The presidential election campaign is heading into its final phase now that the Democratic and Republican conventions are over. The result was the anointing of the two most unpopular major party nominees in living memory although Trump is right now definitely winning the unpopularity competition. Progressive workers, women, black people, Muslims and immigrants are legitimately afraid about what an unhinged Trump presidency would mean. But millions of people are also sickened by the choice at the top which is contributing to significant support for both Jill Stein of the Greens and Gary Johnson of the Libertarians.
This presidential cycle has witnessed an upheaval against the political establishment of both parties not seen in decades. In particular there was the mass support for Bernie Sanders’ call for a “political revolution against the billionaire class” fuelled by pent-up anger at unprecedented inequality and the neo-liberal attacks against working people over the past 30 years. The more than $200 million raised by his campaign from ordinary people proved once and for all the potential for a new political force representing the 99% independent of corporate control.
Donald Trump’s campaign in a distorted way has also channelled anti-establishment and working class anger but is using that to further a nationalist and racist right populist agenda which is in reality deeply hostile to the interests of working people and the oppressed.
Trump and the ghost of Nixon
At the Republican National Convention, Trump focused on a “law and order” message playing on fears of racial strife and terrorism, consciously modelled on the odious Richard Nixon. But he also demagogically talked of standing up for the “forgotten men and women” in working class communities devastated by the loss of good paying industrial jobs. Since then he has come out in favour of changes to the tax code that would represent a further shift of wealth to the 0.01% showing how hollow the “I feel your pain” rhetoric really is.
The liberal media have focused on Trump’s white working-class supporters as motivated centrally by “racial insecurity” caused in part by the country’s changing demographics. It is undoubtedly true that xenophobia is a key part of Trump’s appeal for a section of the Republican base. But the frequently crude attempts to dismiss the white working-class as one reactionary mass are fundamentally wrong.
For one thing a large section of the white working class rejects Trump, for various reasons including being repelled by his nauseating misogyny, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant tirades or simply because they don’t believe a billionaire blowhard actually has their interests at heart. Many of the poorest white Americans are completely alienated from the political process and will not vote. And of those inclined to support Trump there is more than one motivation. Besides those actually attracted to the xenophobia there are many looking to punish the establishment of which Hillary is such a consummate representative.
There is a reason why Bernie Sanders crushed Donald Trump in every poll for months and that is because a section of the people prepared to consider Trump, given a choice, would have opted for a clear pro-working class and anti-racist candidate. This shows the danger of trying to oppose right populism with a candidate of the status quo like Clinton. There should be no illusion on this score: whether Trump wins or loses, a right-wing force is emerging in the U.S. which can only be defeated by a mass movement of working people and the oppressed.
The establishment goes after Trump
In the weeks since the convention, we have seen a full court press in large parts of the corporate media to damage Trump. Significant sections of the ruling elite have their own reasons for going after him. First of all, they are not happy with Trump’s isolationist position in foreign affairs including his opposition to trade deals or talk of pulling back from NATO commitments. Secondly they have concluded that Trump is incapable of “pivoting” after the primaries to be more “presidential”. They see his attacks on one group after another and his completely unscripted and undisciplined approach as potentially seriously damaging the institution of the presidency which they value greatly and further undermining the credibility of the political system. They worry – not without reason – that a President Trump could unleash civil unrest on a scale not seen since the 60s and 70s.
Of course Trump still has his ruling class backers but it is striking how wide the elite coalition against him has become: Republican generals and intelligence agents as well as a slew of prominent Republican political operatives and a number of prominent Republican capitalists like Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard, who says she’s supporting Clinton. Even reactionary figures like the Koch brothers who have played a key role in bankrolling the right in the last period are steering clear of Trump. More Republican elected officials might join this chorus if it wasn’t for the fear of losing their own jobs due to the wrath of Trump’s supporters.
As long as Hillary, clearly now the favoured candidate of Wall Street and the corporate elite, can keep the focus on him her position strengthens. The danger for Hillary is if the focus returns to her. After the FBI report on her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State – which confirmed that she had been less than truthful in her public explanations – the polls showed her neck and neck with Trump.
It is also open to question what Clinton’s message is besides “stop Trump”. At the convention she and her surrogates presented an argument about the threat of Trump as a “strongman” ruler which demanded an alliance of left and right to stop him at all costs. But she also talked about inequality and reigning in Wall Street to appeal to Sanders supporters. In reality the Democrats were forced in their platform to make some verbal concessions to the Sanders base. But none of that is binding on the Democrats if they win and there is no guarantee how far Hillary will go to even pretend to be “left” in the remainder of this campaign. The ruling class would like a President Clinton who has made as few promises as possible but this is also a dangerous approach in dealing with Trump who is clearly prepared to make a lot of promises.
The DNC walkout
From the start of Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign, Socialist Alternative (the Socialist Party’s sister group in the US) argued that he should have run as an independent. By accepting the framework of the rigged Democratic primary system, he set the stage for the betrayal of the political revolution after likely losing. In the end he tragically gave his fulsome endorsement to Hillary Clinton, who represents Walmart and Wall Street. But if Sanders was standing all the way to November there would be the potential for a left vote on a historical scale.
But despite the serious limitations of Sanders’ campaign, millions got an education in how the political system and particularly the Democrats really work. Wikileaks only confirmed what folks already knew, that the Democratic National Committee, under Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was in reality an extension of Hillary’s campaign. The clear conclusion was that the Democratic establishment were prepared to go all out to prevent Sanders winning. Why? Because as a party which serves the interests of corporate America they are opposed to the pro-working class program which Bernie ran on including single payer healthcare, a $15 minimum wage and opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. If the ruling elite seem distressed about the prospect of a President Trump that is nothing compared to how they would have reacted to the prospect of a President Bernie who in his own words intended to act as “the organizer in chief”.
But to the great credit of Sanders delegates they were not prepared to go out quietly. Despite the efforts of the corporate media to keep the story under wraps, the Democratic convention in Philadelphia was the most contentious in 50 years. The walkout of half or more of Sanders’ delegates reflected the anger at the way the primary had been stacked against them which was all brought back by the Wikileaks data dump. But it also reflected the disbelief at Hillary’s choice of Tim Kaine, a supporter of bank deregulation, as a running mate all while talking about “party unity”. Only days before Clinton announced her VP choice, Kaine also reiterated his support of the TPP.
Socialist Alternative was proud to have played a role in helping to organize this walkout which was an affirmation of the political revolution. But even among those who walked out there was a clear differentiation between those who still believe the Democratic Party could be reformed into a party which represents the interest of the 99% and those who, like us, believe this is impossible and have decided to support Jill Stein of the Green Party as the best way to continue the political revolution in the November election.
Sanders meanwhile has set up Our Revolution which is supporting a number of Democratic candidates in “down ticket” races who are standing against representatives of the establishment and the status quo. Sanders clearly sees this effort going on past 2016.
Johnson and Stein
Stein is now getting up to 5% in some polls while Johnson is polling near 10%. Both campaigns are feeding off the desire for more political choice than the dysfunctional two party system offers but they also point in fundamentally different directions. While advocating progressive measures on some issues including civil liberties, the Libertarians adhere to a free market fundamentalism which would make the situation facing working people if anything even worse than it is today. Stein’s platform on the other hand is a continuation of Sanders’ call to end the domination of the 0.01%.
We utterly reject the argument that a “vote for Stein is a vote for Trump”. A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for single payer healthcare, tuition free college, ending mass incarceration and a transition from a fossil fuel based economy through a “green new deal”. The key issue for us is how to rally those forces who see the necessity for a complete break with corporate politics.
We fully recognize that millions who reject what Clinton represents will in the end hold their noses and vote for her to stop Trump. We also want to see Trump lose badly but we see the question of laying the ground for a new political force as primary. Forty years of neoliberal Democratic policies helped drive a big section of the working class into the arms of utter reactionaries. The solution to this is not to keep supporting those same Democrats but to build our own political party.
We must begin to prepare for the major social struggles that are going to be unleashed in the coming years. We recognize that many genuine Bernie activists will continue to try to reform the Democratic Party and we will seek to engage them in an ongoing discussion about the way forward. In Seattle, Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant proved the effectiveness of independent politics by winning election and re-election as a councilmember as well as winning the first local $15 minimum in the country. We also aim, alongside others, to continue to demonstrate in practice what a new independent politics based on determined struggle and directly challenging the corporate political establishment can achieve.
By Tom Crean