Does Trump Have a Fighting Chance Against the Establishment
When countries are in trouble they always react the same way. If they have economic troubles their governments take ever greater control of the public finances, whether through austerity or centrally-dictated spending programmes. When there is civil strife the government calls out the army and restricts liberties to regain control of the situation. When wars are taking place elections are cancelled so the government of the day remains in power to deal with the conflict.
These measures have the effect of entrenching the “Establishment”, whoever that may be at a given time, and excluding others. People can only play a part in addressing the problems of the country at the whim of the Establishment, with appointments replacing elections in many such scenarios. Only when the Establishment is secure does it allow greater freedom of debate, action and participation, which are regarded as the hallmarks of stable countries.
Now Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States on an avowedly anti-Establishment platform. He tapped into those disaffected by the political system and found the issues on which he could make the most noise. That in itself was a virtue with the constituency he was trying to attract. Too many people have become disaffected with politics everywhere because someone has decreed certain views to be unacceptable, without giving a reason why, and Trump was only too happy to give voice to those who have been told that their views don’t entitle them to one.
But is Trump’s election the democratic revolution he claims? Does it actually give a voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless? In order to exercise any power President Trump will have to do all the things he accuses his opponents in the Establishment of, but worse. For a while he might get away with it, but he will never have the resources to win in the longer term. All we will have is the methods, with no returns: Establishment oppression on a scale beyond the worst nightmares of the enforced nobodies who now think they are somebody, but are in fact Donald Trump.
Who do you think you are?
As it turned out, Hillary Clinton failed to get past a problem she would not have had as a Republican. If you are on the conservative end of the political spectrum you are expected to act like you belong in power when you have it. People in more progressive parties claim to represent the interests of the broad mass of people who will never be rich and powerful. If they stay in power for too long, they create a distance between themselves and that mass which erodes their natural support.
Hillary Clinton has been a national figure in the US for a generation. Her accession to the Democratic nomination was seen as almost dynastic, a factor which harmed Senator Edward Kennedy when he ran for the Democratic nomination against Jimmy Carter in 1980. She was referred to as the “Establishment candidate” throughout the campaign, particularly by members of her own party who preferred socialist Bernie Sanders, who complained throughout the primary process that the voting was being rigged and that the media were falsely reporting that she had won the nomination before it was mathematically certain.
For a Republican, all this would play well, except in extreme circumstances such as Watergate. For a Democrat it was bound to depress enthusiasm in the party’s voter base, and either drive it to another candidate or persuade it to stay at home, particularly when enough scandal attaches to Clinton as it is due to her business and government dealings.
Clinton was about her nice office in Washington, not the problems of real Democrats. Keeping her there would have solved nothing. This was seen most clearly in Wisconsin, a traditional Democratic mainstay which voted for Trump despite the fact exit pollsters were showing that a large numbers of voters greatly disliked both he and Clinton. Many of those who disliked Trump still voted for him because they felt disliked themselves by politicians such as Clinton, who had let them down more than a newcomer had been able to do. He was “the-none-of-the-above” candidate from early on in the primary election period.
Poacher turns gamekeeper
Whether Trump would have got anywhere near the Republican nomination had there been a Republican president for the last eight years is unlikely. Only as an outsider could he gain any traction within a party which thinks of itself as the natural party of government, and would pick an insider every time to maintain its hold on power.
The Republican Party will remain largely embarrassed by Trump, despite his victory. He may be the voters’ idea of a president, but he isn’t what Republican politicians see as a Republican president. As the Huffington Post published underneath every article about Trump from January until election day, “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the US.” Ask most Republican Congressmen, who control both houses, whether this describes a Republican President and you know what the answer will be, though Trump himself revels in such depictions.
Well before the end of his term Trump will have become the Establishment himself. So to achieve anything in the checks and balances system the US has he will either have to carry the party and the military-industrial establishment with him, and become more embedded than Clinton is to do it, or try and purge the very many who will oppose him.
Throughout his “business career”, if repeated bankruptcy, con, robbing of contractors and tax avoidance can be dignified with such a term, Trump has relied on bluster and a stubborn refusal to face reality to prosper. Whether he can get away with that with the military and intelligence staff who have ruined America’s global reputation with impunity is another matter. Presidents who spent lifetimes working the system have not been able to control the CIA or the industrial and media barons. If Trump tries, he will have to exert extreme control to do it, and become more exclusive than the Establishment itself.
Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976 as an antidote to a corrupt political establishment. Despite his long years of public service, he was discarded four years later for being exactly what he was elected to be – a good man out of his depth in murky Washington. Trump has never held any elected office. Is he going to take on those same forces and turn them into public servants?
More than he can chew out
One of Trump’s selling points with poorer Americans is that he pledged to stop US involvement in costly foreign wars. In particular, he said he could work with Russia and saw no need for the continual war rhetoric coming out of every Western government.
Obviously this plays well with those who can’t afford to feed their families. The money will be spent on them, not bombs. But is it even possible to reduce the US military commitment, with so many bases, so many troops employed, so many weapons which will be manufactured and sold regardless?
Trump may well find that the best way to stop foreign wars is to buy up all the weapons so that potential enemies don’t get them. The War on Terror would greatly diminish if the US didn’t supply arms to its favourite terrorists whilst pretending to fight them. But there is a vast industry devoted to maintaining armament and troop levels, which can only be justified by fighting wars against enemies real or imagined. So how would Trump go about achieving such a goal?
Trump and his supporters are sons and daughters of the Bolsheviks. Convinced they are right, they think they can say what they like, do what they like and everyone else just has to put up with it because any opponent is part of the corrupt Establishment. It is no coincidence that Nigel Farage, former leader of UKIP and the main proponent of the UK leaving the European Union, has described Trump’s victory as a “Supersized Brexit. Farage’s supporters behave the same way: everyone they don’t like hasn’t got the right to an opinion anymore, because they lost, and were inherently bad to begin with.
Based on all we have seen so far, if someone stands in the way of Trump’s ambitions as president they will be told that they are holdovers from a corrupt system, serving masters who are now enemies of the people, and must therefore be removed. In order to get rid of them he would have to use extralegal measures in many cases, and deny them an opinion or another job. The “people” Trump would be referring to are the dispossessed whose votes he courted, who by definition don’t have levers of power of their own. It hardly gives those people more power to demonise certain individuals on presidential say-so, but that is all Trump has offered so far, or may ever be capable of offering.
Trump has enjoyed spreading hatred of various minority groups. As many commentators have pointed out, he has broken all the usual rules of presidential candidate conduct and got away with it. But this simply makes anyone a potential victim, and encourages such behaviour to go on unchecked.
A system which was there long before a here-today-gone-tomorrow politician has all the levers his supporters don’t to maintain itself. But if attacked, it will have no alternative but to fight fire with fire. A battle for control fought behind the scenes would empower Trump’s supporters even less, whilst not addressing the specific problems which made them see Trump as the solution.
Not beating them, only joining them
This presidential election campaign was the ugliest within living memory. This played into Trump’s hands: it brought those who were told they couldn’t behave like that into the mainstream, and Trump as the outsider reaped the benefit. But it also created the expectation that this will be followed through: if you start such a process, you are expected to finish it.
A poll taken just before Election Day showed that if Bernie Sanders had been running against Clinton and Trump he would have won by a landslide. Sanders supporters remain angry that he was denied the nomination by what they thought was an establishment fraud. Now Clinton has lost, they will make further efforts to ensure that anyone with Clinton credentials is neutralised so that they can present a more credible candidate in 2020, and will have much moral weight and grassroots sympathy behind this effort. As Clinton supporters will fight back in the same terms, the Democratic Party is likely to spend the next four years fighting itself rather than Trump, trying to exclude its own members in the same way Trump supporters want to get rid of everyone they don’t like.
The Republicans have the same problem. Trump was as offensive to his intra-party opponents as he was to Clinton. Those who think themselves “real” Republicans will be emboldened by the pro-Sanders Democrats to seek to reclaim the party and its voters from the Trump constituency in the same way. This will generate more exclusion and counter-exclusion, even through Republican Congress versus Republican President battles, with each trying to show themselves to the public as More Republican Than Thou.
Both Trump and Sanders supporters will now feel that they are the new “Establishment” because they have been backed by their respective publics to overthrow the old one. Though both Trump and Sanders were the none-of-the-above candidates, they will be the above from now on. To justify their initial behaviour, and satisfy their support, they will have to be even worse Establishments than the ones they have removed, more intolerant, more exclusive …more arbitrary. If the old guard is going to come back, they will have no choice but to adopt the same tactics.
The choice at the next election will be between groups of battle-hardened intolerants who are more interested in serving their friends and stuffing their enemies than in the disaffected people in their midst. Trump has not overthrown the failed political Establishment and methods which created the disaffection he has exploited, he has confirmed their validity. Trump may change the personnel, but the Establishment will be the same animal, all the more dangerous for its delusions to the contrary.