Third Parties’ Only Hope: A New Anti-Duopoly Occupy

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What’s now needed is not merely a movement devoted to a single group or issue, but a movement of movements embracing all the groups and interests stymied by bipartisan political corruption.

NOTE TO READERS: This is Part 1 of a two-part series titled “The REAL Trump Resistance: An Anti-Duopoly Occupy.” Part 2, “Resist Duopoly – Because Judas’s Party Can’t Defeat Trump’s” will explain how a campaign confronting Democrat politicians with the Democratic National Committee’s “Judas argument” can launch the real anti-Trump resistance: a new, anti-duopoly Occupy movement.

Normal just ain’t normal anymore

Political hacks for the Democratic Party, as well as better-intentioned progressives hoping to reform it from within, frequently argue that under our U.S. political system, third parties simply cannot become viable.

While that argument holds for long stretches of U.S. history, it fatally ignores significant exceptions. But what it ignores above all is historical imagination: the insight that no human institution is permanent, and that sufficiently abnormal historical circumstances (best described as revolutionary ones) render a long-entrenched, seemingly unshakable system vulnerable to dramatic, virtually overnight overhaul.

Simply extrapolating from a long-enduring status quo has already proven lethal in economics. James Galbraith has convincingly argued this about the unquestioned dogma of endless economic growth in his book The End of Normal. From George W. Bush’s presidency on, economists’ success in predicting the U.S. (and global) economy’s performance has almost directly tracked their rejection of their profession’s orthodox consensus. Specifically, its groupthink dogma that postWorld War II growth rates constitute a stable “normal” to which, after brief hiccups, we should always expect the economy to return. By recognizing professionally pooh-poohed “snakes in the economic grass” like system-wide financial fraud and real-world resource scarcity – rather than extrapolating from a largely fictitious norm – the profession’s marginalized heretics have proven its wisest prophets.

In politics, nothing could be more abnormal than the ascent of Donald Trump – a Guinness World Records champion for moral, intellectual, and experiential unfitness to lead a global superpower – to the Oval Office. With Trump at the helm, the days of predicting our political future (like our economic one) by extrapolating forward from some presumed normal are long since passedRightly reviled intellectually as they were by leftist and rightist highbrows alike, lowbrow Republicans George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan at least had the substantial experiential qualification of having served as state governors; fellow lowbrow Trump can claim no political experience whatsoever. In that regard, he’s the perfect, logical culmination of Republicans’ utter, dangerous contempt for government. As political scientist Alan Wolfe brilliantly wrote, “Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.”

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In the dire emergency we face – just consider runaway climate change (whose very existence Republicans deny)–it’s crucial that our boeuf bourguignon of good, democratic governance rapidly become a world-class one. Indeed, the need for world-class democratic governance – with heavy stress on the word democratic – in the face of lawless global capitalism is the timely message of Naomi Klein’s essential book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Yet, with our need for good government at its utmost, extremist anti-government Republicans now dominate federal and state government. When even careful, respected (and far from radical) Congressional scholars like Mann and Ornstein document that extremism – “normal” is the worst imaginable standard for predicting the likely sequels of current U.S. politics.

But what really makes our times so exceptional – and therefore finally ripe for the emergence of a viable third party – is that Democrats, who should offer robust opposition, have purposely become the party of betrayal. Though Republicans themselves are fond enough of big government when it suits their aims (like, say, expanding the military), they remain scarily honest in their dangerous agenda of eliminating government services, regulation, and redistribution. If Democrats, when holding power, actually used that power as promised to benefit the majority, they’d be mopping the electoral floor with Republicans, just as they did under FDR. Instead, by deliberately governing ineffectively (except where their big donors are concerned), Democrats create the misleading impression that government itself is ineffective. Thereby validating Republicans’ claim that government is the enemy – a claim unfortunately well anchored rhetorically in our nation’s founding traditions.

Sadly, the low-tech, isolated agrarian society of our founders has little to teach a high-tech modern superpower facing lawless global corporations, record economic inequality, and onrushing climate apocalypse. Democrats’ betrayal – their abdication of their claimed (and crucial) belief in government as an agent of good – has elevated criminally dangerous Republicans to power and made our era anything but normal. Thereby opening the door for something equally abnormal: a viable third party.

But first, must come a movement. Or rather, a movement of movements a là Occupy.

Why our times demand a new, savvier Occupy (general case)

Both general and specific circumstances cry out that our times demand a new Occupy-style grassroots movement. And specific developments since the first Occupy – above all, the repeated proofs Republicans and Democrats alike have given of their parties’ moral and intellectual bankruptcy – point to a savvier, more political Occupy focusing public consciousness on that bipartisan bankruptcy. Just as the original Occupy movement successfully focused public consciousness on the unjustifiable gap between the 99% and the 1%.

Indeed, only such public laser focus on the duopoly’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy can break through the combined media propaganda, prejudicial ballot access, and debate rules,  and citizen inertia that currently kill all prospects for viable third parties. The new anti-duopoly Occupy can – and must – honestly make the same TINA (“there is no alternative”) case for creating a viable grassroots third party as dishonest Republicans have made for cutting Social Security and dishonest Democrats have for letting them. The difference is that the case for the duopoly’s irreparable moral and intellectual bankruptcy, necessitating a grassroots third party, rests on overwhelming – and recent – evidence.

But let’s return to the general circumstances that make this election cycle ripe for a new Occupy. I’ll treat the specific circumstances – the political developments since Occupy that make a new, savvier version of the movement both necessary and very likely to arise – under a separate heading.

By general circumstances, I mean precisely those circumstances that always call for political movements rather than business-as-usual reliance on elections. In his “oldie but goodie” book Political Action, activist political philosopher Michael Walser explained those circumstances well. Movement politics becomes essential when the usual mechanisms of electoral politics have no effect in getting needed action from politicians on issues crucial to the movement. Walser himself had been an activist against the Vietnam War, and the civil rights and feminist movements of that era had organized for similar reasons. What’s crucially different now is the systemic corruption of our government by corporate and militarist interests – what I’ve elsewhere usefully termed “Wall Street and War Street”–guarantees that no issue opposed by those interests gets a fair hearing by politicians of either major party. So that what’s now needed is not merely a movement devoted to a single group or issue, but a movement of movements embracing all the groups and interests stymied by bipartisan political corruptionAs Occupy, by speaking for “the 99%,” essentially was – and as the new anti-duopoly movement must consciously be.

Why our times demand a new, savvier Occupy (specific case)

What Occupy brilliantly achieved was to take a truthful, well-documented analysis of U.S. ignored by corporatist mainstream media, condense that analysis into a few memorable slogans, and call attention to those slogans by large-scale actions media couldn’t ignore. It’s thus that slogans like “the 99% vs. the 1%” or “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” wound up on nearly everyone’s lips.

What’s crucial to realize – above all for progressives who realize we need a viable third party – is that all the rhetorical materials for a new, anti-duopoly Occupy are in place. And if those rhetorical materials – the stuff of unforgettable slogans – are in place, it’s only because essentially the same circumstances that gave birth to Occupy (only worse!) are likewise in place. What I mean specifically is the pattern of Republican extremism followed by Democrat betrayal, which gave birth to the original Occupy, has since repeated itself – only in ways that cast both parties in a more villainous light. All a new, politically savvier Occupy needs to do is take account of the new developments in Republican extremism and Democrat betrayal since the first Occupy, create slogans capturing the nature of current bipartisan villainy, and launch large-scale public actions that draw attention to those slogans.

My second and concluding article in this series will argue that Democrats’ doubling down on their party’s big-donor corruption under Republican extremist Trump constitutes a betrayal analogous to – but deeper than – Obama’s intentional failure to tackle serious reform in the wake of catastrophic Republican extremist Bush. In other words, the same sort of Republican extremism followed by Democrat betrayal that launched Occupy. Further, it will argue that the Deep State, popularly vilified as “War Street,” must join Wall Street on the new Occupy’s list of enemies tyrannizing over our duopoly parties and government. Last but not least, it will argue that the Democratic National Committee’s criminally underpublicized legal argument in the fraud case it’s now defending amounts to a “Judas argument” where the Democratic Party claims its legal right to betray its voter base for bags of its plutocrat donors’ silver. At Progressive or Bust, we feel a campaign publicly confronting – indeed bird-dogging – Democratic politicians over their party’s “Judas argument” could launch the next, anti-duopoly Occupy.

If you’d like to see Democrats pilloried as “the party of Judas” – alongside Republicans as “the party of Trump” – please stay tuned for Part 2 of this series. In the meantime, please consider joining Bernie or Bust’s successors as innovators in political revolt, Progressive or Bust. Or liking the Facebook page of our Bernie or Bust brothers-in-arms, Revolt Against Plutocracy.

  • Aquifer

    I have been making the arguments – 1) that 3rd parties “can’t win” is nonsense and 2) that if voting has proven ineffective in producing meaningful change, it is not because the voting process is inherently useless, but because of what we have used it for – electing D/Rs over and over – voting for “the lesser evil” instead of, as Stein would put it, “the greater good”, for some time now, repeatedly, for months, nay years, on various sites. But i would inject a couple of caveats into this piece …

    ” ….lowbrow Republicans George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan at least had the substantial experiential qualification of having served as state governors; fellow lowbrow Trump can claim no political experience whatsoever. In that regard, he’s the perfect, logical culmination of Republicans’ utter, dangerous contempt for government …..

    Considering that D/Rs are pretty muvh the only ones that have any “political experience”, rejecting folks who don’t leaves us with what or whom, exactly …. and considering what these folks have had “experience” doing, perhaps we might consider we may well be better off with folks who haven’t had such – is it folks with “experience” we need or those with honesty, intelligence, good judgment who choose advisors in various fields of expertise with the same ….

    And with regard to a “Bernie or Bust” – i suggest that it is not the DNC that has been solely or perhaps even primarily, the “Judas goat” in the Dems equation – IMO it is “prog Ds like him, putting “lipstick on a pig” of a party that distract us and keep us from dedicating the time money and energy we need to that 3rd party …

  • DHFabian

    The problem, I think, is a matter of an ideology that now deeply rooted in the “masses.” Even today’s liberals are hard-core capitalists who want to protect the advantages of middle class workers — albeit with some encouraging pats on the head to low wage workers. It’s a very narrow, unrealistic concept of conditions in the US.

    Not everyone can work, and there aren’t jobs for all. We can’t answer a most basic question: What should we do about many of those who can’t work (health, etc.) and those for whom no jobs are available? At most, liberals respond with a revamped version of Reagan’s old trickle-down economics. The idea there is that if we increase the wages and job security of the middle class,it will spur job creation, and jobs will eventually trickle down to the poor.

    To date, the Green Party is the only one that has had the courage to note the problem, if not necessarily the solution. The reason working on a solution isn’t possible today is that a generation grew up during an era when both parties waged an anti-poor campaign, and liberals carefully avoided the issue as much as possible.

    Applying real life to politics complicates matters.

  • Aquifer

    Well – check out the Basic Income guarantee – along with universal healthcare coverage and higher education – all steps in the right direction – so what is your solution?

  • DHFabian

    Media have a powerful influence on public thought, as much as we might want to deny it. Starting in 2015, much of the media marketed to liberals began marketing Hillary Clinton as a “bold progressive,” in spite of her long record as a solid right winger. Sen. Sanders, by contrast, had long spoken up about US poverty and the need for legitimate poverty relief programs.

    The US took a distinctly backwards turn on core economic issues during the Reagan/Clinton era. By necessity, Sanders registered as a Democrat, running on the Democratic ticket, and (pragmatically) dropped the poverty issue for his campaign. He did better than ever before. This indicates how deeply rooted today’s generation is, in the hard-core capitalist system — and the “duopoly” that serves it.

  • Steve1027

    I’ll wait and see what comes of this bird-dogging strategy. Either way, democrat party elites should have to respond to their lawsuit defense argument. Sounds like good work and necessary consciousness-building. There was brief mention of the institutional barriers erected by Dems and Reps over the last 150+ years to stymie 3rd parties, but not much in terms of addressing the specific barriers that have been so difficult to overcome. Without getting into those specifics, I feel like most strategies to establish viable 3rd parties essentially become hail marys where so many different factors out of the control of activists have to converge all at once for success. I think a movement for ranked choice voting increases our chances of success as it eliminates the fear of the greater evil getting into office when the lesser evil can be choice number 2. Additionally, eliminating single-member districts and going with proportional representation makes it more difficult for money to buy elections when it’s not simply a matter of throwing money behind the D or R most likely to win in a given district. Often, they cover both bases and give to both corporate candidates. Maine passed RCV via ballot initiative, which is probably going to be the only way RCV gets passed at the state-level for a while given that Dems and Reps have no incentive to voluntarily give up their political monopolies. If we can get RCV on state ballots over the next 4 years, we just may create enough momentum where RCV becomes the norm. The bird-dogging might create a crisis of legitimacy in the eyes of rank and file democrats, but with all the barriers in place and unchallenged, where do you think people will choose to go? Right back to the Dems because the myriad of laws and cultural and institutional factors that keep 3rd parties out will still exist. Just my 2 cents.

  • Kapricorn4

    Death is the great equalizer.

  • THE CORPORATION! The corporation thinks they own us. Do they?