Joy Amid the Ruins in 2018

Joy Amid the Ruins in 2018

A look back on the year at Dissent.

When we looked back over 2017 last December, we called it a “year of outrage.” The election of Donald Trump marked a victory for the far right, but it spurred protest and organizing (and a lot of debate) on the left.

While 2018, Year Two under Trump, saw continued right-wing advances in the United States and around the world, it also brought bolder and more forward-looking responses. New Dissent co-editor Timothy Shenk called this finding “Joy Amid the Ruins”—or “building solidarities that might allow us to make something better.”

We started the year with a special section on democracy in crisis, a topic that extends far beyond recent U.S. presidential politics. In the special sections that followed in 2018, we took up other issues at the heart of left politics in the United States today: the demand for healthcare for all, the challenge from the left to the Democratic Party establishment, and the need for affordable and dignified housing.

Elsewhere, we explored ideas that break free of current political limits: a maximum wage, a federal job guarantee—and a leisure guarantee to go with it—the case for nationalizing big tech companies, overcoming voter suppression, the need for a Third Reconstruction, extending #MeToo beyond naming and shaming, and deepening democracy to end Republican minority rule.

Outside the United States, we covered the rise of the new right in Brazil, its victory under Jair Bolsonaro, and what that means for the Latin American left; the origins of racist populism in Great Britain, and the need for Labour internationalism in the face of Brexit; the new political possibilities under AMLO in Mexico; the water crisis in Morocco; the politics of Macronism and Mélenchon in France; the fate of Palestinians under the UN Relief and Works Agency; the merits of naming the enemy “neoliberalism”; increasing global inequality; the political crisis around migration in Europe and in North America; and, in China, the conditions of factory workers, the reembrace of Marxism, and the persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. We also held a conference on the future of the left in the Americas. Stay tuned for a special section on that theme coming next month—you can check out a preview here and subscribe today.


Here are some more highlights from the last year of Dissent.

Not long ago it seemed to many respectables that we lived in the best of all possible worlds . . . . Now nearly everyone sees that another world is possible—a much worse one, narrower, crueler, and more nihilistic. In fact, that “best” world seems to have had the defect that it fostered the worse one. The most important political question of this time, then, is whether a still better world is also possible—and, if so, what that world would be.

–“Normcore,” Jedediah Purdy

Many Americans are now learning to meditate at the office. From Aetna to General Mills to Google, corporate America has bought into mindfulness in a big way . . . . These efforts, which gained momentum after the crash of 2008, have coincided with the most precipitous decline in fortunes Americans have seen since the Great Depression—a period of layoffs, outsourcing, and the casualization of labor.

–“The Coping Economy,” Laura Marsh

As in the Progressive era, today’s socialists have no monopoly on policy ideas like Medicare for All. But they are on the ascent because their systematic critique of today’s market society allows them to frame visible, easy-to-understand policies that speak in a direct and powerful way to the lived experiences of contemporary American life, particularly for young people: stagnant wages, insecurity, exploitation, precarity, runaway inequality, indebtedness, the soaring cost of essentials like housing and healthcare.

–“Socialism and the Liberal Imagination,” by Mason B. Williams

[D]espite pollsters’ tendency to make a college degree the dividing line between “working” and “middle” class, the categories are often not so clear cut. The reality is that college-educated workers too have to fight for decent wages and benefits. That the teachers all cite Blair Mountain’s miners as inspiration is an act of class solidarity and a reminder that the so-called knowledge economy we have been told to prize over manual labor doesn’t come with a guarantee of good pay any more than coal mining did.

–“West Virginia Teachers Walk Out,” Sarah Jaffe

[N]eoliberals sought to outlaw prying questions about how things actually worked. It was when you started asking for statistics and assembling spreadsheets that you took the first dangerous step toward politicizing “the economy.” In its critique of neoliberalism, the left has challenged this depoliticization. But by failing to enquire into the actual workings of the system, the left has accepted Hayek’s injunction that economic policy debate confine itself to the most abstract and general level.

–“Neoliberalism’s World Order,” Adam Tooze

New or “disruptive” technologies like Uber are framed as a veritable Pandora’s box. Once opened it cannot be shut and it plays itself out according to its own internal technological logic. We should resist this logic of inevitability and see platform capitalism for what it is: a means to mobilize a reserve labor army, overcome barriers to accumulation, and fight declining rates of profit.

–“Taking Back the Wheel,” Declan Cullen, Kafui Attoh, and Kathryn Wells

More than anything, Atlanta is a love letter to black people and black culture, specifically the people and culture you find in the titular city. I haven’t compared it to other television shows so far because there really aren’t any that compare. It would be like trying to describe the precise perfection of an ice cream sandwich on a hot summer day, or calculating the rate at which the bone-deep warmth from a bonfire sinks in on a snowy evening.

–“Atlanta Dreaming,” Bijan Stephen

We are not going to win the battle over the gentrification of Harlem. The black mecca of the new millenium, if there is to be one, might well prove to be that city Du Bois rhapsodized in The Souls of Black Folk, “the City of a Hundred Hills, peering out from the shadow of the past into the promise of the future.” That city was Atlanta, where he hoped the flourishing of black universities and centers of learning would break the spell of crass American materialism and bring a renaissance to the South, a mighty cause that urgently needs and deserves our vigorous support today.

–“Harlem Is Everywhere,” Jesse McCarthy

Inequalities in oral health and dental access reflect our deepest social and economic divides. The “Hollywood Smile” has become a status symbol around the world, and better-off Americans routinely pay for elective procedures ranging from teeth whitening and veneers to complete “smile makeovers” costing many thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, more than one out of three low-income American adults avoids smiling because of poor oral health . . .

–“The Class Politics of Teeth,” Mary Otto

After decades of exclusion, African Americans were finally promised access to the robust housing market that had fueled the ascension of the white middle class in the second half of the twentieth century. Instead, they were subjected to rapacious lending and real-estate practices that extended familiar patterns of discrimination.

­–“How Real Estate Segregated America,” Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

[I]n the past, the experience of, or lessons learned from, flawed and even failed democratic experiments have played a crucial role in helping societies appreciate liberal values and institutions. And many of the problems that have emerged in Western democracies today are not the result of “hyperdemocratization”—but the exact opposite.

–“Against the Technocrats,” Sheri Berman