Trump’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach gives rise to talk of socialism

In the run-up to the U.S. election in 2016, I suggested more than once that Donald Trump – aka “a candidate for federal office” or “Individual-1” thanks to last week’s plea by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen – would be a better choice for president than Hillary Clinton. That reasoning had little to do with any perceived acumen on the part of a known shyster, but the expectation that his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to governing would be more likely to have useful, if unintended consequences than an establishment shill like Clinton.

It was a case of no gain without pain. Well, Trump has certainly been a much larger pain than could have been expected – beyond incompetence and malfeasance, he surrounded himself with like minded people, instituted changes that harm the very people who elected him and brought the word fascism back into vogue – but the shakeup has yet to pay any dividends. I suspect they will follow his departure, by indictment, impeachment or otherwise.

While filling the swamp with his own alligators instead of draining it, Trump has inadvertently shone a huge light on the corrupt economic and political system in the U.S., one that extends globally, in fact. He’s been a walking recruitment campaign for democratic socialists and others who would reform the broken – perhaps beyond repair – system of corporate-funded governance.

The first inklings of that started in the election campaign with the surge of support for Bernie Sanders. We might not in fact be talking about Trump at all if the Democratic party hadn’t conspired to rig the vote in favour of Clinton’s candidacy – there’s every reason to believe the Vermont senator would have won that head-to-head battle (Clinton was perhaps the one person who could lose to Trump).

Though Sanders would be considered a centrist in this country, in the U.S. his brand of democratic socialism – the kind that governs most of the other Western democracies – has long been considered beyond the pale. That’s changing now, younger Americans are moving to the left.

Young people today see the economic inequality and the resultant political system – Republicans and Democrats bought and paid for – that serves very few. Unburdened by the often-truth-free historical record and years of corporate propaganda, they come at the mounting problems with a fresh viewpoint.

Many of the topics discussed in the States are already commonplace here – universal health care, affordable schooling, even election finance controls, all be they nowhere near enough – but even Canadians aren’t having the kind of conversation about equality and oligarchs that surrounds the current version of American politics.

It’s a shift that’s been chronicled by Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.

“Public support for socialism is growing. Self-identified socialists like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib are making inroads into the Democratic Party, which the political analyst Kevin Phillips once called the ‘second-most enthusiastic capitalist party’ in the world. Membership in the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist organization in the country, is skyrocketing, especially among young people,” he writes in the New York Times this week.

It’s an accomplishment that the U.S. is seeing some use of the S-word. More surprising still that those who’ve followed Sanders are doing so well.

The talk of an oligarchy, of politics run by the moneyed class, is novel in the mainstream, though the corporate-owned U.S. media is doing everything it can to marginalize that message, especially as it applies to financial regulation and removing money from politics. The message resonates with many, particularly young people. Plenty of Americans haven’t forgotten the 2008 meltdown, the Occupy movement and the downturn that continues today, the product of decades of decline.

Democratic socialism appeals to those who recognize the problem and its roots. On the other side, Trump appeals to those who see a problem – they’re out of work or seeing their standard of living decline – but put the blame elsewhere, allowing Trump to make things worse under the guise of supporting working Americans (not to mention the dog-whistle racism).

In reality, the current economic system isn’t sustainable. Change, many critics have noted, will only come through mass movements, not the established political system. Some kind of revolution, if only the kind espoused by Sanders (his use of that word was an eye-opener, for sure).

There’s some thought socialist candidates have no real hope of actually winning. But that’s not the point, some will argue. Rather, the idea is to make the mainstream parties and media sit up and take notice. If enough people are showing their disapproval and/or signalling what they’d really like to see in Washington, the policies of those considered outsiders will eventually make their way into the platforms of Democrats and Republicans. The goal of those politicians is to gain power, after all. They’ll do whatever it is they think they have to do in order to win. Today, that’s typically done unethically through big money, lobbying, scare tactics and disingenuous calls to patriotism, religion and similar irrational touchstones.

It may be too much to expect elections to be fought strictly on platforms and ideas and the common good, but any movement in that direction has to be a plus.

Going with Sanders’ criticism of the financial system, the solution is to reduce or eliminate what is referred to as the phantom economy – much of the financial sector – which produces nothing but has grown from an adjunct of the real economy of goods and services to the largest part of our economic. Critics also advocate local, people-centric economies, a human scale we can understand. It’s an idea that dovetails with what environmental groups have been saying for years about buying locally produced goods, for instance.

Until recently, criticisms levelled by Sanders and others were routinely dismissed as socialist or utopian dreaming. Today, to a certain extent, we’re all socialists, as witnessed by governments bailing out many sectors of the economy post-2008.

Given that the economy is in flux, and that the status quo has been failing us for decades, now is certainly the time to make changes. Or at least to ask questions and have a discussion about following a better path – we know there are better ideas out there, and profiteering oligarchs, making gains on the backs of the middle class, are proof that what’s being done today will only harm us.

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