Let’s welcome 2021 without any illusions about the nature of the system that produced the severe political, economic, and public health crises of 2020 and the new horrors that are surely on their way if we as a society fail to counteract the ingrained tendencies and deliberate policies that have produced the present unsustainable historical moment. We do not share with the liberal class the sense of optimism that has been generated as a result of the electoral defeat of the Trump regime if it only entails the removal from office of the Trump malignancy without embarking on a massive and disruptive collective struggle demanding a substantive change of course in policymaking and a radical reconstruction of society from below.
That’s not to say that we ought to think lightly of the removal of Trump from office. On the contrary, Trump’s removal is a necessary step that can move us toward weakening the most reactionary forces in the U.S. and the world where rightwing reactionary forces have been ascendant. But by itself it is not sufficient to decisively change the balance of forces in the longer run. For that to take place, We the People must resist a return to the pre-Trump “normal” of rule by the hawkish neoliberal elites. Clearly, such a return is precisely what the powers that be intend. We are in for a rude awakening if we let them succeed.
Let’s not forget the complicity of the neoliberal elites in creating the conditions for the rise of the reactionary forces in the first place. For decades, they pursued pro-corporate policies at home and abroad, abandoned the working class in favor of the professional suburbanites and the unions for the big-tech donors, and pushed austerity at home and hawkish interventionism abroad. When in due course an electoral insurgency a la Bernie Sanders emerged in 2016 and 2020, promising to pursue mild social democratic policies, the neoliberal establishment united to ensure its defeat.
Our response ought to make it clear that the people voted Trump out of office in spite of the Democratic Party not because of it.
Can we not agree that (1) the neoliberal order has led to greater public disempowerment, resentment, and distrust of institutions, and (2) blocking social democratic alternatives under such conditions only paves the way for even more retrograde and reactionary forces to come to power? If we agree, then, a return to the pre-Trump ‘normal’ would very likely mean the strengthening of the present reactionary tendencies with the added possibility that a less unhinged and more competent personality might assume the leadership position.
This is not a time to be complacent just because the country has witnessed a level of voter participation not seen since 1908, or that several additional progressives have been elected to national legislative offices, or that the new Biden administration has put together the most “diverse” and intersectional staff heretofore. What matters the most is policy and whether we have any ability to affect changes regarding the same. We know that the Biden administration represents business-as-usual politics and is staffed in key positions with familiar neoliberal politicians from the previous administrations. Their raison d’être is serving corporate power and the U.S. empire albeit with a touch of diversity or a heavy reliance on identity politics optics.
Let’s remember that millions of people voted for Biden without any illusions about what he represents. The corporate Democrats and the media are busy trying to convince them that Biden is a transformational president. Their talk of fairness, decency, empathy, healing is meant to press the public snooze button and keep them from organizing and demanding Medicare For All, living wages, emergency “survival” checks, debt jubilee, free public education, moratorium on evictions, social housing, significant cuts in the military budget, vastly more progressive taxation, a New Green Deal, sustainable agriculture, healthy food, community policing, end to structural racism, end to the carceral state, and a just foreign policy. They wish to take credit for Trump’s electoral defeat. Our response ought to make it clear that the people voted Trump out of office in spite of the Democratic Party not because of it. Similarly, it is up to the people to commit to struggles and actions on a scale sufficient to impose an unacceptable cost on business-as-usual politics to force the governing class to act to alleviate unnecessary suffering, prepare adequately for the future pandemics and public health crises, reverse the ecocidal tendencies of the capitalist system, and abolish nuclear weapons, and ultimately end the dictatorial rule of capital at home and abroad.
Let’s be clear, if the needs of the people remain unmet, there will be even greater anger. And guess who is good at mobilizing public rage? The reactionary rightwing forces, that’s who. The neoliberal Democrats will try what they’ve been good at: putting us to sleep. And then, the reactionary rightwing will reemerge stronger doing what they are good at, especially given the absence of a real left opposition: channeling public rage into neofascist forms of politics.
We must resist the snooze button. Expect nothing transformative from the governing class. The future depends on what We the People will choose to do.
Will we make ourselves ungovernable and demand the necessary course correction? Will we engage in disruptive social and environmental struggles? Will we build independent institutions like working class parties and a labor movement capable of organizing millions of workers and building independent, democratic unions unafraid to challenge the power of the employing class and the state that serves them, and ready to use the strike weapon and willing to fight to win the public on their side? Will we fight to end dependence on fossil fuels and for a Green New Deal? Will we connect our various struggles, labor, environmental, anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-imperialist, and unite to give humanity a chance to reverse the course toward oblivion?
So much of this work depends on the clarity, energy, vision and level of commitment of the younger generations. These are the crucial tasks they are burdened with. How they respond determines whether organized human life as we know it will have a chance to thrive on this fragile planet.