A misogynistic, racist, narcissistic, profit maximizing capitalist slug—but not a moron—is now President of the United States. The world’s biggest bully now possesses the world’s biggest bully pulpit. Trump will preen his way through the West Wing with a black box armageddon machine in quick reach. He will re-populate the Supreme Court at the expense of justice. He will try to make life a living hell for immigrants. Police budgets will blossom and repression will escalate. And if he can get away with it, Trump will fossil fuel the world into simultaneously drowning and burning, all while he uplifts fascist trends here and abroad which are not significantly more populated than earlier, but are certainly more energetic.
How Did This Happen?
First, the Democrats burned Bernie. Sanders might have not only beaten Trump, but also successfully radicalized large parts of Trump’s support while ushering in a sustainable, more just future. Sanders might even have helped attain some fundamental change, and this was, of course, exactly why the Democrats burned him. But it was beyond our power to get the party to behave otherwise during the election, so pinpointing this fault reveals nothing new and achieves little for today. Second, the media coddled Trump, even exalted him. They did this for ratings and dollars. Damn the world, score more ad revenue. But that is their market-driven corporate job, so surely it shouldn’t have been a surprise. This too was not something we could curtail for this election, though if we had paid more attention to affecting media over the past few decades, things might have been different. Finding this fault doesn’t help much today.
Third, the Greens refused to run a safe states campaign and many left writers spent endless time excoriating Clinton and even Sanders and strategic voting. If Clinton had gotten all of Stein’s votes in contested states and if all the energy that went into bashing Clinton had gone into promoting strategic voting while reaching out to pro-Trump union members throughout the rust belt, well, count it up to see what that might have accomplished. But again, this is what the Greens and such writers have done before, so it was no big surprise they did it now. And while people tried to induce a change in their choice, our efforts weren’t successful. There are lessons here, but for right now, noting this fault doesn’t help much, either.
Instead, the big picture takeaway on the cause of our current catastrophe is more strategic and general. Consider rural poor whites throughout the south and rural and urban working people in the rust belt. Why, fifty years since the 1960s, are these constituencies still susceptible to Trumpism instead of generating their own movements of serious left content? We know it is not in their genes due to being male or being white. It is partly in the media machinations they suffer and in the mindsets of market competition they try to navigate. But what matters more, I think, for actually going forward in the coming period, is to acknowledge and then act upon the fact that working class and even considerable female and Latino support for Trump rather than for left radicalism owes to a toxic mix of their justified fury at their impoverishment and lack of influence plus our past activist choices curtailing what they see as their effective options. It owes to the fact that for the past 50 years most of the left has never successfully communicated with these constituencies, and has, indeed, to some degree, barely even tried to do so. Looking forward six months or a year, Trump will have done many things to the detriment of many people—perhaps turning back climate politics to the detriment of everyone. What Trump won’t have done is improve the well being of a large part of his base. Those who voted for Trump and who are truly misogynist and racist may feel uplifted by his abortion, guns, policing, Obama care, and war spending policies. But how will Trump’s supporters who voted to send a message that they have had enough of poverty, indifference, illness, and dismissal feel when they don’t gain from Trump being president? There are, I suspect, three broad possibilities: They will become depressed and fade into near silence; They will become even more outraged, but will continue to accept Trump’s race baiting, women bashing, immigrant scapegoating, and anti Muslim war posturing; they will see that the message bearer they voted for is a lying corporate scum bag and acknowledge that we need real change of the Sanders sort, and then more. But in the optimistic case, where will they turn? Where will they get support and information? What vehicle will they join or create and propel?
If condescending classism persists on the left, even just as habit, then a year from now the hostility workers sense coming from the left will ward off their still escalating working class anger from becoming leftist, and where that anger then lands could be far more ugly than anything we have seen to date.
Our big picture task is to re-conceive our media, our writing, our organizing, our speaking, our programs, our vision—everything—in light of the need to hear and reach out to and not repel not only those who are outraged by racism, sexism and/or global warming, but also those who are outraged by the poverty and emotional and operational dismissals they daily suffer.
One of the dangers of Trump in office is that people of good will and insight will turn all their energies to combatting Trump. We will prioritize warding off reaction while leaving no time to do anything positive. We should ward off reaction, yes, but we should also offer a positive vision and fight to implement positive change. Anything less will be a fool’s errand. To look at the election debacle and find fault with everyone and everything but ourselves, or to let Trump’s agenda circumscribe our focus will just pave the way for further catastrophe.
This wasn’t Armageddon. If Clinton had won the electoral college by a hair instead of losing by a hair (and she in fact won the popular vote), there would be little angst and agony. The difference is minimal votes but maximal formal power shift. The truth is, as far as the population is concerned, we have learned what we knew. People throughout society are hurting, angry, and really do want change. We have to attain a condition in which the change people want is healthy, and the means to win it are evident and within reach. That will be hard, but not impossible. I think there is no point denying the danger is major. We can legitimately mourn but we must also organize. To make believe this wasn’t a disaster would be lying. To allow this disaster to translate into dormancy would be suicide.
Michael Albert is an activist, writer and staff member of Z communications.