The rise of Donald Trump in the Republican Presidential Primary has been watched with horror by millions in the US and around the world. Trump is standing on a platform of open bigotry.
From describing Mexican immigrants as ‘rapists’, to his plan to ban Muslims from entering the US, to his call for women who have abortions to face ‘some kind of punishment’, Trump’s reactionary, racist politics are a threat to minorities, women and all working people. He has already succeeded in bringing open racism and sexism into the political debate around the elections. A movement to challenge and defeat his agenda is urgently needed in the US.
However, the support Trump has gotten from a significant minority of the population also reflects the real anger that exists in US society. His message is appealing to a section of the white working class which is rightly alienated from the Republican elite and the entire political establishment. Much of his support has come from some of the poorest regions of the US, and from areas devastated by de-industrialisation, mass unemployment and falling wages.
Trump, like right wing populists everywhere, is attempting to direct this anger not against the bosses or the system but against immigrants and minorities. However, he is also attacking the ‘free trade’ deals which have destroyed so many communities and jobs, and denouncing his opponents as bought and sold by corporate interests. Any effective challenge must cut across his appeal by providing a real alternative to his politics.
The Republican Party leadership bears a significant measure of responsibility for the rise of Trump. They have made conscious use of racist and chauvinist rhetoric as a means of winning support. Now a candidate has emerged who has taken that rhetoric further, and is outside their control. Trump winning the Republican nomination for president would represent a significant crisis for the Republican Party establishment. They are considering all sorts of tactics to block him, including a ‘brokered’ party convention and the imposition of a different candidate.
However, it is likely that any moves of this kind would split the Republican Party. At the same time, Trump remains deeply unpopular with the broad mass of the American population and if he were the Republican candidate, they would be deeply damaged. They might lose not just the Presidency, but also control of Congress and the Senate.
In Chicago, Trump cancelled a planned rally in the face of a mass protest. Twenty trade unions and political organisations have now issued a call: “for a massive nonviolent mobilisation of working people, students, immigrants… to stand up to Trump’s bullying and bigotry,”. A mass protest movement against Trump is absolutely needed. However, the political message of the movement is also key. There are huge dangers in a contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton, as now seems likely.
Clinton is the quintessential establishment politician, already discredited in the eyes of many by her links and enormous funding from Wall Street. Her candidacy will make it easier for Trump himself as the anti-establishment candidate. While it is still very likely that Clinton would win, polls show a significantly smaller lead for Clinton over Trump compared to Bernie Sanders. This is a warning of the kind of traction Trump can get in the general election. Activists who want to take on Trump should not simply be drawn into cheerleading for Clinton as the only alternative.
Trump’s campaign shows the growing polarisation in US society. Both of the parties of US capitalism are facing crises, with the Sanders campaign representing the first major left challenge to the Democratic Party establishment in decades. The development of such a significant movement behind Sanders has shown both the anger against the political establishment and the growing openness to left and socialist ideas in US society.
Sanders’ demands for a $15 minimum wage and decent healthcare and education and his sharp criticism of corporate politics have won massive support. Unlike Clinton, he consistently outpolls Trump in surveys. A left and class-based approach is the only answer to Trump’s rhetoric which can effectively cut across Trump’s base of support. The politics of ‘lesser evilism’ will not be an effective challenge to right wing populism. We need a continuation of the movement which has developed around Sanders and a new party of the 99% to provide a left, socialist alternative.
By Conor Payne