The following Smucker article is an insightful contribution to the discussions on fighting Trump and fascism. A the same time I feel the article needs to more intentionally identify racism and white supremacy, both historially and presently, as the foundation for fascism’s growth and the weakness of progressive populism. For example, the discussion of Roosevelt’s populism leaves out the fact that an alliance was made with Southern Democrats which kept the Democratic party in power for the span of Roosevelt’s nearly 16 year presidency which meant that the Jim Crow reign of terror continued in the South.
The article is also extremely vague about what happens after November 8. The return to levels of fragmentation and separation is a likely outcome. Following the recall of Walker, as part of a significant uprising in Wisconsin, the way forward has been without enough focus and alliance of forces.
Jonathan M fight Smucker 7/29/16
We want a political revolution. First we must defeat fascism.
If progressives fail to seize the populist moment, the authoritarian right will fill the void. The insurgent Bernie Sanders campaign was a big step forward in building the progressive populist political alignment we need. Now that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee, we have to figure out how to keep building after the 2016 election cycle. But first we must mobilize to defeat hate, bigotry, and the growing threat of fascism.
We are living in very exciting times. And we are living in very dangerous times. This year I was thrilled by the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. It’s remarkable how close he came to winning the Democratic Party nomination, considering the resources and organization arrayed against his insurgent campaign. Like many others, I voted for Bernie in the primary and did what I could to work for his nomination. I wish he had won for so many reasons. Obviously there’s the fact that he is genuinely progressive and willing to fight against entrenched power, including his own party’s stale leadership. He signals a potential progressive direction for both the Democratic Party and the country. As important, I think Sanders was the stronger candidate in the general election — for reasons that most in the Democratic Party leadership completely fail to grasp. Why do I think Bernie would have been more viable? For the same reason that I thought Trump had the potential to win the Republican nomination since last summer: we are living in populisttimes.
Let me be more specific than the pundits who have been throwing around the word populism willy-nilly in recent months, as if it were not much more than a bad mood swing of the American electorate. To be living in populist times is to be living in an era when political authority is no longer seen as legitimate by most people; what’s often referred to as a crisis of legitimacy. During such a crisis, populist movements and leaders emerge, from both the right and the left, in order to forge a new popular alignment of social forces. Populists explain the causes of the crisis, they name ‘the establishment’ as the problem, and they articulate a new vision forward — an aspirational horizon — for ‘the people.’ Left-wing populism and right-wing populism thus share certain rhetorical features (i.e., ‘the people’ aligned against ‘the establishment’), but their contents and consequences could hardly be further apart. The retrograde ‘aspirational horizon’ of right-wing populism tends to be in the rearview mirror: a nostalgic longing for a simpler time that never actually existed. More importantly, despite its ostensible anti-elitism, right-wing populism always punches down, unifying ‘the people’ (some of them) by scapegoating a demonized other: blacks, Jews, homosexuals, immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims — take your pick — depending on the opportunities available to the particular demagogue in the given context.
“Despite displaying the trappings of anti-elitism, right-wing populism always punches down, unifying ‘the people’ by scapegoating a demonized other.”
The signs of the present crisis accumulated for a long time: The Iraq War, crumbling public infrastructure, Hurricane Katrina, growing inequality. But if any single event brought about a popular recognition of the crisis of legitimacy, it was the financial meltdown of 2008. Despite reestablishing some level of relative stability, this underlying crisis has stayed with us since then, even if often out of sight and out of the minds of the punditry and the political class. Their underestimation of the magnitude of the crisis is what has made them so useless in predicting the remarkable success of the insurgencies within both major parties in 2016.
In these two insurgencies we can see the ‘two sides’ of populism and the two very different possible paths. Thus, a crisis of legitimacy is exciting for progressives insofar as it places our potential path right in front of us. It presents our underdog movements with an incredible opportunity to narrate the crisis, to reframe the premises of American society, and to organize a new progressive populist alignment capable of challenging the entrenched power of elites: in short, a political revolution. But a crisis of legitimacy is extraordinarily dangerous for a left that is not ready to take advantage of it. History shows that when progressives fail to realign popular social forces in such populist moments, reactionary authoritarians can suddenly step in with remarkable speed and horrific consequences. That is what we are witnessing with the rise of Trump in the United States, and with the related rise of fascism (leaders, movements, and political parties) throughout much of Europe. The stakes of everything we do right now are extraordinarily high.
Neoliberals, progressives, and the Democratic Party