Despite the different social contexts, there are significant transatlantic parallels between the political situation in Europe and America. Sarkozy’s humiliation in France’s centre-right presidential primary has been attributed to a “revolt by the French people against the political class” by François Fillon, the winning candidate. In the US, the election of Donald Trump is equivalent to a Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen achieving presidential office, against the wishes of the political class. Now the centralization of executive branch powers that continued under Obama will be handed over to Trump, whose politics are scaringly shallow.
In the UK, after the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the Conservative party establishment quickly asserted control over its anti-EU faction. Prime Minister Theresa May rode the Brexit tiger by moving the government sharply to the right, but while she maintains a Thatcher-like image of unflappable control, in reality she is improvising from day to day in negotiations over the country’s transition. She hints she will keep key industries in the single market while being able to reduce immigration from within the EU, which European leaders have already denounced as unacceptable.
Her Cabinet is reportedly split to the point of paralysis over what strategy to follow. A recent memo by a Deloitte analyst pointed out that more than 500 separate commercial treaties would have to be re-negotiated in the event of a hard Brexit (leaving the single market), which would need the recruitment of another 30,000 civil servants and would be far “beyond the capacity and capability” of the government.
Across the Atlantic, the Washington Post argues that “Trump took the elements of an independent candidacy — the lack of clear ideology, the name recognition of a national celebrity and the personal fortune needed to fund a presidential campaign — and then did what no one seemed to have thought of before. He staged a hostile takeover of an existing major party. He had the best of both worlds, an outsider candidacy with crosscutting ideological appeal and the platform of a major party to wage the general election.”
Now that he has been elected, however, Trump has turned to the Republican establishment for help in building his administration. Trump’s initial appointments, including the neo-fascist Steve Bannon, appear to be aimed at appeasing his energized base – the tea party and hard-right racist wings of the Republicans – but he is already negotiating with establishment figures like Romney and Priebus and has embraced Paul Ryan’s budget plans.
Political theorist Theda Skopcol writes that after his unexpected election victory, Trump’s inner circle “provided little in the way of expert allies to help him fill tens of thousands of federal government jobs and plan comprehensive policy agendas. Especially on the domestic side, Trump has responded by immediately outsourcing much of this work to experienced GOP officials, including key players in his emergent White House and in Congress who have long been groomed by the Koch network. After apparently denouncing and opposing GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan during the election campaign, President-Elect Trump did a quick about-face to fully embrace Ryan and his radical government-shrinking policy agenda.”
This means the Republican-controlled government will ram through the Koch policy agendas of privatizing Medicare, cutting taxes even more for the rich, busting unions, deregulating business and abandoning environmental regulation. Some Democratic politicians like Chuck Schumer advocate holding Trump to fulfil the more populist of his campaign promises. But this can only sow illusions about the new administration: it will be the most corrupt, anti-labor and anti-jobs government in the U.S. since 1776.
Trump’s plan for rebuilding infrastructure, for example, which sounds like it would create construction jobs, is in reality “a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. … Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring.”
Skopcol points out that “Liberals and Democrats could be so focused on Trump’s racial and international policies that they fail to mobilize widespread American popular support to save programs like Medicare. Ironically, however, the pending Koch-inspired eviscerations of the U.S. social insurance system are likely to disillusion many of Trump’s ‘make America great again’ voters. … With total GOP control of Washington DC about to happen, the Koch network dream of an enfeebled U.S. domestic government is on the verge of realization. Unless Democrats learn to speak clearly and organize in many states and counties, no one will even be available to make the key changes visible or explain what is happening to disillusioned voters.”
That’s the key issue: Democrats must speak clearly and organize against the dismantling of social entitlements, but that means overcoming the corporate Wall Street Democrats who are responsible for the party’s electoral defeat. Adam Green of the Progressive Change Committee criticized Clinton for not addressing the central issue of a rigged economy that was so important to voters. “The Democrats need to be willing to say that our economy is rigged against the little guy, our democracy is corrupted by big money and we will fight Trump’s pro-corporate agenda and dedicate ourselves to fixing this rigged system,” he said.
And Robert Reich slams the Democratic party for its corporate perspective. “The entire organization has to be reinvented from the ground up. The Democratic Party has become irrelevant to the lives of most people. It’s nothing but a giant fundraising machine. … “This new Democratic Party has got to show very vividly that Donald Trump … is fraudulent. And expose that fraud. And offer people the real thing, rather than the fake variety. … we need a political party, a progressive, new Democratic Party that’s going to be organizing in every state. And not only for the state elections, but also organizing grassroots groups that are active on specific issues right now in many, many states – including many of the groups that worked for Bernie Sanders – that need to be connected.”
While being in the forefront of the fight against the racist policies of the state, the left must participate in this struggle to change the Democratic party from within, as the only organization that can coordinate national resistance to Trump’s presidency. Millions of Americans are afraid of what they expect to happen and want to know what to do. They urgently need a roadmap of how to succeed in the fight for adequate housing, health, jobs, and a $15 minimum hourly wage; and a clear strategy to defend constitutional civil liberties and the hard fought gains of the Civil Rights Era. That makes it necessary to campaign on issues that will unite disparate groups and undermine Trump’s political support. A major battle inside and outside Congress to defend Medicare is an ideal opportunity to drive a wedge between Trump and those who supported him in the belief he cared about the needs of ordinary people like them.