What political conclusions must be drawn from Trump’s Super Tuesday?

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3 March 2016

In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, not even the political establishment and media can deny that the United States is in the throes of a profound political crisis. The candidacy of Donald Trump can no longer be dismissed—as it has been until very recently by so many pundits—as merely a bizarre and even somewhat entertaining sideshow. While the outcome remains uncertain, the front-runner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is a candidate whose persona and appeal are of a distinctly fascistic character.

During the past few weeks, as it became increasingly evident that he was poised to emerge from Super Tuesday as the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, some of Trump’s critics began to acknowledge that he was a “Frankenstein’s monster” created by the party’s decades-long cultivation of racist elements. This can be dated all the way back to the 1960s, when Richard Nixon inaugurated the Republican Party’s “southern strategy,” which aimed to appeal to lingering hostility to the civil rights movement. In August 1980, immediately after winning the Republican nomination, Ronald Reagan chose Philadelphia, Mississippi—where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier—as the site of his first public campaign speech as the party’s presidential candidate.

There is no question but that the racist political culture of the Republican Party has provided an ideal environment for the development of Trump’s career and his present-day baiting of Muslims and immigrants of Hispanic origin. However, inasmuch as overt appeals to racism are the stock in trade of virtually all the Republican candidates, it does not explain the political phenomenon of Trump’s dramatic rise.

More than any other Republican candidate, Trump has pitched his message to the intense anger and frustration of tens of millions of Americans who feel—quite justifiably—neglected and scorned by a political system that is indifferent to the problems with which they are confronted every day of their lives. It was only a matter of time before one or another right-wing demagogue would recognize the political potential of an appeal to the economic and social insecurity of millions of desperate people.

Exit polls taken of voters in the Republican primaries establish that the phrase used by Trump supporters to describe the candidate is, “He tells it like it is.” What does that mean? Quite simply, Trump proclaims that “America is failing.” That assessment of the state of the country sounds a good deal closer to the truth than the usual declaration—which has become an obligatory applause line in every annual presidential State of the Union address—that America is doing great.

Trump talks about high unemployment, low wages and the disastrous state of health care. The fact that he has no solution to the problems—or only absurd, reactionary and even insane “solutions”—counts for less than the perception that Trump is describing a reality of relentless economic decline that the voters can relate to. In an article posted Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times states:

Polling data from the early-voting states confirm that many of Trump’s supporters complain they are falling behind financially. A plurality of Trump voters so far stopped their education at high school, limiting the job prospects.

It’s partly a reflection of the nation’s stagnant incomes since the Great Recession. At $32,089, per capita income for white Americans has only barely rebounded to what it was in 2005. Economic conditions in the Southern states, which have lost manufacturing jobs at a steady clip, have been particularly difficult as workplaces change and begin to demand higher skills and education levels. In South Carolina, where voters handed Trump an easy victory last month, new technology-rich automotive manufacturing plants have replaced shuttered textile mills. But the median household income, $44,929, still hasn’t caught up with its inflation-adjusted, pre-recession high of $50,484, set in 2006.

Tennessee, which, like Georgia, is expecting record voter turnout on Tuesday, saw its median income last peak in 1999, at $51,910, adjusted for inflation; today it is $43,716.

Trump invokes a mythical past and promises to “Make America Great Again.” America is the ancestral home of snake oil salesmen. Mark Twain’s Duke of Bilgewater marketed a substance that he claimed would remove tartar from teeth. Unfortunately, it also burned off the enamel.

Trump peddles his economic and political wares to the desperate and discouraged. Some of his media and political critics believe that Trump can be discredited if it can be shown that many of his businesses ended up in bankruptcy court. They are sorely mistaken. The story of Trump’s bankruptcies and subsequent resurrections offer a strange sort of hope to those who know what it means to lose everything they have. If Trump rose phoenix-like from the ashes of his many business failures, perhaps he can share with others, and even the entire country, the secret formula of his success. He will apply “The Art of the Deal” to the problems of America. Trump offers the promise of miracles to those who are on their last legs.

Whether or not Trump is worth the billions he claims to have is a matter of debate. Whatever the exact amount of his personal fortune, it seems strange that a right-wing real estate mogul should find support among significant sections of low-income white workers. Why, it must be asked, hasn’t this substantial layer of the population been drawn to the left?

To answer this question one must take a hard look at what is generally represented as “left” politics in the United States.

Official “left” politics is constituted by the Democratic Party, which is—no less (and in some respects even more) than the Republican Party—the political instrument of Wall Street and substantial sections of military and intelligence strategists. The Obama administration, which entered the White House promising “change you can believe in,” continued and expanded the policies of the Bush administration. Its economic policies have been dedicated entirely to the rescue and enrichment of Wall Street. Its signature social initiative was the restructuring of health care in a manner designed to massively expand the power and boost the profits of the insurance industry. Obama’s administration has institutionalized assassinations as a central instrument of American foreign policy and overseen a dramatic escalation of attacks on democratic rights.

Of what, then, does the “leftism” of the Democratic Party consist? Its “left” coloration is defined by its patronage of various forms of identity politics—fixated on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual preference—promoted by a broad swathe of political organizations and groupings that represent the interests of affluent sections of the middle class. They have no interest in any substantial change in the existing economic structure of society, beyond achieving a more agreeable distribution of wealth among the richest 10 percent of the population.

The essential characteristics of this political milieu are complacency, self-absorption and, above all, contempt for the working class. In particular, the affluent “left” organizations—or, to describe them more accurately, the “pseudo-left”—make little effort to suppress their disdain for the white working class, for which they can find no place within the framework of identity politics. A vast segment of American workers is written off as “reactionary.” Their essential class interests—decent jobs and a safe workplace, a livable income, a secure retirement, affordable health care, inviolable democratic rights, peace—are ignored.

In this insidious way, the struggle against racism acquires a thoroughly demagogic character. Genuine socialists have always insisted that all forms of divisions among workers—whether of ethnic, national or racial character—can be overcome only to the extent that workers become conscious of their common class identity and the underlying economic source of their oppression.

This is no less true in the fight against other forms of discrimination related to gender and sexual identity. The attitude of socialists toward such important democratic issues is that they must be fought for on the basis of the political mobilization of all sections of the working class against capitalism.

The hostility of the pseudo-left organizations to this perspective is so great, they have declared that the slogan “Black Lives Matter” must be counterposed to the elemental democratic conception that “All Lives Matter.” This reactionary stance plays into the hands of Trump and his ilk.

As for the campaign of Hillary Clinton, the efforts to promote this corrupt veteran of two reactionary administrations—that of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—as a champion of the oppressed is nothing less than grotesque. Her presidential bid is a monument to the deceit of identity politics. The administration of her husband presided over the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which cleared the path for the corruption that led to the crash of 2008. The first President Clinton eviscerated welfare payments, which had a devastating impact on the living standards of millions of African-American workers. The crime bill passed with the support of the Clinton Administration led to a vast increase in the rate of incarceration.

And yet, it is argued that the election of this Lady Macbeth of American politics—who instigated the Libyan invasion that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people—will be a triumph for American womanhood! The pillar of “left-liberal” politics in the United States, The Nation, carried an article by a wealthy feminist in a recent issue entitled, “Why I Am Supporting Hillary Clinton, With Joy and Without Apologies.” The author noted, in passing, that her daughter was on the payroll of the Clinton campaign.

The campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, broadly identified as a socialist, has gained widespread support and demonstrated the existence of a desire within large sections of the working class for an alternative to capitalism. Significantly, polls have indicated that Sanders would do substantially better against Trump than Clinton.

However, by conducting his campaign within the Democratic Party, Sanders is directing the popular opposition to capitalism into a dead end. With each passing day his campaign acquires an ever more conservative character. He now defines his socialism as nothing more than support for Social Security. Observing the strict conventions of bourgeois politics, references to the working class have disappeared entirely from his speeches. Sanders now identifies himself as a “fighter for the middle class.”

Sanders, in this way, seeks to block the emergence of an independent movement of the working class against capitalism and for socialism.

The Republican Convention is still three months away. The November election is more than a half-year away. The explosive character of international politics, the extreme economic instability and the growing social tensions within the United States impart to the 2016 election a high degree of uncertainty. However, the Trump phenomenon is a serious political warning. The American political system is rotten to the core. Even if Trump were to disappear tomorrow, it would not be long before another fascistic demagogue would emerge to take his place. There is no small number of discontented military and police-intelligence operatives, with substantial combat experience and access to serious fighting forces, who are preparing to enter the political arena.

David North

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/03/03/pers-m03.html

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US social crisis overshadows 2016 presidential election

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By Patrick Martin
26 February 2016

The primary campaigns to select the presidential candidates for the Democratic and Republican parties move into the decisive stage over the next four weeks, when two-thirds of all state primaries and caucuses will be completed. Eleven states have primaries on Tuesday, March 1, followed by Michigan and Mississippi on March 8 and Florida, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio on March 15.

The America media gives round-the-clock coverage to the minutiae of capitalist politics—the insults and smears and lies hurled back and forth between the various representatives of big business seeking the nominations of the two parties. But very little attention is being paid to the conditions of life facing the working-class majority of the American population.

The reality of life in America for working people is drastically at odds with the official picture of a society in the seventh year of a slow but steady economic recovery, in which the population is generally prosperous and certainly not in desperate straits. The seething anger among working people, expressed in only a very limited and distorted way in the presidential campaign, is the product of intractable and deepening economic and social tensions.

Numerous reports released during the first two months of 2016 document the staggering dimensions of the social crisis facing working people in the United States. A majority of Americans have too little savings to pay for an emergency expense of $1,000. One in four US adults is burdened by debts caused by medical expenses. More than one million working people are being cut off food stamps. One million retirees face pension cuts dictated by the Obama administration.

Of all these social disasters, only the lead poisoning catastrophe in Flint, Michigan has become an issue in the presidential campaign, for the most cynical of reasons—to present the crisis, falsely, as a race issue, rather than one facing the entire working class, white, black and immigrant.

Another report on the social crisis was publicized Thursday on the front page of the New York Times. A study by a recently established think tank, the Economic Innovation Group, found that more than 50 million Americans live in communities—defined by postal ZIP codes—that are severely distressed economically.

The study used measures of education, poverty rate, unemployment, housing vacancy rate, median income and trends in employment and business formation to calculate figures for economic distress, showing that tens of millions “continue to feel left behind by the economic recovery.”

It identified the ten worst urban areas, in terms of economic distress, as (in order): Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Toledo, San Bernardino, Stockton, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Memphis and Cincinnati. The state of Texas had the largest number of people living in distressed ZIP codes, 5.2 million, while the state of Mississippi had the highest proportion of its population living in distress, 40 percent.

In the most distressed 20 percent of ZIP codes, the study found, “nearly a quarter of adults have no high school degree, over half of adults are not working, and the median income is only two-thirds of the state level.” Since the 2008 Wall Street crash, these ZIP codes lost on average 6.7 percent of their jobs and 8.3 percent of their businesses. Their housing stock was on average more than 50 years old.

Contrasting the economic conditions in the distressed areas with those in high-income, high-growth areas (ZIP codes located mainly in the centers of finance and high technology, including New York City, Boston, Dallas and the San Francisco Bay Area), EIG executive director Steve Glickman observed, “It’s almost like you are looking at two different countries.”

Other studies document the failure of the state and federal governments to provide a social “safety net” adequate to meet the needs of working people. The majority of those who receive some form of public assistance have jobs, many of them full-time, but they earn so little that they cannot make ends meet. A majority of low-paid workers, those making $12 an hour or less, depend on some form of public assistance, principally food stamps and Medicaid.

Wages for the working class as a whole are stagnating. For the last quarter of 2015, total employment costs, the broadest measure of wages and benefits, rose a paltry 0.6 percent, bringing the total increase for the year to 2.1 percent. Only the plunge in oil prices, which has sharply reduced the cost of getting to work, has offset the impact of rising prices for necessities like food, education and medical care.

Extreme social distress has gone hand in hand with an immense growth in social inequality. The policies of the Obama administration have ensured a virtually unlimited stream of cash into the banks and financial system, and the wealth of the top 1 and 0.1 percent of the population has returned to pre-crisis levels.

Summing up data that has previously been reported on the WSWS, a recent article in Foreign Affairs noted, “[T]he share [of wealth] owned by the top 0.1 percent [increased] to 22 percent from nine percent three decades ago. In 2011, the top one percent of US households controlled 40 percent of the nation’s entire wealth.”

The states voting during the month of March include virtually the whole of the South, the most impoverished region in the United States. Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia hold primaries March 1, while Kentucky and Louisiana do so four days later. Later in the month come Mississippi, Florida and North Carolina.

Billionaire Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—herself a multimillionaire with close ties to Wall Street—are favored to sweep the Republican and Democratic primaries in the South. Yet these representatives of the American financial aristocracy are separated by an unbridgeable economic and social gulf from the working people of that region.

Trump, Clinton and the other big business politicians will jet from rally to rally, and spend tens of millions on campaign advertising. Meanwhile, the appalling living conditions faced by millions in the South were put on display as a series of major storms ravaged the region, destroying flimsily-built homes, particularly in impoverished rural areas where manufactured homes and trailers are commonplace.

The recent closures of Walmart stores across the region will reportedly create three new “food deserts,” neighborhoods where residents “will lack any place that sells fresh produce and meat once the last of the Wal-Mart stores slated for closure turns off the lights.” This includes parts of Arkansas, where Clinton was once first lady and served on the board of directors of the retail giant.

No section of the political establishment, from Trump to Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders, has any solution to the social crisis confronting the vast majority of the population. Both Trump and Sanders have in different ways sought to appeal to immense social anger—the former by promoting anti-immigrant and racist bigotry, the latter by calling for a “political revolution” that boils down to promoting the Democratic Party, which for the past seven years has presided over a historic transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/26/cris-f26.html