US president Joe Biden (Picture: Flickr/ European Parliament)

The United States is visibly reeling as it tries to maintain its position as the hegemonic capitalist power. Gaza, Ukraine, Yemen, Iran, Taiwan—these are too many conflicts to grapple with simultaneously. This external meltdown is mirrored by an internal one, as the US political system gears up to the presidential election in November. Voters are likely to face a choice between two elderly men—Joe Biden aged 81 and Donald Trump aged 79. Both are widely despised by large and opposing sections of society.

I’ve a strong personal interest in rejecting the idea that people in their later years can’t be perfectly competent. Biden’s age has become an issue of late because of some gaffes and a hostile lawyer’s report. But my guess is that much less attention would be paid to it if it weren’t for the fact that living standards were badly squeezed by the inflationary upsurge of 2022-23.

Even though inflation has dropped sharply and the US economy grew respectably last year, voters still haven’t forgiven Biden. Many seem to have rosy memories of the Trump presidency when ultra-cheap central bank money kept the economy afloat.  The Financial Times conducted a survey with the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. It found that “42 percent of Americans felt Trump would be the best steward of the US economy, while only 31 percent chose Biden”.

Trump has already more or less sewn up the Republican nomination for the presidency, while Biden as sitting president is doing the same for the Democrats. Trump’s return has already galvanised the Republicans in the US Congress effectively to paralyse the legislative process. Usually new laws are agreed on through compromises after often tortuous bargaining between Democrats and Republicans in the two houses of Congress and the White House.

But Trump’s power over the Republican rank and file means this process has broken down. Back in October a tiny group of far-right Republicans in the House of Representatives were able to force out the speaker Kevin McCarthy, himself a Republican. He was punished for cutting a deal in the traditional way with the Democrats. 

Biden has been trying to get military aid packages for Ukraine and now Israel through Congress for months. McCarthy’s replacement, Mike Johnson, is a Trump ally who opposes more money going to Ukraine. Biden and the Democrats tried to draw the Republicans into a deal by giving them everything they wanted to block migrants and refugees from crossing the southern border. But Trump vetoed it because he wants anti-migrant racism as a live issue in the election.

Meanwhile, big business—which shunned him after the 6 January 2021 storming of the Capitol—is coming to terms with a possible second Trump presidency. Edward Luce of the Financial Times explains the reasoning behind the shift. “For all his faults, Trump would be better for business than Biden,” he wrote. “Trump cut the top tax rate and improved their bottom lines. He is promising to do the same again.  

“Trump’s railing against corporatism is just red meat for the base. He would also boost the fossil fuel industry and commercial real estate. The assumption of business leaders that Trump will fulfil these promises is almost certainly right. The fact that he vows to slap 10 percent tariffs on all imports should be weighed against Biden’s continued regulatory creep.

“To many corporate chiefs, less globalisation is a price worth paying for lower taxes.” Trump’s return isn’t by any means inevitable. But the prospect is now refracting back onto the general crisis of US imperialism. He claimed at a recent rally that he told a Nato leader, presumably when he was president, “I would not protect you” from a Russian attack. 

This has sent a wave of panic through Europe, whose military weakness has been exposed by the failure to supply the munitions promised to Ukraine. The political implosion within the US is exacerbating the crises abroad—which Biden is struggling to contain.

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