Solstice unease

So here we are at midsummer, half way through a year that started unpromisingly, and has steadily got worse. The most pressing problem is obviously the deadly global pandemic, with its accompanying economic meltdown, but all the things I was worried about back in January – principally our new right-wing government and its plans for a hard Brexit, and, across the Atlantic, Donald Trump’s dictatorial ambitions – are still around, only amplified by the new conditions.

Trump may have backed down from his threat to put troops on the streets, when it became clear that there was no stomach at the Pentagon for such blatantly unconstitutional action, but it looks unlikely that he will let the vote in November go ahead without doing his best to suppress Democrat turnout, while priming his own base to forcibly contest the outcome if necessary. Since he is trailing badly in the polls, the only results that look likely are that he loses the election, or he steals the election; either way serious turmoil seems guaranteed.

Meanwhile, in the UK, Boris Johnson seems determined to press on with a rapid Brexit, despite practically no progress having been made in securing a trade deal with the EU, and the economy being in no shape to take any more dislocation. There is little sign that Johnson has any sort of plan to manage the situation, beyond recklessly abandoning the lockdown restrictions, so we’re odds-on to be facing a combined political and economic crisis by the end of the year, with a public-health disaster thrown in for good measure.

There are some reasons for optimism; it’s becoming increasingly obvious that our current woes are crying out for a collective response, which has the potential to popularise progressive positions. The unprecedentedly diverse backlash against police violence is one sign of this; with some work the left could widen this out into a broader anti-establishment narrative that might produce some real change. Of course the extreme right are also working on their own alternative narratives, and, the way the world is now, it’s hard to be confident that they won’t come out on top, at least temporarily. By midwinter we may be in a very cold place indeed.

Putsch comes to shove

So it seems that Donald Trump couldn’t wait until he lost the election in November to try out his dictator pose, which was on full display last night as he declared war on his domestic opponents.

As is perhaps typical of white, male, leftists, I had been so preoccupied with the threat that Trump poses to bourgeois democracy that I had overlooked the fact that the front line of US politics has always been situated in the struggle of super-oppressed minorities, for whom the state represents an ever-present threat to their very existence. The uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent police violence, has brought this to the forefront of national consciousness, though of course for the communities concerned it is simply their everyday reality.

This is not a recent development; the US was founded on slavery, and racial injustice remains intrinsic to the functioning of its society. Despite this the holder of the office of President is expected to at least pay lip-service to the idea of equality, so Trump’s break with this convention, and his willingness to fan the flames of intolerance, is a ominous development.

How far Trump is serious about this, rather than just rhetorically pandering to his base as part of his reelection campaign, is open to question. Even if he does invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, there are still plenty of legal, political, and institutional obstacles in the way of his plan to use the armed forces as his personal militia. The extent to which his polarisation strategy will succeed is also dependent on how his political opponents react, and whether any sections of the Republican Party lose their nerve and abandon him. Factor in the continuing epidemic, and widespread economic collapse, and it becomes impossible to predict how all this will play out, beyond saying that it will be a long, difficult summer.