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Tag Archive - USA

Trainspotting Trump v. Sanders from Canada

by Hammerhearts

Like many people in Canada I have been watching the American primaries with a detached morbid curiosity. And this last week in American politics did not disappoint. Bernie Sanders pulled off a stunning upset against Clinton in Michigan on Tuesday. Both of the outsider candidates in the Republican race, Trump and Cruz, continued to rack up primary delegates. The Republican establishment is in full meltdown mode, leading lights and donors of the party secretly met in Sea Island, Georgia to plot against Trump.

Clinton had one of her worst weeks. She easily lost the Miami debate, saw the re-emergence of stories about Libya and Honduras, that reminded voters of her hawkish foreign policy. She pissed off one her core constituencies, the LGBTQ community – especially affluent gay men – by stating Nancy Reagan started the national conversation about HIV/AIDS.

She followed that up by her bizarre response to the Chicago anti-Trump protest, which didn’t condemn Trump but cautioned protestors about using violence with a nonsensical reference to the Charleston murders. And on top of that it looks like her 20-point leads in Illinois and Ohio have evaporated.

More importantly, a different dynamic beyond the election has emerged. The anti-Trump protest in Chicago, which cancelled the Trump rally, has asserted mass politics onto the national stage. While Trump rallies have been met with protests for some time now, the scale of the Chicago protest and its ability to shutdown down Trump was a game changer.

The broad coalition of Bernie Sanders supporters, Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter (BLM), trade-union, immigrant right and student activists who participated inside and outside the rally managed to do what no one else has: shut Trump up! The protest was well organized, but it also turned into a chaotic scene in Chicago.

The energy that the protesters tapped into was the same energy that has driven the Sanders campaign. By making Trump look weak and beatable they inspired and embolden others to take action. His subsequent rallies and public appearances in places such as St. Louis, Cincinnati, Dayton and Kansas City have been shutdown or marred by interruptions and demonstrations. Trump has lost the narrative. The story is about the protests, about his incitement of violence, about his bigotry.

The Sanders campaign and the anti-Trump movement seem to be feeding each other, at least for now. The Sanders campaign has not denounced the protesters and has blamed Trump for the violence. Trump has in turn blamed the Sanders campaign for the protests and even threatened to send his own supporters to Sanders’ rallies. The political field is polarizing with both the establishment of the Democratic and Republican parties in deep trouble.

Within the context of the economic decimation of the working class various movements have come to life over the last number of years – BLM, immigrant rights, Fight for $15, Occupy – that have successfully pushed their politics and caused innumerable fractures in American political life. Both the Trump and Sanders campaigns, from wholly different places, are speaking over the heads of the rotting political class directly to the American masses.

The Sanders’ campaign, when it works best, is giving voice to those social movements, raising expectations of the working class and directing this fear, anger and despair against Wall Street, corporate America and the political establishment.

Trump is not just taking that same energy and directing it towards racist and xenophobic ends, which he most assuredly is. As Thomas Frank notes, Trump is also speaking directly to people’s real fears about job losses and about free trade deals that have crushed American workers. The underlying conditions of the polarization of American politics aren’t the words of Trump or Sanders, they are the very real material circumstances of people’s lives and the debate now is who is going to give political shape and direction to them.

Lost in Canadian Translation 

In Canada, there has been no shortage of fascination with the Trump and Sanders campaigns. The former is viewed with a mixture of humour and fear, while the latter has captured the imagination of large parts of the left. Sanders’ campaign largely embodies what the NDP is perceived to be, a classic New Deal social democrat. But the NDP has tacked so far to the right over the last bunch of decades that Sanders serves simply as a reminder of what the NDP is not.

He supports taxing the rich, opposes free trade deals, he supports breaking up big banks, regulating the financial sector, implementing a $15 minimum wage, he has responded to pressure to and come out against police violence, he is against the guest worker program and he is willing to state he supports socialism.

Those within the NDP apparatus that are attempting to harness this Sanders phenomenon to reenergize the NDP, are with the possible exception of Gary Burrill, aiming at a cheap PR makeover. In this way the NDP party machine has more in common with Clinton, who sees politics as an eternal exercise in branding. Sanders is far from perfect politically but watching his campaign from north of the border shows how narrow our political discourse has become.

Those of us in Canada who are sympathetic to Sanders’ (or Jeremy Corbyn for that matter) message miss something fundamental when we ask, “where is our Sanders or Corbyn or party that expresses a strong left position?” This type of question guides people to look for quick fixes. Sanders arose out of moribund political expression on the left within a context of economic insecurity. The openness of the masses to more radical ideas was far in advance of mainstream political debate.

In this way Sanders’ rise to prominence should be seen as the result of political conditions that have been shaped by social movements on the ground (such as BLM, United We Dream, Fight for $15, Wisconsin Bail Out the People, Climate Justice and Occupy). Sanders’ campaign did not create these conditions but has so far reverberated them, given them political expression, which has served to stoke the latent contradictions within mainstream American politics. The Trump protests were significant because they highlighted what is so very true in this election; the masses are the real force shaping American politics.

Watching the American election is in many ways like watching our future. In Canada, those who want to shift the debate leftwards should think less about dumping Mulcair or changing the NDP and think more about building the movements and local left organizations that can create the conditions for a renewed and militant working class politics. If we fail to do so we are in much worse trouble than a bad election outcome.

Republished from the blog article first published on March 14, 2016.


Wages of Rebellion Without Strategy

By Kaley Kennedy 

Review of Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion (Knopf Canada, 2015) 

About two thirds into Wages of Rebellion, Chris Hedges discusses the writing of Thomas Paine, saying "[Paine] spoke undeniable truths. And he did so in a language that was accessible. He called upon his readers to act upon these truths."  

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Hedges. Not only is much of Wages of Rebellion excessively academic, referencing dozens of authors, theorists, and political thinkers who are probably not common reading for those on the front lines of political struggle, but he also presents little in the way of a call to action. 


The Real Ron Paul

Ron Paul is a Texas member of Congress currently running in the Republican presidential primaries.
Paul certainly won't win the Republican nomination, but he has the potential to galvanize a movement around his agenda. Why does this matter to people in Canada who support radical social change?


Explaining Acquiescence

By Charlie Post

Review of Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015)

All of us on the left are all too familiar with the capitalist offensive of the past forty years. Under the banner of "neo-liberalism" capital has rolled back almost every gain working people across the world have made since the 1930s. All sorts of public industries, services and institutions have been privatized, social welfare programs that protected workers from the worst insecurities of the labour-market have been rolled back or simply abolished and unions and working class political parties that had traditionally organized and represented working people have been severely weakened.


Playbook for Progressives

By Maryann Abbs

Review of Eric Mann, Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011).


The New Movement: Are We There Yet?

By Glen Ford

After decades of misleader-induced lethargy and quietude, Black America is finally in motion – or, at the very least, earnestly seeking ways to resist being plunged deeper into the abyss.


What Happened in Wisconsin?

By Tessa Echeverria and Andrew Sernatinger

On a cold January day in Wisconsin, the two of us sat over a couple of cups of coffee and started talking, like many others, about what was happening in the world and remarked on the chain of revolts across Europe and North Africa. We got up to leave and passed a copy of January's Economist magazine, the cover reading "The Battle Ahead, Confronting the Public Sector Unions." We crossed East Washington Avenue, a long stretch of vacant manufacturing buildings in Madison, and asked each other, "When is it going to be our turn?"


Chris Hedges: From Moral Gadfly to Eclectic Radical

By Jase Short

Chris Hedges is one of the most celebrated intellectuals of the contemporary US Left. A former New York Times reporter who essentially lost his job for taking a public stand against the invasion of Iraq, Hedges straddles the line between cynical doomsayer and principled critic of mainstream politics. In spite of many lapses in judgment in his intellectual work, the general thrust of his political standpoint is a welcome relief to those who have a hard time finding intellectuals who take the crises of global capitalism seriously.


A Diagnosis of the Current Situation

By Samuel Farber

Review of Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class (New York: Nation Books, 2010).


Caught in the Whirlwind: US Working-Class Families Face the Economic Crisis

By Johanna Brenner

The Great Recession has no doubt punctured US celebration of the unregulated market, generated anger at wealth disparities and shock at the loss of the American Dream. Yet three decades of conservative dominance and political drift to the right have taken their toll.


Dumb, Dumber and Sequester

By David Finkel

"Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself," wrote Mark Twain. That 19th century epigraph can serve to express today's attitude of a large and growing proportion of the US public, especially over the federal budget "sequester" -- across-the-board cuts that began taking effect on March 1.


Reflections of a Weather Underground Veteran

Review of David Gilbert, Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, The Weather Underground, and Beyond (PM Press, 2012).

By Kim Moody


The International Indigenous Movement for Self-Determination (Part II)

This article is Part 2 of a 2-part series, and is the basis of a presentation at the Historical Materialism 2012 conference in Toronto [http://www.yorku.ca/hmyork/]. Part 1 can be found here. The authors are both based in the United States, and thus use the term "tribal nations" and American Indians (Indigenous peoples in Canada refer to themselves as "First Nations"). – NSW


The International Indigenous Movement for Self-Determination (Part I)

This article is Part 1 of a 2-part series. Part 2 can be found here.The authors are both based in the United States, and thus use the term "tribal nations" (Indigenous peoples in Canada refer to themselves as "First Nations") -- NSW

By Andrew Curley and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz


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