Back in 2018, theorist, author, and sought-after speaker, Douglas Rushkoff, penned this medium article describing his intimate conversation with a small group of tech elites about how they might sustain their wealth, power, and influence through “The Event”.
According to Rushkoff, “The Event” was their euphemism for whatever combination of “environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.”
In 2020, revisiting Rushkoff’s account of the harrowing conversation is like reading into a villain’s origin story while watching the feature film.
Whether we’re truly living through such an “Event” or not, 2020 has plainly shown us how Big Tech elites and the broader ruling class have objectively, successfully created conditions by which they and their inner circles can insulate, and even enrich themselves, while the world collapses around them.
Of course, progressives have been crying out about these conditions for years. Dramatic increases in wealth inequality, wage stagnation, automation, tax dodging/havens, the swallowing of small businesses into corporate megaliths, dark money’s influence in politics, the degrading of truth and productive civil discourse – from the aggregate mining of everything we do online, to the slave-labor used to make the iPhone in your hand, to the vast environmental destruction borne largely on the the global poor – all are drivers or byproducts of dehumanizing, exploitative, unbridled technological development in the name of corporate capitalism.
Big Tech elites and those of other industries may be planning for their bunker, but they are also complicit in creating the need for such an escape from a world on fire.
As discussed in my last post, our political and socioeconomic structures are are the cusp of a full-tilt collapse, and nothing is safe, not even the the most basic tenet of our democracy – the vote.
And so as our institutions face complete erosion, and the super-wealthy get off scot-free, what are we as progressives to do, save for throwing up our arms and saying “we told you so”? What are we to do with our vote?
With almost nine months in the books, 2020 has wrought untold despair, destruction, and death. Amidst the devastation, historians might also identify this year as the one that the progressive movement truly arrived in earnest.
Though our candidate lost, and the movement is fractured, there is no doubt that making the righteous case for progressive reform has never been more compelling, nor possible. The moment calls for sweeping, bold, systematic change – more Americans are waking up to this need every day (and waking up to the “how are you going to pay for it?” bullshit, following the Fed printing several trillion dollars in a matter of months just to prop up Wall Street).
There are two paths the country might walk to get there, which I’ll describe here, but there’s only one choice that enables us to chart either course – voting blue.
I’ve spent a lot of time in this space orbiting around all the misgivings I have with the Democratic Party, and I’m not planning on backing down from any of those positions. Likewise, I have spelled out and sourced in great detail the ugly truths of the party’s deeply flawed presidential candidate, and the political machine that propped him up (see here and here, respectively).
Understand that this is coming from someone with a deep distaste for the Democratic Party’s neoliberal brand, pro-corporate policies, paltry resistance efforts, and so much more. I am voting blue not because I believe Democrats represent me, nor because I think they have the teeth or political will to actually wean themselves off of corporate influence and push for real structural reform.
I’m voting blue because, like the tech elites, we need to create the conditions for our movement and our representation to sustain and grow amidst a crumbling democracy and planet.
If Joe Biden wins, Trump actually steps down, and Democrats take back the Senate (these are BIG “if’s”), I see the next four years playing out in one of two ways, both creating the aforementioned conditions.
Crystal Ball: Dems deliver
Unthinkably, Sleepy Joe has an opportunity to stumble and mumble his way into becoming the most progressive president since FDR.
You wouldn’t know it by watching the Democratic Convention, which featured the likes of Colin Powell, John Kasich, and Michael Bloomberg, and virtually no representation from the left, but in spite of the placation to moderate Republicans, it’s the progressive movement that has shaped the bulk of the party’s current platform. And as mentioned, the moment is ripe – there is sufficient appetite for sweeping overhaul, given the health, social, economic, and environmental crises that we are contending with.
Take, for example, Biden’s surprisingly bold stance on election reform, which includes:
- Introducing a constitutional amendment to entirely eliminate private dollars from our federal elections;
- Enacting legislation to provide matching public funds for federal candidates receiving small dollar donations;
- Ending dark money groups, banning corporate PAC contributions to candidates, and prohibiting lobbyist contributions to those who they lobby.
I’ve long said that dark money and corporate influence in our politics are the singular greatest threats to our sustainability as a democracy. In accomplishing even a fraction of this plan, coupled with restoring the Voting Rights Act, ending gerrymandering, and making voting abundantly more accessible (all parts of his plan), conditions for successful progressive campaigns become more of a possibility.
Indeed, we know that the majority of the country supports progressive policies – removing corporate influence and scaling back voter suppression are the first steps in enabling the electorate to actually dictate these policy changes.
Piece through the rest of the party platform and you’ll find it is littered with progressive nuggets:
- Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour
- Education and higher education: free Pre-K and more funding for K-12 schools, plus Bernie’s college tuition bill from the Senate, and providing student debt relief for lower income graduates;
- Climate policy: net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a carbon tax, support for nuclear power, $500 billion dollars a year in green spending on infrastructure;
- Criminal justice reform: eliminating private prisons, cash bail, and sentencing disparities, banning choke holds, eliminating the provision of police with military equipment, denying federal funding to problem police departments, reigning in qualified immunity, and other police reforms;
- Drug reform: legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing recreational marijuana, and scrapping federal convictions for mere possession.
Progressives can righteously lay claim to the party’s leftward lurch on these positions, and many more. Moreover, the prospect of sane COVID management cannot be understated – Biden supports massive upscaling of testing, PPE, universal free treatment, ensuring that everyone has access to those things, ensuring paid sick leave and expanded unemployment relief, among many other necessary initiatives to contain the virus.
It goes without saying that, in addition to allaying the onslaught of COVID-19, four years of Biden and a Democratic Senate would prove infinitely better for vulnerable communities whose rights are on the brink – women, immigrants, LGBTQ+, and people of color. Given the climate, there’s also a good shot they could push through some of the above.
Even if a Democratic majority only reforms our voting and elections…a taste of progressive policies, expanded voting access, and a campaign finance system that favors grassroots candidates, will create the conditions for successful progressive challenges up and down ticket, especially when Dems inevitably come up short of real, long overdue, widely supported policy reforms, like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.
Over time the call for these necessary, sweeping overhauls will only become more feverish and so, too, will the support for candidates championing them.
Crystal Ball: Dems blow it
Of course, the above thought pattern is all very wishful. Heck, to even have a shot at election reform, Dems will have to muster the political will to eliminate the filibuster and expand the SCOTUS. Even with a legislative majority, the GOP will almost surely have a 6-3 court majority in a matter of weeks, and Biden is much more likely to play nice with his Republican counterparts (who have proven to have no interest in bipartisanship), than to take this critical first step in balancing the court.
While I believe strongly that a Biden presidency will be a stopgap for the erosion of our democratic order, conducive to keeping the virus in check, and provide security to our most vulnerable, by no means do I think him or the Democrats are up to the task in remedying our vast systemic issues. Rather than seize the moment, the Dems are much more likely to continue working in the margins, seeking out compromise across the aisle when there is none to be had, and fumbling their political capital.
In a time of such rampant hardship and social uprising, if Democrats do seize power and are unable to deliver, it also creates the conditions for widespread class consciousness, and an even stronger case to be made for progressive policies. Having lost their scapegoat in Trump, if progress remains unmade on any or all of balancing the court, wealth inequality, healthcare, climate change, election reform, criminal justice, police brutality, systemic racism and inequities, etc, it will create a reinvigorated call for sweeping overhaul, and the likelihood of winning over centrist Democrats becomes much more plausible, as progressives up and down the ticket rise to answer this call.
More wishful thinking? No, I’d much prefer some progressive change be made, but I see this as the more likely outcome.
Given the choice between voting blue or not voting at all, I hope you’ll see the former as both the moral and opportune choice to advance our people-powered movement.
Biden and corporate Democrats make for a weaker, more predictable adversary, one that we’ve already chipped away at immensely in a relatively short amount of time. Whether Biden and a Democratic majority deliver for the average citizen, or not, either route makes for a wider swimming lane for progressive insurgence. The alternative – another four years of Trump – makes our organizing less viable and more ineffective. Moreover, it would not give us a chance to prove what we know to be true – that the neoliberal agenda is not made for this moment, nor the future of this country.
Many in the progressive movement, in the same vein as the Big Tech elites, have been relatively insulated during the Trump Presidency. But in fact, our current conditions are much closer to those of the vulnerable populations that have suffered the most over the past four years, than to the ruling elite. Those of us surrounded by privilege just haven’t felt it yet.
The consolidation of power in the hands of a tiny group of the super wealthy that we’ve observed and spoken truth to is happening at an exponential rate. According to Rushkoff’s anecdote, they’re hunkering down for the long haul, and creating the conditions for them to maintain their power during and after the collapse of society as we know it.
We must have the courage to fight for our own power, to create the conditions for willing the collective good of all people through such an “Event” – what we’re living through, and what’s still to come. Voting blue affords us two paths to get there. This action is incumbent on us as a movement, it is our moral and strategic imperative.
If we are who we say we are, if we take the “not me, us” – “fight for someone you don’t know” doctrines seriously, this is the way.
Happy hand-washing, please vote.