Jobless Economy and Citizenless Democracy (3/3)
The third and final part of our interviews with Robert McChesney and John Nichols on their new book “People Get Ready”
SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome back to the Real News Network.
I’m speaking to Robert McChesney and John Nichols about their new book and I’ll hold it u for you. People Get Ready. So, let’s get ready. Fortunately we are in a election year. Hopefully we can influence that process. And your book goes a long way in terms of informing the public in terms of what’s at stack in terms of years to come, in terms of joblessness and what we may be facing as a nation. But most importantly, I think we have the opportunity to change that destiny through this election. So, I want to talk about that. I want to talk about ways in which people can get engaged. The ways in which people can start that process that you talk about in terms of a participatory economy and what that looks like and what our next systems might look like and how we can influence that in this election process.
So, let me start with you John.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well we close the book on a very optimistic note. We think that’s important. There’s very little value in telling people that we’re heading towards all these changes and it’s going to get harder and hard to find jobs. It’s going to be all this downward pressure. So of course we studied history and it told us we’ve been in moments like this before. Industrial revolution’s huge. Changes from agrarian to industrial society, huge changes from moving from the south to the north. We’ve done a lot that’s changed our lives. So, we remind people that history to say that we are species that knows how to get through these things.
But then we start to look at the people that are actually doing it right now. And I’ll delink us a little form the election and say before this election, we saw the rise of movements that are demanding changes and saying we cannot accept the circumstance we’re in. Black lives matter, $15 in a union, climate change movement, immigrant rights movements. We’ve got a lot going on right now. It’s a very vibrant moment. What we would suggest to people is, find your passion and go with that passion.
If it happens to be political reform, that’s very healthy too. If you want a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics, we love you for that. Go for that. If you want to address gerrymandering that makes so many of our elections uncompetitive, yes go for that. If you want to just go to the mat on fighting to renew voting rights in this country and get rid of the barriers to voting, that’s all a part of this. We should not delink this passion. But we should recognize that with so much coming at us, there will be necessity to hoop ourselves together, to come together in movements that sustain and support one another. We need to have a solidarity politics that gets us through this and gets us out of what’s coming at us.
If we’re not looking out for our buddy, we’re making a mistake. Because just as we need to look out for our friends, we need our friends to look out for us. That’s the moment we’re going to come in. And one of the reasons that that’s so important, especially in this election year, we’re seeing it already. Incredibly divisive. Crude, violent, politics that – I say violence of language, largely. But sometimes we’ve seen physical manifestations of it at some of these Trump rallies.
As we see this happening, what we have to recognize is that moments like this are often exploited. The most horrible exploitation is to divide us from people that we are inclined to agree with. Let me give you one very important example for the moment. As you move toward a economy which there are fewer jobs and there’s downward pressure on wages, we will see some folks say, well we just got to go slower on addressing climate change. They’ll say, you know that climate change is important but yea we got all these problems and if we just ease off on some of these regulations, if we just ease off on some of this wealth, that will create more jobs.
We need to translate that and say this person is saying the answer to problems that are much bigger that are going to go on for a much longer time is to burn the planet. Literally burn the planet. That’s absurd. That’s a mad fix for this thing. That’s not the way to fix it. The way to fix it is to say these technologies are supposed to free us from having to do a lot of the things that burn the planet and the problem is not that we’re moving toward hopefully sound environmental responses. The problem is that we just don’t have as much work. And far from trying to come up with crazy ideas to create work for a moment, why don’t we start to think differently about work? That as in Germany and other places around the world. We should be doing less. Working 6 hour days is very common in German industry with the underpainting of a very sound social awareness state. Your healthcare is very accessible, you can go as far as you want and need. Transportation is very available. There’s real response to housing needs. And you say well that’s just promising people the moon. No. That’s promising people Denmark. That’s promising people things that exist in other parts of the world right now.
We’re not even saying that’s where we get eventually. What we’re saying in this moment, what we have to do is dramatically expand our demands. We have asked so little in this economic system of which we live. Now is the time with these changes that are coming on, we have to ask for an economic democracy. We have to ask that we be at the table, that we be a part of the decision making and that the benefits of technological progress, the benefits of all these changes that are coming, that they come back to us. All of us. I don’t begrudge a creative person, the ability to take their creativity where it goes and I hope that they are well compensated in a reasonable way.
But at the end of the day if we’re going to change everything about people’s lives, then we have to change everything about people’s lives. That means if there’s fewer jobs, less hours to work, if there’s downward pressure on wages, we must fill the void around that. That’s what our politics has to be about. We’re seeing a little bit of it. Just a little bit of that in 2016. But what Bob and I fear, well I should say I fear – what we don’t know, is this the last election of the 20th century? Or the first election of the 21st? Because there’s no politics going to be like it was.
So what we are hoping desperately, is that the politics of 2016 really evolves towards dramatically bigger demands for economic and social and racial and cultural justice. A real justice and an environmental justice. And we link these things together. There’s no reason, none for us to be divided. Only politicians, only elites, will seek to divide us. We can’t let that get in the way of our solidarity politics.
PERIES: And Bob, a participatory and engaged economy of the kind that John was just talking about – how does that happen? How do we actually make that happen?
ROBERT MCCHESNEY: Well there’s only so much people can do on their community by pitching in and helping each other. Ultimately, it’s a political outcome. It requires political support, capital, laws, rules to make it possible for a local community based economic institutions whether it be it cooperative or small business, to prosper and work with each other. And so we have to understand it’s a political problem. And I think here, one of the interesting terms that’s come up in the 2016 election that applies is this idea of democratic socialism. When Sanders first introduced it, it was considered, why did he have to use that [conquer] term. You know he tossed it out in the 70’s and he never got rid of it. But you know in our book what’s interesting is we did a lot of research on how Americans dealt with fascism in the 30’s and 40’s and how they responded, what do you need to do to make sure fascism does not return?
Probably the person studied it the most, the leader who studied it the most was Franklin Roosevelt. In his 1944 State of the Union address, when he was looking at the end of the Second World War, the global war against fascism, he gave a state of the union address that was quite striking. He said, what are we going to do now that fascism never reappears in the world and that it doesn’t come to the United States. Because he thought it was just as much a threat to the United States as it was returning to Germany and Japan. His argument was that the rise of fascism is due completely to the collapse of democratic institutions and the credibility of democracy. Therefore, the economy became completely corrupt in the hands of monopolists working with the state and repressing liberties in producing the outcomes that we live with, militarism the famous one.
And what he argued what we need to do to make sure fascism doesn’t return is strengthen democracy and make a real democracy, that means we can’t have, we have to make certain guarantees to all people in society, should be in the constitution. The second bill of rights he called it. These included the right to a job, a living wage, the right to healthcare, the right to education, the right to housing. You know a series of fundamental rights, that you don’t have to pay for. These are the things you get. You have access to by being a human being living in a society. He said if we provide all of these, then we won’t have to fear. One of the things he also said is important. He said we have to have the right not to have business monopolies that dominate the economy or governance. That’s the sure thing that leads to fascism.
So this was his argument. FDR. He said we have to put this in our constitution. That’s how important this is. And FDR died before it could be put in the constitution. And it never really went anywhere except oversees. The German and Japanese constitutions were written on it. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Elanor Roosevelt promoted, basically took directly from FDR’s second bill of rights. That’s what we ratified in that treaty. But what’s really interesting for our purposes is that in the 1960’s when A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King developed the Freedom budget was taken directly from that vision that FDR had what a really healthy vibrant democracy is. Come fast forward to November 2015 in Georgetown University, Bernie Sanders presents his speech defining what he sees as democratic socialism. And he goes back to 1944 Franklin Roosevelt.
I think that’s an awfully good starting point. If we have guaranteed universal healthcare, housing, guaranteed education, all the way through. A job at a living wage. We start there and then we solve that problem. Well there’s not enough jobs in the private sector. Well what do we do to guarantee jobs in Baltimore? In Chicago? In Milwaukee? In Appalachia? That’s a public policy issue that has to be solved by the constitution.
I think there’s a genius to democratic socialism that maybe even Bernie Sanders didn’t quite understand. When you look at it in the context of what FDR proposed.
PERIES: It reminds me of the South African Freedom Charter which guarantees all these values and these universal values and imbeds them in certain policies that people could then learn, articulate, rearticulate in their communities and fight for it. Things haven’t worked out that way in South Africa.
NICHOLS: It never works out anywhere, right? I mean perfectly. But you’re so right. You just nailed it. That’s exactly it. That this isn’t just America. This is a global reality which we understand, together. We understand this and Bob quickly referenced in that and then you bring us to the freedom budget. The freedom budget that Randolph and King proposed – we look back at that to bring so many people together. People have been divided because what did King and A Philip Randolph, how did they come out of the March on Washington in 1963? The March on Washington for jobs and Freedom. How did they come out of that? They came out of that by being invited to the White House. President Lyndon Johnson saying, give us some ideas here.
They developed a freedom budget and they called it a freedom budget because their concept was that to free humanity, right – to really get us beyond all of the challenges that we’ve faced, the horrors that we’ve faced with human bondage followed by segregation, Jim Crow, the struggle for basic liberty, basic rights and not just for people of color but for women, our LGBT community. When we cross some of those first lines for political freedom in the law, we must then also couple it with economic freedom. So that you literally have the liberty to act fully as a citizen and to not be always burdened by that struggle just to survive.
What we are saying is that the changes coming now, the changes coming now force us to that place, more powerfully than anything that’s happened yet. This is a time to seize those tools, to seize those chargers and those budget, and those plans of the past. The dreams that we had, right? The dreams that we had were good dreams. But now they don’t have to be dreams anymore. Now they become necessities. This is how we make a civil and human society.
We’re on the cusp of something very good. If we bring ourselves to the table. On the other hand, if we don’t, it’s as dark of a future that you can imagine. So, it’s no longer middle ground. This is stark. But that starkness actually allows us to reach back to A. Phillip Randolph and to our friends and comrades around the world and say that next world is possible. It’s also necessary.
PERIES: Speaking of the media, CNN, MSNBC, and FOX didn’t even carry senator Sander’s concession speech on Tuesday night and so we know that it’s stacked against the movement and against the youth that are following him and against many democratic inclusion that the media is supposed to honor and reflect in our society, and both of you are media gurus. And we have many on our staff here at the Real News, not to mention, people out there who’s been following your theories and analysis of the media for so long. Describe the media moment we are in and what they can do to counter it.
NICHOLS: It’s a horrible media moment we’re in. It’s a nightmare. It’s really, really bad. And I think this is a good place to get the answer to your great question by recognizing that this week, in recent days we lost a real guru, a real guide through this Ben Bagdikian. The great thinker about media monopoly. Ben lived to be 96 years old. An Armenian American immigrant who became the greatest journalist of his time. The Pulitzer Prize winner Peabody winner who then stepped away from the day to day because he thought it was so absolutely vital to talk about the crisis of journalism. Monopolization of our media by a handful of larger and larger companies. Really a new monopoly, a new Gilded Age in media that he said is going to be tremendously damaging to journalism and we care about journalism because it gives people the information to be their own governors. It is an underpinning of democracy.
So Ben predicted this. And you know there’s no great pleasure. He took no great pleasure and I certainly don’t in having predicted a lot of these problems that we’re getting to. But it’s not complicated. When you monopolize media, you don’t make it better. You make it worst. Monopolization isn’t just that a handful of people are in control and that they are repeating their internal dialogue and their internal passions and really expounding on their internal needs. It’s not a conspiracy. They’re simply, they’re reflecting where they’re at.
It’s also that in this new age where advertising revenue doesn’t so easily go to media, traditional media, they become desperate for clicks and for ratings. That desperation makes them into a dumb beast. It makes this whole of a system into just a beast running around saying give me a rating, give me a click, I’m hungry. Then along comes Donald Trump. Every morning he puts food out for the beast. And the beast comes and eats and it fills itself up. Then as the day goes on, it gets hungry again. And Donald Trump gives him a little more. What we find out over time is that the beast just keeps eating, going to Trump’s house to eat.
You ask about Bernie Sander’s speech not being heard. Right? Do you know why it wasn’t played? I wish I could tell you it was a great conspiracy. It wasn’t that. It was that they were – when Bernie Sanders got up to give his speech, it was in that window where they were waiting for Donald Trump to speak. And we have entered into a zone with our major media where the anticipation of a Donald Trump speech is more important than what anyone else has to say.
So here you have a candidate in this case with Sanders in Arizona speaking to a diverse audience, speaking about fundamental issues. A guy who by the way is polling, if you look at where some of Bernie Sanders finishes in some of these races, same percentage or higher percentage of the vote than Donald Trump got. Yet we can’t listen to that. We’ve got to wait for Trump because at some moment he’s going to wonder up to the microphone and start spouting off about something. That is a way to understand the moment we are in. It is not just Trump. It’s not as simple as that. But it is this dumb beasts going around waiting for its food and it’s now been so well trained to wait for its food that even when something else that’s much more vibrant is there, it won’t turn there.
We’ve got to – as citizens we’ve got to break this pattern. Now how do we do it? We should always know that we have a responsibility and an ability to talk back to media, to say this is unacceptable. We also should know that within all media, even the most major media in this country, there are wonderful committed journalists. USA Today has had a great national investigative piece on bad water systems and led and water and thousands of communities across this country. So there’s great journalism out there. It’s not individuals. Its not even the ability of one institution to do a good job. But it is the overall system, is not working well. And there is of course saying that. Calling it out. Critiquing it. That’s important.
But there’s the second which is to support alternative media. This is a big big deal. I think sometimes it gets underestimated. No if you don’t like what you see, if you know that it is wrong and you’re actually pretty sure that those elites are not going to retrain themselves very quickly, then your first responsibility is to find alternative media that: A. Can inform you but B. that you can support.
It’s very interesting in this country that people are quite comfortable with a small campaign contribution to support a candidate aht they really like. TO support a movement that they really like. I respect that. But we need to get to a point where we make a small contribution to support media that we really need. And we’ve got to become much more sustaining of alternative media in this country. So there’s a way out. It’s not that hard. And frankly you know I’m afraid that the dumb beast is really scaring people away. I don’t think people are very happy. I’ve said this, used this metaphor in speeches all over the country. It’s usually the best applaudifying. I hate to say it. I’m not going for the applause sign. But the reality is that people get that this thing isn’t working and so I think this is potentially a golden moment for alternative media to step up and provide something better than what major media is providing.
PERIES: Bob, we’ve gone full circle. We’re in a digital revolution as we started this discussion with and we have many ways of influencing what people are thinking and what people are acting on through social media. So how can this be used to our benefit to engage to democratize and to turn around an election like this.
MCCHESNEY: Social media. Well it already has. I think it’s fair to say that the Sanders campaign would be in real trouble without social media. It’s provided sort of a lifeline and a sort of end run around corporate media where people can actually talk to each other and also has the chance to when a good story gets out there, the Intercept, the Nation, do some great journalism. Actual reporting rather than just punditry. It can get spread easily. You don’t have to go through the gatekeepers.
So, it’s been invaluable. Now at the same time we shouldn’t exaggerate it. We need to support it. We need to expand it. We need to encourage it and rely on it. But we still are in a world where that’s on the margins. And where people doing journalism is on the margins increasingly. What passes for journalism on our cable networks is pundits spinning and they’re just spoon feeding us whatever the talking points of the day are. They almost never investigate these claims. They just present them as the perceived wisdom that’s what everyone else is saying.
So, you know we’ve still got great struggles to really build out our journalism and I would say that when we talk in the book about building out a democratic society, we talk at length about what we call the infrastructure of democracy. Education systems, journalism, media systems. Those are public policy issues. We’ve got to have the resources so we have credible independent competing non-profit media. We’ve got to start here. We’ve got to start here. We’ve got some wonder institutions starting but we need many more and we need far more resources to support them.
PERIES: Alright Robert McChesney, John Nichols. We are so happy to have you here on the premises of the Real News in Baltimore. I thank you so much for coming and being a part of this wonderful discussion. I wish you the best of luck with your new book.
MCCHESNEY: Thank you very much.
NICHOLS: We are honored to be with you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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