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Issue #1761      December 14, 2016

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

Inherent danger

When the leaders of the Democratic Party in the USA first considered their options for a candidate to succeed Barack Obama as President, they initially thought the matter was a “no brainer”: Hillary Clinton would be a shoo-in. After all, she was the existing Secretary Of State, and in that capacity had not baulked at kicking heads (or fomenting wars and assassinations) when foreign governments failed to see the wisdom of doing as the US told them.

Her husband was a very popular ex-President; she was a prominent woman and if elected would be the country’s first female President, a historic first that would reflect well on the Democratic Party and would be bound to capture the female vote. And she had an excellent relationship with big business.

Her opponent from the Republican Party would be either extreme Right-wing or not quite so extreme Right-wing. He (for it would certainly be a man) would rail against the reputed evils of “big government” and propose reducing government income by cutting taxes (especially company taxes).

The competition between the two parties’ candidates would be determined less on issues than on “personality” and the amount they were prepared to spend on the campaign. Hillary had plenty of corporate backing and was thought a very safe bet. Then an elderly Senator from Vermont named Bernie Sanders upset the applecart.

Sanders challenged Hillary for the Democratic Party nomination. The monopoly media jeered: his candidacy was a joke. Especially considering that his campaign platform was to oppose big business, demand a better deal for workers and actually to talk favourably about that dreaded concept, Socialism.

To the alarm of Hillary’s handlers, Sanders’ message of a living wage for everyone, free education, free health care, reversing privatisation, opposing monopolies, putting an end to the US waging wars of aggression abroad and stopping the cops waging war against the poor at home resonated with millions of Americans, especially the young. Sanders’ rallies attracted huge audiences of predominantly young people buoyed up by a candidate who spoke about issues, who treated his audience as though they had the ability to reason, who did not resort to hoopla and razzamatazz padded out with clichéd slogans.

In the end, the Democratic Party hierarchy only secured the nomination for Hillary Clinton by the use of the votes of unelected “Super Delegates” who are conveniently nominated by the Party leadership, not the bulk of the membership. With the disconcertingly popular Sanders successfully sidelined, it was left to right-wing, war monger Hillary Clinton to defeat the Republican nominee, billionaire property developer and narcissist Donald Trump.

Unlike Clinton, Donald Trump pitched his campaign at distressed workers and members of the middle class whose incomes and prospects have gone south as the US economy tanks, jobs disappear, crime escalates and so does social unrest. Told all their lives that America is the greatest country on Earth, they have up until now shut their eyes to the evidence that this is not in fact true.

However, as homelessness spreads, even amongst people who have jobs, and foreclosures and evictions surpass the level reached during the Great Depression, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the fiction that all is well in “the land of the free”. Black and Hispanic communities are seething with discontent while the criminalising of recreational drugs has had the same social consequences as the criminalising of alcohol in the 1920s: vast profits for crime, and an exponential surge in corruption. And in the prison population.

Among white Americans, armed anti-government militias have proliferated, along with people building bunkers equipped with food and weapons in preparation for an Armageddon they expect imminently.

The increasingly militarised police forces in the US are subsidised by the federal government to equip themselves with heavy weapons and all the accoutrements of an army of occupation, which is the role they fill in coloured or poor white communities. As I have already said, one of Bernie Sanders’ election pledges was to end the cops’ war on the poor.

Far from playing down the problems confronting Americans, Trump emphasised them, but as well as blaming them on the Republicans’ usual bête noir, “big government”, he blamed another scapegoat: immigrants from South of the border, specifically Mexicans.

Simplistically he proposes to deport millions of them and to build a massive wall to prevent their return. With the surplus immigrants gone, there will be plenty of jobs for Americans is Trump’s simple message.

In Germany’s elections in 1933, Hitler had a very similar message, although he blamed Jews rather than Mexicans. Of course, the circumstances were very different: Germany had a very strong Communist Party and the German bourgeoisie was fearful that at any moment the country might succumb to Red revolution.

Clearly, the USA is not in a comparable situation. Nevertheless, the country’s economic and social crisis has provided opportunities for right-wing demagogues to promote fascist concepts and policies, appealing to racism, misogyny, fear of foreigners and just plain ignorance. Plenty of ruling class types like that message too.

When Bernie Sanders was blocked from gaining the Democratic Party nomination, the American people were once again faced with a choice between two extremely reactionary candidates, Clinton and Trump. No wonder so few actually vote in US elections! The election, as we know, resulted in a right-wing, repressive government led by President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican-dominated Congress.

Trump, as convinced a climate-change denier as Tony Abbott, has already indicated that he will support an expansion of coal mining. We can also expect drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico, and repression of Native Americans trying to prevent construction of oil pipelines across their tribal lands.

The US was reluctant to commit to the Paris accords on climate change under Obama. It will be aggressively hostile to them under Trump. The oil and gas industry is no doubt rubbing its hands in glee!

The US already has more people in prison (in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the population) than any other country on Earth. Trump, who has no answer to the country’s problems other than the expulsion of Mexicans and other Latino immigrants, can only exacerbate those problems.

Progressive Americans were understandably appalled at the election of Trump to the Oval Office, although for the rest of the world a Clinton victory would have been only marginally less serious. Demonstrators carrying “Dump Trump!” and “Not my President!” placards paraded in front of the White House the day after the election, a precursor to some of the disruption likely to come as Trump’s presidency gets into its stride.

Bernie Sanders has also been campaigning vigorously since Trump’s victory, but as a social democrat he is futilely pinning his hopes on telling the Democratic Party it needs to make a greater effort to “reach working-class people”. There is no chance that the USA’s ruling class would allow the Democratic Party to move significantly to the Left or to embrace even the wishy-washy socialism of Bernie Sanders, but while Sanders campaigns and huge crowds of mainly young people debate the merits of his social program, progressive politics is reaching a far larger audience than it has in the US for many years.

Sanders has served notice on Trump’s Republicans that US progressives will “not go silently into the night” and has called on his supporters to resist Trump’s repressive, right-wing plans. Many of Sanders’ supporters abandoned him when he endorsed Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party candidate for President, but now, faced with the reality of a Trump White House, crowds of young people are once again gathering to hear him speak.

The Baltimore Sun reported that students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, waited in line for as long as six hours to hear the Vermont senator speak. “An estimated 2,000 people filled the auditorium and overflow rooms,” the Sun reported:

Joshan Bajaj, a Johns Hopkins student told the paper: “He is definitely looking out for the common man. I like his message of social equality. It’s not socialism, but I like his more socialist ideas, like how he wants free college and how he wants a $15 minimum wage.”

He’s right, it’s not Socialism, but it is progressive. Unfortunately, many progressives in America do not seem to recognise the potential danger that the Trump victory poses. They think that all they have to do is “search for ways to mount a resistance and regain ground in future elections”.

But in this last election, the ruling class provided a choice between two far right candidates. As Bob Carr wrote in The Age on October 17, Trump is likely to be followed by someone even more reactionary, from the far-right of the Republican Party, “such as likely contender Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas, who maintains that the US suffers not from too many in jail but too few”! No wonder capitalism prefers bourgeois democracy. With candidates like that, who needs fascism.

Next article – The Cuban Revolution – Landmark in history of humanity

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