US situation

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US situation
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As the election campaign hots up in the US, we encourage comrades to contribute their views on the state of the US bourgeoisie and the various dangers facing the working class. We have taken position on the US elections here so this could be a starting point for the discussion

https://en.internationalism.org/content/16913/trump-and-biden-false-choi...

 

Hoping to see your posts...

the Forum Team

 

jk1921
From the article on

From the article on imperialism:

"1. Has Trump's disastrous handling of the pandemic and the chaos it has caused led the populist president to scale back his unpredictable foreign policy initiatives?"

Calling Trump's handling of the pandemic "disastarous" is a judgement without any statement of the standards by which such judgement is being rendered, other than it appears to have something to do with "chaos." It is true at some level that the reponse to the pandemic in the United States can be characterized that way, but can it all be laid at the feet of Trump? The grossly partisan and politicized nature of the response has its roots in historical proceeses that well precede Trump. What are the roles of other factions of the bourgeoisie (blue state Govenors, the professional bureacracy, etc.), the nature and structure of the US state (federalism), the highly partisan and political media, etc. in the unfolding of events the last 8 months? Trump, for his part, seems to have been remarkably consistent when he hasn't been pushed to the wall by the media and the bureaucracy (which have retained remarkable power throughout his Presidency)--the pandemic is what it is, but it is more important to protect the economy from a precipitous overreaction. Obviously, Trump has his own electoral interests at heart, perhaps mistakenly believing that his future relied on ignoring the pandemic as much as possible and focusing on restarting economic growth in the wake of blue state shutdowns, but he is not the only one with this opinion of what the stakes are for the national capital. Let Trump himself explain: "If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression instead — we’re like a rocket ship. Take a look at the numbers.”

Bluster aside, there is some element of truth to his statement when you compare the US to the rest of the industrialized West, and Trump is right, "listening to the scientists" is just a slogan. Which scientists? Just the epidemiologists? Should economists have a voice? Their profession is, afterall, a dismal science. And once you have listented to them you still have to decide if its in the nation's best interests to follow their advice. And whatever the politicization of the issues of "lockdowns" and "opening up," Trump is not the only member of the bourgeoisie to proudly tout their achievements in opening the economy in the middle of an ongoing pandemic with no vaccine and only modestly effective treatments. Even a moderate like Governor Larry Hogan of the blue state of Maryland delights in telling how his state is 98 percent open and has a much lower unemployment rate than the rest of the country. Maryland is not Ron DeSantis' Florida, but still some number of people die from Covid just about everyday.

Trump has used his own personal battle with the virus to send the message, "Don't be afraid of Covid." One can make their own judgment about how wise that is for themselves and their loved ones, but at the root of that message is the recognition that pandemics have clear medical and epidemiological aspects, but they also have psychological ones. And if Trump may be trying to declare that aspect over too quickly in the midst of an election campaign, its nevertheless the case that at some point someone will have to call time on the media fueled panic. Perhaps that will be Biden's job? In any event, the gameplan is in place--endure the pandemic, don't slit your own throat by blowing up the economy beyond repair, until there are effective vaccines and treatments. Whatever Trump's perceived self-interest in that, there seems a recognition there that the only way the US will get past this pandemic is through its leadership in advanced medical technology. What would you expect of a country where Interstate highways are branded as "bio-medical technology corridors"? Lockdowns are for weak willed European governments afraid of their own populations and the authoritarian Chinese with no fear at all of theirs. 

jk1921
From the New York Post

From the New York Post Editorial Board: "Imminent Vaccine Could Make all of Joe Biden's COVID Promises Irrelevant:

"For all of Joe Biden’s boasts of how much better than President Trump he’d handle the pandemic, it’s starting to look like he won’t have to prove it — thanks to Trump."

That's some serious sunshine pumping from the Post. As Scott Gottlieb, former FDA Head who now sits on Pfizer's board, said last weekend, even in the rosiest scenario a vaccine won't make much of an impact on the course of the pandemic for months. Assuming it works, it has to be produced, distributed, people will have to get two shots and there will be a good deal of vaccine resistance among the public. This doesn't even account for what Trump does, should he lose the election. Does he turn against the vaccine?

But this raises an interesting question. Turning around a safe and effective vaccine this quickly, so that it could have any impact on the course of the pandemic is a remarkable achievement. Does Trump get any credit for that? The liberal media uses "populist" as an epithet synonymous with, among many other nasty things, incompetent boob. But have Trump's bullying of the bureaucracy, his Operation Warp Speed investments, etc. Had any positive effect in making the possibility of a pandemic ending vaccine a reality? Is there anything a "populist" does well in the interests of the national capital? Or are incompetence, incoherence and chaos defining features of the phenomenon?

How would it have gone otherwise? Would this kind of progress have been possible or would bureaucratic red tape and other political considerations have slowed the vaccine? Would a Democratic administration, cowtowing to their woke base, delay a life saving vaccine in order to make sure enough minorities were included in the trials?

In any event, in a couple of weeks tens of millions of people will vote to relect Trump. Are they doing it in spite of his performance on the pandemic or because of it? If Trump's performance has been truly "disastarous," how do we account for that? Are these people deluded? Bonkers? Some perhaps, but all of them? Or do they just have a different evaluation of the imperatives imposed by a pandemic than the liberal media and the professional bureaucracy does? Regardless, when we communists make competence an analytical measure, don't we have to take this into account?

KT
The situation in the US

JK wrote: “Calling Trump's handling of the pandemic "disastrous" is a judgement without any statement of the standards by which such judgement is being rendered, other than it appears to have something to do with "chaos." It is true at some level that the response to the pandemic in the United States can be characterized that way, but can it all be laid at the feet of Trump?”

It is most certainly “disastrous”. It couldn’t be otherwise given that the capitalist class, historically and globally, has simultaneously encouraged the conditions that produce zoonotic viruses whilst diminishing the means to investigate, contain, treat and minimise their impact (see the article Report on the Covi-19 pandemic and the period of decomposition). This should be our departure point.

Neither can the US situation vis-à-vis Covid be characterised as a “media fuelled panic.” The virus is real - 8.38million humans infected and 222,000 dead in the US at the time of writing. Almost 5 times more than the (official) fatal US military casualties of the Vietnam War over a 20-year period! A projected half a million dead by February 2021…

Can all this be laid at the feet of Trump? Absolutely not. In fact, in sympathy with JK’s approach, and in addition to the structural weaknesses of the US State he correctly insists on (Federal v State, etc), we could remark on the relative social calm that reigns in the US (compared, say, with the Vietnam period of 1961-71, including the ‘civil rights’ movement) and note that if divide-and-rule is a long-standing tactic of exploiting classes, Trump should be congratulated by his peers for maintaining and deepening the false dichotomies presented to society in general and the working class in particular. The mobilisation of the population to participate in bourgeois democracy prior to, and during, the coming elections may give us one indication of this ‘success’.

His emphasis on promoting ‘the deals’ – ie keeping the economy going under the ‘America First’ banner  - is hardly a unique feature amongst the world’s states but has met with a certain, limited success (see below) … at the expense of some $4 trillion in grants, loans and tax breaks – the “costliest economic relief effort in modern history” (Washington Post). We should note and develop that under the Republicans and Trump, during the pandemic, the overt face of state capitalism has revealed itself on many levels.

On the inter-imperialist arena, the recent recognition of Israel by certain lower tier Middle Eastern states is presented by Trump as a major foreign policy achievement, as has the insistence that former allies pay their way in the US’s maintenance of itself as the world’s foremost military power. The attempt to contain China – firstly on trade but essentially militarily – also corresponds closely to the needs of US national capital.

But the inevitable collapse of the North Korean vanity project, the failure to match the adroitness of Putin or even Erdogan in the Mid-East and the inability to attract allies to its anti-China crusade (the inability to reassert itself at the head of a ‘bloc’) are all reasons why there is, it seems to me, a concerted effort by the US state to rid itself of the wild child Trump.

Trump’s election in 2016 took all factions of the ruling class by surprise – including the successful candidate himself! Despite decomposition, the intervening period of his Presidency  has served to coalesce some elements of the state (the ‘surprisingly’ tenacious bureaucracy and the media, as cited by JK), but also the ‘secret services’, the armed forces and, of course, the Democratic Party – a not-inconsiderable array. Their judgement is that Trump has not had a good pandemic, has isolated the US internationally, and the divisions he’s sewn internally and externally have not, overall, served the interests of the US.

Some statistics and commentary

“Two weeks before the election, the U.S. economic rebound is losing steam against a backdrop of dwindling government support, rising Covid-19 cases and cooler weather … jobless claims and restaurant bookings either worsened or showed no improvement. Others, such as a weekly measure of retail sales, continued to slowly advance..  the labor market rebound has notably slowed. The number of long-term unemployed has increased, and Americans are increasingly exhausting their regular state jobless benefits and moving onto a federal program for longer-term support. Applications for state unemployment insurance rose to the highest level since August, and a host of companies across industries have announced or begun fresh job cuts. A measure of new job postings also decelerated…

… At the same time, some parts of the economy continue to improve or have already returned to pre-pandemic levels. The housing market is a good example, with several indicators above February levels as record-low mortgage rates support demand. The S&P 500 Index remains near historical highs. Meantime, Johnson Redbook’s weekly measure of retail sales exceeded year-ago levels for a fourth straight week, suggesting consumer spending may be more durable than originally expected in the wake of declining government support… (Bloomberg)

“Unemployment has fallen sharply since hitting a historic record of 14.7% in April after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the US. But the rate is still far higher than the 4.8% when Trump took office in January 2017 and the recent pace of recovery is slowing. The current level marks the worst job loss that any president has faced going into an election based on records going back to the second world war. "(Guardian)

"During his first three years in office, President Trump oversaw an annual average growth of 2.5%.

The last three years of the Obama administration saw a similar level of growth (2.3%) along with a significantly higher figure (5.5%) in mid-2014.

But the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year has triggered the sharpest contraction since records began.

In the second quarter of 2020 - accounting for April, May and June - the economy contracted by over 30%. That's more than three times greater than the 10% fall in 1958.

Prior to the pandemic, President Trump claims to have delivered the lowest unemployment rate in half a century.

This is true. In February this year, the rate stood at 3.5%, the lowest for more than 50 years.

However, the Obama administration added more jobs to the economy, comparing similar time-frames.

Under Trump, in the three years prior to the pandemic, there were an additional 6.4 million jobs. In the last three years under Obama, seven million jobs were added.

As in many parts of the world, coronavirus lockdown measures very quickly led to soaring levels of unemployment in the US.

The rate jumped to 14.7% in April, the highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The US Labor Department says more than 20 million people lost their jobs, eliminating a decade of employment gains in a single month.

Since the peak in April, unemployment has fallen back significantly to 7.9% in September.

Real wages (adjusted for inflation) grew throughout Trump's first three years in office - continuing a steady upward trend which began during the first of President Obama's two terms.

This growth reached 2.1% per annum in February 2019, prior to the pandemic.

This is lower than the real wage increases of up to 2.4% that President Obama oversaw in 2015

The rapid increase in average earnings then seen at the start of the coronavirus lockdown were largely as a consequence of the lowest-earning Americans losing their jobs at a disproportionate rate, following the economic downturn.

With lower wage-earners out of jobs, the average hourly wage data skewed sharply upwards.

Average wages have since started to fall back, as economic restrictions have eased.

President Trump claimed in 2019 that he had delivered "the largest poverty reduction under any president in history".

In 2019, around 4.2 million fewer people were living in poverty in the US compared with the previous year, according to official data.

This is a significant drop, but not the largest reduction in history...

The financial crisis of 2007/8 and subsequent economic downturn saw sharp rises in poverty, which only began to decline from around 2015 during the Obama administration, with a growing economy and rising levels of employment. (BBC)