The vote for US president next Tuesday will pitch two of the most unpopular and reactionary candidates ever against each other. Whoever wins will be distrusted and disliked by a majority of the population.
A poll in September showed Republican Donald Trump was seen unfavourably by 64 percent of people. Almost half said he was a racist.
But Democrat Hillary Clinton was only just ahead of him. Her unfavourability rating was 60 percent.
A more extreme verdict came in a recent poll of young people. A quarter of 18-35 year olds said they would prefer a giant meteor destroying the Earth than seeing either Trump or Clinton in the White House.
The deep-seated bitterness against both the major parties and their candidates is rooted in inequality, racism, economic insecurity and a hatred of the political and business elites.
The “American dream” is long dead. Despite all the improvements in technology, and all the fabulous profits delivered for US corporations, average hourly wages are still lower in real terms than they were in 1973.
But the economic squeeze on working class people over decades is much worse than that. An extraordinary statistic produced in the last few weeks showed that the wealth of the typical household has fallen by 14 percent since 1984.
Meanwhile the richest in society are soaring away from the rest. The share of all income going to the top 1 percent increased from 10 percent in 1981 to 22 percent last year.
It is no surprise that this has produced utter scorn for the idea that US society and US democracy are the pinnacle of human achievement.
Amy Harrison, a socialist in Portland, Oregon, spoke to Socialist Worker. She said, “Lots of people look at the way the US is today and think it’s baloney when Clinton says it’s a great society or when Trump says he’ll make it great again.
“People shouldn’t vote for Trump, he stands for everything I hate. But it’s touch and go whether I’ll vote at all, and if I do I might vote for a candidate I know has no chance of winning.”
It’s not just living standards, poverty and insecurity that embitter people.
Police kill people, especially black people, on an almost daily basis—and they nearly always get away with it.
Because of the “war on drugs” and former president Bill Clinton’s Crime Bill, nearly 8 million people today have spent time behind bars at some point in their life.
This is up from 1.5 million 40 years ago. For African-Americans, the percentage of adults who are prisoners or former prisoners has grown from 3 percent in 1980 to over 10 percent in 2010.
A society in crisis has produced this lowlife presidential contest.
Donald Trump is a racist who glories in obscene wealth and boasts of sexual assaults on women. He’s a billionaire property speculator who claims to stand up for put-down ordinary people.
He’s a thug and patently out for himself. But if he loses, as is expected, he will still have won the support of some 50 million voters or more. His support reveals the frustration and hatred of the elites in society.
People who feel marginalised, never listened to, derided by the media and ignored by the politicians are looking for a chance to hit back. As elsewhere this mood can be dragged rightwards—and much of Trump’s support gels around a vicious racism. But it’s not just racism that drives his vote.
This is particularly so in areas where there has been widespread job losses in recent decades. Trump looks likely to win a majority of votes in parts of Appalachia where tens of thousands of jobs have gone in the mines and linked industries.
Most people know that Trump’s promises to bring back those jobs are hollow. But Clinton’s contempt for the miners, ex-miners and the places where they live means they certainly won’t back her.
Clinton is the very worst candidate to win over working class people from Trump.
American Empire is safer with Clinton
The revelations about Trump’s disgusting behaviour have been extremely helpful for Clinton. They have narrowed the debate to the fact that at least she isn’t Trump, and distracted from revelations about her own secrets.
A series of leaked emails shows how Clinton’s £200,000 a time speeches to finance houses and bankers were peppered with cynical references to how politics was “really done”.
But Clinton’s crimes are in plain sight. She wants to go further than Barack Obama did in bullying and terrorising the world through the use of US military power.
She would pour more firepower into Syria and thought Obama was sending too few troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Trump wants to ban Muslims from the US. Clinton disapproves of that but doesn’t mind killing them.
Robert Kagan is a leading neoconservative and founder of the notorious Project for a New American Century which played a big role in defining the ideology of “regime change” and pushing for the Iraq war.
He said, “For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.”
Dozens of retired military leaders have come out for Clinton. They see her as a reliable defender of US imperialism whereas they regard Trump as erratic and an unknown quantity.
Clinton spent the whole campaign against Sanders saying that free college tuition in public colleges was impossible, and how anything along the lines of the British NHS was impossible.
Clinton will be the puppet of Wall Street and big oil if she is president.
Of the £72 million donated by billionaires to the two main presidential candidates, almost £58 million has gone to Clinton.
There's no hope in the politics of voting for the 'lesser evil'
There is immense pressure on the US left to vote for Hillary Clinton. She may be awful, the argument goes, but Donald Trump is such a threat and so dangerously right wing that we must get behind Clinton who is the “lesser evil”.
Nobody would seriously claim that Trump and Clinton are exactly the same. But that’s not the end of the argument.
The Democrats are one of the parties of US capitalism—and different to the British Labour Party.
In 1964 the Republican candidate was Barry Goldwater, a racist Cold War warrior. The Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) had started the military build-up in Vietnam but had pledged not to escalate any further.
Large sections of the left and the peace movement argued to go “half the way with LBJ”. But almost as soon as he was in office, Johnson started the process of sending hundreds of troops to Vietnam.
As US socialist Hal Draper wrote a few years later, “So who was really the Lesser Evil in 1964? The point is that it is the question which is a disaster, not the answer. In setups where the choice is between one capitalist politician and another, the defeat comes in accepting the limitation to this choice.”
Draper added, “Every time the liberal labour left has made noises about its dissatisfaction with what Washington was trickling through, all the Democrats had to do was bring out the bogey of the Republican right.
“The lib-labs would then swoon, crying ‘The fascists are coming!’ and vote for the Lesser Evil.
“The Democrats have learned well that they have the lib-lab vote in their back pocket, and that therefore the forces to be appeased are those forces to the right. With the lib-lab votes in a pocket, politics in this country had to move steadily right-right-right.
“This is essentially why—even when there really is a Lesser Evil—making the Lesser Evil choice undercuts any possibility of really fighting the Right.”
These are the sort of reasons why many on the US left are voting for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.
Socialists can draw on the US’s great socialist, Eugene Debs. He said in 1904, “The Republican-Democratic party” was “the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles”.
He told workers, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”
In the longer term the US desperately needs a credible alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans.
The 13 million votes won by Bernie Sanders—when he ran to be the Democratic nominee calling himself a socialist—are one indication of the potential. It is a tragedy that Sanders betrayed his supporters and has meekly lined up to support Clinton.
But the key driver of a political alternative will be protest movements, strikes and campaigns.
There has not been an explosion of resistance in recent years, but there have been very important fights such as the drive for $15 an hour minimum wage, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the battles against oil pipelines and climate change.
When 40,000 telecom workers struck for more than six weeks at Verizon and won at least some of what they were demanding it was a significant moment. It showed workers could take on a ruthless corporation and force them back.
There have been other important strikes, and such resistance can feed into new political formations.
Figure it out
- During the four-year period from 2009 to 2012, 35 percent of the population had at least one spell of living below the poverty line lasting two or more months. The poverty line is £9,000 a year for an individual, £19,500 for a family of four
- Between 2000 and 2014, the maternal death rate in the US rose by 27 percent. The US is the only advanced country to record a rise in maternal deaths. Since 1987, the maternal mortality rate in the US has more than doubled
- In one year, 2015, the richest 0.1 percent of households saw their incomes rise by nearly 9 percent to an average of £5 million. The wealth of the 400 richest individuals in the US rose from £1,000 billion in 2009 to £2,000 billion in 2015
In their own words
‘They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super?predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.’
‘When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.’