Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Not so much losing as failing to win ...

Only 25.5% of  US electorate voted for Trump. 25.6% voted for Clinton and 3% or so for other candidates. 46% of eligible voters distrusted/disliked Clinton and Trump, or were disengaged from the political process or were unable to vote - and it is they who made the difference. 

The burning question is WHY were almost HALF of the American electorate unwilling or unable to vote in such an important election?  Add in all the people who are not eligible to vote - mainly working class and disproportionately black - and Trump is President-elect courtesy of about one in five adult American citizens. 

This was NOT simply a victory for conservatism and bigotry; it was NOT simply a racist, misogynistic white working class lashing out at more privileged and/or progressive people or immigrants any more than the Brexit vote was simply about that. Of course there is an element of that but it is a far more complex issue. 

At the forefront was the abject failure of the Democrats to provide a viable alternative, to capture people’s imaginations, to make them believe in the possibility of a better future. They dumped the candidate who might have done that. 

For some in the Democratic Party that was done for the same reasons the party machine cynically manoeuvred to dump the very popular left-wing candidate for Vice President in 1944.  Others clearly believed that the significance of Clinton being the first woman president, combined with her credentials for the job would be enough to win a majority of the hallowed middle ground. 

There was a wide spread belief that it was as morally right as it was politically inevitable  the first female president should follow the first black president.  No doubt there are powerful conservative forces which were opposed to that happening and which were a factor in the election but you have only to look at Thatcher to see that simply being a woman has long since ceased being the barrier it used to be.  The rightwing in the US had swallowed the reality of one of the stupidest people ever to hold political office standing as VP.  

The Trump machine played to sexism and misogyny of course just as they played to race but the problem was not simply the conservative backlash, not simply racism or sexism or other expressions of the generalised bigotry whose messages of hate still run through the middle of the American candy stick - the problem was also that too many Democrats had their own versions of smugly supremacist attitudes.

The person who said in a tweet I read,  that the American working class is made up of "stupid and uneducated bigots" exemplifies a widespread knee jerk reaction to the election. In its own way it is as reactionary and ill-informed as a post I read on Facebook from a Trump supporter. 

”…We saw what was happening under the Obama and Democrat party administration. We were being led into a socialist form of government. We were being ignored on the world stage. America was less safe and becoming more so by the minute. Clinton wanted to increase the number of immigrants tremendously and thereby increase our taxes to support them. Did you know that they are given more subsidies than an American citizen? Clinton also wanted abortions to become legal up to the moment of birth. We're not talking about medical emergencies. Everyone is afraid of Trump. I think this is unfounded. He cannot act alone you know. When he assembles his team of advisors we may see the greatest potential in a president, ever! We will see what happens but for now, give him a chance. My country was being led in the wrong direction and now we have a chance to get back on track. 

I've read some awful statements from Trump supporters but equally some pretty awful stuff from affluent, educated Americans about their fellow Americans who are neither affluent nor well educated. Folk who would not dream of making jokes about people of colour, women, disabled, gay or trans people - in fact who would throw the most almighty hissy fit at anyone who did - will make derogatory comments and jokes openly and freely about 'white trash', 'trailer trash' and 'rednecks'. 

I realise that being white confers its own privilege but I am working class enough in my origins to feel aggrieved when affluent, educated, socially mobile people speak of white privilege as if it was an absolute. Poor white people in the USA have only to open their mouths for their class origins to be immediately evident - not in their accents but in the state of their teeth. 

When Garrison Keillor -   the voice over for the Middle American Dream - claims that the children of a waitress in the USA can still become physicists, novelists or paediatricians - he is wilfully ignoring the grim reality of the poverty trap.  That trap is holding proportionately far more people of colour but numerically it's got its vice-like grip on many more white people.  It may allow a few out of its grip - the exceptionally gifted or the exceptionally lucky - but the vast majority can never tear themselves free. And if they do, very often they leave a part of themselves in it. 

I know that poor white people in the US have always been the shock troops for those who benefit most from racial division - but the best strategy is to recruit them to progressive politics - not drive them into the arms of the likes of Trump by alternately ignoring and mocking them. 

I would like to know how much of the $1billion Clinton raised to spend on her campaign went on ensuring that people were registered and able and willing to vote.  Perhaps she believed that too many of the 46% would vote for Trump if they were registered.

Hard though it is for many people to swallow - Trump did not win so much as Clinton lost.  She lost because her party alienated a lot of people over the nomination, because it believed the pollsters, because it did not do enough to address the lamentable level of voter registration, and because it has done nothing to redress the effects of the continuing demise of the organisations which could have helped to mobilise the working class vote - the trade unions.  

Only 7% of US workers in the private sector are in unions; 11% overall.  Obama did nothing in 8 years to address the issue - in fact he, like Bill Clinton before him, was committed to the very economics and ideology that have resulted in the loss of so many US jobs and with them, the unions. 

The destruction of working class collectivism was necessary for the neo-lliberal project to succeed.  Why would the controllers and the servants of corporate capitalism be prepared to yield on the many demands arising from identity politics when they have been so implacable - and at times, vicious - in their opposition to trade unions?  Why have certain sections of the population been rewarded with significantly increased standards of living and opportunities when a majority of the working class face under-employment or unemployment? 

It's just too easy to label the heartlands of the USA as Dumbasfuckistan - with the urbanised fringes on the east and west coasts as the real America. You know that America - the one that's cool, cosmopolitan, sexually liberated, post-modern - and inhabited by a disturbing number of people who seem not to realise the awful price being paid by others for their privileged existence. 

Rainbow coalitions cannot and will not survive alone if the storm clouds of fascism roll in.  If there was ever a time to unite all the progressive forces in the world it is now -  but how to unite when neo-liberalism has been so successful at individualising, isolating and compartmentalising?  I  can tell you how it won't happen - and that's by the privileged, educated and affluent alternately ignoring, patronising and mocking the poor.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

"Anyone who calls himself The Donald has to be a dick..."

...and now that dick is President elect of the most powerful nation on the planet. 

The polls were wrong; the pundits were wrong; the media was wrong; the DNC elite was wrong; and the Clintons and the Obamas were wrong and have been left with political egg all over their faces.  A vulgar, sexist narcissist is to be President of the USA. His boast that he could manipulate Republican voters was as right on the button as the episode of the Simpsons in 2000 which forecast a Trump presidency as the nadir of American politics and society. 

I had a horrible feeling he would win - a visceral feeling that all my intellectualising about the improbability of it could not quell. My gut instinct was telling me that the conservative backlash was building and if enough people voted for Trump, and enough chose not to vote at all rather than vote for Clinton, he could win. 

The Democratic Party machine ignored the Sanders phenomenon and put up a candidate who was vulnerable on many levels. I don't know if Sanders would have been permitted to win the presidency had he won the nomination but assuming no-one assassinated him or his character, I suspect a lot of the 46% of Americans who did not vote would have been motivated to vote for him. As it was,  54% of voters divided almost evenly between two deeply unpopular candidates i.e. Trump has been elected by about 26% of the total electorate.  Without the arcane and archaic electoral college system, Clinton would have won the Presidency on a slightly larger proportion of the popular vote. 

Some people would have voted for Trump as a 'fuck you' to what they perceive as an out of touch and corrupt political machine; some because they resent the tall, elegant, well educated and urbane Obamas; some because Trump's chubby, anti-intellectual, bombastic, boastful, 'self-made man' is a character they can relate to; some because they are committed racial and/or religious bigots; some because they are misogynistic and could not countenance a woman as President; and a lot because they have swallowed the lies about why they are poor and unemployed and shut out of what they see as their birthright. These people have bought the even bigger lie that Trump will bring private sector jobs back to the US.  They do not realise that if he does bring jobs back it will be only if American workers are prepared to accept lower wages and worse conditions than the places the jobs were relocated to - and because the American state will accept even worse environmental controls on industry. 

The conservative backlash has been building for a long time and the reason it will be so destructive is because the forces which oppose it are in such disarray - and nowhere more so than in the USA. It was easy for the neo-libs to ship US jobs off to places where they could make bigger profits because at the outset of the neo-liberal era only 20% of US workers were in a union - that's now down to 11% overall and 7% in the private sector.  Obama - architect of the TPPA - is fully committed to corporate globalisation and his administration, like that of post-war Democrats before him, has done nothing to reverse the decline of trade unionism. 

One of the most telling things about the destruction of first world trade unions over the past 30 years has been the refusal of so many academics, commentators and media pundits to confront why that is.  But, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair - it is difficult to get people to confront something when their salary depends on them not confronting it.

The US has had centuries to perfect its use of racism as a divide and rule and terror tactic. Trump's' vicious rhetoric should have left the majority of US citizens reeling in horror; instead it has emboldened its racist heartlands. This is not just the old guard who remember the times when white folks could murder black people and civil rights activists and get away with it, many young white people - who have grown up in a more open and diverse nation than their grandparents did - are enthusiastic followers of Trump.  The cancer of racism in the US has never been eradicated. If it metastasises, it has the potential to break down the connective tissue of the social body.

The influence of fundamentalist religion in the US is enormous: it has proved hard enough for a woman to be elected, it would be impossible for an avowed atheist. All presidents and their family are required to do the ritual obeisance to god - the Christian version. Trump, who is about the least spiritual person I can envisage, appealed to conservative religionists on issues like abortion and same sex marriage on the grounds of bigotry not theology. 

His victory shows the millennia-old phallocracy is still firmly in charge, such concessions as have been made to women can and will be rescinded if it suits the suits.  Same as the concessions to minority groups whose formal and informal rights have expanded over the past couple of decades.

The most striking aspect of the neo-liberal era is the expansion of  'rights to be' alongside the greatest concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a tiny elite the world has seen since the Gilded Age.  Alongside a flowering of cultural and sexual diversity and emphasis on individual rights and freedoms,  there has been a devaluing of the power and possibilities of the collective, and especially of the traditional collectives of the working class.  The rank and file can only engage with entrenched power through the ballot box or various forms of protest, the most potent of which is industrial action.  Their only chance for success in either of these is in combination i.e  through organisations which represent their political and social interests and trade unions.

It's not surprising that there's a lot of catastrophising going on - some of it with good reason. Given the increases in the sophistication of the mechanisms of repression - weaponry, surveillance etc - today's elite are more powerful and therefore more dangerous than the elites of previous eras. Rightwing extremists have been let off their leashes across the world. In the US police already kill black people with virtual impunity and the country has an ignoble and recent history of the vicious suppression of people of colour and of political dissenters. 

A lot of people who are disappointed that Clinton did not win are terrified there will be war because Trump is such an erratic character.  They seem oblivious as to why Putin was so anxious for a Trump victory.  You have only to look at the relative military and economic strengths and deployments of the 26 nations of NATO against that of Russia to see who is best candidate for the label of aggressor in that sphere.  Against all logic - given so many Americans are viscerally anti-communist and still link Russia to communism -  Trump positioned himself alongside Russia and against China and all other countries he could label as stealers of US jobs and power.  And it paid off. 

Clinton supporters tend to sidestep the fact that there were many good reasons to be fearful of a Clinton administration. She would have continued Obama's TPP strategy of squaring up to China economically while threatening Russia militarily via NATO. The initial battleground would have been fought by proxies in Syria but Clinton has already proved she is a hawk and is prepared to take the US to an aggressive war. 

Trump is a rooster - he might crow and strut a lot and put up a good show against another rooster but whether he'd have Clinton the hawk's stomach for the slaughter of war is not yet known. 

There's a good reason why the powerful like to keep the masses ignorant and diverted, with what divides writ large and what unites them kept hidden or mocked. The mushroom ideology - keep them in the dark and feed them shit - has always worked well for the powerful. And the truly excellent joke for the elites is that - because of all the pretty flashing lights and baubles they've been fobbed off with - most people don't even know they are in the dark. 

If the people who can don't start to shine spotlights on what is happening and why, the darkness may become permanent.