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HomeWorldA Class Analysis Of The Trump-Biden Rerun

A Class Analysis Of The Trump-Biden Rerun


By “class system” we mean the basic workplace
organizations—the human relationships or “social
relations”—that accomplish the production and
distribution of goods and services. Some examples include
the master/slave, communal village, and lord/serf
organizations. Another example, the distinctive capitalist
class system, entails the employer/employee organization. In
the United States and in much of the world, it is now the
dominant class system. Employers—a tiny minority of the
population—direct and control the enterprises and
employees that produce and distribute goods and services.
Employers buy the labor power of employees—the
population’s vast majority—and set it to work in their
enterprises. Each enterprise’s output belongs to its
employer who decides whether to sell it, sets the price, and
receives and distributes the resulting revenue.

In the
United States, the employee class is badly split
ideologically and politically. Most employees have probably
stayed connected—with declining enthusiasm or
commitment—to the Democratic Party. A sizable and growing
minority within the class has some hope in Trump. Many have
lost interest and participated less in electoral politics.
Perhaps the most splintered are various “progressive” or
“left” employees: some in the progressive wing of the
Democratic Party, some in various socialist, Green,
independent, and related small parties, and some even drawn
hesitatingly to Trump. Left-leaning employees were perhaps
more likely to join and activate social movements
(ecological, anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-war) rather
than electoral campaigns.

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The U.S. employee class
broadly feels victimized by the last half-century’s
neoliberal globalization. Waves of manufacturing (and also
service) job exports, coupled with waves of automation
(computers, robots, and now artificial intelligence), have
mostly brought that class bad news. Loss of jobs, income,
and job security, diminished future work prospects, and
reduced social standing are chief among them. In contrast,
the extraordinary profits that drove employers’ export and
technology decisions accrued to them. Resulting
redistributions of wealth and income likewise favored
employers. Employees increasingly watched and felt a
parallel social redistribution of political power and
cultural riches moving beyond their
reach.

Employees’ class feelings were well grounded
in U.S. history. The post-1945 development of U.S.
capitalism smashed the extraordinary employee class unity
that had been formed during the Great Depression of the
1930s. After the 1929 economic crash and the 1932 election,
a reform-minded “New Deal” coalition of labor union
leaders and strong socialist and communist parties gathered
supportively around the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration
that governed until 1945. That coalition won huge,
historically unprecedented gains for the employee class
including Social Security, unemployment compensation, the
first federal minimum wage, and a large public jobs program.
It built an immense following for the Democratic Party in
the employee class.

As World War II ended in 1945,
every other major capitalist economy (the UK, Germany,
Japan, France, and Russia) was badly damaged. In sharp
contrast, the war had strengthened U.S. capitalism. It
reconstructed global capitalism and centered it around U.S.
exports, capital investments, and the dollar as world
currency. A new, distinctly American empire emerged,
stressing informal imperialism, or “neo-colonialism,”
against the formal, older imperialisms of Europe and Japan.
The United States secured its new empire with an
unprecedented global military program and presence. Private
investment plus government spending on both the military and
popular public services marked a transition from the
Depression and war (with its rationing of consumer goods) to
a dramatically different relative prosperity from the later
1940s to the 1970s.

Cold War ideology clothed
post-1945 policies at home and abroad. Thus the
government’s mission globally was to spread democracy and
defeat godless socialism. That mission justified both
increasingly heavy military spending and McCarthyism’s
effective destruction of socialist, communist, and labor
organizations. The Cold War atmosphere facilitated undoing
and then reversing the Great Depression’s leftward surge
of U.S. politics. Purging the left within unions plus the
relentless demonization of left parties and social movements
as foreign-based communist projects split the New Deal
coalition. It separated left organizations from social
movements and both of them from the employee class as a
whole.

Despite many employees staying loyal to the
Democratic Party (even as they disconnected from the
persecuted left components of the New Deal), the Cold War
pushed all U.S. politics rightward. The Republican Party
cashed in by being aggressively pro-Cold War and raising
funds from employers determined to undo the New Deal. The
Democratic Party leadership reduced its former reliance on
weakening unions and the demoralized, deactivated remnants
of the New Deal coalition. Instead that leadership sought
funds from the same corporate rich that the Republicans
tapped. The predictable results included the failure of the
Democratic Party to reverse the rightward shift of U.S.
politics. The Dems likewise abandoned most efforts to build
on the achievements of the New Deal or move further toward
social democracy. They increasingly failed even to protect
what the New Deal had achieved. These developments deepened
the alienation of many workers from the Democratic Party or
political engagement altogether. A vicious downward cycle,
with occasional temporary upsurge moments, took over
“progressive” politics.

That vicious cycle
entrapped especially older, white males. Among employees,
they had gained the most from the 1945-1975 prosperity.
However, after the 1970s, employers’ profit-driven
automation and their decisions to relocate production abroad
seriously undermined their employees’ jobs and incomes,
especially in manufacturing. This part of the employee class
eventually turned against “the system”—against the
prevailing economic tide. They mourned a disappearing
prosperity. At first, they turned right politically. The
Cold War had isolated and undermined the left-wing
institutions and culture that might otherwise have attracted
anti-system employees. Left-leaning mobilizations against
the system
as a whole were rare (unlike more
single-issue mobilizations around issues like gender, race,
and ecology). Neither unions nor other organizations had the
social support needed to organize them. Or they simply
feared to try. Even more recently the rising labor and union
militancy has so far only secondarily and marginally raised
themes of systematic anti-capitalism.

Republican
politicians and media personalities seized the opportunity
to transform the disappearing post-1970s prosperity into an
idealized American past. They carefully avoided blaming that
disappearance on profit-driven capitalism. They blamed
Democrats and “liberals” whose social welfare programs
cost too much. Excessive taxes were wasted, they insisted,
on ineffective social programs for “others” (the
non-white and non-male). If only those others worked as hard
and as productively as white males did, Republicans
repeated, they would have enjoyed the same prosperity
instead of seeking a “free ride from the government.”
Portions of the employee class persuaded by such reasoning
switched from Democrat to Republican and then often
responded to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” (MAGA)
mantra. Their switch stimulated Republican politicians to
imagine a possible new mass base much broader than their
existing mix of religious fundamentalists, gun lovers, and
white supremacists. Leading Republicans glimpsed political
possibilities unavailable since the Great Depression of the
1930s had turned U.S. politics leftward toward social
democracy.

Emerging from within or around the
Republican Party, the new 21st-century far Right revived
classic U.S. isolationist patriotism around America First
slogans. They combined that with a loosely libertarian
blaming of all social ills on the inherent evil of
government. By carefully directing neither criticism nor
blame toward the capitalist economic system, Republicans
secured the usual support (financial, political,
journalistic) from the employer class. That included
employers who had never prospered much from the neoliberal
globalization turn, those who saw bigger, better
opportunities from an economic nationalist/protectionist
turn, and all those long focused on the employer-driven
project of undoing the New Deal politically, culturally, and
economically. These various elements increasingly gathered
around Trump.

They opposed immigration, often via
hysterical statements and mobilizations against
“invasions” fantasized as threatening America. They
defined government spending on immigrants (using native and
“hard-working” Americans’ taxes) as wasted on
unmeritorious “others.” Trump championed their views and
reinforced parallel scapegoating of Black and Brown citizens
and women as unworthy beneficiaries of government supports
exchanged for their voting Democratic. Some Republicans
increasingly embraced conspiracy theories (QAnon and others)
to explain diverse plots aimed at dethroning white
Christianity from dominating American society. MAGA and
America First are slogans that articulate resentment,
bitterness, and protest at perceived victimization.
Repurposing Cold War imagery, Trumpers synonymously targeted
liberals, Democrats, Marxists, socialists, labor unions, and
others seen as close allies plotting to “replace” white
Christians. Trump referred to them publicly as “vermin”
that he would defeat/destroy once he became President
again.

The larger part of the U.S. employee class has
not (yet) been won over by the Republicans. It has stayed,
so far, with the Democrats. Yet aggravated social
divisiveness has settled everywhere into U.S. culture and
politics. It frightens many who stay within the Democratic
Party, seeing it as the lesser evil despite its
“centrist” leaders and their corporate donors. The
latter include especially the financial and hi-tech
megacorporations that profitably led the post-1975
neoliberal globalization period. The centrist leadership
studiously avoided offending its corporate patrons while
using a modified Keynesian fiscal policy to achieve two
objectives. The first was support for government programs
that helped solidify an electoral base increasingly among
women, and Black and brown citizens. The second was support
for aggressively projecting U.S. military and political
power around the world.

The U.S. empire protected by
that policy proved especially profitable for the financial
and hi-tech circles of the United States’ biggest
businesses. At the same time, another part of the U.S.
employee class also began to turn against the system, but it
found the new Right unacceptable and “centrism” only
slightly less so. The Democratic party has so far retained
most of these people although many have increasingly moved
toward “progressive” champions such as Bernie Sanders,
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and Cori Bush. Cornel West and Jill
Stein carry similar banners into this year’s election but
they insist on doing that from outside the Democratic
Party.

Hostility has intensified between the two major
parties as their opposition has become more extreme. This
keeps happening because neither found nor implemented any
solutions to the deepening problems besetting the United
States. Ever more extreme wealth and income inequalities
undermine what remains of a sense of community binding
Americans. Politics ever more controlled by the employer
class and especially the super-rich produce widespread
debilitating anger, resignation, and rage. The relatively
shrinking power of the United States abroad drives home a
sense of impending doom. The rise of the first real economic
superpower competitor (China) raises the specter of the U.S.
global unipolar moment being replaced, and soon.

Each
major party blames the other for everything going wrong.
Both also respond to the declining empire by moving
rightward toward alternative versions of economic
nationalism—“America First”—in place of the
cheerleading for neoliberal globalization that both parties
indulged in before. Republicans carefully refuse to blame
capitalism or capitalists for anything. Instead, they blame
bad government, the Democrats, the liberals, and China.
Democrats likewise carefully refuse to blame capitalism or
capitalists for anything (except the “progressives,” who
do that moderately). Democrats mostly blame Republicans who
have “gone crazy” and “threaten democracy.” They
erect new versions of their old demons. Russia and Putin
stand in for the USSR and Stalin as chief awful foreigners
with Chinese “communists” a close second. Trying to hold
on to the political middle, the Democrats denounce
Republicans and especially the Trump/MAGA people for
challenging the last 70 years of political consensus. In
that Democratic Party version of the “good old days,”
reasonable Republicans and Democrats then alternated in
power dutifully. The result was that the U.S. empire and
U.S. capitalism prospered first by helping to end the
exhausted European empires and then by profiting from the
United States’ unipolar global hegemony.

Biden’s
plans pretend the U.S. empire is not in decline. In 2024, he
offers more of the old establishment politics. Trump
basically pretends the same about the U.S. empire but
carefully selects problem areas (e.g., immigration, Chinese
competition, and Ukraine) that he can represent as failures
of Democratic leadership. Nothing fundamental is amiss with
the U.S. empire and its prospects in his eyes. All that is
necessary is to reject Biden and his politics as incapable
of reviving it. Trump’s plans thus call for a much more
extreme economic nationalism run by a leaner, meaner
government.

Each side deepens the split between
Republicans and Democrats. Neither dares admit the basic,
long-term declining empire and the key problems (income and
wealth inequality, politics corrupted by that inequality,
worsening business cycles, and mammoth debts) accumulated by
its capitalist foundation. The parties’ jousting turns on
substitute issues that offer temporary electoral advantages.
It also reinforces the public’s incapacity for systemic
critique and change. Both parties endlessly appeal to a
population whose alienation deepens as relentless systemic
decline worms its way into everyone’s daily life and
troubles. Both parties increasingly expose their growing
irrelevance.

Neither party’s campaign offers
solutions to systemic decline. Gross miscalculations of a
changed world economy and shrinking U.S. political power
abroad underlay both parties’ failed policies in relation
to Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, and Gaza. The turn toward
economic nationalism and protectionism will not stop the
decline. Something bigger and deeper than either Party dares
consider is underway. Capitalism has moved its dynamic
centers yet again over the last generation. This time the
move went from western Europe, North America, and Japan to
China, India, and beyond, from the G7 to BRICS. Wealth and
power are correspondingly shifting.

The places
capitalism leaves behind descend into mass depression,
overdose deaths, and sharpening social divisions. These
social crises keep worsening alongside deepening
inequalities of wealth, income, and education. Steadily if
also maddeningly slowly, the rightward shift of U.S.
politics after 1945 has finally arrived at social exhaustion
and ineffectuality. Perhaps thereby the United States
prepares another possible New Deal with or without another
1929-style crash.

Hopefully, then, one crucial lesson
of the New Deal will have been learned and applied. Leaving
the capitalist class structure of production unchanged—a
minority of employers dominating a majority of
employees—enables that minority to undo whatever reforms
any New Deal might achieve. That is what the U.S. employer
class did after 1945. The solution now must include moving
beyond the employer-employee organization of the workplace.
Replacing that with a democratic community
organization—what we elsewhere call worker
cooperatives—is the missing element that can make
progressive reforms stick. When employees and employers are
the same people, no longer will a separate employer class
have the incentive and resources to undo what the employee
majority wants. Replacing employer/employee-organized
workplaces with worker coops is the very different “great
replacement” we need. On the basis of reforms secured in
that way, we can build a future. We can avoid repeating the
last half-century’s failure even to preserve the reforms
imposed on a capitalism that crashed and burned in the
1930s.

 

By Richard D.
Wolff

Author Bio: Richard D. Wolff is
professor of economics emeritus at the University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the
Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School
University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic
Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and
goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His
three recent books with
Democracy at Work
are The Sickness Is the System:
When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or
Itself
, Understanding Socialism, and
Understanding Marxism, the latter of which is now
available in a newly released 2021 hardcover edition with a
new introduction by the author.

This article was
produced by
Economy
for All
, a project of the Independent Media
Institute.

© Scoop Media

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