From Portside Culture <[email protected]>
Subject From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond
Date March 27, 2020 12:00 AM
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[ The social breakdown, symbolized by Trumps election and the
malign effects of austerity policies serve to destroy faith in
neoliberal capitalism. When that faith started to fray, new forms of
outsider populist politics emerged left and right.]
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PORTSIDE CULTURE

FROM PROGRESSIVE NEOLIBERALISM TO TRUMP AND BEYOND  
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Gregory. N. Heires
March 26, 2020
Portside

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_ The social breakdown, symbolized by Trump's election and the malign
effects of austerity policies serve to destroy faith in neoliberal
capitalism. When that faith started to fray, new forms of outsider
populist politics emerged left and right. _

We are witnessing a big crisis in the stock markets of the Wall
Street, Europe, Japan and Shanghai, and many blame the coronavirus for
it. In the last week of February 2020, the worst week since October
2008, Dow Jones fell 12.4%, the S&P 500 fell 11.5% , and the Nasdaq
Composite fell 10.5%. The scenario is similar in Europe and Asia for
the corresponding period. (International Institute for Research and
Education - IIRE)

 

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and
the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid
symptoms appear.

ANTONIO GRAMSCI

The Old is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born: From Progressive
Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond
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By Nancy Fraser
Verso Books 
April 30, 2019; 64 pages 
Paperback:   $9.95; E-book, $4.99 (Special price from publisher, 40%
off: $5.97 with free E-book)
Paperback    ISBN 10: 178873272
Ebook        ISBN 13: 9781788732727

Verso Books
 

Oftentimes “crisis” is an overblown word.

Nancy Fraser begins her book “The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot
Be Born”
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acknowledging its frequent use by alarmist social commentators. But
today, as the impeachment trial of President Trump suggests our
democracy is threatened by authoritarianism, Fraser’s observation
rings true.

Indeed, Democratic Impeachment Manager Adam Schiff outraged Republican
lawmakers when--in his concluding remarks at the opening of the
impeachment trial--he referred to a news report about a warning that
their heads “will be on a stake” if they voted against the
president. Schiff said the remark is the type a president who wants to
be a monarch would make.

In many respects, the 2016 election of Trump has come to represent
what’s wrong with our current model of capitalism and its
ideological underpinnings.

Borrowing from Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s famous quotation to
name her 63-page book, Fraser offers a quick study of this malaise and
charts a way out. “The Old is Dying and the New Cannot be Born”
includes an interview of Fraser by Bhaskar Sunkara, publisher of
_Jacobin_--a conversation really--that highlights the possibilities of
a new progressive populism.

As Fraser points out, there’s no shortage of evidence that we face a
global political and economic crisis.

She refers to what Gramsci might describe as the “morbid symptoms”
of our decay: obscene inequality, climate change, mass incarceration,
the disappearance of unions, the proliferation of precarious McJobs in
the private sector, systemic police violence, the founding of racist
and anti-immigrants political parties in Europe, the emergence of
proto-fascist leaders in Latin America and Asia, and the unraveling of
the social safety net.

“Together, these forces have been grinding away at our social order
for quite sometime without producing a political earthquake,”
Fraser, a professor of political and social science and philosophy at
The New School, writes.

“Now, however, all bets are off,” she writes “In today’s
widespread rejection of politics as usual, an objective system wide
crisis has found its subjective political voice. The political strand
of our general crisis is a crisis of hegemony.” 

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Fraser closely examines the political and economic outlook that
emerged after the breakdown of the New Deal consensus.

In the immediate decades prior to Trump’s election, the American
polity was dominated by what she calls “progressive
neoliberalism.”

The New Deal coalition was replaced by a liberal current (representing
anti-racist, feminist, LGBTQ, multi-cultural and environmentalist
communities) that formed a hegemonic bloc with key financial sector
groups (Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood). Besides spelling
the end of the New Deal consensus, the ascendancy of progressive
neoliberalism put a check on the more reactionary interests in the
Republican Party.

This inclusive alliance embraced meritocracy, allowing members of
historically disadvantaged groups, such as minorities and women, to
move up the economic ladder and attain certain political power. But in
a sense the progress was illusory, a window dressing that disguised
the ugly underbelly of finance capitalism. 

HOW SO?

Both sides in the progressive neoliberal bloc were united around an
economic agenda that has led to a hallowing out of the middle class
that--particularly in the United States—has created tremendous
social, political and economic polarization.

The financialization of the global economy has been characterized by
an attack on the welfare state, deregulation, globalization, a
weakening of labor protections, deindustrialization, free trade, a
growth in power of the banking sector and predatory debt. The
deepening of trade with China, the North American Free Trade Agreement
and the repeal of banking regulations ravaged manufacturing
communities in the United States.

The neoliberal agenda was the baby of politicians like Barry Goldwater
and Ronald Reagan, right-wing economists (Friedrich Hayek, Milton
Friedman and James Buchanan) and rich conservatives, such as Charles
and David Koch.

“New Democrats” such as Bill Clinton gave progressive
neoliberalism the political cover it needed. Fraser doesn’t minimize
the importance of Obamacare, but she says President Barack Obama’s
record—as demonstrated by his support of the bank bailout following
the 2008 economic implosion while abandoning millions of homeowners
facing foreclosure—basically reflected the prevailing neoliberal
agenda.

The 2016 presidential election and its aftermath deeply unsettled
progressive neoliberalism. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump
sharply criticized neoliberal policies for hammering working
families.Once in office, of course, Trump backtracked on his
commitment to economic populism, as demonstrated by his tax plan with
its gifts to the 1 percent and corporations.Fraser describes his
politics more aptly as “reactionary populism,” which is
characterized by xenophobia, racism, nationalism and exclusionary
politics. Progressive neoliberalism is imploding.

Significantly, class polarization, racism, climate change and other
signs of political and economic instability are combining to open up
the opportunity for a progressive alternative. Fraser expresses her
hope for the emergence of an emancipatory social force based on
progressive populism.

Fraser’s book reprints an essay that appeared in the Winter 2017
issue of  “American Affairs,”
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her argument does not account for the political change reflected in
the 2020 presidential election. But her interview with Sunkara,”The
Populist Cat Is Out of the Bag,” conducted in 2019, makes her
argument more current.

Her progressive populism calls a break with neoliberal economic
policies. She envisions a new coalition that would overcome the
divisions evident during the last presidential election and in
the ensuing years.

To become a new hegemonic bloc, the new coalition would need to appeal
to the workers betrayed by Trump, including the strata now attracted
to right-wing populism. This coalition would include immigrants,
women, segments of the professional-managerial class,
environmentalists, workers in unpaid occupations, people of color and
LGBTQ+ people.

“One cannot underestimate the potential power and importance of
labor unions in a country like the United States,” Fraser says in
the interview.

“A project of unionizing service workers, fast-food workers, the
youth, domestic workers, agricultural workers, public-sector workers,
and more—defending the unions that do exist and organizing the
unorganized—that’s a potential game-changer.”

 

_Book author NANCY FRASER is an American critical
theorist, feminist, and the Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of
Political and Social Science and professor of philosophy at the
Graduate Faculty, The New School for Social Research in New York City.
Winner of the the 2010 Alfred Schutz Prize in Social Philosophy from
the American Philosophical Association and president of its Eastern
Division, Fraser is the author of numerous works, including Unruly
Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory.
( U of Minnesota, 1989) and  Fortunes of Feminism: From
State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis (Verso Books, 2013.)
) _

 

_(Essayist GREGORY N. HEIRES is the recently retired senior
assistant director of communications at AFSCME’s D.C. 37 in New York
City and a Portside Labor moderator.]_

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