Presidential election years are always seen, or hyped, as “decisive” for the direction of the country. Sometimes they are, and sometimes not so much.
It was decisive when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980 and proceeded to drastically slash taxes for the rich and corporations, destroy needed social services and programs, step up union-busting, dramatically increase militarism and foreign military interventions, and more. It was decisive when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000, leading, among other things, to the illegal and disastrous March, 2003 US invasion of Iraq. And it was decisive when Barack Obama bested John McCain in 2008, temporarily setting back the extreme rightist and other less-reactionary elements within the Republican Party.
It was not so decisive when Bill Clinton beat George HW Bush and Ross Perot in 1992. Clinton’s tenure as president was marked by more than a few Republican-type policies and the growing power over government of the corporate/billionaire class.
2016 looks to be very decisive, for three main reasons:
-The most important, in my view, is the climate crisis. Time is running out to turn this crisis around before climate tipping points kick in that will make it extremely hard to avoid worldwide catastrophe as this century unfolds, hitting the poorest of the world the hardest. This decade is absolutely the critical decade when that turn needs to happen, when the political power of the fossil fuel industry is significantly weakened. The election of a Republican climate denier to the Presidency would be a political catastrophe for the entire world.
-It is essential that the mass movement that has emerged in support of Bernie Sanders be more than a Presidential election period, one-and-a-half-year thing. Progressives should be supporting Bernie and doing all we can to get him elected, but whether Bernie wins or loses, the movement that his candidacy has generated must continue. Bernie himself has said that his election alone won’t fundamentally change the power dynamics in the country, that he would use the Presidency to help the people exert their rightful power, enact a political revolution to end corporate control over the government. Best would be Bernie in the White House following through; if it’s Hillary, an independent, multi-issue, mass movement will be absolutely needed to pressure her and her establishment Democrat administration.
-Independent of any particular Presidential campaigns, there are critical, issue-based, national mass movements that are visible, have deep roots and are winning victories, in particular: the Black-led movement against racism within police departments, the “criminal justice” system, at universities and elsewhere; the grassroots-based climate/climate justice movement; the working class-based movement to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour; the lgbt rights movement; and the movement against the Trans Pacific Partnership and other pro-corporate trade deals. These and other important though less visibly active movements (right now), like the immigrant rights and women’s movements, can’t let their energies be sucked up in a major way into electoral activity, though without question some work in that arena will happen. Demonstrative and direct action in the streets and elsewhere is the lifeblood of difference-making movements, while absorption into electoralism can undercut, weaken or destroy them. The work, visible actions and increasing mutual support of these movements must continue to develop in 2016.
What about demagogue Donald Trump and the other extreme rightist Republican Presidential candidates (almost all of them)?
It is amazing, and worrying, that Trump’s overtly racist, misogynistic, ignorant, violence-supporting and abusive statements have resonated with millions of people the way that they have. It is disturbing that in hypothetical polling match-ups Trump currently receives support almost equal to Sanders and Clinton, as do most of the others.
What is new about Trump is not so much the policies he is supporting; it is the overt language he is using which, without question, encourages similarly overt racist, sexist, ignorant and violent language and actions by those with similar politics. He’s in the tradition of Huey Long, George Wallace and Patrick Buchanan, but up two or three notches.
Clearly, progressives must engage and struggle with these reactionary and backwards-looking ideas wherever we come into contact with them. As Bernie Sanders talked about on CBS’s Face the Nation last Sunday, we need to identify with the popular anger against the two-party establishment that Trump is using in a twisted and despicable way, stand up to the verbal bullies, and put out our independent and progressive perspectives about who the real target of their rage should be: the billionaire class and its control of government.
As we enter 2016 there is much that is in flux, in motion. That is a good thing. People are looking for new options to address the crises they experience in their daily lives and/or the major issues facing the planet and its struggling peoples. It’s a good time to be alive and active for justice, peace, human rights and our Mother Earth.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968, the last 12 years primarily working to build a strong climate/climate justice movement. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.