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by Sean Larson and Patrick Schreiner
Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016 at 3:41 PM
That the political culture in the US could wash up a television star and notorious racist to the top of the country was not entirely bizarre. Voter turnout in the US was always low. Politico.com lists the names of all 538 electors who vote on Dec 19. If 37 change their minds, Trump could be blocked.
TRUMP AND THE HOSPICE OF HOPE
The left is slowly loosening itself from its rigidity while the political elite acts as if nothing happened after Trump’s election. But their demands are condemned to fail if no break with the democrats occurs.
By Sean Larson
[Sean Larson is a doctoral student at New York University and active in the new university instructor-union movement. He is a member of the International Socialist Organization and writes regularly for New Politics, Socialist Worker, and the International Socialist Review. This article published on December 1, 2016 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.marx21.de.]
That the political culture in the US could wash up a television star and notorious racist like Donald Trump to the top of the country was not entirely bizarre. Today this once amusing idea has become a revolting reality. To act as leftists and oppose a repetition of this disaster in the US, Germany and all over the world, we must analyze the social and political roots of the Trump phenomenon.
There are good reasons to counter simple conclusions about “Americans” with skepticism. The US political system has peculiarities that are very different from Western Europe’s democracies. The 1787 US Constitution upheld slavery and since then the core of the political system has remained unchanged. Institutions like the Electoral College and the All-or-Nothing principle of the pure majority election system were written in the constitution to guarantee a trouble-free functioning of the system and ensure it against the “dangers” of a popular democracy.
NO SWING TO THE RIGHT
Under these structural conditions, individual votes are often completely insignificant. For that reason, voter turnout in the US was always low and the active electorate always consisted in high-earners, the petty bourgeoisie and the ruling elite.
Therefore the results of this election only partly reflect the real mood in the country. This restriction is important to draw the right conclusions from Trump’s ascent. Despite the appearance, the 2016 presidential election was not a swing to the right or a reorganization of the voters. Only in some crucial states did voters change from the Democratic Party to Trump.
In the last three presidential elections, the republicans gained nearly the same number of votes: 60 million. On the other side, Obama in 2008 received 69.5 million votes. Four years later, they were only 66 million and in November 2016 democrats still cast 66 million votes for Clinton. This means five million persons who voted for Obama in 2008 simply stayed home this time. Voter turnout was the lowest in twenty years. 45% of the population entitled to vote abstained. Only a quarter of the persons entitled to vote voted for Trump. There was boredom for Clintonism, not great waves of enthusiasm for Trump.
The US capital wanted Clinton to be president. She received eighty percent of corporate financing in this presidential election campaign. Clinton like Trump is extremely unpopular in the population. Both were the most unpopular presidential candidates since the beginning of polling. Even with two million more votes than her opponent, the dream of a Clinton dynasty burst. Donald Trump was completely right when he tweeted in 2012 “The Electoral College is a catastrophe for democracy.”
RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS
Where was Trump’s support? Obviously racism played a part. His campaign cannot be understood without it. His base was the descending middle class, company managers and small entrepreneurs. Many workers voted for Trump. The crucial votes that secured his victory came from the crisis-ridden regions of the old heavy industry, the “Rust Belt” where Obama won in the last two presidential elections.
Some of Trump’s wild promises addressed the economic interests of these voters even if they were completely indifferent to the billionaire in reality. Many of them voted for Trump despite, not because of, his disgusting racism and hostility to women. Many of his supporters despise him. This was clear in interviews with Trump voters.
For them, there were no alternatives. Clinton was not an alternative. Her emails did not have much to do with that. Her dreadful inability to relate to the interests of average persons was crucial. At her rallies and demonstrations, they felt a better health insurance would “never happen in their lifetime.” 40% of people have problems paying their medical bills. No wonder most Americans disdain Clinton. Her whole election campaign consisted of nothing but fear of Donald Trump. Clinton had nothing to offer.
The sudden breakdown of the technocratic-liberal governance in the US came unexpected. The left underrated the uniqueness of the Obama phenomenon. Clinton could not repeat his success. The elites have no solutions to offer for the problems of the wage-earning class and every form of popular human rights is completely foreign to them. The rulers cannot rule in the old way. The rulers cannot rule in the old way. For want to a viable future perspective from the left, the right-wing crawls out of the sewer of history to take the future in their dirty hands.
THE NORMALIZATION OF TRUMP
Donald Trump is now the “most powerful man in the world” and the political elite already want to pass over to the daily routine. Republicans and the leaders of the democrats, Clinton and President Obama all announced they would constructively cooperate with Trump to do “the best for the country.” On Election Day, Trump was branded a monstrosity or vile product of fascism; on the next day, he was already described as a legitimate expression of the political system of the US. The normalization ran quickly and completely. But how much power does Trump really have? What can he carry out?
US capital follows behind him in an opportunistic way. Obviously he will not realize many of his mad election promises, particularly those that oppose capital interests. He had already retracted many threats in the first days after the election. No breach with free trade policy will occur even if agreements like TTIP are unlikely in his presidency. “Obamacare” will probably not be abolished as announced and Clinton will not be thrown in jail.
But Trump wants to reorganize the office of president that was completed under Obama to enforce an even sharper neoliberal austerity policy at the expense of the working class and attacks on migrants. The new cabinet is already full of racists and right-wing radicals. Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an advertisement of the brazen racism in the judicial system. Trump’s chief advisor Steve Bannon compares himself to Darth Vader and Satan and exclaims: “We will rule for rule for 50 years.” Others in Trump’s cabinet like the Vice-president Mike Pence will expand the neoliberal project of pumping money from the poor to the rich.
WAVES OF RACIST VIOLENCE
Trump and his horror cabinet make us fear the worst. But the more pressing problems are the forces released and encouraged by his success. There is a drastic increase of racist crimes and of violence against women and sexual minorities.
In the first week after the election, more than 400 “hate crimes” were perpetrated. These crimes were committed out of hate toward certain social groups. Unfortunately we must expect more of this kind of violence. Most culprits are not organized but right-wing organizations take advantage of the new opportunity. Only the solidarity of the impacted proves a defense – on the campus, job and school.
The struggle against the right-wing is the most important task of the left in the US now. The question is what this will look like. Relying on the state has proven to be a bankrupt strategy. There is only one promising way of striking the radical right-wing. We must create a mood within society where racist, anti-feminine and anti-Islam ideas are not tolerated. The people who propagate these ideas must be isolated and feel weak.
The only way to ever reach such a mood is a social movement with a mass base. Without a concrete leftist alternative that gives clear answers, fights for material improvements and stimulates the self-activity of broader social classes, the right-wing rabble-rousing will always fall on fertile ground. Only a resolute socially strong leftist alternative can break through the anxiety spreading everywhere today. The debate over the way forward is fully underway within the leftist press, the unions and in the few independent organizations and institutions of the US left.
SANDERS AND THE REVIVAL OF THE DEMOCRATS
Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign awakened great hopes of millions, particularly young persons. He gave a name to his solution: socialism. His campaign took place within the Democratic Party. It is dubious whether his messages would have reached as many people if he had challenged as an independent. While he sharply criticized his own party leadership in his campaign for the democratic nomination, he ultimately capitulated to this leadership and supported Clinton’s message of fear. Now many US leftists see the pressing task of reviving the Democratic Party so it will be strong enough in two or four years to beat Trump and the republicans in the election. An exact analysis of the character of the Democratic Party would help.
The Democrats are a party that does not exist in Europe. Never in the history of the US were they a workers’ party. Since time immemorial, they have been structurally capitalistic. There is no access or financial support for leftists in the base of the party. Even when some people speak leftist, there are no mechanisms for influencing the policy of the party. Even if there are important differences, the policy of the Democratic Party is not essentially different from that of the republicans.
The worldwide killings of the war-criminal George W. Bush were normalized and expanded during Obama’s presidency. Over seven times as many people were killed through his drone program than under his predecessor. The Democrat Bill Clinton built the enormous system of mass incarceration in the US, not the republicans. The neoliberal restructuring of the education- and health care sector was pressed forward under Obama, not stopped. His policy intensified the soaring inequality in the US and did not mitigate it.
Just after his election, Trump in an interview announced the deportation of two or three million migrants – tearing millions of families to pieces. The indignation was great. However the Obama cheered worldwide has already deported 2.5 million people, more than all other presidents in US history – without a great outcry in the media and society.
THE DILEMMA OF THE US LEFT
Therefore it is no surprise that Sanders’ rational and necessary demands have found their hospice in the Democratic Party. The democrats are the hospice of e very hope for change. The social movements of past times are already buried in their backyard. The democrats are directly responsible for the breakdown of many movements and are not only false bearers of radical demands. Every four years all the laboriously built sprouts of independent movements are wiped out to support the democrats’ election campaign out of fear of the republicans.
Under Trump, it is possible the important movements of the last years will be revived like the great anti-war movement that brought millions of people to the streets under Bush. That was one of the greatest movements of recent history but it collapsed in 2004 after the majority of activists held supporting John Kerry’s presidential campaign was necessary to prevent Bush’s reelection. After the presidential election, there were no permanent institutions outside of the democratic machine on which the movement could support itself and the last activists gave up dispirited. The two- or four year repetition of this sequence of events is the reason why there are almost no independent leftist forces in the US today. The prerequisite for that would be independence from the Democratic Party.
The future of the social movements in the US is not yet decided. Several large unions escaped spinelessly into Trump’s arms without any meeting halfway from his side. Their leaders declared they were content with his protectionist promises and announced their cooperation in that direction. Even Bernie Sanders said he was ready to cooperate with him although he opposes Trump’s racist and anti-woman policy to carry out policy in the interest of worker families. However his attempt to “unmask” Trump was condemned to fail. In a time when millions of people feel endangered in public, it does not help to step aside and stand and watch with folded arms. The policy of waiting must be replaced by unconditional resistance.
CHANCES OF LEFTIST ORGANIZING UNDER TRUMP
This process has already begun. Since Trump’s victory, the readiness to organize in one of the few leftist organizations has clearly increased. This is a necessity for every form of future confrontation. With its struggles flaring up and quickly fizzling out again and again, the “Black Lives Matter” movement was an important school for tens of thousands of activists. The protest camp in Standing Rock, North Dakota led by American First Nations peoples against the building of an oil pipeline is the strongest and most resolute movement for environmental caring and indigenous rights in decades.
The rising wave of leftist organizing is directed against the whole political establishment and not only against Trump. Many activists are skeptical toward the Democratic Party as a means of social change. How it continues will depend on whether they focus their energy only against the present leadership of this party or carry out a real breach with the democrats. The long work of building organizations and institutions of the left on an independent basis is beginning again so movements like “Black Lives Matter” and “Standing Rock” will be vital in the future.
So life in Trump’s America will be confrontational. Many in the left have the disgusting feeling that everything is now too late. People have foreseen and know the liberal crisis management without a left-oriented alternative will only give rise to a hideous right-wing. Now right-wing populism has seized power. Some in the left now expect top unionists and the sluggish left-liberal elite will take a more combative attitude as soon as the whole extent of the catastrophe becomes obvious. Time will tell.
Meanwhile the streets are full of people in many cities who cannot endure right-wing radicalism anymore and want to resist – with clenched fists, not to wait with folded arms.
THE FAILURE OF ELITIST LIBERALISM
By Marx 21
[This article published on November 10, 2016 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.marx21.de.]
The left in the US seems shocked over the election victory of Donald Trump. However the left criticizes the elites instead of blaming the population. Megan Erickson, Katherine Hill, Matt Karp, Connor Kilpatrick and Bhaskar Sunkara analyze the reasons for the disaster and draw conclusions for the left.
We have no illusions about the effects of Donald Trump’s victory. It is a disaster. The prospect for a united right-wing government led by an authoritarian populist is a catastrophe for the whole working class. There are two possible reactions to this situation. One is to blame the US population and the other is to make the elites of the country responsible.
Many “experts” will be doing the former in the coming days and weeks. Frightened liberals have already composed guidelines on immigrating to Canada. The Internet page of the Canadian immigration authority crashed on account of the gigantic number of hits. Those who drive us to this abyss are now planning their flight.
THE HYPOCRISY OF THE POLITICAL CLASS
Blaming the American population for Trump’s victory is an expression of that elitist attitude that first brought together Trump’s voters. Racism and sexism unquestionably played a crucial part in Trump’s rise. It is appalling to reflect how his triumph helped strengthen again the cruelest and most fanatical forces of American society.
Nevertheless being only outraged over trump is not a political answer but an expression of a political paralysis. It is a capitulation. An answer to the hypocrisy of the American political class that does not go beyond moral indignation and denunciation of the voters is not a policy but the opposite of a policy.
To believe Trump’s attraction is based completely on ethnic nationalism means believing the majority of US Americans are only driven by hatred and the longing for a racist program. We do not believe that. The facts also do not prove that. The election was decided by the same persons who voted for Barack Obama in 2012, as Nate Cohn of the New York Times formulated. They cannot all be fanatics.
THE PROBLEM WITH CLINTON
Four years ago Obama won with 71% of voters with Latin American roots. Clinton only gained 65% of their votes although she competed against a candidate who urges a wall along the southern US border – a candidate whose campaign began by insulting Mexicans as rapists. Clinton only won 34% of the votes of white women without college degrees and only 54% of female votes altogether – fewer than Obama who had 55% of female voters in 2012. Clinton faced a candidate who publically boasted of grabbing women.
Clinton will be blamed as a candidate for the lost election but she only embodies the consensus in the Democratic Party leadership. Under president Obama, the democrats lost nearly a thousand seats in the states, lost a dozen governor races, 69 seats in the House of Representatives and 13 in the Senate. Thus the defeat against Trump did not come out of nothing.
The problem with Clinton was her commonness, not her peculiarities or idiosyncrasies. The powerful actors in Washington decide over their nomination – many months before a single vote takes place. They made a disastrous decision for all of us by fighting in the primaries with all their strength that kind of politics that could have won: a politics in the interest of the working class.
THE FEELING OF ESTRANGEMENT
72% of the US citizens who voted on November 8 declared they believed the economy is manipulated in the interest of the rich and powerful. 68% agreed with the statement “traditional parties and politicians were not concerned with people like them.” Bernie Sanders was almost the only politician of the Democratic Party who addressed this feeling of estrangement and anger. He had a simple message for people in the US: You deserve more and are right for demanding more – health insurance, college education and a living income. That message made him by far the most popular politician of the country.
Hillary Clinton’s official platform approached some of Sanders’ concrete ideas but she rejected the core message. For leaders in the Democratic Party, there was no sense betting against America. For them, America never stopped being amazing and things could only improve. The party leaders demanded the voters leave politics to them. They believed they had everything under control. They were wrong. Now we have to deal with the consequences. We will do that. A day after the election 100,000 people demonstrated in New York City against the future president of the US.
This is a new era that necessitates a new form of politics – a politics that addresses the pressing needs and hopes of people. Elitist liberalism cannot defeat right-wing populism. We cannot migrate to Canada or hide under the bed. This is a moment for holding up democratic politics instead of rejecting democratic politics.
TWO REASONS WHY DONALD TRUMP COULD BECOME US PRESIDENT
By Patrick Schreiner
[This article published on November 9, 2016 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.annotazioni.de/post/1956.]
It is an impressive surprise. The right-wing populist Donald Trump will be US president. Two reasons make us wonder.
1. NEITHER DEMOCRATS NOR REPUBLICANS OFFER ALTERNATIVES
David Axelrod, the former chief strategist of Barack Obama, is quoted by Spiegel Online with the words Americans are “hungry for chance.” In fact, many American women obviously count themselves among the losers – rightly in many cases. White US men often insulted as dull and right-wing are the only population group in western industrial states with a declining life expectancy. The socially unregulated free trade has brought unemployment and poverty to many people. They all secured Trump’s victory.
Neither the establishment of democrats nor the establishment of republicans offers these people alternatives. The comparatively high number of votes for third-party candidates – voters for whom neither Trump nor Clinton were acceptable – shows this.
The republicans steered the political discussion in the US to the right for decades, even if religiously dressed up. They made the moderate Obama their bogeyman, let racism become socially acceptable and derived his health reform as socialist. In that way, they paved the way for Trump.
With Clinton, the democrats made a neoliberal hardliner into a candidate who more than any other symbolized the tangle of Wall Street, corporations, Hollywood and the Democratic Party. For many persons, she was not eligible for election.
Even more, the democrats – with considerable media support even in Europe – knocked out the only person who could win against trump – the leftist Bernie Sanders. During the primaries, the polls regularly showed Sanders would do better in the direct dual against trump than Clinton. The capitalist establishment had the right cards before the election between a leftist alternative and a right-wing ideologue. To the establishment, it was the more harmless variant.
2. PEOPLE WERE (AND ARE) DISSUADED OF ANY CONSCIOUSNESS OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
If the democrats were honest, they must raise the following question: Why could a rich heir, a multi-millionaire and businessperson become the champion of the (allegedly or actually) degraded? If they are self-critical, the answer would be: because people were talked out of any awareness of conflicts of interest between labor and capital or between top and bottom – with the active help of the democrats themselves. Trump’s variant of a top-bottom opposition, his “people against Washington” talk, is merely the poor right-wing –neoliberal imitation of a genuine and honest social analysis that emphasizes conflicts of interest and antagonisms.
But the political misery goes even further. For decades, people were told they should act like entrepreneurs and that capital, capitalism and employers are somehow legitimate and right. Entrepreneurship and gainful employment were long made a model for the whole life story. It has long appeared as a positive antithesis to the state and politics. Therefore it cannot be surprising that people really believe a businessman and multi-millionaire is their right man and not only the right man in the White House.
European social democracy should learn this.
Patrick Schreiner is a unionist and journalist from Bielefeld/ Berlin. Economic policy, distribution, neoliberalism and political theory are his core themes.
Bernd Drucke, “The US Election as the Turn of an Era,”
Serge Halimi, “Trump: The know-nothing victor,”
Rosa Luxemburg foundation, “Donald Trump: The Rise of the Nationalist Right,” 16 pp
Nomi Prins. “Trump’s Bait-and-Switch,”
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