Dr Tristan Ewins
This week I begin my blog post with a correction. In an earlier article I described Donald Trump as ‘a neo-liberal’. Based on corporate welfare policies – such as cutting corporate tax by more than half , as well as cutting other taxes affecting corporations – this may have appeared accurate. But upon closer inspection this election is more interesting than it first appears.
Yes, Trump wants to hold minimum wages down to the existing miserly rate of $7.25 an hour. Yet Democrats are campaigning for an increase to $15 an hour. For the American working poor this could prove to be a real watershed. Though Clinton has only absolutely committed to a rise to $12/hour she will be under significant moral and political pressure to go further. That could result in a defining moment for social justice in the workplace at ‘at the lower end’ in America. But the centre-piece of Trump’s economic policy is a reversion to protectionist policies. He has talked about a 25% tariff on Chinese goods and a 35% tariff on Mexican goods. Hence Trump's position is actually NOT 'business as usual for neo-liberalism'. But the immediate effect of this may well be to shore up some American jobs ; but there’s the prospect of economic retaliation as well. If that happens it could hurt everyone.
That said Clinton needed to do more and say more to win over great swathes of working class America.
US industrial working class music icon, Bruce Springsteen has called Trump a ‘conman’ with ‘glib’ and ‘superficial’ ‘answers’ to a problem which has spanned over several decades. Massive tariffs on China and Mexico are a very blunt instrument. Again, they may provoke retaliation which ends up hurting everyone. What jobs are created will possibly pale in comparison to the collapse in corporate tax revenue , with a loss of public sector jobs.
The US government needs a PLAN for a far more balanced and equitable labour market and economy. Clinton’s increase in the minimum wage is a good start ; as are her plans for accessible education and greater economic and social mobility. But depressed regions cannot just be left ‘to carry the can’. Durable jobs need to be created and maintained over the long term. And communities need to be reinforced around the necessary social infrastructure. Where the loss of well-paying working class jobs in manufacturing and heavy industry saw the loss of private sector benefits in areas like health – the State needs to step in and fill the gap. The social wage is potentially the answer for both middle income and lower income Americans. And the working class needs to return to ‘the front and centre’ of Democrats policy and rhetoric.
The real danger now is that Trump is gathering enough momentum to deny the Democrats control of BOTH Houses ; ie: the House of Representatives AND the US Senate. SOME of the truly progressive policies emanating from Hillary Clinton have been derived from Bernie Sanders ; and enshrined in the Democratic Platform. With control of both houses and massive political and moral pressure to implement that platform – we could see some truly meaningful gains under a Clinton Presidency. But failure to speak to the fears and insecurities of the US working class – including recognition of the dignity of labour – have undermined the Democrats position ; and left these people exposed to Trump’s demagogic posturing on the home front.
Even on parts of the Left some are also fearful that Clinton may prove to be too ‘Hawkish’ on the foreign policy front. Trump is seen by some as ‘the lesser evil’. Julian Assange will likely never forgive the US Administration’s pursuit of him under Obama. L.B.Johnson implemented ground-breaking ‘Great Society’ social and welfare policies – but will be remembered by most as pursuing the war in Vietnam. We need a United States which doesn’t just ‘roll over’ in the face of aggression. But which at the same time goes to extraordinary lengths to preserve peace as well. And which appreciates the concerns of other Great Powers where they are legitimate. Yet a vacuum from any US withdrawal within our own region could create more instability, not less. (though no I am not making excuses for past US policies, such as support for the Suharto regime)
The US Presidential Election is almost upon us. Let’s hope for a Clinton victory. But also for a reformed Democratic Party which speaks to – and shows clear respect for – the United States’ working class.