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democratic socialists

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Michelle Goldberg’s recent piece in the Sunday New York Times on the inspiring rise of young democratic socialists in recent primary elections in Pennsylvania and New York is a breath of fresh air after what seems like a thousand years of dreary commentary trying to make sense out of the fascist orange wrecking ball that plagues our country.

The current rise of Democratic Socialists of America reminded me at once of the life’s work of Eugene Victor Debs a hundred years ago, who ran for president of the United States four times (once from a federal prison cell) representing the Socialist Party where he won, in aggregate, several million votes. Debs rose out of the railroad workers’ union movement in the late 19th Century and the platform on which he ran for president included an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, an end to child labor, the right to unionize, workers’ health and safety rights, and a public social insurance and pension system.

At the time, the leaders of both major political parties in America scoffed at Debs and his “socialist” demands. They saw Debs’ platform as far outside the mainstream, much the same way the leaders of both political parties today view the democratic socialist ideas of Medicare for All, tuition-free public colleges and trade schools, the forgiveness of student loan debt, and the right to a living wage and affordable housing.

How it played out historically was that eventually (but not in Debs’ lifetime) every single one of his Socialist Party programs and reforms he had fought for were enacted into federal law. And the eight-hour day, a minimum wage, the end of child labor, and workplace safety regulations have become “commonsense”; and, along with Social Security, extremely popular. All of these reforms became part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Democratic Party had no choice but to either embrace socialist reforms or find itself thrust back into the political wilderness.

But the bad news is that none of these socialist reforms had enough political support to be enacted until after the icy dead hand of the Republicans, who like today, controlled the House, the Senate, the presidency, and the courts, brought on the worst economic depression in U.S. history. Their “trickle down” economics of tax cuts for the rich and corporations. Their deregulation and Wild West views on Wall Street speculation. Their breaking of labor unions, and their anti-immigrant venom directed at non-whites. Their reliance on the “free market” to fix the catastrophe in agricultural production that gutted millions of family farms. And their craven cultivation of gullible religious people to act as foot soldiers. All of this raw Republican public policy and social engineering helped create the conditions for an economic collapse that caused millions of Americans to experience directly the human suffering of unemployment, hunger, and homelessness.

The nation could not muster the political will to pass these commonsense socialist reforms until it faced its worst economic crisis in its history and the human misery quotient reached unbearable proportions that tore apart the social fabric.

So the bad news is that we’ll probably need another epic economic meltdown the size of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression in order to shake loose the filthy indecent political order that a handful of right-wing billionaires have foisted upon us before we can see the commonsense ideas such as Medicare for All, a living wage, access to affordable housing, and free tuition at colleges and trade schools come to fruition as public policy.

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Historically, one of the weirdest things about our current situation is that it has been entirely self-inflicted. There was no economic crisis that precipitated the sudden rise of American fascism.

Historically, one of the weirdest things about our current situation is that it has been entirely self-inflicted. There was no economic crisis that precipitated the sudden rise of American fascism.

When he rose to power, even Adolph Hitler did so while his country was dealing with dire economic crises. But we gave ourselves our own little Hitler in a time of relative economic prosperity, which would indicate that the whole neo-fascist farce has been ideologically manufactured from the start. For eight years, millions of white Americans turned on their television sets and saw a black man as their president – and they lost their shit.

The orange menace has tapped into a deep vein of racism and white supremacy in American society, in a society that has always been profoundly racist. We have no idea how long he can mine this Eureka gold rush of racial hatred. But we do know this vein is enormous and runs to the core of who “we” think “we” are. I’ve never seen before an adviser to a president flash “White Power” gang hand signs at a hate rally over the president’s shoulder to knowing “alt-right” shtiposters and rednecks as Corey Lewandowski has done.

History is often abstruse and befuddling on many points, but not on this one: I cannot think of one example from the history of any country anywhere where a leader and a “movement” of followers tapped into the reptilian part of the human brain to exploit hatred, racism, misogyny, bigotry, fear, division, anger, indecency, and violence to attain political power where it ended well.

And this isn’t going to end well.

At some point the whole orange shit-show will come crashing down one way or another. And the right-wing ruling elites who created this mess, much like they had done in the 1920s (and in 2007-08) are expert at passing along the costs of their recklessness onto the backs and shoulders of ordinary working people. The rich reap the benefits of unbridled reckless capitalism and then when the music stops those bastards pass the costs on down to us.

So, it will be at that moment, long after the hate rallies are over and the effervescence of venting hatred wears off, when people will no longer be able to deny that they’re experiencing the denigration of their own material well being. And at that moment we’ll need to bring forth all of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes of the world and begin implementing the democratic socialist agenda as public policy and save our society (once again) from the capitalists and their puppet politicians who so fucked everything up.

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Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo's Blog