By Marc Vandepitte – Nov 15, 2020
After four years, Trump’s platitudes, vulgarities, and lies perhaps no longer surprise us. Still it is unbelievable that such an incompetent and fraudulent lout could run, let alone stand a chance in these presidential elections. An even more serious problem is the fact that he managed to get the second highest number of voters ever behind him. It shows how deep his country has fallen.
The following figures are a good illustration of what kind of someone Trump is: before his election, Trump appeared in court 1,150 times and he was involved in 150 bankruptcies. During his tenure, he made on average over seven misleading or downright false claims every day. That someone like him can hold the highest office of the most powerful country in the world defies imagination.
Voting against oneself
Elections are supposed to be an expression of the popular will. Nevertheless, the voters voted completely against their own interests in a lot of ways. Trump’s corona policy is nothing short of catastrophic. The US, with less than 4 percent of the world’s population, accounts for one in five of all Covid deaths worldwide. Still Trump fared better than last time in some of the states worst hit by the pandemic.
The most sexist president in history got the vote of more than half of all white women. Despite his racist attacks, his plans for a wall on the Mexican border, the imprisonment of thousands of Latino children in camps, and plans for deportation of illegal immigrants from Latin America, 8 percent more Latinos voted for Trump than in 2016.
Apparently an alarmingly large proportion of the population in the US is so desperate that they are looking for a strong leader, even if he speaks utter nonsense and acts against their own personal interests. In addition, minds are skillfully massaged by means of sophisticated propaganda. It is not the first occurrence of this phenomenon in history and the same is happening today in various other countries in the world, such as Hungary, Brazil, Turkey, Israel, India …
The desperation is visible everywhere. The richest country in the world is at the same time an enormous social graveyard. No less than 58 percent of citizens live from paycheck to paycheck. People often have to work two or three jobs in order to escape poverty. Moreover, a lot of people over 65 cannot afford to retire and literally work themselves to death.
Roughly 130 million North Americans (40 percent) don’t have enough savings to deal with a $ 400 emergency. Of these, 80 million (25 percent) delay treatment for a serious medical condition because of the cost, while the treating specialists rake in between $200,000 and $300,000 a year. In the last ten years, 50,000 jobs have disappeared in healthcare and dozens of hospitals have been closed down.
The situation gets worse and worse. In 1985, someone with only a high-school degree could provide for a family of four’s major costs (housing, healthcare, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of median wages. By 2018, it took 53 weeks. No wonder the mortality rate of the white adult population has increased in recent years. All this misery has led to 600,000 ‘deaths of despair’ in the past twenty years.
Nowhere in the Western world the gap between rich and poor is as wide as here. The 0.1 percent super rich have as much as the 90 percent least wealthy. The three richest people even own as much as the bottom half of the population. Forty years ago, CEOs earned 40 times as much as an average employee, nowadays this is 278 times as much. Inequality is also characterized by strong racial disparities. On average, a white family possesses 13 times more than a black family.
Social inequality is always accompanied by violence. Every 15 minutes someone is shot dead, 25 times more often than in other Western countries. More than 1 million crimes are committed every year, such as murder, rape, theft and aggravated assault. Is this ‘the land of the free’?
This violence and the repression also leads to an absurdly high prison population: 6.7 million people are incarcerated, on probation or parole, or have electronic bracelets. One in ten children has had a parent behind bars. One third of all women and girls imprisoned worldwide live in the US.
The desire for a strong leader
The unacceptable social malaise in such a rich country inevitably results in a mistrust of politics. 57 percent of voters believe their political system only works for insiders with money and power. This should come as no surprise given the fact that 39 percent of the members of Congress are millionaires and spend half of their time fundraising.
Only a small minority has kept faith in its political leaders. Over the past ten years, confidence in federal government has fluctuated between barely 15 and 20 percent. Trust in other institutions is also declining.
Trump cleverly makes use of this mistrust by presenting himself as an outsider. Born in the top layer of society, he claims to be anti-establishment and rages against the political caste, the media, scientists and intellectuals. His tough and vulgar language is perfectly in keeping with this image.
His right-wing extremist ideology is well received by a radicalized constituency. In 2017, about a quarter of the population felt that a military takeover was justified in case of widespread corruption or crime. That is a minority, but an alarmingly large and significant minority. After four years of Trump, this segment of the population is likely to have grown.
In Trump’s tenure and also during and after the vote count, heavily armed militias have taken to the streets. An estimated 50,000 paramilitaries are active in 300 groups. Experts estimate that veterans and troops in active service could make up at least 25 percent of those far-right militias.
The tide has not necessarily turned with Biden
Many have uttered a sigh of relief after Biden’s election, and rightly so. A four-year horror government is now coming to an end. The Democratic victory is important for the fight against global warming (and consequently the survival of the planet), for tackling COVID-19 in the US, for a decent migration policy and for international cooperation and the institutions of the UN.
However, Biden may not win a majority in the Senate. Moreover, the newcomers to the Senate are even more Trumpian than Trump. This means that Biden will only be able to set a new course in foreign policy and base his image mostly on that achievement. Domestically, he will be tied hands and feet to the Republican majority in Congress. Chances are slim, for instance, that he will be able to raise the minimum wage to $ 15. Universal health insurance may not be achieved, neither will the introduction of a real tax for the rich.
Biden won’t be able to tackle the bulk of the aforementioned wrongs or will not feel inclined to do so (given his centrist politics). The bipartisan system promotes polarization and the electoral system easily leads to paralyzing parliamentary obstruction of the president, which in turn further undermines confidence in politics.
The breeding ground for populism, nationalism and extreme right-wing ideology therefore continues to exist. We must bear in mind that the difference between the two candidates is very small (3 percent). Hate speech and populism can regain the upper hand in no time.
Socialism or barbarism
To eliminate this breeding ground, a new social contract of some sort is needed, based upon fair taxation, universal healthcare, increased (minimum) wages and pensions, and cheaper higher education. Massive investments are also required in infrastructure, healthcare and green technology. Finally, the political system needs a thorough reset.
Until this happens, the loss of prosperity, the gap between rich and poor, insecurity, lack of prospects and mistrust of politicians together form an explosive cocktail that could lead to another Trump or worse.
That said, it is encouraging that in recent years left-wing ideas have regained strong acceptance among the population, and especially among young people. A Gallup poll showed that 51 percent of young people between 18 and 29 years old are positive about socialism. For the entire population this is 37 percent. Also hopeful is the fact that outspoken left-wing candidates were elected to Congress.
Electoral processes are very important, but it is more important to patiently work at the grassroots: raising awareness, organizing and mobilizing people for a sustainable progressive project. Bernie Sanders has changed the party-political landscape of the US. In the past electoral campaigns, a new promising movement has started. It faces major challenges. Rosa Luxemburg’s slogan ‘socialism or barbarism’ holds true more now than ever.
Featured image: Photo: Gage Skidmore