Jobless Economy and Citizenless Democracy (2/3)
Robert McChesney and John Nichols say 2016 is the most volatile political year in modern American history and that young people becoming engaged in the electoral process is the best way to fix every problem we have
SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome back to the Real News Network, I’m talking to Robert McChesney and John Nichols about their new book, People Get Ready. John, good to have you back, Robert.
JOHN NICHOLS: Good to be back.
ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Our pleasure to be here again.
PERIES: So let’s talk about the political moment we are in and the mobilization that Bernie Sanders in particular has been able to do in this country in a way that we have not seen in a very long time. It’s about real issues. It’s about what you’re talking about in the book. Economy, joblessness, and young people getting motivated and mobilized behind those issues. One could argue it is perhaps a result of Occupy Wall Street and the kind of consciousness it generated among the youth. But let me start with you Robert. Give us a description of what these young people are facing and in terms of what is at stake in this particular election.
MCCHESNEY: I think the place to start is a great new story that has been missed I think almost entirely in the mainstream corporate NPR world; is this incredible support for Bernie Sanders among young people. John and I have talked about this and looked and to my knowledge no other candidate has drawn these kinds of numbers from people under 30 in an election in American history in a contested race. I mean if you opposed possibly but in a contested race the numbers are simply staggering over 80% of people under 30 and it extends upwards. It’s usually 55-60%, as high as 45 even 50. He’s getting younger voters especially under 30 as never before. You sort of, why could this be? What’s going on? Bernie Sanders is a very, he hasn’t traditionally been regarded as one of the great charismatic figures of our times. He has certain amount of appeal; he has an authenticity which certainly connects with people. He has certain strong values which connects with people.
But there have been other politicians that have in the past never gotten this sort of use of support. I think the issue is we’re in a fundamental structural change that is going on in this country that is making politics relevant to people in this country in a way they haven’t been. You know most young people don’t vote, they don’t care about politics. It’s not that they don’t care about politics per say. What they don’t care about establishment politics which is what America’s had for the last 40 years. Politicians say whatever BS they need to say to get elected and once they get in office they shut the door and do whatever their funders and their friends and their cronies want them to do. Then they heat up a focus group and cook up more spin for the next election. Young people I think have rightfully seen this election after election and realize it’s a lot of BS. It’s like why should I invest time in this?
So Sander’s appeal is he comes along and he’s clearly not, you don’t call yourself a democratic-socialist after doing a focus group in 1980 if you wanted a successful political career. He stands for something he believes in. But he’s also a person at this right point in history and the point in history is this. Our economy is now stagnant. Capitalism every decade it has had slower growth in terms of fast growing quarters since the 50’s. It’s really just dead in the water right now, the private economy. 2 trillion dollars un-invested, it’s not changing. Unemployment and underemployment is the great story of our economy. The number of people in the labor force is plummeting among young people, men and women, in the last 10 years. No sign this is going to change. I think what is happening is young people, when things get bad enough, young people take politics seriously because they understand they need political solutions.
Here comes along someone who’s identifying a problem and saying I’m going to solve it and who has a record of not being a traditional establishment BS artist politician. I think that accounts for his rise. It’s something in his book we structurally explain but we didn’t expect it to articulate this quickly. We said it’s going to be clear though the crisis we’re entering with unemployment and underemployment. The government is going to have to play a larger role. Everyone gets that, it’s just what sort of role is it going to play to create jobs to encourage employment. To sort of make our transition into wherever we’re going with the new technologies. It will be a movement that will undoubtedly call into question the capitalism system since the system’s failing. So it will be a democratic-socialist movement. It will be young people. So we anticipate that just not this quickly.
The other side of the coin though is that we equally anticipate that as the center collapses and establishment politics are seen as increasingly corrupt and incompetent and worthless and mendacious that they will shrink in their importance but not everyone will go to the democratic left. Elites will try to defend their privileges and you’ll see the rise of what is called fascism. When John and I initially put this in the book our editor looked at it and said, this is like last year and she goes, you can’t use a term like fascism in a book for America. That’s not going to work. That was back in the 40’s. We said no this is where the evidence is pointing. When you have this sort of environment it leads to fascists movement everywhere including United States.
Then along comes Donald Trump. Not saying Donald Trump is a fascist per say but the way his campaign is evolved, the way it’s supported is a classic example of a fascist political movement. So I think in a sense our book it tries, lays out and explains the great insecurity that young people feel that lead them to progressive and democratic solutions. And the great anxiety that other workers of working class and lower middle class people feel really powerless generally older than Bernie supporters that lead them to some sort of association with anything, a strong man just to kick some butt. What’s been happening the last 20 years has been bad for them and it looks like it’s going to get a lot worst.
PERIES: Right. So John talk about the youth, the unemployment rates they’re facing. The political moment they’re engaged in and we’re talking about various ways in which we can be involved in economic democracy in this country and I think that moment is here in particularly with Bernie. So give us a sense of what the youth are actually facing and what this political moment means for them.
NICHOLS: Well you’re right my friend, the moment is here. In fact, it probably arrived about 5 years ago in 2011 when we saw the occupy movement begin to take off. I heard people say that occupy didn’t work or that it didn’t succeed and I so disagree with that. I think it’s ridiculous concept. I think occupy has been massively successful and continues to be. It’s just that, when we, so many people look at politics in such narrow ways that they presume it will only play out in one model.
What I would suggest to you is this. Since 2011, really since 2008 with the meltdown of our global economy, with the meltdown of our domestic stock market. Rise of massive unemployment. We had something happen that is very little discussed in our media. That is that we wiped out savings for a lot of people in their 50’s and 60’s that expected to retire You know, at a reasonable age. They all ended up working longer, right. Tremendous numbers of people just to make up what had been lost because our response to an economic crisis was not to help those who were hardest hit. Our response was to redistribute wealth upwards. To give money to the banks. Everybody saw that happen. But what people didn’t notice was because all of those folks worked longer, right, didn’t retire. Had to try to make up what was lost. The entry points for younger people became narrower and narrower.
Now some young folks have been something akin to depression for a long time economically. You know we have communities, urban communities, some communities of color but low income white folks from some rural areas, who, where the opportunities have always been narrow too narrow for a civil society. After that 2008 play out then you started to see middle class kids from all sorts of backgrounds not seeing that road up. So here they are taking on massive college debt to have an opportunity and the road up isn’t there. In part because of what we just discussed and also part of the things we’re talking about in our book, we are increasingly moving towards an economy where digital changes and the expanse of automation create fewer jobs. There are fewer things for people to do.
So I think, it’s not surprising at all, that millions and millions of young people have become engaged. Not just in electoral politics but also the rise of a $15 to union movement. The rise of a movement, especially on the west coast for retail workers bill of rights to give some sort of sense of what our hours might be, at the very least and how and what way we work. The rise of a black lives matter movement that says look this is ridiculous. Black lives matter they see the absurdity of criminal justice system that works the way it does. They see the horror of policing that works the way it does. Black lives matter movement in this country has been very sophisticated. It also sees economics, it sees the mass unemployment and all sort of other issues that feed into this.
So we have these sophisticated movements that come up and I would add in the immigrant rights movement again something driven a lot by younger folks. Young workers, students, dreamers. We have all these movements that begin to develop up. We should not be surprised at all that many of them are playing it out politically. They aren’t all playing it out politically and electorally in the same way. But a lot of them, a lot of folks have ended up in supportive of a Bernie Sanders candidacy. What is it about Sanders? I would suggest it’s a very simple thing. We would love it to be so complicated and all that. I would suggest Bernie Sanders isn’t perfect. He’s made mistakes. He’s a flawed guy. He hasn’t always spoken up on every issue that you’d want him to speak on and hasn’t done it as well as he should.
However, there’s kind of a sense on balance he’ll try. He defaults to trying to get to the issues that people care about. And a sense that what drives him is some sort of passion for economic and social justice. That alone is a big deal. I think that’s important but it’s also two things that he says.
He says he’s a democratic socialist. When we have all of these challenges with the economy but also with our social lives, in our education systems, in our communities. It seems to a lot of young people capitalism as its set up hasn’t been working all that well. So alternative ideas are suddenly far more attractive than they used to be and if you want to say that you’re antiestablishment at a time where we’re looking for anti-establishment that’s a pretty good start. Now, it’s a pretty good start at describing an alternative.
Now the other thing he says is to get out of this is not easy. Politicians love to tell us that the fix is easy. This guy says it’s going to be a political revolution. The only way you get there is with great big womping changes. Well some older folks, and I understand, are a little unsettled by that. But I think an awful lot of young people are looking at their economic, social, and cultural circumstances. The things, the burdens that are being put on them, say yea little bit of political revolution sounds like a good idea. So I don’t think it’s that hard to understand why some of this has happened.
The only counsel I give is don’t see it in isolation. Don’t just get wrapped up in the guy or in the political moment. Understand there’s streams coming into this, economic patterns coming in. Also understand there is a future. An awfully lot of these young folks are doing a much better job than the rest of us perhaps at looking at that future and saying it’s unsettling, it’s at times unnerving. I’m not sure how it fits together and at the very least, I don’t want somebody to give me all the answers, I want somebody to be in the center of that. If we’re going to cede power to an individual or to a group of individuals, I’d like those folks to be caring about me. Rather than the billionaires and the CEO’s who seem to have so much power.
So I think it’s a very logical moment that we’re in. The only thing I can’t tell you is I can explain all these things; I can’t tell you exactly where we’re going. I don’t think anybody knows. We’re in the most volatile political year in modern American history and those who tell you that’s something’s finished or something’s ended or something’s possible or something’s is impossible, I would invite them to sit back and pause for a moment. We started this 2016 race presuming that it was going to be a contest between Hilary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
Every rule was then, everything was written the future was all finished. But we’re obviously not there right now. I don’t know where we’re going to end up but what I can tell you is I really think that these young people jumping into this thing are a huge part of what has opened up a process that desperately needed to be opened up. So, I think it’s pretty healthy with what’s going on. At least on that side of it. The other side I could see something that frighten me a bit but boy, our biggest crisis in America has been low voter turnout. So many people feeling so dispossessed that they don’t engage.
If we bring masses of young people into this process that is the single best way to fix every problem we’ve got. That level of engagement, that level of involvement, you give me that and I will feel dramatically calmer about our future than I do if they’re not there.
PERIES: Bob the impact this digital revolution and the unemployment you’re talking about, the impact their going to have on young people, what are the numbers?
MCCHESNEY: Well the numbers as John just said, he mentioned the unemployment rates are already low or high. Very high, historically high across the board depending on ethic group race and gender they’re just astronomical. And there’s no reason those would get lower. We’re talking about 30,40, 50% rates of unemployment among high school graduates. You see it in a number of different measures. Just the number of kids now who have to live with their parents deep into their 20’s and even their 30’s. Something that when I came out of college and was working in the 70’s that almost never happened. You didn’t have to pay debt to go to college. The tuitions were really low, almost free when I was going to college. If you had a job you had enough money to pay your rent. You could actually live somewhere, maybe even enough to save money. That was a natural expectation.
NICHOLS: And if you lost a job you there was another job. There were options.
MCCHESNEY: When I looked for my first job out of college as a funds lister, which was a horrible job. My second job out of college, I got a job in a lumber yard. It was a union job and that was back when those jobs were unionized. All the people I worked with were guys that did it for a career. It paid roughly once you were there a certain amount of time $10 an hour. It translates into roughly $75-80,000 current dollars that I got then, just walking in off the street. You didn’t even have to have a high school degree to get that job. Well I think they wanted you to have one. That job I thought was a good job and I was glad I had it but I didn’t stay that long and I found something better a few months later. But students I have today, my daughter, her friends, if you said here’s a job you can get for $75 or $80,000; I mean they would be willing to sacrifice their first born. That’s like winning the lottery. The world is so different that they face from when we faced.
Then we haven’t even talked about the issue you have to layer on top of this which is the environmental crisis. Which really exaggerates all these problems and makes them worse too. So you put that in on it. The need for the government to do something proactively to address these problems is so enormous now, I think it really says we have to get involved in politics. We have to do something or we’re going to lose our generation, our species.
PERIES: Alright gentlemen, lets continue our discussion in our next segment on the same topic. And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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