By Philip Locker and Tom Crean of Socialist Alternative
People in the US and around the world awoke today to one of the most shocking political upsets in living memory with the election of Donald Trump as president. It was the culmination of an election cycle when ordinary Americans rose up against the political establishment and against the destructive effects of globalization and neo-liberalism. This was expressed both on the left, with the campaign of Bernie Sanders which galvanized millions for a “political revolution against the billionaire class,” and, in a distorted way, on the right with Trump’s campaign.
But Trump did not just run as the alleged defender of the “forgotten men and women” in working class communities. He also ran the most overtly bigoted and chauvinist campaign of a major party candidate in modern times. He created a space for white nationalists and open white supremacists to come out of their holes and try to reach disaffected white workers and youth. This is a very dangerous development.
However, we completely reject the notion – relentlessly pushed by liberal commentators, trying to deflect from the staggering failure of the Democratic Party – that the outcome demonstrates that the bulk of the white working class shares Trump’s racism and xenophobia. Clinton actually won the popular vote by a narrow margin. Trump only got 47.5% overall, with tens of millions of the poorest and most downtrodden Americans not voting.
Trump’s vote was first and foremost a vote against Clinton and the establishment; it was a vote for a “change agent” against a consummate representative of the corporate status quo. Many responded to his attacks on the “rigged system” and corporations who move jobs overseas.What was tragically missing was a clear choice on the left that could offer an alternative to the seduction of right populism.
Socialist Alternative stands with the millions of women who are disgusted by the election of an open misogynist and correctly see it as a step backward; with Latinos who fear that mass deportations of undocumented workers are about to ramp up to unprecedented levels; with Muslims and African Americans who fear that Trump’s hate speech will incite more violence and the growth of a far right force.
We immediately called protests in cities around the country to make it clear that working people and the oppressed must stand together and prepare to resist the attacks of the right. In the past 24 hours we have been inundated with requests for more information about our organization. We must start today to build a genuine political alternative for the 99% against both corporate dominated parties and the right so that in 2020 we will not go through this disaster again.
A Shock to the Ruling Class
It needs to be underlined that the outcome of this election was not just a shock to tens of millions of progressive workers, women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ people but also – for quite different reasons – to the ruling elite of the United States.
The majority of the ruling class see Trump as temperamentally “unfit to govern.” It is certainly true that Trump’s bully boy approach of publicly humiliating opponents and reacting to every perceived slight with nasty twitter posts has more in common with “strongmen” dictators in “failed states.” Even George Bush was not as proudly ignorant of international affairs as Trump. The ruling class see a Trump presidency as potentially deeply damaging to the interests of US imperialism at a time when its global power is waning, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, challenged by Russia and especially by an increasingly assertive Chinese imperialism.
They strongly object to Trump’s vociferous rejection of free trade deals and the dominant capitalist economic doctrines of the past forty years. But the truth is that globalization is stalled. Its engine of trade has gone into partial reverse. The Trump vote has some parallels with the Brexit vote in Britain to leave the European Union earlier this year which also reflected a massive rejection of globalization and neo-liberalism by the British working class.
The ruling class also fear that Trump’s crude racism, xenophobia, and misogyny will provoke social upheaval in the US. In this they will certainly be proved right.
At a deeper level, perhaps the most shocking aspect of this outcome for the ruling elite – including the corporate executives and the political establishment and corporate media outlets who serve them – is that the way they have dominated politics in this country through the two party system is broken. In election cycle after election cycle, the primaries have been used to weed out candidates who are not acceptable to corporate interests. Then the electorate would be left with the choice of two “vetted” nominees. The corporate elite might strongly prefer one or the other but they could live with either. Ordinary people were then left with the choice of picking a “lesser evil” or voting for a third party candidate with no chance of winning.
All that changed in 2016. First Bernie Sanders raised $220 million dollars without taking a dime from corporate America and came very close to defeating Hillary in the rigged Democratic primary. Trump was also largely shunned by the Republican “donor class” and the last two Republican presidents and the most recent Republican nominee were very public in rejecting him.
The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost
It is still staggering that the outcome of the primaries left people with a choice between the two most unpopular major party candidates of the modern era. Exit polling showed 61% of voters had an unfavorable view of Trump and 54% said the same about Clinton.
In the primaries, the Democratic National Committee did everything it could to stack the deck for the establishment’s chosen candidate, Hillary Clinton, against Sanders whom polls showed consistently doing much better against Trump. This speaks directly to the fact that a significant element of Trump’s eventual electorate was open to a genuine working class argument opposing the power of Wall Street and their free trade agenda while calling for a $15 minimum wage, free college, single payer healthcare and massive investment in green infrastructure. But the truth is that the Democratic leadership would rather lose than to be tied to a program that really spoke to the interests of working people and the poor.
Disgracefully most union leaders threw their support and millions of dollars behind Clinton in the primaries while an important section of trade unionists and several national unions backed Sanders. In this way, the labor leadership helped to prop up Wall Street’s candidate against a pro-working class challenge.
Clinton limped into the general election as a deeply damaged corporate candidate. What received the most attention in the media was the State Department email scandal. But the continuing Wikileaks revelations also confirmed in detail and underlined the picture that Sanders had painted in the primary: that Clinton was a servant of Wall Street who said one thing in private speeches to bankers who handed her millions and another in public.
Liberal apologists will seek to blame the white working class, Bernie supporters or even Jill Stein’s voters for the outcome. But as we have repeatedly pointed out the Democratic Party long ago abandoned even the pretense of defending working class interests. For decades they implemented or supported one neo-liberal measure after another: from “ending welfare as we know it,” expanding mass incarceration, pushing through NAFTA and repealing Glass Steagall under Bill Clinton to bailing out the banks while millions lost their homes under Obama.
After the 2008 and 2009 economic crash, the left gave Obama a pass. The Democrats controlled Congress and did little to help the working class in the worst crisis since the 1930s. This opened the door to the Tea Party to mobilize opposition to the bailout of Wall Street and anger at the politicians.
Under pressure from the 45% who supported Sanders in the primary, the Democrats adopted the most left platform at their convention in 40 years. But Clinton ran her campaign solidly focused on the message that Trump was an existential danger to the Republic and that “America was already great.” Hillary’s donors did not want her stressing issues like the minimum wage or ending college debt for fear of raising expectations among fired up working people. It could be argued that Hillary had no credibility as a progressive so what could she do? Well what she did was make Tim Kaine who supported TPP and bank deregulation her vice presidential candidate instead of someone like Elizabeth Warren. She refused to promise not to appoint a bunch of Goldman Sachs personnel to her administration. All of this was completely uninspiring to the millions of people hungry for real change.
It is therefore no surprise that Clinton was unable to enthuse greater voter turnout. Neither Trump nor Clinton got 50% of the vote. And while Clinton got a very slightly larger share of the popular vote than Trump, she got six million fewer votes than Obama in 2012 and fully ten million fewer than Obama in 2008. Meanwhile, Trump’s vote was actually a million votes lower than Romney’s!
As Jacobin pointed out: “Clinton won only 65 percent of Latino voters, compared to Obama’s 71 percent four years ago. She performed this poorly against a candidate who ran on a program of building a wall along America’s southern border, a candidate who kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. Clinton won 34 percent of white women without college degrees. And she won just 54 percent of women overall, compared to Obama’s 55 percent in 2012. Clinton, of course, was running against a candidate who has gloated on film about grabbing women ‘by the pussy.’” Clinton also did not excite younger black voters, many of whom sat the election out. And she lost in white working class communities where Barack Obama won handily in both previous elections.
The Democratic establishment played a dangerous game in this election – and they lost. And it will be working people, communities of color, and women who bear the brunt of their failure.
Sanders Should Have Been on the Ballot
In the past few years we have seen a profound political polarization in the US with the growth of support among young people for socialism and Black Lives Matter while there is a growth of open xenophobia and racism among a minority of the population. But the overall trend in American society has been to the left, expressed in support for marriage equality, a higher minimum wage and taxing the rich. This election does not change that underlying reality but it clearly puts the right in the driver seat with control of the presidency, both houses of Congress and the bulk of state legislatures.
A large section of the white working class and middle class did indeed use this election to underline their utter rejection of the Democratic Party and also the establishment of the Republicans. In a distorted way, tens of millions were looking for a way to oppose the corporate elite. We cannot close our eyes to the growth in support among a minority for far right ideas but it is revealing, for example, that exit polls showed that 70% said undocumented immigrants “should be offered legal status” against 25% who said they should be deported.
This is why it is absolutely tragic that Bernie Sanders was not on the ballot yesterday. We urged him to run as an independent as early as September 2014 when he first raised the idea of a presidential campaign. When he decided to run within the Democratic Party primary we disagreed with accepting this framework but continued to engage with his supporters in a discussion about how to achieve his program and the need for a new party.
Our warnings about the consequences of supporting Hillary have been tragically borne out. If Sanders had continued to run all the way to November, as we and many others urged, his presence would have radically changed the character of the race. He would have almost certainly forced his way into the presidential debates and we would right now be discussing the immediate question of forming a new party of the 99% based on the many millions of votes he would have received. This is a massive opportunity missed.
Socialist Alternative supported Jill Stein of the Green Party who received just over one million votes because she also put forward a platform that substantively spoke to the interests of working people. Stein’s campaign had many limitations but, despite them, her vote in a small way indicates the massive potential that exists for the development of a mass left alternative.
A Presidency of Chaos and Struggle
The election of Donald Trump is a disaster which will have many negative consequences. But it is also a phase in the ongoing process of political and social upheaval in the US. Capitalism and its institutions are discredited as perhaps never before, a process that continued right through the end of the general election with the FBI interjecting itself into the political process and Trump relentless talking about the “rigged” political system.
There will inevitably be widespread despair in sections of the left and a feeling that all attempts to move society forward are useless. It is absolutely essential to push back against this mood. Real change as Bernie Sanders correctly pointed out comes from the bottom up, from mass movements in the workplaces and the streets.
Trump’s victory represents the “whip of counter-revolution.” There will be chaos and provocations which will impel millions into defensive action. This is why those who have been radicalized in the past period must redouble their efforts to build a real mass movement for change, independent of corporate control. The social movements of recent years and especially BLM show the potential.
But it also essential to see that Trump will inevitably disappoint his supporters. “Building a wall” will not create millions of good jobs to replace those lost to automation and trade deals. And though he talks about investing in 21st century infrastructure, he is also committed to even further massive tax breaks for billionaires like himself. A mass movement against Trump will need to appeal directly to the white working class and explain how we can create a future where all young people can have a decent future rather than trying to recreate the “American dream” by deepening racial division. Such a future can only be achie ved with socialist policies.