NOTE TO READERS: This is Part 1 of a two-part series titled “The REAL Trump Resistance: An Anti-Duopoly Occupy.” Part 2, “Resist Duopoly – Because Judas’s Party Can’t Defeat Trump’s” will explain how a campaign confronting Democrat politicians with the Democratic National Committee’s “Judas argument” can launch the real anti-Trump resistance: a new, anti-duopoly Occupy movement.
Normal just ain’t normal anymore
Political hacks for the Democratic Party, as well as better-intentioned progressives hoping to reform it from within, frequently argue that under our U.S. political system, third parties simply cannot become viable.
While that argument holds for long stretches of U.S. history, it fatally ignores significant exceptions. But what it ignores above all is historical imagination: the insight that no human institution is permanent, and that sufficiently abnormal historical circumstances (best described as revolutionary ones) render a long-entrenched, seemingly unshakable system vulnerable to dramatic, virtually overnight overhaul.
Simply extrapolating from a long-enduring status quo has already proven lethal in economics. James Galbraith has convincingly argued this about the unquestioned dogma of endless economic growth in his book The End of Normal. From George W. Bush’s presidency on, economists’ success in predicting the U.S. (and global) economy’s performance has almost directly tracked their rejection of their profession’s orthodox consensus. Specifically, its groupthink dogma that post‒World War II growth rates constitute a stable “normal” to which, after brief hiccups, we should always expect the economy to return. By recognizing professionally pooh-poohed “snakes in the economic grass” like system-wide financial fraud and real-world resource scarcity – rather than extrapolating from a largely fictitious norm – the profession’s marginalized heretics have proven its wisest prophets.
In politics, nothing could be more abnormal than the ascent of Donald Trump – a Guinness World Records champion for moral, intellectual, and experiential unfitness to lead a global superpower – to the Oval Office. With Trump at the helm, the days of predicting our political future (like our economic one) by extrapolating forward from some presumed normal are long since passed. Rightly reviled intellectually as they were by leftist and rightist highbrows alike, lowbrow Republicans George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan at least had the substantial experiential qualification of having served as state governors; fellow lowbrow Trump can claim no political experience whatsoever. In that regard, he’s the perfect, logical culmination of Republicans’ utter, dangerous contempt for government. As political scientist Alan Wolfe brilliantly wrote, “Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.”
In the dire emergency we face – just consider runaway climate change (whose very existence Republicans deny)–it’s crucial that our boeuf bourguignon of good, democratic governance rapidly become a world-class one. Indeed, the need for world-class democratic governance – with heavy stress on the word democratic – in the face of lawless global capitalism is the timely message of Naomi Klein’s essential book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Yet, with our need for good government at its utmost, extremist anti-government Republicans now dominate federal and state government. When even careful, respected (and far from radical) Congressional scholars like Mann and Ornstein document that extremism – “normal” is the worst imaginable standard for predicting the likely sequels of current U.S. politics.
But what really makes our times so exceptional – and therefore finally ripe for the emergence of a viable third party – is that Democrats, who should offer robust opposition, have purposely become the party of betrayal. Though Republicans themselves are fond enough of big government when it suits their aims (like, say, expanding the military), they remain scarily honest in their dangerous agenda of eliminating government services, regulation, and redistribution. If Democrats, when holding power, actually used that power as promised to benefit the majority, they’d be mopping the electoral floor with Republicans, just as they did under FDR. Instead, by deliberately governing ineffectively (except where their big donors are concerned), Democrats create the misleading impression that government itself is ineffective. Thereby validating Republicans’ claim that government is the enemy – a claim unfortunately well anchored rhetorically in our nation’s founding traditions.
Sadly, the low-tech, isolated agrarian society of our founders has little to teach a high-tech modern superpower facing lawless global corporations, record economic inequality, and onrushing climate apocalypse. Democrats’ betrayal – their abdication of their claimed (and crucial) belief in government as an agent of good – has elevated criminally dangerous Republicans to power and made our era anything but normal. Thereby opening the door for something equally abnormal: a viable third party.
But first, must come a movement. Or rather, a movement of movements a là Occupy.
Why our times demand a new, savvier Occupy (general case)
Both general and specific circumstances cry out that our times demand a new Occupy-style grassroots movement. And specific developments since the first Occupy – above all, the repeated proofs Republicans and Democrats alike have given of their parties’ moral and intellectual bankruptcy – point to a savvier, more political Occupy focusing public consciousness on that bipartisan bankruptcy. Just as the original Occupy movement successfully focused public consciousness on the unjustifiable gap between the 99% and the 1%.
Indeed, only such public laser focus on the duopoly’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy can break through the combined media propaganda, prejudicial ballot access, and debate rules, and citizen inertia that currently kill all prospects for viable third parties. The new anti-duopoly Occupy can – and must – honestly make the same TINA (“there is no alternative”) case for creating a viable grassroots third party as dishonest Republicans have made for cutting Social Security and dishonest Democrats have for letting them. The difference is that the case for the duopoly’s irreparable moral and intellectual bankruptcy, necessitating a grassroots third party, rests on overwhelming – and recent – evidence.
But let’s return to the general circumstances that make this election cycle ripe for a new Occupy. I’ll treat the specific circumstances – the political developments since Occupy that make a new, savvier version of the movement both necessary and very likely to arise – under a separate heading.
By general circumstances, I mean precisely those circumstances that always call for political movements rather than business-as-usual reliance on elections. In his “oldie but goodie” book Political Action, activist political philosopher Michael Walser explained those circumstances well. Movement politics becomes essential when the usual mechanisms of electoral politics have no effect in getting needed action from politicians on issues crucial to the movement. Walser himself had been an activist against the Vietnam War, and the civil rights and feminist movements of that era had organized for similar reasons. What’s crucially different now is the systemic corruption of our government by corporate and militarist interests – what I’ve elsewhere usefully termed “Wall Street and War Street”–guarantees that no issue opposed by those interests gets a fair hearing by politicians of either major party. So that what’s now needed is not merely a movement devoted to a single group or issue, but a movement of movements embracing all the groups and interests stymied by bipartisan political corruption. As Occupy, by speaking for “the 99%,” essentially was – and as the new anti-duopoly movement must consciously be.
Why our times demand a new, savvier Occupy (specific case)
What Occupy brilliantly achieved was to take a truthful, well-documented analysis of U.S. ignored by corporatist mainstream media, condense that analysis into a few memorable slogans, and call attention to those slogans by large-scale actions media couldn’t ignore. It’s thus that slogans like “the 99% vs. the 1%” or “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” wound up on nearly everyone’s lips.
What’s crucial to realize – above all for progressives who realize we need a viable third party – is that all the rhetorical materials for a new, anti-duopoly Occupy are in place. And if those rhetorical materials – the stuff of unforgettable slogans – are in place, it’s only because essentially the same circumstances that gave birth to Occupy (only worse!) are likewise in place. What I mean specifically is the pattern of Republican extremism followed by Democrat betrayal, which gave birth to the original Occupy, has since repeated itself – only in ways that cast both parties in a more villainous light. All a new, politically savvier Occupy needs to do is take account of the new developments in Republican extremism and Democrat betrayal since the first Occupy, create slogans capturing the nature of current bipartisan villainy, and launch large-scale public actions that draw attention to those slogans.
My second and concluding article in this series will argue that Democrats’ doubling down on their party’s big-donor corruption under Republican extremist Trump constitutes a betrayal analogous to – but deeper than – Obama’s intentional failure to tackle serious reform in the wake of catastrophic Republican extremist Bush. In other words, the same sort of Republican extremism followed by Democrat betrayal that launched Occupy. Further, it will argue that the Deep State, popularly vilified as “War Street,” must join Wall Street on the new Occupy’s list of enemies tyrannizing over our duopoly parties and government. Last but not least, it will argue that the Democratic National Committee’s criminally underpublicized legal argument in the fraud case it’s now defending amounts to a “Judas argument” where the Democratic Party claims its legal right to betray its voter base for bags of its plutocrat donors’ silver. At Progressive or Bust, we feel a campaign publicly confronting – indeed bird-dogging – Democratic politicians over their party’s “Judas argument” could launch the next, anti-duopoly Occupy.
If you’d like to see Democrats pilloried as “the party of Judas” – alongside Republicans as “the party of Trump” – please stay tuned for Part 2 of this series. In the meantime, please consider joining Bernie or Bust’s successors as innovators in political revolt, Progressive or Bust. Or liking the Facebook page of our Bernie or Bust brothers-in-arms, Revolt Against Plutocracy.