Friday, 11 November 2016

Are you awake yet?

Politics as usual is over.

There are two questions on everyone’s mind, I’m sure. What the hell just happened? And what the hell’s going to happen now?

I’ll start with the second one. If the UK after the Brexit vote is any guide, before the new President is even sworn in there’ll be a groundswell of criminal violence against people of colour – Latin Americans and Muslims in particular, but I don’t imagine they’ll be too picky. The word will be “We just voted to kick you lot out.” That was, after all, Trump’s main platform.

(Just so you know: I wrote that paragraph before I read the innumerable news reports confirming it.)

You needn’t bother arguing with me on this part, by the way. You may have a different view of Trump’s character than I do; but I’m not going to drag you through a whole bunch of news items and political analyses you can Google for yourself and a discussion you won’t read, just to provide back-up evidence of who he is. Instead I’m going to make predictions, and the next few years will prove me right or wrong.

Trump will begin his Presidential career with an aggressive and vindictive purge of every high-ranking Republican who walked out on him. (“You’re fired.”) He will then issue an executive order to deport undocumented immigrants. Existing law enforcement and military will not be up to the job, so he will create a special taskforce and recruit the kind of people who were chanting his name at rallies to staff it – i.e. men who relish the chance to point guns at brown people with the government’s blessing. There will be deaths.

Work will begin on the Mexico border wall fairly early on. It will have to be financed. Even the President of the United States doesn’t have the power to make Mexico pay for it, as he promised. He will demand payment, and Mexico will say “No.” Most likely he’ll stump up the cash in the meantime by gutting some public service he doesn’t think important, like the unemployment benefit – hey, with all the lazy illegals gone who needs it, right? But he’ll also threaten Mexico with military action if they don’t pay up. He will eventually carry out that threat.

Yes, I know Trump has promised not to send more soldiers to war. Of all the promises he’s made, that’s the one I’m most sure he’ll break. He may only rattle sabres at Mexico, but there will definitely be another Middle East bloodbath. Trump is an over-confident man, and that’s the biggest risk factor there is both for starting wars and for escalating wars. The decision-makers on both sides in World War I were certain they’d be holding victory parades before Christmas 1914. That’s why there was a World War I.

The Republican establishment don’t like Trump any more than anyone else does. They will wait for the first inevitable cock-up and impeach him, and that at least will be a bipartisan effort, though the Republicans will claim afterwards that it was the Democrats’ doing in order to pacify Trump’s popular following. Or that will be the plan. Presumably, Trump will put up a fight. I’m not going to try and call who’ll win that fight or how long it’ll take. I do confidently predict that Trump will not stay within the law.

Obamacare will be gone by February, of course. Trump won’t replace it with anything better; he needs that money for his wall. People who can’t afford private health insurance will be left to die. That won’t change if they do successfully impeach Trump, because his replacement will be Mike Pence.

At some point, if he’s not kicked out first, Trump will start tearing holes in the Constitution to expand his own powers. He will, in particular, carry through on his proposal to weaken the First Amendment so he can sue, or maybe jail, people who say mean things about him. Pence won’t patch up those holes when he takes over. But whatever Pence is, I think he will baulk at actually using nukes – provided of course that he’s in charge by the time the war reaches that point. Trump won’t.

I can’t even celebrate the fact that the TPPA is now dead in the water, because so is the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Global warming is a Chinese conspiracy to cripple American industry, remember? By the time there’s an adult in the White House again it’ll be too late. Say goodbye to Tuvalu and Kiribati and other low-lying Pacific Island nations.

That’s what I think is going to happen. If I’m wrong about any of it (apart from the impeachment) I’ll be happy, believe me. But like I said, I’m not going to get into arguments. There’s no point. If I’m right, we’ll know when it happens, and if I’m wrong, we’ll know when it happens. The other question is much more debatable: what the hell happened? Who did this? What did they do wrong? How do we avoid doing it again?

Well, I think I can tell you one thing that didn’t happen: there wasn’t a sudden drastic overnight shift in American culture that made the unthinkable thinkable. This has been coming for years. The election was balanced on a knife-edge, and it was mainly chance that it fell one way and not the other. The critical question is: how did America get to the point where one candidate’s alleged inappropriate use of an e-mail server could push them onto a knife-edge against an openly racist, misogynist, fascist bully?

It begins with America’s national superiority complex. Anyone who’s not an American but gets most of their entertainment from America will know that little prickle of annoyance when the good guys enthuse about “saving American lives” as if they were worth more than other lives, or match up “the American way” with “truth” and “justice” as if America were a deep moral principle instead of a contingent political entity like any other country. There’s nationalistic prejudice aplenty in New Zealand too, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t see having to share the world with others as some kind of affront. A narcissistic buffoon would not get elected here on the slogan “Make New Zealand Great Again”.

Then there’s the racism, which it turns out hadn’t gone away. America became the country it is through genocide of Natives, enslavement of Africans, and territorial war against Mexicans. That sort of thing in a country’s past tends to inspire self-justificatory myths among the descendants of the perpetrators, which continue to percolate through the generations. Since the success of the Civil Rights movement, racism has been something one doesn’t talk about in polite society. Breaking news: that doesn’t kill it.

On top of that there’s religion. Among white voters religion was the biggest predictor of their vote. Support for Trump was highest (at 81%) among white Evangelicals, which makes me, a white ex-Evangelical, boggle just a bit. Since Ronald Reagan’s pact with the Moral Majority, Republicans but not Democrats have paid lip service to the Christian sexual purity ethic, and I guess the Tea Party is what happens when the Evangelicals realize that lip service is all they’re getting. But how do you go from there to supporting Donald “Grab ’em by the pussy” Trump?

There was a study came out a few months ago on what inspired people to support Trump. It turned out the biggest factor, bigger than party alignment, was an authoritarian mindset – based on answers to questions like “Which is more important, giving children inspiration or teaching them manners?” Authoritarians love bullies. American Christianity is a contender for the most authoritarian worldview influencing world events today (sexual purity ethic, case in point). Which makes perfect sense, I suppose, if you believe that morals proceed downward from a Divine Authority.

Reagan’s other legacy is neoliberalism, the political philosophy that in my early childhood became Just The Way Things Work. Business does all the good stuff in the world. Governments are there mainly to run central banks, which set interest rates as they lend to commercial banks, and of course to protect business with police and the military. Trade barriers must be knocked down; money and goods should move freely across borders.

Neoliberalism is a disaster for workers in Western countries. In the ’80s, government services were aggressively defunded and sold off to profit-driven corporations. Naturally, prices shot up. With trade barriers gone, employers could get their labour from countries without the protections that Western workers had struggled so long and hard to gain, and they did. Wages plummeted. The Democrats, who stand up creditably against religious authoritarianism, passively accept neoliberalism.

Even that wouldn’t have been quite the problem it was but for the excuse that neoliberals offer to explain why stripping down social services means you don’t have social services any more, which is “It’s because of immigration.” What they mean is, there’s now too many people for the existing service to go around. Which is technically true – in the same sense that if you take out half your library’s WiFi bandwidth you’ll find you have too many users, or if you block all but one highway into a city you’ll end up with too much traffic.

But if people are struggling, and you tell them “It’s because of immigration,” and their community is one that passes around racist myths to feel better about its past, you shouldn’t be surprised if a large percentage of them understand you to be saying “It’s because of immigrants.” They will decide – you’ll be shocked (shocked!) to discover – to try kicking out the immigrants and see if that works any better.

Tellingly, polls earlier this year found that Trump got more support in areas with few immigrants than in areas with many. This wasn’t a rational response to real-world problems, it was a panic reaction against an Evil Illegal bogeyman that neoliberals are just as responsible as racists for creating.

So that’s the background. Nationalism, racism, authoritarian religion, and widespread, justified dissatisfaction with the neoliberal status quo. Those were the challenges the Democratic Party faced. And they chose to answer them by nominating Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

You know who I’m going to mention next. What was wrong with Bernie Sanders?

Would Sanders have beat Trump? We’ll never know for sure. The polls seemed to say he would, but then the polls also seemed to say that Clinton would, and for that matter they also said that the UK would stay in the EU. Actually, given the parallels between this election and the Brexit vote, we might have a test for that. The UK’s Labour Party is currently led by Jeremy Corbyn, who is very similar in both politics and temperament to Bernie Sanders. If the UK were to hold a general election next year and Corbyn won convincingly, that might be an indication that Sanders could have beaten Trump. Unfortunately the UK’s next general election is not until 2020, by which time things will have changed a lot and it won’t be much of an indication either way.

Precisely because I think Bernie Sanders was far and away the best choice, I must be careful not to mistake my own enthusiasm for an insight into the feelings of the electorate. I’d like to be able to laugh off accusations of misogynistic intimidation by “Bernie Bros” against Clinton supporters, but at least some of them really did happen. There were dire allegations of vote-rigging in the Democratic primary, but Clinton has since then been investigated by the FBI with a view to discrediting her, and evidence of anything like that would have been gold to them. If they didn’t find it it’s probably because it wasn’t there.

Whatever Sanders’ merits, there’s no doubt Hillary Clinton’s image was tainted by her affiliation with the Democratic establishment and her close relationship with the big banks and corporations. Her history of supporting military action in the Middle East lost her a chunk of potential supporters. And I know I for one didn’t trust her promise to oppose the TPPA. But... but...

...but she was up against Donald Trump, you guys. If there’s one person in the entire United States guaranteed to break promises, abuse power, favour big corporations, and throw bombs at foreign countries that look at him funny, it’s Donald Trump. “Look you, first on this picture, then on this.” Yes, Trump doesn’t have a record of voting for war or for tax cuts. This is for the same reason that my cat Louis doesn’t have a record of voting for war or tax cuts, namely that he’s never been in politics. And frankly Louis would make a better President.

If the Democratic establishment earn a chunk of the blame, for nominating a candidate so out of touch with the electorate, then an equal chunk must go to the wannabe-rebels who went around after the nomination going “Hillary is no better than Trump – vote [third party / write-in / joke candidate of your choice here].” It would take a much nastier record than Clinton’s to be no better than Trump. In the end the third-party candidates didn’t affect the result, unlike Ralph Nader in 2000. But huge numbers of people didn’t vote, and at least some of them will have been convinced by the third-party enthusiasts dumping dirt on Clinton.

The next four years, if not many more, are going to be dark and unpleasant. It could have been avoided if we on the Left had been building an alternative to neoliberalism for the last twenty years instead of assuming other people would do that if we complained enough. It could have been avoided if leftists and moderates alike hadn’t underestimated what we were up against. It could have been avoided if we’d been awake.

Are you awake yet?

Are you awake yet?

1 comment:

  1. Lots of people were awake (although could be forgiven for thinking they were having nightmares), but had no idea *what* they could do. Other than buy a bit of land as far away as possible and start subsistence farming.