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What Would a Progressive President Have to Do to Exercise Actual Power?

By Thomas Neuburger

As we wait in the interregnum between Biden’s next possible sabotage of the Left (the actual left, not the soi-disant left) and Trump’s or DeSantis’s possible ascendancy, I want to call your attention to something written by Ian Welsh.

First, on Biden’s “possible sabotage”:

  • Will he cave to the Jim Jordan Right and cut Social Security or Medicare, despite his claims to the contrary ­— and the media’s support of those claims? According to Braco Marcetic, writing at In These Times in 2019, “Biden [took a] leading role in the Obama administration’s 2011 efforts to slash the deficit by offering Republicans spending cuts to Medicare and Social Security.” Has he changed his stripes? Or just his tune? The novelist in me is eager to find out.

  • Will he declare his once-ballyhooed climate emergency, or let that dangled promise float away like last year’s dying leaves? On July 20 he said with a straight face, “This is an emergency. And I will look at it that way. I’ll use my executive powers to combat climate — the climate crisis in the absence of congressional actions.” Think he’ll make good on that?

If you’re on the Not Right side of the fence, you’d like to think the people who want us to think of them as “ours” would at last come through. But as Sheldon Whitehouse confessed recently, when it came to the right-wing packing of the Court, “We were sleeping sentries.” Nice admission. But a little late.

As to the “possible ascendancy” of the Right:

  • Consider that Trump nearly won the last election. According to NPR, “just 44,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin separated Biden and Trump from a tie in the Electoral College.”

  • And as Howie Klein has noted, the Democratic 2022 loss of the House was self-inflicted, fueled by their own determination to run “Republican-lite corporate shills,” people as unlike the more popular progressives, like AOC, as possible. Do you think it’s possible that their next refusal to seize the populist (rebellious) moment will tip the teetering scales in their favor a second time?

Into these bookended sabotages of America’s citizens, freedoms, and futures, comes this advice from Ian Welsh.

Breaking the Rules When Sabotaging the Left

In a piece called “Why the Left Keeps Losing and What They Must Do to Win,” Welsh writes this about what happens when anti-Left governments take power (emphasis mine):

Once [these anti-socialist, anti-populist] governments were in power, they used the force of the state to destroy their left-wing enemies.
They did things they would never do against right-wing or centrist opponents. That’s because, to them, the left cannot ever be allowed to take or hold power, period. If a left-wing government gets in power, it is prima facie illegitimate.
This is a profound and genuine belief.
And it has an effect even before the left gets into power. The best recent example is that UK Labor party staffers were working actively to lose the 2017 and 2020 elections. We have emails, we have proof. They went so far as to micro-target Corbyn with Facebook ads tailored just to him, so he wouldn’t see the real ads that they were running–ads meant to make Labor lose.
In part, this is a case of the iron law of institutions: It’s better to run a weaker institution than to lose control of one.
But it is also an ideological matter: The left is considered illegitimate. Therefore, you do not have to play by they rules when fighting it.
The left, bless their hearts, tend to think that there are rules, and that they can play by them, win, and be allowed to rule. But all along the process, the left’s opponents do not and will never play by the rules when facing the left.

This is not just about right-wing governments in right-wing countries, like Bolsonario’s Brazil. Note the UK example above. Welsh: “Corbyn was deliberately sabotaged by his own bureaucracy, because he thought there were rules.”

This is about any anti-socialist, rule-by-the-rich led government in any of our first-world Western nations as well: “The US overthrew multiple elected governments overseas if they considered them left-wing. At home, coincidentally, JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm X were all assassinated within a period of less than ten years, and we are expected to believe that the US security apparatus had nothing to do with that.”

(The Malcolm X assassination story has been told, not that anyone noticed.)

The solution to all this sabotage is brutal, but given the revolutionary nature of the opposition — “The left is illegitimate, so we don’t have to fight by the rules” — brutal is the only way for the actual left to keep power.

Brutal is also what the actual left encounters every time it runs against the Establishment.

The Other Iron Law

Time to get brutal back? If so, here’s how:

If you get into a place like where Corbyn was, you have to get rid of all the internal enemies. Not people who just disagree. This means all staffers who are not ideologically-aligned. As for MPs, test them; the moment they do something traitorous (as Labour’s MPs did over and over again), remove them from the party. For all MPs, re-select. Note that Boris Johnson immediately removed all MPs who challenged him on Brexit (his main issue) when they crossed him. He then won the election handily.
You do this because neoliberals and conservatives cannot be trusted because they do not believe that left-wing government is, or can be, legitimate. They already view it as war and they will cheat, lie, and put you in jail if they can. Failing that, they will engage in coups and assassination if they can.
You can’t play a game by the rules if the other side is determined to cheat and thinks you shouldn’t even be on the field.

It’s pretty simple, isn’t it, this logic? If you leave your enemies in place after you take power, they’ll work against you constantly whether won legitimately or not. Chuck Schumer would have sabotaged every Sanders initiative if Sanders had won in 2016 or 2020 and Sanders had tried to “work with him.”

Why work with him? Why not work to move him out instead, retirement, say, forced if necessary, to a place where he can do no further harm?

My Bottom Line

All this is to say, if the progressive left in the country, the actual Left, really wants to govern America, they'll have to be willing to use the spoils of victory to cement their hold on power.

A simple example: The first contrary peep out of self-styled President Manchin, real-President Sanders attacks him in his state, incumbency or not. How many primaries has the Party used to sabotage progressives?

Until progressives on the actual left control the Party they support, the Party will fight their every initiative. Till it’s too late, and fighting no longer makes sense.

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