Democrat Blue or Republican Red? It’s a simple binary choice, presented in various forms at various times, for the consideration of every adult in America.
Democrat Blue or Republican Red? Appropriated post-FDR by rival factions of corporate and lineage big capital, to ringfence key voter demographics. It’s a false dichotomy, designed to divide and rule the American people, so entrenched power can exploit the many and reward the few without regulation or restriction.
Democrat Blue or Republican Red? Complex infrastructure, hierarchies of power, extensive secondary and tertiary organizations, ever-changing networks of politicians (and staff) jockeying for power and influence.
Democrat Blue or Republican Red? The debate rages endlessly across every type of media – print hardcopy, online, audio, televisual – and such is the intensity, eight out of ten Democrat Blues and a similar number of Republican Red spend their political lives locked together in tribal battle, diametrically opposing one another, without actually knowing what either party is doing on their behalf. Laws are made by those we elect and these laws can change the reality of our day to day lives. Yet under 10% of the electorate know (or try to know) what’s being done on their behalf, in their name.
We live in a democracy with universal adult suffrage. This is fundamental. In this democracy every citizen is given one vote and all votes are of equal value. Equality of vote worth, voter wealth notwithstanding, is essential.
There are no qualifications needed to be able to vote. The billionaire, the professor, the astronaut, the gold-medal winning athlete: all mark the ballot with a single vote worth no more and no less than the bankrupt, the farmer, the 7-11 clerk and the motel housekeeper with only a few words of English.
Democrat Blue or Republican Red?
The bottom line in 2020 is we have a political choice to make. One the one hand, some degree of profit-based corporate feudalism i.e. the status quo, with Biden, Bloomberg and on the other hand, progressive humane neoliberalism with Warren or Sanders’ honest but potentially system-disruptive 70 year course correction. For Sanders, this is one of the last chance saloons for progressives to bring America back from the brink by restoring government in the social democracy archetype, of the people for the people by the people.
It is important to understand how the American dream coming out of World War Two got hijacked by the billionaires and corporations of the late 1940s/early 1950s. President Franklin D Roosevelt knew it, hence trying to publish his Second Bill of Rights. Truman knew it, as did Eisenhower, and both warned in stark terms what was happening.
Nixon was the establishment darling – the 1960s apologist for corporate crony-capitalism, backed by a grand coalition of wealth swollen by the exceptional profits of war and unparalleled post-war economic growth.
John F Kennedy, in 1961, was the first post-War President to challenge the entrenched paradigm of crony capitalists and corporate power. He was killed before he could challenge it. JFK’s brother Robert, Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, all three assassinated in the space of a few years in the 1960s. The establishment had grown bold, cold and practical as its hired guns used murder and violence stamp out the rising popularity of liberal, socialist, civil rights humanitarian, anti-corporate movements.
The paradigm of American power that we live under today was shocked into existence, starting with JFK’s murder in 1963. Traditional centrist Vice President Lyndon B Johnson took the place of the progressive JFK and, by the end of Johnson’s first term, he had changed what it meant to be an American Democrat.
LBJ brought his moderate Democrats into line with Republican colleagues and behind closed doors, a historical compact was made with the mega-corporations, media and the military industrial complex. Executive and legislature became tools of business, for its own enrichment, handling the juggling of corporate profit, trickle down prosperity and reliable long-term social stability.
Belief in, and then commitment to, free market decision making as the recipe for permanent American economic growth took hold of the Democratic Party of Roosevelt and Kennedy.
LBJ was the prototype centrist or – as it’s called today – a neoliberal or moderate centre-left politician. Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bloomberg are all cut from the LBJ cloth. Tony Blair in the UK, Angela Merkel in Germany and Emmanuel Macron in France are also part of this political class.
The essential argument of centrists and moderates is that, on the whole, capitalism works.
The moderate capitalists – until recently interchangeable with neoliberals – have lost faith in forcibly imposing socialism. They believe, on balance, that free markets and an infrastructure of corporate feudalism ensure the complex macroeconomics of stability, incentive, prosperity and competitive meritocracy work together, to allow Americans to be both free (to succeed or fail) and, because of the Constitution’s protection of individual rights, live out a version of be all you can be that properly rewards hard work, talent and potential.
While it is true to say that profit-based corporate feudalism has worked well (for many) since the 1950s, it’s also evident this model is becoming more extreme in its demands, eroding any pretence of trickle down economics. It’s working for a smaller and smaller proportion of the Americans people each decade. Most economists agree that perpetual growth is unsustainable and, sooner or later, all roads lead to conflict or crash as system buckles and society has to pay, one way or another.
The 2008 Financial Crisis was a jolt out of complacency felt from top to bottom of society and in every state of the union. It might have been a wake-up call but short-term fiscal solutions allowed adaptive big capital hegemony to reassert ownership of the mechanisms of control faster than politicians were able to find the consensus needed to impose punishments, safeguards and restrictions to protect their autonomy.
A rare opportunity to regulate the financial corporate aristocracy was squandered and instead the pace of organised transfer of wealth up the social ladder accelerated. The richest got richer faster as the most powerful, best represented corporate capitalists consolidated their grip on federal, state and large city government.
Now, in 2020, the wealthiest 1% of America dominates the remaining 99%. Billionaire corporations ride roughshod over regulations and their influence over government policy is almost absolute. The relentless drive for growth and profit in the competitive global economy has inevitably put pressure on the American middle class, less prosperous, less numerous than fifty years ago and a use-and-abuse business orthodoxy exposes and exploits every possible opportunity.
The lives of average working Americans have been growing markedly more difficult since the turn of the Millennium. Tens of millions toil without healthcare or job security, living paycheck to paycheck. This is the first generation since the Civil War where, despite all the technological and medical advances, the child’s expected lifespan is lower than that of the parents.
The LBJ/Biden moderates advocate soft pressure as the only safe, credible way to change the country for the better, and thus improve living standards for the nation as a whole. Their argument seeks to avoid sweeping reform, calling instead for practical cooperation that respects existing power structures while also carrying fair-minded Americans into a stable, forward-thinking consensus.
The gentle progress approach, in the moderate’s eyes, minimizes risk of disruption – which can cause economic hardship, especially for the most vulnerable – while at the same time trying to curb Republican and Trump excesses without breaking the continuity of 70 years of corporate capitalism that’s served America well.
The Sanders progressive movement identifies as the true FDR successor. At its heart are the clauses and principles of Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights. This seminal piece of legislation was intended as the next stage of modern America, the endgame of the New Deal and just reward for an American people justifiably full of self-confidence on the back of defeating Hitler’s Germany and Hirohito’s Japan.
It’s worth going over this oft-overlooked period of American history – 1944 to 1960 – because it has been mostly whitewashed out of the general public’s collective memory. Roosevelt had all of today’s progressive policies covered in the Second Bill of Rights but, foreshadowing big capital’s silent revolution in 2008/9, corporate power exerted itself in the mid 1940s to taken the Second Bill of Rights from the American people.
Evidence of the bill was buried, state of the union footage deleted, and the legacy of FDR was sidelined indefinitely. Tactics used by the newly retrenched government for the corporations by the politicians for consolidating the noiseless corporate coup d’etat included weaponizing the exaggerated threat from Stalin’s Soviet Union, playing on fears of nuclear cold war and manufacturing paranoia about the “Red Menace” and Communist takeover.
As then, so today. These strategies are nothing new. The aim of any group wanting to most easily and freely exploit another is, at first, to conceal their actions from public scrutiny. Hence the tactics used in the late 1940s and 1950s, keeping the American public distracted, misdirected and docile at the ballot box; while the ideals of the Founding Fathers were surgically altered, to create a profit-first monopoly on power for big corporations and lineage-capital. The military industrial complex was born at this time, as a multipurpose exemplar of the new feudal-corporate America.
Bernie Sanders and to an extent Elizabeth Warren’s policy points are the 21st-century revival of the Second Bill of Rights. To most progressives, American needs an urgent course correction, liberating government from crony-capitalists and putting social democracy in its place. This isn’t primarily radical or new but, in a sense, it’s an attempt to end our corrupted timeline by putting right the last 70 years of the American public being expertly cheated out of their revolutionary birthright.
Healthcare for all, free education, jobs, housing, pension when old, childcare for the young, civil rights and racial equality: all these were to have been guaranteed for all Americans in 1944/5 but for Franklin D Roosevelt dying in office before he was able to make the Second Bill of Rights public. Bernie Sanders, in particular, quotes FDR extensively and this is the reason why.
Whether you agree with the Biden/LBJ centrist model for government moderation or support the Sanders/FDR progressive movement for deep-rooted change, it’s worth making one thing clear: forcing an unwilling corporate-feudal aristocracy to give up some of its wealth and most of its power, in favor of restoring social democracy, is a big ask; and a big risk. Entrenched capital forces will fight tooth and nail, mobilizing a pantheon of interest groups who’ve gotten richer and more powerful by exploiting the current model of unregulated pursuit of profit.
What’s more, boom-bust billionaires and lineage wealth have gotten used to their unrestricted power. A vast arsenal of wealth, media and infrastructure will be used ruthlessly in defense of vested interests. There’ll be a small army of foot-soldiers hired to disrupt, discredit and derail the prospect of change. The army of the corporate aristocracy will act subtle and go everywhere to control public opinion.
Democracy, for as long as we still have universal adult suffrage, means there’ll always be a chance for Americans to come together and forcibly alter the nation’s course. This could include shifting the state and federal paradigm away from solely serving the ambitions of rich country club cartels of privilege, nation-sized multinationals and oligarch billionaires foreign and domestic.
All it takes is an idealistic, uncompromising majority, educated in publicly available facts and connected to a shared American history, to back honest candidates who’re capable, determined and strong enough in the face of temptations, to force systemic change without succumbing to establishment pressure to sell out or surrender or become drowned in the Washington DC swamp.
Winning the necessary majority – let’s assume the progressive candidate is trustworthy and capable – will be an uphill battle. Election victory is only the beginning of a root-and-branch political war against the extensive extended hydra of 20th century big business crony-capitalism. It will require the winning of that war of attrition, to restore the American dream. Battles have been lost time and time again, from 1960 onward, in dozens of elections and failed conflicts over corporate-sponsored legislation. As of today, the aristocracy of wealthy vested interests is winning the war.
Republican right-wing and religious evangelicals, Democratic Party centrists and moderates, Libertarian idealists and spoilers; all these become coopted forces of vested influence drawing support away from the possibility of a progressive candidate commanding a majority. But who knows, perhaps this time, unlike all previous times, the soft moderation approach will be enough to make America great again.
The wealthy won’t want a society that’s fair for all, if it intrudes on big capital profit. But who knows, perhaps this time, unlike all previous times, the soft consensus approach of moderate centrism will be enough to coerce power away from the corporate aristocracy and into the service of average citizen. Maybe a Joe Biden or a Donald Trump will make America great again after all. History says not, however.
As we look back on the half century of past elections, it is mostly wins for reactionary, conservative, moderates and centrist candidates. Since the millennium there have been a handful of progressive victories but, Sanders and a scattering of representatives aside, no major position of power has been entrusted to a candidate advocating genuine change since JFK in 1961.
Democratic primaries and then, in November 2020, the Presidential, Congressional and widespread civic elections, are the coming opportunities for progressive Democrat course correction or – for believers in the corporate feudal model, whether it pays lip service to reactionary conservatism or consensus inclusion – Republican or moderate Democrat continuity.
Let’s not be fooled by the false dichotomy of Reds and Blues, however.
Choice exists but the Democrat Republican tribal colors are a misdirection. The real paradigm is a contest between a 75 year timeline divergence that has become “the establishment” whose roots lie in the aftermath of the Second World War, under which many have prospered, versus a disruptive progressive call for a return to the American dream exemplified in the New Deal, equality of opportunity, FDR’s Second Bill of Rights and the vision of the founding fathers.
Change will follow, whichever faction wins, for the better or the worse, but for which demographic?