Voters hit hardest by free-trade economics are rebelling against the status quo. We can use that energy to build a powerful, grassroots movement for democracy.
(Originally published by YES! Magazine, May 18, 2016)
A recently released study by four leading economists of voting in U.S. congressional races uncovered an important pattern. According to a New York Times report on the study, “Areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.” Job losses, especially to China, the authors noted, lead voters to strongly favor either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.
I found the Times article reassuring for its affirmation that voters are seeing through the claims used to sell trade agreements. Voters increasingly understand that these agreements are actually less about trade than about corporate rights. The current widespread opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement reflects that understanding.
This observed relationship between economic hardship and rejection of the political status quo is evidence of a growing public awareness now reaching critical mass. People see that big money backing a corporatist agenda is antithetical to the interests of working people, democracy, and a living Earth.
Both Sanders and Trump are running against Wall Street and the corporatist wings of the Democratic and Republican Parties. The voter sentiment on these issues is so strong that Hillary Clinton is presenting herself as an anti-corporatist, even as she chases Wall Street money.
As president, Ronald Reagan wedded the Republican Party to the free market ideology used to legitimize corporatocracy. Later President Bill Clinton delivered the Democratic Party into the corporatist camp in the guise of moving to an imaginary center we might call “corporatism with a smiley face.” The public is waking up to the reality that we’ve been conned by the corporatist wings of both parties.
Public support for the corporate order is disintegrating. The three remaining presidential candidates are all running against the corporatist establishment. Of the three, Sanders is most credible in his anti-corporatist credentials and consequently does the best in national polls. He gives authentic voice to the hopes and aspirations of a nation betrayed, while Trump plays to a betrayed nation’s fear and anger.
More Americans self-identify as Independents than as either Democrats or Republicans.
Most people long for a political party that represents their interests and values rather than the interests of a corporate oligarchy. This longing may explain why more Americans self-identify as Independents than as either Democrats or Republicans and why Sanders and Trump enjoy such appeal as candidates running against their party establishments.
At a deeper level, most humans want to be part of a caring democratic community of healthy families with a healthy natural environment. We want to live in a world free from war, want, racism, sexism, and religious intolerance—none of which is possible in a world of extreme inequality and rapacious competition.
The outcome of this U.S. election is critically important. Even more significant than who is president for the next four years, however, are the power and effectiveness of the emerging democracy movement and its vision of human possibility. That movement would be the foundation for an effective Sanders presidency. It might hold Clinton to her espoused anti-corporatist agenda. It could serve as a bulwark against the dictatorial ambitions of Trump. Most of all, it will be essential to advance the political reforms required to get big money out of politics, secure the integrity of the voting process, and move us beyond the limited choice among corporatist candidates typically offered by the corporatist wings of our dominant political parties.
It is within our means to create a world that aligns with the dream of human possibility that lives in the human heart and transcends self-limiting political divisions. The necessary leadership will come only from a powerful movement organizing from outside the existing corporatist political establishment.