7.05.2016

The Rise of Burn It Down Politics and the Backlash Against Globalization

I could be totally off, and this is sort of meta-thinking and thus prone to unchecked flights of fancy departed far, far from reality, but I feel like the political chaos in the European and European-derived countries and their democratic governments (I'm including the US in that broad sweep) is the result of a dawning recognition and grasp of the ugly truth that despite our hallowed democracies, our political systems were all created not by and for the people, but by the considered and best-intentioned efforts of the wealthiest among us, to preserve their way of life and yet also provide some justice and opportunity for the rest of us also (although if your skin was darker than pale or you had a vagina, it's only very recently that you got to participate on a sort-of-but-not-quite equal footing).

I am no expert in global economics, international banking, or diplomacy. But I don't think it takes a Ph.D. in international finance to know that regular folks like us are not ever going to have a seat at the table next to all the paid lobbyists where the decisions that affect us the most--global trade deal negotiations, the halls of Congress, our own state legislatures--are being discussed or set aside, acted upon or ignored, and what we are left with instead of substantive participation where our voice is heard, is a surrogate feeling of being involved by voting for the politician who is most masterful at manipulating our sympathies, by telling us who's to blame for our frustrations (not them, of course--they'd like to point you to the least powerful in our society and have you blame them), by portraying themselves as the most religiously pious, by promising a slightly more humane approach to healthcare and housing and access to higher education and the better jobs that come with that--but never acknowledging that our "democracy" is really here to protect and sustain the global financial markets and the wealthiest corporations who make them up.

I get the "burn it down" appeal of Trump, particularly with his double-whammy of both criticizing the international trade agreements that have overridden our labor and environmental laws (although that isn't why he's criticizing them), and simultaneously playing on the fear of non-whiteness with his plans for the $50 billion wall (really just a massive redistribution of US taxpayer money to Trump's construction cronies who will then be beholden to him personally, but that's another post for another day). But tearing it down, by itself, isn't enough, and in fact is kind of risky because it creates a vacuum, and political power abhors a vacuum. Something, likely the most opportunistic force in the room, will jump into the void and run with it. Things could get ugly, with an extreme right (more likely) or extreme left (less likely) upswell. I don't know about you, but I'm holding my breath for the UK and all of Europe right now, that the beloved British reserve, the cool-headed common sense in the face of utter chaos that we love to tease our political parent over but grudgingly respect and admire, will hold the country steady and steer a safe course through all of the uncertainty to dry land again.

Another option is the Scandinavian Solution, where higher taxes (but still lower than the US had in the '50's) have created an undoubtedly more humane society--public universities are paid for; healthcare is accessible to all; parents are allowed extended paid leave after the birth of a child; the mix of affordable housing, minimum wage and public assistance means that full-time workers and their families aren't living in poverty (like we have here), having to work multiple jobs while having no access to safe childcare for their kids (like we have here), foregoing necessary dental work to be able to buy groceries (like we have here), having to choose between taking care of an elderly or disabled loved one or earning an income (like we have here), or skipping necessary and even life-saving prescription medications because they can't afford them (like we have here). But I'm afraid, after the (ironically named--why hasn't anyone pointed that out?) Citizens United SCOTUS ruling, that ship has sailed. We will never see a Congress elected with a majority who would stand up to the moneyed special interests to pass the sort of tax reform and institute the 21st century version of The New Deal that would be required to make these ideas into a reality. The very first step to get us there would be for Congress to pass a law that gets corporate money out of elections and returns us to the days when only public funds could be used to fund campaigns. But I don't see that happening. I would be delighted to be proven wrong on this, but I think we've passed a Point of No Return for ever getting corporate money out of our politics, and their lobbyists out of our elected lawmakers' offices.

So what will be the outcome of the backlash against the economic and political globalism happening now? I have to believe that global financial leaders are paying attention. I think the "burn it down" politics of the far right is concerning for them, and well it should be. This used to be the exclusive arena of the far left with the demonstrations at the G7 meetings, that conservative media more or less scoffed at. Now globalism is receiving critical attention from both the left and the right, so yeah, I think they're paying attention. But I think they are so accustomed to the bubble of protection that their extreme wealth affords them from the rest of the world's problems--wars, disease, revolutions--that they figure they'll just ride out all of this, too. And they are probably right.

So for the rest of us, will we see through all the rhetoric that is constantly pumped into our airstreams and computer screens to divide us, make us not trust each other and call each other the most appalling names (libtard? really?) and see our common interests in these very basic human needs of affordable healthcare and prescription drugs (whether we pay for it privately via insurance or publicly via a single-payer system), sustainable wages so full-time workers aren't dependent on public assistance just to feed their families (this is a simple shifting of the cost of labor from profitable corporations to the public taxpayer--why doesn't the rest of the country grasp this obvious fact?), safe and well-funded public schools, and robust public funding for mental health services, just for example? As long as we on the left and the right continue to label each other as evil, ungodly, unChristian, baby-killers, ammosexuals, etc., instead of stepping away from the ego-pleasing rhetoric, humbling ourselves and searching for common ground again, I don't think so. In the absence of taking our future into our hands together and trusting each other a teensy, teensy bit, we are spinning toward the void, toward the "burn it down" that won't go away even if Trump isn't elected--because what else is left? We must be our own "citizens united" if we are to overcome Citizens United. It would mean accepting that you won't get everything you want. It would mean--gasp, choke, gurgle--compromising. Could you stand that? Could you stand to give the other side a small victory in exchange for your own small victory? Could you listen--really listen--to what someone with whom you really really disagree has to say, with an open mind, without personal judgments, without self-righteousness steeped in your own moral superiority?

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