Looking back at the seemingly interminable USA presidential campaign that is about to end (tomorrow the last voters will cast their ballots and we will finally know who will rule the remaining superpower -and indirectly the world, more on that later on- for the next four years) I’d like to wrap up my latest thoughts on the ugliest campaign on living memory (according to most political analysts, I’m afraid they haven’t read many of the colorful epithets candidates regularly hurled to their opponents in the XVIII and XIX centuries).
Before getting in the particulars, I have to say that this electoral cycle so far has been pretty predictable, no matter what many pundits that like to mistake their preferences and desires with what the voters really prefer may say. Just looking at the polls (that up until now have been pretty accurate, but of course the final measure of how much American pollsters have earned their good reputation will be taken tomorrow) it was clear that a) Trump would get the Republican nomination b) Hillary would get the Democrat and c) the race would be quite close, and would deepen a realignment that had been going on for some time (taking low education white voters -most markedly old ones- towards the GOP and young ones with a college degree or above in the opposite direction, regardless of race). I may remind my readers that back in May I predicted a Hillary win, but with only a 55% probability, whilst I assigned Trump a 45%. In June I was musing that Hillary would face bigger difficulties than what the media were acknowledging (because while I saw most of the GOP electorate “coming home” to Trump regardless of what their supposed opinion leaders declared, I considered that a good deal of the Obama coalition would never make their peace with the former first lady, which is exactly what the polls in the final week have been showing, hence their otherwise unexplainable tightening). Finally, by the end of August I said that I believed Hill would win by a smaller margin that what most in the liberal press were thinking (I said back then that he would be just 4-6% behind, and may be I even was too bullish on Hil, I now lean more towards a Clinton victory by 2-4%), which is where I think the election will end. Of course, in 48 hours I’ll have the final validation of how right (or wrong) I was all along, but regardless of the final result, we shouldn’t forget that:
· The US political process is broken beyond repair, and I don’t see things improving in the next decade. Whoever wins tomorrow, almost half of the electorate is going to absolutely hate the result, consider it an unmitigated disaster for the country, deny any shade of legitimacy to the victor and abet only the most blatant obstructionism from the representatives elected by him/herself. That means that any attempts at passing legislation and doing things like actually governing are going to be seen as treason and result in a primary challenge down the road. I mentioned in a previous post (everything went to hell) that I saw the USA going down the dangerous road that leads to another civil war. That was only in part an exaggeration, but given the rhetoric both sides use to refer to the other I don’t see how two or three more elections in the future they don’t end up openly advocating secession.
· Funnily enough, both candidates seem to rely on economic advisers that are intent on “fighting the last war”. Democrats would rely on fiscal policy (increased public investment) to try to reanimate the moribund growth rate, something I’m skeptical about (doomed, doomed I tell you!) and Republicans on Voodoo economics, as the only clear thing in their program is that they would reduce taxes on the rich and increase military spending (according to the WSJ they would also slash regulation, the ultimate boogie man for conservative economies and as feeble an explanation for these last decades anemic growth as you can find). I won’t bore my readers explaining why Voodoo economics is bound to fail, as history provides explanation enough for those with two functioning neurons. The relevant piece of information is that the second biggest economy of the planet is likely (almost certain) to remain well below potential growth for the foreseeable future (one wonders what the heck is “potential growth” at this point).
· In a scenario of low economic growth and increasing political polarization it is a safe bet that populism, feeding on disenchantment with the status quo, will continue attracting bigger and bigger portions of the electorate. I already mentioned how Trump may stay (dubious) or go, but that a more polished leader may well take his mantle and appoint himself as the representative of the disgruntled white middle and lower class. One cunning enough not to so openly alienate women and some minorities (although enmity with some minorities, perceived as too pampered by the existing establishment, is a precondition to gain the confidence of the disenchanted whites), but still able to take advantage of the racial animus and the open scorn that sector professes towards the traditional political process. The problem, of course, is that with such materials (extravagant promises of socioeconomic improvement and alienation of easily identifiable portions of the population) no stable polity has ever been constructed or standard of living ever improved. As the promises are not honored (and, being extravagant to begin with there is no way they can be) the alienated portions are more and more singled out as guilty of insufficient participation in civic life and finally used as scapegoats (not only are they not “pulling their own weight”, but they end up being necessarily accused of sabotaging the national project and more and more harsh repression end up being seen as the only available policy towards them)
· The framework for thinking about such social dynamics was provided more than half a century ago by the likes of Arnold J. Toynbee. However, the growing alienation of the internal proletariat (and the diversion of creative energies towards the defense from an overstated external one) can be countered by a kind of evolution that was better described by Edward Gibbon (of course in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). The creation of empires (of autocratic ones, at least) can be seen as the internal answer to a social crisis of legitimacy of the existing resource allocation criteria. Once the dominant elites are not able to convince the dominated majority (and we shouldn’t forget that in a democracy there is dominant elite as much as in a totalitarian regime, only the criteria for being admitted in the elite and the mechanisms they use to influence the majority’s behavior vary) that it is in their best interest to follow their dictates, and they fear the hoi polloi may even resort to violence to get a bigger share of the collective wealth, they embark in a program of overseas expansion looking for foreign centers of production which they can exploit (either obtain preferential terms of trade to keep growing the internal wealth or, more nakedly, impose a tribute on them). Both the USA and China are approaching (and the former may have already arrived there) a point where the attraction of such course of action may seem irresistible. Trump already announced as much with his suggestion of just “taking Iraq’s oil” (a tribute, or a thinly veiled extortion in exchange for protection), and China is building his armed forces to be in a position to do so when its economy hits a real bump. And it’s not like the public opinion in the USA would oppose on principle to such imperial program, as you already can read countless opinions decrying Europe’s “free riding” on the coattails of the American nuclear umbrella.
· Note that all those aspects of the post-election reality (greater internal enmity and partisanship, the attempt at imposing economic policies doomed to fail, increasing repression towards minorities to compensate those failed policies, growing risk of civil war and the potential recourse to an openly imperialistic external policy, eventually culminating in the exaction of tributes from those rich countries without comparable armed forces) will probably come to pass regardless of who ends up being the winner tomorrow.
A narcissistic personality like Trump’s may make some of those tendencies likelier, while a secretive, conspiratorial (some would say paranoid) like Clinton’s may be more congenial to others. I’m not trying to convey with this that both are somehow comparable (I leave that to people like Slavoj Zizek: If you like and old Stalinist advice, vote for Trump! who seems to be on something very strange in that shambolic “endorsement”). The former secretary of state seems to have a more balanced, more predictable personality, and under her presidency one can imagine the most noxious and dangerous tendencies somehow abating or being checked. But I despair of her (or anybody else’s) being able to totally suppress or revert them. Does that mean that a Trump presidency would be preferable, as he would doubtlessly speed things up? (things in this case being the terminal crisis of the American hegemony and the collapse of our current world order, may be in a conflagration of epic proportions). I devoted a full (and very long) post of our current system being at the same time both morally reprehensible and the best one that had ever been tried: Da System. That should make us very, very wary of trying to replace it with “something else” that has not been very well thought of, as it is vastly more probable that what we substitute it with ends up being considerably worse. Resorting to a somewhat worn out biblical metaphor, Samson brought about a great deal of change on the Philistines architectural landscape (most pointedly, on the environments of the great temple of Dagon), but it is not clear at all that such changes were for the better (especially for himself)…