One day before Joe Biden officially became the president-elect, Penn Justice Democrats and Penn Young Democratic Socialists of America hosted a post-election discussion about the future of leftist politics, featuring leading leftist scholar Cornel West.
West sharply critiqued the Democratic Party, especially its failure to protect and uplift the working class, and cited frustration with having to vote for Biden, whom he labeled a "neoliberal disaster."
“What we got to vote for [was] the mediocre, milquetoast neoliberal centrist because he's better than fascism, and a fascist catastrophe is worse than a neoliberal disaster,” West said of his decision to vote for Biden in the election. “Now, we’ve just got to come to terms with the neoliberal disaster.”
West added that, as a result, progressive voters in this election were forced to choose between another four years of the Trump presidency, or Joe Biden, whose platform is often criticized by far-left voters as being too moderate.
Along with West, Harvard University Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, retired Penn Professor Emeritus of Political Science Dr. Adolph Reed also spoke at the virtual event.
When asked about how how progressives should approach bringing about constructive change for the working class, Reed said that, first and foremost, he believes that progressives must stop treating joining the movement “like it’s pledging a frat.”
Reed said that the approach of “testing” people to see whether they are progressive enough to be part of the movement is backwards, and is hindering potential progress.
The scholars also discussed Donald Trump's lasting influence on the Republican Party. West said the 1968 Wharton graduate caused Republican Party members to be more prone to express racist, misogynist, or other explicit prejudicial behaviors, and believes these trends will continue in the party after his presidency is over.
“What has happened now is that the Republican Party has been ‘Trump-ified,'" West said. "It has become the neofascist wing of the ruling class field tied to the financialized version of a predatory capitalism, with Wall Street in the driver's seat and the Pentagon militarism still hidden and concealed."
West also said he believes the Democratic Party fetishizes identity politics, arguing that this distract politicians from addressing some of the most pressing concerns of America’s working class, which he believes will persist under the Biden administration.
“[Identity politics are] presented [by the Democratic Party] as this progressive, cutting-edge tool to make the class hierarchy and the imperial hierarchy more colorful with all the talk about diversity and inclusion,” West said. “It makes it seem like they are on the cutting edge because they are concerned about everybody in life, which is not the case.”
West said that the Democratic Party serves to protect members of corporate America over the country’s working class, noting the Obama administration’s failure to address white collar crime after the 2008 financial crisis as one example.
“[The Democratic Party is not] committed to eradicating poverty, not committed to ending the mass incarceration regime, not committed to making sure workers are treated with dignity and making sure their voices at the workplace, or a transformation of the role of Wall Street,” West said.
To effect change, Reed said progressives must channel their frustration with the apolitical system into grassroots, community organizing, and that change will only result from “connections and alliances formed through the course of struggle on the ground."
College junior Amira Chowdhury, who organized the virtual event, which had roughly 150 participants, echoed Reed’s sentiments. She said that the range of people who tuned in to the event, from several different universities, career paths, and backgrounds, is a testament to the value of community organizing and grassroots work that center the progressive movement.
“I think that really, the most important message that came through is that community, and building community, is at the heart of social change,” Chowdhury said. “People walked away from this event realizing that we don't need hope — that we are the hope. And we, as agents of hope, can continue to push for that centering of the needs of working people.”