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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.