“I blame myself and the rest of my party for not inspiring these young people. I tried my hardest, I broke my back. I did. And I know I failed .. And I’m dealing with that and its cost me a lot of sleep. But, I need, and others like me need, to find a way to connect with these people and I guarantee you they’re very young.” – Paul Begala on CNN, Nov. 9th
On Monday I began to write about the American election presuming a Hillary Clinton victory, which I thought would be narrow but which all the experts were telling me was a sure thing. I imagined that in the realm of foreign policy there would be a lot to talk about in terms of a second Clinton presidency.
Then, a day later, American voters dropped a bomb.
Once again, Donald Trump surprised the world and once again the electoral college gave the presidency to the candidate who, in the end, is likely to have fewer actual votes. If the American people ever needed proof that the US constitution should be a living document, an idea opposed by Trump and most Republicans, this is it. The electoral college might have been a good idea more than 200 years ago but that time has passed.
That Monday night before the election, Trump gave a speech in Scranton, Pennsylvania and he sounded more like Bernie Sanders than ever, a crucial part of the narrative that the media missed because most of them were too busy chasing the big story of his 3 AM tweets. The focus remained on the obvious racism and sexism of some of his supporters rather than the traction he was getting with his populist economic message.
This is shown by the President Elect’s rust belt wins, where he persuaded at least some independents who had voted for Obama in the previous two elections to cast their ballots for him. The current President had promised these working class voters change 8 years ago but, as Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report recently wrote, “With both houses of Congress in Democratic hands and the GOP on the ropes in 2009, he rushed to put Social Security, Medicare and “all entitlements” “on the table” for cutting.”
Thankfully for all the Americans who rely on these programs, the Republican scorn for the country’s first black president “prevented consummation of the Grand Bargain, Obama’s Holy Grail.”
Similar to Brexit, Trump’s election was based, at least in part, on working class people (including many women) repudiating the neo-liberalism that has reigned throughout the western world since Bill Clinton began the process of turning the Democratic Party into a party of the center right. This isn’t to say that racism, sexism and xenophobia didn’t play a role, but Trump is in many ways just an impolite version of what the American right has been saying about these communities for decades.
Working people of all races, genders and sexual orientations are hurting economically and many of them blame trade deals that favor capital over people. They see Democratic politicians who pretend to have their interests at heart but who at the same time vote to spend trillions on war and bailing out banks.
The More Things Change…
Many Trump voters are sure to be disappointed again because he’s not going to be the change agent they hope for. Judging by the people that will populate the Trump administration according to recent leaks, many of the same rightwingers unleashed during the Bush Jr. Administration will now return to power.
One likely candidate for the key post of Treasury Secretary is Steve Mnuchin, a banker and film producer who has served as Trump’s campaign Finance Chair. Mnuchin has been employed by Goldman Sachs (where his father also worked) and for a short time by Soros Fund Management. Perhaps most egregiously, he ran a bank called OneWest that became famous for foreclosing on homeowners across the country after the financial crisis of 2008. Last year he sold the bank for almost $3.5 billion.
Some on the right have made the argument that Trump will be a peace president or, at the very least a realist in foreign affairs. If this were true he wouldn’t have brought in former CIA director James Woolsey, a signatory to the neoconservative Project for a New American Century as his national security advisor in September.
Woolsey, when not serving in office, has worked for defense contractor Booz Allen, Paladin Capital Group and Genie Energy Ltd, a perfect example of the kinds of conflicts of interest we have seen so often in Washington’s revolving door world.
Maybe even worse is the idea of Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General. This is the man who will likely try to make Trump’s promise to enact ‘Stop and Frisk’ nationwide a reality. A man who actually said during the campaign, “When you say black lives matter, that’s inherently racist… That’s anti-American and it’s racist.”
Giuliani is no political outsider, he’s a hero to much of the base of the Republican Party.
Finally, probably the biggest threat represented by the Republican victory on Tuesday over the longer term is to the environment, something which affects us all regardless of where we live. Trump is on the record saying that the climate crisis is a fraud propagated by the Chinese but his basic position is the default position of his party, even if he expresses it in a particularly ignorant way.
Myron Ebell, a well known climate change ‘skeptic’ has been put in charge of the President Elect’s transition team at the EPA. This is a man who said that the Paris Climate Treaty, a half-measure signed by President Obama last year, “is clearly an unconstitutional usurpation of the Senate’s authority.”
Rather than representing some uniquely new form of evil, Americans will be facing the same people who have been trying to overturn Roe v. Wade for a generation. With majorities in both Houses of Congress these ideologues might just get their chance over the next two years, although they will probably leave this form of political suicide to an unaccountable Supreme Court.
America Needs a Left
At the Occupy encampment here in Montreal five years ago, people with very different views come together in the spirit of true democracy that the almost two year long circus of this American election has made a mockery of. In the time since, we have cheered on the brave activists of Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, who have revived radical traditions that are the oxygen to our movements for the struggles ahead.
Here in Canada we had something of the opposite experience from the United States last year. Canadians voted out the far right Harper government and elected Justin Trudeau, a young and charismatic Liberal. Still, the only thing that’s really changed is the tone of the conversation. The pipeline projects and trade deals, most recently CETA with the EU, go on much as before. The difference now is that people look at you like you’re crazy when you mention this and dismiss you as a crank.
The notion of class, usually out of bounds in American politics, was used very effectively by Trump to win over working class whites. Rather than learn from what Bernie Sanders showed them; that a broad coalition of young people, workers and the poor could win them a generational advantage, the Democratic Party chose to focus on the least radical kind of identity politics.
Does it really matter if African Americans make up 13% of Wall Street bankers if working class black people are routinely killed by police? What does it say about their strategy that more than a quarter of Latino voters chose Trump? By putting these kinds of questions first, the left can become a powerful voice for real empowerment rather than vague promises and flowery words.
Lets not forget that we recently learned that the Clinton campaign wanted to face Trump in the election and that instead of listening to the criticism coming from their own left wing they ran away from it. The campaign actually wrote, “we need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so they they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to take them seriously.”
Hillary Clinton and the DNC managed to show less empathy for people struggling with economic hardship than the narcissistic billionaire they thought they’d have an easy time beating.This failure of empathy was central to their defeat and hopefully they will choose to learn from it.
If there is one small silver lining to this, it’s that it could create an opening for a more radical alternative to grow in opposition to the Republican sweep, a movement that puts the poor and the working class, along with traditionally marginalized communities first, rather than seeing them as voting blocks to be exploited in a neoliberal ‘Game of Thrones’.