Monday, 5 December 2016
Thursday, 10 November 2016
Trump Victory Shock But Not Surprise, Brexit All Over Again
Republican contender Donald Trump has been elected 45th President of the United States – against the odds, and expert pollsters’ predictions – in what seems to many to be another ‘Brexit’ moment in this most tumultuous of years. With almost all votes counted, Trump won by 74 electoral college votes but received 200,000 votes fewer than Hillary Clinton.
There are over 220 million eligible voters in the United States.
About 25% of eligible American voters have thus chosen the leader of the United States, the most powerful political office-holder in the world.
The Republicans have held onto the US Senate and the House of Representatives. A system famously wedded to divided government now has a clean sweep at major reversal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, to cut social security, slash taxes for the rich, abolish corporate regulation, institute immigration reform, among other things. Don’t even mention climate change.
Stock markets around the world reacted negatively to the news due to Donald Trump’s unpredictability and divisive rhetoric but will likely recover before long as the victor does not take office until January 2017. But they have a way of taking care of themselves.
In the short term, if the analogy to Brexit is viable, hate crime against minorities and immigrants is likely to increase, as indeed it did after candidate Trump began branding Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers early in his campaign. We should expect more street protests.
What does Trump’s victory signify? It signifies nothing less than a rejection of the politics of the past, of politics itself, and of the leadership of the Republican party, and the political and moral bankruptcy of the Hilary Clinton-led Democratic party.
Trump has changed the face of US politics. He has never held elected public office. He has used language that has never been used by a main party candidate. He has legitimised the reduction of women into sex objects and of minorities as suspect and second-class. He has shown that racist appeals to white identity combined with promises of industrial jobs aplenty can still win election to America’s highest office. He has shown that Wall St money alone cannot buy an election.
Yet he was fortunate with his opponent, Hillary Clinton – mired in Wall St donations, the epitome of the establishment politician when it was anti-elitism that was the order of the day. That fact stared her campaign in the face – literally, in the form of Bernie Sanders – but went unheeded.
It was clear from the moment that Clinton selected Tim Kaine as vice presidential running mate that the triumph of Wall St in the Democratic campaign was complete. They had, through numerous machinations, seen off Sanders and prepared Hillary for her long-hoped for coronation. Unlike Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton was not an outsider but the ultimate insider. She proved too cautious, too conservative, too timid to embrace what was an historic opportunity.
What was meant to be a coronation turned into a civil war, one that Trump was better suited to waging.
She promised more of the same to a nation that, after 8 years of Obama’s presidency, was more unequal and seething with discontent on Left and Right. The last thing they wanted was someone attached to the centre-ground. And, on top of that, who had already helped herself, and her family, to vast amounts of corporate funds – over $3 billion over 4 decades of ‘public’ service.
And outsourcing the State Department’s emails to herself, along with the role of the FBI in keeping the issue alive right up until polling day itself, proved the final nail in her political ambition, the Clinton house of cards.
Trump and Sanders each won 13 million votes in the primaries – 26 million in total – to Clinton’s 16 million, and that’s without accounting for Sanders’s victories in caucus states. The anti-establishment tsunami passed Clinton and her centrist strategists by, consigning them to the dustbin of history.
Donald Trump was lucky with his opponent. Had Bernie Sanders been the Democratic candidate, we might have seen a real challenge to Trump’s racist, misogynistic, right-wing campaign. Indeed, in that contest we might have seen the emergence of synergies that seem to have made nonsense out of the Left/Right divide. Perhaps Bernie Sanders Brand New Congress, Our Revolution, and Sanders Institute, will show their mettle in the political struggles to come.
What will Trump do? At home, he has a conservative congress and senate. As he has rowed back on his promise to raise taxes on the rich and big corporations, Republican lawmakers will embrace him like one of their own. As Trump has relied heavily on the Heritage Foundation for his tax policy, attitude to welfare and ‘entitlements’ like social security, we should expect a major attack from the Republican Right.
This would be contrary to promises made and implied on the campaign trail and likely to alienate his political base among workers. But many of them – inspired by Trump’s giving them their country back – might not care, at least in the short run. The psychological wage of white male power has often proved seductive in a racial order based on divide and rule.
Trump will appoint a Supreme Court justice opposed to the landmark Roe vs Wade decision of 1973 which made abortion legal. This would set back women’s rights and is likely to generate massive resistance.
The Heritage Foundation has not only produced its Blueprint for Reform to which the Trump camp appears closely attached, but also seen its former president, Ed Feulner, appointed several months ago to chair of the Trump Transition Team – the group developing policy options and possible appointees to cabinet and other governmental positions.
America is in for 4 years of the most right-wing conservative government since Ronald Reagan; it may leave Reagan in the shade.
Overseas, Donald Trump questioned the whole edifice of the US-led world order since 1945, especially its military alliances and agreements – NATO, the treaties with Japan and South Korea, intervention in Syria, the war on Iraq, the rising confrontation with Russia in the Baltic States and eastern Europe. He has indicated rejection of the Iran nuclear agreement.
He has promised to wipe out ISIS, re-introduce water-boarding and torture as policy against terror suspects, and to bomb and kill their wives and children. His election will strengthen the belief in some circles that the United States is at war with Islam.
Yet, again, Trump appears to have drawn his military policy from the Heritage Foundation. And the Republican party platform adopted at the Convention notes the indispensability of American power, the necessity of “vast superiority” of military power over rivals, of maintaining America’s alliances and treaties, of checking Russian “expansionism”.
This is contrary to the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and may well be a source of tension with fellow Republicans in the House and Senate. It will test Trump’s deal-making skills.
It is to be hoped that the growing confrontation between NATO forces and Russia might be defused by Trump’s personal negotiation with Putin. It is, after all, NATO that has expanded its operations all the way to the Russian border.
It would also be welcome to many on the Left and in general across America should the United States draw back from and reduce its military commitments around the world. But Trump would have to fight fellow Republicans to achieve that.
America has chosen its mercurial man of destiny to lead it for the next 4 years. His policies at home will re-ignite mass opposition that might regenerate the moribund politics of the Democratic party.
The rest of the world must learn to manage President Donald Trump, whichever one finally shows up.
Sunday, 6 November 2016
Trump people: The GOP and the politics of white identity, class and gender
Professor Inderjeet Parmar
Why are so many white women supporting Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency against Hillary Clinton, the first female major party candidate for the White House? On top of everything Trump has said about particular women or women in general, he also repudiated Roe vs Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that enabled women’s right to abortion, a right that the GOP has chipped away at for decades.
Why are so many white workers supporting a billionaire elitist who exploits his own workers? Trump uses illegal immigrants in his various companies, undercuts wages and uses Chinese steel to build his hotels, despite his complaints about China dumping goods in the United States.
Why are so many relatively affluent Americans backing Trump?
The big answer, according to new research by Gallup economist Jonathan Rothwell, is a lethal mixture of financial anxiety, fear and hopelessness for the future – of immigrants, globalisation, job insecurity, poor health – and the politics of white identity. They yearn for a mythical golden age of 50 years ago. White Americans, especially men, are intending to vote for Trump not because they believe he is going to solve their problems but because, they believe, he will reverse the privileged treatment bestowed upon those who have destroyed white supremacy: the outsider, the foreigner, the immigrant, the asylum seeker, the terrorist, the African-American enemy within – and even highly successful white women who challenge white male supremacy. In 2008 and 2012, the outsider had a black face – Barack Obama; now the outsider with a woman’s body is on the verge of electoral victory.
Women supporting Trump tend to be those who occupy the weakest position in the labour market, leading them to see themselves in traditional gender roles as nurturers and carers. The corollary of this is that they see their men as responsible for protecting them, and professionally successful women as competitors for those men’s jobs.
According to women’s historian Stephanie Coontz, the highest proportion of women in America who are stay-at-home mums reside in the bottom 25 per cent income bracket. Their households need two incomes but the woman going out to work finds only low-paying jobs which do not cover child care costs. They are locked into a position of a subordinate in a male-dominated household, resentful of two-income families and strong, successful women.
Combine all this with anxieties about the looming spectre of an America dominated by non-whites – by 2050, the US will be a majority-minority nation – for many, their country is facing an existential crisis. Fears about globalisation, free trade, immigration are real enough as sources of economic insecurity. But combined with white hyper-ethno-nationalist identity politics, those fears become a major threat to American society as a whole, and its global authority – it’s identity as a land of immigrants, of opportunity based on merit not race or colour, its democratic and egalitarian ethos and image – its attractiveness to the world as an advanced society, its soft power.
Donald Trump has fused economic worries, racial and gender resentment into a politics of fear and revenge, a politics fuelled by a desire to “take our country back” from enemies domestic and foreign, and from the elites who gave America away – to Mexicans, Muslims, minorities.
But Trump hardly invented the politics of white identity – the GOP has framed issues of gender and race in such terms for decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, during the rights revolution, Republicans – along with their Dixiecrat allies – contended that unpatriotic blacks, students, pacifists, uppity women were destroying the fabric of America – family, religion, nation, hope. When right-wing Republican Barry Goldwater won five southern states in the 1964 presidential election by opposing civil rights and de-segregation, he blazed a trail followed by successive GOP presidents. It is said that Goldwater lost the election but won the future. And the lesson of 1964 led to the racist ‘southern strategy’ of Richard Nixon and to Ronald Reagan’s coded racism, apparent in his call for the restoration of ‘state’s rights’ – the slogan of southern slavery and segregation – in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1980.
This call attracted non-conservative working class white voters to the party of low taxes and small government. It gave them a psychological wage only: economically they lost ground due to deindustrialisation and globalisation, and cuts to welfare programmes – as did, to an even greater extent, African-American workers. The GOP’s coded racism divided black and white workers and offered only hyper-anxiety about others taking what whites were supposed to have by prior right. From that politics of fear and resentment, the Republican Party developed a discourse that has damaged the basic tenets of democratic Americanism. It has been racist, xenophobic and misogynistic. And it has now sprouted a movement with the hallmarks of a “last stand” against a changing America, one that would declare an election stolen before a vote’s been cast and demand their opponent be jailed as a common criminal.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric is not new; he’s just more open with it. Trump’s language, the coarse vulgarity, the lack of recognition of the legitimacy of the opposition – is not his invention. It was pioneered during the 1990s by Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America - a declaration of war against the Democratic Party, bipartisanship, and the Clintons.
Trump’s talk of ‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘Lying Ted’ is part of a rhetoric that began in the 1990s. The GOP employed Orwellian PR men like Frank Luntz who changed the language and imagery of politics, attaching epithets to everything they opposed – corrupt, greedy, lazy. Luntz’s claim to fame is that he invented “climate change” as the neutral-sounding term to replace “global warming”.
Whoever wins this election, the country is in for a very tough time. America will survive Donald Trump but at what price? And how will a changing world react –a China that still champs at the thought of its ‘century of humiliation’ at the hands of colonial exploitation, a Middle East seething with the lethal and illegal exercise of American military violence, an India trying to shed its colonial past and enter the top table of world politics – still dominated by the US-led West?
Thursday, 20 October 2016
Final Debate Confirms Positions – strengths and weaknesses of Both Candidates: Trump Sets Stage for Refusal to Accept Election Result if he Loses
The final US presidential debate confirmed what we already knew about both candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. Donald Trump has no experience of political office, speaks in vague and general terms on major policy questions, is vulnerable on the question of women, and refused in advance to accept election defeat, should that occur, because he claims the system is “rigged”.
This last position confirms that he believes the electoral systems of the several American states, many of them in Republicans’ hands, are illegitimate despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This has never before occurred in the history American presidential elections and indicates a chasm deeper than the San Andreas fault between the two candidates, between the Republican candidate and his own party, his own campaign team, major supporters like Governor Chris Christie and his vice presidential running mate, Governor Mike Pence.
But his core voters – drawn from a wide social base extending deep into America’s affluent middle classes – will be encouraged to stick with their candidate until the very end.
He also argued that as a “criminal”, Clinton should not even be allowed to run for president. In the first debate he said that he would have Hillary investigated and sent to jail for her crimes. He is setting the stage for a declaration of a rigged, stolen election that illegally deprives him of victory on 8 November. Should he stick with this line after what looks like inevitable defeat on 8 November, he may well continue a campaign to undermine the legitimacy of a Clinton presidency much as he tried to do with false claims against President Obama that he was not born in the United States, a claim believed by large swathes of the Republican electorate even today.
This unprecedented stance would place the US alongside authoritarian states and dictatorships that routinely jail opponents, a practice in many US allied nations that threatens to come home. But it will delight his core support whose slogan is “Lock Her Up”.
Donald Trump also accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign of causing violence at some of his election rallies and encouraging women to come forward with false claims that the Republican had sexually molested them. “She started the riot at my Chicago rally,” he stated. He flatly denied he’d ever molested or groped any women and declared that he respects women more than any other person alive. Trump’s world is beyond evidence, a self-contained reality.
Trump was stronger on his remarks about Iraq, on Libya and Syria where he scored well for pointing out that President Assad, Russia and Iran were actually fighting ISIS while the US backs ‘rebels’ whose loyalties are suspect.
He also went on the offensive over the Clinton emails matter and made legitimate points about the derailing of the FBI’s investigation. There is a case to answer there which will be used by opponents like Trump to challenge her leadership and block her presidential initiatives, especially if the GOP retains a hold on the House of Representatives.
Trump called Hillary Clinton “a liar” on at least 4 occasions, and interrupted his opponent on numerous more occasions.
On another landmark issue in post-war American politics – Roe vs Wade which made abortion legal – Trump stated he would appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn the decision of 1973. Hillary Clinton’s stout defence of the pro-choice position was both clear and hard-hitting – and will further widen the rift between women voters and the Republican candidate.
Overall, Donald Trump’s debate performance was acceptable but he did not secure a victory last night. Clinton has now won every debate according to opinion polls that have a secure methodology, i.e., anything approaching a representative sample of either debate-watchers or likely voters. But the core support of each candidate will not have been affected by the third and final contest between the candidates for the White House.
Clinton’s performance was, once again, measured, detailed on policy, generally on point in regard to questions asked, and even witty on occasion, as when she threw in a remark about the Chinese steel used by Trump to build his Las Vegas hotel while he was plugging his various luxury assets.
On the economy, it was noteworthy that Trump agreed with Chris Wallace, the Fox News debate host, when he said that Trump stood for lower taxes and less government regulation, but the Republican’s response was to argue that NATO countries should “pay up”, avoiding the question itself and economists who criticise his tax reduction plans as likely to cause a massive increase in the national debt. Clinton derided Trump tax plans as “trickle down economics on steroids”.
Low taxes for the rich and less corporate regulation contradicts the political attitudes of large parts of the GOP candidates working class core support. It will remain to be seen if that makes any difference to them on election day.
In their closing statements the contrast was stark and confirms where each candidate stands rhetorically: while Clinton emphasised jobs, diversity, fairness, taxing corporations, Trump spoke about a stronger military, more empowered police forces, and twice in a minute repeated his ambition to make America great again.
There remain in the region of 19% of American voters still undecided on their choice of president. Polls over the next week will show if anything in last night’s debate changed their minds. Hillary Clinton has a strong lead at present nationally and in almost all key states but that large figure of undecided voters means this election contest is going to the wire.
Americans will finally decide on what kind of country and leader they want. Most are likely to vote negatively - against the candidate they dislike most rather for than for one they truly admire.
American democracy has produced two of the most disliked candidates for president in a century or more and however it goes on 8 November, there will remain massive political discontent and disillusionment. Given the poisonous atmosphere, the spectre of political violence hangs over the United States. And if Clinton wins, as almost all polls predict, there is likely to be a concerted right wing effort to declare her election illegitimate and to block her legislative programme. This is the end point of post-truth politics where a politician can say whatever they like regardless of the facts and maintain that position despite evidence, and be believed by a significant proportion of the electorate, regardless of level of income or education.
The paranoid style in American politics, documented long ago by historian Richard Hofstadter, is alive and well and hard-wired in divisive partisan politics.
In the 1990s, the Clintons spoke of a vast right wing conspiracy against their leadership. They may have been half-right then, but the power of the Right has exploded since then. President Clinton is going to need a mobilised Democratic party, energised by the Bernie Sanders Millennials, to stand any chance of sustaining her credibility as America’s first woman chief executive and commander-in-chief.
Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Trump and Gingrich talk of “rigged election” and “coup d’etat” is green light for violent rejection of a Clinton victory
It has long been part of Donald Trump’s so-called post-election defeat strategy to cry foul and declare the system rigged against the self-declared people’s billionaire champion. Now, just ahead of the third and final debate with Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, the former Republican House speaker, Newt Gingrich has blamed the corporate media for a ‘coup d’etat’ against Trump who, Gingrich claims, would be leading by 15% were it not for media bias. The latter is most apparent in the time devoted last week to the video showing Trump boasting of sexually assaulting women as contrasted with the scant attention to Wikileaked speeches by Hillary Clinton, Gingrich suggests.
Post-truth politics rarely paid attention to reality but a coup d’etat indicates a further slip into the Alice in Wonderland world of the Trump roadshow. The ‘reality’ TV star candidate’s supporters are desperately trying to rescue a campaign that’s been on the rocks since their leader attacked a Gold Star family and has approached freefall since Trump was exposed on television for boasting about his licence, as a TV star, to do whatever he wished to women.
According to the encylopedia Britannica a coup d’etat is “the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group. The chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” Not only has there been no violence against Donald Trump, he is yet actually to win any political office, let alone be removed from it by military coercion.
Newt Gingrich, who has a doctorate in history, appears to need reminding that claims require substantiation in terms of concrete evidence.
Asked if the election is literally being “rigged” or “stolen” at local voting centres, Gingrich replied that he was referring only to media bias in covering the Trump sex tape as compared with the Clinton speeches exposed by Wikileaks. That still does not explain Trump’s repeated calls at recent rallies urging his supporters to ‘monitor’ voting at their polling stations, including following “illegals” attempting to vote.
The Trump campaign has begun recruiting “election observers”. At a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump warned, without evidence, of vote rigging: “We’re gonna watch Pennsylvania,” he said. “Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times. The only way we can lose…..is if cheating goes on. I really believe it.
“So I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th [November] – go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100% fine,” he added.
Trump’s focus on Pennsylvania obliquely alludes to the fact that in over 50 voting districts – mainly in majority African-American localities - Republican candidate Mitt Romney secured not a single vote in 2012. This was also the case for Republican John McCain when he ran against Barack Obama in 2008. Obama secured well over 90% of the total African-American vote in both election victories.
Steve Webb, a Trump voter Ohio, declared he'd be an election monitor: "I'll look for ... well, it's called racial profiling. Mexicans, Syrians ... people who can't speak American. I'm going to go right up behind them. I'll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I'm not going to do anything illegal. I'm going to make them a little bit nervous."
A study by Loyola law school in 2014 demonstrated a mere 31 “credible” cases of voter fraud from a total of 1 billion ballots cast.
It is the case however that the Trump sexual assault boasts received several times more air time than did the leaked emails concerning Clinton’s speeches to Wall St firms, knowledge that a key US ally, Saudi Arabia, has been funding ISIS, among other things, which certainly merits further investigation. But given that Trump made Bill Clinton’s sexual adventures a campaign issue for Hillary, he would automatically draw attention to any revelations of his own scandals, especially ones so serious as normally to be considered illegal sexual assault.
In addition, Trump has generally garnered far more TV airtime than any other candidate either in the Republican primaries or in the presidential campaign. One survey showed Trump receiving in excess of $2 billion free airtime in contrast to Clinton’s $700 million and Bernie Sanders’s pitiful $250m. Trump’s media strategy – to make outsized claims to draw media attention and to keep the spotlight has finally produced serious blowback and damaged his polling numbers.
But there is a bigger issue at stake in the claims made on the Right about the likely defeat of their champion – the leader who is making a last ditch stand against the satanic forces of evil, as some evangelicals, birthers and alt-right extremists prepare for Armageddon. This is no ordinary election for them but the showdown about who owns and runs America.
The collection of white supremacists, Christian evangelicals, and anti-globalists believe Trump when he says the country is ‘going to hell’ because of the presidency of Barack Obama and the prospect of Hillary Clinton as chief executive. They are preparing either for an ‘end of days’ apocalypse or a race war to halt the inevitable – an America which, in a few short decades, will feature whites as a minority of the population.
Asked repeatedly during the first presidential debate whether he would concede to Clinton if he failed to secure the presidency, Trump reluctantly concurred but later toyed with rejecting a Clinton victory. While there is no rule stating that the losing contender must graciously concede, given the vitriolic character of Trump’s campaign, and the complete rejection of the legitimacy of his opponent and of the very electoral system, there could well be a violent reaction from a minority of the millions of voters – many of them gun owners and second amendment diehards – Trump has rallied with his fiery message.
A Survey Monkey poll suggests that around 30% of Trump voters would reject a Clinton victory as illegitimate, with just under a third saying they would accept it.
Trump’s message has been a long time in the making, however, and seems to be the logical development of trends deep in post-1960s Republican and Democratic party politics. The apocalyptic calls from southern segregationists against civil rights, President Nixon’s thinly veiled racist calls for law and order and espousal of a racist ‘southern strategy’, the FBI’s war on civil rights and black power, Ronald Reagan’s championing of coded racist ‘states rights’ at a rally at Philadelphia, Mississippi – the scene in 1964 of the killing of 3 civil rights activists – and the marrying of religion and politics in a new cold war against the ‘evil empire’ built a platform for Trump.
And in the 1990s, with the victory of Bill Clinton, the anti-globalists and puritanical purists felt the forces of UN and NAFTA darkness, led by Newt Gingrich’s counter-revolutionary ‘contract with America’, and the general slide into the rejection of the Clinton and Democrats, and their ethnically- and racially-diverse coalition, as legitimate actors on the political scene.
Mainstream party politics, dominated by Big Money, and championing low taxes for the rich and small government for the working and middle classes, created the foundations of both of this election cycle’s insurgencies – led by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both leaders claim the system is rigged against ordinary people and call for a revolution.
But the anger and bitterness is almost exclusively the domain of the Trump campaign, whose white ethno-nationalist base seems to want a final showdown to win ‘their country’ back.
Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London, and a columnist at The Wire
Follow him on twitter - @USEmpire
Thursday, 13 October 2016
US Presidential Election 2012: Post-Truth Politics
In the September 2012 edition of Political Insight, I wrote an article on the political decay of the two main American political parties and their disconnection with the lives and anxieties of ordinary people.
The opening paragraph of that article is pasted below and shows that the 2016 election process, and the sheer vitriol, anger and resentment, and deep ideological divides it has made apparent, has been coming for some time, has gathered real momentum and is unlikely to fizzle out any time soon; more likely, there is a political explosion on the cards unless the next president fashions a new political bargain at home and abroad - one that focuses on redistribution income, wealth and power away from Wall St, and reduce US global military, financial and political commitments overseas.
"There are many issues in the 2012 US presidential election campaign that are central to understanding US politics generally and US power today, such as money, national security and religion.
The US may be suffering from high unemployment levels, spiralling home repossessions and increased wealth and income inequality, yet the politics of the world's lone superpower seem almost entirely removed from the lives of the mass of ordinary working Americans. On the face of it, the US appears to have fully embraced ‘post-truth politics’, a condition in which practically anything may be said and taken seriously about almost any subject regardless of its connection with reality.
The leadership groups of both the Republican and Democratic parties are implicated in a politics seemingly disconnected from reality. They are both more or less equally committed to a politics dominated by Big Finance rather than popular sovereignty; to an economic philosophy obsessed with the market mechanism, regardless of its utility to the broad mass of Americans; and to a foreign and national security perspective more suited to the interests of a global imperium than its own, let alone the world's, people.
Both parties are heavily invested in the Lincolnian belief that the US is ‘the last best hope of earth’."
Trump-Clinton Second Debate: Extraordinary Times, Landmark Election
The main thing that we learned or, rather, we were reminded of, from the second debate is that this is truly an extraordinary election, and the outcome is going to be very significant going into the next decade or more. There are two forces up against each other – the status quo, represented by Democratic Hillary Clinton, who symbolises the political establishment, against the Republican Donald Trump, who argues that he is a change candidate. The race started off with an extraordinary primary season, where Hillary Clinton defeated the ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders after he secured over 13 million votes in the Democratic primaries; the debating season is matching this that unprecedented character.
The (most recent) strategy that Trump has been employing is to try to win back those Republican voters turned off by his overall image of xenophobia and misogyny. I do not believe that there was enough in the second debate, other than his denial on the question of the video tape released on Friday, to win them over. Overall, he is believed to have failed to win back ground from Clinton, who held her own in the debate, even when Trump raised allegations of sexual abuse relating to her husband for which she could hardly be held responsible.
Hillary Clinton maintained a relatively dignified approach to the entire debate, which had a very personal nature. Donald Trump used the tactics he is normally associated with, which often lower the level of civility, by saying that she had “hate in her heart” and that she has tolerated abuse. The important point to make here, though, is that this kind of political gossip is an opium of the American electorate, and the cult of celebrity and interest in stardom means these debate exchanges are lapped up every four years.
Yet, Trump hit home with several points that show why this race is as close as it is: Clinton's place and role as an establishment politician, with powerful links with the past and with Big Money, the disasters of the Iraq war and of the financial meltdown of 2008-09, of the chaos in post-US intervention for regime change in Libya. Trump also scored with criticism of Clinton's private email server as secretary of state and with the Wikileaked transcripts of Clinton's espousal of sympathy with Wall St and on the efficacy of maintaining public and private positions on key political questions, and her sympathy for a policy she has publicly repudiated - the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Hillary Clinton's credibility, level of public trust and disapproval is only slightly higher than the same for Donald Trump.
But that should not deflect from the other main problem at the moment, and that is that Donald Trump stands for a reversal of the historic 1960s and 1970s rights revolution, where women and African Americans and many other minorities won rights. What he stands for is really a reversion to the 1950s – he’s a person who appears to wish that the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement had never happened.
The election of Barack Obama for the first time in 2008, and now the prospect of a woman president in 2016, has really sent a signal to a lot of people who are very deeply conservative, who opposed the rights revolution from the very beginning, and have chipped away at those gains ever since. The level of vitriol against those changes and the effect that they are now having in the twenty-first century, has reached such a high point that Trump is able to sustain support despite everything he’s said and done.
Trump continues to garner support at between 40 and 42 per cent in opinion polls, which appears at odds with everything we know about his businesses, his taxes and his attitudes towards women and racial minorities. On the other hand, it must be remembered that his popularity still puts him near the lower end of support achieved in previous election campaigns. We could see something similar to Republican contender Barry Goldwater’s spectacular defeat when, in 1964, he was thoroughly trounced in the electoral college, resulting in a landslide victory to Lyndon Johnson.
It is said of Barry Goldwater that he lost the election but won the future – a victory that resonates with the anti-rights appeals of Donald Trump. But 2016 is not 1964 and the demographic future of America is against the Trump tide. When national opinion polls are translated into electoral college votes in the key swing states, it will probably be a handsome victory for Hillary Clinton, leaving a Trump rump that will maintain that the election process was rigged all along, that his defeat resulted from betrayal by the GOP's leadership.
Expect more thunder from the Right.