By: Calum Henderson
Editor: Matt Reuben
A lot divides Britain and America, including, as was once ironically said, a common language, but at election times, the two countries can often be hit by the same political weather. Take Harold Wilson in 1964, for instance, promising a technological revolution similar to the one that John Kennedy had advocated to his own people four years previously, or Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at the turn of the 1980s. Both of them swept to power with almost identical campaign messages. The ‘make the country great again’ slogan was then recycled by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair a decade later, and has now cropped up again; this time as the rallying cry of Donald J. Trump.
Supporters of the Republican nominee have expressed their hope that the mood which propelled the Brexit campaign to victory last June will replicate itself across the Atlantic this November.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump himself somewhat resembles the more unusual characters in our own politics, such as Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson or Andrea Leadsom, all of whom either won or came within an inch of winning their party’s leadership despite each of them being wholly unsuitable for the respective jobs.
It is well known that many senior Republicans are appalled by Trump’s antics, just as much as Labour MPs are in public despair over Corbyn’s ‘leadership.’ In both instances, opportunities to prevent events reaching the stage they are now at were missed, largely because the forces that have put Corbyn and Trump in the antechambers of power were either misunderstood, or ignored altogether.
This is an especially serious problem as right now, the Democrats, like the British Conservatives, are extremely complacent. Traditionally, winning a third term in the United States is a very difficult task.
This year, the Democrats had been expecting a tough contest between a formidable Republican opponent, such as Marco Rubio, with his New-Generation-Hispanic credentials. But Rubio, as we all remember, was humiliated by Trump earlier this year.
Now Clinton, a woman who already believes she is entitled to the presidency, may begin to believe that the gods are arranging for her wishes to come true by having Trump become her opponent. Yet she has been on the scene for so long – too long – and, since she is advocating the continuation of Obama policies cannot be the ‘change’ candidate in this election.
Thomas Frank, an American journalist, has written an important new book called Listen, Liberal, in which he chronicles the Democratic Party’s abandonment of the voting block which used to be its biggest concern: the blue-collar workers; what we in Britain would call the traditional working class. This intentional detachment, Frank explains, is the largest unacknowledged achievement of the first Clinton administration. Listen, Liberal also anticipates Trump in examining the phenomenon in which right-wing extremists attack the Democratic Party from the left. In a nutshell, this is consequence of the Democrats abandoning its voters.
Take one of Trump’s most well-known pledges: his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Launched at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s first term, it has been supported by every president and presidential candidate since, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Washington believes in NAFTA like it believes that the sun will always rise in the morning, or that Hitler was a bad guy. It’s importance, argued Frank, is a non-debatable, accepted truth, just as ‘free trade’, like ‘democracy’ or ‘liberty,’ is a positively charged word that can never be assumed to mean anything negative. However, for many ordinary Americans, as they are patronisingly called, NAFTA has scuppered them by allowing large corporations to move jobs to Mexico. The devotion the Democrats, and many Republicans feel towards the agreement means these issues are never going to be addressed while in their arrogance, they believe that no serious opponent could come along and speak for the left behind.
Now Trump has come along, and is taking a blowtorch to this fragile consensus. He is no more anti-establishment or anti-elite than Michael Gove feigned to be, but the success of these men – insiders posing as outsiders – is a real phenomenon, the result of genuine opposition collapsing, be it Labour in Britain or anti-Trump candidates in the US. Senior Republicans such as Condoleezza Rice, Paul Ryan, and even Marco Rubio, have tried to accommodate Trump rather than denounce him leaving no one left to undertake the mighty task of exposing such demagogues for what they are, while accepting that there are legitimate concerns about NAFTA, just as there are problems with the EU’s similar free movement policy.
Historically, the British left’s biggest failing has been the way in which it underestimated its opponents, all too happily believing that the Tories were an incompetent and buffoonish crew not realising that they are in fact formidable operators; sly fixers who given the chance, will change the country dramatically, as they have done with Europe.
The lesson for American Democrats is that Trump is not just being fuelled by hate and xenophobia but also by many concerned Americans who look at Clinton and see only the perpetuation of their misery. This time, the ‘change’ candidate is someone the Democrats arrogantly believe can be written off. Instead, they must understand the forces which have elevated Donald Trump to this position, and confront them before things get further out of hand.
The US Democrats Have Become an Out of Touch Elite Reviewed by Student Voices on 19:30 Rating: