Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Give Plutocracy a Chance

So, the big question is obviously going to be, how successful a President will Donald Trump be.  And how well will his brand of populism sell.  Paul Krugman has offered one possible reason why it might not.  He cites an article on Poland where right wing populists under the Law and Justice Party have been in power for one year.  Its strongest hallmark is extreme social conservatism.  The Law and Justice Party has proposed textbooks that downplay evolution and global warming and push an anti-contraceptive view of sex education.  They have also banned abortion, defunded in vitro fertilization and challenged an international convention to ban violence against women as a threat to traditional gender roles.*  It is showing signs of clamping down on dissent.  But it has also lowered the retirement age and given cash bonuses to families with children - the more the better.  The National Front in France wants to raise the minimum wage and lower the retirement age.  Indeed, it has been described as an amalgam of two parties -- one right-wing and one left-wing.

The US is different in a number of ways.  For one, many European countries have a large state-run media presence, which is easily manipulated by new appointments.  In the US, media are independent.  Granted, a large portion of the population simply disbelieve anything reported in any mainstream source, but the mainstream remains and will be a lot harder to subdue.

Another difference is the uniquely binary nature of U.S. politics.  Poland's Law and Justice Party rides high with the support of 36% of the population, more than twice the leading contender.  France's Marine LePen will be running against two rival parties.  Italy's Silvio Berlusconi held power so long because his opposition fragmented.  In US politics, by contrast, even an insurgent candidate has to choose between one of the two established parties.  Trump's brand of xenophobia did not sell among Democrats.  So he chose Republicans.  Republicans are the longstanding plutocratic party.  They believe that if they haven't been able to win full power up till now, it is because they haven't been plutocratic enough.  There is every reason to believe that Trump fully agrees and intends to be just as much of a plutocrat as Republicans in general.  Or rather, his proposals are more like plutocracy-plus- protectionism.

And, in all fairness, I think the American people are at least somewhat aware of this and have voted to give plutocracy a chance.  Our economy as a whole has made a slow but decent recovery from the 2008 crash and is nearing full employment.  But the benefits have accrued overwhelmingly to the top and wages lag far behind where they once were.  Working class Americans have their jobs back, but at lower pay than before.  The Republican argument (not counting Trump) is that the reason the economy took so long to recover and that wages are stagnant is that our job creators are being strangled to death by high taxes and stifling regulations, and that if we would just cut taxes at the top and gut regulations, it would turbocharge the economy and wages would soar.  Certainly that is the account I get from Trump voters that I hear from.  They would no doubt prefer Generic Republican to Trump, but so long as he cuts taxes and guts regulations all will be well.  Trump takes the same basic story and adds unfair competition from immigrants and imports.

There are some things to criticized here.  As mentioned before, the much-beleaguered one percent have nonetheless somehow managed to capture most of the benefits of the recovery.  To say that really, they will share the benefits if you will just give them unfettered power to dictate policy sounds self-serving to say the least.  But I think it fair to say that most Americans, having seen all this talk of recovery while their paychecks stagnate, have decided to give the 1% at least the chance to set policy and see if they do, indeed shower benefits on the rest of us.  After all, what is there to lose?

*Could this also be part of the reason right-wing populism has not taken hold in Ireland.  Ireland had deeply pro-religious, sexually conservative policies for a long time, only to find that they had been used to cover widespread sexual abuse and exploitation.   

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