This is a short reflection on the what of Trump’s support in the US two months out from the national elections. For weeks now I have been saying to friends here and in the US that whatever the result, there will be bloodshed in the streets. If Trump wins, his armed supporters will celebrate with open displays of armed intimidation, which will include assaults on those who may chose to oppose them in public spaces. If he loses they will go nuts and attack those who they believe had a hand in stealing the election, especially if he calls on them to defend his stolen victory against the usurping Democrat-led coloured hordes. It will not be pretty, and it has already started in Kenosha and Portland.
Although any sane person would believe that after four years the US simply cannot sustain more of the idiocy, corruption, self-serving greed, bigotry, racism and xenophobia that marks the Trump administration, the truth is that he can get re-elected. With his polling weighed down by the pandemic and its attendant economic downturn, he is pulling out all the stops, with his racist dog-whistling now a full-throated megaphoning disguised as a defence of law and order that is starting to resonate with white audiences unfamiliar or uncaring about the realities of (often militarised) policing in the country. His fear for “suburbia” is no more than a code word for “the coloured folk and commies are coming to harm you, ” with the entire GOP falling into line behind his ugly tropes.
Even though Joe Biden leads most polls and they are doing well in many congressional races, the Democrats need to be careful. Biden is a lacklustre candidate at best who along with the Democratic National Committee has turned his back on the liberal wing of the party in favour of yet more centrism (or better said, in favour of the corporate wing of the party). While a strong choice for Vice President, Kamala Harris is no socialist. The Clinton/Obama wing continues to dominate the campaign strategy, eclipsing Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the progressives who rally behind the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Once again we are told that the election is too important to lose and that a safe pair of moderate hands palatable to middle class white folk is the best way to ensure that Drumpf is consigned to the ash bin of history.
That dynamic pushes the Democratic agenda onto two legs: Biden/Harris as the “not Trump/Pence” alternative; and identity politics. The reckoning appears to be that in a character match-up Biden/Harris win, and that the changing demographics of the US have reached the point to where appealing to non-whites (yet including white women and youth) is a key to success. It includes appeals to non-binary, liminal or non-heteronormative people. But for that to electorally resonate, the logic goes, the ticket must appear to be “reasonable,” that is, to be centrist and “unifying” in its appeal. Nothing about class can be voiced other than the usual platitudes about the hard-working working classes. Nothing that can be weaponised against it by the label “socialism” can be openly mentioned, such as universal health care and welfare reform, debt relief, etc. These unmentionables may resurface after the election in the event of a Democratic victory that includes winning back both houses of Congress (and assuming that civil war does not break out), but they are not part of the campaign platform because the corporate Democrats do not want to be painted as radicals intent on destroying the American (read: white) way of life–claims that were on ample display at the circus side show that was the Republican National Convention.
This poses dangers for the Democrats. In 2016 Steve Bannon correctly argued that all Trump had to do to win was to appeal to lower middle class and working class whites on economic and cultural grounds. It did not matter if he could not fulfil his campaign promises of economic re-birth. It did not matter if by “culture” his appeal was to retrograde sentiments about a past long gone and best forgotten. What mattered was that the Democrats would be too busy fighting amongst themselves along identity and ideological lines, and this would cause large numbers of would-be Democratic voters to abstain from doing so. Added to the fact that Hillary Clinton was successfully painted (with Russian help) as an out-of-touch elitist with murky connections to nefarious swamp figures at home and abroad (in a Trump projection if there ever was one), and Bannon was proven right. 45 percent of eligible voters did not vote in 2016, and of those most were young and/or non-whites who traditionally lean Democratic in national elections.
In 2020 the stakes are higher now that it is clear that institutions have not been able to contain or even restrain Trump in his sociopathic use of public office for private gain. But the Democratic strategy remains the same: appeal to the centre, try to be “nice,” call for unity, and pander to important interest groups that are not reducible to socio-economic class position. Trouble is, there no longer is a majority centre in the US, polarisation is a seismic fault line fracture in American life that transcends politics, and the fundamental unmentionable of socio-economic class and class inequalities fester like an undetected mestasizing malignancy within the US body politic that no amount of chest-beating mythologizing can cure.
More to the point, no matter what the contradictions of US society may be, Trump’s supporters are not interested in unity and centrist moderation. Some may not realise that they are on their economic and political deathbeds, but they all are itching for a fight and are willing to fight dirty in order to prevail even if it is for the last time. In fact, that is explicitly what the alt-Right notions of replacement and acceleration are all about: start the race war now while whites can still prevail, and accelerate extant social divisions in order to do so. The key to their success is to be organised and armed.
So who are the MAGA morons who are the reliable base that Trump can stoke with his scapegoating and fear-mongering? The answer resides in what we might call the MAGA pyramid.
At the bottom are those who are truly deplorable: racists, bigots, misogynists, xenophobes and assorted other a-holes of various stripes. They are not necessarily stupid or poor meth heads living in trailer parks. They are just evil at heart–true scumbags now encouraged and enabled by Trump to come out from under their rocks and revel in their moment in the light.
Many of them are armed.
Above them are the ignorant. These are people who by dint of lack of intellectual capacity, education, exposure to alternative views or ways of being and other consciousness-raising aspects of social life are easily manipulated and fooled. Some of them are also racist bigots and/or sexist xenophobes. They include the gullible who think that their industrial-era jobs are coming back. They are the fools who think that Covid is a hoax or just another flu, that masks are an assault on freedom and that the Clinton ran a paedophila ring out of the basement of a pizza parlour in Northwest Washington DC. These are the QAnon crowd, now mixed in with anti-vaxers, anti-fluoride and other tin hat-wearing bozos who are easily sold the snake oil about the Deep State, Rothchild’s, Trilateral Commission and other global networks run by Soros lackeys and supplicants. It includes true religious believers who think that somehow Trump, while flawed just like Abraham, is God’s chosen vessel for restoring the US to its position back up on that crumbling hill.
Many of them are armed.
At the top of the pyramid are the opportunists. They include Trump and his entourage, but also corporate actors who have taken advantage of the window of opportunity presented to them by his de-regulatory and tax-cut policies. It includes guns and weapons manufacturers trading on his bully penchant for believing that violence is strength. It includes crony capitalists making money off of projects such as the Wall. It is blessed by Evangelical leaders likeJerry Falwell Jr., he of unzipped pants and pool boy threesome “cuck” fame. It includes rightwing ideological extremists who seek to use his administration as a vehicle for their own nativist agendas (think Stephen Miller, Seb Gorka or the departed John Bolton and Bannon himself) and the “conservative” media ecosystem that feeds off the intellectual detritus that oozes from the GOP partisan swamp. That includes a slew of Republican politicians seeking to coattail on evil and venality for their own gain, even if that turns out to be a losing proposition if you are Paul Ryan or Jeff Sessions. It includes the modern equivalent of house negros (e.g. Herman Cain, of Covid death fame) who step and fetch for the master even in the face of his long history of racist contempt for everything that they represent in humanity. Less one think that I am being unkind to these modern day Toms, remember that they are descendants from what Trump described as s***hole countries” that are not like Norway, and share skin tones with people who Drumpf has declared to be traitors and thugs because they take a knee or to the streets to protest systemic racism in the land of the free.
Trump opportunists come in many guises and are both high- and low-brow in nature, but their single commonality is that they know that their collective fortunes rest on manipulating those below them in the pyramid. So long as there are suckers, dupes and rubes to play in the great con game known as the Trump administration, then there always will be players like those surrounding and supporting him who will be there to play the MAGA morons for all its worth.
They too are often armed. And when not armed themselves, part of the con is that they enable and ensure that those below them in the pyramid maintain unfettered access to guns–and listen to directions.
Some may rebut this trichotomy by saying that there are true believers in the Trump support pyramid. That may be true of deplorables like David Duke and ignorants such as assorted old war veterans ripe for the fleecing. But the vast majority of the opportunists understand that Trump’s one belief is in benefitting himself, and if they can do so as well by toadying up to him, then the more the merrier. This project is not about what he and they can do for the country. It is about what personal and political benefit they can extract from their access to federal power while the joyride lasts.
The question of the moment is whether that the mass violence that might break out the night of the elections (November 3), will in fact start earlier. The way things are going it seems that in the measure that Trump and his minions begin to sense the real possibility of defeat, the more they will appeal to their base–the bottom two thirds of the pyramid–to take direct action in order to prevent that from happening. If violent unrest becomes wide-spread then the stage is set for the use of Executive powers to declare a state of national emergency that permits the postponement of the elections. Thus a call to “patriots” to take up arms before the election in defence of “democracy” is entirely possible, and as we have seen in recent days, rightwing militias are ready and willing to heed the call. If that happens, then basic issues of civil-military relations and constitutional principles come into play, if not the integrity of the Union itself.
We must remember that for Trump and company the stakes are deeply personal. Many of these people, not just Trump himself, face the serious possibility of criminal prosecution once they leave office. Not just for what they may have done as private citizens before or on behalf of the current president, but for using their public offices for private gain. As many have pointed out, the parallels and ties between organised crime, the Trump business empire and the Trump administration are clear and tight. The network of Trump-connected criminal opportunists may therefore be very wide, so there is strong incentive for them to collectively do everything in their power while in office to forestall and prevent liability down the road. Four more years may buy them that.
The issue is whether a shift in the political sands will bury the pyramid of support that they need for that to happen. One thing is certain: the Trump administration has already begun digging its defences.
I’ve heard some analysts downplay the prospect of outright civil war, since that would require unanimous military backing of Trump. His denial of Putin’s Taliban bounties appears to have gone down like a lead balloon among serving military folk.
That said, if/when Biden wins in November, he may need to convene something war cabinet-grade in the event that kamikaze Trumpniks attempt something straight out of Moscow in 1991/93, Spain 1936, or Belfast 1969. And if he really wants to stop taking the Dems’ AOC wing for granted, electoral reform should be a big part of it.
As for Bannon, his arrest on fraud charges evokes nabbing Al Capone on tax evasion.
I agree that most of the military leadership has soured on Drumpf. Not so sure about the enlisted corps, but I do not think that he enjoys majority support there either. I doubt that the military brass will follow any Drumpf unlawful order to repress the American people, especially if it is Drumpf who is encouraging vigilante violence. But a civil war does not need the military to be involved in order to be one. Armed clashes between rightwing militias and state and local security forces (think National Guard), if wide-spread enough, can amount to de facto civil war, especially if anti-Drumpf activists arm and defend themselves with lethal force.
My larger point is that Drumpf will use the spectre of civil war as an excuse to invoke emergency powers in order to postpone the election or selectively restrict the vote in Democrat-leaning districts. GOP governors and local officials will assist him in doing so. The question could well be more of timing (when) rather than whether (if) he will do so.
“Armed clashes between rightwing militias and state and local security forces (think National Guard), if wide-spread enough, can amount to de facto civil war, especially if anti-Drumpf activists arm and defend themselves with lethal force.”
Hence my comparison with the Northern Irish Troubles – more violent than what’s happening now, but not violent enough for a replay of 1861-65.
Buchanan you are utterly and completely obsessed about a reality you can not change It must be awful for you. Trump landslide coming unless he dies. Things can only get worse for Socialists. Then there will be the trials.
For the usual helpful contribution.
Thanks Pablo. Watching on with interest and also trepidation. Hard to imagine things could get much worse in the US, but it is looking as if they definitely will.
Seems the rank-and-file military could be wavering too.
Further reading per following link
It looks as though Trump will benefit as the democrats implode
The biggest threat to a Democratic victory is themselves. They are allowing Drumpf to define the campaign narrative (“law and order”) rather than set out a united policy agenda. Biden being the “not Trump” is not enough. Going centrist to court suburban housewives is not enough. The DNC turning its back on the progressive wing, saying that now is not the time to introduce “radical;” policy reforms like universal healthcare and educational debt relief, is counterproductive.
The fact is that there is no centre in the US anymore. The country wants and needs to change in a progressive direction. All of the major statistics–income inequality, health indicators, educational performance–show a country in decline, so trying to play the usual game of appearing moderate and “reasonable” will not cut it any more, especially when the GOP plays dirty.
@Edward: With respect, given Russia Today’s status as a mouthpiece of the Russian government and Russia’s non-impartiality in the election, I don’t think this article is that objective.
@Pablo: How do you think the Democrats can prevent Trump from defining the policy agenda? By turning to the left? Is such a turn credible with Biden as the nominee? If the Democrat base are so anti-centrist and hungry for solidily progressive policies on education, health etc, why did they choose Biden over Warren or Sanders?
The Democratic primaries were disrupted by the pandemic and voter numbers fell, especially in closed primary states (the majority). The DNC also clearly favored Biden and pushed advertising money and logistical support towards him, making it difficult for his competitors to maintain an equal level of exposure and coverage, especially after March. So, if not clearly rigged in his favor, the Democratic primaries were heavily weighted in his favor. Even so, Bernie hung in the race until June and had 1000+ delegates when he dropped out.
The Biden campaign and DNC seem to think that if they play the “non-Trump” card (a safe pair of hands, a rational guy, a family man, no government by tweet etc.) and appeal to the younger and more diverse demographic while reassuring white suburbanities on economic and moderate cultural grounds (so no support for confederate symbols but reaffirmed support for fair play, equality etc.), they will do well. However, the Democrats need to push back hard on the “law and order” coded racist BS that Trump is spouting while laughing off the “commie” and “socialist” labels. They can also talk about pandemic relief, tax reform, economic revitalisation and foreign affairs but at this point it is about peeling off some 2016 Trump voters so as to increase the winning margin to the point that the result is uncontestable and therefore not thrown to the Electoral College as the ultimate determinant of the outcome.
It is possible that Biden will peddle the centrist line until he wins, then turn leftward once he announces his cabinet choices and policy agenda. No matter what he eventually does, the Democrats need to keep the House and win control of the Senate for anything to happen. Otherwise, the GOP will do to him what they did to Obama–block, delay, renege, thwart, obstruct and generally behave as the disloyal c***s that they are. That way, even if Trump loses, Democratic control of Congress can thwart much of what Trump will try to do legislatively.
So while Biden may technically be the nominee, Bernie is the one who truly represents what Democratic voters want. Interesting. It would follow then that Biden should just totally copy Bernie’s platform in every respect, since as you say, this would maximise votes in November.
It’s interesting that smaller voter numbers favoured Biden – I wonder what it was that made Bernie voters more likely to be the ones whose voting plans were disrupted by the pandemic.
I am a bit confused though, you said it is about peeling off 2016 Trump voters – do you think 2016 Trump voters are more likely to respond to a hard-left, Bernie style pitch than a centrist one?
No, there are plenty of centrists who prefer Biden within the Democratic Party, but the most mobilised and largely untapped part of the (potential) Democratic voter base are young progressives (and by that I do not mean Marxists, but young people who lean in a social democratic direction) with no declared party affiliation. These people cannot vote in closed primaries (where you have to declare a party preference in order to vote in a primary and then are stuck with the party choice unless you change your registration; otherwise you only get to vote in the general election). Thus, while polling showed strong support for Bernie and Warren in the lead up to the early primaries, on primary day the results gradually shifted Biden’s way.
Put differently: Biden has the corporate/centrist Democratic voters firmly on his side. They tend to be registered Democrats that can vote in primaries. Many of Bernie and Warren’s supporters are registered as Independents and hence cannot vote in closed primaries unless they change registration. They might have registered as Democrats had the primary season continued as scheduled through the convention scheduled for July, but the pandemic dashed those plans because he basically stopped in-person campaigning. Even so, there was enough Bernie votes in late March to think that the convention could have been, if not contested, then conducive to a much more negotiated campaign platform that incorporated Bernie’s ideas. Alas, with DNC money stacked against him and unable to do the grassroots in person rallies that suits his style and galvanises his followers, Bernie folded his hand. My hope is that he got something in return.
As I said in my previous comment, the DNC/Biden strategy is to play to the centre so as to show moderation and reasonableness. That could peel away suburban voters who went for Drumpf in 2016 and might even take back some of the blue collar whites who voted for him in former Democratic strongholds like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (although the latter has about 13 different types of voting district. After all Philadelphia sure does not vote like Pittsburg or Erie, and SW PA is true Appalachian country). The idea is to play the role of “unifier” rationalist in the face of the demented lunatic in the WH, and to not play the role of a commie puppet manipulated by Bernie, Warren, AOC and the Squad. I do not like the strategy for a number of reasons but that is how I read it.
My hope is that Biden will play to the moderates/centrists in the election campaign and then turn left once in office. Polls show than on things like healthcare and student debt relief the majority of American are in favour of major (progressive) reforms when they are presented without ideological labels. All objective measures show that the current state of US capitalism does not benefit the majority. So if ever there was time to advance progressive policy initiatives, it is now, on the heels of a disastrous health crisis and economic downturn.
Oh OK I mixed up your saying what the Biden campaign -is- doing with what it -should- do. I think you are right that this is the fundamental question, do the Democrats play for the centre and soft Trump voters or try to find new votes among habitual non-voters to the left. I guess in two months we will know which strategy was correct.