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 Tax cuts can be reversed, laws can be repealed, action on climate change can be accelerated.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.

160 thoughts on “There’s a lot of ruin in a country

  1. @Julie Thomas

    I wouldn’t have any idea how to gauge the US voters and what they are looking for. But people are people and I think if one is a ‘real’ leftie one believes that everyone has the capacity to come to a rational conclusion when we are in a context in which emotional responses are minimised and factual explanations and arguments are presented to them.

    I was discussing relativities, not absolutes. I don’t think somebody running a national campaign derives any advantage from supposing that there are some people who are absolutely unreceptive. However, it would be folly to allocate time and resources without some regard to which people are likely to be relatively unreceptive. I’m not suggesting a strategy of ‘focus entirely on those people who are sure to respond and entirely disregard those who are sure not to’ but rather ‘focus more on those people who are more likely to respond and less on those who are less likely’.

  2. “You would start at “the bottom” to build an understanding of and consensus for a different approach to things. Fair enough but that takes a very long time. ”

    Very true Henry, Creating consensus would take a long time and be beyond anything any individual could do but I do think that there are liberal voters who are looking for something different and are willing to listen to all sort of once totally unacceptable economic and social ideas now that it is so obvious that neo-liberalism doesn’t work.

    Small town people won’t march or protest and I didn’t see that protesting worked that well back in the day. It seemed to turn the right wing faction of my family more to the right and they still say, even though they now admit we should not have been in the Vietnam war, that the protests didn’t work and I wasted my time.

    I can see that people in this small town would be very willing to get together to work out how our communities could be part of a different and renewable economy, when we do get more official top down direction about how to go about doing this.

    The balance seems to have changed from 10 years ago and now it seems to me that the majority of people do accept the scientific consensus but they do not have the confidence to say it out loud and take the argument to the deniers who tend to be aggressive emotional people and who do not argue rationally or with any respect for the other point of view.

    So that part of the future has to be top down and forced on those who prefer to condemn the rest of us to the consequences of a warming world rather than admit they were wrong and were fooled by the climate denial machine.

    But ordinary people could be more politically active at the local level if we had some knowledge about alternative economic systems. It is difficult to find information on co-operatives which would work well and there are old farmers who remember them fondly.

    Crispin “People are constituted in large part by their culture: societies manufacture people.”

    They are, and that was one of the points I think I was trying to make: there may be enough Australian people in the regional areas who still value the things that made Australians seemt obe less racist in the past when we voted for Whitlam.

    J-D “I was discussing relativities, not absolutes. ”

    Ok, point taken and I suppose that I am off topic too, since this is about Trump voters and I don’t know any of them; the only Australians I can think of who would vote for a Trump are the commenters on the most egregiously deplorable right wing sites that I read.

    I am a Pollyanna and I’m not ashamed of that; it is a deliberate decision and it doesn’t matter much to me that people think I am unrealistic and misguided. 🙂

  3. bernard j

    Your statement:

    Second, I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve said it, but even if the rate of annual atmospheric carbon dioxide increase drops to zero, we are still setting up the planet to warm several more degrees by the end of the century.

    Is correct because if the rate of increase falls to zero, the annual stable flow of emissions can still maintain atmospheric CO2 over 400ppm. As you note, we need negative increase.

    John Quiggin is on a different tack:

    He says:

    But if the rate OF annual atmospheric carbon dioxide increase drops to zero, then, by definition the absolute concentration of carbon dioxide must stabilise.

    However, if this is over 280ppm – global warming will increase.

    I see no confusion over levels or rates of change (or derivatives which is the same thing in show-off language).

    A rate of increase of zero, is bad news. A rate of increase above zero is catastrophic news. A rate of increase below zero may be insufficient depending on the figure.

    In fact things are worse – not only is the rate of CO2 increase – increasing, but this behaviour is itself increasing. But we may have to adjust this to take into account any short-term spurt due to El Nino.

  4. Bernie Sanders has stated that the Democrats lost white working class voters in the swing states who voted for Obama 2012. These are simply people who want change from economic uncertainty to more control in their lives. They have not been served by globalization. Sanders actual language was that he is ‘humiliated ‘by the Democrats’ failure to serve this demographic .
    The demographic included Bernie himself- he was raised in a white working class family.
    Given two flawed candidates , it is not surprising that change was opted for, especially vis a vis economic policy.

  5. @Dale King

    Bernie Sanders has stated that the Democrats lost white working class voters in the swing states who voted for Obama 2012.

    Breaking News: Bernie Sanders is fallible! Film at eleven.

  6. @Julie Thomas

    Ok, point taken and I suppose that I am off topic too, since this is about Trump voters and I don’t know any of them; the only Australians I can think of who would vote for a Trump are the commenters on the most egregiously deplorable right wing sites that I read.

    I am a Pollyanna and I’m not ashamed of that; it is a deliberate decision and it doesn’t matter much to me that people think I am unrealistic and misguided.

    I didn’t suggest that you are unrealistic and misguided. I wasn’t suggesting that it’s foolish for you, as a private individual, to try and influence whichever people you come in contact with. You face choices of one kind; a Democratic Party presidential campaign in the US faces choices of a different kind.

  7. @Julie Thomas
    Your #48

    everyone has the capacity to come to a rational conclusion when we are in a context in which emotional responses are minimised and factual explanations and arguments are presented to them.

    Balderdash – go look up the “backfire effect”. Why do you think that Ikono keeps on and on about “corrupt Clintons” without ever producing any evidence at all that they are. There’s not exactly a surfeit of “rational conclusions” there, yes ?

  8. John Quiggin :
    @Bernard J.
    But if the rate OF annual atmospheric carbon dioxide increase drops to zero, then, by definition the bsolute concentration of carbon dioxide must stabilise. This is just saying the same thing in two different ways.

    I actually realised after I posted that I might have been ambiguous in my typing – it was late…

    My comments were referring to the rate of change in the “growth rate” of CO₂ accumulation. Hence my link to the Tamino piece. Currently that rate (which is an acceleration) is not (statistically significantly) changing, which means that the central estimate is that the accumulation of CO₂ is accelerating. That is, the second derivative is greater than zero.

    So, even if the second derivative (the acceleration in accumulation) eventually hits zero, the underlying accumulation will be a constant additional several (2-4 ppm) per annum. This is what I meant when I said it would be untenable.

    I don’t resile from that. It matters not a whit whether acceleration in accumulation is 0.5 ppm/yr/yr, or 0.05 ppm/yr/yr, or 0.005 ppm/yr/yr, or even 0.000 ppm/yr/yr: even if annual accumulation remains exactly static at, say, 2.0 ppm/yr, or even if it just averages at that figure over decades, the planet is stuffed if that annual absolute accumulation remains in effect for any significant part of this century.

    Any positive acceleration (that is, any positive second derivative) is secondary to the fact that the underlying first derivative is already taking us to hell in a handbasket. That is my point.

  9. Ivor said pretty much the same thing as I tried to say above.

    And sorry about the use of the term “derivatives” – not intended to be showy-offy, but probably a reflection of a toe on the spectrum…

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