Twenty years ago, in an essay called “Why Fascism is the Wave of the Future,” Edward Luttwak wrote that globalization was accelerating change to an untenable pace. “When the sons and daughters of U.S. steelworkers, British miners or German welders must become software-writers, teachers, lawyers, or for that matter shop attendants, because the respective paternal industries offer less and less employment, few of them have reason to complain,” he wrote. “But when the same mechanisms of change work so fast that steelworkers, coalminers or welders must themselves abandon lifetime proclivities, self-images and workplace companions to acquire demanding new skills—on penalty of chronic unemployment or unskilled low-wage labour—failure and frustration are the likely results.” Today, one of the most prominent critics of this unfettered globalization—he’s called the Republicans “the Party of Davos donors” and refers to “crony capitalism”—is Steve Bannon, white supremacist senior counselor to president-elect Donald Trump and former executive chairman of Breitbart News.
Now that our enemies are in power, what comes next? For starters, if the Democrats stand a chance in the near future, Republicans have conveniently demonstrated for them what they did not believe coming from the left: economic populism works. The DNC chairmanship is up for grabs, and Keith Ellison, a consistently left-wing voice in the Democratic Party and former organizer hailing from Minnesota, is in the race against party stalwarts like South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison. He’s backed by consistent lefties like Raúl Grijalva and party heavyweights like Chuck Schumer, and enjoys the blessing of Bernie Sanders. The DNC deploys substantial resources, election year or no, and we should be happy to have them in the hands of someone like Ellison.
When it comes time to legislate, Democrats would do well to drive a wedge between the promised economic populism of Trump, and the budget-cutting priorities of the Paul Ryan camp, by insisting on massive infrastructure spending that isn’t structured as federal tax credits for companies that pledge to build, and by going after Wall Street, a representation of capital that Americans still love to hate. One of Bannon’s trademark targets? The bank bailouts following the 2008 crash. And popular members of the left wing of the Democratic Party—including Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—have shown that left-wing ideas must be delivered by people who hold in common with average Americans a true contempt for the people who have made a mockery of American livelihoods and democracy for about forty years.
On the left, we have our work cut out for us. There are people under immediate threat from a Trump presidency, notably immigrants on the DACA list that protects those brought over illegally as children. Trump is receiving a database of about 800,000 names, and he has promised to deport undocumented immigrants “so fast.” Students and academics are already pushing to turn their schools into sanctuaries for immigrants, and some churches are carrying on their own sanctuary traditions. We must take guidance from the relentlessly brave immigration movement in the days ahead. Similarly, Muslims fear everything from street violence to being registered with the government in a terrifying recapitulation of internment-era policies. There are many organizations working to protect the rights of Muslims in America, from DRUM to the ACLU, that need support. A populist economics means nothing if it is not fused with radical antiracism.
The list of issues goes on, and we have no party, no central structure to fuse them all together. Neoliberalism as an idea is dead, but it’s a zombie walking still. Building a left strong enough to finally send it to its grave, while holding off Trumpism with the other hand, is a daunting task. But it’s in the struggle that we know we’re the ones still living.
Sarah Leonard is a senior editor at the Nation and editor-at-large at Dissent.