Cold winds blowing

My interest in US politics has waned a bit, now that Trump’s attempted coup has turned out to be less March on Rome, more Beer Hall Putsch, so we must, reluctantly, turn our attention back towards developments on this side of the Atlantic.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was in the Commons today, to give an update on the perilous state of the county’s finances; apparently things have not been this bad since the Great Frost of 1709. His response, at a time when the economy has all but ground to a halt, due to the government’s inept handling of the coronavirus pandemic, is to freeze the pay of most public sector workers, despite the fact that they are just about the only people confident enough to spend any money at the moment, as unemployment is set to rise to a ten-year high. Even with this penny-pinching, the National Debt is projected to increase at a rate not seen outside wartime, and GDP is unlikely to recover before 2022.

If this was not reason enough for pessimism, then a glance at the progress, or lack thereof, towards a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU would surely convince even the most Panglossian observer that the country is doomed. It is still possible that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose unfitness for the office becomes clearer every day, will, abandon all the commitments he made to the right wing of his party when he stood for leader, and sign up to a relatively sensible agreement, but it shows how far we have fallen as a nation that the best-case scenario for our future depends on the utter untrustworthiness of the head of government.

One bright spot amid the gloom is that it does look like we might have a functional covid-19 vaccine before too long, promising a return to some sort of normality. Of course that will depend on the government managing to distribute it efficiently, which, in light of their failure to control the pandemic thus far, is not a given. I might feel more confident if I thought the job would be entrusted to the relatively dependable public health system, but, since the Tories are ideologically committed to the idea of the free market, and even more committed to enriching their friends, there’s a good chance it will be handed over to the same private contractors who fumbled the contact tracing program, and have gouged huge sums from the public purse for the supply of PPE.

Still, we must remain positive. Only three months of winter to survive before the springtime…

Life after Trump

It’s been more than a week now since it became clear that Joe Biden was President-elect, but there’s still no sign of the pro-Trump revolution, unless you count the scattered demonstrations in Washington at the weekend. For all their angry rhetoric on the internet, the Proud Boys and their ilk are mostly smart enough to know that there is a big difference between walking around your neighbourhood with a gun, trying to look tough, and actual armed insurrection, while the bulk of Trump’s electoral supporters were never on board with all the QAnon craziness, just willing to put up with him because they were worried that Biden would depress real-estate values by integrating their suburb. They may not be happy at the outcome, but they don’t see the need to burn everything down, especially since the Republicans look almost certain to hold on to control of the Senate, and with it the power to frustrate any progressive legislation that Joe might have in mind.

So where does this leave Trump himself? There are signs that the reality of the situation is beginning to intrude upon his consciousness, so I expect his main priority between now and January will be to make sure he and his immediate circle are well insulated against any consequences resulting from their activities over the last four years, probably by making good use of the Presidential pardoning powers.

The hard core of Trump true believers may take some more time to adjust, but, like all sects who are forced to experience a Great Disappointment, they will eventually adapt their beliefs, and find some other prophet to follow.

What’s harder to predict is if the capture of executive power by a fringe figure like Trump will come to be seen as an aberration, or whether we’ll find ourselves in the same situation come 2024. A lot will depend on how effectively the left organises between now and then, and how well we counter the Trumpian narrative of hate and division with a collective vision of peace and justice.

Savour the moment

After the trauma of 2016, I’m naturally relieved that, this time around, there has been a relatively happy ending. Further analysis, and with it inevitable disappointment, can wait until tomorrow…

Biden time

After a couple of days of anxiety, it looks like Joe is going to eventually make it over the line, with Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania all seeming set to turn blue in the next 24 hours or so. Trump may try some legal manoeuvres, but it’s hard to see even the most partisan Supreme Court Justices invalidating an entire election over clearly fantastic claims of fraud.

This is good news for progressives of course, but any celebration has to be tempered by recognition of how close it was. Nearly 70 million Americans voted for Trump, and while I guess most of them are somewhat more moderate than he is, they were still prepared to live with the quasi-fascism as long as they thought he would look after their economic interests. Further down the ticket, more conventionally respectable Republicans actually did quite well, retaining control of the Senate and rolling back some of the Democrat majority in the House. Even if Biden was the wild leftist of Trumpian propaganda, rather than the cautious moderate of reality, he wouldn’t be proclaiming a socialist republic any time soon.

So, there are going to be plenty more battles to fight over the next four years. That’s a worry for another day though; for now we should just enjoy the victory, and hope that the radicalisation, and organisation, that made it possible are a sign of better things to come.

Waiting for Trump to go

I was going to go to bed early last night, as I was pretty sure there wasn’t going to be any clear idea of who was ahead in the Presidential race for days at least, but I couldn’t resist waiting up until Florida was called, on the off-chance that Biden might take the state, and thus allow me to sleep soundly, knowing that Trump had no path to victory.

As it was, Trump won the Sunshine State fairly comfortably, and I didn’t have a particularly restful night. I’ve calmed down a bit as the day has gone on, and the advantage has seemed to swing towards Biden, but it’s still much closer than I would like. The results from Wisconsin, Georgia, and Michigan might be in tonight, but Pennsylvania and Nevada could be tomorrow, and North Carolina accepts late postal votes until next week, so it’s unlikely that we’ll know for sure who’s won for some time yet.

What’s interesting is that, despite all Trump’s bluster, and his shout-outs to the far-right, his promised army of vigilantes failed to show up to suppress the Democratic vote. Similarly, his attempt to claim victory before the votes are counted has failed to gain any support, and it’s not clear what legal avenues he would have to dispute the result. Now that the threat of losing the Senate seems to receding, and with the Supreme Court already packed with conservatives, the Republicans hierarchy may be thinking that Trump has outlived his usefulness, resigning themselves to a Biden administration and turning their thoughts towards 2024. That does look like a more sensible long-term plan, for both the GOP and US capitalism, than continuing to tie their fortunes to an unstable would-be dictator.

One further message to my friends in the US of A

Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight rates Trump’s chances of winning re-election (legitimately that is) as plausible but unlikely, but, like everyone else on the left, I am still haunted by what happened four years ago, so here is our now-traditional appeal to the good sense of the American electorate; let’s hope it works as well as it did in 2008 and 2012.

[Thanks once again to Matt Groening.]

Beyond recovery

So, Donald Trump didn’t suffer too badly as a result of contracting coronavirus, which isn’t too surprising, since most people, even in his demographic, do pull through, and being President of the United States, with a whole team of doctors dedicated to his care, and access to cutting-edge therapy, won’t have hurt either.

This was clearly a good outcome for him personally, but politically it’s been more mixed. His aura of invincibility may have been enhanced, in the eyes of his more fanatical supporters, but his continuing dismissal of the seriousness of the pandemic, based only on his personal experience, has only furthered his reputation as a cold-hearted narcissist. Implying that those who have succumbed to the disease are weak-willed losers will hardly endear him to sections of the population who have suffered disproportionate fatalities, and will particularly alienate older voters, one of the groups that he really needs to stay loyal to him if he is to have any chance of victory.

With a week to go until polling day, and with record numbers of voters having already cast their ballots, Joe Biden looks almost certain to win the popular vote. Of course, as we learned last time around, that alone won’t be enough to put him in the White House, but the numbers in the states that will decide the Electoral College are looking good for him too, so Trump’s options are rapidly narrowing.

Trump’s best chance probably lies in disrupting the poll, by questioning the validity of postal ballots, and encouraging vigilantes to intimidate minority voters, in the hope that this will create enough uncertainty around the results in key battlegrounds to allow his allies in the state governments to award him the Electors even if he loses the popular vote. Such manoeuvres would inevitably end up before the Supreme Court, hence his haste to confirm a sympathetic new Justice.

We can only hope that the Democrats get enough of their vote out to put the result so far beyond reasonable doubt that even Trump’s most ardent enablers balk at the shenanigans that would be required to overturn it. Failing that, we may be looking at a campaign of civil disobedience to defend what is left of bourgeois democracy in the US, with an outcome which would be far from certain.

Corona karma

The UK may not lead the world in much these days, but we were one of the first countries to have our head of government go down with Covid-19. Now that our transatlantic cousins have belatedly caught up, what effect will that have on the forthcoming election?

Obviously one does not wish ill-health upon a 74 year old man, even Donald Trump, but it is tempting to imagine some cosmic justice at play here, given Trump’s woeful response to the pandemic emergency, and the suffering that has resulted for ordinary US citizens.

However Trump is a man who seems always to fall on his feet; if (admittedly a big if) this does not kill him, it may, as the saying goes, make him stronger.

Trump will either shrug the infection off, or he will get very sick. The former scenario will both further his reputation among his followers as some kind of übermensch, and confirm his contention that the whole coronavirus thing is no big deal, while in the latter circumstances he will benefit from a surge of sympathy, and his QAnon disciples will be galvanised by the conviction that his illness is a cover for a deep-state plot to kill him.

Of course there is a third possibility – Trump may be humbled by a brush with mortality, and emerge from the ordeal a better man. That seems a bit of a long shot though…

Not bystanding

Having watched the highlights, such as they were, of the first Presidential debate, I find myself concurring with the general view among commentators, that a new low has been reached in US political discourse. Trump made no effort to advance any sort of vision beyond his usual litany of incoherent grievance, calculated to inflame the fear and anger of his core supporters. Biden could hardly avoid looking Presidential in comparison, which will have played well with those already planning to vote for him, as well as winning over some waverers, but this seems unlikely to significantly alter the trajectory of the campaign.

The important point to grasp is that the liberal notion that fascism can be defeated in “the marketplace of ideas” represents a serious misunderstanding of the nature of the struggle. The likes of Trump do not come to events like these in good faith, to calmly discuss policy differences in the hope of convincing undecided voters of the merits of their platform, but rather view them as opportunities to further their narrative of conflict, where uncompromising strength is the ultimate virtue, and falsehood and provocation are legitimate tools in the pursuit of total victory. Trump was not trying to win any new hearts and minds last night; he was rallying his troops for the battle ahead.

This presents a dilemma for the left; one does not want to validate Trump’s apocalyptic fantasies, but, when the President of the United States is openly calling on white supremacist militias to ready themselves for action, it does seem irresponsible not to prepare some sort of response.

That doesn’t mean that we have to mirror Trump’s violence. The strength of the proletariat is in their solidarity; faced with that, Trump’s goons and enablers, whether in the streets, the Senate, or the Supreme Court, are powerless. Between now and election day there needs to be some serious organising done; to be ready to counter any attempt at voter suppression, and to turn out in mass demonstrations if, or more likely when, Trump tries to dispute the outcome.

Of course I’m writing this from an ocean away, but I’m confident that my US comrades will have come to the same conclusions, and will already be working on building the movement. The next few weeks may get ugly, but I’m sure that progress will prevail.

RBG RIP

As if the current election season wasn’t fraught enough, the stakes have been raised even further by the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For about a moment after I heard the news I thought there was no way that Republicans would have the gall to attempt to fill the vacancy before election day, after obstructing Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for ten months in 2016, but then I realised, yes, of course they would, and, sure enough, Mitch McConnell has announced his intention to push for confirmation quickly, though he left the exact timetable vague, perhaps reflecting some uncertainty over whether he has the votes to support such a course of action.

To be fair, I would do exactly the same thing in his position, though I hope I’d be a little more honest in acknowledging that the manoeuvre was a partisan power-play rather than some high-minded act of principle. At least the situation makes clear once again the thoroughly political nature of the Law, and the need to approach the confirmation as another front in the class struggle.