Alastair Stephens examines the contradictions raging through the primary elections in the US
Donald Trump’s, admittedly extraordinary, campaign for the Republican party presidential nomination has captivated the media both here and in the States. He, and his outbursts, have near monopolised the coverage.
He is not the first such right wing maverick to challenge the Republican party establishment.
Some, such Pat Buchanan in 1992, peaked early and then fell away. Others, it must be said, have gone on to actually win the nomination, only to be trounced in November, as Barry Goldwater was in 1964.
The current Republican field is either so lackluster, or detached from reality, however that Trump is increasingly looking like he could become the Grand Old Party’s nominee.
With or without the nomination, in a way though, Trump and his politics have already won a victory. The entire party has been dragged even further to the right and the kind of racism that most thought had been eliminated from American public life is back on the airwaves.
Certainly he is delivering a message that many seem to want to hear. He is generating the kind of enthusiasm on the right that no one else has managed since Ronald Reagan.
So who are the Trumpers? Are they the foot soldiers of American Fascism? The average Trump supporter is a Republican voter who is older, white, does not have a college education, and is more likely to be male. Interestingly this is the pretty much the same demographic as the average Ukip voter.
What he gives to them is the promise to make America great again. This resonates with people in a country which has indeed been humbled by its disastrous foreign wars. It also appeals to voters pocket books. Nearly all Americans feel their lives have got worse and are continuing to do so. The average American is in fact poorer today than in 2000.
Trump’s type of populism is not uncommon in American politics. Many before him have posed as outsiders and attacked a hazy ‘establishment’. His policies are also populist and appeal to the right’s discontented base. They can also be contradictory. He both says he wants to cut taxes and that he will preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Isolationism and fear of the rest of the world have also been recurrent themes in American politics. But what sets Trump apart is his open racism and xenophobia. His rhetoric is anti-immigrant, specifically anti-Latino, anti-black, and above all Islamophobic.
The rise of Trump seems at odds with other trends in the country, which in the last decade, to its own surprise twice elected its first black president, and legalised gay marriage, to general approval.
How can this be explained? The country in that time has also been through a massive economic crisis.
The costs of the failure of the banks and the subsequent Great Recession were passed onto the American people. Obama and the Democrats bailed out Wall Street and big business whilst millions lost their homes and livelihoods.
The one reform he did bring in, ObamaCare, was in reality gutted in Congress, by the Democrats. The other promises, such as to trade unions were simply dropped.
In the wake of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Democrat president Franklin Roosevelt delivered the New Deals and swung the country left. All America got from Obama was a raw deal and a continuation of the failed project of neoliberalism.
Disappointed and disillusioned Obama’s supporters had nowhere else to turn and the Democrats’ voting base collapsed.
This led to the rise of the Tea Party on right and a Republican comeback. The ‘moderate’ (by US standards) right of the Republicans have since been purged by the Tea Party fanatics.
In each election since Obama’s first victory the Republicans have won more. They now control the House, Senate and a majority of the states, for the first time since the 1920s.
Trump is the logical conclusion of this process of radicalisation to the right amongst the Republicans. Trump’s Islamophobia is the end result of another set of policies which date two decades or more. The Muslims are now now widely seen as the terrifying other ‘other’ who supposedly pose an existential threat to the US.
The ultimate driver of this is the ‘War On Terror’, a catch-all phrase to describes an ongoing series of wars and interventions that in fact preceded 9/11.
Obama continued this war along with his Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, an even more fanatical supporter of it. On their watch Israel has continued to expand settlements, the Arab revolutions were brutally crushed and the US’s Gulf allies have aided the rise of ISIS.
The hopes placed in Obama and the Democrats quickly turned to dust. Trump is the vengeance of the right for those illusions.
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.