Thursday, 10 November 2016

Some Thoughts On The 2016 US Election

Oh well, so much for my prediction 4 years ago that the Republicans would never again win a Presidential election in the foreseeable future.

I was completely blindsided by Trump's victory. I had all but assumed a Clinton presidency post-Nov 8. I guess I was living in a bubble created by the media and left-leaning intellectuals. Of course, there were a few people in my social media circle who were predicting a Trump victory, but since many of them were right-leaning, there's nothing to say they were not engaging in some wish-fulfillment themselves.

There's a lot that has been said by other worthy people, and I will merely link to their words here. There's nothing to be gained by me repeating their points.

Seshadri Kumar has a comprehensive analysis of what happened and why.
Kanishka Sinha offers a fascinating set of parallels between Trump and Narendra Modi.
Raja Visweswaran provides a comforting explanation to his disappointed and apprehensive children.

I will try to make some original points here.

1. Trump's victory was the result of sexism.

This is going to infuriate a lot of people, because I don't mean what many may understand from this.

I'm in fact blaming many older feminists for Trump's victory. Many women who earned their feminist stripes over the last few decades were so taken with the idea of electing the first woman president that they willingly threw a much more deserving candidate under the bus during the Democratic primaries -- Bernie Sanders. Sanders is a progressive who has stood with women on all women's issues, and his track record in the Senate shows that he is a trustworthy ally to the feminist cause. Yet his gender worked against him in the primaries. Many older women voted against him purely on grounds of gender. Madeleine Albright infamously said in support of Clinton, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." To their credit, younger women showed that they had internalised the lessons of a post-feminist world, and they ignored gender by supporting the more worthy candidate, but older women sadly proved that they had failed to overcome their learnt biases.

I have heard women from that cohort defend their preference ("He's impractical, she's pragmatic"), but I see that as post-facto rationalisation. They voted for the woman for sexist reasons, pure and simple.

Well, how did that karma sandwich taste the morning after?

I believe Bernie Sanders could have beaten Trump, for at least three reasons:

1. Sanders criticised the unfairness of the global capitalist system with more credibility than Trump did, and of course with far greater credibility than Clinton could ever hope to muster. He stood up for the people who lost out on account of the New Economy, and has a track record of having done so consistently. He had the moral high ground from which to expose Trump's hypocrisy on imported steel, migrant labour and unpaid contractors. As the "establishment candidate", Clinton never had a chance to call out Trump on his hollow platform.

2. Sanders has a long public record, and it's clean. Clinton's team tried its best to dig up dirt on him during the primaries, and they couldn't manage anything. It's unlikely that Trump could have flung any mud on him that would stick, unlike what he did to Clinton. She was a highly flawed candidate whose flaws stood exposed throughout the campaign. Whether it was policy flip-flops, highly paid speaking engagements paid for by Wall Street, a track record of warmongering, or the infamous email scandal, she was far from being squeaky clean. The Clinton-Trump clash was a choice between two evils. A Sanders-Trump match would have been a clear choice between good and evil.

3. While it's not a matter to be proud of, it's a fact that Clinton lost many votes to Trump because of misogyny amongst the voting populace. Trump wouldn't have had that advantage against Sanders. And conversely, while Trump lost votes to Clinton because of the antipathy of many women, that effect wouldn't have been neutralised if Sanders had stood instead of Clinton. Sanders would have had a net advantage in terms of the gender bias, on top of everything else.

In short, the reason the world is looking at a President Trump today is because many women who call themselves feminist couldn't recognise and fight the sexism in their own minds.

2. There are (thankfully) limits to money power

One silver lining I take away from Trump's victory is that money can't ...ahem... trump the people's will.

Clinton had the inexhaustible war chest, while Trump was reportedly strapped for cash and couldn't afford as many TV ad slots. Fat lot of good that did her. I'm glad to see that democracy isn't for sale. It was a free and fair election, and the outcome was determined according to the rules. One could quibble about the popular vote not being reflected in the electoral college, but those are the rules. All the king's horses and all the king's money couldn't put a Clinton in the White House again.

3. It's now capitalism versus democracy

I have often said this in the past, but it's coming true in recent months, first with Brexit and now with Trump. The runaway march of capitalism can only by stopped by democracy, because the number of votes a person has bears no correlation to their purchasing power. Try as they might, the plutocracy cannot take over. What we've seen recently is the genteel equivalent to the French Revolution. The elites managed to crush the Occupy movement, but it's now clear that the revolution cannot be rolled back. If the elites do not take heed from these recent reverses, we might one day see heads carried on pikes down Wall Street. I will not shed any tears on that day.

As a member of the elite myself, I have attended economics lectures and swallowed without question the idea that free trade is an unmitigated good, and that Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage proves it to be so. Well, that's only true in a macro sense. At the micro level, there are winners and losers from free trade in every country, and it is the responsibility of each country's ruling elites to ensure an equitable distribution of the benefits of free trade to all parties. That has never happened to date in any country. The winners keep all their winnings to themselves, and don't share any of it with their less fortunate compatriots. There are people who have personally lost out on account of it, and yet the elites expect them to keep supporting globalisation, outsourcing, free trade and other aspects of the New Economy because they expect the virtues of these to be self-evident to anyone who isn't a troglodyte. Well, the dispossessed can protest, and they are doing so now.

4. The Republicans have themselves a poisoned chalice

It was widely predicted that the Republicans were going to lose both the White House and the Senate, with only the House of Representatives in their hands, and they were therefore girding themselves for another long round of trench warfare and government shutdowns. Now they have unexpectedly found themselves in control of the White House and both houses of Congress. Soon they will be able to ensure Conservative control of the Supreme Court too. At that point, they will have no more excuses. If they don't deliver in terms of making people's lives better, it will be downhill for them from 2016 onwards. The younger generation (18-25) is the most hostile the GOP has yet encountered, and as the older populace dies out in the years ahead, there will be strong headwinds for the Republicans to face. 2016 could well be their high watermark.

I personally believe that the creeping advance of the "Technology Singularity" is responsible for what is recognised to be a jobless recovery in most advanced countries, and this trend will only exacerbate the pain that ordinary people are going to face. These are structural problems, and they cannot be solved by protectionist band-aid. I believe the only workable long-term solution is a socialistic one - a guaranteed minimum income paid to every household, from taxes levied on businesses that operate without the costs of employing human labour. There will be a painful transition to an ultimately pleasurable "leisure society", but conservatives are fundamentally incapable of conceptualising it or ushering it in. Their repertoire of traditional conservative solutions (small government, low taxes and private enterprise) will fail them dramatically in the New Economy as capitalism clashes ever more dramatically with democracy. Ultimately, the Republicans will lose power altogether unless they jettison economic conservatism.

5. Trump could either start World War III, or usher in a new era of peace

Trump is famously unpredictable, volatile and narcissistic. He has all the makings of a maniacal despot. On the other hand, he has more than once expressed his desire to bring US troops home, and has said he would ask allies to pay for their own defence, which is a more conservative, isolationist stance than that of any US president in recent memory. He is also far more likely than Obama or Hillary Clinton to arrive at an amicable arrangement with Russia's Putin and de-escalate tensions in the Middle East.

There's a lot to fear, but there's also hope. Obama started his term by winning the Nobel Peace Prize. By the end of his term, the US was bombing seven countries, with none of those bombings authorised by Congress (see video below). Trump enters the White House amidst widespread trepidation. It is possible he could belie those fears just as Obama belied hopes.

And those are some of my thoughts after the US poll verdict.