Local View: Presidential election showed folly of neoliberal ideology

From the column: "Trump’s election in 2016 was a rejection of the neoliberal status quo, albeit a disgraceful stride toward neofascist authoritarianism, but at least the Republican Party allowed a populist alternative to flourish."

Brandon Parker.jpg
Brandon Parker

Contemporary neoliberalism in the United States has undermined true participatory democracy, created a socioeconomically aggrieved working class, and successfully weakened popular New Deal-era policies while amplifying the interests of the elite.

Neoliberalism is a political ideology that generally favors economic liberalization policies that include the deregulation of capital markets, reducing government spending, increasing globalization efforts, removing artificial price controls, and expanding free trade.

Major proponents of the ideology conflate certain free-market reform policies with the social values of liberty and freedom. The successful redefinition of these social values to include the privatization of public services, deregulation of capital markets, and discouragement of individual reliance on the state has made it difficult to dismantle the ideology as it is now associated with freedom.

Neoliberal propaganda and policy converge to form an appearance of effective governance for Americans while concealing its more honest effort of appealing to capital.

Wendy Brown writes in her book, “In the Ruins of Neoliberalism,” that the goals of neoliberal policies are to replace progressive taxation with regressive taxation, slash the social state, undermine union membership, deregulate capital, and privatize public goods. By successfully encouraging rugged individualism over solidarity with our brothers and sisters, the United States successfully empowered corporate and elite interests while ignoring working-class interests, all under the guise of protecting so-called freedoms.


The most recent presidential election provided a timely complement to the argument against neoliberal ideology. A desperate desire from the Democratic Party to continue pandering to corporate interests rather than the interests of its voting base exposed a failure to depart from neoliberalism that is so desperately needed. Arguably, given the extensive failures of the administration of President Donald Trump, this most recent election should have been a blowout. 2020 was a lucky roll of the dice for the Democrats: They ran the same failed campaign of 2016, and by the sheer chance of a deadly pandemic and its mishandling by the incumbent were able to eke out a narrow victory in six key swing states. Personalizing the election as a referendum on Trump’s failures and unpopularity was an abdication of responsibility by Democrats to run on an issues-based platform, which ultimately contributed to significant down-ballot losses in 2020..

Trump’s election in 2016 was a rejection of the neoliberal status quo, albeit a disgraceful stride toward neofascist authoritarianism, but at least the Republican Party allowed a populist alternative to flourish. That’s more than the Democratic Party can say. Its behind-closed-doors decision-making thinly veiled its preference and installation of corporate-establishment candidates in supposedly free and fair presidential primary elections. Voters see through this, and no amount of empty platitudes that “America is back” or we are “returning the soul of our nation” will truly better the lives of everyday Americans.

The 2020 referendum on faux-populism (or Trumpism) needed to happen, but there is now a void of representation for the working class on both sides of the aisle that must be filled. A political revolution forced by the neglected working class toward honest populism to counter “dead-end” neoliberalism is the only way to prevent a more competent authoritarian from assuming power in four years.

The argument can be made that somewhere within the big tent of the Democratic Party lies hope and change, but it is going to take significant pressure from all sides to encourage that kind of political courage.

A stronger argument perhaps would be the establishing of a new voting coalition or party, similar to the boldness and courage of Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party. The pursuit of a bold, working-class, and progressive agenda (regardless of its possible solution coming to fruition) could build solidarity amongst the suppressed working classes that lack honest representation.

Neoliberalism protects the capitalist oligarchy in which we live. We must leap from the imaginary battle in the United States of conservative versus liberal ideology and understand that the true political battle is the people versus the corporate-capitalist establishment.

The best way to disrupt the status quo is by replacing the individualistic capitalist definitions of class (or the haves vs. the have-nots) with more Marxist definitions of class that build solidarity among the proletariat majority. When a majority of the neglected working class exhibits solidarity and a rejection of the corporate capitalist’s assertion of power, a formidable new political coalition will emerge to successfully dismantle and replace our modern dysfunctional governance.

Brandon Parker is a University of Minnesota Duluth student and aspiring politician. This is a shortened version of an essay he wrote for a political science class.

What To Read Next
Get Local