2018 is here and The Bridge has returned. This year will prove to be an undoubtedly consequential one. In early May, we will have state and federal primary elections. Each side will provide voters a chance to see which direction they will go in the face of the Trump administration.
The Left will show how much, or little, self-reflection they have done since 2016. Many millennials are eager to see which type of candidates Washington will back. There is reason to believe that mundane, status quo, business as usual candidates will receive establishment funding and support over the younger, progressive, mavericks of the party. On the Right, well, they have everything to lose this election cycle. Despite touting recent legislative victories, they are still a fragmented party only held together by outdated social conservative principles. The GOP’s Senate primary in Alabama displayed the severity of the intraparty fissure between loyalties and ideology. Trump and are already competing against one another by encouraging different Republican candidates to run for U.S. Senate in key states like Ohio.
November will ultimately be a referendum on Trump’s presidency. However, it will also serve as a barometer for overall GOP approval. As reflected by the president’s unfavorable ratings, these archaic sentiments of traditionalism are proving to be politically toxic. That said, candidacies like Joe Arpaio’s in Arizona, suggest that Trump’s 2016 campaign formula of economic nationalism, bellicosity, and misogyny will make a reappearance in 2018. The stakes are high for Democrats too. Currently, Republicans enjoy a 51 to 49 advantage over Democrats and Independents in the Senate. There are 34 total seats up for grabs in the U.S. Senate, 24 are held by Democrats, 2 by Independents (who caucus with Democrats), 10 of which are in states that Trump won in 2016. Only 8 Republican Seats are up for re-election, all in predominantly conservative-leaning states. Similarly, Republicans currently have a 241 to 194 advantage in the House of Representatives. However, a startling 31 Republican Representatives will not seek reelection in 2018, making it easier for Democrats to pick up the 24 seats needed to hit the 218 majority mark. At the state level, there are 26 states where Republicans control the executive branch and both state legislatures. 36 gubernatorial elections will take place in November, and their outcomes will hold momentous consequences. The governor of each state will influence states’ congressional redistricting following the 2020 census. Out of those 36states, Republicans currently hold 26, Democrats 9, and Independents 1.
We are confronted with plenty of issues that warrant cause for concern, and demand our generation’s attention. We are ushering in the new year with a new look. Our format will be less centralized, so our columnist can freely follow their intellectual curiosities wherever they wander. For this edition, we want to explore important ideas, analyses, predictions and goals related to 2018. While each issue will not have a ground rule like before, we will begin with another overarching guideline that serves as the standard for everything we strive to accomplish at The Bridge.
The Ground Rule for 2018: Our political climate has been polluted with hyper-partisanship, dubious journalism, and reductive, misguided media discourse. In order to promote an empowered and educated population, we must set high standards for ourselves, and our elected officials at all levels of government. This can be achieved by holding our own political parties’ equally accountable, critically question the journalist we admire the most, and challenging ourselves to recognize echo chambers and confirmation bias in the media. An active citizenry is indispensable to a functioning democracy, so let’s rise to the challenge together!
Understanding these voters susceptibility to economic populism can help solve the DNC’s credibility crisis among the working class. Developing a political platform that strives to create a more inclusive economy is an arduous balance. How does a party address corporate malfeasance without being lambasted as anti-business? This question cuts to the heart of the Left’s schism within the Democratic party between moderates and progressives. Trump’s vulgarity and the GOP’s corporatist agenda offers a real chance for Democrats to ride the anti-Trump wave in 2018. However, there is an equally important opportunity to have a robust conversation about the ideological direction of the party, and that includes creating a working definition of what it means to be Progressive.
Ohio’s Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown, offers a template of how progressivism in contemporary American politics looks rhetorically, electorally and legislatively. His success in Ohio shows the popularity and virtues of progressive campaign messaging. Despite Ohio’s swing state status, its politics are dominated by Republicans, resulting in a supermajority advantage over Democrats. Only one Democrat, Ted Strickland, has won agubernatorial election since 1986. While the majority of the electorate are non-affiliated voters, registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats statewide. Yet, since 1974, Sherrod has won races for Ohio House of Representatives, Secretary of State of Ohio, U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. The paramount element of his continued success is his appeal and commitment to the working class.
Whether it’s advocating for union workers access to bargaining rights, to fighting for a $15 federal minimum wage, or crafting a “benefits bank” that would allow part-time contractors, and freelance workers access to sick leave and retirement accounts, Sen. Brown continually makes lower and middle-class obstacles his priority. This past March he released his 77-page of economic policy proposals titled, WORKING TOO HARD FOR TOO LITTLE: A Plan for Restoring the Value of Work in America. Brown accurately identifies a “rigged system” as the most immediate concern facing average Americans. How he addresses the systemic causes of working-class economic stagnation deserves the attention of everyone. Rather than preaching political revolution or invoking demagoguery, he is creatively working within the existing system to incentivize corporations to become better community partners.
This past September Sen. Brown introduced The Patriot Employer Tax Credit Act, in a preemptive effort to influence the discourse around tax reform. The bill would have established criteria for corporations to follow in order to receive tax breaks. The main items are keeping headquarters in the U.S., providing health care coverage, paid sick, family and medical leave, paying at least 90% of employees’ wages equal to or exceeding 218% of the federal poverty level, along with providing 90% of employees with retirement benefits. His rationale is that certain corporations take advantage of American taxpayers by having social safety net programs compensate for employees’ unlivable wages. Why should these “corporate freeloaders” then be rewarded with tax breaks?
This brand of progressive legislation has the ability to influence several important outcomes. First, it would offer economic opportunity, justice, and stability for families throughout America. It would also redirect the conversation around the working poor, and confront the myth that only the lower class takes advantage of social safety nets and tax loopholes. Finally, it can bridge the gap between moderate and progressive Democrats. Working to ensure that the wealthy have to play by the same rules as the rest of us has appeal across political, racial, and class lines. The Left needs to focus on regaining trust with the working class. They can achieve this through smart progressive policies that prioritize the working class over corporate campaign donors. If Brown wins his third straight Senate race in Ohio this year, the DNC should take notes for 2020. The state’s liberal champion could be the key to not only effective messaging but also providing a more concrete example of how progressivism can remedy America’s working-class woes.
Capitalism, Donald Trump's Presidency, and American Society
“America's first businessperson in the White House is doing more to destroy the American capitalist system than any previous president” - Al Jazeera 2017
For decades the US has been on the forefront in promoting capitalism and neoliberal policies. Both domestically and globally, the United States government advocates capitalism as the only path forward.
It is the economic ideology to which we strictly adhere, it is how we promote development in nations throughout the world, it is how we determine friend and foe - us and them, it is the foundation upon which we build international institutions and domestic services, it has formatively defined the way that we have constructed the America we know today.
Capitalism gives economic agency to make some people very, very rich-- the so-called “American dream” that anyone has the capacity to earn a lot of money. Neoliberalism is capitalism’s political counterpart. It institutionalizes policies to keep those in the capitalist class very very rich. It also seeks to keep those at the socio-economic bottom sources of cheap labor, without political power, and does so by creating artificial divides by pitting them against each other. “So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognize it as an ideology”. The problem with the free market, however, is that it does not incentivize solutions to a great number of the political social problems affecting Americans right now.
Much of the country has become disillusioned with the idea that politicians often do not represent the wills of their constituency. This idea: “the swamp” or “Washington insider” is frequently referenced, but it is embedded in a much larger discourse -- American political power’s ability to act over its society. Donald Trump, a mascot of capitalism, has done what many scholars could not: start a real conversation in America on the problematic traits of neoliberalism. Now before I get to carried away, let me be realistic about this. This is not a universal discussion in bipartisan America by any means. We are talking more of a whisper than a roar. But given the context of American identity and how formative capitalism has been in creating its imprint, it is really worth analyzing. Donald Trump could be the catalyst for an economic and social awakening in the United States.
It is evident to many Americans, whether they identify this phenomenon as a sign of capitalism or not, that Trump (and many other politicians) seek to protect those in the capitalist class. Fulfilling promises he made during the campaign, 45 has continued to funnel political and economic power to those already at the top. Many on his staff have ties to Goldman-Sachs-- more so than any presidency. For the first time ever, there is a billionaire on the presidential staff—and not just one but two. Trump has turned his back on the middle class—the carriers of capitalism. The new tax plan that Trump fervently defends, will do little to help the working class, especially those without 401(k)’s or pension plans (most of whom do not).
The politics of this era alienate, create divisions, strip labels to make new ones to further divide this country as a tool to make people believe that they have no power-- political, social or economic. Many people are beginning to discuss and identify this political tool. Creating divisions, for example, between “shithole” countries and *whatever-the-opposite-of-shithole* countries. One finds this strategy used very crudely with Trump’s tweets which seek to divide American society by name-calling.
In 2018 I am curious to see if these cracks in this political/economic model continue to be exposed to the American public. A major aspect of a capitalist system is that those on the bottom feel that they have no power, which we saw as a major discourse of the election. However, people are starting to slowly take back some of that power. The #MeToo movement has really made its way into public discourse, bringing a voice to those who really did not have one a year ago. The Women's March, focusing on electing more women in the 2018 midterms, saw a much more intersectional focus by the constituency to include more voices. I am optimistic that, while Trump is an epitomic symbol of capitalism, he is actually exposing the failure of its economic policies and the divisiveness of its politics.
An Infinity of Alternatives
“But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” - David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace, in his graduation speech to Kenyon College in 2005 titled This is Water, spoke on the importance of education is the freedom to choose.
If you’ve read this speech, you’re probably going to name my sentence-long recap as reductionist (also, I’ll have you know that my new year’s resolution is to be less reductionist), but ideas of agency and choice in a world of socialized behavior is a distinct through-line throughout his writing. We live in a world that has named a lot of things and split them off into binaries or larger categories, ranked them against one another, and paired them with larger institutions that provide us with different amounts of education to believe, or not, that these categories are okay (or awful). This works very similarly with our political ideologies and systems. These systems, in the United States government, are typically known as Democratic and Republican, with some names of Independent, Green, Libertarian, and the radical left and the radical right, thrown in there. The more we introduce people to the existence of these parties and what they consist of, the more they will have become educated to choose what feels right for them. How do naming parties and ideologies prevent our imagination from being able to create and opt into things beyond simply what we are able to name? What I want to question here isn’t the validity of these as choices, but rather, how do our groupings limit what we see as possible?
Restorative Justice is a growing practice that focuses on alternatives to traditional punitive discipline. Essentially, rather than resorting to exclusionary practices that remove members of a community after a “wrong-doing,” restorative justice implements community circles and interventions that use storytelling and opening up lines of communication to understand what harm is being felt by a community and its members. From there, it looks at what harm’s impact is on a community as a whole, and how to transform that harm into collective progress and growth for a community. It asserts that everybody has a role in making a community better, and while those roles are variant, dynamic, and contextual, that introspection is a necessary first step. Restorative justice is not the alternative to punitive discipline itself, but rather an entry point into exploring what options exist for our future, even if we haven’t named them. These processes are typically integrated into the criminal justice and education systems, but Restorative Justice boiled down to a single process is simply the act of interdependence; understanding a need and counting on one’s community to come to bat to, at the very least, talk about it together. This process, ingrained into a political system, would ideally give agency to community members, no matter their status, to have something important to say and to build a space where rules, understanding, and ways to move forward is cultivated as an autonomous body, even if for a brief time, before returning back into the community to try to manifest their alternatives. This is typically what community focus groups try to do, but with the notion that the call for intervention comes from all parts of society-- not just the ones who hold systemic power and privilege.
As the Trump administration continues to show our nation the horrors of a system that associates human value to the amount of capital one can produce, Restorative Justice can be seen as a way to simultaneously move away from seeing socialism as what may seem as an obvious alternative, and to remind ourselves that there are ideologies and systems that exist out there that we have yet to realize exist because we have not used our collective imagination to pull them into existence. I truly have no reason what this system could be, but it is my excitement and curiosity around working together to figure out what it could be that pulls me towards it each and every day.
Trying to Win the GOP's Game
Let me preface by saying I vastly prefer Jones to Moore. The GOP is arguably the most dangerous organization on the planet. Their failure to even recognize climate change has devastated, and will continue to devastate, the lives of more people than all the terror attacks from 911 on combined.
That said, the resistance and its newfound energy (and money) need to have a healthy discussion about the importance of democracy, and the role money plays in politics.
2017 was the year of special elections, and people from around the country were paying attention to district races in Georgia, Kansas, Montana, S. Carolina and Alabama. Each race posturing as the “litmus test” for Donald’s popularity, and the likelihood of taking back Congress in 2018. I never thought my office would stop at 5 o'clock to watch votes be counted for an Alabama Senate race. This attentiveness is positive. When people are paying attention, being involved in local policy, and scrutinizing their elected officials on a daily basis, like they have since Nov. 2016, democracy moves closer to the people.
These elections, besides being watched from all over the country, were “special” for another reason, money. Opensecrects.org tracks campaign finance, according to their data, Democratic candidates received a total of $50.6 Million across the 6 special election races, up 1355% since 2016, roughly a $47 Million increase. In contrast, Republican campaign donations only totaled $20 Million, an increase of only 149% from the previous cycle. So was this increase in spending successful? Well, despite Democrats outspending Republicans 2:1, they were victorious in only 1 of the 6 races. To be fair, these were races that the Democratic leadership had considered unwinnable, and it’s positive that people are running for office on progressive platforms in historically red districts, and doing well! We want people getting involved, volunteering and donating to local campaigns, but there are unintended consequences to frivolous spending, and perhaps there are better options. Elections are important but they come and go. The real work being done is on the ground organizing, day in and day out, regardless of who is in office.
Where is the $29.5 Million that John Ossoff from Georgia spent? Flyers and yard signs are in a landfill, campaign commercials floating around YouTube, and those part-time campaigners have moved on. As someone who successfully got through Economics 101 in college, there is a better way to use that money in these districts. Spending should help improve our country’s democracy by addressing systemic forms of disenfranchisement and inequality. Getting to the root cause of voter suppression, gerrymandering, or political apathy will ultimately improve the success of candidates that share progressive, working class, liberal values. When we give money to John today, we will have to give again in 4 years. If instead, we pay to hire 632 new Non-profit Executive directors or 1445 program managers with that same money, people could be working all year to solve these issues, giving voice to the voiceless with the added benefit of reducing the need to donate to progressive candidates in the future.
With the Koch Network planning to spend 400 Million alone in the 2018 midterms, the left should not be out to win that money ball game. We cannot ignore the reality that money plays in elections, we are still in a pay to play world. However, instead of solely trying to outspend the GOP, some strategy must come into play. Take on issues that undermine our democratic process, replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote, implement ranked choice voting to give more options on the ballot, and push legislation that makes it easier to vote, not more difficult. We cannot continue to ignore the role gerrymandering and voter suppression, particularly on the part of Republicans, has played in thwarting Democratic victories. I live in the Bay Area, and I challenge my community to ask ourselves how we would feel if millions of dollars from Texas, or Alabama, started pouring into our local elections. When districts are flooded with "Blue" money, are we doing more harm than good for our democracy? Advocating for representative democracy should never be on the condition that only our candidates are elected. How we choose to proceed during 2018 will say more about our integrity and commitment to democracy than it will about our political appeal.
A Special Congratulations!
Our Co-Found and Editor-in-Chief, Kabir Moss, recently started an internship in Palestine. We look forward to following his career in journalism, and we admire his commitment to creating a more just and equitable world.