“I think it would be a good time to buy stock in socialism,” said MSNBC host Chris Hayes at a roundtable election post-mortem alongside some other liberal and leftist thinkers when asked about the lasting impact of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. In the week following the election, the Democratic Socialists of America signed up 1,600 new members. Jacobin Magazine, America’s leading socialist magazine, had such an influx of subscribers that it couldn’t print new issues fast enough. Socialism is on the rise in America and the DSA is poised to become a political player in America in 2017.
Politics in the Age of Trump
The politics of the last decades have been defined by an ideological battle between neoliberalism and neoconservatism. The way this has been handled in America has meant that Democrats sell out their economic priorities in hopes of advancing other aspects of their agenda while Republicans lean on their moral priorities (centered around the Christian Right) to convince working-class folks to vote against their self-interest. This balance of power has led to the destruction of unions, stagnation of wages, and continual deregulation at the expense of the environment and American workers. It is has been so successful for the Right that they have all but abandoned the “compassionate” piece of “compassionate conservatism” in favor of bald cash-grabs and deregulation.
In that same roundtable, Hayes also said, “There is a tremendous ideological exhaustion in America around free markets.” While unemployment is technically low, more people stop looking for jobs every year, which means they are not counted as part of the labor force. Many in the work force are taking lower-paying jobs because manufacturing is in permanent decline and culture has decided that retail and service jobs are not worthy of a union or living wage. Neither party offered a real solution to this problem in the general election, save Donald Trump’s vague proclamation that he would bring jobs back and “Make America Great Again.”
The opportunity was there for a liberal candidate to speak to these issues, but miscalculating Democrats decided to run on a neoliberal platform in which character attacks on Donald Trump’s instability and inexperience were the focus instead of popular economic issues like $15 minimum wage and universal health care. Democrats were still playing from a neoliberal playbook while the country had moved on.
So, Democrats lost.
The Big Tent
Contrary to what Twitter may tell you, there is nothing positive that will come of endlessly relitigating the election. There are lessons to be learned, but any more fan fiction about how Democrats could have won if not for any number of issues is a waste of time. The time has come to move forward.
The Democratic Socialists of America are uniquely positioned to become a lightning rod for disaffected left-leaning Americans. The DSA is not a political party, so members can choose to work within the Democratic Party, work toward building a third party, or eschew party politics in favor of issue-based work. The DSA articulates its mission as “building progressive movements for social change while establishing an openly democratic socialist presence in American communities and politics.” It defines democratic socialism as a system in which, “both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy, so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.” Often, Leftist movements fall apart due to infighting. This kind of flexible agenda and big-tent ideology allow the DSA to avoid the pitfalls that often afflict movements on the Left so well illustrated in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
One of the biggest points of contention post-election has been a fight between identity politics and class politics. Put simply, the argument has been, “Should we focus on helping oppressed groups in this country or should we focus on helping the poor and the working class?” The DSA, like Bernie Sanders’ campaign, understands that these two priorities are not mutually exclusive; a successful Leftist movement will be intersectional. The DSA has stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, the NoDAPL movement, and immigrant organizations, and will continue to do so. As the DSA puts it, it is possible to “decrease the influence of money in politics,” and “empower ordinary people in workplaces and the economy,” while “restructur[ing] gender and power relationships to be more equitable.”
What about the Democratic Party? Even if you want to work within the Democratic Party, you have to admit that the Democratic Party has failed. Despite not winning the popular vote for president, Republicans control the majority in the House, Senate, State legislatures, and the presidency. While Democrats have built their political agenda on compromise, the current Republican Party isn’t afraid to shirk tradition, compromise, and any spirit of good will to exercise its agenda. Republican obstruction, gerrymandering, and disenfranchisement has gone so far that North Carolina has been labelled “no longer a democracy.” The Republicans, fueled by the Tea Party, are creeping slowly toward fascism, and neoliberal compromise will not defeat fascism. Even before he takes office, Trump has already hinted that he has no problem bucking many of the traditions and expectations of a commander-in-chief. All signs point to an insular, oligarchic, and hostile administration.
Even though Democrats have held the presidency for eight years, they have effectively been an opposition party. On the state level, Republicans have eroded abortion rights, environmental regulations, and workers’ protections. On a national level, most Democratic gains have been watered down to ineffective compromise.
Republicans neutered Obamacare and then won an election by pointing out how bad the compromises they insisted on worked out for the American people.
The time has come for a different kind of action.
The Way Forward
With an ineffective liberal party, increasing income inequality, and no willingness from either party to limit military spending, reign in Wall Street, or protect workers in an increasingly automated, tech-driven world, there has to be another answer. The DSA is actively taking a stand on issues like Black Lives Matter and the Dakota Access Pipeline while many Democratic lawmakers stay silent. The DSA is supporting progressive champion Keith Ellison for DNC chair while the establishment props up yet another candidate who will stick to a losing playbook. The DSA stands in solidarity with the Fight for 15 and unions while the Democrats leave them hanging out to dry. The DSA fights for universal health care while Democrats resign themselves to privatized Medicare. The DSA stands for peace while both major parties are continually on the hunt for our next war.
If you are still stinging from Donald Trump’s election victory and are interested in making a difference, I recommend visiting the next meeting of your local DSA chapter and considering joining the organization on a national level. For $40 annually, you will support an organization that is actually making a difference. After only several weeks on the DSA Los Angeles mailing list, I have been informed of actions against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in support of Fight for 15, and in the interest of advancing universal health care.
Chris Hayes is right: It is time to buy stock in socialism. A socialist movement is the only way that America is going to put stock back into its working people.