BY ADRIAN LOPEZ
The Democratic Party from the neoliberal era is on its last legs, and something new entirely has come to take its place.
Well, not exactly new.
A wave of progressivism has swept the streets of the United States of America. It’s not the first time we’ve seen such a thing, but it is different than before.
The first wave of progressivism followed the Gilded Age of the 1870s and 1880s, and demanded an end to political machines, governmental corruption and scandal, modernization, and safety nets like unemployment subsidies, adequate and affordable housing in industrial cities, and worker’s compensation. Progressives such as William Jennings Bryan campaigned for an end to the gold standard; Theodore Roosevelt pushed for antitrust legislation and a “Square Deal” for the common man; and William La Follette pushed for direct democracy, the referendum, initiatives and recall at the state level.
Also out of the Progressive era was the ratification of the 16th to 19th Amendments to the United States Constitution, instituting an income tax, the direct election of United States Senators, the prohibition of alcohol and suffrage for women.
While the issues of the first wave of progressivism were primarily social and political, the current wave of progressivism is different in that it is primarily focused on economic problems that plague lower- and middle-class America. Globalization, immigration, corporate donations to political campaigns, pro-corporate governmental policies, student debt, and smoldering gender and racial inequality in the educational, economic and justice systems have angered and pushed young Americans to seek drastic and sweeping reforms like those of the first progressive era.
The past and current progressive eras differ, however: the first was very much a bipartisan, middle-class movement, while the current is made up mostly of the left and involves large swathes of lower-class Americans.
To begin to understand this new progressive movement, it must first be looked at as a reaction to the Republican Tea Party.
Since the midterm elections of 2010, major Tea Party politicians have gained significant influence within the Republican Party, both on Capitol Hill and in the hearts and minds of the base constituency. They have demanded opposition to government interference in the corporate sphere, a cut to taxes, opposition to a government-funded healthcare system, “the right to work” and a reduction to foreign aid. While many of these policies are in line with common Republican policy goals, lead figures such Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the senate majority leader, have had to take Tea Party commentary and demands into account. Even individuals such as U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio appealed to the Tea Party segments of the Republican Party during the 2016 presidential election season.
The progressives, in many ways, came about in opposition to the policies pushed by the Tea Party. Establishment Democrats failed to challenge the Tea Party and the Republican Party on many issues, primarily economic, and the lower and middle-classes of America have looked to populism, progressivism and a new Left to solve the many issues that plague the current generation.
In particular, with individuals like Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, and Elizabeth Warren speaking up for the lower and middle classes during the 2016 presidential election season, many young liberals of the current generation have found the motivation and means they need to speak up. Websites like OurRevolution.com and the JusticeDemocrats.com entice the young left of the future to challenge the establishment Democratic party and resist the Republican Party at every level of government. Senator Bernie Sanders pushed for a single-payer healthcare system, a regulation of Wall Street, universal college tuition for students, immigration reform and a higher minimum wage. Feminist and LGBTQ organizations push for gender equality in society and in wages, and internationalists combat Islamophobia and work to reform a burdened and slow immigration system. African-American groups like Black Lives Matter fight systemic racism and discrimination in the education and criminal justice systems
The New Left fights against an economic and corporate system that they feel neither works to pull them out of the lower rungs of the economic ladder nor works to even the playing field. This is in stark contrast to the Republican Party and its Tea Party faction, which for the past seven years have worked to slow reform and retain or revert to small government, laissez-faire economics and family values.
With a Republican executive, judiciary, and legislature, passing progressive legislation, let alone uprooting the establishment Democratic old guard, will require immense effort and money. The New Left’s challenge comes not just from its opposition to the right, but from the pieces and factions that it’s made up of.
Debt-burdened college students demand higher minimum wages and jobs after college, while internationalists defend globalism and connection with the outside world, which can lead to outsourcing and a reduction in the need for American employees.
Feminist and LGBTQ organizations work for gender and sexual equality within American society, but also claim to defend immigrants, many of whom come from the Middle East and Africa where LGBTQ and women’s rights are rarely heeded or respected.
African American, Latino, and Arab groups push back against discriminatory education and prison systems but at the same time make Anglos feel like they’ve done something wrong.
And then there’s the Democrats of the neoliberal era, many of whom are alienated and disillusioned at the radicalism, democratic socialism and progressivism of the New Left.
The New Left is, perhaps more than ever before, fractured, pluralistic and divided against itself as much as it is against right-wing policies. However, the death of the neoliberal Democrats has been sealed, and a new age of American liberalism has begun.