Politics & The World

This last weekend of protests in the US and elsewhere has been a success story in itself. Can you imagine the horror of a Trump inauguration uncontested? It would have been like a funeral with a disrespectful long-lost relative who keeps on insulting the deceased, while the aggrieved (i.e. Sanders and the Democratic Left) are forced to remain silent so as not to disturb the ceremony even more. People on the street, from bandana-wearing bin destroyers to baby-carrying families, shared a common goal: crashing the party, making their opposition heard, and showing the world that the new President of the United States is not an accurate reflection of American society.

One of the common questions, however, coming from both sympathetic and contrarian groups, was the following: why is it that these marches are “for women”, and not just “against Trump”; or for other groups also attacked by his campaign, such as Latinos? There are two ways of answering this question. The first and easy one is to say that, since Trump is not really in power yet, only women can, for the moment, embody a legitimate response based around the “grab’em by the pussy incident”, and other similar comments. Consequently, we’d have to wait to see how his presidency develops, whether he works towards building the wall with Mexico, deporting Muslims en masse, and other promises, in order to call for similar protests on behalf of those groups. This logic, implying a division of ‘issues’ between groups (rights for the LGBT movement/debt cancellation for students/labour protection for industrial workers) leads to dissolving the strenght of multitudes into unconnected pipes leading to nowhere.

Why is it, then, so tempting to make this about women and women alone? Probably, because it is satisfaying to see the ‘snowflake’ response from the alt-Right. Take a look at the Facebook comments on the news reports and private posts about the Women’s marches. I’m sure it’ll only take two seconds to spot some commentaries such as: “Ship all these bra burning libs out to Mosul and see who the real bigots are !!”, “Go make me a sandwich!”, “What a load of brain dead lefties think they can influence the United States democratic system ?”, “In one day, Trump got more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama did in 8 years” (these are real ones I just dug up, all of them with several “likes”). This brief satisfaction of standing against abuse, nonetheless, is counter-productive as it corresponds with the narrative of Trump’s followers.

How is single-issue “identity politics” (i.e. basing political action around belonging to a certain group) detrimental in opposing Trump? Simply, there is a specific argument this group of “deplorables” will be quick to make: these women are frustrated because “their candidate” lost the election, so they are questioning the US democratic system as whole in the name of “Shrillary”. They’ll wonder, “can you imagine if Hilary had won? Would we have had the same sort of global solidarity if we had led our own “March for Trump (or for America, or whatever they think they stand for)”? The answer is, of course, no. But they will still have legitimacy to make that claim, equalising the white nationalist cause with the women’s cause, on behalf of liberal pluralism.

This is why a limited identitarian approach, based on the idea of women opposing Trump, “because they’re women” (whether they are Sheryl Sandberg or Angela Davis) is the wrong way forward for developing a true opposition. As long as it is based on defending “toleration” or “respect” for victims, this movement will play in the hands of the Trumpian narrative by which he is defending another “oppressed minority”, the white working class forgotten by globalisation. Why should not we also tolerate Nazis, the KKK, pro-segregation people, etc.? They are also identities, minority opinions overlooked and ridiculed by the nation’s progressive media. The only way to break from this impasse is to understand that those women on the street today, like those in Black Lives Matter, are not speaking for their ‘interest’ group: they speak for all of us.

This is because the current economic system is not just an enemy of the white working class. While the coverage of the issues affecting these sectors of the population (endemic unemployment, alcoholism, depression, etc.) had been overlooked by most candidates and pundits (except, of course, Trump and Sanders), the weeks after the election saw an inverse shift on New York Times and similar outlets to reflect the concerns of the white working class. Suddenly, their lives were the only ones that “mattered”. But as a Black Lives Matter activist would be more than happy to clarify, more often than not, it is black lives (and deaths) that are forgotten by media and political institutions! Fighting for attention from liberal media quarters is certainly not another way forward to be pursued: one cannot measure suffering against suffering to see which is the worthier cause.

Instead, it should be clear that the current system (pre and post-Trump) does not deliver to any of these groups in particular, and is actually holding them all down. Poor students, illegal migrants, pensioners who’ve lost their savings: aren’t they all equally cut off from basic healthcare at the point of use, universal access to higher education, modern transport infrastructure and job security? Women, overrepresented in Federal jobs, and conducting many of the unpaid or underpaid tasks of “emotional labour” (child rearing, teaching, nursing, etc.) will definitely suffer more than other groups under a government promising more cuts to social services (not to mention the constant verbal abuse from Trump and his cronies).

This explains why women would be a leading organising group, but it doesn’t mean it is only their issues that should be regarded for a growing opposition. Marching women and their allies, contrary to what their detractors claim, should be seen as representing the future coming-together of groups, the potential universality of those threatened not just by Trump’s vulgarity, but by his vision of the world, his politics (in a wide sense).

“Particularlist” thinking has so far shaped the Democratic representatives’ attitude towards Trump’s nominees for top offices, who have been attacked on their lack of “credentials” and “professionalism” for their assigned policy areas. Remove the tit-for-tat exchanges on Congress, however, and the substance of economic and political thinking is the same: market knows best. If there are people suffering in America is because we still need a little financial inclusion and employment workshops here and there (Democrats); or because Obama, with his pro-State policies, blocked businesses from growing even more (Republicans). This is why activists, party sympathisers, churches, any organisation and possible ally against Trump must keep pushing and realise the only way forward is to initiate a process for a coherent political programme that can unite everybody around a different politics.

Enemies of Trump in America unite, you have nothing to lose but an orange president!

Politics & The World

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is dead. It was never really popular on either side of the Atlantic, but the election of Donald Trump finished it off. The socialists in Wallonia and the labor unions in Germany can thank the new men in the White House for doing what they could not.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström already announced that “TTIP will probably be in the freezer for quite some time, and what happens when it is defrosted, we will have to wait and see.”

But it seems unlikely that the negotiations will ever warm up again. Donald Trump has made it very clear in his “Plan To Rebuild the American Economy by Fighting for Free Trade” that he intends to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is already signed but not ratified. Even NAFTA, the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, which has been in place for more than 20 years, could be terminated under his presidency. Stopping TTIP would be the least drastic step among the changes that U.S. trade policy is going to experience in the coming years.

However, withdrawing from TTIP is the last thing to do if Trump intends to rebuild the American economy. A study by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) concluded that the economic benefits for the United States are 95 billion Euros (103 billion US dollars) by 2027; around the yearly GDP of Utah.

Protectionism has never made a country great again, and America will be no exception.

The main problem of many trade agreements is political. The benefits are spread out over many while the costs are concentrated on a few, who organize to oppose them. TTIP would create a net employment gain of 750,000; a number large enough to employ the working population of New Hampshire. But undoubtedly some people will become unemployed, and they do not care if some Washington think tank points out that their job losses are counteracted by the hiring of many more workers elsewhere.

This is exactly where most of the resentments against trade agreements originate. People are concerned that they will lose their jobs in a world where the pace of change keeps accelerating. It is easy to point to the nearby company that had to close down, but it is much harder to recognize the benefits consumers and workers enjoy because of cheaper goods and a more prosperous economy. As such, the gains for the U.S. from free trade are easily forgotten.

U.S. policymakers did a poor job of addressing the concerns of large parts of the population for too long. 68 percent of Trump supporters say, “free trade agreements have hurt them or their family” and the result of this frustration were seen last Tuesday. Yet the Trump administration would be even more in the wrong to give in to the temptation of isolating the U.S. economy from the rest of the world.

Fortunately a middle path exists. Additional support for workers who are laid off when the economy adjusts could be incorporated into the trade agreements. Or the highly debated investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments, could be scrapped. Such adjustments would not only be supported by Trump voters, but could find bipartisan backing from the Democrats as well. A renegotiated TTIP could not only strengthen the U.S. economy, but also help to unite this divided nation. Let us hope this is what Trump means when he promises to “appoint tough and smart trade negotiators to fight on behalf of American workers.”

Politics & The World

Only a few more days until the dreadful theatrical display that has dragged on for a seeming eternity draws to a close. I am, of course, talking about the 2016 US presidential election campaign. A peculiar non-event that despite being, for the most part, devoid of political deliberation and informed policy debates, dominated the political scene in the news not only in the US but internationally. This caricature of political competition has brought to the fore some of the greatest dysfunctional feats of the United States’ political system. And it should also serve as a warning to the rest of the established democracies.

Everyone in their right mind should hope for Clinton to be elected. And I don’t think that this is a question that should even be up for debate. If the “leader of the free world” is going to be a misogynist, racist, spiteful, dishonest, bigoted 70-year old cut-throat casino capitalist, then torches and pitchforks will become tools of policy making. Let’s be calculated optimists and assume that Clinton wins. The list of the past five presidents then reads: Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton. Oligarchic tendencies can hardly be disputed.

The judgement is not much different if Trump wins. He has only gotten this close to the oval office, because of his money and his fame that immediately generated a huge media echo and global audience for his tirades of hate. It appears nearly impossible to become President of the US if you are not incredibly wealthy or at least have the support of some incredibly rich friends. This is not democracy.

Bernie Sanders’ more or less “crowd-funded” campaign went a long way to show that it could be done differently, in terms of financing and also as a showcase what leftist policy alternatives could look like in the US. In the end, he could not win against the Democratic establishment represented by Clinton. If the foul play by the Clinton campaign was decisive or not remains in the realm of speculation.

The fact that the (by European standards) moderate conservative, Clinton, and the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Sanders competed for the candidacy of the same party illustrates the inappropriateness of a two-party system for a country as diverse as the US. Not to mention the lack of air-time that candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson got. One comedian jokingly said that “Trump’s empty podium actually got more air time”. This could actually be factual. But what does it even matter?

Probably most worrying about this presidential campaign, mostly concerning Trump, is how facts don’t seem to matter to a large part of the electorate. Trump blasts out claim after claim without backing anything up with facts. He criticizes major policies pursued and implemented by the Obama administration without providing anything close to a feasible alternative. For instance, he announced he would dismantle Obamacare immediately after being elected. Yet when asked about his concrete policy alternative, he reassured voters that he had plans “nobody has even thought of so far”. He is at least as far removed from the idealistic evidence-based policy making that leaders in advanced democracies should pursue as he is from the needs of the poorest US citizens.

At the same time, there seems to be a new scandal shaking his campaign (and the Clinton campaign for that matter) every few days. Except that it doesn’t really shake it. And that’s the alarming bit. A large part of voters are so frustrated with the establishment that Clinton represents, that it does not matter to them what Trump says or does. He is the figurehead of the anti-establishment. Being an “outsider” in Washington is  his only credential. And that is enough for many in this polarized climate.

Europe’s politicians and citizens should in these times of manifold crisis look back on this presidential campaign as a lesson on how to not do politics. Political leaders and citizens should choose fact over feeling, choose dialogue over demonization and choose participatory modes of popular democracy over pathologically confrontational reality TV dressed as politics. This is especially true in the face of the populist challenge in large parts of Europe.

Hopefully, after processing the year-long trauma that this campaign has been, the need to reform the political system of the US will be apparent to most law-makers and we won’t see anything similar in the future. There is not only the experience of this campaign that calls for a systemic overhaul. There are many more undemocratic features built into the American presidential elections, most notably the electoral college. You might also want to look up Evan McMullin and how he could become the 45th President. I kid you not.

In any case, this peculiar non-event that has suffocated many of the worlds most pressing issues for far too long will finally end on November 8. Or will it? If “the Donald” does refuse to accept the election outcome in case of a defeat – as he has hinted at – we might be in for a very rough ride. The underfunded Trump campaign might turn to Kickstarter to finance torches and pitchforks. Anything goes, apparently.

picture from: ccl_flickr