Thoughts on the American elections

America’s presidential election is over and George Bush won. The result has caused a lot of disappointment, or even despair, both in the USA and on a world scale. On the face of it, the situation seems to justify the most pessimistic interpretation. In reality, however, the basis of this vote is extremely fragile and unstable. It will evaporate like hot water off a stove in the heat of the events that are being prepared nationally and internationally.

America’s presidential election is over and George Bush won. The result has caused a lot of disappointment, or even despair, both in the USA and on a world scale. On the face of it, the situation seems to justify the most pessimistic interpretation. The President won a clear majority of the vote. The Democrats achieved a huge turnout, but the Republicans managed to get still more. In addition to securing his re-election, Bush now has a much firmer grip on Congress.

The Republicans added at least four more seats to their majority in the House of Representatives. They made a net gain of four Senate seats, giving them in effect a 55-45 advantage in the upper chamber. If we add the occasional support of some conservative Democrats, then George Bush is close to the 60 votes necessary to survive a delaying filibuster procedure—a considerable advantage. The scale of the Republicans’ victory seems complete.

Yet this is only a superficial view of things. Elections are no more than a snapshot of the mood of the public at a given moment in time. This result is now being advertised as “the power of conservative America”. In reality, however, the basis of this vote is extremely fragile and unstable. It will evaporate like hot water off a stove in the heat of the events that are being prepared nationally and internationally.

The fact of the matter is that the people of the United States had no real alternative. There was little to choose between Bush and Kerry, and if the latter had been elected, it would have made very little difference to the policies pursued by the United States either on the domestic or international front.

Bush’s victory, in fact, was a narrow one. The voting showed that America was split right down the middle. In the end, the result was decided by a technical wrangle in Ohio, itself a sharply divided state, which he carried by just 136,000 votes (or around 2 percent of the votes cast there). What this reveals is an America more fractured and disunited than at any time since the Civil War. The victory of Bush will do nothing to heal that rift. It will make it ever wider and more unbridgeable.

The most unpopular president in history

As a matter of fact, he will be far worse off than Kerry would have been. Kerry could look forward to a period of honeymoon and “wait and see”. After all, he was a new man. But Bush is already known, and his promises are even better known. He has promised to make America and the world secure from terrorism – a better, safer and more prosperous place to live in.

This electoral propaganda resembles promissory notes, which sooner or later must be called in and cashed. But there is nothing in the bank to pay these bills. Bush now faces the consequences of a costly war and an unbalanced and unstable economy. The mood of blind faith that swept him to power for a second time will eventually turn into its opposite. We predict that George W. Bush will end up as the most unpopular President in recent American history.

After all, in the months after September 11th, Bush had the support of 90 percent of what appeared to be a solidly united country, whereas he now has only 51 percent of a bitterly polarised one. America at that time had the backing of most of the world. That was before the war in Iraq; before Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and Fallujah. Now the rest of the world is sullenly distrustful of America, if not openly hostile.

It is an open secret that practically every one of America’s western “allies” was praying for a Kerry victory. The USA now finds itself more isolated in the world than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Bush talks about “building bridges”, and he may well attempt to do that. But as one London correspondent put it, nobody will be rushing to walk over them.

The importance of events in America for the rest of the world is self-evident. But in fact, whether Bush or Kerry had won the election would have made no fundamental difference. Kerry would have attempted to mollify the Germans and French with the idea of persuading them to help the USA in Iraq. But the Europeans are not anxious to help the USA to sort out the mess it has made there. The Americans will have to slog it out all on their own.

The criminal occupation of Iraq is not only costly in lives but in money as well. On a very conservative estimate it is costing a billion dollars a week. Such sums are ruinous even for the richest nation on earth. The new Bush administration is not only morally and politically bankrupt. It is also approaching financial bankruptcy. In this it resembles the state of absolutist France on the eve of the French Revolution.

The president’s in-tray is full of problems from Iran to Sudan, from North Korea to Israel. He may get rid of Donald Rumsfeld (who should have resigned after the Abu Ghraib scandal). But such changes will have a merely cosmetic character.

Bush has obstinately clung to his disastrous policy in Iraq. He still has the right wing agenda of imposing “democracy” (that is to say, the setting up of weak “democratic” regimes under US control) throughout the Middle East. But in practice this is not a viable policy. Iraq has turned into a quagmire that threatens to drag on for years. The occupation needs more American troops, not fewer. New military catastrophes and adventures are being prepared that will shake America to its core.

America’s attempt to pose as the guardian of “western values” has been undermined by Guantánamo Bay, and the Arab world will never accept its pretensions as long as the one-sided approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict continues, as it must. Bush can have little effect on Ariel Sharon, as long as the latter realises he is America’s only reliable ally in the entire region.

Bush wants his allies to help him as much as Kerry did. He will now try to enlist the support of the Europeans. But it is not clear what the latter can gain from working with America. They would like a peaceful Iraq, a de-nuclearised Middle East and a viable, non-violent Palestinian state. They want peace all right – peace on Washington’s terms. But such a policy leads not to peace and stability but to permanent war and instability.

Bush’s argument about the need for firmness in the face of the “war on terror” swayed many people to vote for him. But by their conduct the American imperialists are causing even greater instability, bloodshed, terrorism and chaos. As the war in Iraq drags on and the casualty list grows, the mood inside the USA will change dramatically. At a given moment, there will be a backlash against Bush and the Republicans.

Backlash inevitable

Bush now talks about his willingness to reunite his country. But that will be impossible as long as he insists on pursuing his criminal war on the people of Iraq. He will have to pass the bill to the people of the USA, and it will have to be paid with interest. During his first term, the president adopted an irresponsible (from a capitalist standpoint) policy of letting the budget deficit rip. That must now come to an end. Unpopular policies must be adopted to bring the budget back under control.

A large part of Bush’s success was due to the apparent success of his economic policies. But these remind one of the conjuror’s sleight of hand: “now you see it, now you don’t”. All the painful remedies to the problem of the US’s huge budget deficit that were postponed till after the elections will now have to be implemented: higher interest rates, together with the collapse of the housing market and the end of the consumer boom and rising unemployment – the blame for all this will be laid squarely at the door of the government that promised so much and delivered so little.

The budget deficit is already lurching out of control. This will mean painful cuts in such sensitive areas as Medicare and pensions. The ruinous cost of the war in Iraq will add to the drain. The bellicose propaganda of Bush and co. reminds one of Goering’s celebrated remark: “guns will make us great, butter will only make us fat.” But the people of the USA will soon get tired of the propaganda, especially when the war in Iraq continues to drag on with no solution in sight.

Well-meaning supporters of US imperialism in Europe advise Bush to appoint some Democrats to his new cabinet. But there is not much chance of this, unless it is an empty gesture. The “compassionate conservatives”, as Bush’s outfit originally advertised themselves, have lurched to the right. They have embraced reactionary policies on such things as stem-cell research and gay marriage.

All this is fuelling a massive backlash, as we have already seen in the massive demonstrations on the abortion issue. Another awkward issue is the Supreme Court. The chief justice, William Rehnquist, is gravely ill. If, as seems likely, Bush allows the Christian right a veto over his appointments, he will split American society right down the middle.

Many commentators have said that this result proves that America is a deeply religious and conservative society. It is true that for historical reasons the grip of religion on American society is stronger than in Europe. But the basic reasons why people voted for Bush was because of the fear of terrorism and because the economy seemed to be doing quite well. But all this will soon begin to unravel – and with it the hold of the religious right.

Bush has talked vaguely about creating an “ownership society” by partly privatising the Social Security (pensions) system and setting up health-care accounts. Translated into plain English, this means a vicious policy of cuts that will affect millions of Americans in a most painful way – including the “conservatives” of the Bible Belt. The way will be prepared for explosions that will transform the outlook of millions.

The present epoch is characterised by sharp and sudden turns at every level, including the consciousness of the masses. The events in Spain just a few months ago are a serious reminder of this fact. And what happened in Spain can be repeated in the USA on an even more sweeping scale in the future. Let us not forget that before the dramatic events last April, Aznar and the right wing appeared to be riding high, just as Bush and the Republicans are now. We can predict with confidence that the present majority for Bush and the Republicans will evaporate well before the next elections.

Unfortunately, given the extreme weakness of the Left Wing and the absence of a mass Labour Party, at this stage the beneficiaries will be the Democrats. However, times are changing fast. Under conditions of economic crisis and war, the Democrats will be forced to carry out similar policies to those of the Republicans. The crisis of capitalism in general means that in the USA, as in every other country, the policies pursued by the main parties are virtually indistinguishable. Sooner or later, this fact will be reflected in a move to establish a Labour Party in the USA.

An American Labour Party based on the unions will not be merely a replica of the Social Democratic parties of Europe. Such a party would immediately attract to its ranks the mass of dispossessed, the unemployed, the blacks, the Hispanics, the radicalised youth and women. It would develop at a transatlantic, not a European, rhythm and, even if it were launched on a reformist programme (which is inevitable) would quickly be open to the most radical and revolutionary ideas.

The truth is that there is a ferment of discontent in American society. People are more and more sceptical of the old bourgeois politics and the old capitalist political parties. The present result does not change this fact, and, paradoxically, will accelerate the process even more than if Kerry had won. Those who have drawn pessimistic conclusions from these elections will be proved wrong. America is only just beginning to wake up. We can expect the most dramatic developments there, and these events will shake the whole planet.