The deadly and destructive pandemic sweeping across the world not only reveals profound contradictions, inequalities, and insufficiencies in our present mode of capital accumulation and political governance, but it is also setting into motion what could well be a tectonic shift in thinking and practical policy in a progressive-left direction. Moreover, this shift extends across significant sections of the Democratic Party, powerful social and political constituencies that underwrite and drive progressive change, opinion makers in the media and academic community, and the American people generally.
In his endorsement of Joe Biden, President Obama gave voice to this emerging shift:
“I could not be prouder of the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency,” he said. “But if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008. The world is different; there’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future. Bernie understands that, and Joe understands that.
“The vast inequalities,” he went on to say, “created by the new economy are easier to see now, but they existed long before this pandemic hit. Health professionals, teachers, delivery drivers, grocery clerks, cleaners, the people who truly make our economy run — they have always been essential, and for years too many of the people who do the essential work of this country have been underpaid, financially stressed and given too little support, and that applies to the next generation of Americans, young people graduating into unprecedented unemployment. They are going to need economic policies that give them faith in the future and give them relief from crushing student loan debt.
“So we need to do more than just tinker around the edges with tax credits or underfunded programs.” he added. “We have to go further to give everybody a great education, a lasting career and a stable retirement. We have to protect the gains we made with the Affordable Care Act, but it’s also time to go further. … We have to return the U.S. to the Paris agreement and lead the world in reducing the pollution that causes climate change, but science tells us we have to go much further and it is time for us to accelerate progress on bold new green initiatives that make our economy a clean energy innovator, save us money and secure our children’s future.”
If this shift that Obama articulates so well continues and matures, it not only has the power to defeat Trump and the Republican right this fall, but also the potential to rebuild our society, economy, and democracy in a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable way. Or, to frame it differently, to bend as well as go beyond the boundaries of capitalism, as we know it. If such a task sounds imposing, take heart. Roughly nine decades ago, the Roosevelt led people’s coalition emerging in the midst of a devastating depression, created a more just society that many, including on the left, thought was unattainable.
How should we greet this shift in the political landscape? With cynicism? No. With it’s “about time?” Again, no. With hope? For sure. With a willingness to assist this process in whatever way we can? Of course! With the use of more flexible and wide angled methods of struggle and demands that fit the moment? Absolutely!
The time to retire rigid, reflexive, and small circle thinking is long overdue.