In a book written exactly 20 years ago, Richard Rorty described the fractures that split American society even then and their political consequences, with the precision of the philosopher and the confidence of a prophet.
“Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported,” he wrote in Achieving Our Country. “Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.
“At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. … For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen.”
At 12 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, Donald Trump arrived. He was elected by a minority of the country, based on his impossible promises, truculent threats and obvious falsehoods. The American workers, victims of 40 years of wage stagnation, have decided that nothing could be worse than the fate brought by Clinton, Bush and Obama, and they decided to try their luck with the outsider. With the real estate speculator who promises to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and to build a wall on the Mexican border. At the same time, he promised to cut taxes for millionaires and leave 18 million people without health care, of course.
Now no one can say what will happen, especially with a shady and unpredictable character like Trump. But now, the new president is backed with a majority of his own party in Congress, something that only occurred for eight out of the last 35 years and has contributed greatly to the feeling of a “failed political system.”
Republicans have all the power in their hands now, and they intend to keep it at all costs. They’re ready to confirm a cabinet of millionaires and appointed one of them as a judge to the Supreme Court, where there had been a vacancy for the past year.
They can also look with confidence at the 2018 mid-term elections. The lower chamber can continue to manipulate the constituency borders to guarantee themselves a majority despite taking substantially fewer votes than the Democrats. In the Senate, it so happens that in 2018 at least five Democratic senators, from states where Trump has swept, will expire. It is therefore likely that the narrow majority Republicans enjoy today (52 seats against 48) will spread further in two years.
Of course, the opposite could happen: a weak Trump presidency, under the shadow the numerous scandals related to conflicts of interest, his relations with Putin, and the ethical violations by his collaborators and Republican legislators. This administration cannot be saved by tweeting, weakened by the fierce hostility of Washington apparatuses, which do not forgive Trump his insults during the election campaign, nor his indifference toward their traditional Cold War geopolitical priorities.
It can happen, but there’s not much hope for it. To combat a Bonapartist president, the opposition must be strong, a party and a leader who can lead the majority of Americans who did not want Trump as their president. And that’s what’s missing: The Democratic Party has never looked so spineless before. It has no ideas, no charisma. The sallow and lined faces of the Clintons on Friday represent their party well.
The elegant Obama will not reopen dialogue with manual labor workers, since during the eight years of his presidency he did nothing to improve their condition, except for the implementation of a health care reform originally conceived by Republicans in Massachusetts and tested by his 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney. This reform is based on the idea of subsidizing the purchase of private health insurance. All Republicans need to do is eliminate these subsidies, as Congress has already started to do, to make the collapse of the entire structure inevitable in a matter of weeks.
The Democrats had won the lottery by finding a candidate like Obama in 2008 and had a second chance with Bernie Sanders in 2016. They wasted both. The price to pay will be very steep, particularly for those who had believed in them: young people, minorities, immigrants. Expect the worst.
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