By Umair Haque/ Bad Words/ June 30, 2017
The Muslim ban is in effect. The info shock-troops are attacking journalists daily. There are open calls for violence from major national institutions like the NRA. Hate crimes are spiking.
Sorry. But: the resistance is losing. And it is losing badly.
Forgive me. This is going to be a brutal little essay. And it needs a disclaimer. As a brown person, it’s easy for me to be accused of being the enemy. Somehow, we always are. So let’s be clear. I don’t want authoritarianism to win.
And yet it is. How come? Because resistance isn’t nearly enough to defeat authoritarianism. A resistance is not an opposition. What’s the difference? Everything.
Let me give you a small parable.
Today I read a tweet from Jon Favreau. I think he was Obama’s former speechwriter or adviser, at any rate he’s a powerful Democrat. He said (to paraphrase): “the right wing is buying up the media! This is bad guys!”. Sure, it is. Now how are we to “resist” that? We can’t. We can only oppose it — with real policies. Media is a natural monopoly. Natural monopolies tend to be run by cutthroat capitalists. Have you ever heard of a left-wing media acquisition spree? Neither have I. Because of these simple economics, every other rich country in the world has two things. One, strong media antitrust laws. Two, strong public media, like the BBC or CBC. Without those, media naturally, inevitably, inescapably becomes monopoly, and monopoly soon enough becomes the institutional support authoritarians need to rise.
But Obama never backed any of that, did he? The Dems still don’t, do they? Resistance isn’t enough.
The question is whether a society can genuinely oppose authoritarianism. With a vibrant and inclusive and strong political opposition. That opposition has to stand for what prevents authoritarianism —what limits, circumscribes, and ultimately conquers it — not merely what resists it. Do you see the difference? Let’s make it clearer.
Authoritarianism rises in societies with broken social contracts, that are failing the average person. That’s America, where average incomes have shrunk in real terms since the 1970s. Broken social contracts reflect failed institutions. They mean that democracy isn’t working — political institutions aren’t working. They mean that real economic value isn’t being created and shared — financial institutions aren’t working. They mean that human potential is stuck and withering — social institutions like media and education and healthcare aren’t working. Thus, a social contract in its entirety comes to be broken.
The question authoritarianism raises is about building working institutions. A resistance is a loose network of people aimed at dissent. But that is not nearly enough to build working banks, corporations, schools, hospitals, and so on. Only a genuine political opposition can do that.
Let’s make it even clearer.
What does opposition do that resistance doesn’t? It offers a positive agenda for a better social contract, embedded in institutional transformations. Like, for example, everything that Dems don’t ever propose: real universal healthcare, public media, public higher education, debt relief, real safety nets, and so on. A social contract — whole and full and true.
That better social contract is what has a chance — just a chance — to fight authoritarianism. People then have an alternative to the authoritarian demagogue’s anger and rage and fury. Without an alternative what is there but the abyss? More of the same, endlessly? That is why in country after country that has actually defeated authoritarianism, we have seen that it takes a genuine opposition, not just a resistance — whether Burma or Ukraine or even post-war Europe itself. The French resistance might have helped topple Hitler. But what really defeated authoritarianism was an opposition wise and brave enough to offer a better social contract — the EU.
No party or body in the US is offering a better social contract. Nobody. Offering people better healthcare, education, transport, incomes, savings, opportunities, chances to make the most of their inherent human potential. Yes, there’s Bernie. But Bernie proves the point — he’s rejected by all the political, social, and cultural institutions — from political parties to media to universities to schools etc.
There is not a single positive agenda for the American future accepted by its bodies social or politic.
Before you ask me what that looks like, it’s very simple, isn’t it? A Marshall Plan. A New New Deal. New institutions — or rebuilt old ones — that basically do one thing in different ways: invest in human beings at the average. That’s what, for example, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation did during the Depression.
And that is why the resistance is losing. Resistance is fine, nice, good. But it’s not enough once real authoritarianism sets in.
Resistances are needed during war time, when a nation is occupied. They lessen losses — and maybe sometimes they even win wars. But they do not win the peace. Not unless they mature into real oppositions. America is not an occupied nation. It is still some semblance of a democracy, in which a real political opposition is badly, desperately, urgently neeeded.
It’s true, today’s Democratic leadership doesn’t offer a better social contract – at most, they tinker around the edges with things like paid leave and higher minimum wage (that’s actually a lot more than the edges, but realistically it wouldd not go up that much it it ever make it through.) What they offer is the protection of the existing social contract – Social Security, Medicare, public education, and the more the Republicans are seen as seriously trying to dismantle those, the more appealing the Democratic position becomes.
I can’t argue with you, Hal. Your point is well taken. But at least this commentary points to the only way out of this mess. The Dems must have a strong assertively, positive agenda to stir up the voters. I have my doubts about whether they are capable of doing that.
I’m not sure if there’s any reason for hope at this point. The Democratic Party repeatedly betrays us, we have not been able to take it back, and there is no alternative. Even in relatively progressive California where Democrats have a lock on the government, a health-care lobbyist, who runs the party apparatus and a Democratic State Senator stopped single-payer dead in its tracks.