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 Tax cuts can be reversed, laws can be repealed, action on climate change can be accelerated.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. Tim Macknay :
    You can think whatever you want. Personally I think that there are never grounds for either ‘abysses of despair’ or ‘smug reassurance’. Both are foolishness. If you were implying that my comment represented ‘smug reassurance’, you were mistaken, not to mention offensive. It’s not ‘smug’ to point out that attacking democracy is a bad idea.

    it’s called sophistry.

    reminds me of the response given by some religion salespeople when the reality of the history of predatory sexual behaviour was pointed out.

    “good” and “hard” indeed.

  2. Bernie Sanders made the point that the appointment of super delegates were undemocratic and he has been proved right. The primaries exclude any viable alternatives leaving voters with only a binary choice.

    Leaving that aside the 46% that didn’t vote constitute a No vote against their form of democracy. Neither Clinton nor Trump were able to muster more than ~28% of the eligible vote. In that respect Trump is spot on, the vote is rigged.

  3. I think the left have assumed that the Tea Party brand silliness was on a one-way path to nowhere. That is not self evidently true. The Democrats in the Us have been decimated not the far-right Republicans. A change of emphasis called for.

  4. @John Bentley
    Yup, that’s us. New gov’t is introducing carbon pricing of some kind across the country. Not great but a lot better than our former PM, Tony Abbot’s friend, who either did not believe in global warming or who did believe the End Times were due next week so we did not have to worry about global warming. Or possibly both?

  5. @Newtownian

    An excellent paper, and it really could be the end of the road.

    Remember in early 2015 John Quiggin said:

    Behind all this, it seems as if the various piecemeal measures introduced with the aim of switching away from fossil fuels are working better than almost anyone expected, and with minimal economic cost.

    Well they took the benefit of “minimal economic cost” and delivered not one iota of CO2 emissions benefit – it was all a con.

    We now have data for global CO2 emissions that show nothing but accelerating global CO2 atmospheric concentrations.

    The increase from 2013 to 2014 was 1.84 ppm
    The increase from 2014 to 2015 was 2.28 ppm
    The increase from 2015 to 2016 was 3.40 ppm

    There was no peak. And it will now get worse. An no “piecemeal measures” has had any noticeable or relevant effect at all.

  6. @hc
    Put it on your blog. It’s a sad and lonely space.

    You might get some readers from your type of repugs who are changing emphasis. Lol. Tell us about it.

    You are a liberty quote you know. Those repug supporters are not noticing any change in emphasis. The orgy of gloating is magnificent at that blog. Even more childish than when Abbott won. That outbust of triumphant tribalism didn’t last long.

  7. alex :
    We are about to find out how fragile it all is.

    I have, for a number of years now, thought that on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, there may well be some sort of revolution in the USA. There’s lots of guns, and lots of nutters, and if those who feel they’ve been disenfranchised by the “system” don’t see any change in short order under Trump, ……

  8. Timely that Julie Thomas mentions Tony Abbott’s 2013 election win.

    ALP supporters’ line leading into that election was “Abbott would be worse”.

    The last time the ALP won an election convincingly was 2007 when Rudd ran on some key points opposite to the Howard years (particularly – ending the Pacific Solution, out of the US wars, doing something serious about climate change and addressing economic inequality).

    After getting the job back in 2013 by famously “lurching to the right on refugees”, as well as ditching all the other vote winning policies from 2007 in order to appease the faceless men epitomised by Bill Shorten, Rudd lost and Abbott won.

    That “lesser-evilism” gave us Abbott and now gives the US Trump.

    Ironically, the “lesser” evil is actually the greater evil because it accepts a range of “evil” as the only alternatives. Even stranger is that “good” has a proven track record as an election winner.

  9. In a way, democracy has worked fine. The US voted against neoliberalism. They may not get what they hoped for, but they’ve given a very strong message to those who think everything is going just fine.

  10. “Lurching to the right” specifically included his announcement on July 19 2013 that no refugees arriving by sea would ever be allowed into Australia.

    The refugees on Manus and Nauru were all put there by the ALP. There was never any plan for what would happen to them – apart from the vague idea that some imaginary “third country” would take them.

    It is worth repeating: The “lesser evil” ALP put all of these innocent refugees in indefinite offshore detention with no concrete plan for their future – as a “deterrent”.

  11. @John Quiggin

    And what do the last two paragraphs of that article say? It’s worth quoting;

    “So, although natural carbon sinks on land and ocean have buffered us from the full impact of our carbon emissions, we should not assume this will continue at the same level indefinitely. Crucially, the warmer the world becomes, the more difficult it could be to prevent further warming, as our CO2 emissions could have proportionally larger impacts, and natural carbon sinks could become less effective.

    If the world’s nations are serious about halting global warming, the rise in CO2 concentrations also needs to cease. This means the annual change in CO2 concentration – generally 2ppm per year, and around 3ppm this year – needs to become zero. That is, the sinks need to balance the sources. Based on our current understanding of the carbon cycle, this task will be harder the longer we leave it.”

    Merely flattening our emissions (or reducing them very slowly) at a point where

    (a) they still exceed sink uptake by about 40%; and
    (b) sink uptake itself is declining;

    is a situation of serious jeopardy. This goes to the point that we are doing too little, too late. It goes to the point that our political-economic system, namely late-stage, corporate, plutocratic, oligarchic capitalism is systemically incapable of dealing with the problem. It has behaved as predicted. It has payed lip-service to the issue (when not actually denying and denigrating) and done far too little, far too late. Capitalism seeks near term goals. It’s not a system with adequate “look-ahead” heuristics and algorithms when it is “pitted” globally against natural systems.

  12. @John Quiggin

    Yes, everyone concerned for the fate of humanity should have a close look at this.

    It is shown that the rate of increase of CO2 is increasing over time with some fluctuations due to volvanos and El Nino’s. These instances vary the trend in the short-term but the overall rise in growth rate is there for all to see.

    Here it is:×695.png

    And it is forecast to increase even further into the future.

    This is a one way track to a ecological catastrophe.

    If Le Pen, Hanson, and Trump get their way, it really is “game over”.

  13. @John Quiggin

    Yes, everyone concerned for the fate of humanity should have a close look at this.

    It is shown that the rate of increase of CO2 is increasing over time with some fluctuations due to volvanos and El Nino’s. These instances vary the trend in the short-term but the overall rise in growth rate is there for all to see.

    Here it is:×695.png

    And it is forecast to increase even further into the future.

    This is a one way track to a ecological catastrophe.

    If Le Pen, Hanson, and Trump get their way, it really is “game over”.

  14. @Ikonoclast

    That is, the sinks need to balance the sources.

    Exactly. So which political party or trendy middle class movement, or Climate Council paper recognises this???

    But I would add one extra point – the sinks must not become saturated.

    We are being led up the garden path into a furnace.

  15. Sophie Shevardnadze interviews Stephen Cohen about the likely consequences of Donald Trump’s election victory – 29 minute video interview.

    Sophie Shevardnadze is the granddaughter of the late Eduard Shevardnadze (1826-2014) who was foreign minister of the former Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991. She graduated with a cinema degree from Boston University in 2001 and studied in the masters program in TV journalism at New York University in 2005 and now lives in Russia and is the presenter of the bi-weekly program SophieCo.

    Stephen Cohen is professor emeritus at the Princeton University and editor of The Nation magazine.

  16. @James

    It’s no good pretending Trump isn’t part of the elite. He IS part of the elite. Like the rest of the elite, he preys on, exploits and oppresses the poor and the weak. Of course the elite(s) are not monolithic and all-unified. They battle among themselves also The .01% prey on the 0.1% and the 0.1% prey on the 1%. The very top billionaires combine when it suits them and stab each other in the back when it suits them.

    Any notion that Trump, a predatory billionaire, is against the overall elite capitalist game and for the ordinary people is the most stupid, naive idea of all time. What we see now (in simplified terms) is corporate oligarchic neoliberalism (with soft pretensions to democracy) being challenged by corporate oligarchic crypto or neo fascism, which latter movement Trump represents.

  17. US journalist Salena Zito said about Trump a few weeks ago apparently: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

    This is the most interesting thing I have read since the election. It makes sense because I did take him literally and could not believe that any other person would take him seriously and not literally.

    But now I think about the way the rwnj’s reacted to him it is obvious that although many of them are elites they don’t think of themselves as the ‘real’ elites.

    There must be a different set of criteria that they use to put people into the elite category.

  18. This could be the comment that illustrates the dysfunctional psychology of Trump rwnj supporters.

    “If I were a billionaire, I’d be an asshole too,”

  19. My apologies, Professor Quiggin. I inadvertently left a second link in my previous copy of this post and it is now awaiting moderation.


    Could I suggest that you read from sources other than the mainstream newsmedia about Donald Trump – the same msm that propagandises for war against Syria and propagandised for the invasion of Libya in 2011, gaves us Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003, Kuwaiti “incubator babies” in 1990, the Red Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1965, the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, the magic bullet, etc., etc.?

    Perhaps you could start by watching that video linked to above. Should that video not persuade you, then perhaps you could explain to the rest of us why you think Stephen Cohen and Sophie Shervardnadze are wrong.

    Ikonoclast wrote:

    … Trump … IS part of the elite. Like the rest of the elite, he preys on, exploits and oppresses the poor and the weak. …

    Had you watched the different debates and other material from Donald Trump, you would know that he has explicitly repudiated the crowd of billionaires that he was previously amongst.

    In any case, even if it were possible to believe all the worst smears against Donald Trump, he would still only be fractionally as terrible as a woman who has helped cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria, taken bribes from the misogynist rulers of Saudi Arabia and laughed when she heard news of the cruel murder of Muammar Gaddafi.

  20. “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization”. So wrote Tony Schwartz (writer of “Trump’s” Art of the Deal), who followed him for months, even listening in to his ‘phone calls.

    Trump will use nuclear weapons the first time he feels slighted or humiliated in international affairs. Climate collapse suddenly seems like a side issue.

  21. @James

    ” he has explicitly repudiated the crowd of billionaires that he was previously amongst.”

    So among all the other lies he has told this is a clear truth statement? Do you have any explanation about why we should believe this particular claim when now we know that all the other things he as said as reported by the msn were not meant to be taken seriously?

    How do you know this is the truth and so what anyway? What significance does this have? Perhaps it means he will concentrate on taking them down and how will that be good for anyone?

    It is more likely that the billionaires that Trump has rejected are ones who have dissed him for not being very smart or made fun of his taste in gold interiors and ornate ceilings or the size of his hands, not because he has stopped believing the goodness of being a selfish and greedy aggressive alpha male.

    It is time to cease with the so obvious sexist attacks on Hillary. So disappointing but predictable that you can’t understand the psychology of this ‘laughing’ at the ‘cruel’ – and why cruel? why add that word except that your emotional feelings about her are so high that you couldn’t repress your need to add an unnecesary negative descriptor – murder of Gaddafi.

    So if she had cried about this murder, would the men around her have been understanding and respected that and her right to be part of their club?

    Do you ever think that you may be a bit lacking in objectivity and understanding of human behaviour and psychology?

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