This op-ed was originally published on The Wire: http://thewire.in/78491/us-election-elite-referendum/
Make no mistake, the elite, the establishment, ruling class, oligarchy, fat cats, billionaire class, Wall Street – call it what you will – has been on trial for the past 12 months and has been found guilty on all counts. All we are waiting for is the sentence. It could be the harshest one for the US and the world – a Donald Trump victory, however narrow. Or it could be a final health warning – put your house in order or face a total shutdown of America, Inc.
It is telling that when it looked as if the Democrats could take control of the House of Representatives, the Wall Street Journal lamented the possibility of an end to congressional gridlock. Why? Because, for US corporations, political gridlock and government shutdowns are functional. Big energy corporations, major pharmaceuticals and Wall Street finance houses do not want the sort of government that responds to popular demands for reform and corporate regulation.
They want to drill where they want, sell overpriced drugs without fear of effective monitoring by the federal government, and continue playing roulette (why blame the Russians) with people’s hard-earned pension funds, to hide away money in tax havens, pay little tax, enjoy the trappings of super-wealth without democratic oversight or moral conscience.
Gridlock is only a problem if you want a government that actually responds to people’s needs and demands – for better infrastructure, a school system that doesn’t fail its children, a healthcare regime run for patients rather than profit, a university sector that gives young graduates a chance for a future unencumbered by massive indebtedness and a globalised economy that provides adequate support to domestic industrial workers and communities. Forget the plight of the US’s minorities, the levels of police violence against young African-American men that Harvard medics have suggested be declared a national epidemic in need of statutory investigation and remedial action by the Centers for Disease Control, the near-total lack of gun control that kills around 30,000 Americans annually and the fact that the US has the highest numbers of people in prison in the world.
The oft-used quote from either Thomas Jefferson, or Thomas Paine, or Henry Thoreau – that he “who governs best, governs least” – has passed its usefulness in the US today. Its rejection is written into every line of every sentence, and the 26 million primary election votes, of the major insurgent campaigns this year – against the wishes of the Democratic and Republican party leaderships – of near-victor socialist senator Bernie Sanders and the billionaire self-styled man of the people, Trump.
Hillary Clinton stands as the last line of defence of the American political and economic oligarchy today. Millions stand behind her to be sure – not principally millions of people but Wall Street’s dollars that bankroll her campaign, rebuffed Trump and did not give a cent to Sanders. As usual, Wikileaks tells the story – of Clinton warning Wall Street banks that some popular reforms are needed to placate the dangerous classes, the 47% that Mitt Romney dismissed in 2012 as yearning for government handouts, all the while soliciting donations to the Clinton Foundation and millions in speaking fees for the family’s bank account.
And Trump has been right to call out the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for its sabotage of the Sanders campaign. Clinton may not have been involved but, as a leader of the party, her campaign had a privileged position with the DNC, hence the removal of it chair last summer.
The email saga, which should never have been an issue in this election, has remained one not because of its own uniqueness or its implications for national security. Plenty of public officials have destroyed, lost or kept hidden government papers and emails – former President George W. Bush is reputed to have ‘lost’ 22 million emails, some from the critical run-up to the illegal aggression against Iraq in 2003. But in the context of the longevity of the Clinton dynasty, its immersion in Wall Street dollars and the use of the family foundation in a complex system of charitable donations in return for political favours, lucrative government contracts and personal income, operating a personal email server smacks of prior right of ownership of the state and the privatisation of a public office – the US department of state.
It is frequently asked how the US has arrived at this point – a country with vast resources, wealth, opportunity, some of the best universities and minds in the world. The answer is quite simple – its two main parties are machines with the sole aim of winning power for its leaders, financed by corporate donations in return for laissez faire from state regulation, a beneficent tax regime and generous government subsidies won by armies of paid lobbyists in Washington, DC.
Pollsters tell us that around 13% of the electorate is either undecided or is leaning towards voting for third party candidates – that is almost three times the usual percentage in the week running up to the election. It was around 19-20% just a few weeks ago. What are they waiting for in order to decide? The answer is quite simple – they can’t decide which candidate is worse so they swing on the basis of the latest scandal or leak. They are not so different to those who’ve decided on their candidate, or rather, on who they dislike more.
Clinton and Trump are considered the two most disliked candidates for the White House in living memory. One poll indicated that over half of Trump voters do not believe he will make a good president – but they could not stomach a Clinton presidency. Most Clinton supporters are trying to prevent a Trump victory.
The American jury – actually about 70 million of a total of 220 million eligible voters – will send its verdict in a matter of hours in this most exhausting, exhilarating, fascinating and shocking of elections. Whoever wins, there is no question that American society is unravelling, the domestic political order is falling apart.
Let’s leave the last word to political thinker Antonio Gramsci who, in a Mussolini prison, could see beyond its walls and produce timeless insights:
“At a certain point in their historical lives, social classes become detached from their traditional parties. In other words, the traditional parties in that particular organisational form, with the particular men who constitute, represent and lead them, are no longer recognised by their class (or fraction of a class) as its expression. When such crises occur, the immediate situation becomes delicate and dangerous, because the field is open for violent solutions, for the activities of unknown forces, represented by charismatic “men of destiny.”
Win or lose on November 8, Trump will cast a shadow over the US and directly or indirectly, the world, for a long time to come.
Inderjeet Parmar is Professor of International Politics, and Co-Director of the Centre for International Policy Studies, at City, University of London. Follow him on Twitter and via his blog.