UPDATE: Annnnd this pretty much proves my point. The business of America is business, and Supreme Court is still the business agent, even in the rays of "Liberal Spring."
When I think of the political zeitgeist in America in the 2010s, I think of one man -- Michael Bloomberg, the former non-partisan mayor of New York -- and of one night, October 1, 2011. Bloomberg was in Washington, D.C., that black-tie evening, hobnobbing with elites from President Obama to Sarah Jessica Parker and accepting a major award from the Human Rights Campaign for his tireless, outspoken support of LGBT rights, especially same-sex marriage. "In New York, government of the people, and by the people, is now for all the people – as it should be," the billionaire mayor said in his acceptance speech. "No place in the world is more committed to freedom of expression – religious, artistic, political, social, personal – than New York City."
At the very moment, Bloomberg was speaking, New York City's police force -- highly militarized, with its own spy outfit and even the ability to shoot down planes -- had kettled a huge march of peaceful protesters from the incipient Occupy Wall Street movement who'd been guided onto the traffic lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge and was throwing more than 700 of them in jail. The Occupy movement was a short-lived spontaneous combustion fueled by massive income inequality, and that was a conversation that Bloomberg -- currently worth an estimated $34.5 billion, a great protector of Wall Street -- did not want to have on his streets. The mayor who was swooning about "freedom of expression" in NYC had his cops from working tirelessly to crush Occupy, from the cops who protected Lower Manhattan's "Charging Bull" statue on Day One to the officers who crushed the Zuccotti Park encampment at the end. With his grey-flecked, practically Roman bearing, Bloomberg was almost a cartoon of the 21st Century benevolent dictator -- with zealous support of the liberal issues like LGBT rights, or handgun control that wouldn't topple a world order where almost all wealth flowed to the 1 percent.
I thought again about the events of Oct. 1, 2011, this weekend, when I read the awed and even overwhelmed post-mortems about what indeed was a remarkably few days in the history of America. The New York Times, whose op-ed columnists were especially gushy, even coined a catchy phrase for such an historic moment: "Liberal Spring."
Will the name stick? Let's review what just happened in the "Liberal Spring." The Supreme Court sided with the progressive argument on three major issues of great import: Legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, saving Obamacare and inoculating health-care reform against future challenges, and upholding the broad liberal interpretation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. President Obama, who basked in the glow of the Supreme Court victories, had another big win, getting congressional approval to negotiate in secret yet another free trade pact, this time with the Pacific Rim. In response to a horrific act of violence in Charleston, S.C., governors and other key politicos in the Solid South are starting the much-belated process of lowering a Confederate flag that had become a beacon to hate groups.
Whoa, whoa, whoa...what was that middle one again? Not every win for President Obama is a victory for a progressive agenda, no matter what they say on Fox News. The trade deal -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP -- will be negotiated in secret by the Obama administration under the guidance of the same folks who pushed through two decades of so-called "free trade" that have decimated the American labor force, on terms that have been great for large multi-national corporations but have been terrible for the average blue-collar workers (not to mention the environment. The administration line on TPP is basically, "Trust us, this one is going to be different" -- but most everyday folks on the left and on the right don't trust them. It's the elected politicians of both parties, flush with corporate donations, who pushed the TPP, through.
And yet the passage of the TPP trade authority bills -- a monumental moment for the American economy -- received minimalist news coverage, a piece of political driftwood that was washed over by rainbow lights at the White House (and at Disney World!)) and the Stars and Bars coming down in the Heart of Dixie (not to mention the real-life Shawshank Un-Redemption). I don't think the Michael Bloombergs of the world planned it this way -- frankly, they're not that clever -- but I can imagine they were grateful for the distractions on free-trade week.
To be extra clear, the last week was chock-full of wonderful news, from the long overdue developments in the Deep South to the lives that will be saved by access to health care to the pure joy of watching couples celebrate wedded bliss in a development that seemed unimaginable a few years ago. That fact that millions of Americans of all stripes shared in their joy made it even sweeter. I'm just saying that "Liberal Spring" is warming trend and not a heat wave, that it would be a mistake to spike the football when sweeping social progress is still on the 20-yard-line.
The Roberts Court veered left on social issues only after it had nearly driven America on a pro-corporate cliff looming on the right shoulder of the road. This is the same High Court, let us not forget, that gutted the key 1965 Voting Rights Act provisions that had been won at Selma, and cleared the way for unlimited and often secret corporate and billionaire election donations. The biggest beneficiaries of campaign mega-cash for the 2016 election -- Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush -- are also the current leaders in the early polls. The kind of corporate power behind the establishment candidates is also cool with gay rights and even Obamacare (backed, let us not forget, by Big Insurance) as long as the status quo remains intact. Indeed, the head of the biggest private Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs is reported to have said privately he'd be happy with either Bush or Clinton. That mockery of democracy, and not a rainbow flag, may be the lasting legacy of these nine Supremes.
"They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his just and moving majority opinion granting the right of same sex marriage. And yet there are so many indignities that are either enshrined in the law or tolerated by our bought-and-paid for political elites -- a minimum wage so low that millions of workers need food stamps to put food on the table, a "growing" economy that has seen all of its gains -- literally, not a figure of speech -- go to the wealthiest 1 Percent, the unfettered ability of corporations to move jobs overseas and crush pension plans. Those policies are protected by a militarized police force that both locks up citizens and shoots civilians at rates that are unheard of anywhere else in the developed world. Where is their justice? Where is their dignity?
History isn't a straight line...it's not even a line but a bundle of threats that sometimes veer off in unexpected ways. Two very different threads have ruled American discourse since the tumultuous 1960s. The so-called "culture war" has been mostly a righteous rout for liberals, culminating in this landslide of wins (presided over, appropriately, by a black president born in a year when many black Americans were still denied the vote.) But the wholesale destruction of the American middle class -- the 99 Percent -- was carried out during those same years of social progress. Any "Liberal Spring" on income inequality is still waiting for the snows of that long winter to melt. And with the opposition of the billionaire class, it could be a long hot summer or two -- or many -- before we see the same kind of victories.