Hundreds – maybe thousands – of black youth (and not-so-youth) lining the streets and parading up and down W. Florissant street in Ferguson shouting “hands up! Don’t shoot!”
Dozens of middle aged white women screaming at Democratic Colorado Governor Hickenlooper as they protest the environmentally destructive practice of fracking.
These are the images we should keep in mind when thinking about the Tuesday’s election results. All of mainstream US politics is dedicated to preventing this sort of thing from becoming a generalized movement, preventing such a movement from breaking the near total monopoly that Corporate America holds over politics, and it is also geared towards maintaining a constant state of confusion among the American people. Most certainly the elections in the US, nearly completely controlled by the two corporate parties, are used for this.
Take the issue of “pragmatism” – the view that ideas don’t matter, that all that counts is action. This view is deeply ingrained in US culture, and is encouraged by every element of Corporate America. In recent years, the politicians’ mantra has been breaking the “gridlock” in Washington DC, and just “getting things done.”
Obama played on this theme in his news conference the day after the elections. “The American people… expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do…. They want us to get the job done…. They want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through some of the gridlock, and get stuff done. So, the most important thing I can do is just get stuff done and help Congress get some things done.” Get what job done? Gridlock in blocking what? This kind of gobbledygook is spouted by both parties and by the media, and it has had an effect. According to one poll, 49% of people in the US think “gridlock” and “not getting anything done” is the most serious problem in Washington.
But this “gridlock” is largely meaningless. The reason people see it as important is that they’ve been told it’s important.
Simply a Rejection of Obama?
Corporate America claims that this election was simply a rejection of Obama and his supposedly “liberal” agenda. While Obama is justly unpopular, the fact is that it was the economy that drove most voters. According to this poll, of the four issues “foreign policy, health care, the economy, illegal immigration”, 45% of all voters said it was the economy – far more than any of the other issues.
The same poll also revealed that 48% of voters felt that the next generation would be worse off than today’s generation, 70% felt the US economy was not so good or poor, 78% were somewhat or very worried about the economy’s direction in the coming few years, and 65% thought things in general in the US were “on the wrong track”.
What are the plans of the Republicans and of Corporate America for the new Congress? (And while these largely overlap, they are not one and the same, as we shall see.)
The day after Obama’s press conference, the Republican leaders Mitch McConnell – Republican leader-to-be of the Senate – and John Boehner – his House of Representatives counterpart – issued their reply to Obama. In a joint column in the Wall St. Journal, they called for several points. Here are two of them, in their language plus a people’s language translation:
“Remove barriers to job creation” Translation: Allow the corporations to loot and plunder the environment and oppress their employees even more than they are doing now.
“lower energy costs for families” Translation: Push through the Keystone Pipeline and increase fracking.
Elsewhere, they talk about tax simplification (which has meant cutting taxes on the rich and raising them for everybody else), high health care costs (which has meant making it even more difficult to sue for malpractice), global terrorism (meaning increasing both the military budget and spying on people in the US and around the world), national debt (meaning further cutting government services), and “choice” in education (meaning more privatization). In other words, they plan to step up even further their attack on working class (including poor) people and on the environment.
McConnell/Boehner steered completely clear of one issue that is huge for their supporters: “illegal” immigrants. 74% of self-identified Republican voters said this is the most important issue facing the US. Many of these want all undocumented immigrants kicked out of the country, no matter how long they have lived here and what kinds of roots they have sunk. That’s a problem for the top Republicans, since their real masters – such as the US Chamber of Commerce – don’t agree; Corporate America wants to use this sector of the working class as a source of cheap labor. As the WSJ reported (11/5/14): “The business community will continue its push to overhaul immigration laws with a focus on expanding the available workforce of legal immigrants, despite resistance in the GOP-controlled House. Business groups had been among the most influential proponents of an overhaul, including a path to citizenship for many of the illegal immigrants living in the U.S.”
This gets at a more general problem for Corporate America and their more favored party – the Republicans. (The Democrats are also needed and controlled by Corporate America, but in a slightly different way.) Before the 1960s, it was said that “you could fit all the Republicans into one country club.” Since then, with the social and economic changes, the Republicans had to expand their base, which they did with right wing, often barely disguised racist, populist appeals, for example the Tea Partiers. The problem of Corporate America is that, although they need them, they can’t completely control them. The federal government shut down of 2013 really brought this home to Corporate America, which found that they couldn’t get many of their Republican representatives in congress to back off. One of the most prominent among this far right wing is US Senator Ted Cruz, and the WSJ’s editorial of 11/06/14 warns against Republican leaders allowing Cruz to “hijack” the direction of the party.
Obama & Democrats
And how about Obama and the Democrats? What are their plans?
Obama made clear he will push “immigration reform.” It’s ironic that he’s playing the champion of undocumented workers since more such people have been forcibly deported under Obama than any other president. But it works for him since the Republicans are in such a bind over the issue. It also works for the Democrats, since over 25 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2016 – the fastest growing sector of the US population. (Although a growing proportion of these voters are saying that the issue of immigration is “not a deal breaker”, it’s still a key issue.) Obama made it clear in his press conference that he plans to hold the Republicans’ feet to the fire on this issue. He’s also pushing the minimum wage issue, and he noted that in all five states where this was on the ballot, a higher minimum wage was passed despite the fact that many of these states voted Republican overall. Other issues will be college student loans, US infrastructure rebuilding, continue fracking, tax “reform”, on the domestic front. He’ll also be talking about “income inequality”, but his specific plans to do anything about it are necessarily vague since he accepts that US corporations must compete with their foreign rivals, and the main way this can be done is through cutting their taxes and wages.
For both parties, these election results were a preparation for the 2016 presidential election, since it’s control of the White House that determines the greatest amount of patronage and therefore determines which party will get to really dip its snout into the feeding trough. McConnell and Boehner (and their allies in papers like the Wall St. Journal) made it clear that they will use their control over the two houses of congress to try to determine the issues and set the agenda as far as how the issues are resolved. On the other hand, Obama in his press conference, made his strategy clear: “They’re the majority. They need to present their agenda,” he said. In other words, he and his fellow Democrats will try to keep the ball in their court, blame them for the problems that the “middle class” faces. (The poor get completely ignored.) Obama and the Democrats also want to foster the divisions within the Republican party – the division between the leadership and the more populist, far right wing. “I actually believe that John Boehner is sincere about wanting to get immigration reform passed,” Obama said. In other words, push Boehner and McConnell to confront their tea party aligned wing.
It us always important to have an idea what the enemy is up to and to understand their divisions and conflicts but, in the end, for working class and poor people in this country, it will be more business as usual. That is why according to one poll some 58% of people in this country think a new political party is necessary. It’s very possible that many of this 58% are looking for a right wing party, but that is another question. Since the US Civil War, Corporate America has maintained its rule by alternating between the Republicans and the Democrats. With very few exceptions, they have been able to do that without serious challenge. Now, the basis for that rule – confidence in the “two party” system (in reality, one party with two faces) is starting to crumble.
The question is how will that be expressed in the future and what can those who want to fight the system do about it?
We must not close our eyes to the problems.
Tens of millions of people in the US have been completely confused by the corporate propaganda. The capitulation – near surrender, in fact – of the union leadership has added to this confusion. (As one protester in Ferguson reported to this writer, for example, his union leadership had told him that that issue was “not our battle.”) The rise of thugs like the “open carry” bullies are a definite danger.
Despite the dissatisfaction with the two main political parties, socialist Jess Spear got a scant 16% in her campaign against mainstream Democrat Frank Chopp in the Seattle area of Washington State, and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins got 5% in his campaign against conservative New York governor Cuomo. These poor results show that we still have a long ways to go.
And the ultimate outcome is far from decided. How far can Corporate America go in repressing any movement? How much time will the environmental crisis allow us?
There is no way to know the answers. But one thing is certain: we are headed for a crack-up and we cannot just sit back and not struggle to change course.
There is also is a feeling of powerlessness. And that feeling leads people to want to ignore the issues and to seek some sort of escape or another. Here and there, though, the situation has become a real crisis, and that forces wider layers of people to move into action. It forces them to realize that they cannot escape, no matter how they try. That’s why those thousands of black residents of Ferguson went out onto the streets – because the issue of police harassment and murder had gone beyond just the steady drone; it had become an absolute crisis. That’s why those women were shouting at Colorado’s governor Hickenlooper – because the issue of fracking was absolutely destroying their lives and the lives of their families. (Those who aren’t familiar with this issue can see this article for more on this issue.)
In the future, there will be a more generalized crisis. Who knows exactly how it will develop?
The police, for example, have been given almost an unlimited license to brutalize and kill black and Latino people in this country. As was inevitable, they have now started to use this license to increase these practices in general, including on some whites (especially the poor and homeless). Will the Republicrats be able to get a grip on the cops, or is it possible that this crisis in the black communities will become so intense that a new uprising will spread across America?
If it does, we should note an important difference with the Los Angeles uprising after the Rodney King affair. At that time, the uprising was not only anti-cop; there also was an anti-white element to it. This time, things are completely different. That means that such an uprising will have a far greater response throughout US society, and that is particularly true since the majority of people in the US are so dissatisfied nowadays.
First and foremost, it will have a huge effect on young people, considering that the black youth have tended to lead the youth in general in this country. (We can see that in the “youth culture” – clothing styles, music, even speech.) That is especially important since any new movement will tend to be led by the youth.
We should also not forget the issue of the environment. Cliff Willmeng, a “fractivist” in Colorado and leading member of the Colorado Community Rights Network, was the one who described the “middle aged white women” confronting Hickenlooper. He describes the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats on the issue: Whereas the Republicans want to give the oil companies unchecked power to frack, the Democrats hide behind the idea that it can be done safely if there are better regulations. (That’s like saying that the only problem is that the Darren Wilsons of the world should just be given slightly lower caliber guns.) Towards that end, the Democrats have organized astroturf groups with apple pie names like “Moms Know Best.” But as Cliff says, “We’re not into that idea that it (fracking) can be done safely… Communities are being educated. Every time we go through the process of trusting the Democrats, we learn… There’s a very strong leadership growing over the issue of fracking… people feel like it’s a life and death issue… after the elections we’re right back at work.”
Who knows when the environmental issue will reach the same proportions as that of police-initiated murder has reached in Ferguson? Who knows when a Fukushima-style crisis may hit here in the US?
Then there is the issue of the US and world economy. Obama and Corporate America assure us that, while things aren’t great, the economy is stable and slowly recovering. (Much of that recovery is based on fracking, by the way. See this article for instance.) Now there are warning signs that even this may come unwound. (As a side point: Two out of the three counties in California where it was put to on the ballot voted to outright ban fracking.) Also, the other contradictions inherent in the (inevitable) power of finance capital can burst out at any time.
Then there is the fact that US capitalism can not maintain global stability, as we see with the rise of the Islamic State, the civil war in Syria and Iraq, etc. Now, US capitalism has been so weakened that it has to make a de facto alliance with the Iranian regime! Who knows where all of this will lead?