The future of the American left

“It’s easy to argue that the American left is on the cusp of a great victory,” David Brooks writes in the New York Times. “The economic anxieties of the working class have gone unaddressed. The Resistance is passionate and politically engaged. Faith in capitalism is plummeting. Only 42 percent of millennials embrace capitalism, according to a Harvard University poll, while 51 percent reject it.

“The Republicans seem to be turning themselves into an aging minority party. Moderate Democrats are no longer a force. There are only two vibrant political tendencies in America right now: Trumpian populism and Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren-style progressivism. As Trumpism loses, progressivism will win.

“What can we say about the coming progressive regime? First, it will be a decisive break from the moderate liberalism of Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama. Second, despite some silly recent talk, it will not be Marxist.

“My sense is these ideas have been rejected by most on the left. It’s become clear, to those on the fair-minded left, that global capitalism has produced the greatest reduction in poverty in human history. The problems with capitalism are more discrete — mostly with the plight of the working class in rich countries.

“Moreover, there is no alternative. Economist Dean Baker has argued that it’s silly for people on the left to see the market as the enemy: “This makes as much sense as seeing the wheel as the enemy. The market is a tool, it is incredibly malleable.” It can be structured to redistribute wealth upward, or it can be structured to redistribute wealth downward.

“The goal for most on the left is not replacing capitalism, but reforming it to make it work better for all. That would involve two big tasks.”

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

4 thoughts on “The future of the American left”

  1. Interesting article.

    When David Brooks quotes progressive economist Dean Baker on how to “redistribute wealth” in this country, surely great changes in our system are imminent.

    Brooks’ prescription for reform, regulating the financial and job markets, amounts to nearly a replay of the New Deal, not as radical as he implies. It worked before. There are good reasons to think it could work again.

    And he offers a classical false equivalence between the left and right, suggesting that authoritarian tendencies are as likely in the one as in the other:

    … tribalism … draws out the authoritarian tendencies in any movement. On the right, tribalism brings us the ethnic authoritarianism of Donald Trump. On the left, it seems likely to bring us the economic authoritarianism of a North American version of Hugo Chávez.

    Hugo Chávez? Hello? Get real. The “Left” barely exists in this country. The Right was fond of calling Obama “left,” a clever bit of manipulative propaganda. The Right (at the moment) rules. Based on polling, progressive policy prescriptions are favored by the great mass of Americans. So, those positions should characterize the “center.” But, you’d never know that from the rightward locus of political and economic power.

    Brooks is right that we need to change how wealth is distributed. Even an incremental change making wealth distribution more progressive would feel like a revolution to those who currently hold the reins of power.

    IMHO, some sort of social democratic movement (like Sanders’ “Our Revolution”) is our best hope for achieving these changes peacefully, by means of the ballot “box.”

    1. I forgot to make my main point: If Brooks thinks that the future of the american left is a Hugo Chavez style politics, I believe he is not just wrong, but egregiously wrong. He needs to imagine something much more positive, something that embodies the views already held by most progressive Americans, but (at the moment) rarely reflected in their politics and government.

      But then, I’m just an old guy who hasn’t let go of the New Deal, and probably never will.

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