Yanis Varoufakis: Trump proves that political revolution is possible

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The New Statesman interviews former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on his thoughts about the US presidential election. Like many of the think pieces coming out about Clinton’s failure to win the presidency, Varoufakis blames Clinton’s failure on the Democrat’s embracement of neoliberalism, and general refusal to usher in a New Deal-type economic reform after the 2008 financial crash. Read Varoufakis in partial below, in full via the New Statesman here. http://conversations.e-flux.com

New Statesman: It’s an obvious parallel to draw but why do we suggest that Brexit shone a light on a possible Trump victory?

Yanis Varoufakis: Brexit first revealed the shifting plates beneath the political and economic establishment. People who had never voted before turned out and when that happens, it causes problems for the pollsters. This is what we also see now in the US — the xenophobic right made inroads in former social democratic strongholds such as the north of England and states like Pennsylvania which had not elected a Republican to the White House since 1988.

The narrative is already becoming that Trump managed to exploit a feeling of resentment among white working class men, to fuel his victory. Is this “whitelash” comparable to the anti-immigrant sentiment that helped swing the Brexit vote?

This is a prime example of how the left tends to over rationalise its defeats. Trump did mobilise blue collar voters but that was not enough on its own. What I am astounded by is the number of Latinos who voted for him, and the people who switched their political religion from Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. Anyone who voted for Obama last time can’t be easily dismissed as a racist. The political scene is being shaken to its foundations in a way the world has not experienced since the Thirties.

Comparisons have been drawn between Trump and the fascist leaders of the Thirties such as Hitler. Is he a neo fascist?

Hitler was not a fascist, he was a Nazi. The best comparison with Trump, for me, is the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943. Mussolini and Trump have stylistic similarities in terms of their image and choice of rhetoric, but the connection between them runs much deeper. Mussolini was the man who introduced social security to Italy. He implemented welfare reforms that directly benefited the working class to harness their support to a divisive and ultra nationalist movement. There is nothing comforting about the thought of living under a new Mussolini, but we need to keep our historical comparisons as close to the truth as possible.

Why did Hillary Clinton’s campaign end in failure?

Clinton’s loss was caused by her failure to address the collapse of the economic status quo. A global epoch has ended. The period which began with the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, [convened to regulate the post Second World War monetary order], ended with the 2008 financial crash. US hegemony expanded in this era but it was the first time that a superpower got stronger by getting more into debt. The US resembled a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up the net exports of Germany, Holland, Japan and later China. It was increasing its deficit to those economies while, in a Keynesian way, aggregating demand for the global economy. The majority of profits from these Dutch, Japanese and Chinese companies were invested back into Wall Street. In 2008, this system collapsed and with it went the myth of globalisation. Obama promised to address this but he failed miserably in part because he lost control of congress. Today, 81% of US families are worse off than they were in 2004 — the median wages of most US workers have not peaked since 1973. Trump said this couldn’t go on, while Clinton offered continuity — that’s why she failed.

How much was it Obama’s fault?

He should take a huge amount of responsibility for this defeat. Obama had a window of opportunity when he was first elected in 2008. He was a highly popular president, with control of the Senate, who came to power when Wall Street had collapsed and the banking community was in tatters. He had a real chance to establish a New Deal programme just as Franklin D Roosevelt did in the Thirties. Instead, he employed Larry Summers and Tim Geithner as his economic advisers — the gravediggers of the New Deal institutions. They both served in the Clinton administration which dismantled the last checks and balances on Wall Street, including rendering the Glass-Steagall Act obsolete in 1996. So, those responsible for allowing Wall Street to run riot were brought in to fix the mess. Predictably, all they did was reinstate the privilege of the financial class.

Why has the notion of the liberal, or progressive, elite become so reviled?

In the past 30 years, we have allowed progressive values to become fragmented — there’s the LGBT struggle, the feminist struggle, the civil rights struggle. The moment a feminist accepts that having more women in the boardroom means a women migrant will do more menial jobs in the home for below the minimum wage, the connection between feminism and humanism is lost. When the gay movement adopted consumerism as its mantra with slogans like “shop till you drop”, which took the place of confrontations with bigotry and the police, it too became part of the liberal elite. The solution has to be a progressive movement that is international and humanist. It’s a tall order but it’s what is needed to oppose both the liberal establishment and Trump. They pretend to be enemies but in reality they are accomplies, feeding off each the other.

How worried should the world really be about a Trump presidency?

He will have his finger on the nuclear bomb, which is not a greatly comforting thought, it certainly doesn’t help me sleep well at night. The best we can realistically hope for is another Ronald Reagan. When Reagan was elected, the left was deeply troubled — he was advocating for trickle down economics and reviving the tensions of the Cold War. He was also a buffon in my mind — a third rate actor, although I don’t know if that is better or worse than a rogue property developer. In the end, although Reagan did contribute to global macroeconomic instability, he turned out to be a Keynesian president who struck a good deal with the Russians on nuclear disarmament. So, there is that possibility too.

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