Democracy and Right Wing Populism



On Friday we witnessed a textbook example of right wing populism. Trump spoke direct to ‘you, the people’ even as he stuffed his administration with billionaire business-men whose success is built on self-interest. He further co-opted the language of resistance by referring to this oligarchy as a ‘movement’.

Trump’s updated Whitehouse website informs us that ‘President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.’ And ‘The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution.’ The world may be hastening towards oblivion, but that’s alright because this will ‘bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans’.

The importance he puts on his support from rust-belt America is evidenced again by the inclusion of ‘Bringing Back Jobs And Growth’ as one of his six listed issues. His solutions are the standard right-wing medicine of lower taxes (especially corporation tax) and cutting regulations. He may reject neoliberalism in turning his back on free-trade and replacing it with a new protectionism, but within the US, free-markets will rule more strongly than ever. Massive and growing inequality does not, of course, get a mention.

Other key issues include the standard right-wing obsessions with military power and law and order. Sections on ‘Making Our Military Strong Again’ and ‘Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community’ exploit people’s fears to boost support for military expansion and state control through patriotism and idolising of men and women in uniform.

Trump has succeeded in wrapping standard conservative ideas in a populist rhetoric, and enough people have swallowed this to have landed us (and I mean the whole world because it affects all of us) with a Trump presidency. When this is paired with a Republican Congress, this is very worrying indeed.

We can’t afford not to take action, so why are some people talking about the need to respect this ‘democratic’ choice? This council of despair has to be firmly rejected. As an example of democracy this election is seriously and fundamentally flawed; democracy doesn’t stop at the ballot box but means continued political engagement; if we don’t change political direction the future is frightening.

Real democracy has to be more than a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Even if the election had been decided on the basis of the popular vote and not the Electoral College system, and Clinton had become president, this would still be a far cry from democracy

As has been often pointed out, Trump didn’t win the election, the Democrats lost it. In bending their every rule to install Clinton as their candidate, they alienated enough of their own voters to let Trump get ahead. Like all the so-called ‘centre-left’ parties that have embraced neoliberalism, they have paid the price for turning their back on the working class, and have been so busy putting down any stirrings of organisation to their left, that they have failed to notice or understand the populist movements ready to move in and exploit this vacuum from the right. As has also been said many times, had the Democrats allowed Sanders a fair chance at becoming candidate, we could be looking at a very different United States of America, a USA where the abandoned working class might begin to be listened to.

There are inherent structural problems in this electoral system, such as the huge power vested in a single person, and the way the voting system effectively excludes a third party challenger as people are scared to split the vote. And all elections suffer from the power of the mainstream media to tell a story that suits the establishment, never mind any possible interference (hardly a new phenomenon) from outside powers and other vested interests.

Voters always have a difficult time to sift the truth from the propaganda, but blatant lying to get elected, which Trump has openly admitted, sticks another dagger into the corpse of democracy, and throws another laugh in the face of the idea that he represents ‘democratic choice’.

The fight starts now – or rather it has already started – to challenge every regressive and dangerous decision – not just in the hope of a different election result in four years’ time, but to build a real movement, for positive change.

If such a movement is to succeed, then it has to be based on a real understanding of today’s power politics. We cannot afford to be so concerned about uniting in our shared horror of Trump, the racist, misogynist, narcissist, that we forget to criticise the liberal establishment whose destructive policies made way for his rise to power. Of course we must call out his racism, which is morally and ethically repulsive; but shouting out that we don’t like this sort of thing is not enough. We have to show how, like so many elites before him, he uses racism to divide the working class, to provide a scapegoat and a false sense of superiority in place of real help to poor communities, to distract from the growing class divide, and to justify increasing state control. Of course we must demonstrate that his attitude to women is unacceptable; but that doesn’t make opposition to Trump the preserve of women, nor imply that a woman president, such as Clinton, would be intrinsically preferable to a man. (Think Thatcher and May.) And of course we should criticise his serious character flaws, but not at the expense of concentrating so much on the man that we forget that he is part of a much bigger and growing right wing political force.

Liberal capitalism is in crisis, with its myth of trickle-down economics exposed as a ghastly con. If we don’t understand the extent of that crisis and start to take hold of the agenda ourselves, then the far right will be in there taking charge; and in their myopic self-interest they will steer the world to catastrophe. In the week when Oxfam has shown that just eight men own the same wealth as the combined poorest half of humanity, we need to stop obsessing on overall wealth and look instead at how that wealth is distributed. With power increasingly concentrated within a privileged elite, we need to take a new look at experiments in bottom-up democracy. And following the hottest year on record, we need to stop allowing short term greed to put at risk our long term survival, and stop adding to greenhouse gases. It’s not that we don’t know these things; but we have been told that thinking this way is not practical and we must return to the ‘real world’. What is really not practical is to pretend that we can go on the way we are. If we do, there will be no world as we know it, real or otherwise.

This is a wake-up call for the left. Educate, agitate, organise!



One thought on “Democracy and Right Wing Populism

  1. On the plus side there probably won’t be a nuclear war with Russia now, and as he’s upset the CIA & FBI he won’t be president very long.

    Talk of good politician / bad politician just plays into their hands, and I’m not sure ‘the left’ is a useful concept any more as it refers to a position in a representative assembly and is only relative to the right. As long as there is capitalism and the state, there will be war and we will be exploited.

    More humans were deported from the US under the Obama regime than in its entire history. He presided over torture and other war crimes, expansion of the prison-industrial complex, and the systematic assasination of black youth by state forces.

    J.F.K. nearly ended life on earth, leaving the authoritarian ultra-conservative Khruschev to pull us back froom the brink. Blair was responsible for more deaths than thatcher, Churchill probably killed more people than Hitler, Stalin certainly did, and Mao topped them all, mostly by accident.

    We need to stop electing leaders and working for the bosses.


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