A Silly Idea

Your revolution is a silly idea, yeah
All your friends are feeling sad

Hopes that Ivanka and Jared Kushner would be a moderating influence on President Trump seem to be fading as the machinations of adviser Steven Bannon dominate the news cycle. Anyone who is, is related to, or is friends with immigrants, persons of color, women using birth control and even sick people hoping to use medical marijuana has to be dismayed by the current direction of the Trump administration, in particular the latest Supreme Court nominee. Their hopes and dreams probably won’t stand for much under the new regime. And though Trump has extended an order banning discrimination against LGBTQ federal workers, that community is not very reassured.

An article, rebuttal and reply in Dissent Magazine go back and forth on whether social progress was just a carrot used by financial interests to promote neoliberal globalism:

The End of Progressive Neoliberalism

… Trump’s victory is not solely a revolt against global finance. What his voters rejected was not neoliberalism tout court, but progressive neoliberalism. This may sound to some like an oxymoron, but it is a real, if perverse, political alignment that holds the key to understanding the U.S. election results and perhaps some developments elsewhere too. In its U.S. form, progressive neoliberalism is an alliance of mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end “symbolic” and service-based business sectors (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood), on the other. In this alliance, progressive forces are effectively joined with the forces of cognitive capitalism, especially financialization. However unwittingly, the former lend their charisma to the latter. Ideals like diversity and empowerment, which could in principle serve different ends, now gloss policies that have devastated manufacturing and what were once middle-class lives.

There Was No Such Thing as “Progressive Neoliberalism”

… Fraser’s argument carries an undercurrent of blame toward feminism and other social movements for having participated in what she dubs “progressive neoliberalism.” It was, she argues, a revolt against progressive neoliberalism that led to Trump’s victory over Clinton. By shifting the analysis away from the capitalist class offensive that ushered in the neoliberal order, and which is primarily responsible for the U.S. political drift to the right, Fraser ends up attacking “identity politics” in favor of “class politics.” While her conclusion is that of course the left must embrace anti-sexism and anti-racism, her analysis implies the opposite—she’s clearly suspicious of multiculturalism and diversity.

Against Progressive Neoliberalism, A New Progressive Populism

Johanna Brenner’s reading of my essay misses the centrality of the problem of hegemony. My main point was that the current dominance of finance capital was not achieved only by force but also by what Gramsci called “consent.” Forces favoring financialization, corporate globalization, and deindustrialization succeeded in taking over the Democratic Party, I claimed, by presenting those patently anti-labor policies as progressive. Neoliberals gained power by draping their project in a new cosmopolitan ethos, centered on diversity, women’s empowerment, and LGBTQ rights. Drawing in supporters of such ideals, they forged a new hegemonic bloc, which I called progressive neoliberalism. In identifying and analyzing this bloc, I never lost sight of the power of finance capital, as Brenner claims, but offered an explanation for its political ascendance.

In a broader take, an article in the NY Review of Books looks grimly at the European Union, and what is called populism. In, Is Europe Disintegrating?, Timothy Garton Ash imagines his reaction had he been frozen in 2005, when the Eurozone was robustly expanding:

Cryogenically reanimated in January 2017, I would immediately have died again from shock. For now there is crisis and disintegration wherever I look: the eurozone is chronically dysfunctional, sunlit Athens is plunged into misery, young Spaniards with doctorates are reduced to serving as waiters in London or Berlin, the children of Portuguese friends seek work in Brazil and Angola, and the periphery of Europe is diverging from its core. There is no European constitution, since that was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands later in 2005. The glorious freedom of movement for young Poles and other Central and Eastern Europeans has now contributed substantially to a shocking referendum vote by my own country, Britain, to leave the EU altogether. And Brexit brings with it the prospect of being stripped of my European citizenship on the thirtieth anniversary of 1989.

Ash and the authors he cites lend credence to the Mark Blyth prediction that the EU will collapse very soon. He goes on to express fear about populists invoking “the people”:

Populists speak in the name of “the people,” and claim that their direct legitimation from “the people” trumps (the verb has acquired a new connotation) all other sources of legitimate political authority, be it constitutional court, head of state, parliament, or local and state government. Donald Trump’s “I am your voice” is a classic populist statement. But so is the Turkish prime minister’s riposte to EU assertions that a red line had been crossed by his government’s clampdown on media freedom: “The people draw the red lines.” So is the Daily Mail’s front-page headline denouncing three British High Court judges who ruled that Parliament must have a vote on Brexit as “Enemies of the People.” Meanwhile, Polish right-wing nationalists justify an ongoing attempt to neuter Poland’s constitutional court on the grounds that the people are “the sovereign.”

The other crucial populist move is to identify as “the people” (or Volk) what turns out to be only some of the people. A Trump quotation from the campaign trail captures this perfectly: “The only important thing is the unification of the people,” said the Donald, “because the other people don’t mean anything.” UKIP’s Nigel Farage welcomed the Brexit vote as a victory for “ordinary people,” “decent people,” and “real people.” The 48 percent of us who voted on June 23, 2016, for Britain to remain in the EU are plainly neither ordinary nor decent, nor even real. Everywhere it’s the “other people” who now have to watch out: Mexicans and Muslims in the US, Kurds in Turkey, Poles in Britain, Muslims and Jews all over Europe, as well as Sinti and Roma, refugees, immigrants, black people, women, cosmopolitans, homosexuals, not to mention “experts,” “elites,” and “mainstream media.” Welcome to a world of rampant Trumpismo.

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