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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

2016: A Great Year in American Politics; 2017 will be even better

For many, 2016 has seen a turn for the worse in American politics mainly due to the election victory of Republican Donald Trump.

But here’s some feel-good news on which to end the year, an alternative interpretation of the events and processes in 2016, providing hope and encouragement for better things to come. To be sure, the world has changed, turned some kind of corner, and placed us in dimly-charted territory.

But some things are clearer:

Wall Street lost the presidential election; conservative ideology lost out to massive demands for bigger government for the people and heavier taxation of the corporate class and the very rich; the American establishment, it’s billionaire class, was, and is, on the ropes; its principal candidate, Hillary Clinton, found guilty by the American electorate of standing for the status quo among other ‘crimes and misdemeanours’; and a self-declared socialist won over 13 million votes in the primaries and is building a progressive campaign to change America by inaugurating a new post-partisan politics.

Millions voted for candidates who demanded America step back from its global policeman role and reduce its military footprint. Its post-1945 global military and other alliances were challenged and questioned and its Middle eastern wars denounced, especially the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. America’s ineffectiveness and role in fighting so-called Islamic State was brought into public debate. The very grounds of the Pax Americana were interrogated for the first time by one of the main contenders for the presidency.

Protests over the election of Donald Trump criss-crossed the nation, and funds began flowing in their millions to campaigns against intolerance, hate crimes and xenophobia. The politics of progressivism has taken a huge leap forward. It looks like it’s going to continue to do so. At the local level, where ordinary Americans actually live, millions voted to raise the minimum wage in many states. US politics has been changed for the better in 2016 and 2017 is likely to be even better.

In Britain, leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn was returned to lead the Labour party by an even larger margin than in September 2015, damaging the campaign of Blairites and their ilk to return the party to the failed policies of austerity, mimicking the Tories draconian attacks on working and middle class people.

The long-awaited Chilcot Report into the Iraq War provided a damning indictment of the leadership of Tony Blair and the doctoring of intelligence to support a prior commitment to wage illegal aggression on Saddam Hussein’s regime and the ordinary people of Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands in the process, displacing millions, and opening up a fertile space for the rise of Islamic State. “Never again” was the principal message from that report, echoed across Britain, Europe and the USA. No more neo-colonial wars was the rallying call of groups like Stop The War and the families of soldiers killed in illegal conflict.

In Austria, the Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen defeated the hard right’s Norbert Hofer decisively and helped stem the tide on the populist right movement across Europe. In Germany, millions supported taking in a million refugees fleeing oppression, hunger and war in Africa and the Middle east.  The nuclear agreement with Iran remains intact and avoided a (nother) major war in the region, and ISIS suffered major setbacks and defeats in its bid for a so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

In Italy, millions voted against the centralisation of power and a further erosion of popular sovereignty. The left remains strong in Spain and in Greece.

All over the world, ordinary people’s voices are being heard and making a difference. New forms of campaigning are taking off using digital platforms and social media designed by corporations that collaborate with powerful states to curb freedoms.

Julian Assange’s Wikileaks goes from strength to strength, exposing the corruptions of the corporate class and its political allies; Edward Snowden remains in exile, but free to critique the surveillance powers of the American state.

Senator Bernie Sanders has not stopped campaigning, nor have his millions of supporters. His various organisations are fighting to change American politics and wrest it back from the clutches of big corporations.

Brand New Congress will stand over 400 candidates for congress in 2018 mid-terms; candidates will be drawn from outside the established political class and from any movement that rejects the established order, whether they be from the Tea party or Occupy Wall Street. They just need to be people who have serve the community well and place the collective interest above their individual interests. BNC is well on its way to selecting candidates for election and is raising large amounts from numerous small donations from ordinary people – just as Sanders crowd-sourced his own election campaign.

The Sanders Institute has begun ideological work to initiate study, analysis and discussion of the roots of inequality and what might be done about it.

Our Revolution – Sanders’ campaign at local level America – wants to bring ordinary people into local government and school boards and so on to change politics from the grass roots.

This is what 2016 stands for and should be remembered for: the exposure of the fundamental contours of a capitalist democracy that relies on state-welfare for big corporations and corrodes democracy from within and without. For all their money, the still lost the election.

And that’s why elite candidates have to pretend to a politics of anti-elitism to get anywhere, why Trump could only win because he, rhetorically, socked it to the establishment. And it explains why Sanders got as many votes in the primaries as did Trump and why his new post-partisan politics threatens to challenge the corporate culture and colonisation of American government.

The American people showed they would not stand for more elite politics and narrow economic agendas of the hard Right. A great foundation upon which the politics of the next decade is to be built.

One could quote some inspiring liberals at this point but a socialist who saw through the subterfuge and rhetoric of elite demagoguery is more appropriate: Eugene Debs, who despite all the odds fought against imperial war and for socialism a century ago. His analysis of the two main American political parties is as true today, and thoroughly exposed as such in the 2016 elections, as it was a century ago: “The Republican and Democratic parties are alike capitalist parties — differing only in being committed to different sets of capitalist interests — they have the same principles under varying colors, are equally corrupt and are one in their subservience to capital and their hostility to labor.”

And he condemned the poverty of the many and wealth of the few: in a land of great resources, he argues, and willing workers, want was the result not of God or naturebut it is due entirely to the outgrown social system in which we live that ought to be abolished not only in the interest of the toiling masses but in the higher interest of all humanity”.

2016 showed that the majority of Americans have had enough of capitalist elites who care not a jot for the interests of Americans let alone for the very planet itself.

As Bernie Sanders declared: “Let us wage a moral and political war against the billionaires and corporate leaders, on Wall Street and elsewhere, whose policies and greed are destroying the middle class of America.”

Thank you, 2016!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Trump's Taiwan Call Signals Full Embrace of GOP Establishment

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Trump Victory Shock But Not Surprise, Brexit All Over Again

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

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

Trump Rejects US Electoral System as Rigged if He's Defeated

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-Gingrich setting stage for violent rejection of Clinton victory

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… 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

In 2012, Post-Truth Politics of the Trump-Clinton-Sanders Story

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 Debate - Unravelling of the American Establishment

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.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

New Debate, Same Question: How Has America Got to This Point and Where Is it Going?

Clinton heads into second presidential debate ahead in the polls, Trump campaign in crisis (again)

Donald Trump enters the second presidential election debate behind by at least 4% in the polls – he was neck and neck ahead of the first debate – under pressure to perform better and win back the initiative. This translates, due to Clinton’s lead in the majority of key ‘swing states’, into a resounding defeat in electoral college terms in November. Yet, given the volatility of the electorate, the outcome remains uncertain due to the possibility of a ‘secret’ Trump voting bloc who conceal their support of Trump from pollsters.

But the recently released video tape showing him boasting of how his celebrity status enables him to sexually assault women is likely to put him on the back foot with undecided voters who constitute around 20% of the electorate in this most controversial of contests.

Those undecided voters will form the studio audience at the second debate scheduled for tonight (Sunday 9 October). Half of all questions directed at the candidates will be from audience members; both candidates will need to be nimble on their political feet to cope with questions that might range from what they’re going to do to restore living standards or about the banks that brought America to its knees in 2008 to the price of a pound of beef.

Most of them will not like hearing that their possible future president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces – in which sexual violence is a major problem - supports sexual assaults on women. Several senior Republicans have now refused to endorse Trump’s candidacy but the party has not yet seen enough to warrant a full-scale repudiation. This could cause the GOP severe credibility problems down the line.

The most recent video of Trump’s predatory view of women, when seen in the context of previous comments, constitutes a world view – that women who work in executive positions are unwelcome, and he is angered if, upon arriving home in the evening, his meal is not ready. He appears to want American women to return to the oppressive 1950s before the women’s rights movement.

Trump declared himself the winner of the first debate but was seen as clearly unprepared by commentators including Republican political strategists. He appeared to have secured an advantage from the vice presidential debate which his running mate, Mike Pence, was thought by many to have won – mainly by denying that Trump had ever said anything racist, sexist or otherwise abusive, a position contrary to Trump’s actual record. But in this post-truth politics age, this contradiction hardly appears worthy of comment in a tribalised media that spew their own views as the truth. Yet, even Pence has distanced himself from the toxic comments about women and girls that Trump first made in 2005.

While Trump alienates voters, Clinton is chasing and gradually winning over Millennials who despite supporting her by a margin of at least 2 to 1 are unenthusiastic about the Democratic candidate; only 47% say that they’ll definitely vote in November. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s primary election nemesis, who provided the lenses through which most Millennials view Clinton, is roving the country to galvanise their votes while Clinton increasingly speaks about college fees and climate change, issues that appeal to the under 35s.

The second debate is likely to see an under-siege but better prepared Donald Trump, probably one likely to rove around the stage – there are no lecterns this time to stand behind and grip with both hands. He will need to retain self-control lest he appears intimidating, reinforcing his image as a male bully who has little if any respect for women.

Billing himself as the change candidate, the change Donald Trump believes in seems to lie somewhere in the 1950s.

But the big question posed by this election remains unchanged: how has America come to this point? That a candidate like Donald Trump has a serious shot at the White House, has not been repudiated by the Republican party, and has yet to be decisively knocked out of the race by an experienced representative of the political class?

It suggests that the crisis of the American political establishment is deep and enduring. This story is far from over, regardless of the outcome at tonight’s debate let alone on 8 November 2016.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Trump signals crisis of the US foreign policy establishment

Trump signals crisis of the US foreign policy establishment

Donald Trump's bid for the presidency and current position in the opinion polls is a crisis not only of the Republican party – the party of Lincoln – but also of the broader bi-partisan American foreign policy establishment’s instinctive interventionist mind set, their military definition of reality. Yet, for all his appeals to the most bigoted sections of American society, Trump’s foreign policy message speaks to a twenty-first century truth: America's position in the world has changed, its wars are dragging on, the blowback is lethal, ‎there are too many problems at home, and the popular appetite waning for global ‘leadership’. But it appears from Trump’s military spending plans that he is already planning to betray his supporters.


Americans love winners, not losers, and the post-9-11 years have not appeared to most Americans, or the rest of the world, to have been an untrammelled success for military power. But the American foreign policy establishment begs to differ and wants an even more robust projection of American military power. To them, Trump is the ‘enemy within’ allied with America’s foe Vladimir Putin, questioning NATO (set up to counter the ‘Red threat’), threatening the alliance with Japan and South Korea (set up to counter the ‘Red threat’), bringing America into disrepute through his stated commitment to torture terro suspects and kill their families.


The neoconservative architects of the Iraq war and the war on terror are backing Hillary Clinton for the White House and she is courting them with promises of American leadership from the front, not from behind, signalling her Warrior Queen credentials: more like the ‘iron lady’ Margaret Thatcher than allegedly dovish President Obama.


The Right’s support for Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy  and contempt for Donald Trump’s apparent ‘isolationism’ has been building for some time – with open letters from ‘respectable foreign policy conservatives’, mostly hard-core architects of military aggression against Iraq in 2003, extraordinary rendition (kidnapping) and torture, targeted assassination (drone strikes), and ever higher military spending to underscore America’s lethal advantage over all others. There have even been rumblings that the CIA and military leaders might refuse to follow orders from commander-in-chief Trump. Neoconservative commentator and founder of the militarist, pro-regime-change in Iraq Project for the New American Century-founder, Robert Kagan, doubts that Trump would find anyone with experience to serve in the most senior positions in intelligence or the Pentagon.


Trump’s crime violates Clinton’s law, the reflex position of the American foreign policy establishment –and every president, including Obama - since Japan’s aerial attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. The attitude of the establishment – the men behind the scenes who decide who’s in or out, trustworthy and loyal or beyond the pale, “one of us” – was summed up long ago by the brilliant journalist Godfrey Hodgson in the aftermath of the disastrous war on Vietnam: outright rejection of ‘isolationism’ which in practice meant any viewpoint that questioned or rejected American primacy in world politics; total embrace of ‘internationalism’ – an open world trading system that permitted the US, and its western allies, to recover from the destruction of WWII through restoring colonial trade and investment links; an aspiration to the moral leadership of the world via institutional and military means; and a self-definition as centrsis and moderates against “yahoos of left and right”.

The establishment is rooted in Wall Street law firms and banks, the upper echelons of the federal executive – White House, CIA, Pentagon, leading senators – and elite universities like Harvard and Princeton, and think tanks like the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. They are largely unelected yet constitute the majority of senior appointees in Republican and Democratic administrations. They are the elitist red thread of continuity in a political system they believe gives far too much power to the great unwashed, the dangerous classes who should obey their betters, or else accept re-education, a curious interpretation of the notion of the ‘consent of the governed’ upon which democracy is assumed to rest.


It is reported that Robert Kagan and other neoconservatives cheered Hillary Clinton’s appointment to secretary of state in 2008 and are now fund-raising on her behalf because she plans to be a lot tougher with Russia in Ukraine – provide even more arms to Ukrainian nationalists including the extreme-right wing elements; more weapons and other military assistance to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, including arming fundamental Islamists; and ride rough-shod over popular opposition to further American military adventurism; and so on.


President Clinton would dust off the Libyan template used to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, her allies told a neocon gathering of “foreign policy professionals for Hillary”, without a hint of irony. The disorder and insecurity of Libya after Gaddafi’s ousting is re-framed as a great success. Like colonial powers of old, President Clinton seems ready to redraw the national boundaries of the Middle East.


At a recent fund-raiser, it is reported that Kagan rolled his eyes when told that President Obama refused arms to Ukrainian fighters for fear of escalating the confrontation with Russia to nuclear levels. Trump, it transpires, is too unstable to entrust with nukes, but Clinton’s more measured approach to nuclear annihilation is acceptable.


According to the Cato Institute, 37% of Americans are generally always opposed to the use of military force to resolve global problems while just under a quarter practically always favour armed intervention. Around 40% are undecided; they are the battleground for hearts and minds, the people who need to be convinced through “education” to allow the commander-in-chief to act with the “consent of the governed”.

But Trump’s message is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem (of all those people opposed to war as the first resort) is a lot more widespread – Bernie Sanders’s political base was far more anti-interventionist (‘isolationist’ in foreign policy establishment speak) than their candidate. “It’s not just Donald Trump,” Kagan said. “I think you can find in both parties a very strong sense that we don’t need to be out there anymore.” “[President] Hillary Clinton… is going to immediately be confronting a country that is not where she is,” he said. “She is a believer in this world order. But a great section of the country is not and is going to require persuasion and education.”

Kagan did not mention what the rest of the world might think and the education they’re likely to need. Maybe he’s thinking of what President Lyndon Johnson said about such educational efforts: “if you grab ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” That attitude led to the tragedy of Vietnam and the killing fields of Cambodia.

Presumably Kagan wants to provide the sort of education delivered by the Bush administration and its allies – like UK premier Tony Blair – which tailored intelligence on non-existent weapons of mass destruction to justify military aggression against Iraq – leading to massive numbers of deaths and social, economic and political breakdown, paving the way for the emergence of ISIS, the Middle east’s equivalent of Pol Pot’s  Khmer Rouge - after a media blitz of gigantic proportions.

When Donald Trump attacks the ‘establishment’ for ‘rigging the system’ against the interests of ordinary people, he strikes a chord with both historical fact and the opinions of millions of Americans. He may have no intention, or ability, or even desire, to deliver anything better than currently rules US foreign policy and its globalised military system; his military spending plans derive from the Heritage Foundation’s hawkish approach.  But his appeal, and message, along with that of the millions behind Sanders, is signalling major popular discontent, and threatening the end of business as usual for the foreign policy elite, whoever wins the White House.

Friday, 9 September 2016

How Will the Sanders Revolution Work With President Hillary Clinton?

“Our campaign has been about building a movement, which brings working people and young people into the political process to create a government which represents all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors,” Bernie Sanders declared.

“We will continue to do everything we can to oppose the drift,” Sanders continued,  “which currently exists toward an oligarchic form of society, where a handful of billionaires exercise enormous power over our political, economic, and media life.”

One of the biggest question for US election watchers, yet being ignored due to the mass media’s obsession with Donald Trump, is whether the basic instincts of President Hillary Clinton will see a major reversal of the gains and promises of the Sanders insurgency – currently embedded in the Democratic Party’s official election platform and espoused in Clinton’s public speeches since the party’s July convention.

How might the Sanders impulse, insurgency, revolution, call it what you will – backed by primary election victories in 22 states, winning 46% of all Democratic non-pledged delegates, and over 13 million votes to Hillary’s 16 million (and Trump’s 13 million) – become politically embedded and simultaneously in touch with its popular roots and energy, and actually make a difference? How might its momentum deliver at least part of the political revolution Sanders demanded?

And, even should Clinton continue to espouse the Sanders programme, will congress go along and permit anti-Wall Street legislation, vote for a much increased federal minimum wage, reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and abolish public university tuition fees for most students, among other things? Will the Sanders movement affect the politics of congress?

The right to revolution may be enshrined in America’s history, but will its political system of divided government act as a brake on radical political change, adding to the likely inertia and foot-dragging of a Clinton presidency won with massive Wall Street funding, now with even more traditional conservative and GOP donors? The official national GOP might be dying, with Donald Trump’s embrace of unabashed white ethno-nationalist identity politics, but its ghost may yet haunt the next Democratic presidency through its continuing grip on the levers of power in the House of Representatives.

The diverse range of Democratic party policy planks installed after Sanders’s pressure may well be significant for their direct beneficiaries but, critics complain, are all at the margin and can be withdrawn or much more likely eroded over time. They are in the nature of concessions that might split the Sanders movement.

Given this situation, what would drive real and lasting change and how might it come about? Where is the locomotive of political change and what is the mechanism by which that change might be effected?

There is great pessimism about the political situation in the United States, especially on the Left. Yet America’s political system is flexible, capable of accommodating programmes as statist as the 1930s New Deal and as reactionary as the Contract with America of the 1990s Newt Gingrich-led GOP. Politics is a struggle, a constant system of flux, of forces locked in conflict vying for power, to establish their agenda over that of others. What we are witnessing today in the US elections is nothing short of revolutionary in character. When has a major party female candidate defeated and incorporated into her platform – the most radical in its history - an overtly socialist agenda, and then been pitted against an extreme right-wing xenophobic and misogynistic ‘Republican’ TV celebrity with no prior political experience who’s rejecting the few tenets both main parties actually agree on – US globalism and free trade? This is hardly politics as usual and the result of the November presidential election, whichever way it goes, is unlikely seamlessly to return America to normalcy.

There is a new normal and we should get used to it. 

Let’s look at several continuing initiatives by Bernie Sanders and his supporters to build on his momentous challenge to the Clinton machine. The movement has sprouted a Sanders Institute to mobilise behind progressive congressional candidates across America. According to Sanders, candidates may get support in fund-raising and on the hustings even if they happen to be progressives from the tea party. President Bill Clinton former labor secretary Robert Reich has spoken of a new progressive party – the kinds of organisations now in motion may well lead to such an outcome. The Sanders Institute’s aim is to conduct political-ideological work on the key issues of power, wealth and inequality that struck such a chord during his bid for the Democratic nomination. Although he has not endorsed it, some of his supporters are also actively aligning their work with the Green party which had previously asked Sanders to run for the White House on their ticket. Its candidate, Jill Stein, hovers around 5% in presidential election polls.

Brand New Congress is another key grouping on the Sanders wing of the Democratic party. It’s a political action committee that aims to identify and support hundreds of non-politician candidates for over 400 congressional seats with the aim of replacing the entire House by the mid-term elections in 2018. Formed in April 2016, it has raised almost $100,000 in small donations and is looking to the future – without Wall Street big money politics. It complements the Sanders Institute’s plan to back 100 progressive candidates in congressional and state and local elections in November 2016.

Sanders’s Our Revolution organisation aims to build on his campaign and revitalise democracy, empower progressives to run for school board elections, mayoral offices and take on big money politics. And Our Revolution seeks to “elevate political consciousness”: take on the corporate media, educate the public and improve public discourse and understanding.

It is instructive that more people in the corporate media seem to pay attention to what Donald Trump’s post-defeat strategy might be than to what Sanders’s post-convention strategy actually is. The corporate media may not tell us what to think, but it remains spectacularly successful in telling us what to think about.

And it’s not all about Sanders either: Senator Elizabeth Warren continues work to hold the major financial institutions to account, with Republican support from the likes of John McCain for a law to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act – passed in the 1930s to protect the banking system and ordinary savers, but abolished by President Clinton in the late 1990s.

And the Democracy for America organisation which backed Sanders for the White House is endorsing progressives up and down the country and ballot.

If Donald Trump’s non-conservative statist message, and Hillary Clinton’s shift to the left, have shown us anything, it is that there are big changes afoot in America’s political fabric. Even Wall St now agrees that wages must rise, infrastructure needs investment and inequality has reached extreme levels.

These are early days and no political outcome is certain. There is much going on. But returning to normalcy is unlikely to cut it now or after November.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

America’s New Normal Challenges the Pareto Principle

America’s New Normal Challenges the Pareto Principle

“Looks like the Pareto Principle has been proven to be correct once again…. Don't mean to sound cynical but whether people are becoming poorer and desperate or expressing deep discontent, nothing is going to change. The [top] 20 percent are still going to dictate terms with their immense control over media and money.”

The quote above is one thoughtful reader’s response to the US presidential election campaign as Donald Trump appears to be losing ground, largely through his own off-the-cuff bigotry and xenophobia, and the leftist challenge of Bernie Sanders seems to have fizzled out as the Democratic party unifies behind Hillary Clinton to defeat their common enemy: Donald Trump.

The Pareto Principle – named after the work of Italian political sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), is part of a larger theory that may be summed up as the inevitability and “naturalness” of elite power. The history of power in all societies everywhere is one of elites – some fox-like and cunning (elite democracy?), others leonine and masculine (rule by force) – circulating in an endless series of births, deaths and re-births. And quite right too, ‘elitists’ assert.

So whatever the political label or rhetoric, elites always rule. The Pareto Principle contends that about 20% of any population basically produces 80% of the desired results – whether we refer to police officers fighting crime or teachers educating students, or ownership of wealth and the earning of income. Adding to this tradition, other major elite theorists, such as Robert Michels, argued for an iron law of oligarchy: whichever political party – revolutionary or reactionary, fascist, communist or democratic, conservative or liberal – gains power, it is bound to be ruled by an elite minority that is better organised, more gifted, and effective, justly easing out the masses from real power.

Elitism certainly has a ring of truth about it, and confirms the cynic in their cynicism – that nothing ever truly can or ever will change. But its take on reality suggests that the future looks just like the past, defying radical historical shifts in power – between classes or races or nations, for example.

Elitists like Pareto seemed to revere hereditary aristocracies where the ‘talents’ reigned supreme and democracy posed a threat, and Marxism threatened complete annihilation. Pareto’s birth in 1848 – a year of democratic revolutions in Europe as well as the publication of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and his death in 1923 in an era of rising fascism, tells its own story of fear of change and a desire to return Italy to the past glories of the Roman empire.

The end point of Pareto’s predictions is also open to question and worth exploring in the US context. The change that Sanders and Trump represent is explicable only in the context of recent political history – increasing dissatisfaction with elites on Right and Left exemplified by insurgencies from the Tea Party and Occupy Wall St, respectively. The Occupy movement became nationwide, involved millions of people and expressed deep discontent and anger, much of it shared among tea partiers on the right, especially in the areas of military spending, corporate welfare, and opposition to special interests, especially the big banks that were bailed out by taxpayers after the 2008 financial meltdown.

Those movements were the tinder-wood for the Trump and Sanders insurgencies against their respective party elites in the 2016 primaries. That, according to American sociologist Alvin Gouldner, means where there is an iron law of oligarchy, there is an equal and opposite law of struggle for democracy, an axiom especially true in the modern era. It is just a matter of time before the democratic eruption comes.

It might be worth considering another Italian thinker – Antonio Gramsci – who wrote about intellectual hegemony, political power, and political transformation: hegemony is almost always contested more or less openly and maintaining hegemony is no easy process. Gramsci offers hope through struggle and exposes the superficiality and inherent instability of elite domination, its openness to challenges from below. Gramsci died in one of Benito Mussolini’s prisons but practised what he preached – “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” – and his work inspired millions to keep pushing for change, because change itself is inevitable, given time and the balance of power between the status quo and change makers, those who make real history.

Apply that principle to history and we see that things do change even if the change is partial, incomplete and unsatisfactory to many – the end of apartheid in South Africa, political independence for the colonial world, relative peace in Northern Ireland, major advances in racialized power in the United States, the transformation in women’s rights across (most of) the world.

And if we apply Gramsci to American politics today, perhaps we might see a more complex picture – movements for change albeit tempered by a reassertion by status quo forces, the tentative, uncertain steps towards domestication of a radical agenda with the original impulse hardly extinguished.

Hence, we see that Hillary Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine have been forced to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement by the power of the Sanders movement, and because of its appeal to rust-belt white workers, a portion of which are die-hard Trump supporters.

Clinton may not be a fully convinced opponent of Wall St and big money politics – after all, she and Bill make millions annually in speaking fees from the likes of UBS and Goldman Sachs – but she does feel the changing direction of the political wind. We may see some movement on a financial transactions tax on speculative behaviour, strengthening of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Senator Elizabeth Warren fought to establish, and action against corporate concentration.

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s reputation has been enhanced by her stream of effective attacks on Donald Trump, and her campaign to rein in the power of the big banks seems to have been renewed by the Sanders movement. Sanders is acting as a major sponsor of the Warren-John McCain bill to restore key provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act – passed in the wake of the Wall Street crash of 1929 but repealed 70 years later by President Bill Clinton. The Act had prevented banks from speculating with ordinary peoples’ hard-earned savings. Hillary Clinton is committed to pushing a modernised version of Glass-Steagall.

The necessity of higher wages – backed by a new federal minimum wage of $15 per hour – was forced on Clinton by Bernie Sanders’s representatives on the Democratic platform committee at the national convention.

Hillary Clinton was also forced to flip-flop on the abolition of college tuition fees – she is now committed to making state universities and colleges free for students from families earning less than $125K annually – over 80% of all students.

From significant plans for an infrastructure bank to lead the renewal of America’s roads, railways, ports and bridges, to higher taxes on the 0.1% of top income earners, to a public option for healthcare cost reduction, to greater intra-party democracy, including reforming the super-delegates system, Bernie Sanders’s legacy may yet live on should Clinton win the White House.

As Professor Bastiaan van Apeldoorn of the Free University of Amsterdam argues, “The old order may no longer be sustainable; but we may be witnessing an interregnum, with the old order dying and a new one struggling to be born. The choice may increasingly [have to] be one between a real radical (left) reformism or fascism or Trumpism” or whatever form white ethno-nationalist bigotry may take.

“These are critical, transformative, times,” Apeldoorn comments. “With the (still likely) election of Clinton the neoliberal, Open Door, elite will get another lease of life but I cannot imagine it will be a sustained return to normalcy. Both the Trump and Sanders campaigns have made that clear.”

It may not be quite the political revolution Sanders demanded, but it is a major step away from the Trump counter-revolution, and an important nod towards the demands of the Sanders movement, and parts of Trump’s working class political base, and possibly a slightly fairer society. Things could be a lot worse.

But the cost to the American people will have to be paid in energetic vigilance – to ensure a level of democratic political mobilisation to guard against a smooth return to ‘normalcy’ and the Pareto Principle. The new normal needs protection.