Trump

By (Guest Contributor) Pink Panther

On March 1st, 2016, was an event known as Super Tuesday in the United States. It’s when the delegates in the Democratic and Republican parties in eleven key states vote on who should be their respective Presidential candidates. Whoever picks up the majority of the delegates tends to get a massive boost in the race. The two beneficiaries of Super Tuesday and clear frontrunners are a pillar of the Democratic Party establishment, former U.S State Secretary Hillary Clinton and property mogul and former reality TV show host Donald Trump for the Republicans.

Campaigning under the slogan “Make America Great Again” Trump’s campaign is revealing just how polarized American society has become. A candidate, who has not clearly disavowed support from the likes of ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, is sweeping all before him while the media and most commentators largely gloss over the threat Trump poses to the freedom of millions of Americans. They prefer the telegenic image and easy sound bites he provides.

This is a man who openly talks about abolishing LGBT rights, expelling millions of Latinos from the United States and building a wall across the U.S-Mexico border to keep out illegal migrants. This is a man who denigrates women and Muslims. This is a man whose supporters and Secret Service bodyguards beat up hecklers and bans black students from his campaign meetings. It may be easy to dismiss him as a buffoon whom the political Establishment can bring into line. There are also questions around his lack of consistency on key issues and whether he really subscribes to the views he is currently voicing. At any rate, being independently rich and privileged himself means Trump doesn’t need the money of the rich and the privileged to fund his campaign. While this could be seen as a good thing in light of all the politicians in Congress who are in the pockets of powerful business and lobbying interests, it also means that Trump can say whatever he likes with the knowledge no one is going to stop him.

Historically there have been similar populist candidates in American politics, such as Buchanan in the 90’s or Huey Long in the 30’s. They never really got much traction in the system. Things have changed. What a lot of Americans are unwilling to admit is that Trump’s current success is symptomatic of the United States having been in serious decline for many decades. Likewise in their own different ways, the campaign of Clinton’s business as usual approach and her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, show how decrepit things have become. Sometimes there is a time lag between the reality of decline and political manifestations of it.

The days when the USA overwhelmingly dominated the world economy, and by extension others’ political systems, have ended. Countries no longer need to rely on the United States to get the money and technology to expand their own economies. The growth of China and India as economic powerhouses mean that countries seeking capital can now turn to them. In Africa, the decades of neo-colonial imperialism of the Western powers whose money came with strings and consultants attached has left many, if not most, Africans thoroughly fed up with Western investment. They have instead turned to China and India for investment. Both countries have shown a willingness to invest without so many strings attached and much of the growth of the middle classes in Africa can be attributed to investment from these countries. More importantly, the technology made by the Chinese in recent years is more affordable and practical than that produced by the United States, thus revolutionizing how business is done in Africa and, to a lesser extent, South America.

The American geopolitical influence has also shrunk. In parts of Eastern Europe, particularly Serbia and the countries that made up the former Soviet Union, and within the Middle East the Russians have become the dominant (if not exactly welcome) influence. This is best exemplified by the recent Russian intervention on behalf of the Syrian government in the civil war there. In the Asia-Pacific region China has become more politically influential among its neighbours, especially now the Chinese have the economic and military clout to back it up. It is partly in response to this growing influence that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was signed in February 2016. It was mostly about the United States desperately trying to reassert its influence in an area it hadn’t paid much attention to in recent decades.

Militarily, the American government has suffered military defeats and setbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which were invaded in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks. Their military appears to have no response to the emergence of extremist Islamic groups like al-Qaeda, Islamic State and the Taliban other than ineffective air raids and drone strikes designed to look impressive on television but little else. At other times they have covertly backed such elements, indicating the dominance of political expediency over high minded rhetoric.

Within the United States itself, there has been a substantial decline. The standard of living for most Americans has fallen dramatically since the 2008 Recession. As wages continue to stagnate or decline and working conditions start to revert to those of the Nineteenth Century for most working and middle class people. The stark reality is that less than 0.1% of the American people control the vast majority of America’s wealth (U.S Wealth Inequality – Top 0.1% Worth As Much as the Bottom 90%, The Guardian, November 13, 2014).

Despite growing job numbers the number of Americans out of work remains at around 5.5% (as of May 2015 according to the U.S Bureau of Labour). This does not include those people whose unemployment insurance has run out nor those who have given up looking for work. Those who do work earn either the federal minimum wage of $7.25 (NZD$10.88) an hour or marginally higher at a time when the costs of living is continuing to soar.

In recent years the introduction of student loans have put millions in financial hardship and given them heavy debts, making it virtually impossible for anyone with such a burden to get things like loans, mortgages or even a job in many cases (credit ratings are routine for many jobs that involve the handling of money). This means the once semi-secure middle classes are also feeling the pinch like never before.

Life appears to be one endless stream of parties, award ceremonies and fashion show appearances for the influential and powerful but most Americans can look forward to a life that is closer to that of the jungle. It’s little wonder then that the United States has seen much of its population lose faith in their political system and have rallied behind people like Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, who’ve both offered different forms of political populism as ‘solutions’ to the problems facing Americans.

As noted, there have been periods within America in the past, which have seen the rise of pied piper demagogues. I wouldn’t want to over-do it, but I think there are also real comparisons to be made with historical events in other places. There are disturbing comparisons between the situation facing the Weimar Republic in Germany between the late 1920s and 1933 and the United States now. Like the Weimar Republic, the United States has a huge debt that it cannot pay off to both foreign and domestic lenders. The Weimar Republic faced virtual political paralysis as the result of the Nazis and other authoritarian political parties on the far right refusing to pass legislation simply because it was put forward by the Social Democratic Party-led government because of the misconception they were “Communists”. In the United States today the Republican Party within Congress has been dominated by extremist Tea Party members who have refused to pass any laws proposed by Barack Obama.

The Weimar Republic was marked by major social changes which included the legalisation of homosexuality, the introduction of equal rights and the vote for women and socially progressive laws that outlawed discrimination against various groups including Jews. These social freedoms, combined with a brief period of rapid job growth and economic prosperity that was enjoyed even by the working classes, saw a boom in new styles of literature, art, film, theatre, popular entertainment and sexual permissiveness that defied social conventions of the time and offended most conservatives. The United States has witnessed a similar situation with radical advances in technology, the growth of new architectural and art styles that have only been possible because of the Internet and the advanced state of computer technology and the legalisation of same sex marriages. Much of this progress has been resisted by moral and social conservatives who see these developments as a threat to their conception of how the United States should be.

Most people from the extreme Left to the conservative Right in the Weimar Republic treated Hitler and the Nazis as a joke whose policies would never be implemented because there were constitutional safeguards and the German people were deemed too civilised to swallow Hitler’s nonsense. Likewise the general attitude within the United States towards Trump until recently has been to treat him as the butt of jokes or to under-estimate how desperate people are willing to buy into the nonsense he is peddling.

And, most uncomfortable of all, Hitler exploited the Constitution of the Weimar Republic to achieve his aims then destroyed the Weimar Republic. Trump has shown himself willing to fully exploit the Constitution of the United States to achieve his aims but has also used loopholes to silence his critics, including the use of lawsuits and the Secret Service bodyguards who now surround all the Presidential nominees.

The United States today, like the Weimar Republic for most of its short history, is a polarized society where about the only thing the people have in common is their mutual fear and hatred of everyone that doesn’t look, behave or think the way they do. Few people in the United States personify that hatred more than Donald Trump.

Fortunately, the United States does have one advantage over the Weimar Republic: history. If Americans learn the right lessons from the history of the Weimar Republic and similar examples, they will be able to see just how dangerous Trump actually is and do something about it by doing whatever lies within their power to stop him. Americans face something that New Zealand has never had to. That is, the very real possibility that an out of control populist demagogue could be elected as a Head of State in one of the world’s most powerful countries.

Whether Trump ends up in the White House or not the one thing he cannot do is to reverse the decline of the United States. If anything Trump will only end up hastening its decline, as his plan to deport “illegal Latino migrants” would cost the United States around $1.5 trillion a year from its Gross Domestic Product and cost almost as much to implement their rounding up and deportation. His wall along the U.S-Mexican border will cost billions to build and maintain. And the flight of both capital and labour will almost certainly destroy the United States’ economy, if the wars he plans on unleashing in the name of the War on Terror doesn’t.

The divisions that have split the United States have grown too great to mend and there is no great saviour who is going to save the day. Clinton stands for the status quo and Sanders is no genuine threat to the system on the deep enough level that would be required to make a difference. No economic miracle or New Deal is going to materialise. Even if austerity was not the order of the day, advances in technology have reached the point where unemployment will no longer be a temporary thing for most people but a fact of life. (We’ve Reached A Tipping Point Where Technology Is Now Destroying More Jobs Than It Creates, Warns Researcher, Business Insider, June 3, 2015). It’s going to be up to the working people and their various allies in the United States and elsewhere to fundamentally change the system they and the rest of us live under.