That’s all for now folks, take care of yourself out there.
Washington, D.C. —
Fresh off the emboldening Democratic establishment victories in California and the likely one coming up in New York state, the two U.S. states with an outsized role in shaping the narrative of one of the two major political parties in the country, have decided not to run on ideas that would be politically popular to most of the country, Democratic, independent, and Republican alike.
Take tri-partisan popularity of policies like Medicare-for-All for instance, which enjoys broadly shared support in 42 of the 50 U.S. states.
Meanwhile, the sterling economy has made the Democrats shift gears to focusing on restoring checks and balances to the government, and a laser-focus on the public corruption of the Trump administration. Not a bad strategy in theory, but two problems with that:
1. Conceding the economic argument to the Trump administration is a huge mistake, especially considering the fact that the economy is average-at-best, poor-for-the-many, and only good in a universe of diminished expectations and acceptance of national decline.
2. The Democratic Party has its own problem with corruption too, especially in states like New York, where corruption has enjoyed a bipartisan consensus. New York’s status as a “blue state”, whatever that means, will contribute to undermining this as an electoral strategy. It certainly won’t persuade anyone, as many polls have backed up the fact that most Trump/GOP supporters don’t care about public corruption. And the Republican Party remains more behind this president than any party has been since World War II at the 500-day mark of a presidency, with the exception of President George W. Bush just after 9/11.
Also, this happened. In New Jersey, Lisa McCormick, a first-time candidate with no money, no endorsements, and no campaign appearances, captured 38 percent of the primary vote against Bob Menendez, a two-term U.S. senator who has raised more than $8 million and had the endorsement of every major Democrat in the state. Sen. Menendez was indicted on public corruption charges (which were dropped earlier this year) and recently was “severely admonished” by US Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Make no mistake, the Democratic Party is the only current and viable vessel out of this long and potentially permanent national nightmare. That being said, all of the problems frequently cited by this website, its podcast, commentary and articles are still present, and are still on display, arrogantly so even, by the party itself.
- An aversion to actual competitive primaries, especially against average or poor incumbents in safe Democratic states and districts. Why does this matter? Because it is through safer seats, that long term bench-building and party-building becomes easiest and controllable. The Democratic Party has long had an addiction to political dynasties, incumbency and careerism where none is warranted, and from being unwilling to have an actual conversation with its base about the direction of the party.
- A party that is increasingly dependent on the young to be viable, is led by the old. Indeed, the gerontocracy of the leaders in the Democratic Party has long been a problem, and its a problem that the Republican Party has taken advantage of, first through active recruitment of younger candidates. The few times the Democratic Party establishment has gotten behind younger candidates, those candidates have been poor avatars of the growing consensus of their generation (see: Jon Ossoff).
- The party is still awful at harnessing grassroots energy. The party was mostly adversarial and awkwardly silent during Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and other movements, and while I’ve seen some improvement here, I’ve also seen a foolish tendency to come and take credit for grassroots victories. It’s highly embarrassing that state parties with next to zero social media following act like they’re the grassroots, while there is very real work going on. Simply put, the GOP let the Tea Party energy go through them, whether they wanted it or not, the Democrats often go out of their way to put up roadblocks to put out grassroots energy that ideally, could flow through them as a vessel. Make no mistake, if you’re waiting for change to come from the Democratic Party, we’ll be waiting forever. But that doesn’t mean change cannot be brought to it. And that change will happen faster if they get out of their own way.
- No new ideas nor desire to adopt popular ideas from progressives. While movement progressivism and the democracy movement have provided much in the way of pushing new ideas the past few years, the Democratic establishment has been slow to adapt any of them. I’ll give individual Democratic leaders like Senators Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and others credit for adopting popular positions in the past 18 months on health care for all and other issues, but overall — this adoption of new ideas is happening to slow. Notice that Harris, Gillibrand, and Booker are all relatively younger for a Democratic officeholder. It’ll probably be faster to continue to run viable primary challenges like the GOP did when they were in opposition. Until the party fears their base, they have no reason to adopt the change that we need and seek.
- They frustrate the small-d democratic process itself. In recent cycles, and in this cycle, despite strong grassroots developments around the country through groups like Our Revolution, Indivisible, etc., the Democratic establishment has continually frustrated the process by intervening before the voters have decided. Recently in New York state, DNC Chair Tom Perez intervened and endorsed Governor Andrew Cuomo for a third term. This story has been quite common this cycle. Cuomo has deep campaign coffers, support from the state establishment, has even helped pass a few progressive reforms, but he also has deliberately held up reform through the creation and allowance of the Independent Democratic Conference, which for years caucused with state Republicans and continued to do so the last few years. He also is backed considerably by big real estate interests who give unlimited sums to his campaign and continue to benefit through the LLC tax loophole. He also has shut down the investigatory board meant to crack down on public corruption in the politics of New York itself. Similar to New Jersey this cycle, back in 2014 he had a little-known and barely-funded challenger receive a surprising amount of support just by standing up — Zephyr Teachout. Teachout is a Fordham Law professor who literally wrote the book on public corruption (see: Corruption in America). Teachout ran for Congress last cycle and is running for NYS Attorney General in 2018 in the wake of Eric Schneiderman resigning in shame last month. At this point, the “very serious” and “very smart” people at the top leadership positions of the Democratic Party should strive to remain “actively and passionately neutral”, allowing the process to play out and the voters to decide. After all, if the establishment leadership was so good at what they do, they’d win more often.
- The question must be asked–does the Democratic Party even want to win? I say this because this is a time where left-leaning parties should be gaining steam considering there are Gilded Age-levels of economic inequality, and most Americans are one bad week away from being in poverty. Historically, and especially in modern times, the Republican Party has been the party of elites. The problem is, with but a few exceptions today, the Democratic Party has also become a party of elites. In a political system and political culture that is growing more and more distant from the common people, voting your pocket book may very well be the measly couple hundred bucks you receive from the Trump tax cuts, even though math and future attacks on Medicare and Social Security because of record budget deficits will say otherwise and say that decision was short-sighted. It’s an unsettling reality of our time, but voting with anger, fear, and frustration is going to give a slight advantage to those who hate stronger in an era where voter mobilization and active participation is fueled by hatred of the other side.
- In an era where the Republican Party has waged a war on facts, the tastes and sentiments of the Democratic Party seem ill-prepared to be an effective opposition party. It is a problem to be led in the Senate by a leader like Sen. Chuck Schumer, who voted against the Iran Deal. This undermines any effective opposition to that ill-considered move by Trump and co. This is similarly true on the issues related to the boomer bipartisan consensus. Whether it’s missile strikes against Syria, complete silence with few exceptions on Israeli snipers killing unarmed protesters who were at worst, throwing rocks, or repealing key provisions of Dodd-Frank (which will most likely lead to another Great Recession, the Greater Recession of 2021 we’ll say, that article and argument is to come at a later time).
- This is a terribly ineffective opposition party. They’re so bad that I almost wonder if they genuinely agree with the Republican Party on most of this agenda. Perhaps it is just the continuation of the boomer bipartisan consensus of forever war, tax giveaways to the rich, and unconcern about Gilded Age-levels of economic inequality. In the end, like Barzini before him, it was AL.com contributor Carson Starkey and his “should-be famous” refrain all along. Look at the Trump tax cut bill for instance. At the time of its passage, the bill had the support of 20 percent or fewer Americans, depending on the poll. At nearly this same time, DACA had the support of over 3/4th’s of the country. Yet the tax bill that continued the near-four decade long trend of wealth redistribution to the very top was pushed through, and DACA recipients owe their legal status in this country to judges, not to Democrats standing up for them. The brief time the Democrats stood tall and tough, shutting down the government over DACA, they caved in mere days. Throughout their time in opposition, the voters have clearly not punished the Republican Party for their numerous partisan government shutdowns, nor their consistent shunning of the democratic legitimacy of the only boomer President that was any good, President Barack Obama. Democrats in Congress could have done the same thing, if only to show the country and their base that they care. Maybe I’m being too tough on the Democrats here, maybe the timing of this message will not be well-received, but I cannot help but feel that any momentum toward a blue wave, despite the encouraging signs in special elections, despite the encouraging signs at the grassroots level, I have the creeping notion that it will be wasted. There is still a lot of time left, so consider it a warning. But if the election were held today — I do not believe the Democratic Party would pick up either the House or the Senate. The graphs below show a closing of the gap on the issues, on enthusiasm, and in the generic balloting (which Democrats have historically underperformed the general ballot polling anyway).
It ain’t over ’til it’s over folks, but as of today I see little evidence that a #BlueWave will come. While I hope I’m wrong about these warnings, and I look forward to having very #actuallysmart people I respect say otherwise this weekend on the AL.com podcast (back from the dead), I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think it was going to happen.
To summarize and play the devil’s advocate, switching gears to an Against Trump campaign could end up being the right strategy because it a.) worked for the Republican Party these past eight years, and b.) President Trump is still very unpopular overall even after accounting for the uptick in his ratings. His personal approval lags behind his job approval, the opposite of President Obama (whose personal approval ratings typically were higher than his policies and job approval ratings). My worry is like the electoral college itself, where he is liked is strategically spread out throughout the country in a narrowly sufficient manner, the very manner which scored him and the GOP a surprise upset in the ’16 election.
And the greatest frustration of all won’t be a midterm disappointment, which I’m currently expecting, it’ll be the continued and predictable insistence from party leadership that it should keep driving the bus. Because at the end of the day, I do not think it is the willingness or unwillingness to compromise with their base or not that drives progressives crazy about the Democratic Party — it is their electoral track record.
Progressives of all stripes are not stubborn, at least not as stubborn as movement conservatives were from the days of Barry Goldwater to Mitt Romney (the last conservative Republican nominee, as it does a disservice to the word to consider Trump conservative, he’s personally and fundamentally an authoritarian nationalist to the extent you can pinpoint an ideology), but progressives do want to win and help bring this country back from decades of national decline in actual hard numbers, and decline in image. And to do that they need to have a legal vessel, a political party that can win elections and at least perform the basic tasks an opposition party is supposed to perform in a democracy falling into tyranny… and if it cannot, progressives need to stop compromising with a party leadership that doesn’t know how to win elections, and continue the long march toward taking over the Democratic Party the same way the Goldwater grassroots movement took over the Republican Party in the 1960’s. It is the best shot.
Final Note: In the many states where the national party, and most importantly (since most of the actual party organizing goes through state parties), the state parties, have “given up”, which are predominately red states — progressives have succeeded in more or less taking over the state party. And while there have been disappointments for progressives in most statewide races, that is to be expected. If you look down-ballot at the Congressional and state legislative seats, there is reason for optimism.
I said after the 2016 Election that this reform project would take six to eight years. I stand by that and there will be some growing pains along the way, but we’ll get there.
Back from the edges of the Unknown Regions, Agreeing Loudly returns with a smaller strike force to finally declare a champion in its epic Star Wars: The Last Jedi prediction pool. Troy and Jered also discuss the legitimacy of diagnosing the boomer generation as sociopaths and the arrival of the ordained one, Kirk Cousins, to the Great Northern Viking realm.
An exchange I had on January 19th, 2017 in front of the Trump building where tens of thousands of New Yorkers gathered on the last night of the Obama Presidency and before the Trump Presidency began.
Me: No, no I’m not interested in the third party option, for a variety of reasons there are too many obstacles to that. We’ve gotta reform the Democratic Party from within and/or take it over.
Activist: Yeah, good luck with that…
When history is written, I’ll probably end up being on the wrong side of the argument, at least the had on January 19th. That is, I will be if things don’t change in a hurry.
While no analysis of how we got here is perfect (although the impeccable “Listen, Liberal!” by Thomas Frank gets close), here is my quick rundown of the top ten “Shatter-points” in the history of the Democratic Party that got them to this point. This is meant to be observational. I morally agree with a few of these developments (Civil Rights and Voting Rights, the need to protest and end the Vietnam War).
- Taft-Hartley (1948) | Right-to-work legislation is now on the table and begins in earnest.
- The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act (LBJ’s quote: “we’ve just lost the south for a generation.” That proved to be mostly true, as no Democrat was able to win a national election without hailing from the south until Barack Obama won with parts of the “new south” like Virginia and North Carolina).
- Assassinations of 1960s political and moral leaders (JFK, Bobby, MLK Jr., Malcolm X, Fred Hampton).
- The Vietnam War (Considerable domestic unrest, a significant generational divide reared its head during 1968, not unlike what happened last year. The ’68 campaign cycle is still above and beyond ’16, which was more so depressing because of most of the candidates, and the way the media covered the campaigns, etc.)
- Rejecting figures like Ralph Nader (who at one time was one of the most admired figures in America in the late 60’s/early 70’s) and small-d democracy in general. Not putting Nader on the ’72 ticket was but an illustration, the more precise problem was pushing his mindset out of the party in general. There is no doubt the ’72 defeat was crushing, but the Democratic Party overreacted to it. McGovern did not lose because he was too far left (political scientists keep telling the spectrum is real, but ask the average voter and they’ll look puzzled), he lost because he was not a good national candidate, ran a bad campaign, and was facing the best and most shrewd politician of his generation in Nixon. Did you see the GOP overreact and moderate themselves in the long run after Barry Goldwater was crushed in ’64? No. They stuck to their principles and in the long run were rewarded for it).
- Carter bailing on labor, Clinton bailing on labor. (Both post-New Deal-era Democratic Presidents hailed from the south, which was never a strong base for organized labor, but that doesn’t excuse the party becoming less and less friendly to one of its most reliable constituencies historically. Free trade policies like NAFTA ensured organized labor had no place to go in American politics and that their long decline would continue. Labor today stands at just over 11 percent (from a point where 1/3 of all workers belonged to a union, as high as 40% in the manufacturing belt of the Midwest and Great Lakes states at on time) and just like the post-NAFTA era, stands at a crossroads themselves.
- Clinton triangulating on a plethora of bad policies that directly punishes reliable democratic constituencies (NAFTA, Crime Bill, Ending Welfare as we know it, Financial De-Regulation, and Telecommunications De-Regulation all but ensuring the AM talk radio and cable news dominance for the next generation). At the end of the day, Bill Clinton (both his direct influence and mindset) deserves a lot of blame for some incredibly short-term thinking that may have benefited his popularity personally and politically at the time, but in the long run ruined the Democratic Party. There may be a lot of ink spent on how many seats were lost during the Obama years, but the damage was already done, and former President Barack Obama mostly inherited a Clintonian Democratic Party that was built around Bill and built around Hillary taking over the White House in a Clinton restoration in 2008…or 2016…or 2020?
- Doubling-down on the Corporate Alliance (Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Auto, Big Tech, Big Everything, against the Little People) In the late 70s the Democratic Party began openly courting corporate sources for campaign funding. One of the key issues that gave Obama momentum during the ’08 primary was refusing Super-PAC money early on. The party itself ended its ban on corporate lobbyist and Super-PAC money late in the Obama years, in anticipation of President HRC.
- Failing to Cultivate the Young Talent and Build the Farm from the Obama years. Ultimately, it was the ground effort and labor of the millennial generation that put Obama over the top in Iowa in 2008 and then in the general election. The Democratic Party has failed to cultivate its young leaders, paying only lip service to this. “Lip service” is a continuing theme with the Democratic Party of the 21st century. Whether it is about the problems facing an indebted (both student and public) generation, ending forever war, the corporate takeover of the country, or racial equity. What strong talk there is on these issues is often not backed up by strong actions. The proof is in the outcomes.
- And finally, yes, I’m sorry, but going with Clinton over Sanders was a mistake. (It is my belief that Bernie Sanders, if nominated, would have won, and his coattails could have been substantial, perhaps saving the party from the rock bottom that this website has consistently predicted was around the corner. The Democratic Party should have listening to its younger members which overwhelming went with Sanders across-the-board, the members they have failed to cultivate, and in-fact are more likely to attack these days.)
And as a bonus: lets be honest — there simply is no “membership” in the Democratic Party.
Populism is associated with President Trump right now, and that is a shame. Because populism isn’t so much a political ideology, it is a mode and theory of who is going to be empowered and where influence will come from and be most respected.
The simplest explanation of how we got to where we are is the GOP embracing its populist movements, no matter how uncomfortable it may have made the GOP elites, and the Democratic Party refusing to embrace its own populist movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Depressing turnout among the progressive base and youth, and running campaigns that are characterized more so by what you are not, rather than what you are and what you stand for, and will do, is what has created the current situation. The voices and so-called membership of the Democratic Party refuse to listen and simply do not get it. Anyone who has attended fundraisers or meetings knows what I’m talking about. It’s a very top-down led party that does not deal with criticism well and as is incredibly evident in 2017–refuses to do the soul searching that is necessary after historical defeats.
In addition to this top-down, failed strategy, the Democratic Party has become a “fundraising machine” of coastal elites.
If it wants to survive — it has to become a movement. It must embrace movement progressivism in the same way the GOP embraced movement conservatism.
If you think I’m being too harsh, come back next week as I take down the GOP from top to bottom. I’m writing these words out of love for my country and its people. Any political system that produces these results must be thoroughly analyzed and criticized across the board.
This is not about Hillary Clinton (who full disclosure, I fully expect will run again in 2020 because my wife has a bizarre track record of being right about these things). In a lot of ways and in some parts of the country, HRC is more popular than the party brand itself. Take a look at the 30 million dollar special election in Georgia. Jon Ossoff, a millennial, who ran on meaningless platitudes of everything being “connected”, the need cut wasteful spending, all while refusing to endorse popular policies progressives and other Americans support like single payer, tax hikes on the wealthy, and ending big money in politics. Ossoff, despite all of the money and the attention, lost by a larger margin than Hillary did in the district. The Democrats have tried to message these closer losses than before as “moral victories” rather than an indictment of establishment politics, corporate neoliberalism, or the generational and ruling class consensus. I’m sure Jon is a nice guy, but there will be no big millennial turnout to reverse the direction of the country if millennials are not allowed to run on what most millennials actually prefer. If young candidates run to please the establishment and status quo it won’t work.
But lets end with something productive — where do we go from here? There are two paths the progressive movement can go, and the answer can be BOTH.
Plan A: Take the grassroots movement, and eventually go through the Democratic Party as the vessel (50 states, 3000 counties, primary corporate Democrats, and don’t listen to the Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi’s of the world, etc.)
Plan B: The viable third party movement path (a combination of Draft Bernie for a People’s Party, adding and creating a coalition with WFP, who exist in 13 states, the Green Party, Progressive Democrats of America, and non-party affiliated issue-based movements, in addition to realizing the two fundamental loopholes the two party system has never covered up: 1. There is nothing that binds a state or local party org to its national organization. In other words, if progressives takeover the Wyoming Democratic Party, they can later attach themselves to the People’s Party AND 2. Just because a progressive candidate goes through the Democratic or Republican primaries to win, does not mean they have to continue to stay there. If turncoats like the IDC in New York state can block needed electoral and voting reforms, single-payer healthcare in NY State, why not just pull off the opposite?)
I’ll end with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s 8 point plan for a new Democratic Party (pay close attention to number 8)
1. Overhaul the DNC
2. Embrace populism
3. Mobilize, energize and educate the base
4. Expose Trump as a fraud
5. Focus on 2018 now
6. Look to the state and local level
7. Protect groups threatened by Trump
8. Failing all else, look outside the party
We will disagree in many measures, but one thing we all must agree on is this — “change will not come from the Democratic Party, change can only be brought to it.”
If we continue on the same path, if we listen to what Mark Penn wants to do (NY Times July 6th op-ed “Back to the Center, Democrats“), not only will Donald Trump be re-elected, but the incredibly deep bench of younger GOP national candidates could very well win in 2024.
This should go without saying but nobody should listen to Mark Penn, who is more interested in protecting his consultancy than improving outcomes for all Americans.
We should listen to the youth, and let them build a movement that has a realistic plan to deal with the dangers and realities of the 21st century.
Not just change we can believe in, but a future we can believe in.
Not just the Resistance, but Beyond Resistance.
Not just “mere politics”, but Beyond Politics, backed by a moral worldview and value-set that can then work its way toward the policies we’re fighting for and the change we need.
Earlier this spring while speaking with educators and mentors of mine who were visiting New York City from my hometown in the midwest, a voice called out to me “you live here?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do”, I replied. A politeness that does not leave me just because I’m in Urbania now, which is filled with politeness by the way, it’s just a different sort of politeness. And it’s politeness that demands awareness of impoliteness.
“I’m sorry” she quipped, meaning it as a joke and an insult. I did not take offense, other than to say that I liked living here and that I chose to live here. I was not aware that I am a person to be pitied for living where my family chose to settle.
In the same month, the long and destructive journalistic, or as he would prefer it to be called, “political analyst” career (i.e. his opinion) of Bill O’Reilly has gone up in flames, ending with a 25 million dollar pay check, because of course it did. Trevor Noah cleverly covered this occasion with a takedown of O’Reilly that has been done time and time again by Jon Stewart before him, but he brought something to the forefront that I think is revealing of my entire efforts to “pierce bubbles.”
Bill O’Reilly is and always was a caricature of what the American mind and spirit has become. Spewing rhetoric that divides us, spending more time on fighting against something than fighting for something. His world of make-believe American history, faux virtue-signaling, attempts to monopolize patriotism, and assassination porn became our own for many Americans as Fox News and other corporate media outlets became consumed by the “sensationalism and conflict bias.” And that’s what the real bias in the media has always been. O’Reilly pushed his fears of the “other” onto the American people on a nightly basis. His comically absurd story of visiting the famous Harlem restaurant Sylvia’s in my view, is the most striking example of his worldview, and what has increasingly become–a defining reason why we’ve become a nation of strangers.
I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patron-ship. … There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea. — Bill O’Reilly
O’Reilly had built his entire view of black culture and the capital of black America–Harlem, from stereotypes, hearsay, and never sought out sources that would disagree with his viewpoint because most of our mainstream political discourse has just been reduced to a Google search (i.e. google something to confirm what I already think and want confirmed). The rare times he sought out opposing viewpoints — O’Reilly would yell at them at the top of his lungs on his cable news or talk radio program.
Folks, we’re a nation of strangers in 2017 and we have been for some time. The United States of America is not just many different states but many different states of mind. And this is actually part of the reason why we’ve been so dynamic and vibrant historically. But this has always come with a steep price.
What this election has revealed to me and what subsequent events have revealed since is that our American political factions hold no respect for one another, and that this disrespect has reached the personal level.
If we make it through the next four years, I can only hope that both parties do something to remedy this, because until we have removed all of this type of rhetoric and basic lack of civility, decency, and respect from our systems, this nation will continue to be hopelessly divided.
If our two major parties are incapable of doing this, which is especially saddening and maddening when you factor in just how similar they are about the big ticket economic and foreign policy issues, then a viable new third party movement will be needed, not only to address the growing divide between the political and economic leaders and the people, but to also serve as mediator and bubble piercer between irrational appeal to D vs. R, American against American.
Until next time, take care of yourself out there.
The Agreeing Loudly podcast is back from coast-to-coast with a brand new season. Join Jered, Troy, Bill and Pat as they welcome special guest Carson Starkey all the way from the critically acclaimed Margin of Error podcast to discuss whether or not it’s time for a serious third party movement in the United States.
The Agreeing Loudly coast-to-coast theme music is from Lee Rosevere.
You cannot build a movement for the common people if you hold the common people in contempt. — Thomas Frank at the 2017 People’s Summit
Chicago, IL — This past weekend Jered Weber and I attended the 2nd annual People’s Summit. The first one in 2016, was held shortly after Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), went from a little known and self-described democratic socialist to the brink of the Democratic Party nomination. Taking on Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State in the first Obama administration, who had nearly every endorsement from Democratic elected officials and party leaders, as well as the support of corporate America, Sanders received 46% of the primary vote.
Assembling a coalition of millennials who had previously helped put then-Senator Obama over the top in the 2008 presidential primary and general election, progressives, independents, and populists, Sanders shocked the country, especially the donor and billionaire class by proving that in the Age of Citizens United, there was another way forward. There was another way to run a viable national campaign without having to offer fealty to the Super PACS, corporate lobbyists, and special interests holding the country back in the 20th century.
And what was remarkable to so many who flocked to the campaign, new and old, of all different generations and backgrounds, was that it was the ideas and message that mattered. It was the positivity of the campaign and its focus on the issues, and it was the remarkable consistency and authenticity of the candidate throughout the years.
Sanders repeatedly explained that when the people come together in common effort, they win. It was never about him, it was about a “future to believe in.” And we now know it was never about him because the campaign never ended, because ultimately, it was more of a movement than a campaign to begin with.
And that is where the People’s Summit comes in.
The People’s Summit is first and foremost, an Ideas Summit.
Not just ideas for the future of the country, but also ideas on how to fundamentally improve and outright save our democracy. Those critical of the People’s Summit only needed to give these ideas attention at the Center for American Progress and perhaps they would not have to get mad that not everyone is falling in line and “uniting.” Before moving on to an analogy for what to think about the People’s Summit, let me just say that no matter which route one prefers to moving this country forward, there is no need to come together on the issues, on party unity, or anything other than basic civility and decency because we still have three years to go. In other words–see you in 2020.
Bubbles need to be pierced, and introspection and national conversations must continue en masse.
Now onto how to think about the People’s Summit in terms of what it means for the future.
Each year movement conservatism (or what passes as that these days) has its annual ideas conference called the Conservative Political Action Conference, put on by the American Conservative Union. Think of it as a “State of the Movement” address to conservatives from all across the country. Upcoming elected officials and advocates often get heavily promoted and featured at the conference. In addition to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and others, CPAC gathers all of the various grassroots conservative groups and organizations from around the country. Not being included almost serves as a statement that one is not “conservative” enough or not a “true conservative.”
CPAC operates very much like an ideas and state of the movement arm of the major American political party on the right–the Republican Party.
In 2003, recognizing the power think tanks, ideas conferences and so forth had in propelling the conservative movement to electoral victories through its political arm–the Republican Party, John Podesta founded the Center for American Progress, which is both a think tank and has an annual conference. There is no mystery that the annual CAP conference and its ideas are heavily attached to the Democratic Party. But while the Democratic Party was slow to jump on the think tank bandwagon and invest heavily in the think tank model in comparison to the GOP, its adoption of that model and investment in it represent the final shunning of its historical roots as the FDR “party of the people.” Consider this, CAP founder Podesta was national Chair of the Clinton campaign, Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, and later counselor to President Barack Obama, made several versions of this sentiment throughout the 2016 election cycle:
For every working class voter we lose, we’ll pick up 2 or 3 professional class voters.
That’s the thing with the establishment or corporate Dems. I’m not much of an ideologue, I have a governing and leadership philosophy yes, but at the end of the day I have a healthy respect for facts. A respect that is lacking in so many political leaders and those who cover and follow our nation’s politics today. I’m fine with compromising. All democracies and constitutional systems require it. However, what incentive do people who do not like to compromise their belief systems have to follow a strategy that not only is not their views in key areas, but also does not and has not won? I submit these simple truths about where the party stands in terms of electoral strategy:
And I direct these six points of logic to the failed Podesta mentality from above and a similar mentality echoed by (permanent) Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated that “for every working class vote we lose, we’ll pick up 2-3 moderate Republican voters.”
- There are not enough professional class voters to form the consensus.
- The ones who realigned from the GOP to the Democratic Party did so years ago.
- The ones still in the GOP are rich and unpersuadable.
- Working class voters are more numerous and more diverse than ever.
- Some of them are even organized already, through this thing called collective bargaining.
- You can’t build a party of the people if you have contempt for the people. You have to talk directly to the people about the issues, all the people.
Please note that when I say the working class I always mean that anyone who has to work for a living to keep existing. Many choose to work for a living and that is great, but their livelihood does not necessarily depend on it, and they likely have multiple streams of passive income.
Speaking of passive income, George Soros, a major funder of CAP and constant boogeyman that the right wing media likes to use to discredit policy agenda and goals, is not too different from the Koch brothers or any other member of the billionaire class engaged in electoral politics in the Citizens United age if one does not personally agree with George Soros. And that is the problem.
Neither party is seriously committed to taking on big, unaccountable, but organized money in politics.
If you are super-rich in America, or anyone really who can sit on their hands making millions in passive income revenue streams, and if your preferred party (whether Dems or GOP) does not win, you always have the other major party to protect your interests for the most part, with only a few exceptions.
It’s the same model. Controlled by the donor class, and dependent on the labor of others to keep itself in power both politically and economically.
And this is where the People’s Summit comes in. Ideas and voices, organizers and activists, leaders and followers that were shunned or not invited to CAP.
I would argue the People’s Summit is an ideas conference, that allows for networking, learning, and updating on the “state of the movement”, similar to CPAC. As of now, it is without a political party attached to it, but I have no doubt, shall a viable third party arise in the next few years, it will be called the People’s Party and it will have started and spear-headed by the 5,000 or so people that have attended the Summit, and those that followed along online, etc.
The central organizing goal of the movement, like the Republican Party, the last third party to replace a major party before in the 1850’s with slavery, is the biggest moral issue of our time — economic inequality and the forces that continue to make it worse, organized big money in politics and legalized bribery and corruption.
A Future Beyond Party Labels and Endless Partisan and Media Sensationalism. A Future that is not just Resistance, but Beyond Resistance.
In the weeks to come, this website will be recommitting itself to trying to churn out regular content the best we can. Apologies if we miss the mark on that front, as we all have busy lives in addition to written commentary, podcasting, etc.
This weekend the third season of the Agreeing Loudly podcast will be on just one topic and prompt: the Third Party option.
In addition, I’m hoping to finish up three articles in a “state of” series on the nation, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party.
If this coalition translated to the electoral college, which I understand is a big leap of logic this far out, but bear with me here, if that DID happen, you would not just see a Sanders victory over the most unpopular presidential candidate of all time (candidate Trump) but you could possibly see the first genuine popular vote AND electoral college landslide since 1988 (and to a lesser extent 2008).
My Constructive Criticism of the Summit.
First of all, folks at the summit of all stripes were amazingly self-reflective of what could have gone better not just for the movement, but also for the 2016 Sanders campaign for President.
My two points for potential improvements to next years Summit.
- Get a vets or foreign policy-focused speaker to talk about and call for a national “Peace and Security” movement. There are massive levels of economic implications to our #ForeverWar policy that tie into the larger issues presented by the movement. The social and economic costs in caring for our veterans and veterans issues have been some of the best policy work that Senator Sanders has done, so it only makes sense to feature this going forward.
- Reach out to Republicans concerned with the direction of their party, big money in politics, and the growing, unsustainable levels of economic inequality. Perhaps this one will be more controversial, but if we’re truly to talk to everyone, we have to mean it. And we see evidence every day, not so much amongst Republican political leaders but we do see it amongst the rank and file and they are growing uncomfortable with the Trump-led GOP. The GOP is dominated by the interests of the donor and billionaire class even more so than the Democrats most years, and disillusioned Republicans becoming former Republicans would be a key feature of any future coalition, especially in current red to light-red states.
The participants were divided on the question of a Third Party movement, but were engaged, passionate, and committed to the future no matter what — it’s an “All Hands on Deck” strategy for saving democracy for all and creating a 21st century economy that works for the many and not just the few.
Division is nothing new in this political age. Like the rest of the country, there was a split in views at the Summit. Progressives and populists committed to taking on the corporate state are divided on how best to achieve the desired results of taking on big money in politics and tackling the moral issue of our time–the highest levels of economic inequality in a century.
My unscientific observations of the sentiments is that the People’s Summit activists, organizers, leaders, and followers prefer starting a vital third party movement in this country. This is a sentiment I agree with more and more each day. However, for the time being, reforming the Democratic Party by taking it over seems to be the immediate goal and interest. A goal that has seen mixed results, winning some small battles early on, but losing the more high-profile battles like the DNC Chair election, California Democratic Party Chair election, etc. What is clear though is the ideas and message is winning over public opinion in America at-large. Significant portions of the speech last Saturday highlighted that.
And what is vitally true, is that we have now reached a 1955 William F. Buckley moment for progressives that this website had called for in 2015 and 2016 throughout the Presidential campaign as all of us ranted and raved about how badly the Democratic Party was going to bottom out in the coming years.
Progressives and populists have finally come to terms with the failure of the current model of the Democratic Party, and from this day forward–everyone knows that change will not come from the Democratic Party, change can only be brought to the Democratic Party. And the more and more party leadership grasps onto and protects their hold on power, even in the name of electoral viability (which is a ridiculous reason when you’ve lost nearly every election), the more and more power the movement, independent of any party control–will be. One way or another, the neoliberal and professional class consensus is over. And thank God for that.
I do not say these things lightly. After all, I am a member of the professional class in this country, but I also think that the younger cohorts of the professional class (Gen X and millennials, those under 45 or so) have far more in common (because of issues with student debt, broader acceptance of diversity, etc.) with the concerns of the working class (now more diverse than at any time in American history) than the concerns of the professional class consensus, whose obsession with incrementalism, education and innovation as a key to mitigating inequality (when in reality, it’s rationalizing it), and insistence that all problems can be solved from Harvard or Yale yard, Wall Street or Silicon Valley, New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, or by lawyers or financial service professionals, etc.
If the leadership of the party would rather go down on the Titanic, so long as they have a first class seat, then so be it. The overriding focus of the People’s Summit was not to re-litigate the 2016 election, but to move beyond just merely resisting what the Trump administration is doing, because guess what? That only goes so far, both in practical day-to-day terms and in electoral terms.
Folks, the only way out of this is to win elections, and to win elections you need a party willing to adopt a better message. A message capable of capturing a large majority of the nation and turning out and inspiring more voters than at any other point in modern U.S. history, because there are significant obstacles in gerrymandering and voter suppression to overcome.
The ideas and message of the folks who attended the People’s Summit were not welcome at the CAP conference this year, so we took them to our own conference, in the same state where the last successful third party movement in America took off from, Illinois.
The Republican Party was founded as an abolitionist party to end the immoral practice of slavery in this country. Similarly, if neither major party takes seriously the issue of big money in politics and the fact that we are in a 2nd Gilded Age, then it is highly likely that the movement makes a clean break. But as of now, in practical terms, the prevailing consensus was that there is not enough time for 2018, and undecided about 2020.
One of the conference speakers Thomas Frank (writer, historian, and co-founder of the Baffler), put it best at the end of his most recent book “Listen, Liberal!” which was written almost as if he already knew the 2016 electoral result, even though it was published in the summer.
Direct solutions are off the table for the moment… Democrats have no interest in reforming themselves in a more egalitarian way. There is little the rest of us can do, given the current legal arrangements of this country, to a build a vital third-party movement or to revive organized labor, the one social movement that is committed by its nature to pushing back against the inequality trend.
What we can do is strip away the Democrats’ precious sense of their own moral probity–to make liberals live without the comforting knowledge that righteousness is always on their side. It is that sensibility, after all, that prevents so many good-hearted rank-and-file Democrats from understanding how starkly and how deliberately their political leaders contradict their values. Once that contradiction has been made manifest–once that smooth, seamless sense of liberal virtue has been cracked, anything becomes possible. The course of the party and the course of the country can both be changed, but only after we understand that the problem is us.
The Scene and Setting: cultural treasure (in progressive-populist circles) Carson Starkey gets off-stage after introducing Bruce Springsteen to a crowd in San Francisco. The Bay Area is one of the thriving cultural centers of the People’s Republic of California, the first modern-day state to secede from the United States of America just after Trump’s re-election in 2020. He joins Troy Olson, on assignment from his home in Harlem to build diplomatic ties to the land with the 4th largest GDP in the world.
The Democrats have recently won complete control of all levels of government after the 2028 Presidential, Congressional, and State Elections. Carson and Troy reminisce on how it all happened.
So what just happened there? What’s your take Professor Starkey?
(note: Carson recently took a job at a Twin Cities area university, his favorite course is an elective on “American History as Told By the Music of Bruce Springsteen”)
Well, Hillary took a teaching job at Columbia, and avoided public endorsements, which allowed Seth Moulton to become governor of Massachusetts. Keith Ellison became Minnesota’s first black senator after Al Franken retired to become senior producer at Saturday Night Live. Tulsi Gabbard took legislating seriously, stopped surfing, and co-authored Medicaid-for-all w/ Kirsten Gillibrand.
You’re maybe giving too much credit to the winning team here. I attribute these historic wins for the Democrats to GOP incompetence. Who knew their policies would be widely disliked and disastrous for the country? Well… you knew.
That’s true. Life got hard for a lot of cable news viewers when they lost SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and minimum wage laws.
It also helped that rural monopolies by cable companies pushed prices to over $100 per month when they could have just had Netflix for $9 per month. Did these companies really think that no millennials would tell their parents to downsize in this area?
Right. Disastrous policies forced some hard choices on boomer parents. Some folks lost their Fox News fix.
The two-front war in Syria and Iran certainly didn’t help in the ’22 midterms (historical note: the first decent cycle per expectations in a decade for the Democratic Party). They should have pursued a draft but of course that would have led to even worse results at the ballot box.
The National Guard wasn’t ready. Also Republicans shouldn’t have run Dakota Meyer for President in 2024. His limited policy knowledge was surpassed only by Bristol Palin’s ugly bigotry.
They definitely over-estimated how much Trump had prepared the country for ugly bigotry… at some point people were going to get sick of it. It did not help that golden boys J.D. Vance was unable to beat Sherrod Brown for the Senate, and Tim Tebow was still trying to play professional sports (as of this writing: Tebow is under contract with the Las Vegas Raiders and is likely to be cut this fall)…
Sherrod Brown…forgot about him after he retired from the Senate to be a Supreme Court Justice. But we finally prioritized the judiciary.
(Continuing)… Donald Trump Jr’s failed term as Governor of New York didn’t help. Who knew New York state could do so much worse than Andrew Cuomo?
Lessons learned I suppose.
Speaking of Cuomo, worst presidential campaign in modern history? 2020. Wow. 5th in the Iowa Caucus.
He wasted 30 million dollars on campaign ads touting his fleet of collector cars. The donors were furious. But Cuomo moved to Goldman Sachs and soldiered on.
That’s a write-off for them made easy after the Supreme Court extended the privileges and immunities clause to corporations in the early 2020’s.
The DNC finally got out of the way of President Sanders, perhaps it was the overwhelming numbers and widespread misery.
I had my doubts if we were ever going to move on from a one party GOP state, especially after California became its own Republic. Which deep down had to burn many Texans because they didn’t get there first.
One of the few places capable of that course of action economically. Silicon Valley refused to relocate, it made sense. Regarding Texas, Governor Ted Cruz was unpersuasive.
Of course the downside to California leaving was that we were officially passed in GDP by China… but I imagine hysterical white people think it’s worth it. Demographic majorities for another decade or so.
That coal industry recovery never happened.
Didn’t need to. Trump correctly assumed that those voters would never vote for a Democrat anyway. The real question I have is–how long will these new majorities last and will they finally go after the needed big reforms?
Medicare-for-all would be a good escalation.
Let’s hope lessons have been learned. Now is the time. Although I have my doubts majority leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi will push hard enough for it.
Paired with universal basic income it may be hard. I suppose the revenue for those policies hinge on the corporate repatriation. Which Schumer and Durbin oppose with a bigger cut in the rates.
So admittedly, I was wrong about that “permanent” minority leader status. Apparently negative 30 favorability ratings nationally do not translate locally. Either way, it has been a lonely White House for President Sanders, not unlike Trump with the GOP.
The infrastructure is still not there, and he is not built for grandiose moments in the spotlight.
Fair point. The race is already on for who succeeds him. Do we swing back toward centrist-corporatist-neoliberals? A progressive heir? Does this growing Millennial Party that was willing to follow as long as Sanders got nominated but now is furious because they still have no place in electoral politics unless they run as Republicans bolt?
Larry David keeps making fun of Sanders, but it isn’t as funny as 2016.
Everyone looks old and tired. We’re bogged down in 4 fronts now (Afghanistan-Iraq-Syria-Iran), and despite the best efforts of the Sanders administration, we’ll soon enter our 29th straight year at war without a draft… it seems insane.
There’ll be some super attractive Iran War vet with a square jaw and two kids that runs against Tom Cotton. And progressives will soon be placated with Center for American Progress think tank jobs. The ebb and flow of the game I suppose…
So I guess we’ve answered the question. We’ll lose our majorities in the ’30 midterms, meaning we blow a redistricting year, and can look forward to President Tom Cotton. Or President Rubio because it’s now a tradition that we pick him to win. Like Chris Berman picking the 49ers vs. the Bills in the Super Bowl for 13 straight years.
It is fitting that his nickname is Boomer. BA in history from Brown in ’77, which of course leads to a major job in broadcasting for reasons. Meanwhile, no amount of doctoral degrees, community involvement, subsequent pounding of pavement was able to similarly convince the powers that be otherwise about the younger cohorts.
The game is the game.
Absolutely, the game is the game.
And it is a horrible, god-awful game.
Who Is John Galt?
by Carson Starkey
Americans are living through a unique time of political paradox. Elected officials and ideological enthusiasts possess the capacity to blanket media outlets with an endless variety of messages. They can hoist the banners for the War on Christmas, announce the urgent need for English-only or flag burning constitutional amendments, and trumpet the inevitable anarchy that follows from women wearing pants. Ordinary voters are under constant surveillance whenever they’re not screeching at passing cars or talk radio programs. Traffic cameras capture every move in urban life. Police departments shake down working people with fines and tickets designed to raise revenue while shuttling mostly people of color into feedback loops of poverty and incarceration (Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Ferguson Report, March 5, 2015). In a time of unrestrained access and monitoring, we can rely on one phenomenon to remain mystical and undefined…conservative public policies.
We can draw a straight line from Massachusetts Puritans and Virginia planters telling their social subordinates (usually people of color, women, and the economically disadvantaged) to accept The Almighty’s judgment to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan assuring Fox News viewers that they have soon-to-be-disclosed but for now secret plans for every socioeconomic ill. Donald Trump will defeat ISIS…somehow, but he can’t tell how or when. Congressional Republicans will find a way to insure more people with lower costs by repealing the Affordable Care Act…somehow, but they can’t explain when/how that will happen, what the trade offs will entail, or who will make sacrifices. For the past forty years, conservatives have been promising higher wages and greater economic security for the majority of Americans, but they always get distracted by massive upward redistributions of wealth in the form of rich people welfare (tax cuts and subsidies), and forget to administer their previously promised plebeian quality of life expansion. Which goes a long way towards explaining why wages have been stagnant since Bruce Springsteen first introduced us to Mary’s swaying dress (Economic Policy Institute, “Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts, January 6, 2015, Reference to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” from the “Born to Run” album, 1975).
We soon observe that the Puritans, planters, and free market Praetorians never disclose their highly touted solutions. They stay perched in their fortresses, plantations, and penthouses, smirking through slavery, monstrous economic inequality, and foreign policy catastrophes. Are John Galt’s acolytes secretive, dishonest, or clueless?
Much like the work of Ayn Rand, the answer is unsophisticated and disheartening. Little about our political and economic history can be described accurately as prologue. American conservatives lack originality, though we should stress that they always have plenty of ideas, as a common refrain among liberals is that conservatives have run out of ideas. To borrow from Sam Elliot’s immortal Big Lebowski Narrator, far from it dude. You can thank Saint Louis Park, Minnesota after you finish reading this entry. Conservatives have plenty of ideas…aggressively unpopular, unfair, unworkable ideas that, when implemented by elected officials and other powerful individuals, impose needless suffering on large swathes of less powerful people. Their policy solutions are always variations of faith-based healing. Pray to somebody-Republican Jesus (who directs His followers to harm the poor, use violence to solve every problem, and create incomprehensible financial instruments in The Temple), John Galt, Alan Greenspan, a buffoonish Macy’s tie salesman with a silly toupee, or a polytheistic assortment of billionaires-and hope that your chosen omnipotent figure alleviates your earthly suffering. When your prayers go unanswered, go back to work and await further instructions from the appropriate cable news commentator.
The boring truth is that Nick Hanauer was right. If conservative policies have or had any connection to reality, America would be a wildly different place than it is in 2017. We’d be drowning in jobs because rich people would have trickled oceans of wealth down upon us as byproducts from their obscene tax code-derived welfare gifts that Ronald “avowed segregationist and apartheid supporter” Reagan and George W. “trillion dollar investor in Iraq and Afghanistan” Bush bequeathed them. Instead, Americans live with horrific, multi-generational poverty from Appalachia to East Los Angeles. (Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk, March 2012).
Now would be a good time to stop waiting for John Galt, because nobody has ever laid eyes upon him. Which means that he’s not coming. Not now, not at any time during President Tie Salesman’s administration, and not ever. You can mourn that fact, or you can take actions to improve your quality of life.
John Galt Does Not Exist.
by Troy Olson
Exactly. Who is John Galt? Not Donald Trump, not Mark Zuckerberg, and quite frankly – not anyone who has ever actually existed on this planet.
There are a few that certainly come close, but even they had to have parents, a community, teachers, mentors, a road and a bridge to make their work, ideas, or innovations possible.
President Trump and the one-party state is not building roads and bridges, they are building a wall and using fear and hate to make terrified people more terrified. Where will it all end?
Well for starters, it won’t work. New policies will indeed be undertaken and passed, implemented and forged. But America will not be made great again or whole again, and what is great about America will recede before us as long as Trump and the one party GOP state is in office. I want this country to succeed. Usually I would cheer triumphantly for our leaders to succeed in helping improve the country. Not this President, and not this administration. For their political success will be the undoing of centuries of democracy, norms and traditions, and their policies will not work because the last four decades already inform us that they will not work. That’s right. Everything they are undertaking has already been attempted and failed miserably by policy outcome measures and the preferences of the American people, who as seen below, prefer a set of wildly different policies.
Simply put, we know that policies of tax giveaways to the rich, corporate socialism, and forever war won’t work because the last 40 years have happened.
The thirty year time span after World War II, when the labor share of income was at its highest, was the most broadly prosperous time in American history.
Why? Because we invested in people. Wages rose with inflation and productivity rather than stagnated. We led with ideas and committed to the fundamental aspects of our national character that actually made us great:
1. Quality public education, for more and more people.
2. Investments in continually modernizing infrastructure like roads, bridges, and the interstate highway system.
3. Yes, Open Immigration laws so that the best and the brightest are drawn here, and so that those seeking opportunity add to American life, continually energizing our society with new ideas and perspectives. This one has had a few interruptions, but broadly speaking throughout American history our laws have been welcoming.
4. Government support for Research and Development (remember when we went to the moon?).
5. Implementation of necessary and proper regulation on private economic activity (sorry folks, Donald Trump won’t magically make your 401k go up, but the next financial crash brought to you by Government Sachs and the big five surely will deplete it).
Even before Trump, we have been drifting away from all of this.
If you think doubling and tripling-down on these policies is going to actually “Make America Great Again” I’ve got some land to sell you on the planet Alderaan.
All of these policies, whether by the administration or by Speaker Ryan and the GOP Congress are built upon an Ayn Randian worldview that fundamentally, like Karl Marx before, misunderstands and misrepresents what a human being actually is and wants. Human beings are not cut out for the rugged individualism of Atlas Shrugged, or Steve Jobs biopics.
Individualism has its place, but without a compassionate community to support, foster, and nurture people into productive members of a civil society, then all is lost. Human beings are by our very nature-overwhelmingly social beings. All religions and biological theories of human beings recognize this key distinction. Even our love of ideas springs from our love of people. We would not have made it this far if we just wanted to construct walls, divide, and hate one another.
Just as elements of collectivist thought failed to account for the spirit of individualism present in our society, so to will the Randian politics implemented by authoritarian measures. These policies will fail and ruin this land. Because this is not what people are about. We take care of our own, and we do it with a little help from our friends.
Months ago during the Presidential primary election, during the peak of this nascent website’s readership (so far, perhaps forever), I wrote about what could be appropriately called the “Greater Recession.” It’s detailed focus was on the millennial generation (those born between circa 1980/81 and 1998 or so) and housing and the role that will play in contributing to the next recession. At the end I teased that housing will not be the chief driving force however behind the next recession, rather it will be the fact that baby boomers, retiring en-masse starting a few years ago, will be cashing in their 401K’s and this outflow will outpace the money that is going into retirement markets. What sounds alarmist now and overly complicated will sound stupidly simple when history is written: retirement accounts need money in them. Duh.
In the wake of the silliest U.S. Presidential Election and national conversation on record and for a country whose youngest working generation and middle class is still reeling from the previous Great Recession, it’s completely understandable why no one wants to hear or read about the next one (don’t worry, they won’t). But demographics are still destiny.
They are a chief driving reason Italy cannot grow more than 1 percent annually because Italy cannot replace its own population. Birth rates. If it were not for their relatively more modern and diversified economies, France and Spain would suffer from similar systemic growth problems because most of Europe is suffering from historically low birth rates. The United States has its own birth rate crisis too, but at the other end of the spectrum. The post-World War II baby boom from 1946 to roughly 1964.
As of mid-2015 withdrawals from 401K plans exceed new contributions, a shift that could shake up the U.S. retirement industry and a trend that will continue well into the next decade and perhaps beyond. Three to four million baby boomers will be retiring every year between now and 2020, and it is expected to accelerate beyond that. The direct result will be on asset management firms and the retirement portion of investment banks being squeezed of large amounts of money because they rely on fees charged to employers and investors as their chief profit engine. Before I move on, let’s go through a quick primer on the history of 401Ks.
401K retirement plans came into wide usage in the 1980s as more companies embraced them as a replacement to their more costly pension fund counterpart. In other words, 401Ks are the privatization of pension plans. Along with the general erosion of big labor and private (as well as some public) sector unions in the U.S., this trend has contributed to declining and stagnant middle and working class incomes. The financial capitalism model that rose in the United States in this decade coincides with globalization ascendent generally, with the post-War political and economic consensus fading into history. Pensions were out. Privatization was in. The prevalence of 401K plans coincide with the major working years of the baby boomer generation, the largest cohort in American history until millennials.
A 401K bubble, unlike the housing bubble, will be far more fundamental than Senator McCain could ever conceive of because it will be demographically and systemically driven. We have seen so many cracks in globalization’s inevitability this past year, whether it is Brexit, the rise of nationalism generally, or the entire 2016 Presidential Election cycle. The final nail in the coffin to its inevitability may very well be another recession, which will no doubt have global implications as well because nearly everything does now. If we’ve learned anything since 2007-09 it’s that globalization and interdependence is failing, and will likely keep failing, rightly or wrongly. We have also learned that nation-states still matter and they matter the most. Rising nationalism that borders on jingoism and xenophobia in some quarters is frightening to anyone who has read history, but at the most basic level–the primacy and importance of national leadership and its ability to control and secure national interests is still incredibly relevant. Much of this development is political and populist in nature, and often very much to the chagrin of the global system, especially those in the financial community.
It has been said, and I think this is still the best case for globalization (although slipping a bit each year), that countries that trade together and are dependent on one another will not fight each other. A free trade and globalized world order is a peaceful world. With each passing year though, this gets harder and harder to believe. When Iraqi civilian casualties are 1/4th the total of the holocaust, you know instinctively that you are not living in a more peaceful world. Rather, you are merely avoiding the most dangerous parts of the world.
In fairness to those who would call this alarmist thinking, there are three economic developments and one political, that could at the very least, stem the tide. Starting with the most unlikely to succeed.
1. Millennials putting enough money into their own retirements (very unlikely).
Despite the demographic ability to do it, millennials are squeezed out of good paying jobs still and even if they obtain those jobs (a big “if”), significant student loan debt and other costs will limit our ability to save for retirement in the years to come.
2. Asset management firms reinvesting a good potion of boomer-held wealth back into the market (more likely).
This may not be enough either though. Aging costs money and boomers are not nearly as wealthy as we all think they are. After all, their entire working lives coincide with America going from an FDR / New Deal / “We take care of our own” – model to a Reagan / “trickle-down economics” / financial capitalism – model.
3. Wall Street downsizing (most likely, already happening).
An interesting facet of the Greater Recession could very well be the great irony: just as the Great Recession could be characterized as Wall Street driving an economic recession that left millennials with few paying jobs, the Greater Recession could be characterized by millennials lacking the assets, paying jobs, and income to prevent an economic recession that will in turn, leave many on Wall Street without their high-paying jobs.
And then there is the political solution.
We all saw how swiftly both parties acted in the wake of the global financial meltdown in 2008. But even in success, we also saw how readily evident it was that the United States has a public policy that is so incredibly friendly to wealthy elites and corporations that more and more publications are taking to calling the United States an oligarchy. Furthermore, political gridlock in the Obama years has made another swift action in response to an economic crisis harder to imagine. It’s far more likely any political response is an incredibly partisan one, carried out by a Republican Party in complete control of the United States government after 2020.
Therefore it’s far more likely that social insurance programs get privatized due to the political winds of the time, bad luck, and poor party-building and planning by the Democratic Party, which will be the chief purpose of the third and final part of the Greater Recession article series.