Looking back, glancing ahead

Biggest footprint on world stage: Pope Francis, for his speeches on economic justice, poverty, and climate change; modesty and modest lifestyle; appeals for peace and non-violence; lifting up the people and crisis of the Global South; role in facilitating diplomatic breakthrough between the U.S. and Cuba; and, last but not least, willingness to challenge the profit-making and growth logic of capitalist development.

Biggest splash on sports scene: Who else but Steph Curry, the basketball point guard extraordinaire of the Golden State Warriors? He’s a magician on the court and, with his team mates, is reconfiguring the game.

Biggest noise on cultural scene: Star Wars, anyone?

Biggest losers: Donald Trump and his band of not-so-merry pranksters running for the Republican Party nomination – though not identical, no one should be fooled, they’re cut from the same ugly cloth.

Biggest threat to democracy, economic security, equality, peace, and a livable planet: The Republican Party. This gang of wreckers doesn’t fit on what might be considered the normal spectrum of U.S. politics. In temperament, outlook, and practice they are – ready for it? – authoritarian, anti-worker, racist, sexist, xenophobic, and misogynist. They despise organized labor. They’re committed to the restoration of a racist order that would return people of color to a caste system every bit as racist, exploitative, and oppressive as was the old Jim Crow.

And there’s more! Some of them believe in biblical “end times” scenarios. Every one of them is a climate denier of the worst kind. Few things agitate them more than the fact that “their country” will be majority minority in the not-too-distant future. Diplomacy isn’t in their vocabulary either; only military solutions command their attention.

And this movement’s origins and animating vision lie with the most backward groupings of capital – big, medium, and small sized, notwithstanding their support among a substantial section of white working people.

While it will be an uphill climb for the Republicans to gain complete control of the federal government, it shouldn’t be discounted. The recent mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino should be evidence enough that the political conversation and mass sentiments can shift rapidly and in an ugly direction and, as a result, change the political dynamics of the election to the advantage of the Republican Party.

Biggest challenge: No surprise here, a knockout of the Republicans in November. Nothing else even comes close to that in political significance. Everything, therefore, has to be placed in that context, including the contest between Hillary and Bernie. Moreover, the electoral arena, which is where most people engage politically, if they engage at all, should become the main – not simply one more – arena of struggle for progressive and left people.

The right wing, no doubt, will approach it that way. They understand that their project of remaking the country to fit their backward worldview rests in large measure on utilizing the ballot box to secure complete control of the federal government and then turning their dogs loose.

Biggest turnaround: The decision of President Obama, contrary to the predictions of political pundits, to go on the offensive on the heels of the Republican Party victory in the 2014 elections. Using his executive power, he has addressed a whole range of issues, including immigration, carbon emissions, the XL pipeline, sentencing guidelines and other judicial reforms and, earlier this week, gun violence.

Biggest new player on political scene: Black Lives Matter, and the families of victims of police violence. Their words and actions shone a spotlight on a crisis of epidemic proportions, changed the national conversation, and set an example for the rest of us.

Biggest setback: Not sure, but the election setbacks for left and progressive governments in Latin America are in the running for this unhappy award.

Biggest obligation: To save the planet. The climate conference in Paris was a step forward, especially when compared to the debacle at the previous meeting in Copenhagen. But it didn’t measure up to what science says we must do in order to keep average global temperatures below a rise of 2 degrees C. Thus, anyone who is concerned about our planet’s future must quicken their pace, greatly extend their reach, and be in the thick of the coming elections.

Biggest heart – two winners: the Muslim community and Planned Parenthood.

The Muslim community withstood with dignity and resolve a new round of Islamophobia, coming from the likes of Trump and others on the right, who demagogically exploited the events in Paris and San Bernardino. While the worst of the racist scapegoating and stereotyping appears to be over, it hasn’t gone away by any measure and should nudge (to put it nicely) the broader democratic movement to embrace this struggle in a more full-blooded way.

Planned Parenthood, for standing firm against the relentless attacks of the extreme right, not to mention the murderous assault by a terrorist on one of its centers in Colorado. Here too the attack has ebbed a bit, but it will continue for sure and argues as well for a more vigorous response from the progressive community.

Biggest unsung hero: The U.S. labor movement that, despite its initiatives on issues like wage stagnation, Social Security and Medicare, racial and gender equality, gay rights, and climate change, goes unrecognized by far too many people.

Biggest transformation: The way that tens of millions of people think differently (that is more humanly) about sexuality, gay rights, and being gay. The scale of the change could only happen because a movement took shape over time that was able to scale up and out its support, story, and demands in a sustained, creative, and flexible way. No other movement on the progressive end of the political spectrum has been able to match this in recent decades. Other movements have emerged and show great promise, but haven’t yet achieved transformative capacity and power.

Biggest surprise: the enthusiastic responses to two candidates of the left, one here – Bernie Sanders; and the other – Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the British Labor Party across the pond. And when combined with the success of new left formations in Europe it gives even the hard-core pessimist cause for hope and, for me, an upbeat note to end on.

Photo: Demonstrators protest climate denial and push for climate change education.  |   AP


CONTRIBUTOR

Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time socialist and activist living in New York. He served as the national chairperson of the Communist Party from 2000 to 2014. Previously, he was the state organizer of the Communist Party in Michigan. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine. He blogs at SamWebb.org.

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