Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Arnold Bertram | Is the American dream becoming a nightmare? (Part 3)

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM

The 2016 US presidential election campaign has left the American people more deeply divided than at any time since they fought a civil war in which three million took up arms, more than 600,000 lost their lives, and thousands more were disabled.

For millions of Americans, their hope of living the American dream faded with the imminent occupation of the White House by a president who, during the campaign, demeaned women, displayed a penchant for lying, had a record of dubious business ethics, demonised immigrants, and incited racial violence. There is widespread concern that the president-elect's domestic-policy promises increased internal strife, while his foreign-policy stance will lead to the erosion of American prestige and leadership in the international community.

The fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million, while a combined margin of a mere 107,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania was what put Trump over the top in the Electoral College, has raised questions about the legitimacy of a Trump presidency. Widespread speculation of IT fraud, along with foreign interference, has confirmed a growing number of Americans in the view that the recount that has begun in Wisconsin should extend nationwide.

The spontaneous protests that greeted Trump's election are a clear indication of the number of Americans who will put their lives on the line in defence of their democratic values. An inevitable violent confrontation looms between them and Trump's supporters, who are convinced that their president-elect represents the change they so deeply yearn for, and that as president, he will deliver on his campaign promises to restore the jobs that have been exported overseas and to deport immigrants. White supremacists are already on the move, and the stage seems set for both a winter and summer of discontent.

So far, Trump's cleverness has been enough to keep the opposition at bay, while he consolidates his political base. His cosmetic concessions in the post-election period have promoted Hillary Clinton from "crooked Hillary" to a "worthy campaigner"; and Barack Obama who, on the campaign trail, was the "most ignorant president in history", is now "a good man" for whom he has "great respect" and someone whose "counsel he would seek". Meanwhile, the white supremacists who form Trump's "shock troops" remain confident that his presidency will give them the licence they seek to unleash a reign of terror on immigrant communities of blacks and Latinos.

However, perhaps the most empty of Trump's election promises is the one to restore manufacturing jobs to the white American working class. Many have been taken in by his announcement of a deal with Carrier's Indianapolis factory for the company to keep approximately 1,000 jobs in the state even before he takes office. However, as is becoming evident, even this announcement is already coming up against the global economic reality that it was in order to cut costs and remain globally competitive that American companies moved their manufacturing overseas. As Carrier's parent company, United Technologies has since stated, even the 1,000 jobs may be substantially reduced by automation. "Political symbolism aside, saving 1,000 Carrier jobs doesn't loom so large in an economy that's created an average of 181,000 jobs a month this year." (Jared Bernstein) Even more threatening to the US economy is Trump's announcement of trade sanctions, since the US would lose more than it could gain in a trade war with China, which overtook them in 2010 as the world's largest manufacturing nation and has the largest market.

The real guide to what a Trump presidency will bring is not what the president-elect has said, but in what he has done to concentrate the judicial and coercive machinery of the State in the hands of his faithful and the economy under the control of Wall Street. Mike Pompeo, who has been named director of the CIA; Jeff Sessions was given the job of US attorney general; and retired Lt Gen Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser all have impeccable right-wing credentials and can be relied on to implement Trump's agenda with the required zeal and enthusiasm.


Internal divisions deepen


In a society lacking in social cohesion, Trump's rhetoric is making America even more divided. Within the American Christian community, white, born-again evangelical Christians, as well as a majority of Catholics who went for Trump, are convinced that they "actually have an advocate now in the White House". They are opposed in this view by Christians of African and European descent, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans, who are of the view that Trump "fuelled white American nationalism with xenophobic appeals and religious intolerance at the expense of gospel values [and] democratic principles" (Colbert I. King: The Washington Post).

Trump has deliberately separated the white working class, who he promises jobs, from their African-American counterparts, who he describes as "lazy and good for sex and theft".

In addition, the violence incited by Trump's rhetoric against immigrants, together with the threat of large-scale deportation, will result in a major dislocation of American social and economic life. Immigrants the world over are among the most enterprising; turn up for work on time and do the same work for less pay; and, for the most part, provide services that nationals consider beneath them.

Whither the Democratic Party?

Perhaps the most worrying reality in US politics is the deep internal divisions within the Democratic Party which now finds itself separated from its working-class base. Bill Clinton's presidency, as well as Hillary Clinton's campaign, increasingly identified the DNC with Wall Street. "Between 2000 and 2007, the Clintons earned $111 million, nearly half of it in speaking fees, many of them paid by global plutocrats ... ." (Christia Freedland). Hillary devoted too much of her campaign to cementing the relationship with Wall Street and totally neglected to present a message and a platform to an impoverished American working class, particularly those in rural America.

Trump's victory has made the Clinton electoral model obsolete for the Democratic Party will never come to power again simply by outspending its opponent. The organisation and education of the DNC's working-class base goes beyond its economic and political importance. The social importance of this process is confirmed by data recently released by The Washington Post, which shows that 16% of the white American working class between the ages of 25 and 54 "are neither working nor looking for work". This growing lumpen proletariat, which is prone to drug abuses blames immigrants for its degeneration and provides a fertile recruiting ground for white supremacists. All indications are that a Trump presidency is well on its way to making the American dream a nightmare.

Arnold Bertram is a historian and former Cabinet minister. His most recent book is 'Norman Manley and The Making of Modern Jamaica'. Email feedback to and