Social protection programs in the United States are a far cry from its economic peers. Take paid parental leave, for example. A survey of 41 countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, (OECD), and the European Union revealed that the U.S. was the most popular country for parental leave. the only country that does not mandate a single week of paid parental leave. It also has infrastructure on the verge demise, with crumbling roads and bridges and a lack of water and energy systems.
For political and historical reasons, the U.S. did not develop a social welfare system similar to Europe. Despite this, the Democratic Party’s progressive wing has introduced bills to address some of the gaps that have emerged since the election of Joe Biden. The Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill, in particular, focuses on a long list of social programs that would help close the U.S.’s gap with its liberal-democratic peers when it comes to social protection programs. It would also help combat the climate crisis. Moderate Democrats, however, are not a good choice.actually right-wingersSince day one, members of Congress have been opposed to progressive policies and threaten to derail the best chance to transform federal priorities.
In the interview that follows, world-renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky assesses the ongoing drama in Congress over President Biden’s spending bills and the political ramifications of the Democrats failing to carry out sweeping social and climate reforms.
C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, more than two decades after the “end [of] welfare as we know it,” Democrats have the chance to reshape the country’s safety net and close the gap with the U.S.’s liberal-democratic peers on social protection programs, as well as fight the climate crisis. It is not surprising that the Democratic Party’s obstructionist elements will ensure that the U.S. continues to be a notable outlier among developed nations by not having a large social welfare state. Indeed, Joe Manchin, one of the Democratic senators standing in the way of the passage of the reconciliation bill, said that the U.S. should not turn into an “entitlement society.” How do you assess all the drama in Congress around the $4 trillion in infrastructure, social programs and combatting the climate crisis, and what does this whole experience reveal to us about the state of U.S. politics in the post-Trump era?
Noam Chomsky It’s not post-Trump, unfortunately. Former President Donald Trump’s heavy hand has not been lifted. He controls the Republican Party’s increasingly radicalized voting base. The Republican Party’s leadership retreats to Mar-a-Lago to ask for his blessing. Those who dare to speak up are quickly thrown out.
The right-wing Democrats (mislabeled “moderate”) follow along for their own reasons. These are not hard to discern in some cases: It’s not a great surprise that a coal baron who is Congress’s leading recipient of fossil fuel funding (Manchin) should proclaim the fossil fuel industry’s “no elimination” slogan, or that a top recipient of donations from the pharmaceutical industry (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema) should be holding back badly need drug pricing reforms. That’s normal in a political system mired in corruption.
But the rot continues.
It’s often been observed that the U.S. has a one-party political system — the business party — with two factions, Democrats and Republicans. In the past, the Republican faction has tended to be more dedicated to the concerns of extreme wealth and the corporate sector, but with the resurgence of the one-sided class war called “neoliberalism” under President Ronald Reagan, the leadership has been going off the rails. They are now barely a functioning political party.
The Democrats have been in the forefront of the Democratic Party’s rise since the time of the late President Jimmy Carter. They have become a party for Wall Street donors and professionals, with the working class being handed over to their bitter enemy.
One of Trump’s occasional true statements was that Republicans could never win a fair election on their actual programs. Recognizing this, since President Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy, the party has been mobilizing voters on “cultural issues” — white supremacy, abortion, guns, traditional patriarchal families, God (favoring the evangelical Christian variety)… anything that doesn’t lift the veil on their loyal service to their prime constituency. They can still be in the running by exploiting the deeply undemocratic characteristics of the electoral process with its built-in advantages to their largely rural voters.
All of this and more have been extensively discussed elsewhere. We don’t need to go into detail here. It’s playing out in the halls of Congress right now. The extent to which the U.S. is an “outlier” glares at us wherever we look, sometimes in ways that verge on obscenity. Take paid maternity leaves. The U.S. has none. Brazil, the second largest country in the hemisphere is next with approximately four months. That’s in addition to the universal health care, free higher education, and other public benefits that are found almost everywhere.
To be fair, the richest nation in the world with unrivalled advantages is not the only one. denying paid leave to new mothers. (Fathers?) Forget it. The United States is joined by Nauru, Palau and Papua New Guinea, as well as the Marshall Islands.
Recently, I was appointed as a lead columnist in the London Evening Standard Financial TimesHe joked that if Senator Bernie Sanders was in Germany, he could run on the right-wing Christian Democrat ticket. This is not just a witticism and no comment on Sanders. Rather, it is about the socioeconomic system that was created in the One-Party State, dramatically in the era a vicious class war since Reagan.
It wasn’t always so. While Europe was ravaged by fascism in the 1930s, the U.S. charted a path to social democracy through militant labor activism, diverse politics, and a supportive administration. An important contribution to democracy and social equity, the U.S. had made mass public education a long time before Europe.
It’s beyond irony that now Europe is upholding a tattered social democracy while the U.S. declines to Trump-led proto-fascism, or that under Trump, the secretary of education sought to dismantle public education, carrying forward the neoliberal principles that underlie the sharp defunding of public education aimed at its elimination. All of this is rooted within the “libertarian” doctrines of Milton Friedman, James Buchanan and other leading figures of the movement, closely linked from its origins to the attack against government “overreach” by desegregating schools.
It’s worth recalling that these doctrines had their origin in bitter class war in interwar Austria, as we’ve discussed before. They are well-suited for its return in the neoliberal period.
While the Biden effort is still alive to move the U.S. towards the humane norms set by other OECD countries, it has been nearly neutralized in Congress. The Republican party is determinedly opposed. Its red lines include preservation in full of their one legislative achievement under Trump, “the U.S. Donor Relief Act of 2017,” as Joseph Stiglitz termed the wholesale robbery, which punched a huge hole in the deficit (for a “good” cause, so OK). This near-$2 Trillion gift to the very wealthy and the corporate sector is a charming coincidence. It is roughly the same amount as the meagre remnants of the Biden reconciliation act (spread over 10 year) that have. barely survived the right-wing assault.
This time the “deficit threat” is definitely not OK, as is loudly proclaimed. This is not a good cause. Wrong recipients: the poor, workers, mothers and other “unpeople.”
If Congress refuses to adopt the original social safety net bill, should the progressives continue to oppose the infrastructure bill?
It’s question of tactics, not principle. That’s not to say that it’s unimportant. The choice of tactics can have far-reaching implications. Rather, it means that it’s not easy to answer. There are many unknowns, not to mention how it will impact the coming elections. In the past it was not always important which party controlled the business party. In recent years, it has been. Proto-fascism has been on the rise. Worse still, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, we’re are advancing to a precipice from which there will be no return. Trumpism could tip the balance in four years.
Which answer to your question will reduce the chance of impending disasters occurring? I don’t see an easy answer. The reconciliation bill’s vicious cuts may make it moot.
Won’t there be grave political consequences if Democrats blow the chance to reshape federal priorities? After all, the majority of U.S. people seem to be in support of Biden’s Build Back Better Act.
The Republicans have been following a well-thought-out and careful policy to keep power as a minor party dedicated to wealth and corporate power. It has been openly announced by the most malicious and politically powerful of the gang: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, repeating what worked well for his reactionary cause during the President Barack Obama years (helped by Obama’s quick betrayal of those who believed the pretty rhetoric about “hope and change”).
So far, it’s working. If it does work, Trump and his acolytes, who returned to power through this malevolence, then we will be well on our path to proto-fascism. Failure of Biden’s efforts to reshape federal priorities will have a terrible human cost. It will also be a weapon in the McConnell strategy to harm the country and blame the Democrats for the outcome.
Brutal but not stupid
Is there a way we can avoid these serious political consequences? This is not possible within the undemocratic and deeply corrupt political system. The only way that has ever worked, and can work now, is mass popular pressure — what the powerful call “the peasants coming with their pitchforks.”
Trump has been absent from office for several month, but his influence is unaffected among Republican voters. What drives the pro-Trump crowd today?
We’ve often discussed it before, and there has been extensive investigation by social scientists — most convincingly, in my opinion, by Tony DiMaggio.
It’s not just Trump, though he has shown real genius in tapping poisons that run deep in U.S. history and contemporary culture, and in portraying himself as “your savior” — even “the chosen one” — while stabbing you in the back. That’s no small accomplishment for a person with few talents other than chicanery, fraud, and wielding the wrecking ball to destroy everything he can’t claim as his own.
But it’s not just Trump. We can also ask why Nixon’s racist Southern strategy succeeded, or Reagan’s quite overt racism — in his case, apparently sincerely held. We can ask why the abortion and gun frauds took hold, or why in the face of overwhelming evidence, segments of the left join the far right in anti-vax campaigns, at enormous human costs, or why “more than half of President Trump’s supporters [in 2020] embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory of a global satanic pedophile ring that was plotting against the 45th president of the United States,” who was valiantly trying to save the children from such “prominent pedophiles” as Biden, Hillary Clinton, and other “Deep State” suspects.
The signs of the social order’s collapse are too numerous and well-known to be repeated. It can be largely attributed to the 40-plus year-old vicious and one-sided class war. There are deeper cultural roots and historical roots. It’s not just the U.S. European racism and xenophobia is even more malevolent in some respects. One sign is the corpses in the Mediterranean, victims of the frenzy of Europe’s dedication to torture the survivors of its centuries of destruction of Africa.
It is not an academic venture to uncover the roots of these pathologies. We can also add the pathologies that are associated with the powerful and wealthy, as well as the deplorables who ridicule others. These are far more important. Understanding is valuable primarily for self-reflection and action to find solutions.
And quickly. Our strange species doesn’t have a lot of time to spare.