As I write this (Wednesday evening, 6 January), the US Presidential election is all but resolved, confirming Joe Biden as the next President of the (Dis-)United State of America. Trump’s turbulent political career has lasted just four years – one of the few single-term US presidents in recent history.
Trump’s failure to secure a second term has come as a result of his erratic, divisive, and controversial behaviour; his apparent reluctance to condemn far-right militants; alleged corruption, and his disastrous inaction to control the covid19 pandemic that – at time of writing – has claimed 354,000 American lives out of 21 million cases.
The Presidential election results have taken much longer to resolve with narrow margins separating Trump and Biden. Far from a “blue wave” of total repudiation that many – myself included – expected, surprisingly just under half of voters still cast their ballot for the Republican incumbent.
America has barely dodged the fascist bullet – this time.
But the underlying causes that created the fertile ground for a vacuous, reactionary, lying, corrupt narcissist like Donald Trump still exist.
Make no mistake, free trade agreements – the cornerstone of the Neo-liberal Experiment – still export jobs from the United States to low-wage nations like China, Vietnam, India, etc. The same has occurred in other western nations, including our own Aotearoa New Zealand.
Globalisation – one of the mainstays of neo-liberalism (the others being de-regulation, tax cuts, and privatisation) began in earnest in the 1980s with Thatcherism in the UK, and Reaganomics in the United States.
Check your shoes: they almost certainly originate from China. As do the clothes you are wearing. Or the electronic devices in your home. Probably even the peanut butter in your pantry (unless its “Sanitarium”, “Pics”, etc).
In the United States, once high-paying jobs, industries, and services have been “exported” to low-wage societies. Manufactured goods from those same industries are then re-imported into the US to sell to American consumers.
Unfortunately, as those high-paying jobs – especially in the “rust belt” states – vanished, so did workers’ spending power. Meanwhile, corporate profits increased, leading to higher shareholder’s dividends and share buybacks. The much-vaunted, promised rewards of trickle-down economic theory never eventuated, except for a privileged few.
Writing for Investopedia, Will Kenton and Charles Potters point out;
Trickle-down policies typically increase wealth and advantages for the already wealthy few. Although trickle-down theorists argue that putting more money in the hands of the wealthy and corporations promotes spending and free-market capitalism, ironically, it does so with government intervention. Questions arise such as, which industries receive subsidies and which ones don’t? And, how much growth is directly attributable to trickle-down policies?
Critics argue that the added benefits the wealthy receive can distort the economic structure. Lower income earners don’t receive a tax cut adding to the growing income inequality in the country. Many economists believe that cutting taxes for the poor and working families does more for an economy because they’ll spend the money since they need the extra income. A tax cut for a corporation might go to stock buybacks while wealthy earners might save the extra income instead of spending it. Neither does much for economic growth, critics argue.
This has led to a steadily widening chasm between worker’s wages and corporate profits, with the trend accelerating from the 1980s onwards. As this graph, constructed by Robert B. Reich, Thomas Piketty, and Emmanuel Saez demonstrates;
The worsening trend continues unabated;
Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, corporate profits continue to soar. When comparing Employee Compensation/GNP with Corporate Profits/GNP, the disparity is glaring;
Note where recessions are marked with gray columns. Note how the immediate consequence of each recession – on the main – are wages down and corporate profits up.
Similar infographics abound throughout the internet.
As Erik Sherman writing for Forbes.com put it succinctly;
“…every financial crisis somehow manages to become an additional upward transfer of wealth. At least it isn’t the downward transfer that so many fear from a coming “socialism” that never arrives.”
Yes, socialism. The great bogeyman of American politics, as current Republican senatorial candidate, Kelly Loeffler recently “warned” her countrymen and women on the Georgian campaign trail;
“We’ve got to hold the line. We’re the firewall to stopping socialism in America.”
Except… Trump is not in office to serve the common wage-earning man and woman. His policies have continued to enrich corporations and the wealth of the top 1%;
As Ben Steverman wrote in the above article;
Millionaires and billionaires had far more to celebrate. A Republican overhaul of the tax code left wealthy investors and corporations paying lower overall tax rates than most working professionals. It’s also never been easier to avoid the U.S. estate and gift tax, and pass on wealth to heirs. When Covid-19 hit, the Treasury and Federal Reserve propped up markets, primarily benefiting the top 1%, who own the majority of stocks held by U.S. households.
Rex Nutting, writing for “Marketwatch“, was even more blunt;
With unemployment still in the stratosphere, wages and salaries are depressed. Fewer people are working, and the ones who are working aren’t getting raises. According to separate report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages in the private sector have increased just 1.7% in the past year, only half as fast as prices have been rising.
So Friday’s news is grim, but it’s not really news, is it? Everybody knows the fight is fixed, as the poet has sung. “The poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. That’s how it goes, everybody knows.”
And that, readers, is at the core of the social crisis that allowed a corrupt, amoral, semi-intelligent human being like Trump to be elected; “Everybody knows the fight is fixed… That’s how it goes, everybody knows“.
74,223,251 Americans certainly know it and were prepared to vote for a man many acknowledged as deeply flawed and repellent to them.
The rage from Trump supporters is not on their President’s behalf. It is a deep rage that “the fight is fixed” and even the power of their vote appears insufficient to change the system and improve their lot. The slogan “Stop the Steal” is ubiquitous at Trump rallies.
Of all the analysts who have examined how a parody of a human being could be elected to be a parody of a US President, American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges‘ insights are worth considering. He has looked into the soul and psyche of his country and his findings are troubling.
“The physical and moral decay of the United States and the malaise it has spawned have predictable results. We have seen in varying forms the consequences of social and political collapse during the twilight of the Greek and Roman empires, the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, Tsarist Russia, Weimar Germany and the former Yugoslavia. Voices from the past, Aristotle, Cicero, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joseph Roth and Milovan Djilas, warned us. But blinded by self-delusion and hubris, as if we are somehow exempt from human experience and human nature, we refuse to listen.
The United States is a shadow of itself. It squanders its resources in futile military adventurism, a symptom of all empires in decay as they attempt to restore a lost hegemony by force. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. Tens of millions of lives wrecked. Failed states. Enraged fanatics. There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, 24 percent of the global population, and we have turned virtually all of them into our enemies.”
As the empire wanes;
“The virtues we argue we have a right to impose by force on others — human rights, democracy, the free market, the rule of law and personal freedoms — are mocked at home where grotesque levels of social inequality and austerity programs have impoverished most of the public, destroyed democratic institutions, including Congress, the courts and the press, and created militarized forces of internal occupation that carry out wholesale surveillance of the public, run the largest prison system in the world and gun down unarmed citizens in the streets with impunity.
The American burlesque, darkly humorous with its absurdities of Donald Trump, fake ballot boxes, conspiracy theorists who believe the deep state and Hollywood run a massive child sex trafficking ring, Christian fascists that place their faith in magic Jesus and teach creationism as science in our schools, ten hour long voting lines in states such as Georgia, militia members planning to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia and start a civil war, is also ominous, especially as we ignore the accelerating ecocide…
…I speak to you in Troy, New York, once the second largest producer of iron in the country after Pittsburgh. It was an industrial hub for the garment industry, a center for the production of shirts, shirtwaists, collars, and cuffs, and was once home to foundries that made bells to firms that crafted precision instruments. All that is gone, of course, leaving behind the post-industrial decay, the urban blight and the shattered lives and despair that are sadly familiar in most cities in the United States.
It is this despair that is killing us. It eats into the social fabric, rupturing social bonds, and manifests itself in an array of self-destructive and aggressive pathologies. It fosters what the anthropologist Roger Lancaster calls “poisoned solidarity,” the communal intoxication forged from the negative energies of fear, suspicion, envy and the lust for vengeance and violence. Nations in terminal decline embrace, as Sigmund Freud understood, the death instinct. No longer sustained by the comforting illusion of inevitable human progress, they lose the only antidote to nihilism. No longer able to build, they confuse destruction with creation. They descend into an atavistic savagery, something not only Freud but Joseph Conrad and Primo Levi knew lurks beneath the thin veneer of civilized society. Reason does not guide our lives. Reason, as Schopenhauer puts it, echoing Hume, is the hard-pressed servant of the will.”
Chris Hedges understands the problem will not go away;
“Those overwhelmed by despair seek magical salvations, whether in crisis cults, such as the Christian Right, or demagogues such as Trump, or rage-filled militias that see violence as a cleansing agent. As long as these dark pathologies are allowed to fester and grow–and the Democratic Party has made it clear it will not enact the kinds of radical social reforms that will curb these pathologies–the United States will continue its march towards disintegration and social upheaval. Removing Trump will neither halt nor slow the descent.”
And therein lies the problem; the essential crisis confronting us, but which few have considered.
Trump is but a symptom of the decay of the United States. As with the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s, with social and economic upheavals brought on by the Great Depression; high levels of unemployment; defeat in World War One with humiliating loss of national pride, and punitive Treaty of Versailles demands – likewise Trump is the culmination of decades of corruption; political self interest; rising poverty and inequality, and worsening social and economic stresses.
The very fabric of American society is unravelling – and we are watching the spectacle in Real Time.
The election of Joe Biden will not make the poisoned soil that spawned Trump go away. Far from it, this is but a momentary respite.
Trump ended his political career and torpedoed his chances of a second term only because of a lack of self-awareness; self-discipline; and intelligence. He was an unsophisticated, ill-mannered, man-child trying to fill an adult’s shoes.
His successor, Trump 2.0, will likely have none of his obvious weaknesses.
The next Trump 2.0 will be less Chaplainesque and more shrewdly subtle at manipulating the American public at doing his bidding. If Trump could convince 74,223,251 Americans that he was fit for the most powerful role in the world – what could a competant, credible authoritarian figure achieve?
It is worth recalling that the US President who enacted neo-liberalism, minimal government, de-regulation, and globalisation was Ronald Reagan – a Republican.
The US President, who railed against neo-liberalism and globalisation, was Donald Trump – also a Republican.
The first offered neo-liberalism as a “solution” to America’s ills.
Twentyseven years later, his successor offered a “solution” to the ills caused by neo-liberalism.
What will the next Republican president offer as a “solution” to Trumpism?
If Donald J. Trump 1.0 was the prototype, the next upgrade is already on its way. And the fertile ground of discontent has been well prepared.
Wikipedia: 2020 United States presidential election
Republic Report: Ten Reasons Trump is the Most Corrupt President in U.S. History
Investopedia: Share Re-purchase (buy-back)
Investopedia: Trickle Down Theory
New York Times: The Great Prosperity, The Great Recession
The Economic Policy Institute: The Productivity–Pay Gap
Naked Capitalism: Corporate Profit Margins vs. Wages in One Disturbing Chart
Bloomberg Wealth: U.S. Billionaires Got $1 Trillion Richer During Trump’s Term
Marketwatch: Corporate profits’ share of pie most in 60 years
The Atlantic: Why People Who Hate Trump Stick With Him
Wikipedia: Chris Hedges
Bellingcat: The Making of QAnon: A Crowdsourced Conspiracy
Feminist Giant: Feminist Killjoy Here To Wreck Your Parties
Previous related blogposts
Acknowledgement: Mr Fish
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