Editorial from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
On Thursday 21 July 2016, Donald Trump accepted the Republican Party's nomination for the Presidency at their Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. About a year ago, when he launched his bid with the slogan ‘Making America Great Again’, few took seriously his chances of success. What makes this unlikely candidate, a real estate tycoon and former reality TV star, who has never held political office, so appealing to many American working class voters?
Many Western nations including the United States have seen much of their manufacturing industry relocated to poorer countries where labour costs are cheaper. The lowering of trade barriers, allowing for the greater movement of goods, services and capital across borders, has contributed to this process. The influence of trade unions has been eroded and many workers find themselves in lower paid and less secure jobs. The Great Recession has hit hardest on these working class communities. They feel abandoned by the political parties that have traditionally claimed to represent them, such as the US Democratic Party, which, like its Republican opponents, seems only interested in looking after the wealthy. Thus populist politicians –e.g. UKIP in Britain, the SNP in Scotland, the Front National in France and Donald Trump in the US –can gain support as the anti-establishment candidates.
Trump draws much of his support from disaffected mainly older white industrial workers who feel left behind. Paradoxically, his vast wealth enables him to position himself as the workers’ champion, by asserting that, unlike his political opponents, he can't be bought by vested interests and thus can take on the corporations and wealthy elites. Trump plays the patriotic card and seeks to divide and rule as he pledges to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants and expel those that are already in the country. He also says he will introduce a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US. He declares himself the law and order candidate.
However, some of his pledges wouldn't be entirely out of place in a Bernie Sander’s manifesto. He argues for a rise in the federal minimum wage and pledges to reform the tax system so that anyone earning less than $25,000 per year pays no tax. He blames the North American Free Trade Agreement for jobs moving to Mexico and claims that he will be able to negotiate fairer trade deals and bring back jobs to the US. He proposes to penalise American companies that have moved their operations overseas by imposing a 35 percent tariff on goods that they try to import back into the US.
Should Trump become the next US President, he will soon discover that, despite his forceful personality and vast wealth, capitalism's profit requirements will place severe constraints on what he can achieve and that, like his predecessors, he will have to compromise and run the economic system in favour of the capitalist elites which he currently rails against. For American workers and workers elsewhere, the solution to their problems lies not in choosing a charismatic populist leader, but in collectively organising to get rid of capitalism and establish socialism.