How Democrats Can Offer Real Solutions to America’s Problems

Democrats can’t build an enduring majority for real change without clarity on an agenda far different and bolder than the neoliberalism of the past years.

First published in The Nation

Donald Trump’s chaotic menace has been met with a fierce resistance movement that has rallied to the defense of the Dreamers, Muslims, women, and the environment. This movement has lifted Democrats in special elections and could enable Democrats to take back the House of Representatives along many statehouses and governor’s mansions. Trump remains remarkably unpopular, despite a growing economy, low unemployment and much-ballyhooed tax cuts.

Yet resistance alone is not enough. Responding to the Trump outrage of the day ignores the clear reality: Trump is in the White House because voters revolted against the establishment of both parties. And neither party has genuine answers for the struggles of most Americans.

Democrats can’t build an enduring majority for real change without clarity on an agenda far different and bolder than the neoliberalism of the past years.  But now, seventy leaders of the resistance—supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie, Sanders—have released The Pledge to Fight for America’s Future that outlines an economic agenda and vows to build the movement needed to make it a reality. (For list of signers go here; to join the pledge go here. Full disclosure: this was spearheaded by Roger Hickey and released by the Campaign for America’s Future, which I co-founded.)

The agenda is not a grab-bag of glittering new ideas. Rather, it reflects an emerging consensus among the activist base of the Democratic party that began to take form in the DNC platform borne from negotiations between Clinton and Sanders in 2016. Parts of the pledge are also in the “Better Deal” agenda that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are rolling out, but also can be found in the stirring platform put out by the Movement for Black Lives and sixty other organizations in 2016.

The pledge represents a clear break with the neo-liberal economics of the Clinton years, and its celebration of markets,  balanced budgets, small government, deregulation, and corporate trade. The pledge instead recognizes an economy rigged to benefit the few, with big money not only corrupting our politics but corroding our sense of the possible. That has produced savage inequality, stagnant wages and increasing insecurity. This feeds a deep American despair, which is reflected in the stunning life expectancy declines of recent years. Trump is already deepening these problems as he abandoned his populist promises.

The pledge calls for a clear commitment to a far different course. Major elements include rebuilding America while guaranteeing the right to a job. Public investment – modernizing a dangerously decrepit infrastructure – is the centerpiece of the jobs and growth agenda, not trickle-down tax cuts that only add to inequality. That investment should be focused in part on the transition to a sustainable green energy economy. Meeting the clear and present security threat posed by catastrophic climate change can be the greatest source of jobs and innovation since the move to the suburbs after World War II. As China understands, the country that leads in the development of the new technologies will dominate what will inevitably be the growing markets of this century.

A long-term commitment to rebuilding America enables the government to act as an employer of last resort, guaranteeing a job for every person able to work.  The pledge chooses the right to a job over a guaranteed annual income.

Public investment and industrial policy lets policymakers target communities – both urban and rural –that are most in need. Just as post-World War II military spending helped develop the West and lift many communities in the South, a new era of rebuilding America can help revive the communities ravaged by loss of manufacturing jobs or locked out of the economy from the beginning.

The domestic investment agenda is complemented by a transformed global economic policy designed to work for working people, instead of one written by, for and with the global corporations and banks. The pledge calls for increased but balanced trade, with the United States leading the effort to build and enforce labor rights, consumer standards and environmental protections in trade accords. This would also mean enforcing Buy America policies at home. Accompanying that should be a global effort to shut down tax havens and raise taxes on global corporations, and stopping what now is a race to the bottom.

The pledge also calls for shutting down the global financial casino, breaking up big banks, imposing a speculation tax, and freeing low-income families from being fleeced by payday lenders.

Growth and jobs, however, are not enough. The economy has grown over the last decades, productivity has risen, but workers have not shared in the benefits. Wages have stagnated while CEO pay soared. A central reason for this is the unrelenting war waged on workers and unions. The pledge commits to empowering workers, protecting the right to organize and for holding CEOs accountable, and cracking down on executive pay schemes that give executives multi-million dollar incentives to plunder their own companies.

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