In my post of March 3rd 2016 I referred, rather rudely, to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as “the arsecheeks of Ahriman.” The implication was that the 2016 USA presidential election represented a Hobson’s Choice (ie a non-choice or no choice at all) between two routes to a place you really wouldn’t want to go to.
Upon further reflection, I’m not sure that this was entirely fair. The defeat of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump could have at least one upside – it could signal the end of neo-liberalism, that pernicious doctrine that came in during the 1980s and 90s, signed up to by Reagan, Clinton, Thatcher, Bush, Blair etc and which marked a decisive end to the post-Second World War social contract that I had grown up with, and rather liked. Neo-liberalism brought us privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and market “solutions” to problems we didn’t realise we had, and the ever-increasing enrichment of the super-wealthy 1% (who lied that this was necessary because it would lead wealth to trickle down to the rest of us). It also brought us the financial meltdown of 2007/8 and the realisation that as the banks were bailed out and hardly any bankers on either side of the Atlantic were prosecuted for their crimes, it would be the taxpayer who paid the price of their behaviour.
What neo-liberalism also led to, for most of us, was a stagnation or decline in our incomes and living standards and deterioration in our public services. In the USA and much of the Western world, the basic morality behind the idea that ‘if you work hard, you get ahead’ has broken down, because people’s wages and salaries have not kept pace with rising prices, and many of their jobs have disappeared. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics in the USA, the hourly wage of blue-collar workers doubled from the 1940s to the 1970s, but has flat-lined ever since then. At the same time, the free movement of capital has allowed factory jobs to be lost to poorer countries abroad. Since 2000, the real median wage in the USA is down by 14% and the real low wage is down by an incredible 26%.
This wage stagnation took place during the sixteen-year period covering the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, so it became clear to voters that both Republican and Democrat parties were going along with it; and neither party was concerned enough to do something to reverse the trend. But Donald Trump, a man described by his son as a “blue-collar worker with a bank balance,” had noticed what was going on and spotted an opportunity. The image Trump likes to project is that of a man surrounded by bling and with a trophy wife, who eats fast food in front of a TV screen tuned to Fox News – the epitome of the American dream for a certain demographic. For white, working-class voters, Trump represents a break with the cosy arrangements between big business, big banks, big media and big politics that had shut them out from the dream and put them economically and culturally in retreat. The irony of looking to a billionaire with inherited wealth to rescue them from their predicament was presumably less of a factor than their hatred for the Washington machine-politicians who had brought them to such a pass.
These people suspected that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have continued the same old policies with the same old corrupt arrangements with big business and lobbyists, while failing to deal with issues such as illegal immigration which had done so much to undermine their own living standards. Why on earth would they vote for four more years of that?
How could Clinton offer hope when she helped create this situation in the first place? In fact, she systematically destroyed the candidacy of Bernie Sanders – the only politician in the US who really spoke to the anger of ordinary voters. This is why her Wall Street connections and her former position as a Walmart board member were so deeply resented. Trump may be a boorish billionaire, but politically and economically, he is less responsible than Clinton for what has happened. When he said, “Make America great again”, it resonated. When Clinton replied, “America is already great”, it seemed like a sick joke by someone from the elite to whom neo-liberalism had been kind.
From my perspective here in the UK, Hillary Clinton was, just like Barack Obama, fully signed up to the GMO/Monsanto agenda; she would have pushed for TTIP to be implemented; she would have put post-Brexit Britain at the back of a 10-year queue for a trade deal; and she would probably have got into a war with Russia. It might have been nice to have had a woman in the White House but that’s about the best thing you could say for Hillary – no-one was going to vote for her with any real enthusiasm, other than that she wasn’t Trump. So I can’t say I’m dismayed that her presidential bid has crashed in flames and the Clinton political dynasty has come to an end.
Now, that is not to say that I’m happy about the election of President Trump, either – far from it. What’s more, it seems very likely that he is bound to disappoint his supporters, who may believe that his promises should be taken literally (do they really expect a wall along the Mexican border paid for by the Mexicans, a total ban on Muslims entering the USA, Hillary Clinton in a jail cell, etc?). Their rage when he fails to deliver is going to be awesome to behold. The victory speech he gave after Clinton had conceded the result is a sign of compromises to come – instead of calling her “crooked Hillary” as he had done throughout the campaign, he called her “Secretary Clinton”, congratulated her on a very hard-fought campaign and said: “We owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.” His supporters, who just an hour earlier had booed loudly when her picture flashed up on the giant TV screens and chanted “Lock her up! Lock her up!” must have been puzzled by this sudden change of tone.
But, again from my UK perspective, with Trump there are going to be some moments to treasure. What, for example, will Boris Johnson (our new foreign secretary), say to excuse himself when he meets the new president? This is what Boris said in December 2015, as Mayor of London: “Donald Trump’s ill-informed comments (that there were no-go areas in London as a result of Muslim terrorism) are complete and utter nonsense. I would welcome the opportunity to show Mr Trump first-hand some of the excellent work our police officers do every day in local neighbourhoods throughout our city. Crime has been falling steadily in both London and New York – and the only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.” And here’s our former prime minister, David Cameron, also in December 2015: “I think his (Trump’s) remarks are divisive, stupid and wrong. If he came to visit our country I think he would unite us all against him.” And what about Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, who had previously stripped Trump of his role as an ambassador for Scottish businesses on the world stage after he had called for Muslims to be banned from the US, and who was vocal in her support for Hillary Clinton? What on earth will she find to say to excuse herself when Trump next comes to Scotland to visit the birthplace of his mother and inspect his two golf course businesses? Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that meeting happens!
One of the few British political figures to have backed Trump is Nigel Farage, the man who beyond any other forced David Cameron into offering the Brexit referendum, and who said on November 9th: “Today, the establishment is in deep shock. Even more so than after Brexit. What we are witnessing is the end of a period of big business and big politics controlling our lives. Voters across the Western world want nation state democracy, proper border controls and to be in charge of their own lives.”
Of course, Farage is correct that there are several resonances between the situations in Britain and the USA. In Britain, those people who voted Remain didn’t do so out of any great love for the European Union (I’m not the only one who regards it as neo-liberal and anti-democratic), but because they liked the idea of having a passport allowing them to live and work anywhere in Europe. In the USA, I suspect most Clinton voters found it easier to find reasons to hate Trump than they did to cast a positive vote for Hillary.
As James Meek wrote in the LRB Blog:
“There are many similarities between the Brexit vote and Trump’s win. The reliance for victory on white voters without a college education, fear of immigration, globalisation being blamed for mine and factory closures, hostility towards data-based arguments, the breakdown of the distinction between ‘belief’ and ‘conclusion’, the internet’s power to sort the grain of pleasing lies from the chaff of displeasing facts, the sense of there being a systematic programme of rules and interventions devised by a small, remote, powerful elite that polices everyday speech, destroys symbols of tradition, ignores or patronises ‘real’, ‘ordinary’ people, and has contempt for popular narratives of how the nation came to be.”
And so it came about that a billionaire who has been characterised as a bigot, braggart, demagogue, idiot, liar, misogynist, narcissist, racist, sexual predator and sociopath was nevertheless chosen to become the 45th President of the USA.
Sixteen years earlier, The Simpsons predicted that Trump would become leader of the free world. In an episode, entitled ‘Bart To The Future’, broadcast in early 2000, Lisa Simpson, who had just been elected President in succession to Donald Trump, is pictured sitting in the Oval Office surrounded by advisers. “We’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump,” she says. Writer Dan Greaney told The Hollywood Reporter: “It was a warning to America. And that just seemed like the logical last stop before hitting bottom. It was pitched because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane. What we needed was for Lisa to have problems that were beyond her fixing, that everything went as bad as it possibly could, and that’s why we had Trump be president before her.”
Last month, the creator of the show, Matt Groening, told The Guardian : “We predicted that he would be president back in 2000 – but (Trump) was of course the most absurd placeholder joke name that we could think of at the time, and that’s still true. It’s beyond satire.”
Beyond satire it may be, but it has just happened. An era is ending and a new one is taking form. Despair, anguish, incredulity are expressions of grief for the lost era. But apart from the Blairites, Bushites, Clintonites and Goldman Sachs parasites who have enriched themselves, who else will really mourn the loss of the neo-liberal period?
This new era of politics, with Trump at its head, will probably be ugly. What it might mean for the future of NATO and the Baltic states, for European defence budgets, for the European Union, for the Paris climate change agreement, for Mexicans or Muslims, for relations with China, Russia, Iran, North Korea etc, for gun control and healthcare in the USA – who at this stage can say? What it might mean from an anthroposophical point of view, however, I will try to piece together in my next post.