Jeff Faux presents his 13th annual Global Justice lecture. He is a founder and Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute, epi.org, based in Washington DC.
The progressive movement in the US is ideologically stronger than at any time since the 1960s. Young people are energized and new leaders emerging. But its political grasp has not matched its ideological reach.
It was the Trumpian Right, not the Democratic Left that took advantage of the social divisions created by the disintegrating US empire. The Sander/Warren forces have been beaten back twice by the “neoliberal” Democrats who have run the Party since the days of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
Progressives have no choice but to support Biden in the upcoming election. A Trump victory will shove us over the edge to authoritarian rule - or civil war in which the Right has most of the guns. Unless the margin of victory is large, there is a real danger that Trump will try to nullify a losing vote.
But if we win, then what? The fascist threat will not end with Trump. And its next leader could be far more capable of seizing and keeping power than this one. The Left needs Biden. Biden also needs the Left. So, he now promises “transformation”. As did Obama, who clearly did not deliver.
If progressives want transformative politics that can command majority support, they need a transformative idea. Presenting Biden with yet another laundry list of narrow demands to satisfy constantly dividing sub-constituencies is easily deflected by centrist leaders.
Transformation is a long-term project. Protest politics are not enough. Progressives need to up their game, offering the country a strategy for national redevelopment that credibly promises a better future for the vast majority of Americans.
A priority has to be the deflation of the tolerance of lawlessness that channels middle class anger into fascism. This means demilitarization of police, the end of coddling Wall Street crime, controlling guns, and a reduction of US aggression abroad.
Faith in accountable civilian government which has collapsed, must be restored. We need to rebuild a public sector capable of planning for the future. It is the cornerstone of every credible progressive program goal. Critical objectives include:
- A National Health Strategy for planning and that includes but goes beyond Medicare-for-all.
- Jobs and a green industrial policy aimed at rebuilding a domestic green industrial sector that can employ Americans on the work that the country needs
- A draconian anti-corruption program to drain the influence of big money out of government, including tough rules for conflict of interest, lobbying and campaign spending. Essential for restoring trust in civilian government.
- Labor law reforms to restore rights to organize and bargain that have been steadily taken away since the Reagan years.
- Required national service for all, to nurture national purpose and integration.
Each of these will set off fierce intra-party conflict. The early battle will be with Wall Street-backed centrists over the financing of a new national direction. Hard, but victories are possible, because the centrists have not and cannot give the country want it yearns for.
The US is a big country in a dramatically changing big world. One way or the other it will have a big government. The question is who will run it and what it will do? The Center has not held. If the Left doesn’t grasp power to shape the future, the Right will.