Social Democracy Outlook:
March 01, 2018

Social democracy's prospects in the United States present a mixed bag since this column was last ventured. Elections in early November rallied the American left with governorships gained in both Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats taking full control of Washington State's government, and Maine voters okaying Medicaid expansion in the state. Social Democrats were also heartened by the victory of Doug Jones over the highly retrograde Roy Moore in the special election for an open U.S. Senate seat in Louisiana. Jones, a moderate, presents one option for how Democrats might take back some seats in more conservative districts.

But after failing repeatedly to repeal Obamacare, Trump and his allies scored legislative victory with a major revision of the U.S. tax code which reduces taxes on the wealthy and corporations at the expense of $1.5 trillion in new debt: the big winners, writes the New York Times editorial board, have been "well-heeled investors." Many left commentators have expressed concern that, following an old playbook, Republicans will exploit the inevitable budget challenges to argue for shrinking the U.S. safety net, already skimpy by comparison to other modern democracies. Another concern for the left is that short-term tax breaks aimed at the middle class, along with the continuing robustness of the Obama economic expansion begun in 2009, have resulted in an uptick in the Accidental President's approval ratings, weakening hopes for a Democratic wave in this autumn's mid-term elections.

Following their immersion into red ink in December, in February Republicans in the Senate passed a spending bill which adds a further $500 billion annually to the federal deficit, making a mockery of four decades of Republicans' demands for a balanced federal budget: but only when Democrats are in charge.

Unfortunately, the mark the Trump administration is making on American society has not been limited to the tax code. A plethora of judicial appointments have already moved the federal bench rightward, many federal departments have been hamstrung through budget cuts and personnel gaps, net neutrality has been abandoned, two national monuments have been reduced in size, federal lands everywhere are being opened to new extraction activities.

The administration continued to press its attack on the nation's safety net, allowing states to make food stamps and Medicaid contingent upon vaguely defined "work" requirements. The Social Democrat would argue that work requirements are fine for the able-bodied, but only if the government is going to guarantee that work at living wages is available to those from whom it is being required.

The hideous massacre of 17 students and staff at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida once again rubbed the face of average Americans in the world created by the NRA. This time, the regular ritual of rage-fueled bloodletting may have struck a chord; several retailers have restricted gun sales, a number of major corporations have ended promotional programs with the NRA, and even "stand-your-ground" Florida has now passed tighter gun sale laws. It is all too little and too late: we are still awash in gun violence, and the situation is unlikely to change unless we can establish solid Democratic majorities in the federal and most state governments. Commentators have turned to Australia and, closer to home, Connecticut, to look at how some jurisdictions have implemented meaningful firearm regulations.

As the Supreme Court works its way through two important gerrymandering cases—one from blue Wisconsin, the other from red Maryland—a ruling has been implemented in Pennsylvania on orders of the state's highest bench.The new map, which reverses the tortured districts drawn by Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled assembly in order to dilute the voting strength of Democratic citizens, promises to send more Democrats to the House of Representatives in the coming mid-term elections.

Momentous events in Europe on the Social Democratic front: the German Social Democratic Party, the SPD, finally agreed to join Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party in the formation of a government. The nation has been in a holding pattern since September, when national elections failed to return a clear majority for any party. The left wing of the SPD opposed a new coalition, claiming that their brand had been diluted by partnership with the more centrist SDU. But after Merkel promised several ministerial posts, including the highly influential finance, to the SPD, the rank-and-file SPD members, 460,000 strong, agreed to support the deal.

Meanwhile, Italian voters went to the polls on March 4, and repeated a pattern that we have now seen played out across Europe as well as in the United States. More centrist parties, like the social democratic Democratic Party, which currently spearheads Italy's government, lost to the anti-immigrant, populist groups Five Star and the Northern League. It is still uncertain what coalition will emerge to govern Italy, but it is likely to feature a right-wing, nativist slant, with Italy's social democrats marginalized. The challenge of social democrats throughout the West is to find some way to connect with both the cosmopolitan elites as well as working-class voters who are more culturally conservative, often on the losing end of changes wrought by globalization, and more resistant to change of any kind: including those posed by immigration and multiculturalism.