One thing is clear in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory: nothing is resolved. Despite predictable calls by top Democrats and Republicans for unity and healing, the polarization reflected in this election is only sharpening.
Protests began immediately with the news of Trump’s election. The popular slogan and chant “not my president” testify to a flat rejection of reconciliation with Trump and the bigotry he stands for. The demonstrators’ outrage stands in stark contrast to the serenity with which Democrats accepted the undemocratic result of a presidential contest that they actually won, by a million votes or so!
Verbal and physical attacks on the groups maligned by Trump have increased. Strangers scream at immigrants and U.S.-born people of color to “go back where you came from.” Swastikas and “white America” slogans appear on the sides of buildings. Muslim women wearing the hijab are threatened and assaulted.
The need for a fightback is urgent, and has already begun. But if we are to fight back effectively, we have to analyze what really happened in this election and why.
Let’s talk about class. Trump’s candidacy seemed to be the longest of long shots. It was actually the Electoral College, of course, which anointed him. (See our editorial, Electoral College — legacy of slavery.) He did win votes from about a quarter of the adult population, thanks to a mix of factors that included racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. The biggest driver of the Trump vote, however, was people’s anger and fear over their economic prospects.
Hillary Clinton, as the establishment candidate seeking a third term for the Democrats, advanced a vision of the country in which, despite problems, things are good and getting better all the time. In contrast, Trump acknowledged the reality experienced by tens of millions of people in precarious straits, for whom the economic recovery is a bad joke.
Trump’s ugly twist, however, was to scapegoat people of color, immigrants, and Muslims for the inequality and insecurity caused by the profit system — while mocking people with disabilities and waging a viciously misogynist campaign against Clinton.
It was appalling to see how well this strategy paid off, and for some it was surprising as well. How could so many people agree with Trump’s bigotry? Or disclaim it, but vote for him anyway?
The answer, in large part, is lack of class consciousness. What the working class has in common — the exploitation of our labor by tax-evading corporations — is much more profound than the things that divide us: skin color, national background, gender, sexual orientation, income level, etc. But the U.S. working class is not used to seeing itself this way! Ultimately, this is the fault of the ruling class, whose bosses are very skilled at pitting us against one another.
However, labor leaders who practice business unionism — who seek a “partnership” with employers — also have a lot to answer for. Their loyalty to the Democrats, a capitalist party whose job is to protect corporate power, is usually much stronger than to their members and the class as a whole. They are living a “lesser evil” fantasy which they try to sell to their members and the public — but this year, people weren’t buying.
The Democrats laid the path. It’s clear that right-wing populist Trump didn’t win the election so much as Clinton lost it. And it wasn’t only because of sexism, or her personal unpopularity, or the fact that scandals follow the Clintons like mud follows the rain. It was because after eight years of a Democratic presidency, people are still suffering, still afraid for the future, still left behind.
This is as true for a young Black man at risk of being killed by police as it is for a small-business owner collapsing under the weight of taxes, or for a former paper mill worker now with a job at Walmart.
When Barack Obama moved into the White House, the Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress. What happened to the idea of universal healthcare? To the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for workers to unionize? To the end of war in the Middle East? To pay equity for women? To shutting down Guantánamo?
The Obama administration delivered none of those things. Instead, we got even wider wars, a record number of immigrant deportations, an epic bailout of the banksters, anti-planet policies favoring fracking and drilling, and 15 million children officially living in poverty, plus an epidemic of murders by police. As for Obama’s healthcare reform, it is so flawed it has become an easy target for reactionaries.
The Democrats would like to blame Republican stonewalling for the lack of progress for workers and the poor at the same time that wealth at the top grew by over $30 trillion. But, as President Obama would retort, “C’mon, man.” When Trump asked voters, “What have you got to lose,” it wasn’t a rhetorical question.
For a global solution, starting at home. “Trumpism” is not just a U.S. phenomenon. Far-right horror-show politicians like France’s Marine Le Pen are gaining influence all over the world stage. But Trump represents a unique threat because of the power the U.S. wields across the globe.
The U.S. election reflects a faltering capitalism thrashing about wildly to right itself. The solution, like the problem, has to be international. But it won’t come from the White House. It’s got to come from the bottom up, from the people who need change the most. This godawful election is not a cause for gloom and doom. It is a reason to organize!
The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) has lots of ideas about actions that could be taken, which we would like to work on together with other grass-roots activists. We support the call for a mass, militant protest on Inauguration Day and we will be there. We stand ready to defend refugees and immigrants, Muslims, women, LGBTQ people, Jews, and people of color from right-wing attacks.
FSP also thinks it’s time again to talk seriously about forming an independent labor party. Working people need a political voice and organizing vehicle of our own!
Let’s scream, let’s holler, let’s be disobedient civilly or uncivilly, let’s raise hell in our unions and with our unions. But let’s be thoughtful, disciplined, multi-issue, inclusive, united. And let’s set our sights on going all the way this time. Let’s turn rage into revolution!
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