By Eddie McCabe
Extraordinary things are happening in the race for the presidency in the US. The once impervious two-party system that defines politics in the US is being convulsed from within, as mass social inequality and polarisation in society has seen unprecedented momentum generated for two candidates outside of both political establishments, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Sanders’ political revolution
The stage is set for major political earthquakes. Indeed the race thus far has produced tremors that have stunned all of the mainstream analysts and insiders. Few, if any, would have predicted the mobilising power and widespread popularity that a self-described democratic socialist could muster in a presidential election.
But Sanders’ call for a “political revolution against the billionaire class” has connected with the aspirations of millions of people still reeling from the economic collapse, bank bailouts and the consequent widening of the wealth gap to historic levels. The richest 0.1% of families in the US now own as much wealth as the bottom 90%.
Five years on from the Occupy movement that railed against the rule of the 1%, the movement of the 99% – especially the “millennial” generation – is finding a political expression in the demands of the Sanders’ campaign: free college education, universal healthcare, $15 minimum wage and ending the ‘war on drugs’ that has led to mass imprisonment of mainly young people of colour.
Break with the Democrats
Sanders’ campaign, which takes no corporate money, has received over two million individual donations and has drawn literally hundreds of thousands of people to rallies, dwarfing anything his rivals have managed.
Unfortunately, despite what Sanders has achieved, he is still unlikely to be able to overcome his main obstacle, i.e. the Democratic Party establishment itself, which is determined to see Hilary Clinton succeed Obama. This points to the crucial flaw in the Sanders’ campaign strategy: being part of the Democratic Party at all.
But his success shows, like nothing before has, the potential for building an independent left movement that can challenge the two parties, who are more discredited than ever before. Such a movement, linking up with the Black Lives Matter, $15 Now and environmental movements, could really transform politics in the US.
Trump: Racist billionaire demagogue
The danger of leaving the vacuum on the left open has been glimpsed already in the right-wing circus that is the Republican primary. The billionaire demagogue, Donald Trump, is significantly ahead of his equally backward rivals.
Trump’s bombastic campaign has relied on a crude nationalism, with his slogan, “make America great again” that has an appeal for a section of the white working and middle class. He has deliberately stoked up anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic racism in order to grab headlines.
But his campaign shouldn’t be dismissed as that of a buffoon who is seen as something of an embarrassment, even by the heads of the Republican Party. Not least because a more sinister feature of his campaign is now coming to light in the subtle but clear encouragement of violence by his supporters against the many varieties of protesters who have targeted his rallies.
A party for the 99%
The fact remains, however, that Trump is able to gain support by exploiting fears and insecurities that flow from the ongoing crisis of American capitalism. Something the political establishment, including figures like Clinton, is responsible for. The Democrats may well beat Trump should he be the candidate, but only an independent movement of the left can ultimately stem the rise of the right.
This is why Socialist Alternative, sister organisation of the Socialist Party in the US, is calling on Sanders to stand as an independent and break with the two-party system. This can be the beginning of a new party of the 99%, a party that is sorely needed in the US.