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Three left responses to Trump victory
12 November 2016
9 November 2016
The ironic thing about the (narrow) victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election is that their ‘safe’ candidate has lost it for the Democrats, Wall Street and the strategists of capital. Now they are lumbered with a loose cannon that they must try to rope in.
Trump has won because a (just) sufficient number of people are fed up with the status quo. Apparently 60% of voters asked at the polling booths reckon that the country “is on the wrong track” and two-thirds were fed up and angry with the Washington government – something Clinton personifies.
Like the vote of the Brits for Brexit, against all expectations, a sufficient number of voters in America (mainly white, older and in small businesses or working in failing industries in smaller central US states) have overcome the vote of the youth, the more educated and better-off in the big cities. But remember hardly more than 50% or so of eligible voters turned out to vote. A huge swathe of people never vote in American elections and they constitute a sizeable part of the working class.
Most significant, the most important issue (52%) for voters, when asked at the booths, was the state of the US economy, with terrorism next (but well down at 18%) and immigration (the Trump card) even lower. Trump won because he claimed he could improve the conditions of those ‘who have been left behind’ by globalisation, failing domestic industries and crushed small businesses. Of course, Trump is a billionaire and has no real interest or idea about improving the lot of the majority. But anger at the establishment was sufficient (just) for this egoistic, misogynist, sexual predator, rich man’s son to win.
But it is still the economy, stupid. Trump has been handed a poisoned chalice that he will have to drink from: the state of the US economy. The US economy is the largest and most important capitalist economy. It has performed the best of the largest economies since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. But its economic performance has still been dismal. Real GDP growth per person has been only 1.4% a year, well below levels before the global financial crash in 2008. It’s a story of the weakest economic recovery after a slump since the 1930s.
The IMF now expects the US economy to expand at only 1.6% this year. And the US Federal Reserve bank economists are now forecasting just 1.8% a year expansion for the foreseeable future. And all this assumes no new economic recession.
The majority view of economists is that a US recession is unlikely and that the economy will pick up again next year. Indeed, US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen (whose job is now in jeopardy), reckons that the US economy “is on a path of sustainable improvement.” The argument goes that the cost of borrowing is near zero, the American consumer is still spending robustly, the housing market is picking up and retail sales are still motoring.
But what is important for the health of a modern capitalist economy is not the ease or cost of borrowing, it is the level and direction of the profitability of capital, total business profits and the impact on business investment. When profitability falls, eventually total corporate profits fall and then some time later, business investment will contract. When that happens, an economic recession soon follows. In the post-war period, a sustained fall in business investment has led the economy into slump on every occasion, while personal consumption stays more or less stable, the latter only falling once the slump is underway.
And US corporate profits are falling. According to economists at investment bank JP Morgan, US corporate profits declined 7% over year-ago levels. On that basis, they reckon, “the probability of a recession starting within three years at a startling 92%, and the probability within two years at 67%”. Moreover, the Federal Reserve is planning to hike its policy interest rate right after the election, because it claims the economy is returning to ‘normal’, increasing the risk of triggering a slump – although a Trump victory will put that off as stock markets plunge.
What is Trump’s solution to all this? His economic proposals boil down to cutting taxes, reducing government spending and taxing imports to ‘protect’ American jobs. The main beneficiaries of his tax cuts would be the very rich. Under Trump, most people would see their income tax bill reduced by about 7%, but savings for the top 1% would be 19% of their income. To balance the federal budget, government spending would have to be cut by about 20%, hitting welfare, education and health. Raising tariffs on foreign goods and imposing punitive sanctions on China and Mexico, America’s two largest trading partners, would drive up prices and provoke retaliation.
In one way, the next US president faces a worse situation than Obama did in 2009 at the depth of the global financial crash. This time there is no way to avoid a slump by printing money or cutting interest rates; or by increasing government spending when public sector debt has already doubled to 100% of GDP. Those economic policy tools have been used up. The chalice will have to be sipped.
10 Novenmber 2016
The unthinkable is no longer so when it becomes a reality. Against all predictions Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. He is now the man who will hold the most important and powerful position in the world.
That is not all. The Republicans obtained a majority in the House and Senate and will have the ability to fill the Supreme Court with a conservative majority. The entire state authority of the world’s greatest imperialist power is now under the control of the extreme right-wing sector of the two-party system. It remains to be seen, however, what frictions will develop between Trump and the Republicans over essential aspects of his economic program.
The driving force behind Trump’s victory is already widely considered a profound “populist uprising” of discontented voters who found a vehicle for expressing their indignation against the political establishment of both parties in the xenophobic, racist, misogynist tycoon. It was a slap in the face for the elite, delivered by millions of workers and middle-class people who have lost or fear losing their jobs and have not seen any progress in decades.
Mass liberal media has diagnosed him as “narcissistic.” Actually, rather than suffering from a psychological condition, Trump practices classic political demagoguery. This explains the apparent contradiction: the leader of this protest against the establishment is actually one of the richest businessmen in the country. Trump undoubtedly interpreted the wishes of impoverished white Americans for a “savior," assuming the role of a strong man who uses his economic power and personal success as proof of his ability to implement far-reaching "solutions": build a wall on the border with Mexico, deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, apply a 35 percent tax on Chinese imports, reject protocols against climate change and bring jobs back to the US from overseas.
Although the reasons that led millions of Americans to vote for Trump are at first sight domestic, they are linked to the decline of US power in the world and to the failure of the “centrist” foreign policies implemented by Obama.
It is no coincidence that the main slogan of Trump’s campaign was “Make America Great Again.” For him, this will be done through selective isolationism in the use of military power, economic protectionism against competitors (ie., China) and partners (Mexico) and the reaffirmation of “American values”—i.e. conservative values—in the face of the threat represented by the “other”: immigrants and minorities (African Americans, Muslims, LGBT people, etc.).
Even during the campaign, when his election still seemed unlikely, Trump predicted that his victory would be “Brexit times three.” That may have been an understatement. This sudden shift in US policy will inevitably have long-term geopolitical consequences and is probably the most conclusive sign that the foundations of the neoliberal order—led by the United States since its victory in the Cold War—and the base of the parties of the “extreme center” have been eroded by the capitalist crisis since 2008.
If Obama once embodied the “populist illusions” on the left, Hillary Clinton has represented the restoration of a corporate, warmongering establishment—the confirmation that there is no other choice but “politics as usual.”
His triumph, therefore, confirms and reinforces the message behind Brexit and the rise of other Trump-like figures in the world, such as those of the European extreme-right wing parties: the National Front, UKIP, the xenophobic parties of Eastern Europe and more extreme sectors of the classic right.
A phase of greater inter-state tensions has begun. It will include significant economic and military conflicts and “solutions by force” in the face of the threat of class struggle. In this area, despite polarization, the extreme right now has the upper hand in its opposition against a timid center-left that continues to be just another variation of social-liberal parties.
This dramatic shift in the United States follows a pattern similar to that of Latin America, where the “populist” governments of the past decade have kept capitalists’ power intact and, when the crisis broke out, began to implement austerity policies, like Dilma in Brazil and as presidential candidate Daniel Scioli intended for Argentina before losing the elections to the conservative, Mauricio Macri in 2015—essentially opening the door to the right.
Trump’s rise to power is undoubtedly a symptom of US decline and a product of decades of political reaction. The fact that he was able to channel the frustration of the most regressive sectors of the working and middle classes towards xenophobia and protectionism is a warning sign, a wake-up call for the exploited and oppressed.
This leads us to one of the main conclusions that can be drawn from Trump’s triumph for those of us fighting against this capitalist society.
Obama took office under extraordinary conditions. He generated enthusiasm in a large coalition of youth, workers, women, African Americans and immigrants with the promise of a progressive reformist solution to the capitalist crisis and imperialist wars. But he let them down by bailing out Wall Street and big corporations with taxpayer money, while millions of ordinary Americans lost their houses, jobs and standards of living. Meanwhile, the union leadership has long since sold its soul to the capitalists and tolerates low-paying jobs with few prospects, like those under the “Walmart model.”
If Obama once embodied the “populist illusions” on the left, Hillary Clinton has represented the restoration of a corporate, warmongering establishment—the confirmation that there is no other choice but “politics as usual.” Neither the political bureaucracy nor the corporate media or pollsters were able to pick up on the profound rejection of this status quo that found its (extreme-right) expression in Trump.
Was this shift inevitable? Although it seemed unlikely, it was not at all inevitable. The emergence of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy during the democratic primaries was the surprise on the left. Sanders defined himself as a “democratic socialist,” even though his program was no more than a new version of the Democratic Party’s traditional redistributionist policies. He denounced Hillary Clinton as part of the elite, beholden to corporations and banks. In his campaign, he supported demands such as a $15 minimum wage. With this rhetoric, he generated enthusiasm among a new generation. He crushed Clinton among young voters below the age of 30 and won in the Rust Belt states. In the primaries, he got almost the same number of votes as Trump—nearly 14 million.
However, all that strength and enthusiasm died down and Sanders showed his true colors. Without batting an eye, he supported Clinton and forgot about the “political revolution” he had promised. He submitted to the same corporate agents he denounced in his campaign. In doing so, he handed the banners of discontent against the political class and obscene inequality over to Trump.
Historically, populist movements emerge as a response to profound crises and social and political polarization. Trump did not come out of nowhere, and his arrival was foreshadowed by the emergence of the Tea Party, the rightward shift of the Republican Party and the reemergence of a conservative right. This includes the so-called “alt right,” composed of white supremacists and similarly unsavory characters.
Trump’s rise to power is undoubtedly a symptom of US decline and a product of decades of political reaction. The fact that he was able to channel the frustration of the most regressive sectors of the working and middle classes towards xenophobia and protectionism is a warning sign, a wake-up call for the exploited and oppressed. We are witnessing a dangerous fragmentation among the working class and its allies, African American and Hispanic minorities and women.
More than ever, it is necessary to build strong, revolutionary left-wing workers’ parties to restore the unity of the exploited and oppressed on a national and international scale. This is the only political and social force capable of defeating the power of capitalists, whether they be populist demagogues like Trump or reactionaries hidden behind progressive masks like Clinton.
10 Novenmber 2016
Despite predictions to the contrary, Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States. What does it all mean?
First the numbers: 44.4% of eligible voters (102.7 million people) did not vote. The number of people who opted out is up three percentage points from the last presidential election in 2012. Trump received 47% of the popular vote (59.4 million); Clinton edged him out with 48% (59.6 million). Libertarian Gary Johnson received 4 million votes (3%), and the Green Party’s Jill Stein received 1.2 million votes (1%). Other candidates combined garnered some 800,000 votes, or about 0.7%.
So as usual, “none of the above” was the winner by a landslide. Next in line was Democrat Hillary Clinton, who actually won the greatest share of the popular vote. Nonetheless, Republican Donald Trump was crowned the winner, having benefited from a rigged system that substitutes the undemocratic Electoral College for the popular vote.
Still, the fact that Trump did better than many expected begs the question: why? The answer is not that the American people have bought wholeheartedly into Trump’s racist, xenophobic outlook. How do we know? Because if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic Party candidate, Trump would likely have been defeated by a wide margin. This is so despite the fact that Sanders is a Democratic Party loyalist who only poses as a critic of the establishment.
But however one might criticize Sanders from the left, he is not overtly racist like Trump. A popular preference for Sanders over Trump belies any claim that the Trump vote signals a right-wing, racist turn by the majority of working people.
The large vote for Trump, together with the large vote for “none of the above” and the lower than expected obeisance to the manipulative, Wall Street sanctioned, big business endorsed, mainstream media promoted campaign to coronate Hillary Clinton signals one thing: a desire on the part of working people to say f**k you to the establishment. It’s a way of proclaiming, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (See the film Network.)
Unfortunately, electing Trump or any other Democrat or Republican is not going to solve our problems. In a society so clearly divided into the 1% and the 99%, every political institution serves one side or the other. There is no “we”; it’s “us” or “them.” And there is no ambiguity about which class the Democrats and Republicans serve.
The only way to fight Wall Street and the modern-day robber barons is by tapping into a force that’s even more powerful. And there is only one such force: organized labor. Not organized labor as it currently exists, but organized labor as it ought to be. We need to rebuild a militant, fighting labor movement to counter the economic and political offensive of the corporate behemoths and their two pet political parties. Where current labor misleaders are too cozy with the bosses or the political parties they control, those fossilized labor fakers need to be replaced by young, militant activists willing to help lead the fight that’s needed.
Fighting this fight means rebuilding unions where they are weak or broken; democratizing unions where they’ve become bureaucratic and unresponsive; organizing the unorganized; and, once and for all, taking the fight into the political arena by launching a party of labor, beholden to working people and powered by the economic might of revitalized trade unions.
Such a labor party would harness the justified disgust working people feel for the two corporate political machines, but finally channel it in such a way as to beat back the long-running corporate offensive against working people and the planet.
We know from our own history—from the heroic labor battles of the 1930s and after—that there is only one force that the 1% fears and only one power that can scuttle the racist, unjust, exploitive agenda of the 1%. That force is class-conscious, militant, organized labor. Revitalizing the labor movement and launching a labor party are key steps on the path to moving the 99% from the defensive to the offensive.
A party of labor would demand and fight
Bruce Lesnick is a long-time political activist who lives and writes in Washington State. He blogs at blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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