I was an enthusiastic participant in the original Pussy march in London on 21 January 2017, along with an estimated 5 million people worldwide – there were over 400 anti-Trump marches in cities across the world that day. It was unlike any other protest march I had previously joined, both in its organisation and its atmosphere; it had been entirely planned via social media which made it feel somehow ‘word of mouth’, organic and democratic. Although there was an organising committee and co-sponsors, it felt like a really populist (in the best sense of that word) occasion, and it is the first march I have ever been on which didn’t feature ubiquitous identikit SWP placards. All the banners and signs I saw that day were home-made, original and overwhelmingly witty; this felt like it was a march of mainly engaged, confident and articulate people. The atmosphere was positive, inclusive, good humoured and warm, despite the freezing winter weather. At that point, Trump’s election as president felt unreal and absurd, like part of the plot of a far-fetched dystopian sci fi film which had somehow bled off the screen and into real life, but there was also such an optimistic spirit in evidence that day that it also felt fixable.
My assumption at that point was that, once Trump was actually installed in the White House, the grown-ups would take charge. I’m just about old enough to remember Reagan, who was also something of an iconoclastic loose cannon on the campaign trail, but whose worst excesses seemed a little tamed once he took office. He was regressive, divisive and, quite frankly, dim, but there was always a sense that there were experienced advisors around him. The fear of nuclear war was very real during his presidency but I always assumed that there were cooler heads around the president and that their wiser counsel would eventually prevail.
However, as far as I can tell – and it is difficult to keep up with the rapid personnel changes around the president – Trump has fired all the grown-ups and either not replaced them at all, or replaced them with his own minions. First rate sycophants with fourth rate minds. He does not listen, he will not take advice which differs in any way from what he already thinks (although I use the word ‘thinks’ advisedly) and he takes capriciousness all the way to the point of perilousness and beyond. The Trump Blimp is absolutely spot on – here is a petulant baby, full of hot air and trapped in the day glo orange body of a dangerous and powerful world leader. On any given day, literally anything could happen in his world which could result in extreme danger to ours.
There were actually two marches in London today; one organised by Women’s March London, who were behind the January 2017 march and another hosted by Owen Jones and organised by Stop Trump. I was drawn to the first, which was titled Bring The Noise: as they explained:
Bring pots and pans; bring drums; bring musical instruments; bring your voices. We’re taking pots and pans from the domestic space of home into the public space of politics – their purpose transformed for participation, engagement and joyful noise as we bring Cacerolazo
– ‘Casserole protest’ – to the heart of the city.
For someone who was born and bred in London, I am spectacularly bad at Londoning. I’m scared of the entire underground system, and I’m not great in crowds so it took me a while to walk across the city to find the march. By the time I did, it was well formed, joyous and noisy; there were plenty of home-made placards, plenty of wit, plenty of focused anger and plenty of pots and pans.Rather than join the front or middle, I stood at the side of the road to wait for the tail. It took 23 minutes for everyone to pass me, which gives some idea of just how many people there were (later estimates suggest that around 250 000 people were protesting in London today).I’m glad, in retrospect, that I had the chance to do this; in January 2017 I was in the middle of the group and so didn’t get the chance to appreciate the scale, or see all the banners. The march finished in Parliament Square, home of the glorious Trump Blimp and I am really glad that I will be able to tell my as yet unborn grandchildren that I witnessed it in all its orange magnificence. I listened to some moving speeches and poems (although I couldn’t see much, being a small woman at the back of a big gathering) before having to leave in search of shade and water.
The overall mood of the day seemed to me to be as positive, enabling and inclusive as last year, but this was an angrier march too, with a more focused, more determined undercurrent. There were representatives from many organisations (yes, I did see SWP placards this time); if nothing else, Trump has succeeded in uniting a lot of people. There was, of course, aheavy police presence – plenty of helicopters and blue lights – but it was not heavy handed at all, as far as I could see. The officers were mainly observing passively, and giving directions to bewildered tourists, and seemed good natured and relaxed. I like to think that this is because they agree with the aims of the march, but of course I have nothing other than my sunny and/or feckless sense of optimism as evidence for thisbelief. I know the PM has few people other than herself and her government to blame here, but I couldn’t help but have a pang of pity for her. We were on the streets, in the beautiful sunshine, venting our displeasure clearly, cleverly and with cacerolazo, while she has to be in the same room and breathing the same fetid air as this monstrous, maggoty excuse for a man. She has to witness his boorish buffoonery at close quarters, and remain civil and welcoming. I guess this proves that you reap what you sow. I guess this is karma for insulting your 27 closest allies and putting all your eggs in a tangerine, shit shaped basket. I guess this is how her future will look, presiding over the break-up and break down of the increasingly ironically named United Kingdom. Bowing, scraping begging. Humiliating.
There isn’t, apparently, an old Chinese curse which says ‘May you live in interesting times’ – there is no equivalent idiom in Chinese and the phrase was first recorded in the 1930s.It is a saying which has often puzzled me – I’m easily bored, why wouldn’t I want to live in interesting times? – but these last few years have helped me understand more profoundly the meaning; I would now quite like to have a few calm years with no alarms and no surprises. Please.
As Martin Luther King said, light always drives out darkness, and this current darkness will end, but there may be a lot of pain for a lot of people before dawn comes. Meanwhile,I hope Theresa May is extremely unhappy in living through interesting times, though. I hope Trump’s life is nothing but extremely interesting for the rest of his days. I hope they, and the other right-wing enablers who have unleashed the current darkness, intolerance, hatred and fear across the world never have a peaceful day again.
The STUC organised #dumptrump Anti-Trump Rally in George Square, Glasgow was a colourful and enjoyable affair.
I suppose the good weather helped but there was a party atmosphere. Many different groups (there were three I’m a part of) there under the one cause of being against the racist, misogynistic, ruthless capitalist… you know the rest, “The Donald” Trump.
There were Trade Unions (GMB, Unite, EIS and others), pressure groups (like Global Justice Now & Stand Up to Racism), political parties (Scottish Greens, Scottish Labour, Scottish Socialist Party) and ordinary members of the public.
There was a large diversity in those attending. Age; there was a baby in a papoose, who really didn’t have a say whether to attend or not but there were a number of young people from 5 upwards, there, happy and having fun brandishing their homemade placards opposing the presence of the current incumbent of a great office. Also ethnicity (biggest ethnic diversity I’ve seen at a rally), social background (I hate the word ‘class’) – posh folk and ordinary folk like me. And a wide range of politics, albeit all on the left.
As you will see in the pictures there were many home made placards deriding Trump and people were only too pleased to pose with them for my (and many others) pictures. This shows that they didn’t only want their hatred/disdain/etc of Trump to be noticed today at a rally but were happy for it to be shown worldwide, as people know that’s what happens to photographs these days. And everyone with a smile or pose for the camera. I hadn’t intended taking so many shots of banners & placards but they were fascinating, just wish I could have got them all.
If only the left could unite on all causes like it did today. All there, all for one cause, happy, sharing stories, praising each other’s placards/banners and most importantly engaging the normally non-politically active members of the public.
If we could do that, austerity wouldn’t have a chance! Bring it on.
Walking my dog this morning in a suburban Scottish park, I got into an argument about the UK visit of the President of the United States. How fascism spreads – it seems to hit the middle class dog owners first.
The person I argued with is usually affable. They usually nod in agreement at my disgust at whatever political storm is brewing here in Scotland, in the UK or in the world.
Today was no different until we started talking about Trump. We spoke about how the SNP were doing (we are both pro- Scottish independence and a bit cynical at times, over how the SNP are doing). WE spoke briefly about what was happening in Northern Ireland – always an obvious topic because of my accent, and then we got on to Trump. And this is how it went.
Me: Good to see so many people protesting Trump today.
Her: Oh, I don’t know. He’s honest at least.
Me: (silence for an uncomfortable moment) The man is a fascist. Mussolini was “honest!”
Her: Maybe that’s what we need. A bit of fascism. The world is out of control at the minute.
Me: (silence and facial expression, and stuttering to show my disbelief – then composed myself) Have you heard the Sun tape this morning?
Her: I have. And it sounded as if he was right. I mean, May is a terrible Prime Minister. Boris would at least be a new broom sweeping clean. If we had him negotiating Brexit, we’d be out by now.
Me: (Stopping walking, turns to face her with incredulous look on my face) You voted Remain!
Her: Yes, but we are where we are. May is going to crash our trade.
Me: He’s a racist! He is a misogynist! He has already started a trade war with us that is costing jobs here at the very least!
Her: He’s broken no laws.
Me: Mussolini broke no laws. The Nuremburg Race Laws were not broken by the Nazi’s…
Her: You are being ridiculous. Trump isn’t Hitler.
Me: You are right. But he has passed anti-muslim laws, and has separated children from their families…
Her: They shouldn’t be there! Immigrants shouldn’t cross borders…
Me: That is just ridiculous..!
Her: He’s right… Europe isn’t like it was when I was young. The culture is being changed by these people flooding in…
Me: You mean brown people…
Her: Exactly. Even here [suburban, middle class, 99% white] I see a real change. The fabric of Bearsden is being changed. We are losing our culture…
Me: (it’s before breakfast… I am stunned by this!) Our culture..?
Her: Yes. I mean, I live near the local primary school. The amount of people in hijabs…
Me: I cant believe you are saying that! A few years ago, people used to say the same about Irish people… I would have been accused of “changing the fabric of Bearsden…!”
Her: Yes, but that’s different. That was wrong. But they are changing our laws…
Me: (realising I am talking to the nouveau-raciste) The only laws that have changed are ones that target people of colour… I wonder how many Windrush folk in Scotland were deported, or threatened with deportation? How many of those hijab wearing womrn have been spat at or shouted at?
Her: Ack, that doesn’t happen!
Me: Really? As a white, middle aged man with an irish accent, I’ve been shouted at and called names countless times by those who are full of Bearsden Culture… I cant imagine how those of colour have been attacked…
Her: Well we aren’t going to agree. Trump is good for Scotland. Look at the business he has brought here…
Me: He’s squashing business here! He has imposed import taxes on lots of our products! He is costing us business.
Her: He protects his country. That’s the sort of leader we need. We need a Trump here.
Me: (losing is a bit) Like Tommy Robinson? Farage? Boris?
Her: Exactly. That’s what Scotland needs.
At this point I was on the verge of shouting. It was 8am. I needed to get away. So I hitched my dog on to its lead to walk off, with the parting words,
“You’ve given me the fear. I really am scared by what you’ve said. I wasn’t going to go to the protest against the racist, proto-fascist misogynist today in Glasgow, but I know I need to.”
Her: We should be welcoming him.
I shook my head and walked off.
Mussolini talked about changing society to a fascist one, not by sending in the jackboots. To paraphrase him, he said a chicken will scream if you pluck it a handful of feathers at a time. But pluck it feather by feather, it won’t notice until it is too late.
I noticed the mottled pink, scarred, flesh showing through this morning in suburbia.
Want to carry a super cool protest sign for when the orange menace visits the UK, but you aren’t very artsy? We’ve got you covered. Our art department (the brilliant Red Raiph and Debra Torrance) have created a whole range of Dump the Trump posters that you can download and print off to use absolutely free. After all, he deserves an appropriate welcome.
We’ve got full colour, black and white for cheaper printing, images to scrawl your own slogans on, have a scroll through and take as many as you like:
Again, you are welcome to download as many of these images as you like to use for your own protest signs, give them to friends, use them as posters, share them online, whatever you like, absolutely free, but if you’d like to make a donation, you can find our collection tin at paypal.me/ungaggedleft
As I vacuum the dark green carpet while listening to an interview with author and Democracy Now! Co-host Juan Gonzalez, I’m struck by a particular statistic: 70% of the world’s population will reside in cities in the next two years. The implications of this, says Gonzalez, are gigantic for progressivism, as these cities will become the main venues of social change and civil disobedience as ideas and movements gain steam. Resting the vacuum in its upright position, thoughts of the current evolution of American cities come with feelings of hope and dismay at the current state of the country’s major urban centers and what the could develop into when they reach their full potential.
Cities have played a central role in the shaping of American culture and history since before the country’s birth. Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore served as meeting hubs in the colonial United States where the figureheads of the American Counter-Revolution could spread ideas and draw on support from large clusters of disgruntled colonists. New York City and Los Angeles emerged as culture centers in the 19th century and helped craft a unique American identity at a time when the nation struggled to distinguish its culture from that of Europe. Later in that same century, the rise of mass production and heavy industry stimulated population clustering as Americans sought to participate in the explosive development of American economic dominance in the world. The places were packed, smelled like puke and piss, and you probably stepped over a few rotting horses on the way to work for your 21-hour shift. Improved sanitation guidelines and refinement of industries into well-oiled production powerhouses branded urban centers like Detroit as gold standards of wealth accumulation in the 1950s and birthed the standards of the mythic American Dream we become conditioned to achieve.
Sixty years later, Detroit became the first major American city to declare bankruptcy in 2013. Its infrastructure and crime statistics sank to levels comparable to lower-income nations and affluent whites who could afford to fled the city in droves to leave the crumbling core to the impoverished black and Arab communities. We were left wondering how the wealthiest city in America fall so far and if this was the future of the American city. As author and journalist Charlie LeDuff warns, we can go ahead and laugh at Detroit until we realize it’s also Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle, and so many more that could suffer the same brutal evisceration in the darkness of the corporate police state’s shadow.
Such a fate on a broad spectrum is possible, but certain strides in municipal government grant me some hope.
Income inequality and wealth disparity became primary political and social dilemmas in the U.S. after the Occupy movement broke open the floodgates on discussions about class in 2011. These economic trends afflict the nation as a whole, but the major urban centers serve as microcosms of these regressions and offer a glimpse into the potential consequences of maniac sprawl. My own neck of the woods has become a spotlight for these trends. Seattle’s median housing costs hit a record high of $777,000 in March of this year with the city’s Eastside wing reaching a median of $950,000. The central city sees a growing homelessness population that now borders on becoming a full-blown crisis, and the unaffordable rents combined with stagnant wages shove hundreds of people to the suburban towns to spend an increasing portion of their lives travelling in a heavy metal box on I-5. None of the police officers in the Seattle police department live in the city they swear to protect. The same is true of firefighters and many civil servants. The same trend can be found in San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Washington D.C. and many more.
Does a prosperous city like Seattle or Silicon Valley become the Detroit of tomorrow as the purchasing power of the middle and working classes is swallowed by debt service and unaffordable living costs? Such an outcome seems to be the ticket if the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen like the American waistline.
But city councils across the nation are recognizing the dangers associated with uninhibited sprawl and growing wealth disparity. Seattle’s city council approved a controversial “head tax” last week that taxes the city’s large businesses based on employee head count. While the motion has yet to be signed by Mayor Jenny Durkan, it’s a bold pivot into wealth redistribution territory for the council. Socialist Alternative councilmember Kshama Sawant has been advocating for rent control for years, and her efforts to raise the minimum wage contributed to the successful passage of the increase to $15/hour in Seattle.
Promising developments appeared in Baltimore city hall last month as proposals to reverse the city’s government-sponsored economic segregation appeared. One proposed measure seeks to create an equity assessment committee to investigate the city’s agencies and capital projects and root out discriminatory practices. Other proposals address the lack of accessible public housing in the city itself and hopes to reroute capital investment into affordable housing programs. Similar calls for increased spending in the public housing sector echo in other major cities across the U.S.
Cities served as the birthplace for the ideas of the original Counter-Revolution of 1776, and it seems they are once again playing David against the Goliath of the federal government’s authoritarianism. The passage of legislation at the municipal level to redistribute wealth and create new opportunities for working and middle-class families to live a secure existence has steamrolled into larger movements nationwide. Sawant’s Fight for 15, Mayor Rob Davis of Davis, California’s original Sanctuary City, and the prospective public housing developments in Baltimore now enjoy national momentum as they push forward with more punches every day.
The American city of old may be at the end of its industrial career, but a return to its roots as a hub of change and civil disobedience is on the horizon. In fact, it may already be here.
Growing up American feels like the old metaphor of a fish being removed from the river. The fish has no concept of water itself because the liquid home is all it has ever known. Once it is yanked from the stream, its worldview is shattered. A new world has been discovered and the fish returns to the stream knowing the water is not the only plane of existence in the world. We can never interview the fish to understand how its perspective evolves in the time to come (if fish have a concept of a worldview at all), but the scenario feels appropriate for describing my American coming of age.
Citizens of the United States are surrounded by luxury relative to the rest of the planet and we have little direct contact with outside environments and societies in our youth. Skirmishes over food, potable water, and territory may exist in the United States, but they are not negotiated at the tip of an AK-47. The most modern technology dominates our everyday life and allows us to view the cruel side of humanity from a safe distance. We can watch videos of so-called “primitive” chiefdoms in rural Africa or Australia and express wonder at how humanity can still exist in such a state in the new millennium. It is a sheltered existence, ideal for raising a child but not for grasping the realities of billions of people on this earth.
With this naiveite, Americans craft an elite outlook of their own society. Whether through human ingenuity or blessings from the gods above, the United States of America is bestowed with certain unalienable rights not afforded to our counterparts across the ponds. Our successes can be attributed to ingrained superiority while our failures are the result of isolated poor decisions or external events beyond our leaders’ control. This is one form of the infamous American Exceptionalism, another being our mandate to commit unforgivable crimes in the interests of our own unique ventures.
When does this façade crumble? Some pull back the curtain during their university years when they meet people from all over the globe and hear of experiences they never could comprehend at home. Many more never buy the hype in the first place being the children of oppressed groups or having immigrated from their own havens that aren’t as much of a shithole as dear old Donny Tinyhands would like to believe. But this illusion is never dashed for many Americans. The United States is the forever undefeated boxer who built a career on starching tomato cans on its own terms, and this contingent of society that lives in denial will never take a closer look at the padded record.
Could this paradigm be changing in the 21st century? The U.S. empire declines despite its desperate attempts to retain control of its territories through the outdated use of military force while emerging nations like China and India continue to develop new tactics of expansion through economic negotiation and the establishment of unprecedented multi-lateral trade agreements. 2018 is predicted to be the first year when Chinese retail sales surpass those of the U.S., creating widespread potential for new markets in China and subsequent investment from gigantic multi-national corporations. Capitalism is in the process of travelling back along the old Silk Road to spur the rise of the Asian nations while its victims are left flailing in the West, confused and angered by their stagnant wages and deteriorating living conditions while lacking any sensible discussion of a replacement system. I grew up learning about America as the end of history, the pinnacle of human achievement, and the envy of even our comparable neighbors in North America and Europe. It seems the history book has a few blank pages we missed because they were stuck together with jizz from all the shotgun barrel masturbation on confederate flag shoestrings.
Understanding this shift and its potential to damage the American psyche involves examining two major factors: the rise of China specifically among the surging middle-class economies, and the importance of American Exceptionalism in masking the country’s long slow descent into third world status.
Travel back to the 1950s for a moment, when McDonalds could be found on a single street corner and preppies and greasers stood and banged every weekend. China was an international laughingstock. This gigantic nation got its ass handed to it by the neighboring Japanese in humiliating fashion and was now trying this new bright red Communist economic plan. Its people were starving, its leaders were delusional bums who knew nothing of golden Western democracy, and its place as a veto power on the United Nations Security Council was extended out of pure sympathy for its hopeless populace. This was China through the cat eye sunglasses of the U.S.’s booming decade. The image stuck around long after rockabilly and doo-wop fell out of the mainstream. After all, reasoned the typical American worker, China sends all its students to our universities; it purchases American products; it has no military might to speak of and wouldn’t last two seconds in an international rumble. These things may have been true, but old John Smith only scratched the surface. These perceived inadequacies in China’s global standing turned out to be long-term investments into the country’s future, a future now being shaped by innovative economic approaches and strategic enhancement of domestic infrastructure.
2018 may be an unprecedented year for Chinese consumer activity, but it is not the first year that China will beat out the United States in particular markets. A record-breaking 18.4 million motor vehicles were sold in the United States in 2016. It’s a cute number compared to China’s more than 28 million motor vehicle sales that same year. Construction of China’s first foreign military base began in 2016, prompting a major shift of U.S. forces to Africa with the creation of AFRICOM (U.S. Africa Command). The Chinese economy is so convoluted and unpredictable that economists have coined a new term to describe its structure: socio-capitalism. Yet this complicated model has exceeded many expectations in the financial sphere and has laid the groundwork for future economic planning for many nations around the world such as the up-and-coming India. Discussions to change the global reserve currency from the U.S. dollar to the Chinese yuan have floated around international financial spheres for years, and the case to make such a shift grows with each passing financial quarter.
What does this mean to the average American whose identity hinges on breathing their first air on this patch of soil? Not much to a large chunk of the country, as they are probably not interested in such developments. For those nationalists paying attention, however, such developments represent encroachment on what has always been the U.S.’s game. Foreign expansion of armed forces?Economic innovation? Booming consumer culture? That’s our thing goddamnit! Ain’t no backwards slanty-eyed Chinaman taking our world champion belt from us! Worse than that realization is the next revelation that the U.S. is powerless to halt this growth. Chinese capital is the largest collective owner of property in the United States, and U.S. debt to Chinese firms exceeded one trillion dollars in the last financial quarter of 2017. The U.S.’s leverage around the world hinges entirely on brute military strength, a game China has no interest in playing. We can wave our chrome around and scream wide-eyed with crank pulsing through our veins that It’s On Motherfucker all we want, but this isn’t the first time China has looked down the barrel of a .45, and it means jack shit when they could call in that one trillion and blow the kneecaps off the U.S. economy overnight. Donny Tinyhands seems not to understand this, as his proposed trade war with China is a suicide mission according to all reliable financial reporting. The relationship between the two countries may not be that straight-forward or one-sided, but the best the U.S. can hope for is a stalemate, and that does nothing to restore the economic dominance the U.S. dollar once enjoyed in the global economy.
Back to Johnny American, who’s been taught since he no longer shit himself that he is something to behold simply for living in the U.S. His existence is validated primarily through the arbitrary “American” label afforded to him through a history removed from his influence. This affords him validity not just as a civic patriot, but as a human, and thus his entire sense of self-worth hinges on factors divorced from individual achievement. American empire, the U.S. dollar as the world reserve currency, the titanic might of the American armed forces; old Johnny has never done anything to influence these things, yet he lives his life obsessed with these products of history and attaches his worth to them on an unconscious level. As history shows, however, such courses can change for arbitrary and unpredictable reasons as quickly as a Muay Thai elbow colliding with a glass jaw shuts the lights off in the brain. When the American empire folds, the U.S. military is no longer looked to with honor and respect abroad, Chinese markets become better at what the U.S. does best, and Johnny’s worth begins to deteriorate because he believes his merit as a human being to be attached to the overall state and health of the country. If being an American carries no honor or prestige, his existence holds no meaning. He is dead as a respectable member of the world (I use the male pronoun because so much of his anger can also be attached to patriarchal conditioning that creates a lifetime of toxic outlook on what the loss of masculinity means, but it does not mean that people of other genders cannot experience these feelings to the same degree. More than half of white women who participated in the 2016 presidential election voted for Donald Trump after all).
Without a mindful reassessment of what worth means to a human being, the frustrations surrounding this loss of identity and worth manifest in all sorts of toxic ways. It becomes proletarian rage over stagnant wages and the misfortune of unemployment. Men who are taught from the playground on up that they must surpass women in income and career achievement feel a loss of worth in their gender identity and harbor a lethal combination of deep hatred and aggrieved entitlement. In its worst form, this hatred manifests as outright violence. White males top the charts in mass shootings committed in the United States, and intimate partner violence ending with a corpse involve a disproportionate number of male perpetrators regardless of the victim’s gender. There are more factors influencing motivations behind these attacks of course, but American society does little to allow for nonviolent expressions of masculinity beyond achievements in the workplace or the sports arena. Remove the potential for those achievements and the absurd validation of national pride and most men see no other way to validate their existence. At the ballot box, this loss of national identity and attached self-worth becomes support for antiestablishment candidates like Trump that reinvigorate that primal sense of pride through punching down at outgroups, a classic tactic of schoolyard bullies suffering from feelings of inadequacy. It is a way to punish society at large for their own misfortune and loss of humanity. Fascistic religious movements such as dominionism also prey on these insecurities, and their influence manifests in hatred of homosexuals, restrictions of women’s rights, and censorship of media.
It is no surprise that these manifestations of the loss of American dominance in the world have become more frequent as other countries arise to top the U.S. at its own game. To be fair, observant world news consumers could point out similar trends in Europe with the surge of right-wing nationalist movements in Greece, Hungary, Poland, France, Italy and other countries. True enough, such trends are not relegated to the amber waves of grain. However, I can’t help but wonder how Europe’s longer history and past experience with losing its various empires mitigates the domestic impacts of such rises. Another aspect of growing up American is the constant shock of remembering how young the country is relative to world history. Take any of the major European economic powers with a history of empire, and they’ve seen it all. Innovations in technology that shaped the world to come, intense rivalry with neighbors of similar standing, colonialism and the construction of a global sphere of influence, the fall of that influence, and the years to heal from the loss of pride and return as stronger economic forces in a new world of countries instead of vassals. The United States has lived through most of that list, but the last two components, arguably the most difficult phases, have yet to hit home. If the U.K., the Netherlands, France, and the rest of the former empire states are experienced boxers who know how to dig deep after emptying the gas tank because they’ve been in 12-round wars many times, America is the boxer getting lit up with his hands on his hips in the championship bout after going ham in the first round and failing to score that highlight reel knockout that earned him the title shot. My mother keeps a book of the entire history of the royal leadership of England and I once saw it perched on the living room coffee table next to a book of the entire history of U.S. presidents. The difference in thickness said it all, and it is the clearest model of America’s relative youth and inexperience in the ways of the world I have ever seen.
My Ungagged colleagues across the pond can speak to this better than I can, but I have always perceived a maturity among European residents not found among American nationalists when broaching the subject of national identity. Many people in the U.S. still use the American Revolution defeat of the British as an example of American superiority over Britain and a reason why British citizens have no place to criticize American society. Aside from the 1690 crowd in the second Trainspotting film, I have yet to hear anyone in the U.K. assign their self-worth to a result of warfare or diplomacy that was decided hundreds of years ago. Such people must exist across the pond, but comparing their numbers to the aforementioned revolutionary war enthusiasts or Confederate apologists could reveal some shocking disparities.
Where do we go from here? What is the United States to do in the face of a changing world that may not value its presence in the way Johnny American has always wanted to believe. The author Cormac McCarthy wrote that this world is hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, and it ain’t all waiting on you, and that seems to be the U.S.’s current course. We would do well to shed our blinding nationalism and hubris in favor of greater integration into world innovations. Rather than starting hopeless trade wars with China that could destroy our own economy, negotiate fair trade agreements with China that set precedence for balanced international commerce. Instead of looking at the achievements of Europe with a smug sense of superiority and treating our closest allies like children, we could learn from these nations and improve our domestic strength through innovative competition and shared learning. How many opportunities for growth and development have we as a country cost ourselves in our refusal to admit when we are wrong? Such admissions and concessions may seem uncomfortable at first, but the best lessons in life are often the hardest ones to learn.
On the domestic front, we as ordinary citizens can begin to change the culture of hubris and toxicity that plagues the proletariat. Encouraging nonviolent expressions of masculinity is a tremendous start. Support your male peers in expressing their emotions and redefine masculinity as something that can be achieved outside the workplace and football field. Engage in dialogue with what you perceive to be the most reprehensible racists among us. As white people especially, we possess access to a unique window of opportunity to be taken seriously by such groups. Work to remove the influence of big money from politics at the state level through organizations like Wolf-PAC, which have already succeeded in persuading a growing number of states to call for a constitutional amendment to prohibit such bribes. This will restore our constitutional republic and ensure our representatives answer to nobody but their constituents again, ending the trend of honest working class folks fighting the rich man’s battle for profits they will never see.
One of our own, Abraham Lincoln, once said that it is the measure of a person to admit when they are wrong. Let us apply these principles to our country and mature through our ability to humble ourselves before the rest of the world. There are genuine reasons to be proud of what the United States purports to stand for, and with hard work and a dash of modesty, we can again become a country that leads by example, not by force.
Scouring political comments sections is never good for the body or the soul, and yet I find myself reading endless virtual tirades every single day. It seems my passion for politics can override my concern for my mental and emotional health sometimes.
An increasing plurality of Americans now believe that another party is needed in the American political system. The whirlwind of the 2016 election spiked interest in such a prospect last year, but the sentiment has not died one year after President Donald Trump’s victory. A September, 2017 Gallup poll indicated that 57 percent of Americans believe a competitive alternative is necessary in electoral politics (I hesitate to use the term “two-party system” since too many similarities between the Democrats and Republicans exist for any reasonable distinction to be drawn). This amounts to 77% of independents, 52% of Democrats, and 49% of Republicans in favor of a new contender.
Desire for a new political party may be at an unprecedented high, but minor parties have been participating in all levels of electoral politics for decades with varying degrees of success. One might never know this when following corporate media, as the standard narrative paints third party electoral participation as nonexistent beyond “vanity” candidates for president that appear every four years. This story’s appearance is an inevitable piece of every presidential election cycle, as predictable as Wolf Blitzer’s stupefying lack of personality or right-wing outrage over holiday cups. Minor party voters are demonized as belonging to some privileged upper-class that can afford to “throw their votes away” at best, or aid an opposing candidate at worst. Such condemnation reached new levels of lunacy following the 2016 election result when Green Party voters faced accusations of falling for Russian propaganda as part of the neo-McCarthyist hysteria that maintains a chokehold on mainstream American political thought.That sound you hear is my soapbox slamming on the ground. It would take an entire book to disprove the lies thrown about regarding third party dynamics in the United States, but we’ll keep the list short. Here are four common myths about minor parties that I hear or read all the time, and my responses to them.
Much of my experience in the minor party politics has taken place in the Green Party. Thus, most of the examples I use in this piece will focus on their effort and progress. However, it is important to note they are far from the only smaller party instigating change at local and state levels. Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant is one such shining example, as are the string of electoral victories won by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in the 2017 elections.With that acknowledged, awaaaaay we go!
1. Minor party candidates have no chance in hell of winning.
Strong start here, as I’m not actually disputing this one on the presidential level where this talking point is applied the most. A specific set of circumstances has to be in place for someone like Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green candidate Jill Stein to take home the gold, and that sequence of events likely will not happen in the absence of proportional representation a la a parliamentary system of government at the national level. However, the rationale behind most minor party support in the presidential election isn’t about winning the presidency.
Rules and regulations on down-ballot races in individual states leave minor parties with no choice but to participate in the race. The majority of state election laws require political parties to field presidential candidates in order to qualify for down-ticket appearances, meaning Libertarians cannot even run for small offices without Johnson’s candidacy, Greens cannot run without Stein’s candidacy, etc. This applies for the next four years until the next presidential election when that party must run another presidential campaign. Not participating in the national race would mean four years where minor parties have literally no opportunities to run for offices or build coalitions anywhere in the state in question due to the absence of a presidential candidate in the prior election cycle. When considering that only a handful of states lack such restrictions, sitting out the presidential race is incompatible with building a strong network of grassroots support. Minor party small race candidates are screwed without them.
So you either want minor parties to start local and build their parties from the bottom up, or you want them to sit out the presidential election. You can’t have both under the current system of election laws.
There are other benefits to be drawn from the national visibility that a presidential contender brings, and this is especially true for smaller political parties that lack the large donor backing of the two major camps. For example, 5% of the national popular vote qualifies a party for federal matching funds, and 15% awards them a spot in the televised debates which means wider exposure of their platform. The benefits of these milestones are huge for candidates in local and state races who gain better access to resources and voters.Johnson enjoyed a fair amount of exposure and support in 2016, the foundations of which were laid during his run in 2012. That limelight boosts down ticket Libertarian candidates’ chances of winning smaller races. In my own state of Washington, Libertarian candidates contended for the Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General positions that year. These are much harder to contend for without the visibility that a presidential candidate brings to the party. The Libertarians have steadily increased their total number of held offices in the United States over the course of their existence, as have the Greens and the relatively new DSA. All of these gains have been supported by the national visibility of presidential candidates (save for DSA, who first appeared in electoral races in 2017).
Would it be better for third parties to focus all their resources on winning these smaller races to build a larger foundation? In an ideal world, yes. Unfortunately, the current system of laws does not allow for such an allocation of resources. Don’t like it? Work to change the laws in your state. 2. Minor parties only show up every four years and do no meaningful work in between AKA “I would gladly support them if they would only RUN”.
Amazing what a quick Google search can churn out these days. Minor parties may not be pushing candidates at the rate of the Democrats or Republicans, but to suggest they never run for smaller offices (and never win to boot) is ludicrous. As mentioned above, the Libertarians and Greens have been gaining seats nationwide every election year since their founding with substantial gains seen in both 2016 and 2017. Each party has also been seeing exponential increases in registered voters with over one million new Greens registering in the past year alone.In the case of the Greens, candidates for positions all up and down the spectrum can be found across the country. Greens litter city councils, school boards, and county commissions in several states, and places like California, Arkansas, and more have seen Greens serve on their respective state’s House of Representatives. Two Greens currently hold seats in the Maine House of Representatives. New York saw a Green city council candidate garner 30% of the vote in a solid Democratic district in 2017 and Greens took over the city council of Hartford, Connecticut the same year. The entire Green candidate collective spans hundreds upon hundreds of contenders, and the Libertarians top them by another several hundred in generally higher positions. DSA saw several electoral victories in city council and school board positions in 2017, and Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant has held her seat as a member of the Socialist Alternative party since her original election bid in 2013.
In addition to the symbolic significance of holding these seats, minor party officeholders often spearhead progressive legislation that later gains momentum at the national level. The country-wide Fight for $15 campaign to raise the federal minimum wage has its roots in Sawant’s successful push to pass such an increase in Seattle. The Sanctuary City movement to protect immigrant families from illegal privacy invasions was started by Green mayor Rob Davis of Davis, California. Solar power is now one of the fastest-growing job sectors of the American economy due to Green legislation and activism at the local and state level that subsidized solar power companies and enabled them to expand. It is questionable whether any of these developments and many more would have appeared had these minor party candidates not won these seats and exerted their leverage given the opposition these measures faced from major party officeholders.
Critics demand to know what took so long for these victories to be achieved. True enough, the significant increase in total number of minor party officeholders in smaller offices is a relatively new phenomenon. But it is important to keep in mind that even the smaller races are several times harder for third parties to win on account of state laws hampering their efforts. When Green Pennsylvania state senatorial candidate Carl Romanelli worked to get his name on the ballot, he was required to collect 67,000 signatures. The main party candidates were required to amass 2,000. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, it cannot be argued this is a balanced system for enabling third party candidates to build that base everyone keeps screaming at them about. It becomes more frustrating when one realizes that the primary way to scrap these laws is to elect people into office who would vote to repeal it, but that’s difficult to do when these very laws keep those people from winning small races. Ballot initiative or referendum can be an alternative, as with the Maine ballot initiative to allow for state-wide ranked-choice voting implementation that was passed in 2016, but these can be vetoed by sitting officeholders depending on state laws. See the problem here?
I never understand when people claim that no grassroots action occurs within the smaller parties given how easily this information can be accessed. Maybe no Libertarians, Greens, Constitution Party members, etc. are running in your state, but if that’s your idea of an adequate sample to assess the quality of a party at the local and state level in general then my father the stats professor would like a few words with you. 3. Third party supporters are disproportionately white/privileged.
This may be true in the case of groups that carry more of a right-wing slant in their philosophies such as the Libertarians or the Constitution Party. I do not know those numbers and cannot speak to their standings.
I hear this claim vaulted at Greens constantly though, and a clarification of the speaker’s intentions is needed before addressing it. If one means to say, in the context of the 2016 presidential election, that Hillary Clinton performed better among voting people of color than Stein, then yes, that is accurate. However, if the point is that Green Party supporters in general are disproportionately white, that’s where the argument falls apart.
Reuters data released early last year demonstrated that support for Stein among POC was completely proportional to national voting blocks in last year’s race, meaning the number of POC supporting Stein relative to the number of whites doing so fell in the same ratio as the national distribution of POC voters. Other credible polling agencies’ results reflected this same trend. It is statistically inaccurate to claim that the Green Party base is disproportionately white. This ties into a larger racist narrative that seeks to erase the contributions of POC to political movements of historical significance. POC activists do endless amounts of grassroots work every day, a large part of which includes support for smaller party candidates at all levels of government during election years.
The Green Party was the first political party in American history to nominate two women of color for its presidential bid with the ascension of Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente in 2008. Socialist Alternative member also Kshama Sawant bears referencing, as Asian-Americans are one of the least represented racial groups in American politics. This is not to mention the countless black and Latino candidates that ran as Greens, DSA members, socialists, and under many other banners in both 2016 and 2017. Further than that, we can find thousands of activists outside the strict political realm whose efforts complement the progressive legislation that rises to national conversation. Claiming that the support base for these candidates and causes is comprised mostly of rich white people obfuscates the political and social accomplishments of people of color.
The claim has major problems when applied to class as well. Stein performed better among lower-class millennials making less than 50,000/year than Clinton did with considerable overlap in the “will not vote” category. She performed better proportionally among working class voters than Clinton at the time of election. 2000 Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader had more success with individuals making less than $15,000/year than he did with any other demographic.
Self-proclaimed radical queer leftie Morgana Visser framed the core problem with the privilege misconception better than I ever could: “…and because I am afraid of Donald Trump, I am expected to vote for Hillary. As if I am not scared of Hillary Clinton as President. But I am; in fact, many marginalized people are rightfully horrified of Hillary Clinton.” Such fears were confirmed when Clinton performed worse among blacks and Latinos in 2016 than Barack Obama did in his 2012 reelection campaign.
Regardless of how much one agrees with the sentiments expressed by Visser and others, the idea that marginalized people have no presence in Green party support bases is at variance with reality and, funnily enough, an expression of privilege. 4. Minor party candidates can only act as spoilers and are directly responsible for George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
It is astounding how widely believed this is even after all these years. Where do I even begin with this one?Let’s start with 2000, when it is often claimed that then Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader cost Democratic contender Al Gore the white house. For starters, people seem to forget that Gore won the popular vote that year; the Electoral College is what handed the keys to George W. Bush. This circumstance was reached in Florida after a wild ride of 18 counties not reporting recounts, Gore only requesting manual recounts in four counties that were expected to vote Democratic anyway and not requesting any in counties expected to vote Republican, the decision by the Florida Secretary of State to enforce the mandatory recount deadline, and, most importantly, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to override the Florida Supreme Court’s issuing of a statewide manual recount.
Nader carried no influence whatsoever over these happenings. None of it. The closest thing he could have done was force the automatic recount with his presence, the argument being that such a process would not have been necessary had he not run. The problem with such an assertion is that Nader’s largest pull in the state of Florida was 4% of the independent vote, the voting demographic least likely to affect the overall count. People who claim that Nader cost Gore the election often fail to take all of this into account, instead relying on abstract and arbitrary reasoning that includes no analysis of how state-level popular voting actually works.
Suppose Gore lost the popular vote in 2000, would Nader be culpable then? The answer would still be no. 12% of Florida Democrats voted for Bush in that election. If only 1% of those Democrats voted along their own party line, Gore would have easily won Florida outside of the margin that triggered the automatic recount. That’s without even mentioning the roughly half of all registered Democrats who did not even cast a vote in the first place. Further exit polling showed that an overwhelming majority of Nader voters in the state of Florida would not have participated in the election had Nader not been an option. One might call this reasoning “what-aboutism”, but these are based on statistics and reliable voting tendencies, not mere speculation.
Fast-forward to the wake of 2016 and such accusations are flying again. Green Party forums are littered with people screaming about how Jill Stein put Donald Trump in the white house. Yet again, statistics and verifiable trends in voting behavior suggest otherwise. Once again, the Democratic candidate won the popular vote but failed to capture the electoral college. A greater chunk of Democratic voters cast their ballots for Trump than they did Stein. Half of the eligible voting population did not participate in the presidential election at all, and exit polling demonstrated yet again that minor party voters were more likely to abstain from voting altogether if their selected candidate was not an available choice. The people who vote directly for a candidate are always the ones most responsible for that candidate’s success. We hear all the time that a vote for Johnson, Stein, or whomever else is an indirect vote for the opposing major party’s contender. Indirect votes do not exist. They just don’t. You might have a case in a mathematical sense if every person who ultimately votes for a minor party candidate explicitly pledged to support somebody else in the event that their final choice was not an option, but good luck finding such a scenario throughout the entirety of American history.
Ulterior motives and poor management of a needlessly complex system is what cost Al Gore the 2000 presidential election, not Ralph Nader or any one of the other equally-influential minor party candidates of that election year that nobody seems to remember as conveniently. Donald Trump’s victory is better explained by proletarian rage unleashed after decades of neglect on the part of the neoliberal philosophy that swept the Democratic Party with the Bill Clinton presidency, not Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, not Russian interference, or any of the antics of former FBI director James Comey. All of these excuses serve only to distract from systemic problems that would weaken the elite behind the two major parties if they were solved.
One can hold whatever opinion of American minor parties and their voters they want to, but it is dishonest to suggest they are primarily responsible for the consequences of basing a society on profit over people. I’ll step off the soapbox now, as I must go shopping to make some American tottie scones.