US politics

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Luck and fate in politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/01/2021 - 6:18pm in


US politics

There’s a lot of luck[1] in politics. If a handful of events had gone differently in 2016, we’d probably be discussing President Clinton’s second term right now. If the Brexit referendum had been held a few weeks earlier, Remain would probably have won, and David Cameron might still be PM. A few lucky breaks and Labor would have won the 2019 Australian election. And if things had gone slightly differently in Georgia (with the Repubs falling just short in the first round, then losing both runoffs), the prospects for a Biden Administration would be greatly worse than they are.

The first three of these events were unexpected wins for the Trumpist right. And while nobody much pays attention to Australia, the first two were interpreted by Trumpists as much more than lucky breaks. They fed a whole set of beliefs which built up to an expectation that, no matter how bad things looked, their side was destined (for a lot of Trumpists, divinely ordained) for victory.

It’s not surprising then, that Trump’s supporters expected victory in November, and were willing to believe, without any evidence that their victory had been stolen. But as it became more and more evident that the election results were not going to be overturned, cognitive dissonance started to set in. The options were to accept that, fairly or not, they had lost, or to embrace the apocalyptic vision of QAnon and the far right, manifested in the Capitol last week. From the polling evidence, it looks as if the Republican base split down the middle on this.

Now that the insurrection has failed, and Biden’s inauguration is about to take place, the choice gets even sharper. As those who rejected the election result and tried to overturn it are increasingly ostracised and increasingly forced to recant[2], there’s no middle ground between accepting defeat, at least this time around, and going all the way down the insurrectionist rabbit hole and into rightwing terrorism.

From the politics as usual viewpoint of someone like Mitch McConnell, the advisability of the first course of action is obvious. But to the extent that the energy of the Trumpists was built on faith in inevitable victory, that may be difficult to sustain[3].

As for rightwing terrorism, it’s bound to keep on happening. The history of events like the Beer Hall Putsch shows that clownish initial failure does not guarantee defeat (no inevitability, again). We have to hope that, having been directly and personally threatened by the terrorists, the Democrats won’t shrink from the responses necessary to suppress them and the Republicans won’t be willing to defend them.

fn1. My friend, fellow-economist and now politician Andrew Leigh has a great little book called The Luck of Politics It’s mostly about luck as it affects individual political careers, where the same point applies: a bit of good luck is often the difference between being revered and being reviled.

fn2. In this context, the coverage by the Washington Times is just as significant as the apology extracted from American Thinker. The story includes, as background, the observation that

Mr. Trump and some fellow Republicans pushed false claims and conspiracy theories to justify the election’s outcome prior to mobs of the president’s supporters raiding the U.S. Capitol last week, including baseless allegations involving Dominion and its machines.

Republicans will have to get used to reading this kind of thing, even in reliably rightwing media.

fn3. The 20th century debates within Marxism about the inevitability of socialism illustrate this, as do even older debates about predestination within Christianity. Logically, you might expect a belief in inevitability to discourage costly action (why work hard for a cause that is going to win anyway?), but in practice, the feeling of being on the winning side has always won out.

Bookcase Credibility

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 10/01/2021 - 9:27am in

I was much amused by this picture which comes from a Sky interview with one of Trump’s former spokeswomen. You certainly don’t need to listen to her but an account called ‘Bookcase Credibility‘ pointed out that ‘Credibility is hard to maintain when you forget to iron the creases out of your bookcase’. And sure enough,... Read more

January 6

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/01/2021 - 1:23pm in


US politics

Elizabeth Saunders and I have a piece in the Washington Post. Behind a paywall, but the nub of the argument below the fold.

Washington generally shrugs at cynical theatrical gestures like the GOP Senate effort, led by Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), to object to the election results. … But this time, the prop revolvers were loaded with live bullets, and half the audience thought the drama was real. Hawley’s decision to challenge the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory transformed the process into a farce, in which Cruz and other Republican senators promised to outdo one another’s displays of loyalty to President Trump — until a mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol. … Democracy is built upon the notion that politicians who lose elections will admit defeat and move on. By challenging this idea — however insincerely — Hawley and Cruz are helping unravel the core political bargains of American politics.

The piece had a slightly complicated history. We were commissioned to write a piece on Hawley and Cruz’s cynicism at the beginning of the week, and already had most of it drafted when things started going down on Wednesday. This meant that we had to reorient the piece to focus it more on urgent events. Mostly this was to the good, but there were some important questions that we wanted to write about but couldn’t cover in any depth.

One of the things we would like to have talked more about is that there are two versions of anti-democracy in the current debate among U.S. Republicans. One is what happened yesterday and what we ended up writing about – a straightforward, if idiotic and terribly planned effort to disrupt the handover of power, egged on by the cynical rhetoric of Cruz and Hawley, who pretended that there were serious problems of election fraud. The other is more long term. As we note in passing in the piece, Sam Rosenfeld describes how “some Republicans understand that they benefit more in the long term from “legal anti-democratic institutions” than from dubiously legal “anti-democratic actions,” which are more set-piece theatrical statements than carefully planned strategies.”

Unsurprisingly, given the last 48 hours, there is a lot of attention to the latter. But the former is important too. There are going to be a lot of fights over redistricting, easy voting and so on, where Republicans like Tom Cotton and Mitch McConnell, who have more or less repudiated the Cruz/Hawley line, are almost certainly set to use bogus claims of election fraud to try to block reform. Democrats will push a bill that aims to limit gerrymandering and other abuses (which Democrats do as well; look at Congressional representation in Maryland), and Republicans will do their best to filibuster it. It’s a good thing that the mob invasion failed, and seems to be falling apart, and that Hawley and Cruz are getting some opprobrium (though not nearly enough). But many of the people who tried to block their efforts were motivated by a different kind of cynicism, arguing that attacks on the certification of the vote might lead in the longer term to the undermining of the Electoral College. In the frank description of Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie and several colleagues:

From a purely partisan perspective, Republican presidential candidates have won the national popular vote only once in the last 32 years. They have therefore depended on the electoral college for nearly all presidential victories in the last generation. If we perpetuate the notion that Congress may disregard certified electoral votes—based solely on its own assessment that one or more states mishandled the presidential election—we will be delegitimizing the very system that led Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and that could provide the only path to victory in 2024.

There is a Sturm und Drang anti-democratism, and a very different and one that is a slow, relentless grind. Figuring out the relationship between the two (they sometimes reinforce each other, and are sometimes in conflict) is complicated.

Political Sectarianism Where It Least Belongs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/12/2020 - 7:45am in

I winced at the editorial cartoon Friday in The Washington Post, All the Republican Rats: state attorneys general and U.S. Congress members all named and depicted as street rats for “collaborating with President Trump in his attempt to subvert the Constitution and stay in office.”

I winced because a couple of days before I had read Thomas Edsall’s New York Times online column, America – We Have a ProblemEdsall is a particularly talented political journalist. For 25 years he reported on national political affairs for the Post. Since 2011 he has contributed a column to the Times’ website.

Edsall related the gist of an article that appeared in the Policy Forum section of Science magazine in October. In  Political Sectarianism is America, fifteen political scientists at various major research universities wrote that “The severity of political conflict has grown increasingly divorced from the magnitude of policy disagreement” to the extent that a new term was required to describe the phenomenon.

Political sectarianism, they suggested, drawing a parallel with more familiar construct of religious sectarianism, is “the tendency to adopt a moralized identification with one political group and against another.” Three core ingredients characterize political sectarianism:

othering – the tendency to view opposing partisans as essentially different or alien to oneself; aversion – the tendency to dislike and distrust opposing partisans; and moralization – the tendency to view opposing partisans as iniquitous. It is the confluence of these ingredients that makes sectarianism so corrosive in the political sphere.

I have my doubts about whether political sectarianism has been overtaking the United States, but it certainly exists, and I know it when I see it. Herblock, the great editorial cartoonist of the Post from the 1950s until he died in 2001, famously depicted Richard Nixon as emerging from a sewer, but never, I think, as anything other than human.

Humanists – politicians, lawyers, business folk, religious and civic leaders, community organizers, journalists, artists, historians – will gradually get us out of the present situation. In the meantime, newspaper editorial cartoonists should show restraint.

The post Political Sectarianism Where It Least Belongs appeared first on Economic Principals.

Michael Hudson at 80 – reflects on his remarkable life:

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/12/2020 - 9:05am in

This is one hour and five minutes so I must indicate, not a quick listen. But nonetheless, given the connections and career of the economist and polymath, Michael Hudson, it is a very interesting verbal autobiography… He’s both been there and done that and also later researched something else… I think it was Steve Keen... Read more

US election—Biden’s narrow win ensures ongoing crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 8:39pm in


US politics

Joe Biden may have defeated Trump, but his weak position and centrist politics mean he will be unable to deal with the crises that dominate the US, writes James Supple

Donald Trump’s presidency is over, with Joe Biden finally claiming a narrow win to secure election as US President. There have been celebrations across the US at the news. But the result has only confirmed the deepening polarisation in a United States riven by crisis.

Expectations of a decisive victory for Biden and the Democratic Party were shattered, as voters turned out in record numbers for both candidates.

Trump won over ten million more votes than in his election win in 2016, despite his abject failure over the pandemic, producing the carnage of 230,000 deaths as well as spiralling unemployment, and four years of encouraging racism and white supremacists, systematic dishonesty and lies.

So close was the result that his Republican Party looks set to maintain control of the Senate, pending the outcome of two run-off elections in Georgia, and even won ground in the House of Representatives.

Biden’s establishment, middle of the road approach had little appeal for millions of Americans. His key promise was to simply restore business as usual after four years of Trump. He repeated this following the election result, declaring, “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but to unify”, and “to restore the soul of America”.

But he offers no solutions to the problems dominating the lives of ordinary people.

The Democratic Party has been left stunned by its failure. “Something went wrong,” Democrat Cheri Bustos, who led the party’s campaign, told the House Democratic caucus, saying she was “gutted” and “heartbroken” at their losses.

Biden will be a weak president, at the mercy of the Republicans in the Senate as he attempts to push his agenda through Congress. Even his cabinet choices will need Republican approval.

Even before Trump, US politics had become sharply polarised between the Republicans and the Democratic Party, as the Republicans adopted ruthlessly partisan tactics in Congress and gerrymandered electoral districts to boost their numbers. Biden will face the same obstruction.

Trump has spent four years feeding polarisation and stirring up racism and nationalism.

His next move is unclear. He is continuing to deny that he has lost the election, claiming the count was hit by voter fraud and launching a series of court challenges to the results. Biden’s margins in the swing states are now large enough that this won’t change the outcome.

Some are speculating that Trump will run again for the presidency in 2024. But even if he quits the political stage altogether, Trumpism will remain a powerful force. It has a stronghold on the Republican Party and it has shown its continued electoral potency.

Trump’s claims of a stolen election will enrage his supporters and create the conditions in which right-wing protests and far right violence can grow.

Economic crisis

Trump’s rise was a product of the bitterness resulting from four decades of neo-liberal policies, supercharged by the economic crisis that began in 2009.

Inequality has exploded at the same time as people have been forced to work harder and longer hours. The top 1 per cent’s share of income has more than doubled since 1975, while the bottom 90 per cent’s share fell from 67 per cent to 50 per cent.

Trump’s election in 2016 showed that anger at economic crisis does not automatically push workers to the left but can also feed the far right.

His success was also fuelled by disappointment with President Obama. Although Obama was elected in 2008 on promises of change and building a movement to take on Washington, he ended up defending corporations and the rich.

He bailed out the banks following the economic crisis, and presided over a recovery that saw the bottom 95 per cent of households with lower incomes in 2015 than they had in 2007, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

It was under his presidency that the right-wing Tea Party movement emerged, radicalising the Republican Party base and preparing the way for Trump. There is now a danger of an even more powerful right-wing movement emerging under Biden.

The gridlock and paralysis of the US political system is set to continue. Biden is not going to deliver change of the kind that could improve workers’ lives.

And Biden typifies the moderate middle ground approach unwilling to pursue any bold agenda.

His allies in the Democratic Party are already blaming their dismal election performance on the left.

In a conference call between Democratic members of the House following the result, establishment Democrats declared figures on the left of the party such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as responsible, saying, “We need to not ever use the word ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again” and claimed a focus on “socialised medicine” and defunding the police had hurt the party’s prospects.

Biden completely distanced himself from the left during his campaign, repeatedly declaring that he had defeated Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and rejected his policies.

Despite the crisis in the US health system further exposed by the pandemic, Biden refused to support a universal healthcare system, rejecting Sanders’ plan of Medicare for all.

Although he promised to break from Trump’s climate denial and spend significant amounts on climate action, he also distanced himself from calls for a Green New Deal and promised not to ban gas fracking. And he has also rejected the demands to defund the police coming from the Black Lives Matter movement.

The pro-business Financial Times has described Biden’s plans as only “mildly social-democratic”.

Biden drew in far more corporate donations than Trump, taking millions from the finance sector and big tech firms. He was the choice of those looking for a steady hand to promote US imperialist power. And his decades as part of the neo-liberal establishment in Washington gave ordinary people no confidence he would be on their side.

His devotion to the interests of big corporations will leave him hamstrung in addressing inequality and working class people’s needs.


But the polarisation of US society has also fed the popularity of socialist solutions to the crisis. The key expression of this has been Bernie Sanders’ campaigns for president through the Democratic Party primaries.

Another reflection of it has been the growth of the Democratic Socialists of America to 75,000 members. A series of Democratic Socialists, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have been elected to Congress through the Democratic Party.

But the Democratic Party establishment easily defeated Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries, and maintains a firm hold on the party.

Much of the left in the US fell in behind Biden’s campaign in an effort to get rid of Trump. Bernie Sanders worked to mobilise his supporters into campaigning for Biden’s election and is trying to channel activists into working to reform the Democratic Party.

This meant getting tied into defending an essentially moderate and pro-capitalist party.

Internationally, similar efforts either to take over existing parties for the radical and socialist left or build new left parties focused on winning government through elections have both failed.

In Britain, former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s effort to reshape the Labour Party into a vehicle for opposition to neo-liberalism and war is being dramatically reversed under new leader Keir Starmer. Corbyn himself has been suspended from the party as part of a witch-hunt against the left.

Elsewhere, the once radical Syriza party in Greece, elected to government in 2015 on a promise to tear up austerity, was discredited after it implemented even worse cuts than those it was elected to oppose. Podemos, a radical left party in Spain, has joined a government with the Labor-like Socialist Party.

In recent months, the most exciting developments on the left in the US have been outside the electoral process. More people participated in the Black Lives Matter protests across the US than in any other protest movement in history. The rebellion not only massively increased popular opposition to police brutality and racism, it won measures to defund the police and redirect money into social services in a number of US cities.

There are also signs that strikes are on the rise. Workers at Amazon, McDonalds, grocery stores and other companies have staged protests or gone on strike demanding COVID-19 safety measures. This follows the wave of successful teachers’ strikes that began in Republican-controlled states in 2018.

The left needs to focus on building resistance on the streets and in the workplaces in order to fight for the radical solutions needed around climate action, racism and economic justice.

The stakes are high. There is a huge gap between the expectations in Biden and what he will actually deliver as the US plunges deeper into economic and social crisis.

That’s why we need to build socialist organisation that puts building class struggle and the movement’s strength outside of parliament at the centre of its focus.

The post US election—Biden’s narrow win ensures ongoing crisis appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Why did 73 million vote for Trump?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 7:14pm in


US politics

Despite losing the election, Trump was able to increase his support base significantly on 2016.

Trump was clearly dominant in small towns and rural areas, where he also won last time.

His increased vote relied on turning out more of the same kind of voters who backed him then. The Democrats, by contrast, increased their vote in the major cities.

Trump overwhelmingly won among white voters, beating Biden by more than 10 per cent among the group. It’s clear that racism is part of his appeal.

But voters who said the economy and jobs were the most important issue in the election also overwhelmingly backed Trump, whereas those who thought the pandemic more important heavily backed Biden.

Trump’s campaign to end lockdowns and open up the economy again clearly had a resonance, especially among small business owners but even with some workers.

As US writer Mike Davis put it, while the Democrats made the election, “a plebiscite on Trump’s bungling of the pandemic”, they did so, “without making an all-out effort to convince voters that a Biden administration would sustain family incomes and small businesses until COVID was defeated.”

This gave Trump an opening to claim Biden would hurt workers through another lockdown without protecting their jobs.

For all the claims of Trump’s working class appeal, he trailed Biden by 8 per cent among the lowest paid section of voters earning less than $50,000 a year.

Trump again held traditional Republican voters, including evangelicals, small business owners and the middle class.

But his success among those with only high school education indicates that a section of the working class did vote for Trump.

These workers could be won away from Trump and the right through policies targeted at actually improving their lives rather than encouraging them to resent migrants, Muslims or Blacks.

A movement that promised to tax the billionaires and use the money to fund universal healthcare, better schools and well-paid jobs could win their support on the basis of class.

A party that actually stood for such policies would be better placed to show how racism distracts workers, between white, Black or Latino, from their real enemies in the wealthy elite.

The post Why did 73 million vote for Trump? appeared first on Solidarity Online.

A corporate Democrat in the White House won’t end systemic racism and inequality

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 7:13pm in


US politics

Virginia Rodino, a socialist and member of Marx21 in Baltimore, spoke at a forum on the election result organised by Solidarity:

What we’re seeing play out is the weakness of the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party, as we saw with Hilary Clinton four years ago.

The Democrats tell workers they’re on our side and then enact policies in every sphere that tear down our interests.

The corporate Democrats have assessed that socialism and the calls of the movement to defund the police are the reasons voters didn’t vote for Biden. Apparently establishment Democrats believe that saying ‘I am not Donald Trump’ should be enough to earn our embrace.

This is a party that deliberately deactivates mass movements, such as Obama breaking the Black basketball players wildcat strikes, or the Democratic National Committee suppressing at all costs the Bernie Sanders campaigns in 2016 and in 2020.

But it’s not through electoral politics and voting, it’s through class struggle, that we will see change. We have seen a rebirth of calls for socialism by the movements. Occupy Wall St, the climate justice movement and the two Sanders campaigns saw the crystallising of anti-capitalist arguments.

The movements must break from believing that a corporate Democrat in the White House will end systemic racism and sexism, climate disaster, our mess of a privatised health care system or our illegal foreign policy.

Late last month the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice project and the Working families party launched The Frontline, an initiative aiming to forge a Black-led multiracial coalition that can carry forward the energy of the uprising, the largest social movement in US history.

They commented, “we are committed not to fighting for a saviour on Pennsylvania avenue (where the White House is located), but to fighting for our next target. And we will come as hard at the new administration which we hope will follow the Trump administration as we are at Trump right now.”

We have to support this line of thinking. Biden wants to give another $300 million to police departments. Obama’s administration deported more people than Trump. He kept families in cages. Biden has stated his administration will not separate families but does not intend to stop caging them.

Billionaires saw their fortunes rise by 27 per cent during the pandemic, while 40 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits.

How do we change this perversion of priorities?

The Black Lives Matter movement is a multi-racial force that politicians ran to catch up with, the Climate justice movement has been proven right again over the past few months just in the United States with the raging fires in the northwest.

We can’t let the ruling class co-opt these movements to drain their energy and vitality.

We have to continue building movements like the movement for Black Lives, and united fronts against racism and fascism.

The post A corporate Democrat in the White House won’t end systemic racism and inequality appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Editorial, Arena no. 4: Post-Trump Fantasies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/11/2020 - 11:12am in

Joe Biden has won, but the battle for America is just beginning. In at least three areas Biden will be up against impossible odds to deliver the America he hopes to. Appeals to decency, to rational policy, to law and common sense, and to a unified American nation will meet deep-set resistance, and not just because Trumpian politics will remain, which it surely will. Deep-going social and cultural divisions, American development assumptions, and moves globally on a Democrat-defined world stage will make it difficult for Biden to deliver ‘peace’.  

Just about everyone on the broad Left would be happy that Biden has won. Trump the man, Trump the performer, Trump who would incite racism and dally with neo-fascists was alarming for anyone who has a grasp of the political inclinations of this type—narcissistic, and thus unbounded in putting himself first, thin-skinned, vindictive, open to the blandishments of others, deluded, personally powerful. The carnivalesque Trump of spectacular performance similarly did not carry with a broad grouping—a ‘moral middle class’ perhaps; ‘liberals’, or the educated, who can ‘read’ a media performance. They have been aghast at the ‘tricks’ and sleights of hand, the pawing of the audience (‘I love you, Philadelphia’, ‘Oh, the women…’)—the joker Trump, who pretended to upend the social hierarchies and challenge the ‘know-it-alls’ but was the speaker of a debased ‘truth’. 

The hope for so many who read it this way, especially mainstream Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans, is that the Biden win will return politics to ‘normal’—that politics can again be ‘rational’, that the ‘centre’ can be retrieved. In this hopeful view, the institutions of state and government (‘American democracy’) remain to be reactivated as a space of debate and exchange across different but defined groupings and their representatives. Trump caused the descent into polarisation, Biden will govern for all; Trump fanned the irrational; Biden cares, and will reinstate policy and competence (especially around COVID).  

Of course the trouble here is that over 70 million people voted for Trump, and the vote again fell more or less fifty-fifty between contending forces—that odd norm of modern electoral voting. Biden might come to allay fears of racial and ‘left-wing’ street violence among some of these voters and thus win them over, but unless you want to confine this very large number of people to the category of ‘deplorables’; to see them as inherently racist, proto-fascist and irrationally prey to conspiracy theories; and as having no grasp at all of the policies of the Trump camp, there is little basis for hoping this division will end. From this point of view, far from Trump being the cause of polarisation he is better understood as a symptom, and of something deeper than a political division.  

*                     *                     * 

At the time of writing the threat of violence has been just that. There are guns on the street, but they haven’t been fired; Trump supporters are distraught at their election having been ‘stolen’ from them, but they seem focused on Trump’s various legal challenges. It remains to be seen how or if they will fall into line as the Biden win moves to the next stage of confirmation and convocation. And it certainly remains to be seen how they will take to Biden’s first policy interventions around COVID-19, surely a flashpoint for violence on the resonant theme of liberty.  

In the immediate lead-up to the election some commentators were likening the situation to civil war. While an exaggeration presently, this carries the implication of continuing lines of dispute and contest right from the heart of the American Civil War period—clear enough in the passions ignited around Black Lives Matter today. More generally, though, it speaks to a crisis in economy and society that has undermined the conditions of social life and altered the terms of self-understanding for various groups and classes. Once crucial to American developmental prosperity, on the inside of a whole historical trajectory of modern capitalism, the old white working class are now in large part cast out, suffering economically, as well as in terms of the dream they were promised and the identities they cling to. While the economic precarity and marginal status of black America have been constants in American history, globalisation has meant the restructuring of domestic economies, and its neoliberal administration has offered no love to those now on the losing side of history. The opening of China to Western investment, the export of American jobs, and the techno-scientific revolution that give contemporary capitalism its distinctive form are shaping an 80/20 society, where major sections of humanity are ‘surplus to requirements’. Trump’s policies, however dressed in appalling rhetoric and self-serving in terms of his own corporate benefit, pinpointed exactly this chasm, and voters responded, with Trump increasing his vote among Black and Latino Americans and even the LGBT community. The emergent divisions must remain a fundamental tension for any return to a Biden ‘normal’. On what basis do people engage in legitimate political contest if the assumption of a shared nation no longer holds? On what basis does the polity hold together if some of the people supposed to be represented through its institutions are effectively outside ‘legitimate’ consideration? While Trump’s extreme inclinations may have pushed towards collapse of the political compact, it is really the social compact that is in question. This is a layer of contradiction that the Democrats, on their record as unquestioning globalisers and neoliberals, remain unlikely to address in any significant way. 

‘Liberty’, as one of the touchstones of the Trump campaign, will likely prove an especially inflammatory challenge to Democrat ‘reasonableness’. ‘Making America great again’, catchcry for a nation-focused program of boosting manufacturing and restoring pride to white working-class identity, was a drawing in. The Trump challenge generally, taken to be against globalisation (certainly not capitalism), was nationalistic, on the international-relations front described as isolationist. But this inwards move was at the same time elevated by a call to something higher, that paradoxical mix of American cultural particularity and the exceptionalism of its place in history. Born of the American Revolution, ‘liberty’ is a transcendent, projecting the soul and inner project of an essential America. If you can’t have jobs and can only afford crappy products at the local mart, at least you can be ‘set free’ as that individual carrier of the ‘rights of man’. ‘Liberty’ is barely present in the Australian lexicon, but it is a powerful reminder to Americans of their actually unique place in world history: the ascension of the New World to the centre of world history and its radical break from what went before, both the hierarchies of the old world and Indigenous claims to the land. In the fully libertarian frame, Americans are free individuals with rights bestowed on their persons, and in their defence, in priority over other communal identities, histories or bonds that might curtail such rights. From one angle the dignity afforded marginalised groups in the notion of liberty might be compensation for a benighted reality, but it is also a potent basis for identity, and acute and dangerous in politics. 

*                          *                          * 

The once pole stars of Left and Right have for decades been under pressure attempting to contain the range of concerns that are now in political contestation across contemporary polities. Those categories can no longer simply ‘slot’ over foundational class groupings that were an earlier, material undergirding of democratic representation. In the context of globalisation, neoliberal governance and high-tech development, the American white working class emerges into a reconstituted cultural setting in which a febrile identity politics plays a central role. At the same time as this reshaping of identities and the emergence of new lines of marginalisation has taken place, climate change has moved to centre stage, existentially, as a threat to humanity in general; politically, as a challenge in all its aspects to received political systems and their modern economic and cultural underpinnings.  

Biden’s climate-policy intentions are presently exciting hopeful commentary. Indeed, let’s hope a new climate regime will fall into place, and that Green jobs in particular will flow, but there is little evidence of Democrat inclination to reconceptualise growth, either domestically or globally, or forms of community that might re-establish more modest ways of living. While an America oriented to international climate agreements will make an important contribution, ‘Me? A socialist?’ Biden is not very likely to understand or seek to basically reform the hyper-destructive forces of contemporary capitalism. It would be to bring into question a whole system of taken-for-granted structures and practices, given all that climate change implies about the West’s deep-set view of nature, consumption lifestyles, and high-tech capitalism. The restructuring of work and consequent forms of precarity and redundancy, effected by that same clutch of forces, takes us beyond all the comfortable precepts and expectations of modern economic and social development: that ongoing growth is possible, that growth means jobs, and that this combination will satisfy our wants and needs. Democrat policy making and attempted technocratic fixes of the past forty or so years of neoliberal global capitalism have proven completely inadequate to fixing these ‘issues’; indeed they are implicated as causes. 

The expectation too that with stable government America will return us to saner global leadership internationally, including more open lines of communication than Trump on economic globalisation, can’t go unchallenged. On the one hand, globalisation will again be elevated to a value commitment—not just an economic policy—to ‘openness’ and cosmopolitanism. Despite its contribution to climate change and environmental destruction and to new and inhuman marginalisations in the poorest and the wealthiest nations in the world, unbounded globalisation, and America’s political guidance of such in again chummy world forums, will likely be the counter catchcry to Trumpians’ supposedly closed world view. And, while we might hope for the reignition of the very sane Iran deal, we can observe that the Democrats have gone to war with alacrity over recent decades, when Trump did not, tuned in, as he seemed to be, to a domestic population weary of war and loss.  

In what is a polarised culture and society, not just a polarised politics, what can we hope for? Is a politics that joins people rather than separates them—materially, not simply through empathy or myth—possible? Where are the fault lines that might illuminate the causes of the general shift that is today creating fear and unrest, fuelling anxieties and bellicosity over contending identities? This is a small and perhaps contentious example, but shouldn’t we be trying to bring divergent forces together? While from the Left one might hope for and talk of the exhaustion of neoliberalism, with the radical Right its constituency can be appealed to with cries to ‘drain the swamp’. They are hardly coterminous, but they can be made to dovetail as more or less cogent critiques of governmental and political objectives and style. Beyond this they may both be made to point to those deeper turns in economic life and society within a more-than-ever predatory capitalism that swallows community and ungrounds ways of life. 

12 November 2020 


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/11/2020 - 9:17am in

Was of course Trump’s tweet in characteristic capitals long before he, or anyone else, could possibly know the result. I think we can safely presume that his legal challenges will be found to be without merit, and that any recounts will not alter matters significantly. I thought the survey below interesting (and always having to... Read more