Fortunately, young activists have failed to learn the lessons accepted by many who have preceded them. For example, they fail to respect Hillary Clinton as the wife of “the first Black president.” Young African Americans have held her to the same standards applicable to white politicians who display racist code words. They do not accept that when Hillary or Bill lecture youth on Black “social predators” or defend Bill’s policies leading to the mass incarceration of Blacks that the Clintons are speaking as members of the family-- Uncle Bill and Aunt Hillary. Consequently, the power couple has been roughed up on the campaign trail when faced with reminders of earlier racial transgressions.
Therefore, it was necessary last week for the first real Black President to intercede with a lesson on the proper etiquette when addressing the wielders of power. While in London, Obama attended a town hall meeting of young people, and explained:
Too often what I see is wonderful activism that highlights a problem but then people feel so passionately and are so invested in the purity of their position that they never take that next step and say, ‘How do I sit down and try to actually get something done?’
Curiously, “getting something done…” would seem to be the task for legislators, for elected officials and not the activists “highlighting” problems. But Obama elaborates, drawing on his own experience as a “community organizer”:
You can’t just keep on yelling at them and you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position… The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved.You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable, that can institutionalize the changes you seek, and to engage the other side, and occasionally to take half a loaf that will advance the gains that you seek, understanding that there’s going to be more work to do, but this is what is achievable at this moment.
Embedded in this lecture for young activists are the modern liberal values of deference to power, compromise, and incrementalism. These values are not the values that have inspired the more profound changes that have markedly advanced life in the US. These are not the values that inspired Thomas Paine, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Eugene Debs, or Martin Luther King. These are not the values that demanded a Bill of Rights, ended slavery, built a labor movement, and ended institutional segregation. Demands, and not polite requests, inspired these fundamental improvements in the lives of the many. In fact, it was the opponents of change, in every case, who preached quietly sitting at the “table,” preparing an “agenda” and accepting “half a loaf.”
Activists need only reflect on the last seven years of the Obama administration to see the fruits of civil discourse, trusting power, and gaining polite access: endless wars, declining living standards, growing debt, housing crises, escalating racism, and eroded civil liberties-- in short, more of the same.
The liberal activist playbook has succeeded in accomplishing one thing for Obama and those who will follow him: it has successfully corralled many idealistic, energetic advocates for change, tamed them, and kept them firmly in the grip of the Democratic Party.
And Obama knows that holding serve, guaranteeing that his party and its corporate, pro-business candidate (Hillary Clinton) will gain the presidency, will require that another generation of young activists is similarly co-opted. The post-Sanders campaign to assimilate Sanders’ youthful followers is already underway, with party loyalists ginning up the “Stop Trump” hysteria.
While liberal angst over Trump will sway many, it’s important to remind the left that though Trump is a clownish Mussolini/Berlusconi-like reprobate, he is, in essence, an opportunist with no core ideology beyond power and attention. For that reason, he has alarmed the corporate elites who rule the Republican establishment. They fear his unpredictability and maverick views. He is shattering the unity of the party. The left should welcome that development.
Of course there should be no doubt as to which class Clinton wholeheartedly and reliably represents. If there was any doubt, the recent comments by ultra-conservative billionaire Charles Koch should have dispelled that notion. His carefully worded statements legitimized Clinton as an option in a field of unreliable conservative candidates whose unimpeachable corporate fealty is in question-- Clinton is the more corporate candidate. While liberal apologists scramble to prove that Koch did not endorse Clinton, they miss the point: she could be more acceptable than her rivals (because she is a proven corporate politician).
The big question remaining is what becomes of the admirable fire and brimstone conjured by the aging pied piper of social democracy, Bernie Sanders. As with earlier insurgencies fought within the Democratic Party and contained by the Democratic Party, this youthful movement may well be absorbed into the party. History and the left’s inability to cut the cord with the Democrats suggest that it will. After all, to effectively break the bondage imposed by the corporate Democrats only two options are available: shake loose the iron grip that corporate power maintains over the Democratic Party or reject two-party politics and build an independent movement. The former is popular, but a pipe dream; the latter is difficult, but the only viable option.
However, hope resides in a younger generation that both suffers greater burdens than any generation since the Great Depression and is largely oblivious to the scare-tactics of anti-Communism. The latest of several polls shows a significant and growing interest in socialism and an even greater rejection of capitalism. The Harvard University study of young adults between 18 and 29 found that 51% do not support capitalism. With the same group of respondents, 33% supported socialism. Of older respondents, a majority of support for capitalism could only be found among those fifty years old or older.
In a 2011 Pew Research Center poll, 49% of 18 to 29 year-olds had a positive view of socialism, a higher percentage than those with a positive view of capitalism.
Reporting the Harvard Survey in the Washington Post, author Amy Cavenaile is rankled by these results. She searches far and wide for an authority or a poll result that can diminish these findings. Accordingly, she finds Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of Gallup, who opines: “Young people could be saying that there are problems with capitalism, contradictions… I certainly don’t know what’s going through their heads.”
Further disturbing to the author and other pundits, young people do not identify socialism with government regulation or government spending-- the establishment’s vulgar characterization of socialism-- but with “Basic necessities, such as food and shelter [and healthcare], are a right that the government should provide to those unable to afford them.”
Clearly, the seemingly unassailable truth of a few decades ago-- “there is no alternative”-- fails to resonate with recent generations. Shaping and sharpening a realizable vision of socialism for the latest generations is the most critical task before us.