Rick T. Wilking/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The release of tapes of Donald Trump proudly detailing sexual assault have been seen by many as the proverbial nail in the electoral coffin. Some have wondered why it has taken until now for people to finally realize that Trump is a monster; while others have simply confirmed what they already knew. Regardless of where you stand, it was an unsurprising surprise. It was somewhat akin to the 2014 video of former NFL running back Ray Rice. Was it a surprise that professional football players beat their wives? Unfortunately, no. Was it nevertheless a shock to see a football player actually hit his wife on video? Yes. The banality of violence is easy to tolerate when swept under the rug, and yet hard to confront when shoved in our face.
But what does Trump’s latest scandal tell us about his vision for America? Trump wants to establish a caste system where social mobility is eliminated and people’s roles are defined primarily by how they relate to him. Before the tapes were leaked to the press, Trump had made comments about the “Central Park Five” and reiterated his belief that they were guilty, despite the DNA evidence exonerating the five, and a confession from the actual killer. For Trump, blacks are by definition guilty. They are stuck in a permanent cycle of perpetual criminality.
In Trump’s world, women face a double-edged sword. Women can ‘choose’ to become fat, but then they risk being ostracised and deemed unfit to participate in society. If they veer the other way, then they become susceptible to sexual assault. Instead of perpetual criminality, women can oscillate between being ostracized and being assaulted.
Trump’s economic policy platform consists of providing tax cuts for the rich while also establishing more jobs. His previous business projects give some insight as to how he is going to implement this two-pronged approach: a history of unpaid bills. Workers exist only to service the rich, but never to become the rich, let alone replace the rich. In Trump’s America, blacks are criminalized, women are instrumentalised, workers are marginalized, Mexicans are caricaturized, Muslims are demonized and white men are victimized. We are all to be his puppets, while he controls the strings.
This is made even more apparent when it comes to the spin around his taxes. When the poor do not pay taxes, Trump considers them lazy. When he doesn’t pay taxes, he considers himself a genius. Notice how, in his world, the tax system is not meant to ameliorate caste inequalities so much as it is to maintain the caste system. And here is where the Republican establishment faces a fundamental problem. Trump seemingly has no regard for a core American value: meritocracy. If blacks work hard, what is waiting for them other than prison? If women work hard, there is no escape from the vicissitudes of sexual assault. For those aspiring to become rich, the legacy of Trump University revealed that the only way to become rich like Trump is to actually be Trump. Those in debt simply became further mired in debt.
Further evidence of this non-meritocracy is Trump himself. Trump’s tax returns have made it clear that he is economically prosperous, despite his actions. He not only needed his father to give him start-up capital, but he also needed the federal government to bail him out. Without the myriad of personal favours, governmental loopholes and social exploitation, Trump would have been destitute.
And perhaps Trump is onto something. Social mobility in America has been diminishing. The primary indicator of success is your parents’ income. Perhaps part of the reason why many Americans want an outsider who has business acumen to be president is because they are tired of aspiring for something they really do not think is possible. In 2008, Americans were shouting ‘yes we can,’ clamouring for a better future. The rallying cry for many in 2016 is ‘make America great again,’ which seems to be a clamouring to go back to the past.
Republican demise, Democratic opportunity
This is a great window of opportunity for the Democrats in general, and Clinton in particular, to take advantage of. The Republican Party is in tatters, and Democrats have a chance to not only win, but also establish a realignment that could ensure success for the very near future. Is it too early to be thinking about January, when November is still a month away? I would argue that it does not have to be either/or. Articulating a vision of governance is a way of ensuring success in November, in that it provides a positive plan that extends beyond the rhetoric of ‘vote for me, because I am not Trump’.
Reflecting back on 2008, the window of opportunity is small. The longer one waits, the harder it is to get things done. In 2016, the window of opportunity will be even smaller than 2008 if only because the Republicans will retain control of the House. But there will be a window nevertheless.
What are the first things Clinton should do when elected? Whatever it is, it should be decisive and swift. Screw bipartisanship. People want to see government in action. And it should focus on the core values of meritocracy. In so doing, Democrats can solidify their base while further exacerbating the schism within the Republican Party. In that vein, they should focus on economic redistributive policies that ameliorate the drastic levels of economic inequality.
But if Clinton continues to try and woo moderate Republicans, then not only will her mandate go to waste, but it will just lead to more of the same. Clinton’s relationship to Wall Street is now at a crossroads. One depiction of Clinton is that she is a fervent supporter of neoliberalism and will do whatever Wall Street tells her to do. But there is another depiction of Clinton which is that she is a craven political animal. And if that is true, there is an opportunity here. From a purely instrumentalist point of view, Clinton could reshape the Democratic Party to become the party of meritocracy. It would involve winning over the alienated working-class base of the Republican Party, instead of its elite. If Lyndon B. Johnson could seemingly do a 180 degree turn on race when he became president, then there is no reason why Clinton couldn’t do the same when it comes to class.
Bold and decisive decision-making during the first 100 days around economic inequality could solidify the gains made by the Democratic Party as the rightful guardians of the American Dream, and further destabilise the Republican Party.
If the Democrats could also force passage of comprehensive immigration reform in the first 100 days, not only would they solidify their support amongst one of the fastest growing demographics, but it would also divide the Republican Party even further. Immediately after the 2012 election, the RNC came out with an autopsy report that stated that they needed to do better with Latinos. Subsequently, an immigration bill was bandied about, but it never got to a floor vote. The problem was that it took too long. The mid-term elections of 2014 came and by that point, the tide had swung. If the Republicans lose again in 2016, a similar report will almost certainly say the exact same thing. And rather than repeat the previous fiasco of waiting too long, Democrats should learn from the past and try and bust out comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible.
Thirdly, Clinton should take advantage of the kind of political capital that she will have earned to pass policies that might otherwise have been impossible. As George W. Bush said after his re-election in 2004: “I earned capital in the political campaign and I intend to spend it”. First, Clinton should reignite and expand the debate around women’s rights. Ranging from increased funding for Planned Parenthood to subsidising domestic abuse shelters, sexual assault needs to become a major policy point from the beginning of her administration. Clinton says she is a policy wonk. Let’s see it.
Clinton needs to transition from campaigning against Trump to articulating how she would go about governing the country. Now is the time to be bold. Now is the time to be presidential and remake the Democratic Party as the party of meritocracy. Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to establish her own kind of triangulation, one that is rooted in the intersections of race, class and gender. We are at an interesting crossroads wherein the instrumentalism of partisan politics can actually merge with doing the right thing for the country.
If Clinton can take advantage of the upcoming opportunity to further stoke the divisions between the elitist elements of the Republican party from their working class constituents, she could invoke a kind of partisan realignment that would not only firmly entrench the Democratic party for years to come, but also provide the kind of governance that so many Americans need at this point in time.