Guest MINDSETTER™ Stewart: Progressives Should Refuse to be Captive Caucus, Work With Green Party

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

 

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Bill Lynch

Watching the scuffle between Democratic Party spokesman Bill Lynch and the Progressive Democrats is not exactly equivalent to my traditional Saturday morning cartoons but it reminded me of the Looney Toons in one key way: progressives are continuing to act like Wile E. Coyote, running after something they will never get, while the mainstream Democrats Lynch serves as a spokesman for is reminiscent to Road Runner, always three steps ahead of a challenger which has zero chance of success using their current methods.

I am not some absurd sectarian dogmatist despite some beliefs to the contrary. Anthony F.C. Wallace described in a 1956 article for the journal American Anthropologist what he calls 'revitalization movements' which span the entire spectrum of human experience and orientations, from religion to politics to civic organizations. These movements promote a sort of gnosticism wherein the true believers work through a series of graduated membership steps towards a final enlightenment that they feel will offer them a salve for grievances that they believe cannot be redressed through traditional venues and methods. In my own life I have encountered these types in the Catholic Church, the extreme Left, and even the Boy Scouts. It is a symptomatic element of the inability within an individual to develop a truly independent and self-reliant support system that can integrate completely into the wider society.

Erich Fromm wrote in his 1957 article The Authoritarian Personality that “We usually see a clear difference between the individual who wants to rule, control, or restrain others and the individual who tends to submit, obey, or to be humiliated. To use a somewhat friendlier term, we might talk of the leader and his followers. As natural as the difference between the ruling and the ruled might — in many ways — be, we also have to admit that these two types, or as we can also say, these two forms of authoritarian personality are actually tightly bound together.”

Fromm's work was written in the aftermath of a generational moral collapse caused by first the ascent of the Nazi Party in his native Germany and then the discrediting of Communism, which had spearheaded the defeat of fascism in Europe. A year prior to Fromm's publication, in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev delivered his so-called 'Secret Speech' that acknowledged the crimes of his predecessor Joseph Stalin, a seismic impact whose crater caused millions to retreat into despair and quit worldwide Communist parties en masse.

Fromm continues by writing “All the great dictatorial movements of our times were (and are) based on irrational authority. Its driving forces were the submissive individual’s feeling of powerlessness, fear, and admiration for the 'leader.' All the great and fruitful cultures are founded on the existence of rational authority: on people, who are able to muster the given functions intellectually and socially and have therefore no need to appeal to irrational desires. But I do not want to close without emphasizing that the individual’s goal must be to become his own authority; i.e. to have a consciousness in moral issues, conviction in questions of intellect, and fidelity in emotional matters. However, the individual can only have such an inner authority if he has matured enough to understand the world with reason and love. The development of these characteristics is the basis for one’s own authority and therefore the basis for political democracy.”

I provide such an extended side-note because understanding this dynamic is required for a progressive victory in the next election cycle, which is absolutely necessary to reinforce our communities and protect the most vulnerable from the onslaught of both the Trump administration and neoliberal Democrats who agree with Trump on policies that give hand-outs to the rich, tax the poor, privatize infrastructure, and harm working class families. The corporate media as well as pseudo-alternative Left outlets, which I have studied for over a decade now, have provided for almost twenty years a repeated series of narrative tropes that the public, including many intelligent and well-educated progressive thinkers, has internalized and made a part of their overall ideological orientation. Some of these include the demonstrably untrue ideas about Ralph Nader's Green Party run in 2000, the historical motivations and outcomes of military actions supported by both war parties since 9/11, the true nature of climate change as the most dire threat to our survival as a species in the next century, the method for repeal of Citizens United, and thousands of other notions that fly squarely in the face of reality. I would propose to offer two which must be deflated in order to have a successful 2018 progressive seizure of power.

The first is the idea that there is a wide ideological divide separating progressives from conservatives. According to the media, we live in a near-Manichean ideological landscape where everyone is polarized around ideas which their opponents respond to with antithetical positions that can never be compromised. It is a comforting narrative for two reasons. First, it lends itself to an individual's self-esteem by allowing them to say 'I have the right view, s/he has the wrong view, and we are opponents until they change their minds.' In religious terms, it is the difference between the Chosen and the sinful.

Fortunately for us this is absolutely untrue and there is a significant level of statistical data to back this up. In reality, as Ralph Nader wrote in his 2014 book 'Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State', the political landscape is defined in the legislature by only one sort of socio-economic philosophy, corporatism, which also can be called neoclassical economics. Both Republicans and Democrats promote corporatist policies that continue corporate welfare/crony capitalism. In order to keep the voters from uniting as a single base around their membership in the working class/as taxpayers, the parties agree to effectively manipulate their voter bases through deceptive and duplicitous media messaging that makes people think their neighbors are the enemy rather than the corporatists, usually based around notions of identity, sex, gender, creed, migration status before the law, or nationality.

As a result we as the working class/taxpayers stay at each other's throats rather than taking on the bipartisan corporatist agenda. Nader goes as far as pointing to 25 different and substantial areas where studies and his personal experience indicate solid class solidarity/universal taxpayer support, or to use his word, 'convergence', listen here.

Those who doubt this unity of class/taxpayers can actually look to a recent major event in our own state that was absolutely and undeniably an instance of convergence, the total and complete rejection of a taxpayer-subsidized baseball stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox on the Providence waterfront. I very clearly and fondly remember Fred Ordonez from DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) saying at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation “I don’t think I ever imagined that I was going to be at a rally with the Tea Party on the same side but here we are!” This is because the proposal was nothing but a corporatist hand-out for the rich to the detriment of the working class/taxpayers.

You see what I keep doing there with saying things like “corporate welfare/crony capitalism”, “working class/taxpayers”, and “class solidarity/universal taxpayer support”? That is not accidental, what I am trying to do is indicate that it is through the language of politics used by the corporatist duopoly system, including their media courtiers, that we are prevented from uniting around common goals.

Are there genuine revitalists who cannot be flexible and act dogmatically about certain matters, such as working with third parties? Absolutely, such types are drawn to political struggle like moths to a flame. And there also are many times where one side has some very bad ideas about people owing to the various factors of their identity which requires patient and adult conversation so to rectify such matters and promote further convergence. I personally would absolutely refuse to throw people of color or undocumented workers or women under the bus in the name of convergence. But I also would work very hard to rectify the issue and promote a level of trust and friendliness reflective of the great Aimé Césaire's quote “There is room enough for all at the rendezvous of victory.”

This cuts to a fundamental issue of the budget the Democrats are jousting over, a massive corporatist document if there ever was one and the second fantastic notion to negate. Those supporting regressive cuts would do well to understand a very simple economic principle. Every public sector expense that is cut in a budget is undeniably absorbed by the taxpayers as a privatized expense that usually costs more, a kind of tax increase that in an Orwellian fashion is passed of as a tax cut. If the General Assembly refuses to pay for a $2 sandwich, the taxpayers will pay the private sector $5 for that sandwich which is still going to be necessary for sustenance. While there certainly are structural problems with our current public sector financing system, ones which can and have promoted corruption due to a lack of oversight, it also is a simple mathematical fact, the added expenses created by privatizing of public services in all cases are to the detriment of both the poor and the taxpayers, it is merely a matter of time before the bill comes due. The increase in necessity of living expenses for working class families through private services means their ability to inject demand into the local luxury economy is diminished, which in turn furthers the stagnation we are witnessing locally.

The only way progressives will actually change this policy is by working with a progressive third party. If they protest to the Democratic leadership and then are forced to stew in their anger over being ignored, they will become a captive caucus. The corporatist national Democratic Party leadership understands this completely and operate by the maxim 'we can move further to the right because they have nowhere else to go', meaning they will never vote for the Republicans (just ask Sista Souljah). On the converse, the middle class in this country quite obviously and openly boasts about how, if they don't get what they want, they do in fact have somewhere else to go, the GOP, which drives the Democrats further to the right.

It is in this spirit I would encourage progressives to relieve themselves of the false ideological narrative about third party spoilers. Take an honest and serious look at the Rhode Island Green Party. The 2016 platform document is a thorough and detailed roadmap to remake Rhode Island politics with. After a year of reporting on them, it seems like a simple matter of political thermodynamics, progressives must create equal pressure inside and outside the Democratic Party so to develop a shift in local politics towards our progressive goals. Refusal to do so owing to a false narrative about Ralph Nader or Jill Stein will only promote a further rightward shift locally at a time when we need to fortify our defenses. Pragmatic, flexible, mature, and reasonable progressives will understand this easily. Those who are interested should visit (greensofri.nationbuilder.com) to begin a fruitful and constructive dialogue so to build a better Rhode Island for all.

Hopefully by that time the national Democrats will begin to apologize to progressives for their treatment of Bernie Sanders and their decision to hand the election to Donald Trump as a result. That might seem odd but I in fact did talk to people who voted for Sanders and then Trump owing to the fact Donald plagiarized talking points from the Vermont senator on the campaign trail.

There has yet to be any apology for the continuing swindle of the pension heist, the largest loss of money in Rhode Island history. There is no apology for Democrats like Gina Raimondo who privatize our schools and damage our public infrastructure.

It is time for progressives to recognize the writing on the wall and bring their efforts to where they are welcomed.

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Andrew Stewart is a member of the Rhode Island Media Cooperative, an organization created for freelancers by freelancers which you can join for free.

 

Related Slideshow: FY18 House Finance Budget

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WINNER

CCRI

The state's community college is poised to be the sole beneficiary of the Governor's Promise scholarship program.

It would make Rhode Island the fourth state to have tuition-free community college, allowing every resident the opportunity to earn an associate's degree tuition free. There is no means testing for the program and few standards.

The cost would be roughly $3 million in the FY18 (for the first cohort of students) and then $6 million the following year there are two classes. 

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LOSER

State Government 

As part of negotiations -- and the fiscal realities facing Rhode Island with a nearly $140 million shortfally, the Speaker announced Thursday that $25 million will be cut in general spending.

"It's something we discussed with the Governor and she thinks she can make [it] work," said Matteillo. 

Also on the chopping block -- funding for the legislative office to the tune of $2 million. 

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WINNER

Elderly and Disabled Bus Riders 

After levying fares on some of the most needy RIPTA bus riders (the elderly and disabled) for the first time this past year, which resulted in strong public outcry, the House Finance budget contains just over $3 million  -- for each of the next two years -- to refund the program this coming year. 

WATCH: Opponents of RIPTA Fare Hikes to Rally at RI State House Wednesday Afternoon

Mattiello noted that after the two years is up, it is up to the Governor to find the funding. 

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TIE

Governor Raimondo

On Thursday, Raimondo learned she is poised to get a piece (jCCRI) of her free college tuition proposal, which had been a major focal point of her budget proposal - and political strategy. 

On the flip side, she is tasked with finding $25 million in government spending to cut, in order to balance the budget. 

Unlike the May estimating conference, where Rhode Island revenues were found to be off nearly $100 million plus, the Governor can't say she didn't see this  coming.

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LOSER

Medical Marijuana Expansion

In June, Raimondo called for an increase in medical marijuana dispensaries and an increase in licensing fees to generate $1.5 million in revenue for the state. 

She called for "no less than six licensed compassion centers."

On Thursday, Mattiello said it was not in the budget, due the proposal's late timing.

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WINNER

Davies High School

The House finance budget contains additional help for manufacturing, including $3.6 million to upgrade facilities at Davies Career and Tech.

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LOSER

Commerce Corporation

While Mattiello made scant mention of cuts in the briefing Thursday - save for the $25 million out of government spending -- the question was raised as to where the rest of the $140 million shortfall will come from. 

"Millions in cuts came from the Commerce Corp budget. The budget kept the Rebuild RI funding, but money for several other Commerce programs were reduced," said Larry Berman, spokesman for Mattiello. 

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TIE

Mininum Wage Hike

Workers will be happy, employers might not. 

The FY18 budget proposal calls for a $.50 minimum wage increase as of January 1, 2018, and then an additional $.40 the following year.

Business owners have continuously fought against such hikes. 

 
 

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