There is a global struggle taking place of enormous consequence. Nothing less than the future of the planet – economically, socially and environmentally – is at stake.
At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, when the world’s top 1% now owns more wealth than the bottom 99%, we are seeing the rise of a new authoritarian axis.
While these regimes may differ in some respects, they share key attributes: hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, and a belief that government should benefit their own selfish financial interests. These leaders are also deeply connected to a network of multi-billionaire oligarchs who see the world as their economic plaything.
It should be clear by now that Donald Trump and the rightwing movement that supports him is not a phenomenon unique to the United States. All around the world, in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East, in Asia and elsewhere we are seeing movements led by demagogues who exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances to achieve and hold on to power.
This trend certainly did not begin with Trump, but there’s no question that authoritarian leaders around the world have drawn inspiration from the fact that the leader of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy seems to delight in shattering democratic norms.
We must understand that these authoritarians are part of a common front. They are in close contact with each other, share tactics and, as in the case of European and American rightwing movements, even share some of the same funders. The Mercer family, for example, supporters of the infamous Cambridge Analytica, have been key backers of Trump and of Breitbart News, which operates in Europe, the United States and Israel to advance the same anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda. Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson gives generously to rightwing causes in both the United States and Israel, promoting a shared agenda of intolerance and illiberalism in both countries.
In order to effectively combat the rise of the international authoritarian axis, we need an international progressive movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.
The full text of the new Seattle city council member’s inauguration speech.
New Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant, left, stands with Nicole Grant, who assisted in a ceremonial swearing-in. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Editor’s note: At a ceremonial swearing-in on Monday, Kshama Sawant became Seattle’s first socialist city council member in almost a century. The full text of her inauguration speech is below.
My brothers and sisters,
Thank you for your presence here today.
This city has made glittering fortunes for the super wealthy and for the major corporations that dominate Seattle’s landscape. At the same time, the lives of working people, the unemployed and the poor grow more difficult by the day. The cost of housing skyrockets, and education and healthcare become inaccessible.
This is not unique to Seattle. Shamefully, in this, the richest country in human history, fifty million of our people—one in six—live in poverty. Around the world, billions do not have access to clean water and basic sanitation and children die every day from malnutrition.
This is the reality of international capitalism. This is the product of the gigantic casino of speculation created by the highway robbers on Wall Street. In this system the market is God, and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit. Capitalism has failed the 99%.
Despite recent talk of economic growth, it has only been a recovery for the richest 1%, while the rest of us are falling ever farther behind.
I think that it would surprise most modern progressives to know that Oklahoma was once the epicenter of American socialism and the Progressive movement. Though it is one of the most conservative Republican states in the Union today, Oklahoma was once politically dominated by an agrarian Christian Socialist movement. In the early 1900s, Oklahoma socialists were among the first in the nation advocating equal rights for women and African Americans. Indeed, one of the first acts of the Oklahoma legislature was the creation of a public university for the education of women. And this was at a time when American women had not yet achieved the right to vote.
For Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration celebration, Pete Seeger, his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and a chorus of young Americans sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” At Seeger’s insistence, they sang all of the original verses, not just the chorus’s familiar evocations of natural splendors. They sang, “Nobody living can ever stop me / As I go walking that freedom highway.” They sang about gazing at their fellow citizens lining up “in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office.” And they sang about a sign reading “private property,” whose blank reverse side “was made for you and me.” Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, with the eyes of the nation upon them, they reclaimed America for its poorest citizens.
Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in 1940, when he was sick of hearing Kate Smith belt “God Bless America” over the airwaves on a daily basis. Nowadays “This Land is Your Land” is an alternative national anthem, and its author, a communist Oklahoma balladeer, has been enshrined as a patron saint of American music. Guthrie never attained anything like superstar status during his lifetime, but as Springsteen put it in his keynote address at last year’s South by Southwest festival, “Sometimes things that come from the outside, they make their way in, to become a part of the beating heart of the nation.”
Over the last decade or so, Woody Guthrie’s place in that heart has seemed increasingly secure. In addition to his own recordings, you can now hear at least nine new albums of his material—much of it previously unknown and set to music by a new generation of artists such as Wilco, Billy Bragg, and the Klezmatics. By all accounts Guthrie’s archives hold troves of other unpublished materials. He was a remarkably prolific writer. He’d hammer away at his typewriter, often composing lyrics before bothering to think about melodies. He wrote voluminous letters, essays, scripts for his various radio appearances, and weekly columns for a communist newspaper. He wrote the first 25 pages of his masterful, fictionalized 1943 autobiography Bound for Glory in a single day. The night after he met his first child, he wrote her a 70-page poem.
Last year was the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, and amidst the flurry of tributes came the announcement that a new Guthrie novel had been discovered: House of Earth. Guthrie had begun writing it in 1946 and was thought to have given up after a single chapter. But three more chapters recently showed up in the papers of the filmmaker Irving Lerner, and earlier this year, the whole thing was trotted out by Infinitum Nihil, a new publishing imprint that HarperCollins has put under the charge of the actor Johnny Depp.
The journalists’ visit to the Paris-based headquarters of French automaker Renault kicked off in a very French way: with an almost two-hour lunch. It was naturally not a simple affair in the company cafeteria. The meal at the nearby Cap Sequin restaurant boasted three artery-clogging courses, a bottle of white wine and a wonderful view of the Seine River followed by coffee and chocolates. At about half past two, it was finally time to get back to work, though it was somehow difficult to do so.
For decades, France’s economy has violated established laws of economics and not just because of the cholesterol-packed lunches. There’s also the fact that France is the world leader in terms of vacation days, has a nationwide 35-hour work week and allows its citizens to retire at 65, two years earlier than in Germany. On top of that, France has strict regulations regarding employee termination and a swollen public sector. Nearly 57 percent of France’s economic performance flows through state hands. That figure is about 10 percent higher than in Germany and a record level among industrialized nations.
Now France has elected François Hollande, a Socialist president whose most important pledge was “More of the same!” He has called for public-sector jobs financed with a 75 percent tax on top earners, and more time to enjoy retirement. Indeed, while Germany just boosted its retirement age to 67, its western neighbors might soon be able to leave the working world at 60 with a full pension.
Given these facts, it should come as no surprise that France is struggling with a few economic problems: major budget shortfalls, persistently low economic growth and a high youth-unemployment rate. Even more astounding, however, is just how good the French are doing despite their idiosyncratic economic model. Admittedly, per capita economic performance is 8 percent lower in France than Germany, after adjusting for differences in purchasing power. But considering that the French have been the world champions of savoir vivre for decades, while the Germans have been self-denying work horses, that 8 percent difference doesn’t really seem so big.
In other words, a country that according to established economic laws should be playing in the same league as Greece has defied the odds to keep pace with Germany. How did this happen?