Self-preservation fuels the Democratic base's lurch to the left before the rich take it all

More than half the women in America would rather live in a socialist country than the one they live in now

Published June 16, 2019 8:00AM (EDT)

Elizabeth Warren; Joe Biden; Bernie Sanders (AP/Getty/Salon)
Elizabeth Warren; Joe Biden; Bernie Sanders (AP/Getty/Salon)

In 2016 all the corporate news media outlets, NPR included, predicted that Trump would lose. They just did not recognize the discontent in America’s rust belt because the economic dislocation that had, and continues to define life there, was just not part of their personal frame of reference.

They thought the country was several years into a recovery and the national aggregate unemployment data they had commissioned confirmed it. But nobody lives or votes in the aggregate. And it wasn’t until Trump flipped the 200 counties that Obama had carried twice, that the corporate news media started paying some attention.

And yet, based on the latest handicapping on the 2020 Democratic Primary they appear to be setting themselves up for another big miss that they will, of course, universally declare nobody saw coming — the huge left-wing surge that’s making democratic socialism mainstream and will likely be more seismic than the 2018 mid-terms.

Just look to the West Coast and the latest Los Angeles Times poll that has Joe Biden at 22 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 18 percent, Bernie Sanders at 17, and favorite daughter Kamala Harris at 13 percent. So, just what percentage of that fired up 48 percent that believe in Warren, Sanders, or Harris is Uncle Joe going to peel off with his retro-incrementalism?

It is most likely already over for Uncle Joe. His wing of the Democratic Party got rich sticking up for the credit card companies while they insured the 40 million Americans who owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt can never be free of it even if they declare bankruptcy.

That whole Clinton corporatist shift to the right abused the poor, criminalized drug addiction for communities of color, and betrayed the American labor movement with global free trade. After eight years of George W. Bush, we got President Obama who chose to bail out Wall Street and let them have the spoils of the foreclosure crisis that their unprosecuted criminality set into motion.

In the media there is a conventional wisdom in heavy rotation declaring that the country’s lurch to the left, as demonstrated by Senator Bernie Sander’s rise in 2016 and persistence in the top tier in 2020, is the result of idealistic and naïve young people who don’t know any better.

Yet, as a Harris Poll conducted recently for Axios found “55 percent of women between 18 and 54 years old would prefer to live in a socialist country rather than a capitalist country.”

“We've seen this pattern of behavior where women are turning out in higher numbers as voters and as candidates than we've ever seen,” Axios’s Alex McCammond said on HBO. “They're getting elected in higher numbers than before. They're pushing the conversation in different ways.”

So, what wouldn’t these women like about our current capitalist system?

First, they are right in the thick of it with a record number of mothers working fulltime and 41 percent of them the sole or primary breadwinner. Consider that according to the National Women’s Law Center that while women who work fulltime make 80 cents on the dollar of what their male counterparts are paid, mothers working full time “are paid just 69 cents for every dollar paid to fathers.”

NWLC reports that gap “translates to a loss of $18,000 annually” and “exists across race, state, and occupation, and compromises families’ economic security” according to the advocacy non-profit. The gap opens up to a yawning canyon when wages for mothers of color are compared to white, non-Hispanic fathers. Black mothers get just 54 cents; Native mothers 48 cents; and Latina mothers just 46 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers according to NWLC.

Why should they be impatient? We only passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. These disparities have consequences and ignoring them has resulted in a major crisis that’s Exhibit A for the failure of our particular strain of late-stage vulture capitalism epitomized by President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell.


No, the desire for radical change is not idealistic or naïve. For working class and poor families, it is about survival and a better future for our children and our grandchildren free of the debt and scarcity generated by a political structure that has only served the rich.

At his signature address at George Washington University Senator Sander’s gave an unflinching account of just how skewed things have become.

“When we talk about oligarchy, let us be clear about what we mean. Right now, in the United States of America, three families control more wealth than the bottom half of our country, some 160 million Americans,” he said. “The top 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 92 percent and 49 percent of all new income generated today goes to the top one percent. In fact, income and wealth inequality today in the United States is greater than at any time since the 1920s.”

And he pointed out that as the very rich are getting much richer . . . tens of millions of working-class people, in the wealthiest country on earth, are “suffering under incredible economic hardship, desperately trying to survive.”


Capitalism needs to be changed because it’s not working.

“Today, nearly 40 million Americans live in poverty and tonight, 500,000 people will be sleeping out on the streets,” said Sanders. “About half of the country lives paycheck to paycheck as tens of millions of our people are an accident, a divorce, a sickness or a layoff away from economic devastation.”

This did not all happen overnight. This is what happens when the elected political leadership of a nation becomes totally untethered from the circumstances of their electorate.

By Bob Hennelly

Bob Hennelly has written and reported for the Village Voice, Pacifica Radio, WNYC, CBS MoneyWatch and other outlets. His book, "Stuck Nation: Can the United States Change Course on Our History of Choosing Profits Over People?" was published in 2021 by Democracy@Work. He is now a reporter for the Chief-Leader, covering public unions and the civil service in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @stucknation

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