Participatory Democracy, c. 2016?

Donald Trump was opposed, vigorously, by Wall Street, by the media, by the ruling class, by other mega-billionaires like Mark Cuban, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates.

And he won.

In a very fucked-up and dysfunctional way, it means democracy won out. The people beat the oligarchy.

I teach courses in U.S. history at the university level, have for a couple decades-plus now. By coincidence, my syllabus for election week told my students we’d be talking about the 1960s. On Tuesday, election day, as I assured my students that the stock market and gambling books made Clinton chalk and Trump was going to lose big, I finished class with a brief conversation about the origins of the New Left. I talked about C. Wright Mills, one of the biggest influences on me, for his incredible insight into power as much as his motorcycle (though I went for a Moto Guzzi instead of a BMW) and described his vision of the “power elite,” the non-democratic forces that governed our political and social lives. Then I segued to SDS and finished class by putting the Port Huron Statement on the overhead, with the first line highlighted.

“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

Thursday, I went into that same class and the entire vibe of the room was different—they seemed more interested in what I was about to say than getting a kick out of whatever Silvio Dante-type suit I had on. I looked at them and read the first line of Port Huron and then asked them what they thought . . . crickets. I told them they should “teach” class that day . . . more silence.  They weren’t going to let me off the hook.

SDS and the New Left believed American “democracy” was sclerotic and abused—the “power elite” Mills described had control of the economy, politics, labor, education and every other vital sector of American life, and a “participatory democracy” was the solution.   People–typical Americans who worked, paid taxes, had to deal with bureaucracies, were told what to think by oligarchs who controlled the media and educational systems, had inadequate input in their unions controlled by labor bosses, had to toil, albeit often with handsome rewards, in a Military Keynesian economy, and got to vote every couple years for candidates whom were put on a ballot without popular input—should have a real voice, a real role, in determining the decisions which would guide their lives.

In the 1960s, millions of Americans were motivated by the Civil Rights Movement, Anti-Vietnam War campaigns, counterculture, and groups like SDS, and went into the streets to create a new American democracy, a participatory democracy.   It’s easy to look at the U.S. in the 21st Century and say they failed.

For those on the “Left,” that amorphous group opposed to the Capitalist elite, the election of Donald Trump surely seems like a repudiation (or confirmation) of Mills and SDS. A society and politics based on human needs, cooperation, peace, and amity is further away than any point since that era.

Yet we’ve just seen a repudiation of the power elite unlike any in our lifetimes—not in the victory of Trump, a billionaire buffoon, but in the motives for the people whom elected him. Obviously, a number of Trump votes can be attributed to ugly racial and sexist attitudes. But something else was in play also. In many areas, especially in industrial northern areas that had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Trump ran strong and won states that the GOP hadn’t won in years, especially Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

Many (and in all cases the numbers are not clear yet) saw the Democrats and Hillary Clinton as the cause of their distress—they were responsible for NAFTA and trying to force the Pacific Trade Pact down their throats, trade agreements that stolen jobs from Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Detroit. They were governing on behalf of Goldman Sachs and Citibank, the people whom had foreclosed on their homes and put them in debt. They were part of an elite that had ignored the needs of working people (white working people in many narratives) and were concerned with identity politics more than the lives of poor people in America.

And they weren’t wrong and they voted against the DLC/Clinton Democratic Party and elected a man  whom promised to bring jobs back to the steel and coal and other industrial areas, even though, as Springsteen sang, “foreman says these jobs are going boys, and the ain’t coming back.” They gave a resounding “fuck you” to the 1 percent, the elite, the ruling class, the oligarchs, whatever you want to call them.

There have been genuine leftists in the U.S. making these points for years—that neoliberal politics have left working people behind the Eight-Ball and there was no one representing them politically. Trump realized that, and told them that the mines and mills would be running again with well-paid jobs, and they bought it. It was bullshit, but that’s all they’ve gotten from the “party of the working man,” as my father called the Democrats when I was a little kid.

But when the shit hit the fan, as in Brexit, it was the political Right, with xenophobic and racist elements, that made that case. They rejected the newspapers, the elite, the Wall Street bankers, the billionaires and they, in their own way, spoke truth to power, or at least their version of truth to power. And they won, though virtually no one in the political-economic-media-university elite atmosphere gave Trump any chance.

If only liberals and Democrats would have learned that years ago, that you had to confront the oligarchs, instead of lesser-of-evilism and “this is the most important election of our lives.” To hell with every Democrat who blamed Ralph Nader for the 2000 defeat. To hell with everyone who made Kerry and Clinton the nominees, in a system that was NEVER RIGGED but established that way. To hell with the self-described Socialists who masturbated about Bernie Sanders while working class people were putting their bodies on the line to stop KXL and fracking. To hell with all the NY intellectuals and Jacobinite boutique radicals whose political involvement consisted of snarky anti-Clinton tweets (Wow, that took some effort), rock-star blogs, and insider frat clique politics.

The people of this generation, bred in economic anxiety and buried in student debt at the universities that housed them, were more than uncomfortable with the world they would inherit. And they acted out accordingly in their 2016 understanding of participatory democracy.  Trump’s views couldn’t be further from the world that SDS and others envisioned, but the people, as SDS  called for, decided.

Fortunately, we have a history, a memory of resistance. Americans were deferential in the early Cold War years so the power elite had few worries about being challenged. But SNCC, SDS, the Black Panthers, Women’s Lib, Stonewall, the Environmental Movement and many other campaigns have erupted since then. Now, after 8 years of liberal apologetics and diminished activity against the Obama administration, with its record deportations, Wall Street largesse, and drones, it’s imperative for the resistance to be mobilized and ready to challenge Trumpism at every point.

In the meantime, Fuck the Clintons, their foundation, their Goldman Sachs incestuous relationship, all that. And I weep for  Youngstown, Warren, and Niles, those who bought Trump’s line. They’ve been reamed up the ass by the Dems for so long that they voted for the devil they didn’t know. I personally know people who voted for Trump. I think they’re horribly wrong to have done so, but they’re not “deplorable” and calling them that would occasion the response you’d expect from a Sicilian-American.

Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump. Think about that. She lost to essentially a game show host with a long, documented and recorded history of vile racial and sexist ideas . Democrats, liberals, thinkers, political pundits and others will pontificate about the causes of this, but the Trump people made it clear that the were tired of the bullshit being fed to them by the ruling class, and they acted accordingly.

If there’s going to be a Left in America, it’s got to happen now. The stakes are high but the lines are clearly drawn. A participatory democracy requires a rejection of the oligarchy, a real rejection, not a Trump bob-and-weave.  No Justice, No Fucking Peace!

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”  Che

About buzzanco

Historian, Agitator, Sicilian
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