Blog #95a – Questioning “So-Called President” Donald Trump’s Mandate, Immediate Actions


#95a – Questioning “So-Called President” [1] Donald Trump’s Mandate:
Immediate actions, Long-Term Possibilities, Constitutional Questions.

This blog, and the blog before it, Blog #95 – “Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election?” – summarize the findings of Blogs #92a to #95 on “so-called President” Donald Trump’s claim to have won the election as president of the United States, and suggests some Immediately practical reforms of the Election Process in the United States They raise some longer-term issues about the constitutionality of the Electoral College per se, issues whose results in the 2016 election deserve wide discussion. [1a]

IMMEDIATE ACTION POSSIBILITIES.

First and foremost, questions about the legitimacy of the 2016 election process and its results must become matters of wide-spread concern and debate. That means raising in the public debate the question of the legitimacy of Trump’s Electoral College “win,” challenging every boast that Trump or his positions represent a landslide, a majority, a popular consensus, a mandate, etc., every time such claims are made. It is in fact estimated at only 27.2% of all eligible voters at Blog #93.

Watching how the question is formulated is important.

It’s not “What did Trump do to win the Presidency, “ but “what aspect of the Electoral process enabled him to claim that office when he in fact only received a minority of the popular vote in the election for it?”

Nor is “what did Clinton do wrong that cost her the election?” the key question. She in fact got almost three million more votes than the nearest contender for the office. The question is rather, “Why, if Clinton got a significant plurality of all votes cast in the election, did she not get the Presidency?”

And it’s not, “How could Trump convince a majority of the voters of his ultra-conservative agenda,” but “How was it a relatively small proportion of the electorate (my estimate above was 27.2% of those eligible to vote} could impose such an agenda on the rest of the country?”

Perhaps even more important in the public discourse, a recurrent theme among those defending Trump and his policies, and many presumably “neutral” commentators” is that,” after all, he was elected the President of the country, and, whether you agree with him or not, you have to respect that he is the legally chosen representative of the people and must be recognized as speaking for them in what he says and does.” “He got elected; live with it,” goes the line.

But that’s precisely wrong, and runs against across the grain of the whole theory of democratic government Trump is not entitled, now that he has “won the election,” to impose his particular agenda on the country by executive mandate or administrative fiat. On the contrary; he was elected by the
votes of 62,980,160 voters out of a total population of eligible voters of 231,556,622, or 27.2 % of the electorate. He has an obligation to represent all of those 231,556,622, whether they voted for him or not, or didn’t vote at all. [1b]. His voters actually represent a minority of the American citizenry , and in fact not even a plurality of the actual voters.{See Blog #93} He not only has no over-riding mandate behind his policy positions, he in fact has a positive mandate to compromise, to consult, to listen, to bring people together. Supporters or interviewers who are content to stop at, “after all, he’s the President,” mistake how a real democracy functions.

LONGER TERM ACTIONS

Longer term but needing to be kept constantly on the table, is the National Popular Vote proposal (NPV}. It is simple. It would have every state have its Electors in the Electoral College allocate their votes in the same proportion as the national popular vote. If states with a majority of the electoral vote now adopted it, it would guarantee that the Electoral College result would be the same as the national popular vote.[2].

NPV has three big advantages: It is intuitively fairer, more democratic, and is simple and relatively easy to understand. And it does not necessarily favor either major political party today. It has already bi-partisan support in at least 11 states, with more considering it. And it solves the constitutional problem that Electoral College votes are weighted in favor of small states, because however many electoral votes a given state has, they will be cast to accord with the national popular vote result.

And it does not require a Constitutional Amendment to be effective, just agreement of the states having entitled to the majority of Electoral College votes.

It has two disadvantages: It does not solve the plurality/minor parties’ problem. But to do that would complicate the initial reform effort substantially. And it might still permit a plurality to win the Presidency. Only adding even more complicated (although fairer) Proportional voting methods would solve that problem (and be fairer to minor party voters as well), but seems too cumbersome for at least the first effort at reform.

Politically, the National Popular Vote Proposal is however a positive demand, for four reasons:

First, it is both intuitively and logically right. It improves democracy in government, and is likely (although not guaranteed) to advance social justice in its substantive results.

Second, it is a unifying demand, putting the leftish, Sanders wing of the Democratic Party into contact with the mainstream, and facilitating communication and persuasion in on-going political work.

Third, it highlights Trump’s minority support status, accentuating how far he is from a mandate for his policies, how strong the argument is that he must recognize the needs and demands of the majority of the voters in what he does while still in office. And,

Fourth, it is achievable –.it has already been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral vote, and has further been passed by one chamber in 3 Republican and 1 Democratic-controlled legislatures. Only 270 are needed for it to become effective.

Then, a problem with both short and longer term approaches. The proportion of actual voters casting ballots among present and potential voters is strikingly less in the United States than in other developed democratic countries. Part of the reason no doubt lies in the skepticism about the difference it makes, with neither major party offering a break-through in meeting voters’ deepest concerns. But a part of the explanation for the fact that 40% of those eligible to vote did not do so lies also in the obstacles placed in the way of registration to vote in many states, which the courts are partially remedying. Strong national legislation would help.

As this is written, Trump is maintaining that that perhaps 3,000,000 votes, even among the limited numbers actually voting, were illegal. That’s been met with wide-spread incredulity. In fact, if the winner-take-all provision part of the Electoral College voting process, adopted at the discretion of each state, were dropped, the number of actually effective votes might be increased by a least an equal number.

Restoring the “preclearance” provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,”, requiring with appropriate language, advance approval by a federal court or the Department of Justice for questionable state changes to voting regulations under the Voting Rights Act would surely increase the number of eligible voters significantly, removing inappropriate barriers to participation by many.

And there is a simple non-controversial measure that would undoubtedly be helpful in increasing the number of voters actually voting:

Make Election Day a national holiday

Perhaps even provide that it be a paid holiday in covered employment, as many state laws and some government contracts now provide for sick leave—perhaps by requiring Election Day as a paid holiday under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Like NPV, the call for Election Day as a holiday is simply a good government measure, one that advances democracy, and should not become a partisan political issues. It would surely have a healthy, and progressive, impact both on how many vote and who votes; no one should object to it. And the country is surely rich enough so that it can afford one day a year of less production in the cause of better and more responsive government. And, for that matter , wouldn’t one day less of being required to go to work to make a living advance the quality of life for all our people?

CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS

The constitutional questions surrounding the Electoral College are fundamental questions.
Article I of the Constitution as first adopted, provided

Article I

“…in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.” [2a]

It has been almost unanimously implemented through state action since then to provide that the votes of a state shall be that resulting from a winner-take-all count, i.e. a state’s one vote shall be for whoever gets a plurality of that state’s votes,. Thus the votes of all losers in the state’s votes are disregarded in determining who has won the final vote in the Electoral College.[3]

But the Twelfth Amendment, Article II, adopted in 1804, provides:

Article II
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress
Under that provision all states have, a least since 1824, adopted a winner take all election procedure [4]. Its effect, of course, is to make the minority votes in any state irrelevant in the final count for Electors. While it might seem unfair to any party coming in second in any individual state’s race, any party winning a plurality will appreciate the rule, and thus, since winning parries make the rules it has apparently remained unchallenged over time.
But winner-take-all does seem to abridge the rights of a substantial number of voters in any Presidential election, and arguably to violates the intent of the 15th amendment.[3]
So the U.S. Constitution does not mandate that system, however. Instead, it is left up to the states to determine how they select their representatives in the Electoral College, and the states have followed the winner-take-all arrangement without serious challenged since its adoption in 1804. For the first 13 presidential elections, spanning the first four decades of the history of the United States, states experimented with many different electoral system. By 1836, all but one state, South Carolina, uses the winner-take-all method based on the statewide popular vote to choose its electors. South Carolina continues to have its legislature choose electors until after the Civil War. [4]

The Fifteenth Amendment, passed during Reconstruction, contradicts , in spirit if not in terms, this Electoral College provision. Adopted in 1870, it reads:
Amendment XV
Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

In adopting the 15th Amendment, the intent was to grant all citizens, including the recently liberated black slaves, a full “unabridged” right to vote, implicitly with a vote equal to that of all other voters. The Electoral College procedure favoring some voters over others {See Blog #94} distorted – abridged — that result. If 65,845,063 Clinton voters in the 2016 popular election had their vote discounted by 29% [See #blog 95} compared to the vote of the 62,980,160 Trump voters there is clearly something wrong. Such a discounting is an “abridgement” of their right to vote, in the terms of the 15th Amendment.

But it did not make any practical difference in the outcome then, and when it much later did, the 15th Amendment argument seems not to have been made to challenge it.

It might be argued that the language of the 15th Amendment created a class of particularly protected citizens: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and that category of voter is not affected by the current procedures in either the national popular vote nor the votes in the Electoral College. But it should not be hard to demonstrate factually that those whose votes have been abridged in 2016 by the Electoral College winner-take –all system were indeed disparately voters who individually or as a group were disparately of a particular race and had suffered then or earlier by conditions of servitude of members of the group.. The minority voters, many of the 65,845,063 Clinton voters, were in a minority in their states although in a majority in the national vote, should be entitled to the protection of this language of the 15th Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment’s language, with its equal protection language, does not single out any particular group for special protection, but applies to all. Its reach protects “citizens of the United States” and extends to “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”
While not directly referencing voting rights it contains a broad edict:

Amendment XIV, Article I

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Supreme Court ruled in Bush vs. Gore.

Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another. See, e.g., Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U. S. 663, 665 (1966). “…once the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment”.”[5]

Ironically, Donald Trump himself left the door open to a challenge of the legitimacy of the results of the ‘Electoral College vote when, in the course of the election campaigning Ohio, he flatly refused to commit himself to respect the vote, whatever it would be. Trump told supporters that “the bottom line is we’re going to win.” He would “accept a clear election result,” but he would also “reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.[6] Presumably, if he were to consider rejecting the vote of the Electoral College because it was rigged, he would object whether the rigging was in his favor or in Clinton’s. He simply wanted to reserve the right to challenge the results when the appropriate time came.

The public needs to engage with these questions, and the courts and the legislature should now be asked to address them directly. Until they are resolved, a dark cloud will hang over any claim of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.

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[1] I would never have thought it appropriate to use this phrase had not Trump himself spoken of the recent decision of Federal District judge Roberts of the Federal District Court in Washington state, with which he disagreed, as the decision of ”this so-called judge.” It may however not be inappropriate in this case; see our conclusion below.
[1a] The six most relevant recent blogs, all at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, are:
#91 – Explaining the Election in 10 Sentences – Preliminary
#92a – Electoral Reform: Outing the 1%
# 93 – Election Figures Show Trump with Only 27.2% of Eligible Voters-What Mandate?
#94 – In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today? #95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election
#95a – Questioning “So-Called President Donald Trump’s Mandate+
[1b]https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VAcF0eJ06y_8T4o2gvIL4YcyQy8pxb1zYkgXF76Uu1s/edit#gid=2030096602 https://twitter.com/totalogic
[2} http://www.nationalpopularvote.com.
[ 2a] Somewhat ambiguous language, but interpreted as meaning all the Electors from each state share one vote, that plurality in that state’s vote, and it shall be for both President and Vice President, so that those two offices will be filled by the same party..
[3] See “The Equal Protection Argument Against Winner Take All in the Electoral College: The Constitution doesn’t require the Electoral College to count votes the way it traditionally has”. By Lawrence Lessig | December 12, 2016,, available at http://billmoyers.com/story/equal-protection-argument-winner-take-electoral-college/ and Blog #94,“In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today
[4] http://www.fairvote.org/how-the-electoral-college-became-winner-take-all.
[5] http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/531/98.html
[6] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/10/20/donald-trump-election-results-debate-hillary-clinton/92450922/

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Blog #91: Explaining the Election in 10 sentences – preliminary


Explaining the election (in parentheses: to pursue):

1. A critical shift in the organization of the economy post 1968, from industrial to hi-tech capitalism (occupational structures?).
2. Leaving many dependent on the old economy hurt and at a loss, largely the white working class, hold-over racism and sexism accentuated as scapegoats. (foreclosures, evictions, bankruptcies, struggling suburban homeowners – not the really poor, homeless)
3. They reacted with anxiety and an emotional attachment to the past Deep Story (their traditional identity?)
4. They blamed, quite rightly, “the” establishment, although not clear as to its membership, pushed by media etc. to blame “government” (social media, TV, not press?)
5. Trump as politician picked up on this, despite his own membership in the new establishment (motivation? pathological egotism? Business).
6. The anxious white ex-working class built up a deep story, a vision, abetted by Trump and the media that was heavily emotional (shaping identities?)
7. That story, built on real anxiety-inducing experience, mis-interpreted history, and built a psychological/ideological barrier that facts and reason could not penetrate (high school or less education?). Trump offered the charismatic fairy tale leader, believe me, trust me, not them, they have failed you (over 30 years? 8. Since Reagan? since Johnson?)
9. Hillary offered no vision that addressed the grounded anxiety (health care costs? Real unemployment levels?).
10. But Trump’s allegiance as a businessman is and always was to the new elite establishment, and he will unify the Republican Party around it. The holdouts will be those with a personal repugnance to Trump’s personal behavior, which they will swallow. (social circles, clienteles, customers, tenants?)

The Blog #90 series will deal with some of these isssues in more detail.

Blog #90 – The Paradox of Trump and his Followers


What follows is a Work in Progress  attempting to explain a quite  apparent paradox: how is it that Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate developer,  whose claim to fame includes popularizing the slogan : “You’re fired!” can  end up leading a right wing populist following that in fact is plagued by the very  activities he as businessman epitomizes? How it is so many people enthusiastically and vociferously support him, in apparent contradiction to their own interests?

The argument here begins by suggesting that Donald Trump is in fact operationally three different persons, three Trumps (perish the thought, if taken literally!), three entities he has struggled to keep separate: Trump the Individual, Trump the Businessman, and Trump the Political Campaigner. His individual psychological characteristics, idiosyncrasies, if not neuroses, have been extensively examined elsewhere, and are not examined here.

As Businessman, Trump’s activities are a combination of conventional exploitation, underpaying workers in the conventional businesses he operates, principally managing real estate, and an entrepreneurial instinct expanding profit-making by commodifying desires for consumption, for luxury activities providing status over and above actual use. He seeks support as a Political Campaigner for his political ambitions as well as for his businesses, by exploiting conventional aspirations for economic security and social safety, both linked to private enterprise and dreams of wealth accumulation.

As Political Campaigner Trump gains support by latching onto what might be called a Deep Story, an emotionally held ideology and set of values that explains, rationalizes, and legitimates how the world works. Such a Deep Story has long existed as to how the industrialized capitalist world works.  Trump has modified that old Story to proclaim a New version counting on the vulnerabilities of voters and popular media to changes in the economies of the world that have frightened masses of ordinary people seeking assurances that the supposed promises of the old Deep Reality, seemingly vanishing, could be restored quickly and easily by his authoritarian rule. He has used promises of “Making America Great Again” to propagate a new right-populism and a New Deep Story appealing to those susceptible to promises of quick and easy solutions to deeply threatening and hard to understand changes.

Major economic and social developments in the Deep Real Economy have underlain Trump’s success as a Businessman. In these developments profit is derived not primarily from industrial  production but also in the process of its realization in user consumption. The commodification of luxury consumption in which Trump specializes, and the financialization which he is adept at manipulating, is then justified by a New Deep Story resting on a widespread popularly accepted account of how the changed reality works.

I hope in the next week to flesh out the argument here in a series of perhaps six blogs, perhaps as follows

This Blog #90 – The Trump Series: The Paradox of Trump and His Followers

  1. Blog #90a – The Three Trumps: Individual, Campaigner, Businessman
  2. Blog #90b -Trump the Businessman: The Commodification of Luxurious Living
  3. Blog #90c – Trump the Campaigner and his Opposition
  4. Blog #90d – The Deep Realities and The Deep Story of Industrial Capitalism
  5. Blog #90e – The New Deep Realities of the New Economy and its New Deep Story
  6. Blog #90f The Philosophic Explanation of the Persuasive Power of the new Deep Story
  7. Blog #90g The Alternative Reactions to the New Deep Reality: Right, Middle, and Left

****   WORK IN PROGRESS   ****

Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.


Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

Given that the conservative responses to unjust inequality essentially accept its existence, that the liberal  does something to ameliorate the results of unjust inequalities but does not address their causes, and that the progressive response does even more, but both within  severe limits that leave the production of such inequalities essentially untouched, and finally given that radical responses, although  they do address the causes of unjust inequality, are not  on the real world agenda anywhere in the world today, what can be nevertheless be done to achieve a more desirable handling of issues of equality than  our present system presents?

The suggestion here is to push for actions that are immediately possible, but that point transformatively to the more radical proposals necessary to eradicate unjust inequalities.. At least four modest but theoretically promising types of efforts in that direction are already under way, although their transformative potential is not always stressed: 1) transformative electoral activities; 2) transformative demands in the active day-to-day political arena; 3) transformative  pilot projects attempting to model in limited practice solutions  that would be radical if comprehensively adopted; and 4) transformative educational efforts involving teaching , research, writing, public debates, on the real sources of unjust  inequalities and the possible steps to their eradication – and the development of theory. These might be considered four fronts in the effort to tackle the unjust inequalities that characterize our present societies.

1)      Transformative electoral activities.

The progressive democratic-socialist campaign of Bernie Sanders for the presidency in the United States would be an example. If it is seen simply as a normal campaign for the election of a particular individual with a particular attractive platform, it may have limited impact, and may not survive a likely electoral loss. If the electoral campaign is seen as accompanied by a political revolution, as its rhetoric in fact proclaims is necessary, it points to broader and deeper issues, and opens the door to consideration of radical possibilities going beyond the progressive.

Historically , the record of radically-oriented national election campaigns  has not been good, although they have a long tradition behind them, just this  century, the Socialist Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, The Progressive Party, Jesse Jackson’s campaign, all had very limited influence.  Today, the Working Families Party is active in electoral campaigns in some states, but it remains small. In crass political terms, the experience seems to be that the more radical the platform the less effective the electoral impact. Efforts are beginning to evolve to have the Sanders campaign itself lead to some type of on-going organized involvement both in future elections and/or in current political issues. Whether it will be an exception to the rule remains to be seen.

2)      Transformative demands in the active day-to-day political arena

The individual issues that are fought over in any even formally democratic society usually center on specific concerns, but may or may not be seen as parts of more fundamental societal arrangements, and may then, very much context dependent, have a transformative impact.  The criticism of the role of money in political campaigns could point to a full public funding of campaigns, with limits on private money going far beyond simple calls for transparency. Calls for a $15 minimum wage may open the door to an on-going push for a livable wage and beyond, to a truly equitable distribution of compensation for work done, and minimums set on the basis of an expanded definition of what such a wage should provide. Single-payer insurance provision to cover the cost of health care could raise the question of whether health care should not from the get-go be free, not provided on a fee-for-service basis but as a public good, as basic public education is provided, or police or fire protection or the building of streets and highways. Modest proposals for participatory budgeting could raise the question of whether all budgeting decisions could not be made with grass-roots democratic involvement. Support for the creation of Community Land Trusts as owners of land could raise the question of simple public ownership of all land, as a natural resource.[1]

Keeping Liberal and Progressive proposals expanded to their radical fullest regularly in sight, while still getting ones hands dirty in the struggles to achieve what can be done day –too-day, would be a way of making many existing political efforts not only more appealing in the present but also transformative to what might be done in the future to fully end unjust inequality.

3)      Transformative pilot projects attempting to model radical alternatives.

The history of utopian communities is extensive and rich. They are rare today. But the attempt to try out radical ideas on a limited scale, with the transformative goal in mind of leading to their wide-spread and comprehensive adoption, remains important. Indeed, utopian thinking and puzzling out what ideal cities or countries or neighborhoods might look like is an exercise that might be more important now than ever, now that any new idea is likely to be met with the charge that nothing like that has ever been done before, where’s the data to support it, let’s stick to doing things that we know can be done in the world that we have, not the world we want. In limited practice, solutions that seem utopian might in fact be tested and shown to work on a small scale, and would be very radical if comprehensively adopted. The work of Gar Alperovitz and the Democracy Project,[2] and the New Economy efforts, are provocative. Learning from such efforts could indeed be transformative on the way to broader change.

But there are severe limits to most pilot models, involving, viability today in the here and now. Dangers lie in the context of a competitive profit-driven society, with constant down-ward pressures on wage to maintain financial viability. Even short-term, internal democracy in e.g. co-ops, and more, may end up at risk. And how the transition might be made from pilot project to its broader environment. The  temptation and often apparent necessity of building fortified silos of justice in a desert of unjust inequality  to broad social change is under-discussed.[3], [4] Pilot models are a good and helpful step towards a just and equal society, but do not inevitably lead us there.

4)      Educational efforts and the development of theory.

Most of those reading tis blog, and certainly its writer, have not been brought to concerns about the unjust inequalities discussed in these blogs by their own material deprivation, by the kinds of physical exploitation and immiseration that classic images of revolutionary subjects evoke. As this is written, The New York Times headlines a front-page story about “How the G.O.P Elites Lost the Party’s Base” and describes how “Working Class Voters Felt Ignored by Republican Leaders.” The Republican Party having deserted its “traditional blue-collar working class base—“its “most faithful voters, blue-collar white Americans.”[5] The descriptions set conventional social theory about class relations on its head.  But it reflects a current reality: the wide gap between undying material relationships of class and power, on the one hand, and the ideological interpretations and their psychological reflections that characterize so many political disagreements and rationalize the unjust inequalities that we see today. It is a gap that is ideologically, in the broad sense of the term, created, and it requires ideological counters if there is to be any hope of serious social change.

Ideological efforts to confront unjust inequalities have two aspects: one involving educational work, the other theoretical work.

Education is a somewhat awkward term for public information or savvy use of the media to tell a story, to convince readers or listeners or watchers, to convey the news in critical depth, to undo prejudices and stereotypes analyse conventional wisdoms. It may involve letters to the editor, journal articles, phone calls, panels, or, research, funded or not.

Theoretical work overlaps with the educational somewhat, but has a different audience and somewhat different audience: It may be educational, in the above sense, but it is also directed at those already concerned and active, and involve itself in clarify cause and effect relationships as a guide to strategy and tactics in ideological/political confrontations. Research of course has standard of logic and fact-finding that are necessary for credible work, but in the choice of subject matter and willingness to draw conclusions relevant to issues of equality that radical research show its usefulness. As the social psychological processes of one-dimensionalization grow in importance, the counter processes of logical analysis and exposure become ever more important.

****

Transformative might thus be the name of such blended proposals aimed at dealing with unjust inequality in a politically feasible fashion. . It would characterize ideas, demands, program proposals, legislative actions, social movement demands, which would marshal political power behind immediate demands for liberal or progressive measures coupled with a consistent and open consideration of the political feasibility of forwarding the goals of the Radical approach and building the foundation for struggles for radical action

A Transformative approach would add a recurring footnote, as explicit as the political situation will allow, to Liberal and Progressive demands. It can help to maintain awareness of the depth of the problem of Unjust Inequality and of the need for each individual program and proposal to recognize that the ultimate goal is actually the elimination of Unjust Inequality altogether. It can help keep pressure on the arc of history to bend ever more towards social justice and just equality..

 

ds Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

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[1] For further examples of potentially transformative demands , see my Blog #30: Beyond Immediate Proposals: Some Transformative Provocations

[2] See http://garalperovitz.com/ and Gar Alperovitz “The Question of Socialism (and Beyond!) Is About to Open Up in These United States”, April 13, 2013 Truth out News Analysis

[3] For my own views of the potentials and limits of the pilot project approach see Marcuse, Peter. 2015 “Cooperatives on the Path to Socialism?” Monthly Review, vol. 66, No. 9, February, pp. 31-38

[4] For a further discussion, see also Blog# 58a: From Immediate Demands to Utopias via Transformative Demands

[5] March 28, p. 1.

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This blog is one of a set of five dealing with Unjust Inequality:

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality

Blog #81b: Inequality: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal-Clinton?

Blog #81c – From Clinton Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response


Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

A Radical response, in a traditional fully socialist view, would approach inequality in a quite different way. It would define unjust inequality not in terms of the quantitative mal-distribution of the wealth of society but in terms of the source of that mal-distribution, economically in the exploitation of labor by capital (which includes the maintenance of unemployment to create a “reserve army of the poor” at the bottom to buttress the power of employers), and politically in the oppression of the ruled by the rulers.  The injustice of inequality lies, in the Radical view, not in the quantitative dimensions of inequality, as in Piketty, or simply in the harm to those at the bottom, as in the Liberal view, to be dealt with by anti-poverty programming.The injustice  lies in how the mal-distribution of wealth and incomes came about in the first place — David Harvey formulates it that it was largely acquired  by the dispossession of the 99% by the 1% to begin with. Yet the Progressive view generally focuses simply in the quantitative differences in wealth and power per se, which are self-reinforcing and must be countered together. In the Radical view, by contrast, the injustice stems from the source of those differences: the actions of those at the top in depriving those at the bottom of the share of the common wealth which in a just society they should have.

Taking some of the wealth of the rich and using it for the poor is thus just, but it is not enough; it does not address the source of that wealth, the conduct of the 1% that created the inequality to begin with. Redistribution is a remedy that only ameliorates the consequences after the damage is done; it doesn’t prevent the damage. Ironically, it has similarities to the criminal justice system: it punishes the guilty and compensates the victims, but it doesn’t address the causes of crime.  It is fair, or, indeed, by definition, just, but it assumes the structural arrangements of the society in which it exists, in which exploitation and oppression are legally permitted, in fact essential parts of the system, if subject to some limits.  In the Radical view a revolution is needed really to address the structures that support unjust inequality, including such aspects as the definition and enforcement of property rights in the economic system and electoral arrangements in the political system that limit participatory democracy or render it ineffective. Radically, the argument goes.  A revolution is needed which continually seeks to end exploitation and oppression and regulate the conduct which creates them, going beyond simple amelioration of the unjust inequality which they quantitatively produce.

The Radical response to quantitative  inequality  is to seek it sources in the structures of the status quo, and to pursue an economic as well as political revolution to limit inequality only to just inequality.

The kinds of goals a radical/socialist answer to inequality might lead to might include (for suggestive purposes only!):

  • A guaranteed annual income to all, at a standard commensurate with the real capacities of the productive system, perhaps something above today’s Average Metropolitan Income;
  • Either direct government or non-profit voluntary private responsibility for the production of the goods and services minimally required for that standard of living;
  • Nationalization of all major productive enterprises, with compensation limited to non-financialized values or less;
  • Confinement of profit-motivated activities to minor production of goods and service over and above the necessary , and for research and development above that level;
  • A sharply progressive to confiscatory tax on incomes and wealth over some socially defined ceiling;
  • Education at all necessary social levels public and guaranteed free, above that voluntarily undertaken;
  • Cessation of productions of all munitions;
  • Procedures for fully participatory and democratic decision-making at all levels of public action, with public support for the necessary implementation;
  • Environmental standards set and implemented at levels to maintain fully sustainable levels of desired health for all;
  • Recognition that the unjust inequalities produced by exploitation and oppression are linked together, and must be treated as a whole, and the process of undoing them must be comprehensive in scope and depth;

And, importantly:

  • The issue of unjust inequality would then simply disappear, because, with all having enough for a really fulfilling life and limits established on wasteful excesses of privatized wealth, the incentive to exploit or oppress, would imply disappear, and there would be  no reason for concern s about  comparative incomes or wealth that logically fuel current concerns about inequality.

These are obviously utopian goals, and practically relevant only in so far as they may provide a standard for evaluating the desirability of pursing specific realistically achievable goals. But to thinking through and visualizing alternatives to the existing along the above lines – playing with reality-based alternatives  for an ideal society, as was common in critical parts of human history in the past but has virtually disappeared from today’s intellectual or artistic life, might indeed be a generally  welcome development .

In the context of the present presidential electoral campaign in the United States, no major figure would espouse such goals, but neither would any explicitly defend the level of quantitative inequality that exists today. The more moderate wing of the Republican Party and the more conservative side of the Democratic Party espouse a Liberal approach, differing from each other mostly in the extent of its implementation. The further left voices in the Democratic Party lay claim to a Progressive response, in rhetoric sometimes similar to that of the Radical, but pragmatically toned down, so that revolution is spoken as reform of the political system, not in basic economic structures.

Politically, on the electoral campaign the view on the Republican side is conservative and the existing inequality, if acknowledged at all, is not seen as a major problem.

On the Democratic side the Liberal position is widely seen as desirable in principle but subject to a touchy debate to be resolved by compromise in realistic political terms;

The Progressive position is seen to have significant popular support, but unlikely to gather enough political momentum to be implementable to the extent necessary;

The Radical position is not seriously considered, however idealistically it may be discussed at the fringes of present realities, and espousing it may in fact weaken even serious Liberal and Progressive attempts at change.

A different response is needed. Blog # 81e – Other Forms of Radical Responses: Towards a Transformative Approach to Unjust Inequality, will suggest a possible step toward such a different response.

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This blog is one of a set of five dealing with Unjust Inequality:

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality

Blog #81b: Inequality: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal-Clinton?

Blog #81c – From Clinton Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

 

 

 

Blog #81c – From Clinton Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses


 Blog #81c – From Clinton  Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses

Hillary Clinton’s over-all approach could be seen as a major example of the liberal approach  to inequality, (see Blog #81b), and  Bernie Sanders’ could then be seen  is well on what might be called  the progressive side of liberal, although  stopping short of something more radical (see Blog #81d, forthcoming.). The Liberal and the Progressive share most of the same values, but differ in their political approaches, which I believe leads also to differences in the analysis used to undergird them. The Clinton Liberal approach aims at forming a broad coalition that would move towards consensus by minimizing areas of disagreement and conflict, seeking a practical majoritarian compromise on the liberal side of key disputes. The Sanders progressive approach is more confrontational, seeking a more populist base, and accepts the necessity to confront sharp clashes of interest in achieving its objectives.

Strategically, the Clinton liberal position hopes to avoid direct and painful confrontation with the prevailing structures of power, and hopes to redress unjust inequalities in the system through progressively oriented accommodation with those in power; on the radical side of progressive, the Sanders position is willing to attack the holders of power directly in moving towards the goal of reducing inequality. The liberal view focuses on lifting the lower 99%; seeing redistribution from the top 1% as a simply a means to that end; the progressive view also addresses the disparity between the 1% and the 99%, but sees it as per se unjust and needing redress at both ends. Higher taxes on the rich are seen as a means to help the poor, in the liberal view; in the progressive view, they are also seen as a way of remedying a fundamental unjust inequality. Whether the difference in political strategy leads to a difference in in analysis, or vice versa, in not an easily resolvable or particularly useful debate.

The Progressive response thus accepts the liberal proposals but goes further. It sees gross economic inequality, measured in terms of wealth and income, as being per se unjust. It agrees that poverty should be addressed, but sees poverty as requiring redistribution from the rich to the poor. Higher taxes on the rich are needed not only to keep the middle class safely in the middle and the poor above harmful poverty, but they are also needed  because the extreme wealth of the rich is itself unjust, unjustly acquired by inheritance or exploitation or oppression or pure luck, and it is socially just to reduce it. The quantitatively measured  inequality that we see today is wrong not only because it means the poverty of the poor at the bottom but also because it is linked to the immoral power of the rich, with the top 1% now controlling more wealth than all the bottom households (the bottom 50% or more; the figures vary) taken together. The wealth of the 1% needs to be used to achieve a just and sustainable equality.

Revolution is called for by some progressives, including Sanders, but on the political side as reforms to the electoral processes, and in the end the called-for measures on the two sides differ more in language and in extent than in basic values. A higher minimum wage is supported by both, although both implicitly agree that it can not be so high as to interfere with a reasonable profitability for businesses or entrepreneurship. Abolition of the wage relationship is not suggested by either, nor a recasting of the governmental role in the economy. Public regulation is seen on the liberal side as basically an undesirable necessity to be limited as far as possible; on the progressive side, it is accepted as inevitably needed and an extension of democracy. Redistribution is centrally involved in both; higher taxes are the conventional means to that end. Exploitation is inevitable, but can be moderated. Non-economic unjust inequality is wrong, but a large part of that inequality will disappear if economic inequality is addressed. Everyone in society will not agree to that solution; the rich will object to supporting the poor at their expense. Liberals believe it can and should be reasonably compromised; progressives see consensus as thus not likely, unanimity not achievable; conflict as inevitable

To generalize, the liberal response seeks to address quantitatively measured inequality at the distribution end, after it has been created in the economy, and sees such change as feasible through the existing political processes. The progressive response to quantitatively measured inequality is to address its unjust production in the economy, but within the basic structures of the existing economy, and sees political revolution as the necessary path to undermine that unjustly created inequality.

A radical response would go even further, and seek fundamental changes in existing economic structures. Since such changes do not seem to be imminent in most of the world today, a transformative approach might be a realistic way forward today (See #blog81 d and e , forthcoming).

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This blog is one of a set of five dealing with Unjust Inequality:

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality

Blog #81b: Inequality: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal-Clinton?

Blog #81c – From Clinton Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality


WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? NOT JUST INEQUALITY

Inequality today is usually equated with the extent of the gap between the 1% and the 99% that that the Occupy movement brought to public attention, or that Bernie Sanders highlights in properly criticizing the distribution of wealth and income in the United States. But this is a mischievously facile definition of inequality. Some inequalities are in fact fair, and result from differences in talent, physical strength, luck, and commendable effort. Gross disparities are a vivid indicator of a problem, but do not draw attention to its causes, which lie in critical social, economic, and political relationships,. To focus on the gap itself and to address it with remedial measures aimed at narrowing its extent detracts attention from those causes.[i]

 Just and Unjust  Inequality: Why the Difference Matters

Equality and inequality are deceptively simple concepts. In the modern era they came into prominence with the French revolutionary slogan of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,[ii] where equality meant political and legal equality, equality of “rights,” equality in relation to the state, as it did in the United States  Declaration of Independence’s “All men are created equal” as to “certain inalienable rights.” [iii] Rights to the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of Man Equality did not mean equality in incomes or wealth or in the distribution of goods and services, which were seen as dependent on equality of legal and political rights, Equality in material distribution of material goods was seen as a concomitant of social justice, not its center.

Comparing equality as a goal to justice as a goal[iv]  brings the realization that not all inequality is unjust. Not all differences are unjust. There is natural inequality, of physical and mental capacities: not all humans are of the same height or weight or prowess, not all are the equals of Einstein or Jacki Robinson or Martin Luther King. We consider some inequality in the distribution of wealth and power fair: it may derive from natural inequalities, it may be earned by hard work, or by social contribution, what Piketty calls the common utility, or be justified by different needs. In some cases unjust inequalities may be built on natural or earned “not-unjust ” inequalities, but their extreme extent then built on power, part of their wealth earned, another part not: Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? Thomas Edison? Jeff Bezoz?  There is a balancing involved. Granted a Hollywood star or tennis champion or skilled artisan deserves to earn more than the average, how much more is just? A tricky question, but the answer can be one produced through democratic processes, and would, for instance, lead to decisions as to how progressive the tax structure should be. Similarly, a person who is ill, or suffering from a disability, or is limited by conditions end his or her control, might be entitled to more governmental support than the average, and again at what levels is an appropriate subject for democratic decision-making, leading to decisions as to the levels of welfare benefits reimbursement for health care expenses, and so forth.[v]

There is thus “just inequality” and “unjust inequality.” How does one generalize the difference?

What Is The Key Difference?

Inequality is unjust,[vi] I propose, if it derives from the exercise of power used for the exploitation or oppression of one person or group by another. The resulting distribution of goods and  services, of wealth and income , the gap between the 1% and 99% is unjust, not because of its size, but because of its origins. What is “just” is then a matter that is socially defined – Rawls’ definition of justice or fairness could be useful, what would be decided by people acting behind a “veil of ignorance” as to their own position.

The results of not-unjust inequalities in the distribution of goods and services can then e countered by appropriate public policies of redistribution of those goods and services, e.g. by taxes or public provision.

But the results of unjust inequalities need to be addressed at their source in the social, political, and economic relations among individuals and groups which skew the distribution of goods and services, and result from the skewed distribution of power.  Acting on the results of just-inequalities can be guided by democratic procedures, debates on over values, the use of reason. Acting on the results of unjust-inequalities necessarily involves dealing with the distribution of power, and durable consensus of those benefiting from unjust inequality with those suffering from it should not be expected, and should not be an aim of public policy.

Justice is a moral formulation for the prevention of unjust inequalities. Politically, dealing with all forms of inequality, just and unjust alike, through redistribution of their results is can be done by consensus reforms, and should be facilitated by democracy. But dealing with the bases for unjust inequalities likely requires more radical politics. This may be the difference between Hilary Clinton’s and Bernie Saunders’ in the political campaigns of the moment.[vii]

The issues around inequality are complex for practice, as well as theoretically challenging; the answers make a significant difference in matters of immediate policy as well as in philosophy and world outlook.

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[i] For striking examples, see my Blog #48 Writing about Inequality, at pmarcuse.wordpress.com.

[ii] The 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of the Right of Man begins with: “art. 1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” [http://www.hrcr.org/docs/frenchdec.html] considers egalite in terms of legal equality and merit-based entry to government (art. 6): [The law] “must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all high offices, public positions and employments, according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and talents.”

[iii] “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

[iv] As Susan Fainstein does in The Just City, for example, in a wide-ranging discussion. Fainstein, Susan. 2010. The Just City. Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, P.   36ff.

[v] Rawls definition of justice or fairness as what would be decided by people acting behind a veil of ignorance as to their own position is I believe consistent with this approach.

[vi] Piketty uses a definition, benefitting most those most in need, akin to Rawls’ definition of justice, But he writes that fuller discussion of the meaning of justice is beyond the scope of his tome, and it is well beyond  the scope of this essay.

[vii] This blog is one of a set of five dealing with Unjust Inequality:

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality

Blog #81b: Inequality: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal-Clinton?

Blog #81c – From Clinton Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.