Earlier in 2016, I attended a protest against a Donald Trump rally in Vermont. Although tensions were high among some protesters and some Trump supporters, there was no violence. As I walked around the two-block area near the theatre where Mr. Trump was speaking, I eavesdropped on several arguments between Trump’s supporters and those who opposed him and his ideas.
by RON JACOBS
It is presidential election season here in the United States. What this means for those who live here is that the media is saturated with poll numbers, politician’s lies and braggadocio, and a type of posturing that reminds many US residents of a schoolboy pissing contest. In that regard, one of this year’s more embarrassing instances occurred during the Republican Party debates where the question of various male candidates’ penis size was actually part of the discussion. Unfortunately, in terms of intellectual depth, the discussion of political positions in that party did not move much beyond this childish discussion of each other’s anatomy.
The performance of the candidates in the Democratic Party’s race for the nomination was certainly more erudite. In addition, it even included one of the more substantial challenges to the dominant order seen in more than a generation. I am referring to the campaign of US Senator Bernie Sanders. Although those on the Left continue to disagree as to whether Sanders is truly a socialist, the fact is that his campaign was based on a direct challenge to the neoliberal capitalist order in the United States. It was this fact that captivated millions of US voters and turned his campaign into a serious challenge to the Party’s current champion of neoliberalism, Hillary Clinton. Sanders will not get the nomination. I am not as cynical as those who continue to believe that Sanders’ role was always one of shepherding left-leaning voters into the Democrats fold. However, the nominating process of primary elections and party caucuses that nominates candidates in the US is so obviously rigged to ensure that the nominee will be the person who best represents the financier-corporate leadership of the party that Sanders might as well have played that role as if he were cast in it.
In the world of neoliberal capitalism, elections have become just one more piece of the endless entertainment cycle. Substance is discarded in favour of outrage and personality; it seems the more unlikeable a candidate’s personality is, the more coverage they get. The best example this US election year is the uber-capitalist television personality Donald Trump, a man with tremendous appeal among certain sets of Americans. This might be inconsequential except for the fact that the politics he preaches relies on the hatred of immigrants and Muslims, misogyny and an aggressive nationalism. Simultaneously, he casts himself as a friend of the working man (which in the US is still defined as the white-skinned working man) despite the fact that his history as a billionaire businessman indicates a chronic lack of understanding their needs and lives. Clinton’s previously mentioned role as the champion of neoliberal capitalism does nothing to make her the friend of working people either. In short, the US election is a contest between two wealthy people fighting to represent other wealthy people and convince the rest of the populace that they somehow have the latter’s best interests at heart.
The lack of substance and depth in the two presumptive nominees’ campaigns has been made more apparent by Bernie Sanders’ insistence on not only making economic issues — from labour to education to income inequality and medical care — the foundation of his campaign. The fact that he has presented them in terms of class and argued for them from an anti-ruling class perspective (or at least what passes for one in 2016 United States) makes the disparities in perception between the 1% and everyone else even more obvious. Yet, as in elections in capitalist nations the world round, his arguments may have convinced voters but were not enough to transcend electoral laws designed to merely replace one Wall Street elected official with another. When one adds the almost complete domination of the prevailing media by the same Wall Street forces, it seems that the best a social democrat like Mr. Sanders can expect is a rather indifferent nod to their candidacy. That is pretty much what Mr. Sanders received.
Back to Donald Trump. As I write this, the internet and other media are filled with alarming speculation about what will happen in the wake of the British vote to leave the European Union. At this juncture, there is very little deep analysis of the voting results and what precipitated them. There is plenty of conjecture though. Given that the common understanding is that the vote was led by a right wing party against immigration, it seems likely that it was this fear of immigrants that was the clinching element. Indeed, if Donald Trump wins in the United States, it will be the fear of immigrants that will put him over the top, too. The irony of a nation of immigrants fearing immigration is lost not only on those who support Trump, but also on most of the mainstream media in the US.
Earlier in 2016, I attended a protest against a Donald Trump rally in Vermont. Although tensions were high among some protesters and some Trump supporters, there was no violence. As I walked around the two-block area near the theatre where Mr. Trump was speaking, I eavesdropped on several arguments between Trump’s supporters and those who opposed him and his ideas. Of all the reasons I heard from Trump supporters as to why they were going to vote for him, there was one almost universal sentiment. That sentiment was simple: Donald Trump would keep them safe. He would do so by fighting ISIS and keeping Muslims out. In short, he would be their protector. The thought that came to mind while I considered this reasoning was how this represented a longing for an authoritarian figure in their lives. In their yearning for the security such a leader represented, they seem willing to forsake their own independence and ignore the more hateful humans and groups they were aligning themselves with. It seems the same mind-set also determined the Brexit vote in Britain. The manipulation of fear is a dangerous tool.