Resist and Replace: How progressives can defeat right-wing nationalism

Progressives are resisting Trump, but we need to come up with a replacement for his noxious agenda if we are to turn back the tide of bigotry and 19th century ideology that he has unleashed. We can resist while at the same time we build a movement to replace Trump’s right-wing nationalism with a bold progressive agenda that concentrates on creating millions of good jobs. Trump has been able to act like the pied piper of the working class by holding out the hope of creating jobs, as have other nationalists like Marine Le Pen, but progressives can put forward a reality-based jobs program.

If there is one issue that would attract people to progressive causes, that issue would be jobs. If there is one straightforward, guaranteed way to create jobs and at the same time do something useful, it is to build and repair infrastructure. The last time the Federal government created millions of jobs was in the 1930s during the New Deal (note 1), when agencies like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the infrastructure and natural areas that we still use today. Not only is the infrastructure now falling apart, but we face new problems like the need to virtually eliminate the emission of greenhouse gases. On a more positive note, infrastructure building has historically been used to improve the manufacturing sector of a country, as the Chinese have been doing recently.
By building several ‘super’ infrastructure projects, as laid out in this essay, we can rebuild the manufacturing sector, make great progress toward reducing global warming, rebuild a crumbling infrastructure, and make jobs a central part of the progressive agenda. A jobs-creating, infrastructure-building agenda is the key to defeating right-wing nationalism, both in the United States and globally.

Government as builder

I have put together a program of economic reconstruction which would employ about 20 million people and cost about $1.2 trillion per year (note 2). While this may seem like an astronomical amount of money, it constitutes only about 7% of a $17 trillion economy. During World War II, the military spent about 40% of the economy at its peak. The military currently uses about 5% of GNP, at least. Considering the goals that can be achieved by this program, spending over one trillion dollars per year would show the public that progressives are serious about jobs and — dare I say, making America really great. The concept of generating jobs by building infrastructure recasts government in an attractive role: government as builder.

Globally, the idea of government as a positive force in the economy has been under constant attack from the Right for decades. Meanwhile, progressives have been very timid about suggesting any new role for the government in the last 30 years. Back in 1968, both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King called for either government as employer of last resort (RFK (note 3)) or simply as guarantor of a good job (MLK (note 4)), and they both called for a guaranteed income for those who couldn’t work — and for an end to poverty (note 5).

It’s time to think big again. There is an alternative (contra Thatcher and Reagan); the government needs to build new kinds of infrastructure and support new kinds of manufacturing, both to create tens of millions of jobs and to avoid environmental collapse. We need government-led economic growth.

As technology develops, so does the need for new kinds of infrastructure that only the government can build. We are currently in the middle of the ‘internet revolution’, which depends on a communications infrastructure that the government created. The government also built the Interstate Highway System when the automobile became mature and it established the Federal Reserve system when finance became complex. A national educational system created a modern workforce, and government enabled the railroad system at the dawn of the industrial age. Now we need an entirely rebuilt infrastructure in order to avoid using fossil fuels and to take advantage of new technologies like wind power and high-speed rail.

All of these infrastructure systems fit together to create a country that is greater than the sum of its parts. The transportation infrastructure depends on the energy system — as we see in the case of cars and oil. The pattern of where we put buildings, the ‘urban structure’ — suburbs vs. walkable neighborhoods, for instance — is critically conditioned by the transportation and energy infrastructure. Suburbia is dependent on cars and oil, while walkable neighborhoods need transit and electricity. Moving towards a walkable neighborhood, electricity and rail based set of infrastructures would require an enormous amount of work. Infrastructure is quite literally ‘stronger together’, as Hillary Clinton advertised during the election.

Building a Green Infrastructure and a jobs economy

Consider a ‘Program of Economic Reconstruction’ (note 6), which would be designed and paid for by the Federal government. The idea would be to construct a new set of infrastructure systems in about 20 years, revolving around renewable electricity, walkable neighborhoods, rail networks and regional self-reliance. This program would eliminate unemployment and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time, thus truly merging the climate change movement with a progressive economic agenda that could appeal to all working class communities.
1) At the heart of a system to create all electricity with renewable energy would be an Interstate Wind System, which would replace all coal and nuclear plants, and most natural gas ones as well. Wind farms would be placed strategically so that the Wind System would generate a constant amount of electricity at all times. The wind system would be the main energy system of the United States, and would require the construction of a new Interstate Electric Grid. Our current grid is fragmented, old, and falling apart. The total cost would be about $235 billion per year, creating over 2 million jobs.
2) An Interstate High-Speed Rail System would use the Wind System and Electric Grid for power, and would replace most air traffic up to about 500 miles, plus much of longer distance air travel. A freight system would be part of the network, decreasing intercity freight costs, and new commuter rail would complete a national rail grid. Cost: $55 billion, over 2 million jobs per year when finished.
3) A National Program for Walkable Neighborhoods would build dozens of walkable neighborhoods in cities and towns that would lead to a construction boom to rival the one in China. Burnt-out main streets, car-centric suburbs, and city centers that are too expensive for the middle class would be reinvigorated with comfortable, affordable apartment buildings and thriving small businesses. Building 5,000 250-unit apartment buildings per year would cost $250 billion and employ 5 million (over 1 million in manufacturing), and after construction could be used to provide much of the local and Federal governments’ revenue. At the end of 20 years, one quarter the population would live in walkable neighborhoods.

This program would also include the construction or rebuilding of dozens of transit systems around the country (for both cities and towns). Eventually 1/4 of the population would have access to good transit, at a cost of $90 billion per year leading to a half million jobs. The city and town centers would be connected to each other with the High-Speed Rail System and new commuter rail.

These three interconnected new sets of infrastructure would cost about $630 billion per year and would create about 10 million jobs, according to my rough figures. Depending on the political pressure, this figure could be doubled by building and upgrading regional infrastructure:
4) A National Program of Regional Self-Reliance would seek to put as much of the energy, food, manufacturing and inputs to manufacturing, water, and communications infrastructure within large geographic regions as possible (the Tennessee Valley Authority is an approximate example). There could be three main initiatives to achieve self-reliance:
a) Buildings could be made virtually energy self-sufficient with leased solar panels and heat pumps, and retrofitting, costing $270 billion per year and employing 3.5 million more in ‘green collar jobs’ and 1 million in manufacturing .
b) The Federal government could set up a new Regional Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to create organic farm belts close to cities and towns, and urban gardens within them, as well as repairing damaged ecosystems, and another ‘Production Conservation Corps’, of about 2 million people, to move toward a manufacturing economy, located around cities, that mostly uses recycled and reused goods and an agricultural system that uses compost from their region. The CCC would also repair regional damaged ecosystems. These ‘corps’ would cost about $190 billion and create 3 million jobs.
c) Finally, the current infrastructure needs to be upgraded and repaired (this is the one part of the infrastructure that national politicians are usually referring to when they talk about infrastructure). Not only are our water systems falling apart or being poisoned (Flint), but global warming is pushing them to their breaking point. School buildings are overcrowded, falling apart, and/or unpleasant. Roads and bridges are crumbling. In addition, it is about time we catch up with the rest of the world and have government-provided fast internet by creating urban fiber optics systems for all citizens. All of this upgrading would cost about $140 billion per year about provide about 3 million jobs.
Note that, if all of this infrastructure was built using grants and not by borrowing, the government could bring in enough revenue to eventually run all of these systems at a profit, and could thereby even replace a considerable portion of middle class income taxes.

A Green New Deal

This Program of Economic Reconstruction can be the critical element in a wider ‘Green New Deal’ (note 7), which would also include many of Bernie Sanders’ proposals, as well as much of the agenda laid out in the alternative budget by the Progressive Congressional Caucus:
• Medicare for all
• A new Federal Education commitment of free public college, subsidizing local schools to keep teacher student ratios at 15 and below, pre-k, and a new national system of technical schools
• A new Federal commitment to the caring economy — universal childcare and elder care
• A guaranteed annual income for all, which would include a above-poverty level job for anyone
able to work, and an above-poverty income for those who can’t, as part of an expansion of Social Security
• A Bank of the United States, to help fund national infrastructure projects, as well as compete with private banks for loans, help with small business, and deposits for government money.

All of the wind turbines, solar panels, apartment buildings, subways, trains, rail, bridges, roads, schools, water systems and other myriad manufactured goods that would have to be produced would provide a stable market for the expansion and creation of thousands of new factories, and at least 4 million manufacturing jobs (trade treaties would have to be changed to allow for the requirement of domestic content, that is, all the projects’ manufactured goods would have to be produced in the United States). Currently, the Democratic members of the Senate have proposed an infrastructure-building program of approximately $100 billion per year, while Sanders called for $200 billion per year in 2015 (Trump’s infrastructure plan, if it happens, will probably be a boondoggle). While these Democratic proposals are great starts, they don’t create the new systems needed to take advantage of new technology, rebuild the manufacturing sector, and prevent the worst of global warming.

It may seem strange to put manufacturing at the center of a progressive agenda (note 8), since many people argue that automation and globalization mean that ‘manufacturing is not coming back’. Manufacturing can be revived, but only if government takes decisive action. Manufacturing will always decline unless the government takes positive action to constantly support it. Rebuilding manufacturing is the key to decreasing economic inequality, and along with the rise of unions that would accomany a manufacturing renaissance, the political support for progressive politics will rise as well. Since a rebirth of manufacturing would be the key to rebuilding African-American communities as well as white ones, a pro-manufacturing agenda would lead to a progressive political alignment (note 9).

Because all of this activity would create not just wealth, but the capacity to generate new wealth (capital), it would be appropriate for the Federal government to simply create much of the money to to pay for new national infrastructure (note 10) - much as it did for the banks after 2008. After all, the national money supply should reflect the underlying wealth of a nation, as Adam Smith pointed out long ago. A new Bank of the United States could create the needed money, provide revenue back to the government by providing loans and financial services to small businesses and citizens, and encourage the creation of employee-owned-and-operated firms.

A 10-year tax on the very rich could also generate about half of the funds needed for a program of economic reconstruction. The top 5% take in about 36% of national personal income (note 11) of $15.5 trillion. That is about $5.5 trillion, so a 14% tax on income of the top 5% would generate about $750 billion. Since it would be clear what this money was going to be used for, it would be much easier to generate the political support for taxing the rich. The Progressive Congressional Caucus has outlined many other ways to raise revenue. The Right's entire agenda of cutting taxes and deregulation is based on the idea that the very wealthy know best where to put their money. But we know where to put their money: into a program of economic reconstruction.

Nations rise and decline because of the actions their governments take to support manufacturing and infrastructure, not because they build a large military (note 12). Therefore it would make sense to redirect resources away from the military-industrial complex and towards a new infrastructure-industrial complex. The Right always bleats about the lack of money for rebuilding the country, but the money is certainly available.

The power of this agenda is that it is not an anti agenda, as most of the Right agenda has been, it is a pro agenda. We need to resist and replace. This agenda recasts the government as builder, both of the infrastructure and of the manufacturing sector, which together can create a new economic engine for creating new jobs and a thriving middle class.

Jon Rynn is the author of “Manufacturing Green Prosperity”. His Twitter handle is @JonathanRynn


1 The Great Depression: America 1929-1941, Robert S. McElvaine, Times Books, 1993
2 “A green energy manufacturing strategy”, in Green Energy Economies: The search for clean and renewable energy, John Byrne and Young-doo Wang, editors,Transaction Publishers, 2014, and also see
3 Robert Kennedy and his times, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Houghton-Mifflin, 1978/2002, page 784
4 Bearing the Cross, David Garrow, Open Road, 1986, page 593
5 See also the Freedom Budget, which MLK participated in, available at
6 see note 1 and the website for more details, and note 7
7 see Brian D’Agostino, The Middle Class Fights Back: How progressive movements can restore democracy in America, Praeger Press, 2012
8 Manufacturing Green Prosperity, Jon Rynn, Praeger Press, 2010, and Jon Rynn, Part 1 and Part 2, see also two part series at Roosevelt Institute blog, manufacturing-centered-economics-part-1/ and manufacturing-centered-economics-part-2/
9 William Julius Wilson argued that the decline of manufacturing led to the decline of African- American communities in When Work Disappears: The world of the new urban poor,1996.
10 Ellen Brown, Web of Debt, Third Millenium Press, 2012, also see How to Cut Infrastructure Costs in Half, Ellen Brown, 1/26/2017, infrastructure-costs-in-half/
11 the top 1% pulled in 21% of income in 2014, The top
5%, including capital gains, pulled in 36% in 2014, TabFig2014prel.xls, table A2.
12 See Chapter 5, “The Rise and Decline of Great Powers”, in Manufacturing Green Prosperity, note 8