By Vivion Vinson
This past Friday, Arun Gupta, journalist and author, and Joseph Schwartz, professor of political science at Temple University, spoke to a standing room only crowd at Wooden Shoe Books about “The Rise of Trump and How to Counter Trumpism.”
Arun Gupta started his presentation with a blunt warning: “There is no middle ground going forward.” He went on with a succinct summary of the political economy leading up to the present day, starting with Keynesianism, which he described as the state engaging in economic planning, and smoothing out the business cycles. “What is now to the left of Sanders was standard operating procedure.” Now, he said, “progressive neoliberalism is tying identity politics to finance capital as the way forward,” and “the Democrats have abandoned the working class of all colors.”
The journalist noted that he had just arrived from spending a week in Indiana, interviewing factory workers at the very plants where the president-elect had promised to save jobs. The factories are about to lose almost 1300 jobs, while 730 jobs were saved, he said. “These are unionized workers, the majority of which voted for Trump, although many voted for Clinton.” He described hearing the Clinton voters say they had voted out of duress, describing the candidate as the “lesser of two evils,” and saying that they were “tired of broken promises.” One worker explained that he had given Trump “a shot.” When Gupta responded, “It’s a shot in the dark, isn’t it?” the response was, “With Clinton, you know what you got; at least with Trump it’s a shot.”
He proceeded with analysis of political strategies he recommended moving forward, starting off by exhorting the audience to “stop defending half measures,” and then emphasizing the need for unity. “Trump racialized class politics. It’s not an either/or. He combined the economic problems with race… Don’t forget that Obama won a lot of the white working class, and you can’t dismiss them as racists. It’s bad politics; they are one third of the voting population.”
According to Gupta, Trump’s election “means that we have *all* failed, no matter what your politics are. Organizationally, the left has been a complete disaster… Protests can be useful, but they tend to be reactive…We also think we can do this with single-issue groups.” Instead, he said, the “only way you can fight the government is with other massive institutions,” specifically the cities.
To summarize, he listed what he termed a “few core principles moving forward.” First, “not turning on each other….We have to defend each other, or we will be steamrolled. Our disagreements must be productive.” Next, he said, “liberals need to move beyond liberalism. What was liberal 50 years ago is now considered radical and more to the left than Sanders.” Thirdly, he emphasized, “Don’t denigrate basic needs as ‘free stuff,’ and suggested contrasting things like the Wall Street bailout and bloated defense spending with the spending required for Social Security and Medicare.
Joseph Schwartz followed with a brief talk, starting by saying that he agreed with Gupta “95%.” He spent more time detailing the political history, pinpointing the country’s gradual swing right-ward with Jimmy Carter, and describing Richard Nixon as the last liberal president. The dominant wing of the Democratic party he described as neoliberal, and outlined what he called the “four D’s of neoliberalism”: deregulation; de-unionization; decrease taxes on the rich and corporations; and decrease funding of public goods, such as public education. He then suggested that “social democracy exists in the bourgeois, white suburbs,” which have “the huge tax resources to do it.” He wrapped up his presentation echoing Gupta, saying, “We have to build power in the city.” He also spoke of redistricting as a critical effort.
Audience members peppered the speakers with questions, many about political tactics and strategies. The overarching conclusion was, as Gupta said, “we have to engage in longterm movement building…we have to stop seeing elections as movements.” Anything built around a charismatic leader will “disappear because it’s not actually a movement to start with.”