The ongoing political destabilization provoked by the unlikely election of Donald Trump has now escalated to what may be a constitutional crisis. The Trump Organization’s open challenge to the legitimacy of an independent judiciary, cracks in our international role as leader of NATO, tension in Asia over antagonism to the Nixon-era One China policy, instability and uncertainty in the patchwork ACA private insurance based health care market, and the deep skepticism about the Administration in the CIA over the growing evidence of an indeterminate level of collaboration with Russian intelligence services during the campaign have created a highly volatile political atmosphere in the U.S.
Add to that flux the erratic performance of the hard-right novice political operatives drawn from the ranks of the Breitbart and Fox News cellar-dwellers, and the appointment of appallingly unqualified Cabinet officials. Compounding the general dysfunction is an unprecedented number of billionaire tycoons with no governmental experience.
Trump’s inflammatory and mendacious Twitter-fueled public communications style has magnified social stress and political polarization. Lots of citizens who thought they had the luxury of disengagement from politics got woke fast. Welcome to the party. The progressive activists have been waiting for you to show up for decades. What do we do now?
We’ve already flunked the national Darwin IQ test by elevating a psychologically unstable right-wing authoritarian conspiracy kook to the most powerful position on the planet. Comic relief now relies on gallows humor. The good news, such as it is, is that the odds are that we’re more likely to die fast en masse in a global nuclear conflagration than to slowly decline over decades in a climate change-induced long emergency. Cheer up!
The most troubling development has been the unveiling of an international white nationalist political movement. There is unanimity among all 17 of the national security agencies that there was intervention by Russian intelligence into the U.S. election. This is not unique to the U.S. There have been major interventions in European elections by the Russian FSB (successor to the KGB). There’s documented funding from the Russian government (through various intermediaries) for right-wing parties in Germany, France, Hungary, and the Netherlands.
The continent has been shaken by the Brexit vote to withdraw from the European Union (EU) that was spearheaded by Nigel Farage, a leader in the British white nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party. Farage made a special trip to the U.S. to personally express his satisfaction at the election of Trump.
What we’re now seeing rise to power in America is the western edge of an international phenomenon of right-wing white nationalist parties in an arc across the Northern Hemisphere. The Russian Federation, under the autocratic rule of the petro-state Godfather Vladimir Putin, is an inspiration and a key resource for this new entry into the Western political landscape. This movement does not have to be seen as a foreign conspiracy. The degree of coordination, organizationally and ideologically, is still unclear.
What we can say with certainty is that this white nationalist movement is rooted in pre-existing right-wing nationalist parties. The downside economic effects of neo-liberal globalization policies have animated them and they have grown in strength due to social and economic stresses on native working class populations impacted by the mass immigration and Third World outsourcing promoted by the globalist corporate agenda.
They have a genuine social basis, independent of Russia, which has its own material motives to de-stabilize NATO and the EU. The drivers of this loosely connected international political movement are the downward economic mobility of the native working classes, a collapse of confidence in the Davos class internationalist ruling elites, deep social status anxiety and loss of cultural identity and alienation by the groups on the losing end of globalization. The political paralysis of Western democracies due to an excess of special interest veto points has whetted an appetite for authoritarianism.
That’s the aerial view of where we are now, historically. The progressive movement for decades has predicted the devolution of democratic capitalism into oligarchic authoritarianism. Over the next few months I want to lay out an alternative agenda, the progressive movement response to this challenge. We have a better plan.
The progressive movement has been around for over 200 years, mostly as a party of social critique and economic reform. In Europe this has been called democratic socialism, and in America has gone under the banner social democracy or progressivism. The tectonic plates of history grinding up against each other do not have to end in dark authoritarian nationalism and the loss of an open and inclusive democratic society. There is an alternative.
Political change arises from cultural transformation. The disengagement of the American counter-culture from politics over several generations has led to our present perilous situation. That specious sense of privilege enabled widespread abdication of the responsibility of citizenship. This political vacuum led directly to rule by dangerous, undemocratic toxic predators. Left unchecked, they will eventually intrude into these privileged lives in ways that will shock and dismay them. The era of fashionable political passivity is over. Pay attention, stay engaged.