The neoliberal order that has dominated US politics for 40 years is collapsing. This order valued the free movement of capital, goods and people. He celebrated deregulation as an economic good that resulted when governments were no longer allowed to manage markets. He valued cosmopolitanism as a cultural achievement, the product of open borders and the resulting voluntary mixing of large numbers of diverse peoples. He hailed globalization as a win-win position: the West is getting richer, but so are others – Latin American countries and Asian nations large and small. There would be no losers in this global project – neither among the working classes of the West nor among the peoples of the Global South. Globalization and free markets would raise all boats. In America, the neoliberal order transcended party lines, forcing all who wanted political power to subscribe to its core beliefs. Ronald Reagan was its most prominent architect, Bill Clinton its main enabler, converting the Democratic Party to its basic tenets.
The promise of neoliberalism could not survive the economic disaster of 2008-09. Millions of people have lost their jobs and their homes. The economic inequality that long characterized the neoliberal world has now widened further, with governments doing more to bail out the investor classes than those who lived solely on wages. Many of the latter began to lose faith in neoliberalism and then in democratic government, the latter now being accused of exploiting “the people”, either by flagrant economic mismanagement or by complicity in the maintenance of a system ostensibly. attached to popular power but in reality rigged to favor the “best” over the rest.
The fracture of neoliberal hegemony has opened politics to new voices. Donald Trump shocked the political establishment both with his crass style and his rhetoric that struck at the heart of neoliberal orthodoxy: free trade was a pipe dream that had done nothing for the American worker; America’s borders had to be established, walls built, immigrants expelled, and globalization reversed. Equally astonishing was Bernie Sanders’ rise to the left, his influence on American politics greater than that of any other American socialist except Eugene Victor Debs himself.
The Queens real estate dealer and the Brooklyn socialist crier were worlds apart on many political issues. But both have attacked globalizing economic agendas, the privilege of free trade over the needs of American workers, the gutting of the American manufacturing industry, and the corruption of the American political system by elites. Both men generated intense levels of support that rocked the parties with which they were allied. Partisanship has hardened during their rise, making politics both more exciting and more volatile, patterns that the Covid pandemic has only intensified.
What awaits us? If Trump gets what he wants, America can degenerate into an authoritarian state in which the country’s democratic institutions are subjugated either to the decrees of the “great leader” or to an oligarchic Republican party capable of manipulating the electoral processes into their own. hold on to power even when a majority of Americans vote to oppose his rule. Such a regime would seek both to inflame America’s declining (and therefore vulnerable) white majority with ethno-nationalist appeals and to enrich regime members by forging lucrative and mutually beneficial deals with capitalist elites. We know something about how these regimes worked: They were common in Latin America and Africa during the second half of the twentieth century – and were repeatedly lambasted by American observers at the time for betraying democratic principles.
Sanders’ road runs through Joe Biden who, ironically, has long kept a healthy distance between himself and progressive causes. But now the new president, seizing the magnitude of the moment and realizing that this will likely be his last public assignment, has decided to channel the mind of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America’s most successful Democratic president. .
Roosevelt himself broke free market dogmas, insisting that the federal government must run capitalism in the public interest. He undertook major infrastructure improvement projects, understanding their importance both for economic growth and for visually spectacular demonstration of the Democratic Party’s ability to transform for the better the everyday world in which Americans lived and worked. He opened up his Democratic Party to the left, believing that such an alliance would increase, rather than jeopardize, the chances of reform. He understood the need to reinvigorate democracy in the United States at a time when it was on the defensive in most of the rest of the world.
Biden hopes to make each of these Rooseveltian projects his own. But he doesn’t have the weight of FDR in Congress. Roosevelt had a larger base in Congress in 1932 than Biden now enjoys, and he increased it in 1934 and 1936. To compete with Roosevelt’s success, Biden will have to do the same in 2022 and 2024. Republicans don’t understand. the stakes of 2022 and 2024 all too well, which is why legislators in their states are working day and night to change electoral procedures and constituencies in ways that benefit their party.
Can Biden nonetheless close a New Deal for the 21st Century, appropriately scalloped in 50 climate-friendly shades of green? The odds are stacked against him. But Vegas punters (and their pollster soul mates) have proven to be fragile guides to political behavior during this tumultuous era. Biden has had two great political successes – the vaccine rollout and the nearly $ 2 billion US bailout. He needs two more, probably a conventional infrastructure plan adopted with bipartisan support, then a second unconventional infrastructure plan that is both green and focused on ‘social’ rather than physical infrastructure, passed through. reconciliation. If, as a result, the economy starts to buzz; if the American landscape begins to bloom with new roads, bridges, railroads and charging stations; if the hope for an American future rebounds in this way; and if Democrats can come up with 50 (or even 20) versions of Stacey Abrams, each capable of making the Democratic Party the force it has become in Georgia in 2020: then Biden will have a chance to beat the bettors and give the America, an order that many would be proud to call progressive.