• Seen from a leftist perspective
  • A socioecological view of Trump’s election

  • By Josef Baum | 24 Nov 16
  • The Trump vote has, without a doubt, had far-reaching effects on a number of levels, from global down to regional. The Trumps of this world want to (really) turn back the clock in all areas of society: from women’s rights to global and national upwards redistribution of wealth, armament and the trivialisation of an atomic weapons attack through to doing away with environmental and climatic protection.

    Reason and rational thinking seem to no longer apply; solidarity is likewise out of the picture. Nationalism is taking its place.

    This is an attempt to give an overview of the causes and perspectives:

     

    1.  The election was decided by the resignation of the vast majority

    Initially: the overwhelming support for the Trump tack – as it is now being viewed by the media, e.g. the Austrian Kronenzeitung newspaper – would look different: The USA currently has a population of 325 million. Fewer than 59 million voted for Trump, i.e. 23.8% of adults. Aside from the fact that Clinton had more voters – and that she was far from being a good alternative – the critical factor for Trump was evidently that a greater proportion, who were mobilised by Obama’s “yes we can”, did not even register to vote this time and instead stayed at home. “Trump won because he lost less than Clinton” (in comparison with the party candidates at the last presidential elections).[1]

    Increasingly, therefore, people – in reality the vast majority – gave up, evidently unable to see any perspective within the existing political and economic system that would make it worth voting. This proportion amounted to almost double the number of those who voted for Trump: a proportion of the population that still had faith in Obama’s “Change” promise and who were severely disappointed. Some were won over by Trump; the majority, though, manifestly lost hope. Obama was indeed confronted with a Congress that was completely opposed to him; yet he could also have mobilised his original supporters to back reforms but did not do this. He not only took an adaptive approach, regarding the institutions, but also continued with imperialistic policies, most clearly illustrated in Libya.

     

    2. Who brought Trump to office?

    It is a myth that it was the ‘poor’ who brought Trump to office. So Brecht’s words only apply in part: “Only the stupidest calves choose their own butchers”. In a large number of areas greater income levels correlated with greater agreement with Trump. In contrast to many who have always thought of the words ‘worker’ or ‘working class’ as dirty, or who simply don't use them and now point in triumph at the large number of working class Trump supporters, the issue is more complex and it turns out that Trump had a clear majority among voters from a particular income bracket upwards – i.e. among the middle and upper classes.”[2]

    The analysis by the press[3], according to which the FPÖ [Freedom Party of Austria] has become the new ‘workers’ party’, is striking: “The FPÖ is, however, just as much a party of the middle classes; even, in part, of the upper class”.

     

    3. The super-rich have profited from the crisis while there is stagnation for the ordinary consumer on the street

    The general background to this is, of course, the global economic crisis after 2008 and the specific background is the radical upwards redistribution of wealth while income for those on low to medium level salaries has been stagnating for a number of years.

    The shares of coupon clippers are flying high once again, house prices are at the same level they were before the crisis and the income ratio of an average employee to a company director (CEO) is now 1:300 (in 1980 it was still 1:30 before Reagan).[4]

     

    4. The learnings from this: for the first time there is a notable left wing counter movement in the USA.

    It is significant and hard to overstate the fact that, with the OUR REVOLUTION movement instigated by Bernie Sanders, for the first time in decades, a notable left wing counter movement with considerable potential has arisen in the USA. Trump also came off poorly when it comes to key groups such as young people and women, and there are ongoing demonstrations against his taking office.

    Although, according to various surveys, Sanders would have had considerably higher chances against Trump, the Democratic Party Establishment not only decided against Sanders, but also made barely any substantial or personal concessions to Sanders that could have led to stronger mobilisation. Undivided power and serving lobbies were apparently more important to them.

     

    5. The rotten system and mutual provocation of the nationalists

    In contrast to the contorted manoeuvres of those who unswervingly sing the hymn of ‘American democracy’, the Trump vote reflects the rotten nature of the US system, when uncertainty, lies, coarseness and hatred characterise the (negative) choice.

    Even though an alliance of Russia, Great Britain, France, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, etc. can, logically speaking, only be a precarious one, these nations are currently mutually inciting each another.

     

    6. Are things better than they seemed?

    Trump’s statements before and after the election are contradictory; many of his announcements are now being touted as ‘election campaign rhetoric’. In reality, a lot of the time he ‘just can’t take the heat’. After the election the master himself admitted that he “hadn’t really thought through” some things.[5]

    The indisputable point is, though, that he is volatile and could potentially proceed to take an even more radical approach. Even if he only implemented a fifth of his pronouncements, this would be enough to result in severe disruption. Indeed, in order not to lose all credibility with his fans, he is highly likely to implement some because he has the means to do so.

    When Michael Moore terms the Trump landslide “proto-fascist” there is some truth in this, in that the real danger is actually that, in the absence of ‘success’, the blame can be laid on scapegoats and the Trump movement further radicalised.

     

    7. A conciliatory Trump?

    It is correct to say that, due to the Republican majorities in Congress and the House of Representatives, Trump will be able to assert himself incomparably more than Obama did or could have done. In this position of strength he can easily strike a conciliatory pose and not attempt to get everything through quickly; irrespective of the fact that there are lots of things that he is unable to do at one fell swoop.

    The list of individuals chosen to join Trump’s staff reads like a chamber of horrors, compared to which the unspeakable Reagan and Bush teams appear to be scholars.

     

    8. Belittling, whitewashing and adapting are in vogue

    We can see various kinds of reactions to Trump:

    • Enthusiasm: Right-leaning groups in Europe, FP and the Kronenzeitung newspaper
    • Belittling, whitewashing and adapting: the greater part of the media[6]
    • Shock-induced paralysis – resignation over the fact that someone like Trump has won
    • Clear realisation: Anneliese Rohrer[7] or Hans Rauscher[8], for example, warn of a ‘conciliation unit’
    • Aggressive opposition

    Even though, according to various media, Trump only has comparatively little support in Austria (as per various different media reports, only 5% would definitely have voted for him; 25% might have done so), the media are rife with enthusiasm, belittling and adapting.

    The extent of the abyss envisaged by Trump is impressive, especially if viewed in its entirety:

     

    9. Radical upwards redistribution of wealth
    • Radical reduction of corporate and wealth taxes, abolition of inheritance tax
    • Deconstruction of social programmes
    • Dismantling of health insurance
    • This means: Further redistribution of wealth to the top 1%; Bolstering crisis tendencies as a result, since it is precisely this polarisation that was – and is – a major cause of crisis and stagnation.

     

    10. Environment and climate

    The ruthlessness of ‘Trump-ism’ with regard to the environment is expressed in terms just as radical as those it uses about people:

    • Characterising climate change as a “Chinese invention designed to damage US industry” is, indeed, not worlds apart from mediaeval superstition, but unfortunately it has catastrophic consequences. Probably the most momentous long-term factor for humanity coming out of this election is the denial of climate change. There is only a small ‘window’ of around 10 years that remains to implement globally efficient measures to ensure that climate change does not spiral out of control in the medium term. In fact, in only four years Trump can completely abandon the Paris Agreement, in any case a lame and, ultimately, non-binding climate treaty. It is enough that he disregards it.

    • The issue, in fact, is not decided, because the majority of Americans do actually believe climate change to be real and advocate measures to address it, but it is getting very close to call now: Noam Chomsky says that, due to its disregard for climate change and now through the widest possible blockade of climate policy, the Republican Party has become the “most dangerous organization in world history”: “The last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous. But is it? The facts suggest otherwise. The Party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life”[9].

    • Under the pretext of employment Trump is radically espousing renewed acceleration of fracking and controversial pipelines – hastening to the abyss; although, from an historical perspective, the USA has 4% of the population but yet accounts for over 20% of climate change, so it is the US that needs to pursue the most active climate policy.

    • The revocation of the Paris Agreement would generate a destructive dynamism, likewise it would motivate other powers to trample over this fragile seedling and seriously harm those nations that have hardly had any effect on climate change but that are heavily affected by it. – Various medium-level and mini-Trumps in Europe agree with Trump when it comes to climate change denial and this gives them a boost.

    • There is also a plan to completely marginalise various US environmental institutions or make obscurantists responsible for them.

     

    11. What are the causes behind the huge problems faced by workers in the USA?

    Even though the USA is currently in a better official position than the EU when it comes to employment, this says little about the structure of the workplace, salaries and the growth of unstable employment conditions.

    Here, too, foreigners and other countries are labelled as culprits and not the dominance of large capital over the international division of labour.

    To start with, it is a myth that the USA has lost a significant number of jobs overall due to ‘globalisation’. The serious problem is, certainly, that jobs requiring fewer qualifications have been lost and new ones created in completely different sectors; and the new jobs are associated with very different, usually greater levels of qualifications, without there being a transition to enable the process. In many new service industries, too, the salaries paid are also very low.[10]

    There are numerous reasons for the decline in jobs within better paid industries. These include:

    • Financialisation’: the distension of the financial sector in the neo-liberal belief that speculation creates value.
    • The well-known general trend towards ‘tertiarisation’, outsourcing services to a third sector.
    • The unregulated globalisation pushed through by the neo-liberals with the consequence of subsequent play-offs between various sites and the respective employees with the objective of maximum overall exploitation.

    The noted economist Mariana Mazzucato says: “Trump has thrust America’s problems onto foreigners, poor trade agreements and a vague notion of a ‘manipulated economy’. He kept the real reason for the growing inequality secret. The neo-liberal model has failed. Wages were stagnating and the standard of living was only being sustained by levels of consumer debt.”[11]

     

    12. Trade wars against China and others?

    In these circumstances, trade with China accounts for roughly a quarter of job losses in industry[12].

    Trump is able, for instance, to introduce high customs duties on Chinese imports relatively quickly (he spoke of 45%). This would also, however, abruptly increase living costs for his own voters and lead to reciprocal measures being taken by China. Not least, China owns a huge number of US government bonds – up to $3 billion (noone knows the exact figure); if these were sold off in large numbers it could cripple the US financial system. It is therefore more likely to be just words in this case, since Trump holds none of the good cards in this instance and China has zero interest in aggravation (even though it has ostensibly prepared appropriate counter-strategies).

    According to research by the German IFO, “a full-scale trade war would be damaging to the United States itself”. US companies from Boeing aeroplanes to US cars and iPhones would suffer setbacks.  In the worst-case scenario, US economic performance could fall by 9%. The most heavily affected places, though, would be Canada and Mexico[13]

    The fact that the TTIP will probably be put on ice for the time being, and that the TPP trade agreement will either not come into effect or only do so in part, is at first a positive side-effect; yet, in the sense of “Make America great again”, we cannot expect US capital not to attempt to enforce its interests in a different way.


    13. Will Trump succeed in creating jobs?

    Mariana Mazzucato gives a succinct explanation of Trump’s business model that his supporters have showered with praise: “Trump did not make his money with businesses that create value. He employed tricks, exploited tax loopholes and, at the end of the process, didn’t pay his suppliers.” [14]

    Should he apply these sorts of methods to the USA as a whole, the question is who would ultimately be held liable for foreseeable bankruptcies.

    “If he continues to argue against the state, it will not help simply investing in a few bridges and streets. He needs a dynamic industrial strategy”[15]. That means that only a comprehensive policy featuring a strong role by the state, which for Trump & co. in the economy is the devil incarnate, could bring about a reversal here.

    To assess the chances of the re-industrialisation of the USA it is worth reading Willy Shih[16]: He takes a positive view of this orientation and concludes that in the USA the industry quota stabilises, but cannot be increased, even with considerable effort. Initially there would at least be only a little more outsourcing, since the difference in relation to China has become smaller (“end of labor arbitrage”), but there would also be no relevant return to the USA. One reason alongside the stated underlying trend towards the tertiary sector is extensive losses of ‘industrial commons’ (i.e. infrastructure, well-rehearsed relationships with suppliers and clients, specific qualifications and experiences as well as training centres), which can only be rebuilt in the medium term.

    14. Lack of responsibility regarding atomic weapons attacks

    What is hardest to predict but potentially most dangerous is Trump in the international arena. The above-mentioned removal of climate change is one of the least concrete objectives. There are, moreover, conflicting assertions that may also simply be based on insufficient basic knowledge. The “Make America great again” statement, along with the positioning of extreme reactionaries, does not bode well, however.

    A game over atomic war “Why do we have atomic weapons if we are not using them?” can quickly lead to unimaginable consequences; after decades, the suddenly very real atomic armament of allies of the USA, Japan, South Korea or Saudi Arabia.

    The situation in East Asia, which is already tense, could be greatly exacerbated.

     

    15. Armament and strengthening of military capacities: the end of interventions or panic-driven attacks?

    The drastic weapons armament and strengthening of the US army that was announced, based on an already almost unbelievable level of destruction, can – except for parts of the US economy – only have negative consequences. This can also be seen in connection with a seemingly sensible withdrawal from Europe or the indication of allegedly fewer interventions.

    Trump has, though, floated the idea of demanding oil from Iraq as compensation for the costs of intervention. For the stationing of US troops in Europe, too – together with atomic weapons – payments would be demanded; while he wants to bill Mexico for the building of the monstrous wall. 

    Is it conceivable that a man with such bizarre approaches will provide constructive solutions to the critical conflicts, and actually differentiate himself from Clinton’s war hawk politics.

    Under ‘Nobel Peace Prize winner’ Obama the US military is currently still bombing seven countries[17] as part of conflicts that the USA played a big part in causing: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. They provide firemen to play in the fires they themselves have lit.

    Trump’s business model of threats and intimidation, swindling and defrauding will, however, no longer continue to be used on the international stage with today’s balance of power. We can only hope that he will recognise this and that it doesn’t lead to panic-driven attacks. In this sense, the return to the ‘unilateral politics’ of the Bush era, to the devalorisation of the vote in NATO and similar is not really progress.

    Trump announced that he would put a stop to the lessening of Cuba’s isolation as initiated by Obama. Cuba is justifiably alarmed.

    As per the new right wing in Europe, Islamophobia replaces the earlier anti-Semitism. Logically, this also leads to a narrow axis with the far right in Israel and their peace-threatening politics. Consequently, Trump wants to torpedo the easing of tension with regard to Iran.

    Whether from opposition to the previous entrenched US and EU politics, which holds on to ancient notions of perceived threat, or due to whichever reason, the only more positive thing appears to be the possible easing of tension with Russia, which can also provide the long-awaited impulse for Europe.

     

    16. A competent anti-Establishment warrior?
    • Trump’s whole skills base derives from the property and casino business sectors, whereby the methods used were also marginal for American relations.
    • As already indicated, Trump has filed for four mega-bankruptcies and thus accumulated capital by means of debt relief.
    • The media have painted him as an anti-Establishment figure, although his background is very much Establishment and, as a billionaire, he lives a provocative life of luxury.
    • He talks of the “corrupt media” and the “corrupt Establishment”, defining them as such because they do not support him. Of course there was never ONE Establishment, but always different sectors with various interests and hard battles.
    • Trump describes himself as “smart” because, despite his billionaire empire, for 20 years he has paid practically no real tax.
    • Trump has no intention of really separating himself from his convoluted corporate empire.[18]

     

    17. Rabble-rousing, chauvinism and tub-thumping as necessary distraction

    This extreme behaviour, which, up until recently, would hardly have been considered acceptable in the current system, is being vocalised at an almost unheard of intensity through:

    • racist rabble-rousing, the denigration of minorities or the disabled (throwing out over 10 million, or now three million Latinos)
    • Building walls and closing the borders
    • Denigration of Islam
    • Recognised denigration of women
    • Brute intimidation of critics
    • At the same time, promoting the individual arming of as many people as possible.

     

    18. What can be done? - High time for a new awakening

    In the Vatican prayers are famously being said that God might ‘enlighten’ Trump. That certainly cannot do any harm. N. Klein summarises the consequences in a more tangible way: “Let's get out of shock as fast as we can and build the kind of radical movement that has a genuine answer to the hate and fear represented by the Trumps of this world. Let's set aside whatever is keeping us apart and start right now.”[19]

    If the election was decided on the basis of the resignation of the vast majority, the key question remains how this vast majority can regain perspective; how can hope of a new awakening be kindled?

    Simply warding off Trump (or the Austrian presidential candidate Hofer) is not enough in the long run. It is high time to work on a genuine alternative. As alluded to above, the development around Bernie Sanders, or Corbyn in the UK, is encouraging. In Austria, too.

     

    19. Asking and clarifying the fundamental question around global solidarity

    For a long time now, a fundamental question of left wing politics around global solidarity and a strategy for bringing the huge differences globally in wealth and income into equilibrium (“Arise, ye wretched of the earth!”) has unfortunately taken a back seat in real terms. Taking a matter-of-fact approach, beyond the general principles and individual proposals there is also a considerable backlog of developing coherent and practical concepts from the theory. While, for the most part, capital has the same profit rates internationally, wages and living conditions are hugely variable across the globe. By now, the refugee question and the rise of the right have led to this issue gaining huge momentum for the immediate agenda. It is no less than the implementation of solidarity and the gradual establishing of comparable living conditions, indeed of human rights: “The Internationale will win our human rights”.

     

    20. Austria as the next domino in line?

    Alexander Van der Bellen is right: with Trump in particular, who has been welcomed enthusiastically by Strache and his ilk in Europe, there exists the very real danger that Austria will be the next domino in line and the first Western European country where right wing demagogues accede to the corridors of power in this election and the National Assembly elections, which will probably follow soon afterwards. Yet, following Brexit and Trump, there is also the hope that many now acknowledge the precipice. Unfortunately, it really is a 50:50 scenario and therefore also relies on all of us.

    Supporting Van der Bellen does not mean supporting his position on all issues. In the main, it is a case of preventing the dams being breached to give way to the far right.

    Our election, too, will probably be decided by who can encourage and mobilise people effectively.

     

    Notes: 

    1. Die Presse, 10/11/16
    2. Die Presse, 12/11/16
    3. Die Presse, 12/11/16
    4. Sozialismus [Socialism] 1/16, p. 5
    5. Die Presse, 11/11/16
    6. Die Presse 11/11/16: “Give Trump a chance”
    7. Die Presse
    8. Der Standard
    9.  http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/38360-trump-in-the-white-house-an-interview-with-noam-chomsky
    10. Die Presse, 13/11/16
    11. Profil 46/16
    12. Sozialismus [Socialism] 11/16, p. 9
    13.  http://diepresse.com/home/wirtschaft/economist/5118453/Was-passiert-wenn-die-USA-einen-Handelskrieg-anzetteln?from=newsletter&xtor=EPR-20003-%5brss-newsletter%5d
    14. Profil 46/16
    15. Mariana Mazzucato, Profil 46/16
    16. For example “The Re-industrialization of the United States?” (Economic policy papers 2/2013).
    17. Die Presse, 11/11/16
    18. Die Presse, 11/11/16
    19. The Guardian, 11.9.16: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/rise-of-the-davos-class-sealed-americas-fate?utm_source=The+Leap&utm_campaign=f518efc7e5-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2016_11_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d6aa0a6f00-f518efc7e5-230852049