A farcical US election cycle begins—again
A farcical US election cycle begins—again)

A recent NBC News poll found that 70 percent of US voters don’t want Joe Biden to recontest the presidency next year. Sixty percent feel likewise about Donald Trump. Yet the two men are currently odds-on to face each other in a 2024 re-run of the 2020 presidential election.

Biden launched his re-election bid at the end of April and isn’t expected to encounter a serious primary challenge from within the Democratic Party. Much of his first campaign video focuses on the growing threats to freedom and democracy in the country.

There does appear to be a growing fascist movement, which has a major foothold in the Republican Party. Yet Biden’s candidacy suggests one of three things: that the Democrats don’t believe their own rhetoric about the imminent threat (how else could you justify running someone as unpopular as the current president?); that they do, but don’t really care about it as much as they say they do; or that, either way, the party doesn’t have another viable candidate.

All three options seem plausible. The third, if true, is most remarkable. The United States, with 335 million people, is the third largest country in the world. It is the premier imperialist state, and is in the middle of a major pivot to maintain its domination of Asia, the key driver of the global economy. The Democratic Party is the oldest and one of the most successful ruling-class parties in modern history.

And yet, of all the human potential in that country, the Democrats are incapable of finding anyone better than a man who fewer than one in three voters consider possesses the “mental sharpness it takes to serve effectively as president”.

You might conclude that they aren’t looking hard enough, or that Michelle Obama can’t yet be ruled out. But consider it from a different perspective: most Americans are probably just too good, too honest, to make “viable”, pliable Democratic candidates.

Then there’s Trump, king of the Gish gallop, model of indecency and still the figurehead of the far-right revival. He is currently the Republican frontrunner by a large margin. If an election were called today, some reputable polls have him winning the popular vote. Such is the size of the far right in the US or, at least, such is the weight of the population prepared to encourage it.

Karl Marx said something about history repeating first time as tragedy, second time as farce. What is it when you get three elections in a row with Trump?

Yet for all the huffing and puffing from the two main parties, the things that set them apart from one another are not so great when placed in the light of the issues that unite them. To say that is not to downplay the frightful reaction emanating from the Republicans; it is merely to put the Democrats in perspective.

Both are parties of the ruling class. While there are evidently different strategic approaches and outlooks, they wholeheartedly agree on the US maintaining its global dominance, on the wealthy controlling the economy, on the police controlling the streets and on constraining the popular will.

“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy”, professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concluded in a 2014 article published in Perspectives on Politics, the journal of the American Political Science Association. “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule ... When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose.”

The top 25 US billionaires have a combined wealth of more than US$1.8 trillion. While those people buy influence and bankroll the campaigns of politicians across the country, that’s not the main thing that distorts democracy: it’s the tremendous social power they exert through their control of the economy that matters.

There’s Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and the Washington Post, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Steve Ballmer, owner of the National Basketball Association, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the Walton family, owners of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. And there are more than 700 other billionaires, not to mention the multimillionaires who sit on corporate boards or are the CEOs of the major corporations.

They control the media, the manufacturing businesses, the transport companies, the electricity supply and distribution, the telecommunications infrastructure, agriculture and horticulture—collectively, they own and control everything needed to keep society functioning. They, and their hundreds of thousands of managers, choose what gets produced and where it gets produced. They choose who gets hired and who gets fired. Through their investment decisions, they choose whether the electricity is generated from renewable sources or from fossil fuels. They choose what is printed in the newspapers and what gets broadcast on TV. They control the development of the cities, deciding what gets built there and who gets to live where.

No-one voted to give them all this control. And regardless of who wins the next election, they will remain in charge. Whether it’s Donald Trump or Joe Biden, Walmart workers will still go to work the next day for the same poverty-level pay. Workers at Amazon won’t get extra breaks. Cleaners won’t get holiday pay, or a wage high enough to take one. Homeless people won’t all of a sudden find themselves in accommodation. The richest 1 percent of the population will still control about 40 percent of the wealth.

And the state over which the politicians are said to rule will not change in the least. The heavily armed police will still protect the property of the wealthy and target the poor and racial minorities. Black people will still be locked in prison at alarming rates. The US military will still be stationed in dozens of countries, the Central Intelligence Agency will still destabilise democratically elected governments around the world if they don’t follow Washington’s line, and the national security state will continue to spy on people everywhere.

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