By MARK UGOLINI
Events surrounding the Nov. 8 presidential election confirm the depth of the crisis that U.S. capitalist rulers find themselves in. We’ve seen growing turmoil and major divisions between and within both major parties. The two-party system, for years a stable bulwark of U.S. capitalism, has been exhibiting signs of distress. The transition of power from one party to another is not as seamless and predictable as in the past.
Since the 2008-9 world financial recession, the world economy has remained in stagnation. Among major factors underlying this crisis is a generalized decline over many years in overall corporate profits and in the rate of profit. This stagnation feeds the austerity campaigns of governments worldwide, taking a massive toll on workers and the most oppressed.
The United States has seen an ever-escalating capitalist offensive against working people. Attacks are aimed at overturning gains won in past struggles of workers and oppressed: real wages have failed to grow despite productivity growth of nearly 22 percent since the late 1970s, and severe unemployment persists. It was reported this month that 95 million U.S. workers have dropped out from the workforce, a historic high. These workers are not accounted for in the monthly government-reported unemployment rate.
This is combined with speed-up and unsafe conditions on the job, longer working hours, rapidly vanishing pensions, rapidly escalating health-care costs, heightened racist violence, and attacks on rights won in years past by minorities and women. A byproduct of this generalized offensive has been an accelerated erosion of the social safety net—government programs designed to help the unemployed and the poor.
Fundamental agreement remains between the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties to advance forward this assault on working people, but tactical differences are deepening on exactly what path to follow, and how quickly and aggressively to proceed.
We can fully expect that the anti-working class offensive, including racist violence and the anti-immigrant harassment and deportations of the Obama administration, will continue and most likely accelerate during the Trump administration.
Trump’s initial steps during the transition, including his selections for important government posts, can provide some indication of his priorities but fail to reveal a definite direction. However, hints of where the new Donald Trump administration may be headed are already emerging in some areas. Here are three areas that deserve attention:
Regulations and taxes
Among Trump’s first appointments was the selection of Wilbur Ross for Commerce Secretary and Steven Mnuchin for Secretary of the Treasury. The selection of Wall Street traders and hedge-fund billionaires to two key economic positions should be no surprise, despite Trump’s populist-sounding campaign rhetoric.
Speaking in West Palm Beach, Fla., in October, Donald Trump declared that it is the “global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations.” Trump spent millions on media ads promoting that sentiment, which is felt widely among U.S. workers.
In a series of tweets on Dec. 4, Trump continued the populist rhetoric of his election campaign, reiterating his pledges to tear up international trade agreements, declare war on companies that off-shore their workforce, and add stiff tariffs to goods from countries like China and Mexico if they are perceived as taking U.S. jobs. The Washington Post commented on Dec. 5 that “these comments set up a clash with Republicans who have long argued in favor of free trade and against excessive intrusion by government into the affairs of business.”
The Post pointed out, however, that although Trump’s stated policies “put American companies in an extraordinarily difficult position,” corporate lobbying groups have remained nearly silent for now.
We can expect that in the end, like Obama, the Trump administration will pursue policies that maximize corporate profits and curry favor from corporate CEOs, bankers, Wall Street investors, and hedge-fund managers. Working people will pay, one way or the other.
Trump’s cabinet appointments make this all too clear. The Nov. 30 New York Times reports that these appointments are “the most powerful signal yet that Mr. Trump plans to emphasize policies friendly to Wall Street, like tax cuts and a relaxation of regulation, in the early days of his administration. … That approach has been cheered by investors (the stocks of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley have been on a tear since the election).”
The measures that Mnuchin and Ross have said will be on the table under their administration include significant tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. This, they promise, will “create more jobs,” a reprise of the “trickle-down” theory of the Reagan years. A recent study by the Tax Policy Center found that under the tax policies advocated by Trump, the country’s richest 1 percent would receive a 13.5% tax reduction, while the “middle class” as a whole would receive only a 2% reduction and some would get a tax increase.
Infrastructure projects and job creation
In the last week of the campaign, Trump’s promotion of a massive, job-creating infrastructure improvement program helped attract the “rust-belt” working-class voters he needed to put him over the top in the Electoral College. Trump pledged $1 trillion to a national program of infrastructure construction and repairs. Since the election, Bernie Sanders and other Democratic Party leaders offered to work with Trump on this effort.
Recently, more has been revealed on what Trump supporters in Congress and Wall Street are envisioning. The Nov. 29 New York Times reported that Trump’s infrastructure plan was key to Wall Street exuberance following the Trump victory: “Stock traders celebrating Donald Trump’s election have been bidding up equity prices on a risky bet. … The hope, reflected in financial firms’ postelection tip sheets for investors, is for a robust program of tax cuts and new spending, especially for infrastructure projects.”
The Times said that while a growing section of Wall Street and economists have changed their view and now believe greater government spending is needed to stimulate the economy, Trump’s Republican followers in Congress had something different in mind, envisioning a plan laden with massive corporate tax breaks but short on government stimulus spending.
A noted Goldman Sacks economist “suggested to clients that ‘a modest infrastructure package’ is more likely. But even that probably would not come as soon [as] 2017.” If an infrastructure program is developed, it will most certainly be temporary in nature, and unable to reach a scale necessary to address the pressing need.
Only a massive and sustained public works program can address society’s most urgent needs: repairing and constructing housing, roads, and bridges; adding, modernizing, and refurbishing schools and public transportation systems; preserving farmland and forests; and initiating a crash program to upgrade the power grid and transition toward 100 percent renewable energy sources.
Health care and Medicare
Trump appointed Republican Congressman Tom Price as Health and Human Services Director, responsible for implementing changes in health care. Price is notorious as an adversary of women’s reproductive rights, having cosponsored legislation in the House to assign “personhood” to a fetus.
Price is also a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). He wants to replace it with one that also bolsters the insurance industry, and the rest of the bourgeoning multi-billion-dollar health-care industry. The Republican goal is a plan that provides significantly fewer obstacles to profit generation than Obamacare.
Price’s vision is contained in what the Nov. 30 New York Times calls a “detailed and comprehensive” plan, entitled the Empowering Patients First Act of 2015, which is still under discussion in Congress.
This is an insurance-based plan without Obama-care’s markets and with severely reduced federal subsidies. Instead, it would provide “age-adjusted tax credits” for the purchase of individual and family health-insurance policies and would promote “health savings accounts” through Wall Street investment houses. The objective would be to “encourage” individuals and families to bear the full brunt of insurance cost, while at the same time raking in hundreds of millions in new profits via account fees and service charges for the investments houses.
The Republican plan, like ACA, centers on generating profits for doctors, hospitals, and insurance and pharmaceutical companies. But it would more drastically slash regulations that stand in the way and greatly curtail subsidies for the poor. The Times says that the bill “would, among other things, roll back the federally financed expansion of Medicaid in 31 states and the District of Columbia, taking coverage away from 14 million poor people.”
While Trump promises not to touch Medicare, making fundamental changes to this program enjoys significant bipartisan support in Congress. The Times reports: “A plan backed by Mr. Price and the House speaker, Paul Ryan, would turn Medicare … into a program in which people would buy private insurance through what is known as premium support. The idea is to turn Medicare into a voucher program, designed to limit federal spending while forcing seniors to bear more of the cost.”
While we must vigorously oppose any steps toward rollback of Medicare and Medicaid, and elimination of insurance subsides and other positive features of ACA like coverage for pre-exiting conditions, the solutions offered by the capitalist parties don’t come close to addressing the urgent need for accessible and comprehensive health-care services.
Despite the fact that earlier this year a Gallup poll revealed that 58 percent of Americans support replacing the ACA with a federally funded health-care system, the two capitalist parties continue to pursue only plans that promote profits for the powerful big-business interests.
The only truly effective solution is one that takes insurance companies and profits out of the picture entirely. Neither has anything to do with providing quality health care. We need a single-payer system as a step toward a universal, government-funded national program in which health care is provided to all as a basic right.
The Trump victory and the road ahead
Once the dust settled after Trump’s victory, the “Never Trump” Republicans began to recognize the changed reality and rally around their newly anointed president-elect. The Democrats were slower, some in deep shock; but the “first family” took the lead, with the president demonstrating unity in a friendly advice-sharing meeting with Donald Trump, and with a separate exchange of pleasantries between Michelle Obama and Milania Trump.
Obama pleaded with his reluctant followers to recognize the essential truth of the two-party system: “We’re actually all on one team.” The Wall Street backers of Hillary—bankers, traders, speculators, and hedge-fund market manipulators—were all quick to recognize that nothing truly important had been lost, as the stock market rose to record-level highs.
Despite the virulent expressions of racism and sexism displayed by Trump during the campaign—which gave a swift boost to the ultra-right fringe—and the steady stream of insults, rants, and repulsive behavior, millions responded to his populist-sounding message. These voters viewed Trump as an agent of change—someone capable of shaking things up, who in a distorted way embodied their distrust and hatred of a political system and a news media that ridicules, belittles, and ignores them.
Trump made significant inroads among the working class and the rural poor. The Clinton team had largely abdicated the field of battle for these votes.
It was the brutal reality that working people experienced during eight painful Obama years that resulted in the lack of interest and participation in the election by millions. They remembered Obama’s first major act as president in 2008, quickly heeding the pleas of the ruling rich that a massive “bailout” of the banks and hedge funds to the tune of well over $7 trillion was so urgently needed that the economy would be hurled into oblivion without it. Remaining in their memory also was the reality of their rapidly vanishing jobs, unions, and pensions.
Despite Obama’s relative popularity among Blacks, and high turnout in past elections, sizable numbers of working-class and poor Blacks, whose conditions worsened over the last eight years, chose to stay away from the polls on Election Day. They also remembered how Hillary Clinton had labeled Black inner-city youth “superpredators” and the Clintons’ role in mass incarceration, promotion of “crime bills,” and the war against Black women and children in the long-fought campaign to “end welfare as we know it.”
All this heightened a sense of alienation and fed Trump’s argument that to Hillary and the Democrats, working people, Blacks, and other minorities are merely heads to be counted every few years when elections come rolling around.
As it turned out, only 44 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls. More Blacks and Latinos voted for Trump than voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.
While truly deplorable racism expressed itself among white working-class voters in this election, it has not just now appeared on the scene. It was bred, fostered, and taught for years by Democratic Party politicians (some with long histories of close association with the KKK).
Trump won a hearing from white workers on the racist, anti-immigrant message of “saving American jobs” at the expense of the jobs of immigrant workers. This jingoist “America first” nationalist ideology is fully integrated in the propaganda of the reactionary labor union bureaucracy, which they have taught in union meetings and union leadership “training” seminars for years.
Most of the labor fakers responsible for promoting this racist message call themselves progressive Democrats. This ideology is reactionary to the core, as it pits U.S. workers against Mexican workers and those of other countries, and is now fully integrated as a core principal within the Democratic Party.
Essentially, the rise of Trump and his electoral victory is a result of a vacuum in political leadership within the U.S. working class and the oppressed. Despite the modest efforts of our Socialist Action presidential campaign and the campaigns of other small socialist parties, U.S. workers never had a horse in the race.
A mass political party of labor, organized through its unions and fully independent of capitalist parties, could have filled this void and presented a political program advancing the demands of the working class, opposing all forms of racism and sexism while championing the struggles and issues of all those oppressed under capitalism.
This is a fighting program, rejecting collaboration with our oppressors, and relying solely on our capacity to organize independently in mass struggle to defend our interests.