Across the pond, Theresa May has just lost three vital parliamentary votes in a couple of hours. At the time of writing, this UK government is the first administration in British history to be declared, by its sovereign elected body, to be in contempt of parliament. You couldn’t imagine a government in a weaker position. Everything’s possible, from a no deal to another referendum (and possibly an exit from Brexit), from a new Conservative leadership to a Corbyn-led Labour government.
Meanwhile, Spain’s far-right has found success in Andalucía. Replicating the trends across western capitalist democracies, the neo-liberal centre is collapsing. Motivated by Steve Bannon, Trump’s authoritarian populism has been translated across oceans and borders. There is an international nationalism, and instability is the order of the day.
The Mirror Theory
I’m sat in Washington – the capital of a country that is hardly more stable than the aforementioned. The Republican-majority Senate is finally at odds with the President on Saudi Arabia. The Congress is divided, with a Democratic-majority House of Representatives now infused with a greater number of women and minority representation. Investigations and indictments feel like a daily occurrence, as do administration resignations and musings of admiration from the White House to the Kremlin and the House of Saud.
Absurdity is rife, but hope is alive. Trump has held a mirror up to America and its politics, with its corporatism, its corruption, its complacency – he is merely a vulgar symptom of a deeper political ecosystem. In response, his opposition is uniting. On climate policy, foreign policy, and systemic reform, socialists and moderates now have a lot in common. They also have an abundance of talent, with the potential list of Democratic presidential nominees extending beyond a couple dozen. Stars are emerging that can last through the next few terms, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Beto O’Rourke. Trump could very well be the president that America needed; like a wake-up call to show exactly the path that should be avoided. But political predictions are a fool’s game. A ‘feeling’ isn’t always fact… and maybe someone should tell the President.
Aunque America Es Muy Grande
It has been over three months in D.C., and it feels like home. When I miss my sunny, rocky paradise I am reminded of the song “Llevame Done Nací”, which is essentially a letter of longing from America. But the taste is bittersweet. It is, for now, my final week in Washington. While I’m certain I’ll be back, a break from the daily chaos of D.C. will be well-received. It has been a fantastic semester, meeting Senators and Representatives, working and writing, and making friends from across the globe. Every day has been full and every week has been fulfilling.
But it has been accompanied by a backdrop of bowed heads in mourning. On the week of my arrival, Senator John McCain passed away. On the week of my departure, President George Bush Sr is lying in state. The media coverage has largely placed them as relics of a bi-partisan panacea where division was rare and nation was above party. This is, of course, a simplification. Even so, it reflects the death of the old America, for better or worse. We shall see in due course.
Aside from that, highlights have been on the regular in “Crazytown”, as former Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly is quoted in Bob Woodward’s newest book called Fear. Just this morning I’m reflecting on a well-spent night out with journalists, many of whom have it as their day job to monitor far-right conspiracy theories and personalities in Trump’s base. The Washington Center tasks interns with filling out reflection forms on their professional experiences in the city. Reminiscing on my trips to senate and congressional buildings, getting the inside perspective at the BBC studios, meeting with individuals that I see on TV on the regular – you can’t help but be (literally) close to power in Washington.
It only adds the absurdity of the wonderful capital. But power is being challenged. As the old ‘swamp’ has been replaced with the Trump swamp, young Americans everywhere are frustrated and are making it known. Even in D.C. there has been criticism of the cost of living and the revolving door of unpaid internships that keep sons and daughters of elites in the bubble of the establishment; after all, working-class students cannot afford to work without pay.
Work, Work, Work, Work, Work
It’s a hustle. That’s what makes success sweet when you eventually taste some of it. America is about having the privilege to work hard for the possibility of a reward. Many work hard for little reward. Many don’t even get the opportunity to work hard. The perception of Washington as a highly educated, wealthy web of social and political climbers is only half true. It is also, like other major cities, a place of great inequality. Poverty and homelessness is relatively rife. Gentrification is not necessarily leading to increased diversity, but is kicking out many working-class families of colour who can no longer afford to live in the area.
In some ways, Washington is a microcosm of the wider societal problems that urban America faces. Issues of race, wealth, housing and employment all intersect. Yet the District of Columbia has very limited representation. There are no senate elections because it is not considered a state, and there are no house representatives. This means that there is no elected official with full voting rights that gets to negotiate for the budget of D.C. and its neighbourhoods, making progress within the communities here a challenge.
At the office, working weeks for me have tended to consist of pitching articles to opinion editors across the country, attending and note-taking at relevant hearings and panels on the Hill and researching ongoing projects for the firm. Those projects have been diverse, involving anything from advocating for legislative bi-partisan progress on net neutrality, to modernizing copyright law and promoting rights of musicians in the digital sphere. Through conference calls and meetings with coalitions in these areas and completing research or communications tasks, we help them to achieve their targets in Washington.
The most recent project that garnered significant attention was the #VoteLikeHell campaign, which took to social media and culminated with a concert in California featuring CAKE and House of Representatives candidate Andrew Janz. We have worked with Beto O’Rourke’s campaign that captured the nation (and almost captured Texas) and also with Lauren Underwood who became her district’s first black representative in congress. All in all, it has been a productive eye in to the political machine in Washington.
My Take on Politics in D.C.
Like everyone else, I’ve been thinking of what the elections might mean for the state of play in Washington. Unlike everyone else, I think a sign of that came from the shock resolution over American involvement in the Saudi Arabian war in Yemen. Fall in Washington has been full of surprises. For starters, the polls were actually right about the midterms. The end of November’s senate vote, though, is one that shouldn’t be understated. The resolution on the Yemen war, sponsored chiefly by Sanders, was most definitely a crushing rebuke to Trump and the Saudi regime.
But it was also indicative of the left (for once?) taking leadership on foreign policy. The vote on the resolution shows that the left can engage with the institutions it correctly criticises over its inaction, not just in terms of campaigning for a green new deal in the House, but on foreign policy too in the Senate. It is a signal of a rigorous left-wing platform that manifests in policy areas where the left has traditionally been perceived as non-existent.
The midterm elections were a success for Democrats, but specifically for the progressive wing, too. The Progressive Caucus is set to expand from 78 to 96 members. In the days and weeks since November 6th, the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been front and centre with the Green New Deal campaign catching a snowball of momentum as the winter approaches. Her social media savvy, collaboration with other House members and representative-elects, and her integrity, has got her platform consistent national media attention. Both in style and substance, she is ‘slaying’, and there’s no greater evidence of this than when your detractors are in desperation mode to pick on anything to try to undermine you.
This influx of leftist political clout has been a long time coming. Sanders’ 2016 primaries set the left in motion to where it is now, particularly on domestic policy and economics. The platform has been coherent on the American political and corporate system – the wealthiest 1% in the nation write the rules that keep a fairer society at bay. The critique of 21st century capitalism runs smoothly into the healthcare agenda, housing issues, and green policy. Sanders’ democratic socialism provides a basis on which to draw policy across the board that recognizes all long-standing crises of American society as intertwined into modern neo-liberal capitalism.
But what does the left have to say about foreign policy? Is the left weak on foreign policy or just silent, seeing its responsibility as exclusively domestic? Political theorist Michael Walzer asks this question in A Foreign Policy for the Left, published at the start of the year. It’s an amorphous question. This is because there are often many lefts and arguing on foreign policy on ideological lines doesn’t necessarily lead to the same results. For the modern mainstream American left, however, Walzer considers that it is largely a mindset of isolationism. A predisposition to isolationism is understandable, particularly when one is reminded of the American imperialism of the Kissinger years in Central America, or, more recently, the Iraq intervention.
Now that there is a revival of the left that is beginning to be reflected in Washington, so is an opportunity to discuss how the foreign policy element of the democratic socialist platform should look like. The aversion to American imperialism is not the only thing that should drive this. It must also entail the context of President Trump and his admiration for despotic strongmen. Trump is a hereditary capitalist who has benefited from neoliberalism, and his ideal world is there for all to see in the friends he keeps. The zero-sum game, injected by the steroids of today’s capitalism, is Trump’s foreign policy that Senator Warren has alluded to as a cause of global instability, remarking that “efforts to bring capitalism to the global stage unwittingly helped create the conditions for anti-democratic countries to rise up and lash out… we need to refocus our international economic policies so that they benefit all Americans, not just wealthy elites”. For the sake of the planet, exacerbated inequality, and democratic solidarity, the leftist foreign policy can be at once anti-imperialist and anti-Trump.
It’s a start. The resolution on Yemen is years too late, but finally there is a recognition of this atrocious situation. It proved that stances that begin on the left can sometimes get sufficient support at the upper echelons of political power. Yes, it is a victory for bipartisanship to a degree. Fundamentally, it is a victory for a wider political narrative that is now achieving results to back-up the message. With momentum building on every policy front for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the left can no longer be dismissed on foreign affairs.
I’ll Be Back
My Washington diaries are as eccentric as life is in the city. But there’s hardly a dull moment. To this profoundly interesting and afflicted nation, I’ll be back. To Washington, the epicentre of all that is admirable and all that is deplorable, I’ll be back. I came to get a snapshot of the world’s oldest living democracy. I’ve learned the ways in which it continues to fall short. I’ve been closer to the people who are making the next steps in the march to equality. Best of all, I’ve found some hope where, from afar, things looked hopeless.