Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Social Justice, Economic Justice, and the Two Party System

Advocates of social justice have tied themselves into knots defending the economic policies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and they have left the opposition to Trump no way to unify. We now have a narrative where it is claimed that the "far left" (by which is meant the left wing of the Democratic Party) is overwhelmingly racist and sexist by neglect, concentrating on economic issues exclusively, and that the centrist wing of the Democrats, with its concentration on social justice to the exclusion of economic justice, is morally superior, and more deserving of support from women and people of color. This seems to me madness.

To set the language straight, first, because I am a pedantic bird, the Democratic Party has no far left. The far left is Glen Ford, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, and so on. None of these people have any influence in the Democratic Party and two of them are African-American, making it plain that economic justice is an issue for people of color. This is not a new thing; women and people of color have long been part of the far left, an honorable tradition going back to figures such as Jenny Marx and, later, in the United States, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. These people became Marxists in part because so many of the issues which faced women and people of color in their time were economic: women could not own property, the property and savings of African-Americans were routinely looted, and so on. In our time, the consequences of the crash of 2008 fell hard on people of color, who were disproportionately victims of mortgage fraud and disproportionately unemployed in the resulting depression. The African-American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates (and you should read him), in his essay "The Case for Reparations," uses this latest attack in a long history of attacks on African-American wealth in support of his argument.

The centrist wing of the Democrats is also the Wall Street wing of the party, led by the Senate Minority Leader Charles Shumer. In their times, President Barack Obama and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton were leaders of this wing. Obama, as President, was a leader in social justice. Not only did the simple fact of an African-American president bring hope to African-Americans, in policy he supported the rights of African-Americans, women, and, under pressure, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transexuals. At the same time, he was a supporter and defender of the financial services industry, prosecuting no bankers despite their​ engineering the crash of 2008, refusing to advocate for a single-payer health care plan, or even a public option in the privatized system of the the Affordable Care Act, and taking only weak action on employment. These had harsh consequences for people of color, who were disproportionately victims of mortgage fraud and disproportionately unemployed in the depression which followed the crash. Hillary Clinton, as advisor to William Clinton, similarly took neo-liberal stands in the earlier Clinton administration, which led to harsh reforms in welfare and Medicaid, again disproportionately falling on people of color.

It was a blessing ("barack") for African-Americans to see one of their own in the highest government office of the United States. It is a blessing for LGBTQ people to have the respect, however grudging, of the legal system. Yet without economic justice as well, one has self-respect, civil rights, and institutionalized poverty – injustice. There is no way to have social justice without economic justice, and the separation of the two is itself injustice.

In the current situation, we have feminists attacking Bernard Sanders for being insufficiently feminist. Yet the Democratic Party's conservatives are even less so. Even Hillary Clinton; this faction forgets the weakness of her position on abortion. The unofficial leader of the moderate left, Bernard Sanders, is slammed for weakness on the issue, while he has been a strong supporter of women's rights for his entire political career, while the Democratic centrists, who are weaker, are granted a pass. There is little difference between Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate and supporter of the Hyde Amendment, and the Roman Catholic pro-Planned Parenthood anti-abortion Heath Mello, candidate for mayor of Omaha, who Sanders and the Democratic National Committee support.

Centrists are not social justice warriors. They are the "white moderates" who Martin Luther King, Jr. slammed in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" as those who preferred "a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

Yet what is to be done? The split has been created. There is a huge amount of effort devoted to widening it; the very wealthy, seeing their wealth threatened, are working hard to shoot the Democratic Party of its left wing. I do not see how, once that is done, the party can hope to win elections outside of major cities, and perhaps not even there. Feminist support for Democratic centrists is hugely foolish; the centrists have been slow-walking feminist issues for decades, as King's white moderates did with segregation, and betray feminists when the centrists see a profit in it.

Bernard Sanders, an independent running for President, stood for the Democratic nomination. He was well aware of the risks of a split in the opposition to fascists. Yet some the party's major backers in the financial industry are now supporting a split. It may be that, reluctant though Sanders has been, he has planted a sapling new party.

What are such a party's chances? It depends, paradoxically, on the integrity of the Republican Party. If the Republican Party falls from internal contradictions, and it may – its President is mad and its House delegation is unable to pass a budget or a health care plan – there will be space for a new party in the American two-party system. If not, it is harder to say. Will people abandon their long-held party loyalties? Republicans support a newly conservative Democratic Party? Democrats support a new Progressive party? And the fascists, domestic and international, will be quick to exploit any split.

Interesting times!


The Blog Fodder said...

You have been doing some serious thinking. Social justice without economic justice gets you Donald Trump.

Raven Onthill said...

Hunh. I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think you are right.