—John Ripton, Ph.D.
1. Trump and Climate Change
The victory of Donald J. Trump marks a challenging moment in the transition from fossil-fuel driven economy to sustainable energy resources. The transition to cleaner power began to take shape at the end of the last century, coinciding with gathering international scientific consensus on climate change at the Earth Rio sustainable development conference in 1992. The neoliberal agenda of international “free trade” agreements propelled by the Clinton administration, while perhaps not intended, set in motion extensive global investment that has placed greater pressure on resources and increased carbon in the atmosphere, among other environmental concerns. At the same time as scientific research demonstrated that human activity since the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century was affecting global warming, the neoliberal “free trade” initiatives led by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have allowed some of the largest US corporations to ignore critical environmental concerns.
The scientific reports on global warming gave impetus to new initiatives in cleaner energy production. Free trade agreements pushed toward lowering trade barriers in the interest of increasing economic growth. These two developments reflected the historical dichotomy in the perception of government’s responsibility and role in the United States. Lowered trade barriers have had the effect of permitting the most well heeled transnational corporations in finance and production to shore up their investments in traditional technologies, especially fossil fuels. To defend this position in the face of growing scientific consensus that human activity has contributed to the Earth’s warming trend over the last two centuries, private interests funded “science” that would, in effect, cast doubt—or simply deny—human impact on global warming and climate change. Together, these two developments are the critical political battleground of the 21st century. The future of the planet and humanity, moreover, are literally at stake.
The November 2016 election to the US presidency of a self-professed billionaire of patently unscrupulous character and business history has turned heads all over the world. In part, it signals that the US transnational corporate class will try to manage the inevitable transition to cleaner energy through dismantling important environmental gains and opening the flood gates for investments already made in future exploitation of fragile ecosystems to profit from fossil fuel production, especially oil and gas. This is likely to have two devastating consequences: slowing down the conversion to cleaner energy alternatives is one perilous result. The other is allowing fossil fuel giants to take advantage of the greater profits yet to be made in producing and consuming fossil fuels in order to gain capital advantage and establish a preponderant investment foothold in the inevitable development of cleaner energy and its distribution.
Either way it is bad news for the quality of the global environment today and into the foreseeable future. Putting off reform of the capitalist economic regime will further degrade the global ecosystem and weaken the efficacy of green technology as disastrous ecological consequences outpace it. Continuing to pump vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, even in the short run, can only increase the warming of the planet. Global warming now threatens to break up the Antarctica’s glacial covering, contributing to rising ocean levels that will devastate island and coastal communities across the world. Perhaps even more alarming (if possible) is the thawing of the northern tundra that will release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, likely advancing atmospheric feedback loops that may well speed up climate change. These developments will put our species and other fauna and flora species into greater climate jeopardy than already being experienced. Calamitous ecological events, moreover, will cost public and private treasuries enormously as they scramble to mitigate rising tolls in human deaths and suffering.
II. Trump and Democracy
The Trump election also runs contrary to the professed democratic principles undergirding US republican government. How could a country so advanced economically and scientifically, a country of such tremendous affluence and global presence, a people of democratic will, elect an anti-democratic, authoritarian megalomaniac to the US presidency? Many in the US and around the world are asking this question. Unfortunately the answer is largely due to the same forces that resist the immediate need for a fast-track conversion to cleaner energy sources. The commanding position in global finance, commerce and culture the US has had over the last century has masked some of its greatest vulnerabilities. The most obvious vulnerability is that capitalism—by its need for constant growth in profits and exploitation of natural and human resources—is simply unsustainable. The skewing wealth curve testifies to this. If it were sustainable, significant portions of profits would be used by governments to meet the very real needs of people, here and abroad.
Trump’s election threatens to degrade the morale of the United States’ citizenry as well. He won enough electoral votes because his supporters, critically in the post-industrial states of the Midwest, believe that business moguls know how to create jobs. Trump’s pressure on individual firms may deliver some jobs, but they are likely to be in unsustainable industries, such as industries dependent on fossil fuels. While Trump’s plans to bring back the Keystone Pipeline and complete the Dakota Access pipeline may create 20-30,000 temporary jobs, it will reportedly actually entail only 40-50 permanent positions. His infrastructure plans will essentially sell off public amenities and services to private companies. Through tax incentives combined with public monies, private companies will acquire bridges, ports, highways, tunnels and other public infrastructure. The corporations will then charge US citizens through added tolls and fees.
It is furthermore doubtful that Trump will do anything to counter the effects of so-called “dark money” hidden from public view (remember that Trump has not released his own tax return) or slow down time-saving automation that structures workers out of the workplace without alternative training and support. Key nominations such as the Labor Department Secretary (Andrew Puzder) and Commerce Department Secretary (Wilbur Ross) are even against the existence of a minimum wage. The corporate class—while many in that class may not admit that they supported Trump’s bid for the presidency—nevertheless understands that it will benefit disproportionately from a Trump presidency. Climate change, ethics and morality aside, Trump’s policy direction is good business in the minds of CEOs in the financial world. Indeed, in Trump’s first week as president the New York financial markets are surging, the Dow Jones breaking the 20,000 shares benchmark for the first time ever.
Despite widespread popular rejection of Trump’s political ideas and Electoral College victory, business representatives across industries are ready to use his presence in the White House to their advantage. If Trump is willing to negotiate tax and regulatory issues, the future of corporate profits looks rosy. If Trump’s election fuels unsustainable growth and profits, as is predicted, then industry and commerce will be in a better short-term position to hedge against un-sustainability by acquiring stock in “greener” technologies. Certainly President Trump will try to undermine any opposition to privatization, deregulation, dogged nativism and media suppression.
Trump’s nomination of the former CEO of Exxon-Mobile Rex Tillerson as US Secretary of State is a major nomination. It foreshadows the effort to lift economic sanctions and travel restrictions aimed at Russian policy and officials. If sanctions are lifted, Exxon-Mobile stands to make billions in fossil fuel investments in Siberia and Arctic deposits. It is not difficult to imagine a horse-trading arrangement between Russia and the United States that would involve teaming up in a “war on terrorism.” Already Syria’s Assad has the upper hand in the civil war. This opens the way for a full-scale assault on “terrorist” groups in the region. In turn, the US and NATO would allow Vladimir Putin to expand his political, economic and military pressure in the Baltic States and parts of Eastern Europe.
The nativist vein of a Trump presidency will give legitimacy to far-right and white supremacists. After all, Steve Bannon of the so-called “alt-right” movement (nativist, anti-political establishment, anti-liberal media and pro-American business) managed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He is now Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump. Backed by Goldman Sachs, Bannon sold warcraft games through Affinity Media. He later became CEO of Breitbart Media where white supremacists and racist propaganda was part of the far-right (alt-right) nativist coverage. Steve Bannon frequently attacks the liberal media and reacts viscerally to its coverage of him. In an interview on November 18, 2016 Banner told The Hollywood Reporter that “Darkness is good: Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they [the media] get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”
The “alt-right” tendencies in the Trump presidency are likely to be pronounced in the short-term. President Trump will continue his disinformation campaign, floating false information to see if it can gain traction in the public sphere. He will lie when pushed to revisit assertions and dispatch his advisors to qualify his statements. Trump’s political success will depend on how effectively those on the political left organize around a genuinely socialist vision. While the present transition to a post-capitalist economic regime will take time, it must get underway as soon as possible. Environmental catastrophes are almost certainly coming and the US and the world needs to adopt policies now that will mitigate the possibility that these geological and ecological events do not acquire a kind of global dystrophic dynamic.
The transition to a post-capitalist economic regime is, of course, fraught with perilous challenges to modern civilization. The real challenge to our survival as a species is managing our global economic reorganization. This means that regulations need to be placed on corporations, not abandoned. Such wide-scale national economic reorganization requires public support.
Only popular democratic pressure will tip the political scale toward a brighter future, jump-starting the transition from classic liberal economic thinking to genuine reform guided by humane principles and environmental consciousness. The welfare of the US public and people across the world who look to the US for such leadership depends on a calculate shift toward a sustainable global economy. Though Trump’s election has given private transnational corporations—at least as seen in Trump’s rhetoric, cabinet nominations and initial presidential edicts—the upper-hand in driving US public policy in the immediate months and years, the need for social justice and economic sustainability will become more stark as raw capitalist motives push the world closer to conflict and degradation.
III. Trump and Capitalism
History offers increasing evidence that environmental and attendant social crises have happened throughout human history. From the first urban cultures in the Fertile Crescent some eight centuries ago, the economic engines that drive civilizations have pushed humans into such crises. Some civilizations were likely swept into dust by catastrophic geologic, atmospheric and astronomical events. Far more often their demise is open to question as scientific investigation in many fields reveals the complexity of social and environmental relationships. Academic and public debate continues, as it should.
The preponderance of scientific evidence, however, indicates that social organization for economic production and urbanization are linked to the health of the global ecosystem in many dynamic ways. Scientific evidence also suggests that since the beginning of urban culture and record-keeping civilizations generally have been ill prepared for dramatic change, environmental or social. Preparation for managing global economic reorganization without further imperiling the nation and the world requires progressives and leftists to offer a compelling social vision. That vision must identify specific programs capable of achieving remediation of human environmental impact. This will require delineating practical ways to mobilize society in the redesign of its productive capabilities and consumption patterns.
The largest and most aggressive capitalist interests are well aware of how an informed and engaged US public can overwhelm their recalcitrant concerns for private gain. The tough question capital interests face is: Can they contain the broad public skepticism of US political institutions long enough to avoid the inevitable crash of a global economic system incapable of transforming itself in sustainable ways. Cynics and pessimists argue that capitalism has already caused devastating climate developments that spell doom for future generations. They seem to believe that they should profit from the capitalist system before it breaks down. Perhaps cynical millionaires and billionaires think that their wealth will enable them and their families to survive the coming global social and environmental turbulence. Whatever their motives, their regressive investment strategies stand in the way of a transition to more sustainable economic organization.
If there is a shared theory guiding the corporate political interests rallying around Donald Trump’s election, Milton Friedman outlined it in his 1962 landmark book Capitalism and Freedom. Friedman’s emphases on the “free market,” deregulation across private industry and monetary management of the economy influenced the so-called “free trade” or neoliberal policies growing from the Reagan presidency. In the Clinton administration “free trade” was fully embraced and a major deregulation of banking (repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial banking from investment banking), ramping up the global economy, and fueling broad financial speculation and its attendant instability.
Donald Trump is using his election to the US presidency as a means to apply Friedman ideas through nominations of global and national business tycoons in fossil fuels, anti-labor corporate leaders and climate change deniers. While Trump says he will oppose “free trade” if it moves jobs overseas, his own investments clearly indicate that he is not against moving capital and production abroad. If we scrutinize these early and most significant cabinet and presidential advisory nominations, its is quite clear that Trump plans to lead the US corporate community in the direction of market deregulation and rising profits by essentially regarding his election as a conservative corporate coup.
Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein (educated at the London School of Economics) brings some clarity to the political reorganization that will be undertaken by Trump’s administration. In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Klein documented the introduction of Milton Friedman’s ideas in various parts of the developing world as the “shock doctrine.” Klein critiqued Friedman’s plan for economic prosperity as it was instituted under Chile’s Pinochet regime in the 1970s. Though some economic growth was achieved in Chile, it proved a disaster for political freedom and local environments. In the meantime, foreign corporations were given greater latitude of investment in Chile and the military ensured that political dissenters were jailed or executed. It took more than a decade for Chileans to find a way out from under the dictatorial regime.
According to Milton Friedman’s conviction that economic freedom nurtures political liberties, the history of Chile shouldn’t have turned in the direction that it did. At the time of Pinochet’s takeover in the early 1970s and the wholesale imposition of market deregulation and monetary management, Chile was considered the most democratic of Latin American governments, with a long history of peaceful political transition as well as having the greatest percentage of its citizens in the middle class than anywhere else in Latin America. The Friedman formula in Chile nevertheless led to deadly repression in the name of law and order. It also used obfuscation and lies to dismiss its critics and pursue its nefarious goals.
Some scholars argue that similar motives and disinformation appeared in the United States in the wake of the destruction of World Trade Center in 2001. The Patriot Act and, most particularly, the deliberate misleading of the public on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction facilitated the invasion of Iraq and the privatization of its oil holdings under US corporate management. The neoconservatives supporting this strategy, vice-president Dick Cheney prominent among them, viewed the disintegration of the Soviet Union as an opportunity for the US to advance its economic and political interests throughout the world. The invasion of Iraq set neoconservative political and economic objectives on course. Principal among these objectives was the privatization of Iraq’s oil potential and pursuit of a geopolitical strategy in concert with US corporate agenda.
Later in the first two decades of this century, another corporate coup arranged the bailout of financial and other investment institutions. After banking deregulation signed by Bill Clinton, Wall Street financial management put the public interest and the global economy in grave risk through phony stock instruments, irresponsible hedging strategies and heavy speculation. Pension funds, municipal governments, whole nations and a large swath of middle class homeowners in the US were led into these disingenuous investment schemes. Ultimately the public had to bailout the financial industry. As the government did so under the management of presidential appointees drawn from Wall Street, corporate strength in the financial industry became more consolidated. This is part of the reason so much wealth flows to so few; that the middle class lost a third of its wealth in the Great Depression; and that many—in a country with the largest GNP in the world—continue to live at the edge of or in poverty. These are the practical results in the United States (and the world) of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman’s economic designs.
IV. Trump, Cabinet Nominees and Wealth Concentration
Wealth flows skewed in favor of the corporate class are only part of a last ditch effort by corporations to profit and forestall inevitable reform of capitalism. Under a Trump presidency corporations stand to gain freedom from decades of regulations and social programs—inadequate as many were—that were instituted in the public interest: clean air and water standards, labor protections, voting rights, expansion of other civil rights, social security, health care, just to name a few examples. Trump’s nominations to his cabinet and his closest advisors are millionaires and billionaires with backgrounds in business. They are ideologues who benefit from the popular consensus that capitalism is good for the nation.
What was once good is not always good, perhaps a philosopher might have said. History charts its own paths for sure, but we can learn from where we have been as a species. It helps us to make the necessary reforms. But private corporate interests, especially those heavily invested in earlier generations of technologies, are not really interested in reform, at least not until they can convert their existing capital into profits in the newer technologies and industries. And now the corporate class has a president who is determined to tear down the administrative apparatus of the state without any concern for the consequences. The wealthiest in the corporate class will also gain tax breaks. Working people, seniors on fixed incomes and poor people will lose medical benefits and be called on to finance a bloated military budget. Top Trump advisor Steve Bannon calls this the “deconstruction of the state.”
Returning to the potential for global environmental collapse hastened by Trump’s election as president, his nomination of reactionary political figures to high posts guarantees that the state will encourage corporations to assault the environment. One (Texas governor Rick Perry) who detests regulations of corporations will head the Energy Department, if approved by the US Senate. Another, Scott Pruitt, who doubts human activity contributes to climate change, will be the leader of the Environmental Protection Agency. For Treasury Secretary Trump nominated Steve Mnuchin, an allegedly predatory finance-real estate mogul who was once a partner at Goldman Sachs. It is unlikely that Mnuchin, or the others, will advocate for government funding of greener energy initiatives.
Capitalism has led to such concentration of wealth that it is presently a worldwide social liability. Only under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson was the so-called market economy reigned in enough to close the gap between wealthy and poor Americans. In Europe, social legislation after WWII and wealth redistributive measures also achieved greater equality in wealth and income. These reform periods demonstrate that it is absolutely necessary to regulate corporate activity while redistributing wealth through investments in social programs and education aimed at supporting middle class aspirations of all peoples. Yet, today, the acceptable extremes in social disparity have significantly expanded; actually the economic disparity of the last two decades has grown at the greatest pace in our nation’s history.
The intellectual and institutional strength of liberal capitalism has generated a powerful mythology. Americans, in particular, believe that unfettered markets provide more better-paying jobs. Many who voted for Trump actually believe, in spite of their experience with runaway factories, that capitalists will reinvest in the communities and lives of working Americans. The dominant national ideology fosters the notion that equal opportunity exists and that the institutions in a capitalist culture moderate change and bring about peaceful transitions. Historically, however, the expansion of corporate rights has always led to the loss of popular political participation and social rights. Everyone, from the slums of Calcutta to the tony estates of South Hampton, knows that economic wealth generates political influence. At some point, when the bogus argument that it does not becomes frayed enough, people will be able to see this common equation.
Wealth concentration, as mentioned earlier, corrodes the public of its will and ability to manage the direction of the economy. Historically, wealth was already becoming concentrated as early as the early 19th century. The populism of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s emerged to slow down the growth of urban-based financial domination. Today similar divisions along geographic and class lines are even more entrenched from a national to a global scale. According to French economist Thomas Picketty in his 2014 critique of capitalism in the 21st century (Capital in the Twenty-First Century), this has been facilitated as profits have grown faster than gross domestic product (GNP) on a world scale. This is nowhere more fully documented than in the United States.
The faster growth of profits is being pushed by Wall Street banks and other financial firms that require double-digit returns to meet investors’ (banks; hedge funds; equity firms; pension funds, insurance companies, etc.) expectations. The US economy, meanwhile, is growing at two percent annually. The additional profit margins are going to the corporate class in the forms of extravagant executive salaries, huge bonuses and other incentives, and reinvestment to automate production, sales and delivery wherever possible. Transnational corporations use cheap labor in the global market to gain competitive advantage and maximize profits. Some of the returns are used to automate production, sales and delivery and to lobby and bribe governments for favorable regulations.
Increasing amounts of money are also spent on marketing and branding. These developments thrust us into a future that we must carefully manage. The global economy is a fact. That it is structured to favor corporate profits over worker and environmental protections is also well known. Without a radical restructuring of our economic way of life, the global economy will continue to reward predatory corporate behavior and exacerbate social disparities and injustices. It will also move our species closer toward social and environmental calamities but it will likely make parts of the world uninhabitable. Also as earlier asserted in this essay, the capitalist economic regime requires continuous growth in economic extraction, production and consumption to sustain and justify its existence. At the same time, the increasing fragility of the planet and the predatory behavior of nativist populism for private gain will lead to opportunities to critique, challenge and ultimately re-engineer government at local, national and international levels. Moving toward extinction is the not the same as extinction, however. Now that we recognize that capitalism must be substantially reigned in it allows us opportunities to avoid the worst disasters.
Yes, geological and biological events of the magnitude that lead to climate change reach a tipping point or an algorithmic convergence that rapidly changes the course of planetary evolution. It has happened many times in the geological record of the Earth, the most famous of which was likely of extra-terrestrial origin some 65 million years ago. This is generally thought to have ended the age of the dinosaurs, giving small mammals who subsisted on seeds the opportunity to evolve into myriad species of animals, including humans, on the planet today. But more recently—from the formation of polar ice caps some two million years ago to the drought conditions that jump-started farming 15,000 years ago to the Little Ice Age of a few centuries ago—major changes in climate conditions have had dramatic effects on human evolution. The present warming of the atmosphere and the melting of polar ice caps will certainly entail major catastrophic events including massive loss of life, dramatic economic dislocations, more populous migrations and an intensification of the struggle over resources.
Scientists now believe that climate change can happen more quickly than previously thought—perhaps in a matter of a few years or a decade of dramatic global environmental events. Every society must be prepared for the likelihood of rapid climate change; to do anything less is to ignore history. In the past, humanity’s great urban cultures and civilizations have encountered less extreme planetary changes but its social systems have nevertheless disintegrated or devolved into less complex ones when these challenges arose. This occurred at the end of the Roman imperial period when a series of droughts across Eurasia over a few centuries contributed to migrations of agrarian peoples outside and even inside the realm of Roman civilization. The center of the Roman civilization could not contain the forces unleashed by the environment and its social consequences.
Fallen economic regimes often contributed to the environmental conditions that diminished their stability. Economic regimes exploit natural resources and typically institutionalize forms of social disparity that lead to social injustice. Often the political economy has difficulty containing the conflict of values and economic practices. The individual acquisitiveness of those who benefit from the wealth extracted from the natural environment and the labor of common working people seems to have too often overwhelmed the will of the privileged minority to do anything about the excesses and injustices. As the present historical transition unfolds into a new economic organization or regime, the institutions that support the status quo must face challenges to their legitimacy. The most privileged classes can almost always be expected to deploy every weapon at its disposal (e.g. propaganda, repression, even war) to maintain and even extend their privileges.
V. Trump and Far-Left Vision
The thesis of this essay is that the old ideas of unfettered capitalism and the liberal political and economic justifications of it have become obvious liabilities to the survival of the species and the planet as we know them. In addition to relying on political repression and threat of war to protect their interests, those in the corporate class will continue to employ identities of social construction (such as “race,” nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender and other cultural expressions and institutions) to divide the majority and attract the public to its populist appeal. Intensified migrations, nationalism, nihilism, endemic war and fascist tendencies are fault lines in the intensifying capitalist globalization. These fractures in the economic regime will open opportunities for popular organizing. But the political left needs to unify around a socialist vision based on meeting human needs worldwide to be ready to attract popular support.
In the United States the corporate elite—ushered in with the Trump victory—will pursue a military build-up and try to cement alliances among elite classes across nations to defeat the radicalized elements of discontented masses. At first, only a very small minority of the masses will turn to millennial messages and movements, such as ISIS and other atavistic ideological campaigns, as some have already done. But, as the privileged international elite targets the “malcontents” with their considerable war machines, they will kill many innocent people. As some critics have said, Trump military policy will be like the Obama-drone policy on steroids. At a certain point, however, Trump and his allied political elites will lose their moral standing.
As the moral moorings of the Trump administration’s strategy weaken, global society will need to find healthier ways to address critical environmental and social issues. As politics among and within nations become more polarized, opportunities to build popular countermovements will open. These countermovements will need to forge alliances with the inevitable blocks of people who will have been injured by Trump’s policies, people who reject the idea that just economic sustainability can be achieved only through market economies, trade wars and military competition and conflict. Street demonstrations, use of electronic and print media, pressure against political representatives and governing agencies will all be important in a sustained campaign to dislodge the corporate elite and begin the construction of a post-capitalist democracy. It is, at this moment, that a socialist vision and a materialist-based political program can rapidly gather supporters among the public.
New tendencies within existing political parties and in those outside the mainstream parties will be in a position to exploit the fault lines of conservatism and anti-progressivism. Conservative ideas and institutions will appear increasingly unjust. A socialist vision with a specific programmatic agenda will quickly gain adherents. The agenda must be clear and comprehensive. It must explicitly address human needs and rights, including health care, social security, infrastructure improvements, free education through community college, significantly higher minimum wage, investment in rural communities, economic conversion to sustainable industries, and job training for new employment in a revitalized, just and green economy.
Climate change will need to be framed as an opportunity for new, green industry and employment as well as building a better future for our children. Studies have shown that conversion to a greener economy is possible and economically beneficial across classes. These studies can be used to ground the social vision, to give it credibility and make it difficult for the political right to manufacture “alternative facts” that will undermine the socialist programs. But this cannot be done without exploiting in the press the weaknesses in the “alternative facts” presented by authorities dogged by their own distortions of reality.
In the meantime, significant protest demonstrations must continue against Trump. These actions must be under the banner of opposition to the powerful elite and their corrupt institutions, not simply against Trump. These demonstrations will need to take place across the states in the United States and in the federal capital of Washington, DC. Other nations will also amplify their opposition to the global status quo and the institutions that maintain it. Mass demonstrations will likely ignite spontaneous forms of resistance to the disingenuous ideas and the failing justifications of the elite. Left-leaning Senators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, perhaps Al Franken and Chuck Schumer, and Representative Keith Ellerson should break with the Democrat establishment and begin to reach out to groups from environmental activists to socialists. Concurrently, left activists, left labor groups and unions, Marxist opposition groups—all to the left should begin reaching across institutional and ideological lines to engage in strategic discussions.
If the progressives and radicals do not take advantage of these opportunities, then—like other civilizations throughout history—social and environmental conditions will deteriorate and deprivation and violence will become pervasive. It is up to non-state democratic groups to forge into a brighter future for children everywhere. The present international movement to the political right must be countered. In the international community of states there seems to be too many fractures in international working class movements and no state on the socialist or communist state on the visible horizon. Even intercontinental migrations threaten working-class solidarity. Migrants become targets seen as potential “strike-breakers” or job-takers.” There is, though, another way to see these migrations: opportunities to organize across globalized geopolitical landscapes made possible by the evolution of capitalism.
Fractures in the dominant political system become exposed when pressured by popular pressure. If disgruntled liberals and progressives are in the streets, and they’re not banging pots and pans, there is an opportunity for radicals to reach out to them and join them in demonstrations. Radicals can learn more from progressives and liberals about the impact of capitalism on the psyche than speaking amongst themselves. Indeed, the best radicals have long been considering the impact of commercial propaganda and communication on political development: Noam Chomsky and Jurgen Harbermas come to mind. They and others know that violent social and economic effects will be inevitable with or without popular demonstrations. But popular demonstrations are places to engage people across class and ideological affiliations. Broad popular coalitions can slow down the incoming social and environmental disasters.
If linkages and actions do not take place across class and ideological lines at this point, the fascist and hierarchical tendencies in the organization of the corporate elite are likely to gain strength through reshaping geopolitics at the national and global scale. It is an echo of how commercial interests emerged in the founding of republics two hundred years ago. The new corporate movement cannot endure for long, though. Current global social and environmental conditions do not favor capitalist interests. The capitalist political order will fall apart, most likely due to trade conflicts and war. In the meantime, however, ideologues would have permitted the corporate-politico class to roll back regulations and impose privatization on dramatic scales. Standing idly by while this happens is tantamount to the idea of Nero playing the violin while Rome burned. To put it bluntly, those who do not reach out to make progressive alliance at this point in history are not only showing little concern for humanity but are also failing to take the opportunity to lead or influence masses of people.
Non-violence must be at the center of the popular struggle. Violent provocateurs can be expected to push demonstrations toward violence. Violence in mass demonstrations can be contained if demonstrators are instructed in non-violent action. Non-violent confrontation with power always brings injustice, corruption and excesses into sharp relief. The political left in the Democratic Party could play a constructive role if it allies and strategizes with other groups much farther to the left. These groups should include environmental activist groups like Greenpeace, activist legal groups like the Center for International Environmental Law, progressive and radical political parties like the Green Party and Socialist Party USA, radical economic institutes like the Hampton Institute, critical and activist media groups like Independent Media, activist American indigenous movements like the American Indian Movement, progressive feminist and gender identity groups, and working-class organizations that support collective ownership and other socialist initiatives. Thus, when the brittle nature of the present capitalist economic regime and its institutions begin to crack, the political left will be ready to emerge through those fault lines with a healthier vision for ourselves and our planet.