Sunday, February 12, 2017

Who will prevail?

My last post here was on 6 November, and I know why there have been none since. Three days later, on 9 November, Donald Trump won the US presidential election with 306 electoral college votes, compared with 232 for Hillary Clinton - a shift of 100 votes from the 2012 election, when Barack Obama won with 332 to Mitt Romney's 206. But Clinton won 2.8 million more popular votes than Trump, reflecting the greater support for her in the states with most people.

You can tell I'm retreating into the numbers here, to avoid fronting up to the reality of Trump's victory; but I think I need to write about it in order to be able to write about anything else. I see it as one of those rare historical tipping points (like the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand in 1914, or the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour) that are not inevitable, but once they take place have a vast impact on the world's future. But we can't yet know what that impact will be.

The future is even murkier than usual because Trump is the first President never to have held either public or military office. As his first weeks in office have very clearly revealed, this means he has no real understanding of what is involved in heading a nation within the constraints of a democratic system.

He knows that Obama resorted to executive orders when Congress and the Senate blocked his initiatives, so that is how he is now putting his campaign slogans into practice. His orders appear to be worded with little grasp of the complex realities of government, let alone of whether they clash with the Constitution he has just sworn to uphold.

Apart from golf (cue Bill English's canny mention of Bob Charles), the one area where he does have experience and can claim expertise is in business. (Exactly how successful he has been in terms of making more money out of the money he inherited is unclear, and it's made more opaque by his refusal to release his tax returns as all previous Presidential candidates have done - apparently it's not actually a legal requirement.)

So it makes perfect sense that his only genuine guiding principle seems to be freeing up business, including the finance sector, to make as much money as possible. 

Though he's paid lip service to making companies keep jobs in the US, this is unlikely to mean much in practice.  Judging by his advisers and his nominees, we're likely to see wide-ranging attacks on employee protections, from anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws to minimum wages and benefits for the unemployed.

In the name of freedom and growth, he is intent on cutting the taxes paid by big businesses and those who run them, massively reducing the funds available for public services. He's reportedly preparing a budget requiring drastic cuts to these services, and he is appointing people who believe in shifting as large a share of them as possible to private enterprise and religious groups. 

His campaign rhetoric repeatedly attacked Hillary Clinton for being in thrall to Wall Street. But as Will Hutton points out, this charge fits him perfectly: 
"Goldman Sachs’ number two, Gary Cohn, is to be Trump’s chief economic adviser; his Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, was 20 years at Goldman Sachs before running OneWest Bank, which made a fortune by improperly foreclosing on mortgages in ethnic minority communities after the financial crisis...         Cohn has promised to attack 'all aspects of Dodd-Frank', the partially effective regulatory framework that Obama laboriously passed into law in 2010, in the teeth of Republican and Wall Street opposition… [Trump is calling] Dodd-Franks a 'disaster' on which he aims to do 'a big number'. There is only one end: to regulate the links in the financial network so they have even less oversight than they do now."
The consequences of this election are likely to be even worse than those of 2008's Great Financial Crisis for ordinary Americans, including many of those who voted for this president and many more of the disaffected, disillusioned 45 percent who didn't vote at all.

The consequences for the planet we must all live on are even more serious, because they are almost certain to be irreversible. The president and his henchmen seem prepared not only to permit but to actively encourage more harm to an already perilously endangered environment. He is already removing regulations designed to stop fossil fuel corporations causing damage, and his nominee for head of the Environmental Protection Agency has a record of opposing environmental protection.

There are two clear signs of hope: the huge surge of opposition and resistance, led by women of all races, creeds and classes; and the checks and balances built into the US system, which have already resulted in firm judicial rulings against the president's chaotic immigration edict. But right now, no one can say who will prevail.

No comments:

Post a Comment