I have never been a terribly political animal. Something about the whole business of politics and politicians just seemed to be unwholesome, so duplicitous and self-serving. But all of a sudden here in America my political conscience has been pricked. Why? A good question and one my sleepless nights in Seattle tried to solve. The first point to be pinned down was a recognition that the male nominee running for president of the United States was at heart a bully: that he is many other odious things as well need not clutter the page. I have a loathing of bullies – in every form – that goes back a long way.
But what puzzled me most of all during those dark nights was why has this ghastly individual has gained such a huge following in the US, a country that as far as I know as a frequent visitor is filled with wonderful human beings to whom Trump’s views are complete anathema. So, it seemed I had to mug up on American politics: at least get an overview of how this current charade got underway and why it continues to play out in front of an incredulous global audience.
Since the Reagan years US government policy has been dominated by neoliberal economic theory: a time which has been a period of stagnation and decline for much of the population in many ways – wages, benefits, security and so on – along with enormous wealth concentrated in a tiny fraction of the population, mostly financial institutions, which have a dubious, if not harmful, role on the economy. Thus you have more concentration of wealth, concentration of political power, legislation to increase concentration of wealth and power. During this much of the population has simply been cast aside. The white working class is bitter and angry, and understandably so.
Over the years both major parties have shifted to the right: thus the Democrats now occupy what could be called a moderate Republican position, whereas the Republicans themselves have gone way off the spectrum. What is peculiar in American politics is that there is a total absence of a socialist or Laborite mass party.
The Republican Party has a long history of bad candidates coming up from the base but normally they have been able to neutralise them and get their own man in place. But not this time: somehow Trump’s unreality TV show status got him up and running. Perhaps everybody thought at first it was a joke – the rest of the world did. But the trouble with political jokes is that they sometimes get elected. Now, the actual policies of the Republicans is basically enrich and empower the very rich, the very powerful and the corporate sector. You cannot get votes that way. So therefore the Republicans have been compelled to turn to sectors of the population that can be mobilized and organized on other grounds (trying to put aside the actual policies) in order that the white working class will be mobilized to vote for their bitter class enemies (who want to shaft them in every way) by appealing to something else, like so-called social conservatism, abortion rights, racism, nationalism and so on.
And they have succeeded to a large extent. It parallels in a way almost to awful to recollect Germany’s own descent into barbarism. Thus a large part of Trump’s voters are evangelical Christians, ultra nationalists, racists, disaffected, angry, white working-class sectors that have been hit very hard by policies which protect the wealth and privilege of the super wealthy with little or scant thought to the underlying population.
The Democrats are not blameless either and are also accused of political dishonesty and being in league with big business. The minority populations were hit very hard by the Clinton destruction of the welfare system and the incarceration rules. They still tend to support the Democrats, but tepidly, because the alternative is worse, and they’re taking a kind of pragmatic stand.
A very brief overview but one that gets the gist of how this has all come about. To return to why these voters are drawn to such a mockery of a political candidate in the first place? What has gone so wrong in American politics and society for it to have gone this far? That many Americans are wary of both their money-driven major parties and are upset regarding their long-term prospects is self-evident.
The tragedy of the whole situation is the way the working class of America are being hoodwinked. By rallying to Trump’s specious rhetoric and hailing him as the self-made man who built an empire and can save America from further decline they fall into an awful trap. You cannot claim that America has been decimated by an economic elite and then in looking for salvation rally to a man who epitomises the worst of all business practice, a vulture capitalist of the most despicable type. This is the same sort of logic that saw millions of poor white plantation workers head off to fight in a civil war to protect the interests of a privileged slave-owning white elite. Do we learn nothing from history?
They say that the business of America is business. And in many ways it is. This is both a good and a bad thing but has led to less of a ‘what can I do for you today’ to more of a ‘what have you done for me today’ mentality, particularly in the bigger cities and especially in big corporations. To my mind what made America great was not big business and here I have to quote directly from Edward Abbey:
“If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor rule. That was the American Dream”.
And so here we are: the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation in the midst of an election which could put an exceptionally incompetent man in the Oval Office. Combine that with a party that some leading political commentators are calling a ‘radical insurgency’ which has abandoned parliamentary politics altogether and you have a potentially lethal combination. So what kept me awake at night in Seattle was the fact that if the worst happens and ‘El Fascista Americano’ wins in November that would qualify today’s Republican Party as candidates for potentially the most dangerous organization in human history.
Postscript: Written 3-weeks ago and left ‘in the drawer’ the above is now somewhat out of date as far as the final paragraph runs. The wheels have come off the Trump campaign in spectacular fashion and he has turned on his own party like a rabid dog eating its own tail as they have begun to desert him in droves. If, as one conspiracy theory has posited, Trump was always the Democrat’s favourite choice for nominee, the hope being that he could act like a ‘poison pill’ in the belly of the Republican party, this has gone extremely well for them. That Trump might be the downfall of the GOP would also be no bad thing. The Donald strikes a rather sad, pathetic figure now as he fires off tweets in the wee-wee hours and one would hope that he might do the decent thing and slink off into the shadows after November 8th. Sadly for us, the man with an almost irredeemable ego has plans that might keep him in the limelight for a while to come yet. Beware, Trump TV could be coming to a network near you soon. One can only hope that it will go the way of so many of his preposterous business ventures and add another bankruptcy to the list. Donald J Trump, the shame of America.