Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).
Something very strange is happening in US politics. By making full use of his many histrionic talents, Donald Trump keeps driving the Democrats further and further towards the left-hand side of the ideological spectrum. While in Europe and elsewhere leftist parties are getting wiped out in places they once dominated, in the US, the people who currently call the shots in their transatlantic counterpart are staging a gleeful onslaught against the established order and are advocating policies of the kind that strongly appeal to student radicals but have traditionally been rejected by the wider population.
Ever since he began his rise to high office, Trump has sought to knock his opponents off balance and make them behave in a manner that would cost them support. As he well knows, what soon got dubbed “the Trump derangement syndrome” has let him play the role of a circus ringmaster; whenever he cracks his whip, the entire world starts dancing. By behaving the way he does, he goads his many foes into assuming bellicose postures, hence the leftward lurch of a party that, from a European perspective, used to be stodgily conservative on almost all issues.
This is why Trump continues to go on about the need to build his famous wall. He may lose some battles in the Lower House which the Democrats control, but he evidently thinks he will win the war because most North Americans remain unconvinced that they, or their country, would be better off were border controls to be abolished as some of the more enthusiastic Democrats would like. Most may want the laws to be made more flexible and feel sympathy for those who arrived when they were children, but are unable to see the advantages of admitting unchecked large numbers of semi-literates liable to end up on welfare, let alone the gang-members or Jihadists who would be sure to accompany them.
Like Labour in the United Kingdom, the Democratic Party has become the target of a take-over bid mounted by a heterogeneous coalition of anti-capitalists, feminists, supporters of allegedly downtrodden ethnic minorities and Islamist militants whose loathing for “Zionism” is hard to distinguish from feverish antiSemitism. On a roll, some such rebels against the established order seem to think they have the party in the bag and the White House is there for the taking.
The Starbucks billionaire, Howard Schulz, disagrees: convinced that Donald Trump would thrash any far-out candidate, or that if he failed to do so, the winner would then go on to wreck the US economy and while about it, set off an explosion of violence, Schulz says he will enter the lists, a decision that has greatly alarmed his fellow-Democrats who fear that by splitting the progressive vote, he could hand the hated incumbent an easy victory.
For months, would-be Democrat presidential candidates, of whom there are many, have been doing their best to outbid one another in an effort to show they are more radical than any of their rivals. Back in 2015, Bernie Sanders was regarded as too much of a socialist to have any chance of winning in a country that has always been averse to anything smacking of that particular creed, which was one reason why Hillary Clinton found it easy to get the party bosses to thwart him, but by today’s standards, old Bernie was a moderate. As for Barack Obama, activists will remember him fondly as a grizzled old patriarch whose quaint ideas seemed advanced in the dark ages from which, thanks to them, the US is now emerging.
One Democrat front-runner, Senator Kamala Harris, who is said to be “black” though, on television at any rate, she is no more so than most Europeans or Latin Americans, wants to phase out all unrenewable energy sources within 10 years, an idea she picked up from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the scatterbrained young congresswoman who is happy to admit that she is no expert on the issues she talks about. Her frankness in this respect has not harmed her; many see in the chirpy 29-year-old the future leader of US progressivism.
Along with AOC (Alexandria has already reached acronymic status), Senator Harris, the very slightly Cherokee senator Elizabeth Warren and others, the contenders for the Democrat nomination want to increase government spending mightily, wipe out student debt, which now totals about US$1.5 trillion, because like Bernie they believe college tuition ought to be free and demand Medicare for all. Most are keen abortionists, with some being in favour of allowing abortions so late in the day – just moments before giving birth – that they would amount to infanticide. Many also clamour for open borders so everyone who wants to can get a bit of the “American dream.”
In his State of the Union address, Trump defiantly told the assembled legislators that “America will never be a socialist country,” a pronouncement that echoed the words of Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro when talking about his country’s future. However, by riling his opponents so much that many adopt postures that, before he arrived on the scene, would have struck most voters as outlandish, Trump is playing a dangerous game. Psephologists agree he has a good chance of getting re-elected, but if he loses he could be replaced by a man or woman committed not only to a series of drastic social reforms but also to spending far more money than even the US economy is capable of generating.
There can be little doubt that going “green” almost overnight in order to fight climate change would have a devastating impact on manufacturing, which would be bad news for tens of millions of working-class people of many ethnic origins who are getting left behind by the technological revolution. Even more harmful would be the boost given to “identity politics” by politicians who are exploiting the many existing grievances for all they are worth. Waging war against “whitey” and his disgraceful proclivities may play well in inner city districts and in prosperous places where allegedly progressive thoughts are in fashion, but it would not help overcome the divisions that, pessimists warn, are Balkanising US society.