Trumpocolypse

from ASR 69

Despite losing the election, Donald Trump will be installed as U.S. president on January 20. Just over 25 percent of eligible voters cast ballots for Trump or Hillary Clinton, about 47 percent didn’t vote, and the other 3 percent voted third party. (Millions more aren’t permitted to vote.) Clinton – a right-wing politician with a long history of war-mongering, mass incarceration, environmental devastation and neoliberal economics – received some 2.7 million more votes than did Trump. And exit polls and referendum results suggest that most voters are far to the left of either party. Voters in several states raised the minimum wage, legalized marijuana (not that this will stop the feds from throwing potsmokers in jail), and rejected anti-labor measures.

Why, then, did Trump win the presidency (despite getting fewer votes)? In large part, for the same reasons both houses of Congress are dominated by Republicans despite Democratic candidates (as a whole) receiving more votes. This is in large part an artifact of gerrymandering, in individual districts and entrenched in an Electoral College designed to ensure that popular revulsion could not force an end to slavery. Also contributing was a barrage of voter suppression laws that prevent millions from voting. In Wisconsin, for example, 10 times as many voters were disenfranchised in the last few years as provided Trump’s margin of victory.

But the main factor seems to have been widespread disgust. Voter turn-out was down by 10 million since 2008, even though the number of people eligible to vote is much higher. Trump received fewer votes than did Mitt Romney four years ago (and also fewer than John McCain or John Kerry), even though he ran slightly stronger (though still quite poorly) among Black and Latino voters. But Trump did much better than Romney in rural areas and in depressed mining and industrial regions.

While many pundits blamed white working class voters for Trump’s victory, exit polls indicate that Clinton carried the votes of those earning less than $50,000 a year, and Trump those earning more. But huge numbers in both categories stayed home, unwilling to pull the level for either of the millionaires on offer.

Since the election, we have seen waves of mass protests, calls for a general strike on Inauguration Day (though no major union has endorsed these), and nominations of right wing hacks and millionaires to serve in the new Trump administration, including a climate change denier to head the environmental protection agency, an anti-civil rights zealot to head injustice, an anti-minimum wage fast food mogul to head labor, the man responsible for killing coal miners at the Sago Mine to head commerce, a charter school fanatic with no education experience to run education, etc. Trump is sending a clear message that he intends an all-out assault on the environment, on workers’ rights, on women and minorities, on our very ability to survive as a species.

It is not enough to say – true though it is – that the majority have no illusions that either political party serves their interests. The question is what they are going to do about it – whether we can build a movement inspired by a vision of the world that could be, and willing to act to bring it into being. We asked several of our readers and contributors to reflect on this challenge…

The Tragedy of Trump

By Jeff Stein

Democracy is a commons. The election of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of the modern enclosure movement. The 20th century was a struggle between capitalists and the labor movement and liberals to recreate a commons: old-age pensions for workers, universal health care, public education, national parks and wilderness areas, assistance for the unemployed and children, environmental protection for air and water, and public infrastructure.

Commons were nothing new. Before the industrial revolution local communities set aside common areas for pasturing animals, collecting water and firewood, hunting and fishing, and these provided a form of assistance for low-income families to support themselves. As capitalism developed these commons areas were seized and sold off (or given away) by governments to the capitalists.

Then, as now, this enclosure was justified on the grounds that capitalism would result in a more efficient use of the natural resources and the benefits would magically trickle down to the poor as products became cheaper. The fact that the rural poor were left with no income to buy the cheap goods and were forced to the cities and “Satanic mills” was never a concern. Yet from the ashes of the commons was born the union and socialist movements (including anarcho-syndicalism) that fought back. Threatened by social revolution and by their own excesses, the capitalists relented and the modern commons were born.

But capitalism is still capitalism. Commons only benefit capitalists if they can control them and make a profit. Privatization was advocated as a solution to “the tragedy of the commons” – the tragedy was that resources were being used for the common good instead of lining the pockets of the 1% of greedy families at the top of the economic pyramid.

As an environmentalist and labor activist I paid attention when the term “tragedy of the commons” was mentioned on a public radio program while travelling to work. The phrase was coined by conservationist Garret Hardin to refer to the tendency of an unregulated commons resource to be over-exploited. As Hardin’s argument goes, the enclosure movement was necessary to preserve the environment because the benefit derived from overuse of a common resource goes to the individual but the cost is shared by all, so individuals have no incentive to conserve common resources. On the other hand if the resource was owned by the individual or a family, that person had an incentive to take care of the resource in order to continue to benefit him or herself and their descendants.

I decided to write an anarchist rebuttal of Hardin’s argument but the more I delved into the literature the more I realized that Hardin’s argument falls apart because he misunderstands the nature of capitalism. Capitalists are not small farmers growing crops or raising cattle for their own subsistence, but investors making a profit by extracting as much value from their resources by putting them on the market. Markets are commons. If markets are unregulated, there is the same “tragedy of the commons” tendency for individual capitalists to over-exploit resources – to invest in a resource, use it up and abandon it for the next profit-making opportunity perhaps in another country. Growing one’s capital is the goal, not saving communities, not saving a farm or factory, not saving the environment, not even saving the market itself. The individual capitalist is oblivious to the costs being suffered by everyone else.

Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” is the “Tragedy of the Markets.” The only way to avoid the tragedy of the commons is to “stint,” to place limits on what individuals can do in common resource areas. (E.P. Thompson, the British historian wrote a number of articles about how pre-industrial villages avoided the “tragedy of the commons” before the 18th century enclosure movement by creating local rules favoring conservation called “stinting.”)

Since the rise of Reaganism in the Republican Party and of Clintonism in the Democrat Party, the capitalist establishment has pursued an effort to once again enclose the commons and sell them to the highest bidders. It is only natural that the enclosure effort would eventually engulf both parties and the government itself.

Democracy has been slowly and steadily eroded. The parties are for sale, the political candidates are for sale, elections are for sale, and finally a billionaire has bought his way into power.

Since being “elected” in a rigged contest in which many voters were denied the opportunity to vote or have their votes counted based upon their race, neighborhood or age, President-“elect” Trump has made it clear that his administration is open for business. Democracy has been privatized. He has sold his administration to the right-wing elements of the Republican Party, appointed billionaires and authoritarian generals to his cabinet, and refused to sell off his business interests or even disclose what they are. Where President Trump and Trump, Inc. begins and ends, no one knows.

We can expect a level of corruption that is unprecedented even for banana republics, for it will be backed by the most powerful military and corporate empire the world has known. It is the “Tragedy of Democracy” come home to roost.

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