prefer another Trump term to a Sanders presidency. After all, Trump with his tax cuts for billionaires shares interests with Third Way’s boardfull of financiers and hedge fund managers. They see all that Sanders represents as a threat, unlike any other candidate. If successful, condensed to it’s simplest, most threatening function, Medicare for All removes the influence of actors who derive profit from the healthcare system while adding no value, especially matching their level of profit. Imagine that happening across multiple sectors because the people who will direct the billions against it happening already have. It’s important to recognize that this fundamental shift in our relationship to capitalism is central to having any hope of stopping climate collapse. Even if successful the possibility is narrow. Reforms of capitalism are inadequate for this moment.