In 1989 US philosopher Francis Fukuyama announced that political history would end by showing, as the Cold War finished, that constitutional, representative democracy and capitalism like America’s would prove the only viable system for the modern age.
This week a right-wing led insurgency against the very same political and economic system propelled maverick billionaire businessman Donald Trump into the White House, shattering not just Fukuyama’s theory but changing the course of history which, ignoring the philosopher, has continued its work in progress.
Despite his crude racism, sexism and authoritarianism, Trump mobilised over 59 million Americans against Washington’s political institutions and the corporations that have shipped jobs abroad and driven millions of working class people into abject poverty.
The constitutional order and the institutions Fukuyama identified – aka the state – forged in an 18th century revolutionary war with Britain has broken down, perhaps irreparably, which invites us to consider the notion of the case for a second American Revolution.
While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tried to maintain stability by offering a “smooth transition” for the victor, thousands of students across America rejected their business-as-usual approach and took to the streets against Trump in a sign of the conflicts to come when tyrannical rule grips the US from next January.
Looking at the analysis of who voted for Trump, it’s clear that the division between Clinton and Trump was almost entirely based on class not ethnicity or gender.
Thus both the vocal and the “silent” Trump voters were the American working classes – regardless of gender or race. Some 52% of white US female voters turned out for him, despite his disgusting attitude to women. Hispanic and African-American voters didn’t support Clinton in enough numbers to allow her to win.
Although Clinton won the popular vote handsomely, she failed to make an impact in working class areas. Although Republicans have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections they now have a total grip on Congress and will eventually take control of the Supreme Court. They also control most of the state governorships and legislatures as the US begins to resemble a one-party state.
In a further show of disdain for the political system, getting on for half of America’s 231 million strong electorate refused to lend their vote to any candidate. The 54% turnout was the lowest since 2004. What does it say about the health of a political system when over 100 million voters stay at home? As a result, Trump won with fewer than one in four of eligible voters.
This was an uprising against corporate-driven, capitalist globalisation and the political elite in Washington who have facilitated this process, including Clinton, her husband Bill and Obama. They have connived with the corporations and then proved powerless to improve the working conditions and lives of countless millions when the negative effects became clear to all
Such is their arrogance that the Democratic Party put Clinton up against Trump because the elite agreed that it was her “turn”, ignoring her flaws, corruption and close relationship with Wall Street. They lost six million votes compared with 2014, mostly of workers they had taken for granted election after election.
With the turn-out plummeting, Clinton’s goose was cooked and the party that had blocked socialist Bernie Sanders – a kind of left-wing version of Trump – from challenging for the presidency is in disarray as a result. “Establishment shaken after Trump victory”, said the New York Times headline the next day.
The sheer number of poor people in the United States, and the number that are near poverty, is “truly staggering”, according to The Atlantic magazine. About 15% of the population, 46 million people, live below the poverty level, which is around $14,000 for a two-person household and $23,492 for a four-person household.
Twenty million of those living in poverty (close to half) are relying on an income that is less than 50% of the poverty level — $7,000 for a two-person household and $12,000 for a family of four. Over 100 million people (one-third of the US population) are existing below twice the poverty income, close to $47,000 for a family of four.
Trump arises out of the corporate jettisoning of the working class in the US during its move to Asia and Mexico, leading to generational unemployment, low wages, debt and bad food and the effects of the 2007-8 crash which increased homeless and temporary work in place of full-time jobs.
The percentage of the total male population aged 25 to 54 lacking employment of any kind has soared upward from 5% in 1968 to 18% in 2013. For women in the same age group, in the 1990–2013 period the real jobless rate trend takes the form of a sharp V-curve, dramatically reversing in the early 2000s, and increasing to over 30% in 2013.
For younger workers, the picture is even worse. For those aged 18-24, the real jobless rates rose to 44% for men in 2013 and 46% for women. About 15% of people aged 16 to 24 — some six million of them — are neither working nor in school.
The Financial Times was not alone in calling Trump’s victory “a thunderous rejection of the status quo”. Jeremy Corbyn said much the same thing but in failing to identify capitalism or a broken democracy as the problem, he was reduced to platitudes and generalities, saying:
“After this latest global wake up call, the need for a real alternative to a failed economic and political system could not be clearer. That alternative must be based on working together, social justice and economic renewal, rather than sowing fear and division.”
So we must “work together” for “economic renewal”! The system has “failed” so let’s fix the system. This is a tragic, missed opportunity to speak directly and clearly to the millions of workers who voted Brexit on similar grounds to the workers of Ohio who plumped for Trump over Clinton.
It’s not only a rejection of the “political classes” – which is of course what right wing populists from Marine Le Pen in France to UKIP here – are exploiting, but also a deeper distrust and rejection of the economic system that the political classes preside over and perpetuate.
Trump’s victory is further evidence that only those who are seen as attacking the system as a whole can make headway. The presidential election is both a lesson and a sharp warning because right-wing populism can lead down the road to outright fascism, especially so if the left twiddles its thumbs and fails to offer a democratic alternative to a failed system.
The official parties, here and in the US, have managed to keep the contempt and frustration of people for establishment politics bottled up for so long, that the pressure finds an outlet in the end which initially seems to take a backward form if you just look at the surface appearance of things.
People like Paul Mason and Owen Jones have little or no clout because they think and analyse within a system that is broken, proposing solutions which are, in reality, no solutions at all, looking for ways to breathe fresh life into a politics that is dying on its feet. Most Labour MPs have set out to stifle Corbyn and to trot along behind the Tories over Brexit, arguing about access to the single market for example, which is simply following the corporate agenda.
God forbid that they, or the trade union leaders, should throw their weight behind building a movement to transform the way we live and work by rejecting capitalist economics and power structures in favour of alternative co-operative, democratic systems of politics and sustainable production.
Trump may be able to use racism to confuse and divide the working class, but he won’t be able to answer their aspirations. Resistance to his rule will grow. The policies and ideas of a socialised economy, of an economy without the continuous drive for profit, can undermine the poisonous ideas of Trump and UKIP, but only as part of a movement for democratic political power.
The state, the political system and its associated institutions of rule and power, is not neutral. It is designed to protect and advance the status quo of private ownership of the means of production, to enforce the wage-labour contract by which employers retain the fruits of other people’s labour and to make sure that shareholders are rewarded above all other parties.
So a repudiation of the establishment by voters in Britain and the US (and so nearly in Scotland) is in essence a rejection of both the political AND economic systems because their activities, not to say their fates, are inextricably bound up with each other.
With the political and economic wings of the social system in a mutual, deadly embrace at our expense, it follows that a transfer of power to the majority to end the rule and power of capital has to be the goal if humanity is to make progress.
The present state is a roadblock which has to be removed and replaced with a real democracy constructed by people themselves, creating new constitutions in place of those that have failed, taking achievements like the rule of law, the right to vote and freedom to organise into a framework of democratic power.
Failure to address this challenge leaves the field clear for the Trumps of this world to divide and conquer by the foulest of means. You can’t say that we haven’t been warned.