Two or three days before the American election, Julian Assange said, revealing his slight tendency towards conspiracy theories, that Donald Trump would “not be permitted” to win, because he was confronted by the combined elite establishment of American life --- governmental, economic, military, cultural, industrial, communications, you name it --- which would not allow itself to be gainsaid by any nouveau riche arriviste…..(this last phrase is mine, not his).
So much for that.
The election result interested me for another reason. As soon as the first results came in, showing Trump with enormous leads in the first few polling places counted, I commented to my son, watching with me, that it looked like Trump might win, because I had seen this kind of thing before.
It reminded me vividly of an earlier election I had covered, the British election of 1970 (which, I realize with a shock, is now improbably almost half a century away!) in which Harold Wilson’s governing Labour Party was widely expected to hold power. In fact, Wilson had apparently so outclassed Tory leader Ted Heath in the campaign that I remember as I was leaving one of the daily press conferences at which we had as usual mercilessly grilled Heath, that a British journalist friend remarked to me, “It’s like blood sports, isn’t it?” Heath was an earnest, plodding type, apparently devoid of humour or any common touch, whereas Wilson, whatever other faults he might have had, was a speaker of sparkling wit who seemed to be having the time of his life in pillorying his opponent, day after day. I had so few doubts that Wilson was striding to a convincing victory that I wrote a piece saying how he was bestriding the election like a colossus.
More fool I. For from the moment the first poll results trickled in from the south of England, they showed Heath’s Tories with such comfortable leads, that that same British journalist later said, “I knew from those first results that the Tories had it in the bag.” And so they did, throwing Wilson’s government out by a fairly convincing margin.
Something must have happened in the last week of campaigning that awakened the electorate’s doubts about the government’s unconvincing struggle to pretend that Britain was still a great power, while desperately trying to take measures that would cut their country’s coat to suit its cloth.
That was a blow: but then almost every election I have ever followed has been a blow to me, for I have never yet voted for Tories or Liberals, have only reluctantly voted for Labour, and have occasionally, in moments of despair, voted Communist, just to establish that there is a left-wing vote out there, however isolated it may seem to be. That’s quite a record: in 22 national elections I have experienced in three countries, only once have I ever voted for the winning side.
My view of electoral politics was probably solidified with my first experience, in 1949, at the age of 21, when the governing Labour party was defeated after 14 years of what I can now see was good government. They were beaten because the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, a self-educated Scottish-born working man, who, when first elected to Parliament in 1918 during the First World War was actually serving a sentence in prison for opposing conscription, had 30 years later, after returning from an Imperial War conference in London, declared that the country needed conscription so as to play its full part in the anti-Soviet hysteria of the time. In my youthful enthusiasm Fraser in his act of apostasy seemed like the classic victim of what on the left we used to call “the embrace of the duchesses.” I had stuffed post boxes in an effort to rouse the population to reject the conscription referendum (unsuccessful), and I was so disgusted to see one of our leaders stump the country alongside the hated Tory that I decided to leave the country almost immediately after the election. The so-called National party was in power for even longer, I believe, than the previous Labour government had been. I did not return until 25 years later, by which time Labour was enjoying one of its few, short, resumptions of power. The right-wing leader of that time,Robert Muldoon, was spouting terrible right-wing garbage, but every speech seemed to convince more and more voters, so that he was elected almost as if to celebrate my return. I didn’t stay long, but returned to Canada within 18 months or so, where, I have to say, I haven’t had any more luck in getting a leftist government elected than I had anywhere else.
All this is just a rambling personal reflection on the surprising US result. Watching the election roll itself out, one could not help but get the feeling that Donald Trump had no real interest in doing the job of President. He had an interest in getting the job, of course, but murmured a couple of times that he would hand over to others the job of dealing with “domestic and foreign affairs.”
Personally, my real fears during the election were for a Clinton presidency, fears which arose from the vehemence Hillary showed when denouncing Putin, Russia and their supposedly aggressive intention to go to war in Europe, and to do as much mischief as they could in the Middle East. Wow! That seemed such a classic case of turning the world on its head as to be almost unbelievable, for who, pray, has done all this mischief that has set every country in the Middle East on fire? Certainly not Russia, yet Ms. Clinton, so widely praised by her followers for her expertise in foreign affairs, seemed to be espousing policies that took us back to Cold War rhetoric that promised immense dangers if she got a chance to put her policies into practice.
I remember remarking to a doubtful bystander during Bernie Sanders’ run for the Democratic nomination that the future of civilization seemed to be riding on this one sane contender for the big job. A gross exaggeration, of course, but not so far from the mark, when one considers that the nomination was literally stolen from him by the machinations of the Democratic National Committee, an organization that has been supping at the table of corporate money for many years.
More than ever today, it seems that the United States missed its one chance of going forward immediately into a better future: for there can be no doubt that at almost every level it is now a highly dysfunctional society, trapped in the web of an unregulated capitalism, a society that badly needs to revert to the days when some concern for each other could be shown by government policies. Such policies, as Michael Moore’s recent film so brilliantly shows, have been largely accepted in other advanced societies, whereas in the United States since the oligarchs took control, the populace appears to have been brainwashed into regarding them as works of the devil.
So, one’s prognostications for the future cannot be optimistic. The only virtue I can see from a Trump presidency could be that things will get immesurably worse, which could be what is needed if they are ever to find the backbone to set them on a more humane path.
We can only hope that the immense loss of human rights in the surveillance state that is being developed will not decline into pure fascism before the immense number of (immensely dejected) younger people who had hoped to emerge from this election with the prospect of better things ahead, will have somehow got themselves together so that they can take power back from the oligarchs.
But that ain’t gonna be easy, no sir….