In Russia, the election campaign in the U.S. is viewed in a specific light. We make a rough estimate as to which candidate will be the friendliest to Russia, and force the seedlings of democracy and tolerance into our sores and abrasions with the least aggression and zeal.
So today, our public’s unquestionable favorite is billionaire Donald Trump, who in a few months has gone through an evolution from eccentric, outsider candidate to a political heavyweight quite likely to win the Republican Party’s nomination.
Trump is a born showman; outrageously politically incorrect; noted for the rare judiciousness in his foreign policy statements, which give him a following among older-generation Republicans; someone who is ready to cooperate with Vladimir Putin and who doesn’t think it necessary to quarrel over Ukraine; who welcomes Russia’s operation in Syria; who isn’t in a hurry to blame Russia for the downed Boeing; and who thinks that things would be a whole lot calmer in the Middle East without Obama’s Arab Spring.
“Now that’s the kind of president we like! That’s the kind!” we exclaim in ecstasy, forgetting that the Americans will elect a president for themselves, not for us or even for the world. Here, Trump’s position is not so clear. America is split roughly 50-50, but not on the issues of gay marriage, gun control or political correctness, and certainly not on relations with Russia and Ukraine. The issue lies in the choice of this or that economic philosophy.
Since the beginning of the 2008 recession, U.S. citizens have realized that many of them are living in poverty without any prospects of improving their position. The median income for men, adjusted for inflation, has remained stable for 45 years now — not increasing, but even decreasing a little to $32,968 a year. Forty-six million Americans are on food stamps; admittedly, it’s not ration cards, of course, but a federal assistance program meant primarily for children from single-parent families.
All these problems may seem ridiculous in Russia, where one needn’t dream of a median income of 170,000 rubles a month — though many earned 85,000 a month before the ruble’s plunge. But the income of a family with one breadwinner living on minimum wage ($16,640 a year), calculated by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his book “The Price of Inequality,” would bring even us to despair. American politicians on the right — like Mitt Romney, for example, who lost to Obama in 2012 — point out to the poor, not without basis, that they should be happy they live in the U.S., the richest country in the world, and not in Africa.
But the American dream has broken down. The hope that we as individuals, or at least our children, will live better in the future has disappeared for many people. Economic statistics record an increase in the difference between the rich and the poor: Half of the national income is concentrated in the hands of the 1 percent — heirs of capitalism and CEOs — who pay themselves exorbitant salaries. The problem [with the existence] of the super-rich 1 percent, the “top-centile” as economists put it, became the central problem around which the Occupy Wall Street movement made itself heard in 2011-2012. The demonstrators, eventually dispersed by police, wrote “We Are the 99%” on their posters, demanding a parceling of Wall Street’s riches.
A great redistribution of wealth by means of a confiscatory tax is becoming a central theme in the rhetoric of American leftists, and there are more and more of them. The aforementioned Joseph Stiglitz has come forward as the movement’s ideologue. The movement’s scientific basis was provided by the Frenchman Thomas Piketty, also known as the “young Marx,” in his work “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”
Piketty has shown quite convincingly that the temporary reduction of economic inequality in capitalist countries had to do with the catastrophes of the first half of the twentieth century, not technology or the success of market capitalism. As a result of those catastrophes, the old rentier* class was crushed, the strain on the market of capital accumulated in private hands was reduced, and a temporary fluctuation occurred in which most income was distributed according to abilities and labor, not according to inheritance and rent. But this golden period has come to an end: Today, even in Europe capital is once again highly concentrated, while in the U.S. the level of capital concentration in the hands of a tiny financial oligarchy is simply off the charts — at the level of Europe at the start of the twentieth century.
Both Stiglitz and Piketty propose a redistribution of developed countries’ national wealth by means of very high taxes on the “top-centile,” and in left-wing circles their ideas are generating huge interest. Britain’s Labour Party is interested in Piketty’s program. Stiglitz, associated with the Clinton administration, would undoubtedly be well-received in Clinton’s wife’s White House.
In this context, Trump comes across as a downright odious figure, a benchmark embodiment of the hated 1 percent: a rich man by inheritance who then became super-rich, a man who led a multi-year war against the Forbes list, pushing not for an underestimation but for an overestimation of his fortune. Trump literally shoves his wealth and business talents in the face of the entire nation, exaggerating the former beyond belief as much as the latter. One might say he is a benchmark case of the analysis of inequality according to Piketty and Stiglitz’s model.
In all this, however, there are elements of a bluff. Trump isn’t a Wall Street man or a representative of the financial oligarchy. He’s a brilliant image-maker and developer whose assets and income belong by and large to the bankers, and it’s unlikely he’ll go against them. The billionaire’s economic program is strictly in opposition to the program of those on the left: He’s proposing tax reform that will lower the highest tax rate from 39.5 percent to 25 percent for the rich, as well as promising a complete cancellation of taxes on the poor who earn less than $25,000. Trump proposes lowering corporate taxes from 35 percent to 15 percent.
Essentially, Trump is trying to revive the Reaganomics of the 1980s: a state of manifold opportunities for the rich and those who are ready to stop sitting still and get down to business. In the process, with one sweeping gesture Trump “buys” the destitute (among others) — whose votes he can count on, unlike the establishment Republicans. It’s not difficult to figure out that in such a situation, the greatest burden will fall on the middle class, which is already eroded by the crisis and economic differentiation and has to pay for everyone.
It’s classic non-liberal, right wing populism, which goes together so well with Trump’s rather isolationist foreign policy platform and his economic nationalism and anti-globalism. Trump strongly opposes the U.S. free trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific and with Europe, and displays aggression toward China, believing that China has stolen jobs from America. Finally, he is militantly anti-immigrant. He intends to build a wall “a little shorter than the Great Wall of China” on the border with Mexico and send all Mexican immigrants beyond it, thus reducing the number of those getting a piece of the American pie.
On a purely human level, I really like Trump and much of his agenda seems appealing. But here’s the question: What if Stiglitz and Piketty are right, and the foundation of the American dream is being eroded by the very concentration of wealth in the hands of an absolute minority that Trump promises only to accelerate? Ultimately, Reaganomics was based on the resources of an enduring and egalitarian society that was being built in America since Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. But Trumpnomics will inherit a decaying foundation that might even collapse.
If things really are moving toward Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton locking horns in the fight for the White House, it will be a clash between the old America we like and a new, dangerously transformed America. Trump’s America is a nation of freedom, overconfidence, and enormous and somewhat vulgar wealth, a country of cowboys and freedom of speech. Clinton’s America is a global feminist caliphate that uses Machiavellian systems of wealth distribution based on the idea of multiracial and polysexual political correctness, a country of rap music and the transgender.
Voting with the heart, it would seem impossible not to pick Trump. His candidacy, of course, is in Russia’s interests, but we can’t influence U.S. citizens’ choice. However, a majority of Americans might prefer raising wages, reducing the burden of student loans, [securing] cheap health insurance and so on, which the Democrats would more likely promise. A choice between the 99 percent and the 1 percent might turn out not to be in the favor of the latter. And if so, we’re destined to come face to face with the liberal holy war Hillary Clinton will spearhead against our country.
*Editor’s note: The term rentier refers to a person or entity that receives income derived from patents, copyrights, interest, etc., and not from competitive enterprise. Its roots are Marxist.