From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump - and Beyond by Nancy Fraser, American Affairs 4/2017
Whoever speaks of “crisis” today risks being dismissed as a bloviator, given the term’s banalization through endless loose talk. But there is a precise sense in which we do face a crisis today. If we characterize it precisely and identify its distinctive dynamics, we can better determine what is needed to resolve it. On that basis, too, we might glimpse a path that leads beyond the current impasse—through political realignment to societal transformation.
At first sight, today’s crisis appears to be political. Its most spectacular expression is right here, in the United States: Donald Trump—his election, his presidency, and the contention surrounding it. But there is no shortage of analogues elsewhere: the UK’s Brexit debacle; the waning legitimacy of the European Union and the disintegration of the social-democratic and center-right parties that championed it; the waxing fortunes of racist, anti-immigrant parties throughout northern and east-central Europe; and the upsurge of authoritarian forces, some qualifying as proto-fascist, in Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific. Our political crisis, if that’s what it is, is not just American, but global.
What makes that claim plausible is that, notwithstanding their differences, all these phenomena share a common feature. All involve a dramatic weakening, if not a simple breakdown, of the authority of the established political classes and political parties. It is as if masses of people throughout the world had stopped believing in the reigning common sense that underpinned political domination for the last several decades. It is as if they had lost confidence in the bona fides of the elites and were searching for new ideologies, organizations, and leadership. Given the scale of the breakdown, it’s unlikely that this is a coincidence. Let us assume, accordingly, that we face a global political crisis.
As big as that sounds, it is only part of the story. The phenomena just evoked constitute the specifically political strand of a broader, multifaceted crisis, which also has other strands—economic, ecological, and social—all of which, taken together, add up to a general crisis. Far from being merely sectoral, the political crisis cannot be understood apart from the blockages to which it is responding in other, ostensibly nonpolitical, institutions. In the United States, those blockages include the metastasization of finance; the proliferation of precarious service-sector McJobs; ballooning consumer debt to enable the purchase of cheap stuff produced elsewhere; conjoint increases in carbon emissions, extreme weather, and climate denialism; racialized mass incarceration and systemic police violence; and mounting stresses on family and community life thanks in part to lengthened working hours and diminished social supports. Together, these forces have been grinding away at our social order for quite some time without producing a political earthquake. Now, however, all bets are off. In today’s widespread rejection of politics as usual, an objective systemwide crisis has found its subjective political voice. The political strand of our general crisis is a crisis of hegemony.