My Pessimistic Past
I’ve been a pessimist from an early age. I can remember making the decision to become one. It seemed to me that if you were a pessimist you could never be disappointed: if the worst happened, it would be just as you expected; if the worst didn’t happen, it would be a pleasant (if rare) surprise! Now that I am, to coin a phrase, in my later years I find myself very fortunate in many ways, so it could be argued that my decades of pessimism were unjustified. Pessimism is, however, a very hard habit to break.
Reasons To Be Cheerful?
I can still remember my feeling of elation in 1997 when Tony Blair’s Labour Party had its landslide victory over the Tories. Sadly, Blair proved a bit of a disappointment, and in the UK it currently feels as if we have always had a Tory Government. In the USA, I and many others have watched with horror the effects of 4 years of the odious Donald Trump. I had been aware of what an unpleasant creature he was long before he became President, but it was truly terrifying to see him in charge of the most powerful country on the planet! It will take many years to undo the damage that he has caused. Like numerous others around the World, I was extremely pleased when it was finally concluded that Joe Biden had defeated Trump. However, although I would have found another term of Trump almost unbearable, I didn’t feel the same elation that I felt in 1997. This is not just because (a) I am not a US citizen, and (b) the Orange Monster has not actually conceded defeat yet!
Why The Republicans Are Not Beaten
The main reason for my lack of elation is the feeling that, though Trump is defeated (whether he acknowledges it, or not), the Republican Party is absolutely not. They have increased their numbers in the House of Representatives. Unless the Democrats win both the remaining Senate seats in Georgia, the Republicans will continue to have a majority in the Senate. Their control of the Supreme Court was recently, sadly, strengthened. All these factors will make pushing through progressive legislation by Biden very difficult, even if he didn’t have the small matter of a poorly handled pandemic to deal with simultaneously!
I have detested the Republicans and the British Conservative Party since the time when Reagan and Thatcher started their neoliberal project. I have watched with horror over the years as GOP policies have moved further and further to the right. As Noam Chomsky has said “With the rightward drift, the Republican Party’s dedication to wealth and privilege has become so extreme that its actual policies could not attract voters, so it has had to seek a new popular base, mobilized on other grounds: evangelical Christians who await the Second Coming, nativists who fear that “they” are taking our country away from us, unreconstructed racists, people with real grievances who gravely mistake their causes, and others like them who are easy prey to demagogues and can readily become a radical insurgency.”. The continuing influence of the Republicans is not just bad news for America. As the USA is a major producer of greenhouse gases, the climate change-denying policies of the GOP have grave consequences for us all, even if we ignore their other abhorrent beliefs.
It would be nice to believe that Trump’s Presidency was an aberration, but the fact is that over 73 million people voted for him in the recent election! It still seems certain that Trump is gone (or at least is in the process of going), but several commentators think that the Republicans will have learned a lot from his authoritarian approach that some have termed “Trumpism”.
Zeynep Tufekci’s Article
One of the most comprehensive of the articles about this is entitled “America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent” by the Turkish writer Zeynep Tufekci. She compares Trump with the so-called populist leaders elsewhere, including Putin in Russia and Erdoğan in Turkey: two people with whom, it seems, Trump has been in regular contact. She notes that all of them have won at least two elections, though they successfully subvert democratic norms in various ways, a process Viktor Orbán in Hungary has termed “illiberal democracy”. Although Trump has used some of their strategies, Tufekci argues he is politically much less talented than they are, and was elected because of a series of (from his point of view) fortunate circumstances. She lists a number of ways in which Trump has done a poor job as President, and suggests that the Republicans are actually “sanguine, if not happy, about Trump’s loss”. She mentions the strong position of the GOP, particularly in the Senate and the Supreme Court. Tufekci argues that the situation is perfect for a talented right-wing figure to run on Trumpism in 2024, and mentions a number of Republican Senators whom he thinks would be prime candidates. She finishes with some ideas on what can be done to avoid this, but is clear that the job will not be easy.
David Smith’s Article
An article by David Smith entitled “Regardless of the US presidential election outcome, Trumpism lives on” again predicts continuation of the populist approach by the Republicans: it even suggests that Donald Trump Jr, or Trump himself, might be the candidate in 2024! It cites as evidence Trump’s increased vote in Florida, Texas and other states. It also states “He found even more white working-class voters than last time and chipped away at Democratic support among Latinos. His cult-of-personality campaign rallies were as enthusiastic and rambunctious as ever.”. It mentions how people like Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, have been “rewarded, not punished, for normalising Trump and enforcing his will.”. Obstruction of Biden’s policies by McConnell, it argues, will lead to frustration, and he predicts that scaremongering about the possibility of Kamala Harris running for office will fire up Trump’s base.
George Monbiot’s Article
Possibly the most pessimistic of these articles is by the left wing writer George Monbiot and entitled “The US was lucky to get Trump—-Biden may pave the way for a more competent autocrat”. Monbiot feels that Biden’s assurances to a group of wealthy donors that “no one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change” strongly suggests that he is not going to grasp the nettle of wealth inequality, which Monbiot would argue is a major cause of America’s ills. Monbiot feels that Trump’s success in 2016 resulted partly from Obama’s failure to confront the neoliberal agenda. He suspects Biden will be no more successful in this, partly because of the legislative challenges mentioned above. He describes Trump as “a useless wannabe dictator”, but he too fears that the Republicans’ next candidate may be much more formidable. As regards possible solutions, Monbiot says that we have to recognise the possibility that US politics may not be fixable. In a radical approach to the solution he states “I suspect it means a tub-thumping left populism, inveighing against billionaires, against big money in politics, against the stripping away of public protections, against white collar crime and in favour of the radical redistribution of both wealth and political power. It would reach past an obstructive Senate and supreme court to appeal directly to the people. It would build and sustain social movements that are bigger than the Democratic Party, using its activist base not just to win elections but also to drive home political change.”. Sadly, he doesn’t see Biden being capable of carrying this forward.
The Coronavirus Pandemic has had few beneficial effects, but Trump’s chaotic handling of the disease in the United States was almost certainly a major reason why he was not re-elected. Fortunately, the surprisingly good preliminary results of the first two vaccines did not come in a few weeks sooner! People of a liberal persuasion in the US, and throughout the World, can breathe a sigh of relief that we don’t have President Trump for the next 4 years. I just hope that Monbiot and others are wrong in speculating that Biden’s Presidency will be “an interregnum between something terrible and something much worse.”