An American nightmare

I pay attention to politics in a number of countries, some of which I also vote in. I’m an optimist by nature and I see real possibilities for wins by parties I like. For example, in the U.K. most polls for a long time now have shown Labour forming the next government, which would be a good thing. Polls in Israel show Netanyahu’s support in free-fall, and that too is good news.

But public opinion polls in the United States are the stuff of nightmares.

The website RealClearPolitics aggregates all the major polls. The eight most recent polls regarding the 2024 elections — from respected pollsters including NBC News, the Economist, Reuters and others — all show the same thing. Trump defeats Biden.

In one of those polls, Trump has a 53 – 47 lead, which could mean a landslide — and the Republicans capturing both houses of Congress. Thanks to Trump’s previous term in office, the Republicans already control one branch of the federal government (the judiciary). If Trump wins decisively, they could control all three.

The election is one year away. In the next few months, both major parties will begin the process of choosing their candidates. No surprises are expected here. Trump leads all the other Republican contenders by a wide margin. And Biden has no credible opposition, with the sole candidate getting any traction at all being Marianne Williamson. Williamson is best known as the “spiritual advisor” to Oprah Winfrey and does not represent a serious challenge to Biden.

There are no significant third party challenges either. Cornel West seems to be running, possibly as an independent, or a Green, or on the Peoples Party ticket (and no, I never heard of them either).

If nothing dramatic changes, in early January 2025, Donald Trump may find himself standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, bible in hand, swearing allegiance to a Constitution that he neither understands nor respects. No one knows what happens next, but it will not be good.

It is very hard for most people on the left to understand how this could happen. Biden has turned out to be a far more progressive and ambitious president than anyone expected. He’s more overtly pro-labour than any recent Democratic President, much more so than Obama was. He’s passed very ambitious legislation to help battle climate change while creating jobs. On the international stage, he’s provided outstanding leadership on two major challenges — the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Hamas’ war on Israel. And yet most American voters seem to believe that he’s not been doing a very good job.

Trump seems to be spending most of his time defending himself in courtrooms. He’s accused of illegal campaign spending (to pay off a porn star he had an affair with), of exaggerating his wealth illegally, and of pressuring civil servants in the state of Georgia to confirm that he won the 2020 election there. He’s also accused by a court in Washington, D.C. of organising an insurrection in January 2020. For most politicians, any one of those accusations or trials would be career-enders. But not for Trump.

It seems that many Americans support Trump for reasons that many of us find incomprehensible. For example, Trump is seen as someone who doesn’t want to waste money (let alone the lives of U.S. soldiers) to prop up the independence of Ukraine. This taps into a longstanding streak of isolationism in American politics. Trump talks about being tough on crime, often denouncing “Black Lives Matter” protestors while having nothing to say about illegal killings of Black people by cops. This also taps into a centuries-long history of white supremacist racism. He appears to be someone who will protect Americans’ right to own guns, including assault rifles. He says he will finish building his wall on the Mexican border. And he will jail his opponents, if need be. All of these have roots in American history, with its gun violence, xenophobic hatred of immigrants and dark periods of political repression (the McCarthy era being the most recent).

Any one of those policies should be enough to keep one awake at night. All of them together constitute a political nightmare of epic proportions. For that reason, defeating Trump means unity across all the constituencies that are threatened by the possibility of a second Trump term — including workers and their unions, women, LGBTQI people, and ethnic minorities. And it may mean thinking about pressing Biden to step down as a candidate and to allow a younger, more articulate and more energetic Democrat to stand instead.

I for one do not have any answers. And this keeps me up at night.

This article appears as my regular column in this week’s issue of Solidarity.