it not been for the Electoral College, at this moment we would be
discussing the plans for the incoming Hillary Clinton administration.
That’s right. She actually won the popular vote. Thus, once
again, that institution created by the founding slave owners has
risen from the grave and prevented our exit from the cemetery.
begin there to put the election into context and to suggest that
commentary needs to be quite nuanced. No, I am not trying to make
lemonade out of lemons. But I do think that it is important to
recognize that the Trump victory was far from a slam-dunk; the
election was very close. One might not get that impression, however,
when one looks at news headlines as well as Electoral College maps.
are some of the conclusions we can arrive at from this election?
election was a referendum on globalization and demographics; it was
not a referendum on neo-liberalism:
is critical to appreciate that Trump’s appeal to whites was
around their fear of the multiple implications of globalization.
This included trade agreements AND migration. Trump focused on the
symptoms inherent in neo-liberal globalization, such as job loss, but
his was not a critique of neo-liberalism. He continues to advance
deregulation, tax cuts, anti-unionism, etc. He was making no
systemic critique at all, but the examples that he pointed to from
wreckage resulting from economic and social dislocation, resonated
for many whites who felt, for various reasons, that their world was
was the connection between globalization and migration that struck a
chord, just as it did in Britain with the Brexit vote. In both
cases, there was tremendous fear of the changing complexion of both
societies brought on by migration and economic dislocation (or the
threat of economic dislocation). Protectionism plus firm borders
were presented as answers in a world that has altered dramatically
with the reconfiguration of global capitalism.
election represented the consolidation of a misogynistic white united
are a few issues that need to be ‘unpacked’ here. For
all of the talk about the problems with Hillary Clinton-the-candidate
and the failure to address matters of economics, too few commentators
are addressing the fact that the alliance that Trump built was one
that not only permitted but encouraged racism and misogyny. In point
of fact, Trump voters were prepared to buy into various unsupported
allegations against Clinton that would never have stuck had she not
been a woman. Additionally, Trump’s own baggage, e.g., married
and divorced multiple times; allegations of sexual assault, would
never have been tolerated had the candidate been a woman (or, for
that matter, of color). Trump was given a pass that would only be
given to a white man in US society. All one has to do is to think
about the various allegations, charges and history surrounding Donald
Trump and then ask the question: had
the candidate been a woman or of color, what would have happened?
The answer is obvious.
in connection with this matter is that for all of the talk about
economic fear, there is this recurring fact that many people seem to
wish to avoid. Just as with the Tea Party, the mean income of the
Trump base is higher than the national mean (and was higher than the
mean for Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters). Thus, we were
not dealing with the poorest of the poor. Instead, this was a
movement driven by those who are actually doing fairly well but are
despairing because the American Dream that they embraced no longer
seems to work for white people.
is critical for us to get because had the Trump phenomenon been
mainly about a rejection of economic injustice, then this base would
have been nearly interchangeable with that of Senator Sanders. Yet
that was not the case. What we can argue, instead, is that this
segment of the white population was looking in terror at the erosion
of the American Dream, but they were looking at it through the prism
Clinton, as candidate, was flawed but we should be careful in our
Clinton had expected a coronation, the Sanders campaign pushed her to
be more than she expected. The platform of the Democratic Party was
shifted to the left in many important respects. Yet Clinton could
not be champion of an anti-corporate populist movement. Yes, she
correctly argued to tax the 1%. Yes, she articulated many
progressive demands. But in the eyes of too many people, including
many of her supporters, she was compromised by her relationship with
said, what also needs to be considered is that Trump had so many
negatives against him. Yes, he was an outsider, so to speak, and
used that very skillfully to argue that he would bring another pair
of eyes to the situation. Yet, this is the same person who is in the
upper echelons of the economy; refused to share his tax returns; has
numerous allegations against him for bad business with partners and
workers; and engages in the same off-shoring of production as many of
the companies he criticized! Yet, none of that haunted him in the
way that various criticisms haunted Clinton. Fundamentally this was
a matter of sexism, though it is certainly true that Clinton’s
being perceived as an insider did not help.
don’t know whether Bernie Sanders would have done any better
but we do know that his message is the one that needs to be
is impossible to accurately predict whether Sanders would have done
better in the final election. He certainly would have been subjected
to an immense amount of red-baiting and suggestions of foreign policy
softness. Yet his message did resonate among millions, especially
younger voters. And it was younger voters who did not turn out in
force to back Clinton.
entering the Trump era it is the movement that Sanders was part of
coalescing that becomes key in building a resistance that has a
positive vision. One of the weaknesses of the Sanders message was
its failure to unify matters of class with race and gender. This is
not an academic exercise. This is about telling the right story
about what has been happening in the USA. It is also a matter of
taping into significant social movements, e.g., Occupy; immigrant
rights; LGBT; environmental justice; movement for Black Lives. These
are movements that are focused on the future and a future that is
progressive. This, in fact, is where the hope lies.
have argued for some time that right-wing populism—with the
Trump campaign exemplifying an aspect of this—is a revolt
against the future. It is a movement that is always focused on a
mythical past to which a particular country must return. In the case
of the USA, right-wing populism seeks a return to the era of the
‘white republic,’ and it is this that the Trump campaign
was so successful in articulating. It did so through disparaging
Mexicans, suggesting them as a source of crime, completely ignoring
criminal syndicates that have historically arrived in the USA from
Europe. It did so through demonizing Arabs and Muslims, suggesting
them as sources of terror, completely ignoring that the greatest
sources of political terror in the USA have been white supremacist
populism has grown as a result of both the ravages brought on by
neo-liberal globalization as well as the demographic and political
changes within the USA. It is the latter—demographic and
political changes—that have unfolded over the decades as
previously disenfranchised groups have asserted themselves and
articulated, to paraphrase the poet Langston Hughes, we,
too, sing America.
let us lick our wounds and reflect on the future. This election
result was one that more of us should have anticipated as a real
possibility. In either case, that the results were so close and that
we did not have the ideal candidate to represent the new majority
emerging in the USA remains for me a source of immense hope.
struggle certainly continues.