When asked about her thoughts on the charges arrayed against Donald Trump, former Republican governor of Alaska Sarah Palin was quick to reply. “Those who are conducting this travesty”, she said, “and creating this two-tier system of justice, I want to ask them: What the heck? Do you want us to be in civil war? Because that’s what’s going to happen. We’re not going to keep putting up with this”.
This casual invocation of mass violence by a senior Republican figure was deemed barely newsworthy in the US, such is the normalisation of far-right rhetoric. But her threat reflects the mood of millions of Americans who are deeply convinced that their preferred leader is being unfairly persecuted by the establishment.
To this day, the vast majority of Republican Party supporters defend Trump’s narrative about the 2020 election. Fearing a backlash from their deranged base, just 27 of 249 Republican members of congress acknowledged Biden’s victory at the time. This cowardice has left a deep legacy, with a recent CNN poll finding that an incredible 71 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents still believe Trump won fair and square.
As well, the Republicans have consolidated around the hard right political agenda that Trump brought into the mainstream. This is clear from the political pitches of those competing with Trump for the presidential nomination. Tech bro (almost) billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy confidently asserts, “The climate change agenda is a hoax”. Former Vice-President Mike Pence is campaigning for a federal abortion ban. Ron DeSantis, first choice of those in the party looking for an alternative to Trump, has used his position as governor of Florida to initiate vicious attacks on the LGBT community and force high schools to teach children that Black people benefited from slavery.
The cult of personality that has been built up around Trump follows a pattern more commonly seen in dictatorships. A recent poll by CBS/YouGov found that 71 percent of his voters trust him to speak the truth, substantially higher than they rated religious leaders, conservative media and even their own friends and family. Given this extraordinary loyalty, it’s hard to see how he could lose the primary race.
Whatever happens from now, though, Trump and his ilk will leave a legacy of a significantly strengthened far-right current in US politics. By mainstreaming the most extreme irrationalism and conspiratorial ideas, socially reactionary politics and a pro-business agenda, Trump has brought together many of the ingredients needed for a mass far-right movement to grow. His attacks on basic democratic norms have set a dangerous precedent in a country with a long history of anti-democratic policies. And by strengthening far-right news sources such as Newsmax and Truth Social, Trump has created institutions that will continue to shape US politics for years to come.
For US progressives, all of this has made Trump enemy number one. His blatant bigotry both embodies and emboldens the current conservative backlash to decades of social progress, exemplified by the Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe vs. Wade and withdraw abortion rights from tens of millions of women.
The Democratic Party has had some success in turning the widespread opposition to this conservative agenda to its own electoral advantage. Its campaign for the 2022 midterm elections played heavily on the theme of abortion rights and the threat posed by Trumpist candidates, many of whom performed significantly worse than expected. The party appears set to repeat the strategy in 2024.
Yet beyond rhetorical gestures, there’s little evidence of any genuine Democratic commitment to action on the key issues. Trump’s defeat in 2020 was widely seen as an opportunity to build a new kind of America, one where life was just a little bit more bearable. Joe Biden actively encouraged these hopes by promising to “build back better” at home and abroad. Three years on, those dreams lie in tatters.
Democrats loudly denounced Trump’s brutal treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, yet Biden has made things worse and deported more people. The pandemic was managed just as badly under Biden as it was under Trump, leading to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. “Medicare for all" is off the table.
The Democrats have made no real attempt to pass legislation protecting women’s access to abortions, nor have party activists and resources been used to build movements against the bans being implemented in dozens of states. So now there are 13-year-old rape victims being forced to give birth, and growing numbers of women are being charged for having miscarriages and still births.
All this is bad enough. Ultimately, though, it is the economy that tends to make or break popular attitudes to governments. And while the news that the US might avoid a recession has given advocates of “Bidenomics” a shot in the arm, polls show the public remain pessimistic.
In typical form, liberal commentators have responded by wishing they could dissolve the people and elect another. But a cursory glance at the data shows why the mass of workers aren’t celebrating US GDP growth: they’re getting very little of the wealth that’s being created. Real wages fell throughout the pandemic and, due to continued price increases for daily essentials that official inflation metrics are designed to understate, have rebounded less than the headline figures suggest.
The Biden administration has also abolished most of the welfare improvements introduced during the pandemic. This has denied millions access to vitally needed support, such as food stamps and essential health care.
As a result, most people in America are now economically worse off now than they were under Trump. This explains why Biden is one of the most unpopular presidents in US history, with just 24 percent of Americans wanting him to run again in 2024.
This brings us back to the Trump indictments. Unsure of Biden’s chances in a straight contest, the Democratic establishment is using the legal system to attempt to undermine Trump’s popularity. That they feel so unsure of their ability to defeat a fascistic buffoon with an agenda so out of touch with a majority of Americans is indicative of the deep crisis of US politics today. That Biden—a man arguably less qualified and coherent than the average AI chatbot—is the establishment’s best hope is another.
One or the other of these dubious characters is set to govern the most powerful empire the world has ever seen for another four years. Are we still supposed to believe capitalism rewards talent and hard work?