There’s a lot of ruin in a country
So said Adam Smith a couple of centuries ago, and he will, I hope, be proved right, in the US, and elsewhere in the world. Trump and the Republican majority in Congress and (imminently) in the Supreme Court will, in all probability, repeal Obamacare, restore and expand the Bush tax cuts for the rich, stop action on climate change, overturn Roe v Wade, expand deportation and more.
On the other hand, there’s no sign that he will attempt to overturn marriage equality, and every likelihood of failure if he does try. Considering that, as of 2008, Obama and Clinton were still “evolving” on the issue, that’s an indication of progress that can’t be reversed.
On climate change, Trump can ignore the Paris agreement and appoint a climate denier to run the EPA, but he can’t stop the decline of coal-fired power or the disappearance of coal mining jobs. This is one of many areas where his promise to Make America Great Again is going to fall flat. As far as places like West Virginia are concerned, the big impact of Trump’s victory is to ensure that the Federal money that might have eased the transition away from coal won’t be coming. And, if the Chinese government is smart, they’ll be able to present themselves as the real leaders of the world on this issue (and not just this one).
Looking beyond Trump, what can be done, can, mostly, be undone. Tax cuts can be reversed, laws can be repealed, action on climate change can be accelerated. Of course, that requires big electoral victories and the Republicans will be doing their best to build up barriers to voting. But none of those barriers would be enough to offset a 5 per cent swing, and that could be achieved just by turning out more voters.
The political reality, however, is that the initiative is with the other side, not only in the US, but in the UK, Australia and much of Europe. The collapse of neoliberalism as a dominant ideology (though not yet as a policy reality), has so far favored the tribalist right rather than the still disorganised left. The tribalists now have the chance to prove that their policies can work, or be perceived to work. If Trump can create and sustain an illusion of restored national greatness, as Putin has done (so far) in Russia, it won’t matter much what the Democrats do. The same will be true in Britain if Brexit can be made to work, or at least be seen to work.
At least in the short term, there’s not much the left can do to influence this. But there’s lots to be done away from short-term politics, from organizing to protect the groups most vulnerable to Trumpism to working out long-term policy alternatives to neoliberalism.