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.

Hierarchy of fear

So, what should I be feeling more anxious about; the increasingly febrile atmosphere surrounding the US elections, or the stalemate in the Brexit negotiations?

On the face of it, the outlook in the US does appear more alarming. Donald Trump is upping the ante of threatened chaos as election day approaches, and he remains stubbornly behind in the polls. It initially looked like he would limit himself to suggesting that his supporters should dispute the outcome if he lost, but now he is leaning towards encouraging them to take up arms to protect the vote from alleged fraud, thus giving a green light to bands of trigger-happy vigilantes to descend upon the polling stations and deny access to anyone who they think looks suspicious (ie non-white). This would be incendiary at the best of times, but with the country in the grip of a deadly epidemic, economic insecurity on the rise, anger over racial injustice still at boiling point, and the western states literally in flames, it’s not unimaginable that the situation could deteriorate to the extent that the right’s wilder fantasies of nullifying opposition by imposing martial law may be realised.

Compared with such an apocalyptic scenario, the latest difficulties in the never-ending Brexit saga must seem, to our US readers, charmingly inconsequential. It’s true that the sight of Her Majesty’s Prime Minister declaring his intention to breach international law by going back on a treaty that he himself agreed less than a year ago, on the grounds that he didn’t really understand what he was signing up to, is something that must, in outside observers, inspire pity rather than fear, but, for those of us actually living here, the implications are rather more sobering. It is clear that Boris Johnson and those around him have absolutely no grasp of the seriousness of the situation, let alone any strategy for navigating the turmoil that will result if, as seems inevitable, they fail to negotiate an EU trade deal before the middle of next month. Similarly, it is difficult to have any confidence in their ability to handle the looming resurgence of coronavirus cases, given that their plans rely on the widespread application of as-yet uninvented technology. The combined effect of all this threatens a social crisis which could be every bit as traumatic as that in the US, though, since the UK is, thankfully, not awash with firearms, it will hopefully be less bloody.

What really concerns me about our domestic situation though is the lack of coherent opposition to the government. One has the sense that, in the US, there is a sizeable and growing constituency, both within and outside the political establishment, that is aware of what Trump is up to, and is working to stop him. Over here, while there is no shortage of dismay at Johnson’s antics, it is far from clear what anyone plans to do about it.

I guess I should count myself amongst the guilty on that count; the demoralisation I felt after the election has never lifted, and I’ve made no real effort to contribute to any sort of resistance recently. I know that I would feel calmer if I was engaged in some kind of collective effort, and even in the current circumstances there are plenty of things going on locally that I could help out with, to feel that I was making even a little difference. Perhaps if I focus on the small things for now, with time my appetite to tackle the big issues will return.

Summer of discontent

In recent times, as the reality of mortality has impinged ever more forcefully upon my consciousness, I have fallen into a routine of working through the winter and taking extended summer breaks, in an attempt to maximise my remaining time in the sun. This year I had scheduled another long, secluded retreat, but events disrupted my plans somewhat, as I heeded the call to help combat the national emergency.

Obviously, being obliged to work in a well-paid job for a few months instead of taking a holiday doesn’t exactly make me the biggest victim of the coronavirus pandemic, and, truth be told, I could probably have weaselled out of it, since what I ended up doing was mostly routine. I did cover for people who were off doing more important things I guess, which was just about enough to convince me that I had fulfilled my civic duty, and to confirm my rather narcissistic belief that I am a vital cog in the health service machine.

Whatever, the government has decided, almost certainly prematurely, that we are over the worst of this, and that everyone should get back to work already, so I’m set to slot back into my usual winter post at the end of next month.

I do have some belated time off before then, and I had considered going away somewhere, but the options are limited, the weather is getting colder, and, in any case, I’m not sure that I’m in the right frame of mind for relaxation. There’s a low-level haze of unfocused anxiety floating around on the edge of my awareness, which might just be due to me not having had a break for a while, though I think it’s more likely to be my brain’s fairly reasonable response to the objectively terrible situation we find ourselves in.

What’s most unsettling of course is much of it is beyond my control. The thing over which I have most influence – my personal risk of contracting coronavirus – is the thing I’m least worried about. I should be able to do something to ameliorate the effect of the epidemic on my immediate community, since I’m not completely out of touch with the local activist scene, and perhaps my professional skills, such as they are, will come in useful if and when the second wave of infection hits. But when it comes to the big bugbears lurking in the background – Brexit and the US elections – my only recourse is writing about them in this blog, which seems unlikely to make a significant difference.

Still, even useless activity feels better than doing nothing, so look out for some posts excoriating Johnson and Trump, as I attempt to exorcise my feelings of impotence by superstitiously scribbling.

Alternatively, I could make like a Polish pachyderm, and up my weed intake. It would probably take elephant-sized doses to calm me down though…