Circumstances took only a day to go from deeply gratifying to profoundly dispiriting. On Tuesday, May 9, fans of women’s rights texted each other giddily: Did you hear? They found him guilty!
The “him,” of course, was Donald J. Trump, serial abuser, unrepentant racist, and pathological liar. In civil court, a jury had found in favor of E. Jean Carroll’s claims of sexual attack and defamation, awarding her $5 million in damages. Finally, Trump held to account for something — and thanks to the feminist #MeToo movement, at that!
The next day was stomach-churning. A misbegotten CNN Town Hall stacked with Trump supporters gave him a wide-open opportunity to repeat his litany of fictions about the 2020 election, the border wall, the taking of classified documents from the White House, the stands of Democratic reproductive rights advocates on abortion, etc., etc. And it provided him the chance to once again slander the assault survivor he had just been found guilty of defaming — to laughter and applause from his audience!
The public learned little new about Trump. But the event brought home that the 2024 election season is well and truly underway. And it promises to be one of the ugliest and most volatile yet — with lots of help from the corporate media, which is only too happy to keep giving Trump the stage in the pursuit of ratings and profits.
This is already an electoral cycle of firsts. Returning candidate Trump is the first president to take office as a billionaire, the only one who won with no prior public service record, the first with an approval rating that never topped 50%, the first to be impeached twice by the House of Representatives, and the first to be indicted by a grand jury after leaving the White House.
Infamously, he is also embroiled in legal turmoil stemming from the Stormy Daniels hush money case, his support for the Jan. 6, 2020, right-wing insurrection, and his mishandling of classified documents — among other things.
But the bizarreness related to Trump is not the only extraordinary thing going on as the United States ramps up for the 2024 election. Trump is an unprecedented agent of chaos on the political field, but he is also a reflection of historic instability and polarization in society at large.
The humanitarian debacle at the U.S.‑Mexico border and Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine are two tragic cases of explosive situations with no end in sight. The latter brings with it the real possibility of nuclear or world war for the first time since the Cuban missile crisis more than 60 years ago. The environment, drastically destabilized by uncontrolled capitalist growth and methods of production, is another example.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., we have a Supreme Court hostile to democratic rights, police whose racist violence remains unchecked, and Dixie legislatures turfing out popularly chosen Black and trans people. And all the rest of it — you know the whole sorry story.
Internationally, authoritarian regimes are still spreading like toxic weeds. And, when it comes to assessing the global economic outlook, “Uncertainty seems to be the only certainty left,” according to the World Economic Forum. One thing to be sure of: when recession comes, the plutocrats will do their best to save themselves on the backs of workers and the oppressed.
The Republican and Democratic parties have no answers to the weighty problems that afflict humanity and the planet. Despite occasional challenges, these two capitalist parties have had a lock on U.S. politics since the 1850s. Under their reign, inequality and injustice have persisted, and now conditions are regressing on every front, from basic physical infrastructure to basic civil rights.
The anticipated face-off between Trump and Joe Biden in 2024 is emblematic of the lack of progress. It would be a unique second contest between a former and sitting president and the first race with two candidates as old as 78 and 81 while still upholding the almost unbroken tradition of being white and male.
It’s not a good look. But beyond their ages and demographics, it’s the shared loyalty of Biden and Trump to maintaining the profit system at any cost that’s the fundamental problem. If the Democrats or Republicans were going to do right by the working-class majority, they had 180 years to do it. Instead, we have been sold out at every turn. There’s a relevant expression: When people show you who they are, believe them.
The climate emergency is not the only thing that has reached a tipping point. So has the crisis of capitalist democracy. As one pundit put it, “The wheels are off the bus.” The threat of fascism is clear and present.
Although elections are important, they are not the route to basic change. Ending slavery required a civil war. It took heroic struggles to win reforms like the ability to vote, make reproductive choices, and form unions — freedoms that are now severely eroded.
It seems that now is the time to go beyond what has been done before — to make our fight about wresting power to create the world we need. To date, humanity has always risen to meet the challenges we’ve faced. Now it is up to us.
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