By Will Denayer. This article was first published on Flassbeck Economics.
This article is in two parts. Part 1 deals with the Republican Convention which took place last week. Part 2 will cover the Democratic Convention which ends tomorrow. I will concentrate now on a series of social pathologies. This is easy when talking about the GOP, just as it is difficult or impossible to talk about content: there is none. We can bash Trump, ridicule him, attack him and fear him, but the problem is much wider than Donald Trump or the GOP. Nor is this an exclusively American problem. We face exactly the same problems. The dominant discourse is frighteningly similar on both sides of the Atlantic. Trump and Cameron and Blair and Clinton are right when they diagnose that society is broken. It is them who broke it.
- The ‘most well-qualified field of candidates in history’
What is happening in the Republican Party is hard to understand. Last January, Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted that ‘It’s clear we’ve got the most well-qualified and diverse field of candidates from any party in history.’ Last week, Weinberger provided an overview of the candidates in the London Review of Books (see here). None of these people are qualified to fulfil any function whatsoever in the public realm. They are all completely dysfunctional.
Weinberger’s excellent article will make many people smile at several occasions because of the insanity that he documents, but it is also incredibly serious. Because where do all these fools come from? There is still a difference between being an extremely hard, extremely right wing anti-liberal neoconservative, but this doesn’t seem to fit the bill here. The most well-qualified field of candidates in history consists of people who are either patently delusional or very close to it. Which selection mechanism is responsible for these people attaining positions of power?
Santorum claims that the separation of church and state is a communist idea and that ‘radical feminism’ gives women the idea that it is ‘socially affirming’ to ‘work outside the home.’ His wife home-schools their seven children, and he believes that education is the responsibility of parents, not ‘government workers’ – as Weinberger clarifies, ‘otherwise known as teachers.’ Compared to his fellow candidates, Santorum still strikes one as a dangerous communist. Rick Perry’s, who’s personal summer hunting camp was called ‘Niggerhead,’ promised to eliminate three major government departments, but couldn’t remember which ones (the EPA, education and?). A GOP governor once characterised him as ‘George W. Bush, but without the brains’ (see here).
Jindal made teaching creationism obligatory in Louisiana and cut state funding for higher education by 80%. Fiorina argued that the American people need managers, not politicians. While she was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, 30.000 workers lost their jobs, the company vastly increased its debt, had no net income gains and its stock price fell by 50 per cent. She is most well-known for a non-existing video she commented upon, dealing with the sale of foetal organs. Ted Cruz, having lost the nomination, nonetheless named her as his vice-presidential running mate (see here).
Paul opposes government ‘interference’ in all matters, except defence and abortion. He introduced a bill to cut $500 billion from the budget and eliminate or drastically diminish most regulatory or welfare agencies. Carson, who is black, called Obamacare ‘the worst thing that has happened since slavery.’ He said that if people want to learn about Obama, they should read Mein Kampf’. According to Christie, the governor of New Jersey, the US should not admit any refugees from Syria, not even orphaned toddlers. Huckabee, the Arkansas radio preacher who ‘did not major in math, I majored in miracles’ said that: ‘I believe most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat than a sunburn’ (see here).
The worst and the most dangerous of all is certainly Ted Cruz. He pledged to eliminate Obamacare, revoke the nuclear agreement with Iran, abolish the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He vows to destroy IS: ‘We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!’ As for climate change, Cruz believes that the 1992 United Nations Agenda 21 is a global conspiracy aimed at abolishing golf courses (see here). You really cannot make up stuff like that.
And so Donald Trump is the last man standing.
- The convention and the nominee: nothing but a party schmuck
The Republican Convention was a surreal affair with yelling, dancing, protesting, insulting, fainting and a lot of crazy speeches and an overall sense of complete infantilism and extreme weirdness.
The speeches were all about exactly the same. There was one topic: how Obama endangered our security and how masses of dangerous immigrants flock into the country, although Carson did connect Clinton to Lucifer and called transgender people sub-human while Giuliani – this was perhaps the most frightening speech of all – praised the police force and called rubbish what is clear to anyone who is not completely biased: that the police is out of control, that a lot of people are being killed for no reason and that most of these people are black and poor. This speech was full of anger, hatred and intimidation – vote Trump or you will die. Matt Taibbi called the speech ‘Hitlerian’ in Rolling Stone. He is not exaggerating.
The Republican Party chief Priebus and House Majority Leader Ryan spoke. Gulbis, the world’s 492nd-ranked professional woman golfer, gave a speech. It was about golf. These people are dreaming about a mythical America, say America in the 1950s when the economy was working, black people had some rights but not many, America ruled the world, Muslims did not exist and women stayed at home. As Taibbi writes: “Thirteen million and three hundred thousand Republican voters had defied the will of their party and soundly rejected hundred-million-dollar insider favorites like Jeb Bush to re-seize control of their own political destiny. That they made perhaps the most ridiculous choice in the history of democracy was really a secondary issue” (see here).
As Taibbi continues, the Republicans blew the one chance they had to save themselves. Now was the time to use internal discord to their advantage. Why not organise a discussion, dispensing with the pretense of unity, accepting different viewpoints and talking them through? Well, the intelligence simply is not there and Trump is too much of a narcissist to let anyone criticise him. In keeping the lid on everything, Trump missed an enormous chance. Trump should have invited his critics to explain why they so fervently disagree with him. This would, to begin with, have rescued the immediate future of the party in the likely event that Trump loses in November. The Republican leadership could have walked away with their pseudo-dignity pseudo-intact. It would also have set the stage for the grand leader’s final address.
Nothing of this happened. Priebus and Ryan looked like two beaten dogs when they endorsed Trump. Ted Cruz didn’t. He was booed off the stage. If Trump loses in November, Cruz will undoubtedly resurface while the rest – Priebus, Ryan and Christie – will disappear. Things can become even worse in the future. As Taibbi wrote: “By the time Cruz’s speech was done, it felt as though an improbable collection of America’s most obnoxious, vapid, mean-spirited creeps had somehow been talked into assembling at the Q for the sheer novelty of it” (see here).
Then came the last night and Trump’s final speech – with tens of millions of people watching, Trump forgot everything he had ever said about international politics and his ‘battle’ against the establishment. Instead he repeated five decades of GOP clichés together with fear mongering about immigrants, of course especially Muslims. There was nothing concrete in this speech about health care, finance, the economy, education, investment, innovation, employment, the minimum wage, nothing, except that America is ‘broken’ – the stupid politicians and the liberals did it – and he will make it great again. Instead of any content, any concrete policy proposals – except for kicking millions of immigrants out of the country and, of course, building his wall the Mexicans will pay for – there was nothing, except, “the Mussolinian head-bobs, the draped-in-flags Caesarean imagery, and his strongman promises. It was a relentlessly negative speech, pure horror movie, with constant references to murder and destruction” (see here).
Trump’s criticism of money and corruption in politics also disappeared – except for references to Sanders and the rottenness of the DNC (the Democratic National Committee, which as leaked emails now prove, supported Clinton from day one – long before there was any caucus – and did everything they could to boycott Sanders). It is all immensely stupid. Trump could perhaps have won the election last week if he would have played it differently. Now was the time to show what he has in him. He could have given an electrifying speech, explaining how both parties create divisions on social issues and work for the same oligarchy that make some rich and keep the rest poor – with stagnating or hardly rising wages for Americans for decades by now, crises in urban neighbourhoods, rural poverty, health care that remains unaffordable for many millions of Americans, etc. He said this before. He could have attacked the Democratic and the Republican leadership and their dysfunctional policies, saying that they are both in the pockets of Wall Street. It’s not important that he believes anything that he is saying. Who knows what Trump believes? Instead, the speech was devoid of all positive content. As Taibbi says, such themes are beyond Trump’s pampered D-minus mind. It’s all good and well to make America great again but (presumably) even those who are on his side do not believe that kicking eleven millions of immigrants out of the country will solve much of anything. “In the end,” Taibbi writes, “Trump’s populism was as fake as everything else about him, and he emerged as just another in a long line of Republican hacks, only dumber (…) Officially now, he’s just another party schmuck” (see here).
And so Trump gave Clinton the best gift she could imagine. Tens of thousands of people who support Trump because ‘he is not a politician and he speaks his own mind’ heard nothing else than a lot of nothingness that any other republican could have rehearsed.
- Who will win?
It is difficult to say. Most of the polls show that Clinton will win. Some predict a landslide. What are all these polls worth at the moment? Clinton’s image is as bad or worse than it has ever been. Her unfavourability is rising among all Americans (it is now 47% among registered voters). With the exception of Trump, she is the most unpopular presidential candidate ever. This is not the first poll to suggest Clinton is hitting a new low. Recent polls have shown her unfavourable rating as high as 60 percent. Real Clear Politics’ average of recent polls shows her unfavourable at 56.2 percent. For Trump, it’s at 60.1 percent (see here).
The problem is that Trump seems to level off and perhaps even improve, while Clinton is trending worse and worse. There was a time in which Trump was clearly on worse footing with his image than Clinton; back in May, 7 in 10 Americans disliked Trump, while 55 percent disliked Clinton — a 15-point gap. That is no longer clearly the case, with the Post-ABC poll showing just a five point gap among registered voters – in most of these polls, independents remain a big unknown (see here).
Of course, it is not clear what all these polls mean, it is not clear what being seen ‘unfavourably’ means in electoral terms. Elections are not completely a popularity contest. It helps to be liked, but other things factor in, like a candidate’s ability to create change or a candidate’s readiness for the job. But that is a problem too. While only Trump die-hards consider him qualified, many consider Clinton competent but unqualified. When it comes to who could bring the “needed change to Washington,” Trump leads by 11 points, 50-39 – I am certain that these figures changed in the meantime. Clinton cannot really count on a popularity edge. Her email problems — and many others — have clearly taken a major toll on her image. More than 7 in 10 Americans say Clinton is too willing to bend the rules. People just do not trust her. There has never been an election like this one before. So it is uncharted territory. The race is open and everything can happen.
- Something serious: the way to heal ‘broken societies
How is it possible that such dysfunctional people rise to places of public responsibility?
The discourse about the ‘broken society’ in the Republican Party and in the Democratic Party is not different from what the Conservatives and Labour have been telling the population in the UK for many years. It is not different from what many mainstream politicians tell people everywhere. ‘Broken Britain’ or ‘Broken America’ or ‘Broken’ wherever is a Murdoch-inspired catchphrase for hoodies, violent urban gangs, petty thieves, people who are too lazy to work, welfare scroungers, teenagers ending up pregnant, drug and alcohol abuse and general mayhem. There is nothing original about it. It suffices to remember Reagan’s rant against the welfare queen (black of course) driving around in a Cadillac. The Conservatives (in the UK and elsewhere) took this ideological discourse over a long time ago and so did New Labour. It was, in fact, this ideological discourse that set the framework for the ‘though love’ welfare reforms under the Tories and New Labour and it is this ideological ugly nonsense which is responsible for the scandalous extremities and the utter sadism of the Department of Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan-Smith. There is no doubt that these policies caused the deaths of many people, but who cares about poor and unemployed people these days or about people with a mental illness? Who in a position of power cares if the police kills another black person on the streets this evening – (1134 last year; 611 so far this year (see here). What happened in terms of policy?
No one explained it better than Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian yesterday (see here). Chakrabortty quotes Cameron after the riots of 2011 in London. Cameron thought that he had been right all along:
“Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences (…) Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities.”
Exactly. The rioting kids who stole bottles of water and robbed tellies from their local Argos were given prison sentences worth a total of 1,200 years. They are the inner city predators of a society which lost respect for decency, hard work and justice. Exactly the same stories were being told – over and over again – when riots broke out in Baltimore or in Los Angeles and stores are being looted.
It’s all hypocritical nonsense. Over the last five days, two reports came out from UK MPs. It is women being offered permanent jobs in return for sexual favours. It is, as Chakrabortty writes, BHS, a high-street chain, effectively killed by two “plundering” owners. It is 10,000 shop workers who will shortly be out on the streets and 20,000 pension-scheme members who must now worry over how much they’ll have to live on in their old age because of one or two CEO’s who could not refrain themselves, along with all the well-heeled consultants, directors and credulous politicians (including Cameron) who applauded and subsidised them on their way, bought off with fat fees (see here).
The rioting kids who stole bottles of water and robbed tellies were given prison sentences worth a total of 1,200 years. By contrast, Green and Ashley weren’t even going to bother facing MPs. When Green finally managed to instruct his Rolls Royce driver to take him the parliament he told MPs stop looking at him. The arrogance of these people has no limit. Such prickliness from a multibillionaire would have been funny had it not been for the thousands of families whose lives he had just ruined for no other reason whatsoever than his own personal gain. Or, as Cameron said,
“Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences (…) Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities.” (see here).
It is not only these two psychopaths. If this would be the problem, we could lock them up. The reports make clear that their malpractices were supported and sustained by large corporate networks. As Chakrabortty writes, handsomely rewarded auditors at PwC signed off BHS in March 2015 – months before it finally collapsed. PwC was of course the auditor to Tesco, which admitted to exaggerating its profits by £250m. Will any of these people go to jail? Of course not. Green could have never done it without his friends in politics. He was knighted by Tony Blair then given a government appointment by Cameron. Blair bestowed that honour despite Green having engineered the payment of a £1.3bn dividend to his wife in the tax haven of Monaco – a historic handout that avoided around £300m in taxes (see also here). The tax savings on that one payout were worth 10 large secondary schools – or would plug half BHS’s pensions blackhole. For such financial ingenuity, Green was invited by Cameron to advise on where government spending could be cut, including which parts of social security could be axed even further (see here).
If society is broken – and it sure is – it is exactly because of what Chakrabortty explains. It is because the oligarchs broke the contract between business and society. Companies increasingly rely on the public to pay their way: to top up wages with benefits and public services, with billions in subsidies and grants and tax reliefs. Some of the poorest in society work for many hours every week. There is no social mobility in the UK.
So it is certainly true that there is a societal collapse. The decisions are being made in boardrooms and politicians use taxpayer money to wave to at the rich. There is no problem if people destroy businesses, jobs and life savings of working people or if they never invest in anything productive. If some kid – and I’m not for it, far from it – breaks a window because he is hungry or angry, this is proof positive of moral collapse.
This is the answer why all these dysfunctional people who really have nothing to say of any worth are in high places. Since the real condition of society cannot be explained to anyone, scapegoats, victims and enemies need to found. It will be black culture, an absence of work ethic, taking advantage of the system, sexual promiscuity, rapists from Mexico and Muslims trying to kill everyone. In this charade of democracy, your job is not to make an informed decision on anything rational. It is your job to be scared, fearful, angry and uninformed. Some Americans do not even know what happened in Libya in 2011. They will talk about Benghazi. Many do not know what is happening in Syria. What is much worse, some do not even care. And so I do not agree with the thesis that Trump is bringing fascism to America. Just as someone predicted it long ago, fascism came to America wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross, although in my opinion the speeches of the liberals also played a big role: they solved nothing and ultimately ended up blaming the victim, incarcerating the victim, persecuting the victim and killing the victim (see here).
Underneath all of it lies the real power and what it is really about: the power of the $. Not the dollar for decent and hard working people or for people who had bad luck and need a bit of help or for homeowners who lost everything they had in what is ironically called the financial crisis of 2008/2009 or students who have to accumulate enormous debts in order to get a degree or sick people who can still not afford basic health care and so on and so forth – in short, all which is not being discussed in either Convention – no, it is the $ for the one percent or, more accurately, for the 0.1% and certainly for the 0.01% that is being safeguarded by making you afraid of the wrong people.