From a collapse of the empire to the municipal socialists, below are few excerpts from some recent pieces that together illustrate the various scales, contradictions, and possibilities of politics in the US.
The Biggest Threat to America’s Future Is … America, by John Cassidy
Today, however, it is hard to make the argument that the U.S. political system is serving the country well. With heightened competition and new global challenges, such as the rise of China, the United States badly needs to acknowledge the new realities and improve its game. Despite the country’s enduring economic strength, its conception of its role in the world is outmoded, its infrastructure is crumbling, and its test scores are lagging in math and other areas, despite its impressive performance in cutting-edge research. At the very least, it needs to preserve some of its old techniques of maintaining power, including fostering institutions through which it can exercise “soft power” and serving as a magnet for talented and hard-working immigrants, who provide it with invaluable skills and entrepreneurship.
Rather than accomplishing any of these things, Washington seems to be trapped in a never-ending back and forth, in which sloganeering substitutes for analysis and political point-scoring is elevated above policymaking. It’s a dismal spectacle, and if it goes on indefinitely it will exact an increasingly high price. Not the sudden collapse of Pax Americana, perhaps, but the gradual undermining of it.
Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country? by Tom Engelhardt
Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our one percent elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the US military and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism) and you have something like a new ballgame.
While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon and the officials of the national security state.
Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.
Want to Rebuild the Left? Take Socialism Seriously, by Kshama Sawant
After receiving one of the highest votes for a socialist candidate in decades, I ran again in 2013 for the Seattle City Council. Once again, my campaign made bold anticorporate demands—for rent control, a “millionaires’ tax” to fully fund social services, and a citywide $15 minimum wage. Running independently as a Socialist Alternative candidate helped me tap into voters’ anger at the status quo of corporate politics. In Seattle, the council members pay themselves $120,000 a year, the second-highest council salary among the nation’s forty largest cities. I accepted no corporate donations and pledged to take only the average Seattle worker’s wage of $40,000. I also promised to use the rest of my salary to help build social movements.
A few weeks after my election, Socialist Alternative and I launched 15 Now, the grassroots campaign that worked with the Seattle labor movement to build support for a $15 minimum wage. Last April, after three months of intense campaigning and movement-building with a citywide network of neighborhood groups, 15 Now filed a “charter amendment.” Business leaders, fearing that the ballot measure could end up being passed as a voter referendum in November, decided to limit their losses by crafting a weaker $15-per-hour ordinance—and then fought to undercut that with loopholes.
The loopholes (including a longer phase-in period, a tip credit, and subminimum wages for teens and persons with disabilities) reflected the strength of the corporate counteroffensive to our movement’s efforts and the complicity of the Democratic Party. But the final result will be a $3 billion transfer of wealth over ten years from corporations to Seattle’s 100,000 lowest-paid workers.
All of these gains are only a taste of the fundamental change we need. While successfully defending low-income housing was a victory, we also need to build thousands more units. While raising funds for social services is a real step forward, we need tens of millions more just to address critical needs. Genuine socialism means planning the entire society and economy on a rational, democratic and sustainable basis—delivering a high standard of living to all while protecting the environment.
Any attempt to develop socialist municipal policies will inevitably come up against resource and technological constraints, as well as political attacks from outside the locality. This can even be seen in the fight for the $15 minimum wage, when Seattle’s victory was immediately threatened by potential statewide initiatives aimed at outlawing local minimum-wage laws. Socialists can overcome these challenges by drawing strength from the interdependence of working people nationally and internationally.