The Brexit vote to separate Britain from the European Union is a disturbing example of Trumpism crossing the sea to American voters. The New York Times called it, “An unnerving reminder that voter anger is deeper and broader than many than many elite politicians and veteran pollsters realize.” Most Democrats and mainstream journalists are trained in the ideology and culture of “free trade” or neo-liberalism, a Boston to Beltway orthodoxy, which has prevailed for three decades. The opponents of Brexit even adopted the slogan used by Hillary Clinton, “Stronger together.” The very notion suggests a strong kumbaya to most Americans. The Clintons, “have worried for months that she was out of sync with the mood of the electorate,” including her politically safe messages.
There has been a different Hillary in the past, and she may need to pivot to her roots. In 1969 at her Wellesley commencement speech, she voiced a generational protest against corporate bureaucracy and envisioned a new, “more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.” She went on to defend Black Panthers at a San Francisco law firm, draft legal essays on the rights of children, and Chair the board of Marion Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund. Her path to pragmatic power after this early idealism took her into the rough worlds of Arkansas politics and corporate law. The fact that Edelman supports her today, even after a rupture over welfare “reform”, suggests a recovery of Democratic liberalism that continues to grow around civil rights, women’s work, children’s health, Obamacare expansion, and other improvements voiced on the campaign trail.
She has been cautious and hawkish on the campaign trail, but lately has recovered her strong voice on women’s and children’s issues. Compared to Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric, she is cautious in identifying the class divide between Wall Street and Mainstream as the main contributor to our rigged political process.
Consider the 2000 convention speech by Al Gore as the last expression of the basic conflict between progressive populism and its corporate alternative. What Gore said drew considerable pushback from Democratic leaders and strategists who defended the status quo. Others of us appreciated Gore’s convention words at that time:
“So often, powerful forces and powerful interests stand in your way, and the odds seemed stacked against you –even as you do what’s right for you and your family.
“How and what we do for all of you – the people who pay the taxes, bear the burdens, and live the American dream — that is the standard by which we should be judged.
“And for all of our good times, I am not satisfied.
“To all the families in America who have to struggle to afford the right education and the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs…I want you to know this: I’ve taken on the powerful forces. And as President, I’ll stand up to them, and I’ll stand up for you.”
Gore, as it turned out, was defeated by Republican and judicial manipulation of a democratic election. But his populist cry was already anathema to the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) initially supported by President Clinton before it imploded under populist pressures, opening the way for the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders and others like Sen. Elizabeth Warren today. The Democratic Party has moved steadily in a more progressive direction during this decade. Its message should be the opposite of Brexit, which is nothing more than Trumpism in British rhetoric – railing against immigrants from Africa, Syria, Poland, and the lesser classes at the margins of the Empire. The danger is the stubborn liberal greed in embracing the loss of hundreds of thousand manufacturing jobs with an empty promise that things will improve someday according to the doctrines of neoliberalism still infecting the liberal soul.
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