09 November 2016

Dear America

Dear America,

Congratulations on holding your elections without large scale violence, corruption, or electoral fraud. That's really something to be proud of.

We all knew that the consensus form of politics that has dominated not only your country, but the whole of the industrialised world, was not working. Millions of people lost their jobs, homes, and savings in the bonfire of vanity that was the Global Financial Crisis. Some of us hoped it might be a left-leaning candidate who got the protest votes, and Sanders had a certain appeal. But America does not elect socialists, so Sanders was never going to become president. So Trump got the protest votes. See it for what it is. Not an endorsement of Trump, but an indictment of Neoliberalism (especially so-called "free markets" and globalisation).

While middle America was desperately clinging to what they had acquired and managed to hold onto during the financial crisis, the rich prospered as never before, and a lot of poorer Americans lost everything and any chance of ever getting ahead. Too many Americans live in poverty, too many are trapped in minimum wage jobs. Of course these people are angry at the government when it allows their jobs to be exported to South-East Asia (or Mexico) and when it allows banks to parasitise the economy. Of course they were desperate for change. How do you feel when you look down and see a mosquito, bloated and red from gorging on your blood, about to fly off and lay thousands of eggs to produce more of its kind? Most people have a visceral urge to swat the little bastard. Voting for Trump can be seen as an attempt at swatting those parasites. Just as voting for Brexit was here in the UK.

In any case, you seem to have elected Donald J. Trump as President. And now he gets to form a government. Trump will change his tune now. You can hear it in the speech he gave on accepting Clinton's concession (what a phone call that must have been!). It's all about coming together and all that. He even praised Clinton's long years of service to your country. Taken in isolation, it was quite statesmanlike. Of course it ought not to be taken in isolation, but seen in the context of his campaign (at least). And of course Trump wants all the hostility to his candidacy to go away, along with all the rape allegations. The point is that he has shifted gears already (something that some left-field commentators predicted he would do). Campaigning is over and now he has to face being President, with everything that entails. "The American people have spoken", as they say.

Something that seems to be being overlooked is that the Congress is still solidly Republican, i.e. conservative and authoritarian. Consider that Trump climbed over those people to get where he is. He hijacked their party and has no regard for their values and traditions. And these are the people who have to pass his budget and his legislation. Like Obama, Trump will not find it easy to proceed without offering major concessions to Republicans in Congress. Even now the machinery of Washington is winding up to prevent Trump from achieving anything in office. They loving having this power and will exercise it with glee.

Some would argue that tying the hands of politicians is exactly what the disenchanted and disenfranchised electorate wanted. Disrupting the system is the best they can currently hope for, because a candidate who genuinely shares their concerns is not an option any more - only millionaires can afford to run, and millionaires will never share the concerns of the average American, let alone Americans working on minimum wage and living in a crime-filled neighbourhood.

In the USA you have a distrust of government that exceeds even many of those who live in totalitarian states. You seem to resent paying taxes at all, let alone with representation. You know the govt spies on you, often illegally (thanks again Edward Snowden). And you know that many of the institutions of govt are systematically discriminatory. Americans seem to fear and resent government telling them what to do. Many people believe something along the lines of one of Frank Zappa's aphorisms: "Government is the entertainment wing of the military-industrial complex."

What better way to disrupt the machinations of government than by electing a combative outsider who ran in order to be disruptive of the status quo? The fact that he might be an asshole or even a criminal is secondary to the very real desire for substantive change. Since substantive change is not on offer, the next best thing is disruption. A restive electorate will do anything to kick an unresponsive government into paying attention to their concerns. In the UK it was the Brexit referendum - which cost most of the government their hand on the ouija-board of power, though they all still have government jobs!

Trump has promised to invest heavily in infrastructure and to aim to have the best infrastructure in the world. To my mind this is the best possible policy. I only wish UK politicians had any plan to invest in the UK, but they don't. Investment creates jobs and returns that can ease the tax burden. It remains to be seen what Congress will allow him to do in this line.

Trump understands investment because its the core of what he does as a businessman. Yes, he is guilty of cutting corners on many occasions and ending up in court on many occasions, but he's an American libertarian who resents government interference, so a disregard for the government's rules is more or less what you expect. It seems that it was exactly his disregard for the rules, and for etiquette, that made him appealing to voters.

The big question now, after "Who will be in his cabinet?", is "Will Trump get his spending plans approved by Congress?" There has to be serious doubt about this. Congress is still dominated by the kind of old-fashioned conservatives who set up the current system and who benefit from it. They won't be in a hurry to disrupt it, and most of them probably hate Trump.

Clinton is history now. Given that she actually lost to Trump, that makes her probably the most unpopular candidate ever to run for President. A lot of people are trying make out that it was a gender issue, but it wasn't. Had her reputation been for scrupulous honesty, and had she not been seen to be far too close to Wall St, she might have done a lot better. Remember that Wall St effectively planned, engineered, and caused the 2008 financial crisis. And they got away with it because they themselves, in service to successive governments, had drafted the regulations that determined what was legal and what was not. Wall St made a lot of money from betting against those people who lost everything. Clinton was too close to the bonfire and was burned by it. Yes, I know it is ironic that the biggest liar, Trump, had the reputation for honesty because he appeared to just say whatever came into his head. But reputation is very important with social primates and hard to shift.

When Obama was elected, there was jubilation to match the wailing and gnashing of teeth today. But Obama was stymied and unable to do much because Congress opposed him at every step. In the end he was an OK president, and came out of his time seeming like a nice guy. But he also made assassination of America's enemies in the Middle East by drone strikes routine and systematic. The man is a stone cold killer. This is the thing about politicians. They are never the best of us. Sometimes they are the worst. To rise to the top in any country is difficult, but the US seems to produce an array of dubious figures, until you see them as entertainers who distract from the exercise of power throughout society and the world. Obama poses with his family, rails against Trump, and emphasises his concern for ordinary people, but every day he is authorising drone strikes to assassinate his enemies. You have to see politician in the round. The same will be true of Trump. Most of the predictions of doom and disaster will not come true.

Obama changed very little, he made little or no different to the lives of African Americans for example. In the end they tried to help themselves by starting the Black Lives Matter campaign to dissuade the police from shooting them on sight. Clinton would not have made life better for women, either. Nor have either of them made it easier for those who come after them. You still have to have enormous privilege and wealth to start with, to do what they did. And most of the people who have the privilege and wealth are white men, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Obama did not change this. Clinton would not have. Trump won't (though since he's a white man we don't expect him to).

America voted against the status quo. That's the take home message. They only had one effective choice to do this. Though of course, there were other candidates in the race, they received almost no media coverage and were not invited to appear in TV debates. Had the alternatives to the Republicans and Democrats had a higher profile, had they been granted the kind of saturation coverage that the media gave to Trump, the result might have been quite different. It's one of many things America needs to think about this morning. Mind you, the system where I live is also deeply flawed and in desperate need of reform. Our House of Lords (= Senate) is not even elected, but most members are government appointees, inherited the privilege from their father, or are appointed by the Church of England! Although we were the first modern democracy, we have yet to fully embrace the concept!

We have now to wait and see what comes next. But the media cycle cannot wait. Twitter is flooded with anxiety (and I only follow 23 tweeters!), the papers and TV news will be constantly hyping everything about the events of yesterday and ruminating wildly on what might come next. Beware of hyper-stimulation in the next few days. The come down is a bitch.


  1. An interesting piece. I predicted this outcome, as the dissatisfaction with the status quo. It's good to see a more balanced perspective than in the general media.

  2. great read. And you are right. The come down is a bitch