The Populist Right Has A Brighter Future Than The Corporate Left
By Alexander Blum –
As the Democratic Party consolidates to nominate Joe Biden, they destroy their chances of being the party of the American working class. Biden, who is a lifelong champion of credit card companies and trade deals that benefit multinational capital, has no claim to be the representative of working-class people.
Journalist Chris Hedges has said that liberal politicians have traditionally served as a “safety valve” for the resentments of the have-nots, channeling anger and frustration into votes for Democrats who claim to feel the pain of working people. However, as the Democratic Party has become increasingly beholden to the professional managerial class, the “safety valve” of releasing working-class outrage has moved in recent years toward the insurgent presidency of Donald Trump.
The Democratic Party, when it lost in 2016, has since doubled down on its moral condemnation of traditional social values coupled with an increasingly manic defense of elite politicians, outlawing any criticism of Joe Biden’s corruption involving Burisma in Ukraine and elevating Elizabeth Warren to the status of a political martyr after coming in third in her home state. The Democratic Party plays with kid gloves.
Even anti-establishment rebels like Bernie Sanders have apologized to Joe Biden and bowed to the Obama-Biden legacy, admonishing his own surrogates when they rightfully criticize Biden’s record. Trump, on the other hand, treated his intra-party rivals as mortal enemies in 2016, and he not only won but also later the party unified behind him. Meanwhile, Sanders supporters beg Elizabeth Warren for an endorsement that won’t come, respecting the elites of the party, while Trump trashed former President Bush and won by becoming the “safety valve” to release anti-establishment anger.
The Republican Party, of course, is no true ally of the working class. They, too, propose to cut social security and Medicaid, and Mitch McConnell considers universal healthcare tantamount to Venezuelan socialism. Yet, major shifts within the party on trade policy and immigration have positioned the Republicans to effectively combat a corporatized and spiritless Democratic Party which is unwilling to overthrow its own establishment.
Right-wing figures like Tucker Carlson attack Biden on his anti-worker record, while left-wing outlets like MSNBC cater to Cold War paranoia about Russia, repackaged for the #Resist era. This election, like 2016, is about a populist economic program. The Republicans were able to win their populist uprising, and the Democrats won’t. Four years later, they are still stuck defending the corporate class. To become the “safety valve” that will release the anger and despair of the electorate, this is not enough. The pomp and pathos of Trump prevail.
The election of Donald Trump was an ideological statement against the ‘free market and free movement of workers’ dogma characteristic of prior Republican administrations. Rather than parading the stock market around like a graph depicting human salvation, Trump won the presidency on the recognition that tight labor markets, trade deals biased toward American workers, and the active policing of corporations who plotted to offshore domestic jobs was the future of the Republican Party. It still is.
This recognition has resulted in the emergence of critical new voices on the right, one of whom is The Hill’s Saagar Enjeti. Enjeti, a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute and a former Daily Caller White House reporter, hosts a highly popular news show called Rising with former MSNBC contributor Krystal Ball, who abandoned the network and now openly calls out its corporate bias. Enjeti, as a conservative, is in favor of a stricter border policy than Ball, but more often than not the two agree and aim their fire at the same targets, from the abject corporatism of the Biden campaign to the rampant oligarchy of Michael Bloomberg, to the deceptive pseudo-intellectual branding of neoliberal star Pete Buttigieg, and the corporate media which seeks to prop up these astroturfed political forces. Ball and Enjeti have characterized their project as proudly horseshoe and populist, uniting conservatives and leftists in defiance of the idea that they should be ashamed to agree when they’re both right about something.
Enjeti has succeeded in demonstrating a new type of conservative politics to a young audience. In contrast to the confident free-market polemic employed by right-wing thought leaders such as Ben Shapiro and Rush Limbaugh, Enjeti has demonstrated that a populist right can speak to an age of decline in worker outcomes with a form of populist sentiment that rebukes multinational capital.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson is another figure emblematic of the new populist right, and a highly influential anchor on mainstream cable news. He has aired original investigative reporting exposing the anti-worker practices of major firms like Cabela, directly calling out billionaire Paul Singer for hedge fund deals which eliminated jobs in the struggling town of Sidney, Nebraska. Carlson has also sharply debated Iraq war hawk, John Bolton, on his primetime show from an anti-war point of view. When President Trump was at the brink of war with Iran this January, Carlson was an influential voice dissuading Trump from pursuing further conflict.
Enjeti in new media (YouTube) and Carlson in old media (cable news) are influential figures on the right who draw a stark contrast with the Reaganite past of the Republican Party, which has traditionally been both wholly deferential to the class interests of billionaires and hawkish on war. Overturning those stances along with the dogma that free trade enriches anyone other than the corporations hawking their products, and rejecting the open immigration policies of Bush and Reagan as well, these figures on the right have made a distinct break with the Republican politics of the past.
If the new populist right can be defined by anything, it’s a rejection of libertarian philosophy. Libertarianism, which professes that a rising tide lifts all boats and that the unrestricted movement of labor and goods around the world is the foundation of working-class wealth, has been confronted by the new right which instead views that free movement as the easiest way to rip off the American worker and drive down his wages. The philosophy of the new conservative movement is clear: if an unregulated free market means that American workers get outcompeted and lose, then we reject the unregulated free market.
Political strategist Steve Bannon helped to redefine this hands-on approach to the economy when he traced the election of Donald Trump back to the 2008 financial crisis, arguing that Wall Street, the Koch brothers, and the Heritage Foundation deindustrialized the country and weakened labor bargaining power through the financialization and commodification of human life. Getting the government out of our lives, elites propped up cheap migrant labor as the answer to falling rates of profit, relying on a class of servants imported from around the world and jobs sent overseas where wages were minuscule to keep the costs of labor low.
Bannon made the radical argument that the modern American is no better off than a medieval serf because he will never earn anything. In order to save capitalism, Bannon argued, the banks must be broken up and the free transfer of wealth upward via relaxed trade, border, and immigration policies must be stopped. Bannon credited this pro-government, anti-market sentiment emerging in the wake of the financial crisis for the election of President Trump.
So far, Bannon and Trump have utterly succeeded in capturing the economic turmoil of the nation and transforming it into support for the Republican Party. Rather than destroying the conservative movement, their push toward a nationalistic hands-on approach to public policy has allowed the Republicans to rebrand as a pro-worker party. The Democrats have been incapable of responding to this change.
When the voters come to the polls holding in a primal scream, demanding a release of their fears, they will not pull the lever for Democrats any longer. And even if they don’t become Republicans, the total disenchantment of the Democratic base will ensure that the Republicans continue to win against a corporatized husk of a party that once claimed to believe in something more than merely beating the incumbent. For the liberal-left, difficult days are ahead.
Alex Blum is a freelance writer, and he has written for Quillette, Areo, Arc Digital, and Psychology Today. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexanderBlum12.
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