Donald Trump was elected as the candidate of the Republican Party, one of the two main capitalist parties in the US. He is a billionaire and could afford to self-finance his campaign. He was also a TV celebrity before a politician so already had recognition. His unpopularity with much of the press and media was beneficial, firstly because it gave him the coverage needed to make him a leading figure, and then was concentrated on individual attributes that did not fundamentally challenge his politics – he was not demonised.
His fame and money made him a credible candidate in the money and celebrity world that is US politics. His capture of the Republican nomination made him electable.
He fought the election by picking up a minority of endorsements by leading Republican figures and rallying around him extreme racists and reactionaries, of which there is not an inconsiderable number.
He fought a campaign that tapped into deep and widespread reactionary views with a long tradition in the US, including racism, nativism, sexism and religious bigotry coagulated together by xenophobic nationalism – ‘making America great again’.
He faced a notorious political insider, an establishment figure detested by many and unpopular among more; one who personified the last thirty or so years of economic policies that has supported deindustrialisation, stagnant or falling living standards, urban decay, increasing inequality, obscene wealth growing beside desperate poverty, and racist repression by the state.
In her campaign Clinton was clearly the candidate of the party establishment and was exposed as talking out of both sides of her mouth in order to speak to the incompatible demands of different strands of the Democrat vote, which became stretched apart by the Bernie Sanders campaign for nomination.
Trump won the election but lost the popular vote, by over 1 million and rising last time I looked. His election is bereft of democratic legitimacy exposing the sacrosanct US constitution for the travesty of democracy it has always been but whose legitimacy has survived the open domination of money and vote suppression.
Out of all this some people opposed to the Trump victory are telling us that “if there’s one thing that we can learn from the unexpected result on Tuesday night it is that Jeremy Corbyn can win here in the UK. This is not about left and right, as such; it is about a willingness to stand up to the status quo and call for a genuine change in the way we do politics.” Quoted and rightly ridiculed here.
An ultra-reactionary with all the benefits I’ve noted above wins in the US and we’re supposed to believe it means Jeremy Corbyn can win in Britain!
And Trump is an example of, or an invitation to, or in some way relates to “a genuine change in the way we do politics”!
Of course, this is all nonsense, except it’s a bit more widespread than it should be. It’s the sort of nonsense that I’ve looked at before; an attempt to see some progressive resonance to Brexit for example. No surprise then that before I came across the passage above I came across this statement from the People before Profit organisation in Ireland.
Their statement seems to present the Trump victory as primarily “a rage against ‘the establishment’” that will be betrayed. It makes assessments of the nature of the vote that are one-sided and ignore the reactionary features of the Trump vote – its retention of the Republican party vote and its attraction to those who saw immigration and terrorism as the main issues, just to note two of its features.
Perhaps as an immediate assessment it can be given some latitude for inaccuracy but, coming from those still supporting Brexit, it wouldn’t be surprising is this approach persisted when it becomes even clearer (I suppose it actually can become clearer) that the vote is utterly reactionary.
Aside from saying that “Trump will instead turn on the people who have elected him and try to make them pay the price in the same way that Hillary Clinton would have done had she won”, which isn’t true; what took my eye was the conclusion – “Trump’s victory is also evidence in a perverse way that if we do seize the moment anything is possible.”
“Seizing the moment” is precisely the electoralist, short term, get-rich-quick, short-cut to success politics that has infected the so-called revolutionary left since I first got involved in Marxist politics in the mid-1970s, and it didn’t start then. It directly contradicts the duty of socialists, that “in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” It is close to being a definition of political opportunism which has failed the socialist movement.
It fails utterly to recognise the fundamental social change that socialists want and which is required and the preconditions that are necessary for it to come about, preconditions not reducible to a moment seized that make “anything possible.” Electoral victories do not make “anything possible.”
A left electoral victory, built on similar misconceptions to those of many Trump supporters, not only makes genuine steps towards socialism not possible but is actually dangerous – exposing socialists to taking office in circumstances in which they simply cannot advance their cause, because socialism is working people emancipating themselves. It’s not even people voting for someone else to free them. If this is their idea of socialism they’re never going to see it.
It wasn’t “a moment” that led to Trump but a long history of working class political weakness and of reactionary ideas that suffuse wide sections of US society. We simply cannot “seize the moment” in any way illustrated by the Trump victory. From its political roots to its reliance on the inequality and venality of today’s US politics to its failure even to register an electoral majority – it’s nothing to emulate.
The Trump victory is illegitimate. It lacks democratic validation. It is built on racism, class prejudices and class oppression that no electoral mandate could render acceptable. The reaction of many Americans who have demonstrated against Trump, who don’t want him as President, is much better than ‘hey, we can do that too.’