Trump has fed the polarisation of US society, but neither he nor Joe Biden have a solution to the multiple crises facing America, writes David Glanz
The prospect of Donald Trump winning re-election is a nightmare for billions around the world. The US election on 3 November will be watched with fear and anticipation.
Trump says COVID-19 will just go away and that the world will soon be getting cooler, while more than 200,000 Americans have died from the virus and massive bushfires rage across the West Coast.
He routinely calls Black Lives Matter protesters, domestic terrorists. When he visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police put seven bullets into the back of a Black man, Jacob Blake, he met only police and white business owners.
While, like right-wing leaders everywhere, he reluctantly agreed to pump huge sums into the economy to save capitalism, unemployment in the US is still running at more than 10 per cent, with a million a month signing on for welfare payments.
Trump is unwilling to tackle the quadruple crises facing the US—COVID-19, climate change, systemic racism and poverty.
On the face of things, his Democrat competitor, Joe Biden, should romp home. In mid-September he was leading by 6.6 per cent averaged across all polls nationally.
But commentators warn that Trump’s chances should not be written off. He has a number of factors in his favour.
First is that the presidential election is not decided by which candidates gets most votes—if it were, Hillary Clinton would be President today, having won a majority of the popular vote in 2016.
Instead, voters in each state elect representatives to the Electoral College, which in turn elects the President.
So if Biden polls heavily in safe Democratic states like California or New York, he gets no advantage. Instead the election is decided by a handful of swing states. In 2016, Trump gained the White House by winning states long held by the Democrats—Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—by a total of just 77,774 votes.
Today, the polls show Biden ahead in those three states but with a smaller lead of around 4 per cent. In another swing state, Florida, his advantage has shrunk to just 2 per cent. This means Trump is still within striking distance.
Second is that Trump is an oaf but not the idiot he’s often assumed to be. He has staked out a clear agenda based on big tax cuts for the wealthy, economic nationalism and the “onshoring” of strategic industries. His main fire is concentrated on China.
The US establishment magazine Foreign Affairs reported: “The Trump administration directed the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which manages hundreds of billions of dollars in government retirement savings, to halt investments in Chinese companies.
“It also prevented the Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei from using US technology to design or produce semiconductor chips. And after China imposed new national security laws on Hong Kong, Trump announced that he would revoke the territory’s special trade privileges.”
This agenda is popular among those sections of the ruling class focused on the US’s large domestic market, among workers threatened by free trade deals and among Trump’s white nationalist base.
The Democrats can only quibble at the edges, given they endorse the anti-China agenda. As Foreign Affairs said: “[All of] Washington has become obsessed with ‘decoupling’—the notion that the United States and China should sever the complex supply chains that bind them together.”
Third is that Trump’s sexist and racist behaviour is a positive among many of his supporters (less so among evangelicals, who tolerate him because he selects anti-abortion judges). Like Bolsonaro in Brazil and Duterte in the Philippines, Trump demonstrates that he is not a conventional politician by breaking the rules of elite society.
The slogan is Pauline Hanson’s but Trump binds supporters to him by signalling: “I’ve got the guts to say what you’re thinking.” He has given succour to the far right again and again, in the process becoming a cult star to racists around the world.
So after Nazis marched in 2017 in Charlottesville and an anti-fascist was killed, Trump declared that there were “very fine people on both sides”. He has called Black Lives Matter a symbol of hate. After the Kenosha shooting, he defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager who shot dead two anti-racist protesters.
The fourth factor helping Trump is the Democrats themselves. As in 2016, they have selected a cautious, mainstream politician in the name of “electability”.
But Biden has a poor track record—opposing busing Black students to integrate schools, voting for the Iraq War and supporting Obama’s enormous handouts to Wall Street.
He turns 78 just weeks after the election and sometimes seems to lose focus.
The result is that while 42 per cent of Trump supporters describe themselves as excited about the election, only 31 per cent of Biden supporters say the same. The US does not have compulsory voting and mobilisation will be a key factor in the result.
Many people think Trump won in 2016 because racist workers flocked to his “build the wall” agenda. Yet the number of Democrat workers who switched to Trump (having voted for a Black President in 2008 and 2012) was less significant than the number who didn’t vote at all. Almost two million Black voters for Obama in 2012 did not come out for Hillary Clinton.
In Michigan, the Democrat vote collapsed by 300,000 from 2012 while the vote for Trump was just 165,000 higher. Trump won Wisconsin with fewer votes than the Republican candidate received in 2012, as the Democrat vote fell by 238,000.
Some Democrat voters were taken off the electoral rolls by racist and anti-working class changes to voting laws.
But the main reason for the collapsing vote was the record of eight years of Obama and Biden—an epidemic of police killings of Black Americans, widespread deportation of non-authorised migrants, topped off by a massive bailout for the banks during the Global Financial Crisis. Offered a “Wall Street” candidate in Clinton, many Democrats abstained.
Is Biden facing the same fate as Clinton? His biggest asset is that he is not Trump. Millions will vote for him because he is the “lesser evil”.
Nine News correspondent Matthew Knott reported: “At the last election, Trump won a strong majority of votes from so-called ‘double haters’: the voters who disliked both candidates. This time around, polls suggest the ‘double haters’ are strongly supporting Biden.”
Biden is no radical. He rejects “Medicare for all” despite it being supported by 55 per cent of voters. He is opposed to calls to defund the police, saying police should get more funding and be trained to shoot BLM protesters in the legs. He is a strong supporter of Israel and critic of the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign.
He opposes the decriminalisation of border crossings from Mexico, saying it is unfair to those around the world who have to “wait in line” to enter the US.
Eight women claim that Biden either touched them inappropriately or violated their personal space.
The central problem is that Biden, as the “lesser evil”, will be under the same pressures as Trump to revive the US economy. The Democrats are as committed to US capitalism as the Republicans. Putting profits first means Biden will not deliver on the four crises ravaging American society.
In 2018, he declared: “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.”
He works happily with corporate sponsors, taking more money from the health care and pharmaceutical industries than his Democratic rivals for the nomination.
Biden helped President Bill Clinton write a “three strike” law in 1994 that made prison compulsory on a third offence, however minor. He boasted that “the liberal wing of the Democratic Party” was now for 60 new death penalties, 70 enhanced penalties, 100,000 cops and 125,000 new state prison cells.
Under Obama and Biden, there were ten times more air strikes in the Middle East than under their predecessor, George W. Bush.
Most progressive Americans will grit their teeth and vote for Biden. Bernie Sanders has instructed all his supporters to do so.
More than 60 veterans of the leading New Left organisation of the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society, signed an open letter calling on young activists to get behind Biden.
But it would be a tragedy if Sanders’ supporters were sucked into the Democrats’ electoral machine. While many on the left agree there needs to be a break from the Democrats, the date is always over the horizon.
Instead, the priority should be building movements of resistance in the streets and workplaces.
BLM supporters took part in more than 4700 demonstrations across 2500 towns and cities. The New York Times estimated that 15-26 million people participated, making it the largest movement in US history.
The protesters pushed US society to the left. At the height of the rallies, more than 60 per cent of Americans agreed that Black people faced discrimination and almost 40 per cent disapproved of the police.
There has been a pick-up in industrial action, too. The Payday Report site recorded 1000 strikes between 1 March and 4 September.
Many are fuelled by the COVID crisis. “No essential worker should be making poverty wages, plain and simple,” said one Florida striker, 60-year-old Black McDonalds worker Gail Rogers.
We will all cheer a Trump defeat. But whoever wins in November, it will be the struggle from below that will decide whether it’s bosses or workers who pay the price for the US’s multiple crises.
And it will be the struggle that will be central to rebuilding a fighting American left.