It is abundantly clear – and becomes clearer by the day – that a deeply dysfunctional politics is incapable of addressing the cascading crises confronting the U.S. and the global community. Trump may be gone (or at least out of office), but the degraded politics that produced Trump (and may well produce something worse than Trump in the future) triumphally endures. As a result, the social work vision of a socially just and materially equitable world, born of a deep faith in incremental progress, seems evermore a fading fantasy, if not an outright delusion.
The situation is hardly hopeless. But rescuing our vision from a fruitlessly evanescent fate will require a momentous shift from our current oligarchic and impotently duopolistic, party-dominated political paradigm. The recipe for real change (“change,” a social work mantra if there ever was one) will require these three essential ingredients:
- Radically reformist social movements – for climate sanity, for peace and nuclear disarmament, for a meaningful social safety net, for an end to white supremacy, for universal human rights – mass social movements free of corporate control and financial influence. We need high-pitched pressure “from below” on a broad and constant scale.
- A revitalized and militant anti-monopolistic labor struggle for workplace democracy and economic justice. We need pressure “from within” a system of economic production that still relies on flesh-and-blood labor power, despite its love affair with “gigification” and labor-replacing artificial intelligence, and it growing contempt for global “surplus humanity.”
- An independent and truly progressive political party – not a Republican party that’s gone down the dark path of a neofascistic personality cult, nor a Democratic party incapable of waking from its dream of neoliberal., bi-partisan “normalcy.” We need a real voice for real people, especially the massive and growing number of the suffering, marginalized, and dispossessed people whom the profession of social work insists are the object of its most passionate concern and commitment.
There are important stirrings in all three of these dimensions. Are these new agitations enough, even in combination (and indeed they must combine to succeed), to rescue our common future from the abyss? The movements are young yet, and it is tempting to invoke the cliche’ that “time will tell.” Yet part of the problem, unfortunately, is that there terrifyingly little time left.