There is confusion in Washington, DC among the political elites. Donald Trump, who ran against the elitism of both parties, won the election with an appeal to economic populism. He won the election when the Rust Belt states, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, voted to make him president. These states have suffered the consequences of corporate trade agreements with lost industries and jobs.
The election of Trump has shaken the establishment and opened space for a shift in policies. Trump’s economic ‘populism’ will actually serve the wealthy. He is promising tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, the shrinking of government services and an increase in military spending.
In this moment, the movement for economic, racial and environmental justice needs be bold, clear and assertive in putting forth an agenda that will serve the economically dispossessed, those under attack by militarized police, immigrants facing detentions and deportations and demonstrate policies that ensure economic security. Where Trump is right, as in detente with Russia, the movement will support him against the neocons and humanitarian war supporters; and we will push him further for an end to war as the primary tool of foreign policy.
Both parties are confronting major fissures, leadership challenges and questions about where they go from here. Their confused leadership provides an opportunity for the popular movement to fill the leadership void with policies that put people, planet and peace over profit.
An Illegitimate Government
This year voters felt mass alienation from the two-party system with a New York Times poll finding the presidential campaign filled people with revulsion by a margin of 82% to 13%. This is consistent with an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs poll which found a democracy crisis where “9 in 10 Americans lack confidence in the country’s political system…” The poll taken as the primary season came to a close found “only 13% say the two-party system for presidential elections works.” The elections left most people in the US feeling discouraged with 70% saying they experience frustration and 55% reporting they feel helpless. Only 13% feel proud of the presidential election. The campaigns of the two most unpopular candidates in history from two unpopular political parties helped more people to learn that the government is illegitimate.
Even though populist anger at DC elites is broad and deep, both parties in DC did not realize the extent of anger. During the primaries, Trump turned populist anger against elites like Jeb Bush and elected Republicans. During the general election, it was turned against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. The Democrats should have seen it in the widespread support for Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders put forth a populist progressive domestic economic agenda, but the Democratic Party leadership rejected it and did all they could to ensure Sanders’ defeat. This only added to the populist anger no doubt aiding Clinton’s defeat. In Hillary Clinton, the Democrats put forward a candidate who stood for the establishment, elitism and corruption. She was the wrong candidate at a time when people were angry at the 1% and wanted change from a status quo that was unacceptable. The Democrats lost because they dismissed populist anger, they were blind to what they had done to the people of the United States over the past few decades.
Economist Jack Rasmus shows reality with numbers: “97% of all GDP-national income gains since 2010 have accrued to the wealthiest 1%.” How? Corporate profits more than doubled after 2009, the stock market tripled in value, bond market prices accelerated to record levels, since 2010 more than $5 trillion has been distributed in stock dividend payouts and stock buybacks alone, at the same time corporate and investor taxes since 2009 were cut by more than $6 trillion. Massive money flows from the Federal Reserve went to big finance with access to trillions of dollars of virtually free money through quantitative easing and near zero interest rates.
And, what about the rest of us? Rasmus reports stagnant wages, low paid service jobs—often part time, temp and contract jobs replacing the higher paid jobs they lost. Tens of millions of young millennials in debt for decades to come with college youths joining them everywhere. The retired received no interest income because of near zero rates for eight years, which made bankers rich on cheap money but the elderly poor. At the same time, pensions collapsed and medical costs rose, there were 13 million home foreclosures and trillions of dollars of home values ‘under water.’ The people were put into an economically insecure situation where they went further into debt and could not afford any surprise expense from a car repair to a dental problem.
This resulted in voters sending a message to the establishment: “you, the political elite, have hurt and harmed us these past eight years. You have ignored us and left us behind while ensuring your wealthy friends recovered quickly and well from the 2009 crash. We have experienced great anxiety and insecurity. Now have a taste of that yourself!”
Richard Wolff, also an economist, sees the same economic realities as Jack but then connects the dots:
“Let’s remember that elections these days are integrated parts of a system. The dominant power is intertwined with the dominant wealth. The corporate system — and the individuals it makes rich — normally buy the political process. That’s how systems work.”
In fact, in 2015 and 2016, banks and financial interests put more than $1.4 billion into efforts to elect and influence people in national political office. A new report, Wall Street Money in Washington, found they spent more than $2.3 million a day — $800 million of which was campaign contributions. The result of this election, in which $6.6 billion was spent, was that money won. But, under the surface of the usual story, a moment of populism was foretold, the people rose and showed their anger. They are fed up with being thrown under the bus by a corrupt government. This presidential election was a protest vote against a duopoly government corrupted by money.
One other election loser deserving mention was the corporate media. They serve as cheerleaders and mouthpieces for the DC elite. They mistreated Sanders’ populist message. While Trump’s bigoted and misogynist comments and actions gave the media reasons to criticize him, they were unable to compete with his social media and with the anger voters feel from an economy designed for the wealthy.
The TPP is Dead
As we were writing this newsletter, the news broke that the Obama administration has accepted reality – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is dead. Obama has given up on ratification in the lame duck Congress. We have been organizing for most of the year to stop ratification and finish off the TPP. The movement made TPP politically toxic, which pushed all presidential candidates, except Gary Johnson, to oppose it. Some key senators had to change their pro-TPP to opposition in order to get re-elected. Leaders of the House and Senate have reiterated that they will not consider ratification, something they have said for months. Even before the election of Donald Trump, the TPP was unlikely to be considered. With Trump’s election, the Republican congressional leaders say they will follow Trump’s lead, forcing Obama to give up.
Our Lame Duck Uprising protests next week will celebrate the death of the TPP. The European agreement, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is also finished. It was also in death throes before the election, primarily from people powered protests in Europe. We will urge the end of Obama’s third agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), which also faces serious hurdles. The defeat of this trifecta of trade agreements is a major victory for people over transnational corporate power.
Now, we will push for more: the end of corporate trade agreements, replaced by trade that serves the people and planet; and is negotiated in a transparent way where people participate. It is time for a transformational trade regimen that enforces the Paris climate agreement, lifts labor and environmental standards and makes the International Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements a reality.
People around the country can join the protest by helping us spread the message with a massive Twitter Storm. On Monday at 9:30 pm ET go to www.Twitter.com/FlushTheTPP and begin by tweeting the pinned tweet at the top of the page. Now with the TPP flushed, we will have new messages about where we go from here.
Here are some lessons from this tremendous victory. We won because a movement of movements formed including activists, labor, environmentalists, food advocates, Internet activists and more. Our spectacle protests forced a trade agreement they were trying to keep secret into the open. Wikileaks’ exposure of portions of the agreement let people know what was being secretly negotiated. A key was slowing fast track trade authority so that TPP was not considered until an election year when we were able to make the TPP toxic. Now, if it fails in the lame duck, it may never succeed. Ratification of the TPP was difficult and Trump’s pro-corporate agenda, with bigger profits for US corporations, will make it even more difficult.
Stopping the TPP is only a first step. Trump opposes the TPP but for different reasons than we do. TrumpTrade is likely to be even worse for the people and planet than Obama’s trade agenda. After we stop the TPP – which will be a tremendous people powered victory over transnational corporations – we need to stop TrumpTrade and put forward a vision for the kind of trade for people and planet, that is negotiated in a transparent and participatory way.
We need to use the success of stopping the TPP as a springboard for people powered movements to set the agenda on multiple issues. It will be a beginning, not an end.
Escalating Demands For Economic, Racial, Envirnmental Justice and Peace
Richard Wolff points out that the system will not allow the change we need. Our job is to continue to build national consensus over the necessities of the people and planet. Wolff points out that people need to know that “only when massive oppositions of the people get aroused do they relearn the first of the great old lessons, that ultimate power resides with the people.” The second lesson is “the power of the people becomes effective when it is organized.”
We are making progress on these fronts. National consensus on many issues is developing, especially around the corruption of government, the failure of the electoral system, the need to get money out of politics and to diminish the power of corporations, among other issues.
Trump has already ignited the movements against racism and bigotry. In the immediate aftermath of the elections there have been nationwide protests with the theme of Love Trumps Hate under the hashtag #NotMyPresident, and people standing with communities of color, especially immigrants as well as women and workers.
This is very much a protest led by youth. High school students staged a walkout to protest Trump, thousands marched in cities across the country. In Baltimore, where we are based, the Trump protest was attended by at least two thousand. The police were not friendly. In fact, our live streamer, photographer and videographer was pushed to the ground by a police lieutenant for no reason. Thankfully, it was all caught on video showing Carlos had done nothing to deserve this brutal assault. He spent more than five hours in the emergency room and is worried about hospital bills (you can donate here). No doubt his is one case of many.
There is no question that a critical front of struggle during the Trump years is going to be the rights of immigrants, communities of color, workers and women. In all of these areas, protests are going to have to escalate. The emotional protests in reaction to the election are going to have to be turned into ongoing campaigns in order to be effective. A good model is Black Lives Matter which was initially an emotional reaction to police killings and which has grown into ongoing, effective campaigns for racial justice.
A key conflict with the Trump agenda will be stopping carbon infrastructure and transitioning to a clean energy economy. Trump, who denies climate change, works with people who profit from pipelines and will put them in key cabinet positions. The #NoDAPL protests are going to have to get even more aggressive and the KXL pipeline is also likely to make a comeback and require new campaigns to stop it.
In Standing Rock there has been tremendous progress as people have seen war crimes committed against the water protectors. Armed police have descended on Standing Rock but this has had a backlash against the police. One donor agreed to pay $2.5 million to release everyone arrested. The UN is investigating human rights abuses by the police. Individual police officers are turning in their badges as they will not be part of the injustice and police departments are refusing to send police back to Standing Rock because of the abuse. The religious community is joining as 500 interfaith clergy joined in protest. While President Obama is looking for an alternative route, there is none. Trumps victory has not stopped protests. #NoDAPL is focusing on banks lending money to the pipeline and November 15 is a national day of action focusing on the Army Corps of Engineers. During all of this the pipeline has continued to be built making our actions even more urgent.
One area where there could be a positive turn of events is US foreign policy. The US has been in a constant state of war for 15 years. Trump’s America First campaign opposed the US spending money abroad on military actions. He wants to see a working relationship with Russia rather than the escalation of conflict being pursued by Clinton. It is possible that with Trump will negotiate an agreement to end the war in Syria. The peace movement needs to seize this opportunity to support this agenda to get the US and Russia out of Syria and avoid a military conflict with Russia; and push further for an end to war as a tool of US foreign policy.
US foreign policy is in crisis and people see the decline of US Empire. Finally, the International Criminal Court is investigating US war crimes in Afghanistan. We hope they will look at US crimes around the world in Iraq, Libya, Syria and the many countries that have been subjected to drone strikes. None of these wars and military actions had the approval of the United Nations. The US was not under threat of military attack, and as a result they are all illegal under international law. While the US will seek to avoid prosecution, it is important for the international court to do all it can to hold war criminals in the United States responsible for their actions.
The major area where the movement will need to build its power is challenging an economy designed for the oligarchs and finding ways to put in place an economy that serves the people. This requires a grassroots intervention at all levels of government. It requires an agenda to build economies in urban areas, especially in communities of color. An agenda for economic fairness for women needs to be central to our advocacy. And, workers need to be paid a fair wage - $17.28 is a living wage in many parts of the United States – and be able to easily form unions. These are issues that businessman Donald Trump opposed and we expect he will oppose as president.
Trump is also preparing to make significant changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but in a way that will worsen the healthcare crisis. It is true that the ACA has failed, but that is because it is based on a flawed model that treats health care as a commodity instead of a public good. Trump has said that he wants a simple solution that would be universal. The public agrees and supports a national Medicare for all. This is our moment to push for it!
It will soon become evident that the economic policies Trump pursues will increase the economic insecurity for most people. There will be big corporate tax cuts and a less progressive tax system. This will result in either the budget shrinking with less services or a massive increase in debt. People who voted for change will not be getting the change they want. They will be even worse off.
The movement must show there is an alternative, economic democracy that will transfer power to people and create an economy that shrinks the wealth divide, increases personal income for the working class and creates greater economic security for people in the United States. There were good reasons people wanted to thumb their nose at the elites, the movement needs to show we share their concerns and we must present that vision so people see there is an alternative path to the neo-liberal corporate path of the Democrats and the big business and the austerity of the Republicans.
Confusion Among the Elites is Our Opportunity
We are in a populist moment at a time when the elites are confused. As a result of policies that created a spiral of money to the wealthiest while everyone else suffered economic insecurity, the people’s anger has been ignited creating an historic opportunity. More than ever we must stand together, mobilize and grow the popular movement. We must insist on human dignity and justice – racial, economic, climate, health and trade justice – and more.
The popular movement has had tremendous victories, among them ensuring equal access to the Internet, stopping pipelines, ensuring police wear cameras and that police are prosecuted. These are just the beginning. Our greatest successes are ahead of us if we continue to build a mass movement and exercise the power we are building.
More important than who was elected president is that people power just defeated transnational corporate power. We stopped the largest corporations in the world along with politicians who they have put in office and stopped the TPP and other corporate trade agreements. There will be #NoHoneymoon for Trump. He will face a presidency of protest.
The people are aroused and organized. We know we have power and we will exercise it. It is time for the people to set the agenda, not big business. It is time for an era of peace not continuous war. And, time for an economy that serves us all and creates a shared prosperity. The oligarchs will not give up their power easily. There are many battles ahead, but now the movement knows it has power to put forward an agenda that serves the people and planet.