The Bradlow Report — 13 January 2019
13 January 2019
Volume 1, Issue 1
I’ll try to keep this for some goldilocks jottings. Not too frequent, not too infrequent. Always happy to hear from folks, so please don't be shy in letting me know what you think!
To start, a brief review of where I think we’ve been in 2018 and where I think we’re going in 2019.
First, Brazil. The election of the right-wing authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 was stoked by an increasingly politicized judiciary and a discredited political establishment. In particular, the Worker’s Party (PT) — Brazil’s only mass political party since the late 1990s — could not move beyond a defensive posture and propose a positive program that would speak to a population tired of growing insecurity and historic economic recession. For those who were inspired by the remarkable construction of a middle-income social democracy under the PT in the 2000s and early 2010s, this has been particularly sad to witness. Democratic backsliding and paramilitary violence against activists for land, housing, and the rights of women, black, indigenous and LGBTQI people is likely. After expressing some misgivings about his hateful rhetoric prior to his election, the global financial elite appears to be setting these worries aside and salivating at the possibility of increased opportunities for international purchase of Brazilian assets.
In April, the Financial Times published my letter on the trial of Lula and the politicization of the judiciary.
“Evidence against Lula was inadequate”
In November, the Boston Review published my essay on the links between the global financial crisis of 2008 and the rise of right-wing authoritarianism in Brazil.
And in December, The Conversation published my essay on the appeal of Bolsonaro to a decisive segment of urban working class voters and what this means for his political coalition.
“Bolsonaro’s anger won over working class Brazilians, but his presidency may betray them”
In South Africa, this is an election year. If not for the utter disarray and lack of credibility of the two main opposition parties — the DA and the EFF — it might seem plausible that the ANC could lose power. However, the opposition parties are wallowing in the muck of their own scandals, incoherent policy positions, and lack of a popular and organized base. The only thing that might stop the ANC is an internal crack-up. So far, Cyril Ramaphosa seems to be finding way to haltingly clean up state institutions, while keeping competing factions of the party in line. While this makes his victory likely, he has yet to propose a credible programmatic plan for development. South Africa looks set to stay in a low-level equilibrium that has preserved narrow privileges for whites and a small black elite. Fear-mongering by the local and international press on land reform has been disconnected from reality. All signs points towards a process for long-overdue land reform that will take place on a constitutional and orderly basis. A more relevant concern is how little discussion there has been about the role of urban land policy in the land reform debate. In a country where most people now live in cities, and where access to adequate housing and basic services in cities continues to highly rationed, these issues are profoundly urgent.
After Jacob Zuma was recalled as state president in February, the Washington Post’s blog for research in political science, The Monkey Cage, published my essay on what would come next for the ANC.
“South Africa’s ruling party recalled President Zuma. But the ANC faces 3 big challenges.”
In the US, we saw the emergence of a new generation of progressive leaders in the Democratic Party like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as the continued growth of the largest socialist organization in the US in decades, the Democratic Socialists of America. The Democratic Party’s brand still lacks broad credibility after encouraging bi-partisan neoliberal reforms over the past 40 years. But it seems that a progressive wing may finally be emerging that is proving to have significant public support.
The battle over the party’s candidate for president in 2020 will be ground zero for this long-running internal conflict. It’s a sign of the growing clout of the progressive wing of the party that two members of the consensus top tier of likely candidates come from this wing: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Policies like Medicare For All, Higher Education For All, and a Green New Deal are being articulated with an ambition and credibility that we haven’t seen in the mainstream of the Democratic Party in my lifetime. If Sanders or Warren is able to emerge as the party’s candidate, a convincing and popular challenge to Donald Trump as a representative of a plutocratic elite is plausible. Other candidates from the mainstream of the party will face a much tougher time making that case, given the long-standing alignment between most Democrats and their corporate backers and policy-makers from the finance, pharmaceutical, fossil fuel, and for-profit education industries.
That being said, a downturn in the US economy in 2019 or early 2020, or a bombshell in the Mueller investigation, could make it plausible for almost any Democratic candidate to win. This, of course, would not guarantee that the Democratic Party renews its credibility in American society. And the broad appeal of authoritarian ethno-nationalism may very well outlast Trump himself. To combat this will require reforms that attack the root of nearly 50 continuous and mostly bi-partisan years of a structural attack on workers, government giveaways to a growing financial sector, and growing inequalities of both wealth and income. The share of the population that is now renting instead of owning — especially in our generation — is reaching levels last seen in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This may make housing a policy area that gets a level of attention that has not been apparent since that time.
In August, I discussed the role of the rising class of renters during the election campaign of my new congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley, in an interview on Radio Open Source.
“The Democratic Divide: Pressley, Capuano and the future of progressive politics in MA-7”
Across the globe, we see increased lip-service to the political dangers of growing inequality within both rich and poor nations. Yet we see little evidence that multinational institutions and global financial actors are willing to make any meaningful concessions to alleviate these dangers. The ethnonationalist and authoritarian right continues to grow as the primary reaction to this harsh reality. While there are some promising signs on the left, the association of center-left parties across the West with the neoliberal reforms of the past half century has made it difficult for a credible left alternative to emerge to face the contemporary crisis. ///