avatar
What Now?


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. Hell, 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 and 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. And this too was not something we could curtail for this election, though if we had had paid more attention to affecting media over the past few decades, things might have been different. Finding this fault too, 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 energetically and respectfully 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, too. 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.

There were also voting patterns in the primaries for Clinton rather than Sanders, and radical writers denigrating Sanders during the primaries, and even Sanders’ own choice of how to help Clinton – I think he might have achieved more by reaching out far more vigorously to potential Trump voters. But finding these faults also helps little, if at all, now.

Instead, to my reckoning, the big picture take away on the cause of our current catastrophe is more strategic and general. Not only is a radical left that harbors all manner of racist or sexist habits a losing proposition – which everyone on the left seems to understand and at least try to correct – so too a radical left that harbors all manner of classist habits is a losing proposition – which few on the left seem to even understand, much less try to correct. The point is, addressing class in a way that sacrifices constructive attention to race and gender breeds failure. But addressing race and gender in a way that sacrifices constructive attention to class also breeds failure.

Consider rural poor whites throughout the south and even more so rural and urban working people in the rust belt. Why, fifty years since the Sixties, 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 fifty years most of the left has never successfully communicated with these constituencies, and has, indeed, to some degree, barely even tried to do so.

Look forward six months or a year. Trump will have done many things to the tremendous detriment of many people – not to mention 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 and mainly 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 by Trump being President, and when they even lose?

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, as well as what may become an I am the maximum leader you need syndrome, becoming true fodder for fascism.

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?

This re-raises the last reason I offered for the election debacle. I suggested that the big picture problem has been a left, ourselves, that is largely incapable of addressing working people’s hatred of worsening circumstances without being condescending and classist about it. 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.

21 Comments

  1. Calisto Glen November 13, 2016 10:10 am 

    I think your coordinator class critique will be important. Because Trump supporters voted against the Dems who represent the cultural elite.

    Strange to believe we have a left weak on class…

    • avatar
      Michael Albert November 12, 2016 5:42 pm 

      The folks doing this are close friends of mine – very good project!!

      • avatar
        Tee Hee November 12, 2016 9:57 pm 

        Yeah, I’ve written a few pieces for it myself. Nice to meet you. What I hate most of all from Left politics is the dishonesty, and the refusal to accept certain home truths. The leadership are not listening. That did change somewhat with the leadership election of Jeremy Corbyn. He is trying to engage the working class.

  2. H H November 11, 2016 10:01 pm 

    The real leftists should rejoice over Trump’s victory. Clinton’s victory would have prevented any progressive Democrat from running for 8 years! After 4 years of Trump/Republicans being in charge, many of the anti-establishment voters who had no one but Trump to go to this year due to the DNC’s sabotage of Bernie, will be wiser and ready to vote for the next Bernie four years from now, assuming the left gets its act together.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert November 12, 2016 1:40 pm 

      I can only hope the callousness of this attitude is due to ignorance. Sorry you feel this way.

  3. avatar
    6079winstonsmith November 11, 2016 8:47 pm 

    Michael, with Clinton beating a path to war with Russia, it made the choice a very easy one for me. Please forgive my unintentional pun, but the prospect of nuclear war simply trumps all these other considerations. ALL of them. It is just not acceptable to risk that. And it is depressing and shameful that the “best” candidate the “left” could bring to challenge The Dump was a Machiavellian warmonger. Incredible. And it’s embarrassing that the likes of you and even Noam Chomsky advocated for her.

    • H H November 11, 2016 9:54 pm 

      Thank you, 6079winstonsmith! I too am ashamed that people who call themselves leftists told us to vote for a person who, if she was not protected by the biggest military of the world, would be on trial for war crimes.

      • avatar
        Michael Albert November 12, 2016 1:44 pm 

        Sorry I embarrass you. Sorry you think myself, and Chomsky, and so on, have all foregone reason and our moral and political commitments because, what, we disagreed with you..

        We said vote Clinton in swing states…and rightly so.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert November 12, 2016 1:41 pm 

      Again sorry you feel as you do,,,and that you seem to think you know so much better with so much confidence what risks nuclear war more, or less.

  4. avatar
    Ed Lytwak November 11, 2016 6:42 pm 

    What is to be done? First and foremost, the progressive left must forever abandon the political calculus of lesser evil. Strategic voting for the lesser evil is a fool’s errand. You are guaranteed to end up with evil, and it is pointless to argue over whether Trump or Clinton were the lesser. IMO, this is the primary reason for Trump’s victory. Trump was able to mobilize white middle-class establishment antipathy toward the duopoly establishment as a vote for the “lesser evil” far more effectively than the progressive left. Face it, the progressive left relied on lesser evil politics and lost – badly! The Greens presented the only truly social democratic alternative to the lesser evil yet were marginalized and depreciated by the progressive left as weak and ineffective – the very constituency that should have enthusiastically embraced them. The so-called Trump voters understood who was really the lesser evil far better than the progressive left.
    The far more important take away, is that effective political action must be based on a constructive NOT obstructive program – as most electoral politics (particularly on the national and state level) are. While some attention to electoral politics is obviously necessary in times like these, the focus of organizing must be on building constructive economic and cultural alternatives to the capitalist system. One of the reason that Green and left progressive politics is so ineffective is because the vast majority of people live in colonial dependence on the capitalist economic system for means of subsistence, even survival, let alone well-being. When J.Edgar Hoover found out that the Black Panther party was providing breakfasts for children, he rightly concluded that they were dangerous and must be destroyed. He was not worried about their guns and militant self-defense because he rightly understood the capacity of the State for violence and repression was far greater than theirs and knew exactly how to handle that. Until the progressive left can provide real economic and cultural alternatives they will remain politically marginalized, like the Green party.
    The upshot of all this is that the progressive left should prioritize cultural over political revolution. By cultural, I’m using the ecological definition, the way a species makes a living, i.e. survives and reproduces. The good news is that this is already quietly happening in the U.S. and globally on a large scale. I’m most familiar with the constructive programs now underway in providing food alternatives – regenerative agriculture, agroecology. But there are many other important things happening in the area of alternative economics, i.e. co-ops, participatory economics etc. The social movements that today are having the most impact – and doing the most effective organizing – are those working apart from electoral politics, i.e. Black Lives Matter, NoDAPL (& Occupy before them). It’s a common cliché that change comes from the bottom up but too many on the progressive left still act as if transformational social change is going to come from the top down through the political electoral process.

    • avatar
      Michael Lesher November 11, 2016 7:17 pm 

      “[T]oo many on the progressive left still act as if transformational social change is going to come from the top down through the political electoral process.”

      With all due respect, I don’t think anyone is arguing that here — certainly not Michael Albert. The question is whether it’s wise simply to ignore the whole system of elected government while building change incrementally from below or outside it. And the reasonable answer is clearly no.

      If it were really true that all administrations are interchangeable, and the elections change nothing, one might be forgiven for overlooking the enormous impact government has on all of us, not to mention its enormous potential for making things either better or worse — overlooking it, I mean, not for failure to recognize its power but for despair at having any effect on it.

      But administrations are not interchangeable, and even relatively small differences in policy can have very substantial impacts when joined to great power. To overlook the likely consequences of those differences — consequences not only very serious in themselves but with serious implications for the opportunities that will or won’t be available to popular movements (now and in the future) — makes no more sense than supposing it makes no difference who’s driving the car, so long as I’m in the back seat.

      Again, no one here is applauding the Democrats or embracing Hillary Clinton. But if we really have better alternatives to offer, we need to offer them, not only where they’re already popular but where they can make a difference. I suspect that Trump’s election signals the extent to which huge numbers of people have lost faith in both major parties and crave a genuine alternative. But if the only alternatives offered to them come from the likes of Trump, or from people even worse than Trump, while we turn our collective backs on the arena in which these types operate freely, we could end up doctors without a patient.

      • avatar
        Tee Hee November 12, 2016 4:27 am 

        but, old bean, whether he or anyone is advocating top down reform on here or anywhere else, or not, that’s been the problem with left politics in the US and in my country, the UK, for yonks, this idea that reform should come and will come from the top and infuse those beneath with benign light and wisdom. Hasn’t quite worked out, has it? The so called left has been as much responsible for the political disenfranchisement and economic marginalization of the working class they purport to represent. In the US, they gambled on having a tamed establishment candidate to oppose Donald Trump, than Bernie Sanders, who was talking about genuine social reform. The question is, why?

        I’ll give you some answers. You may, or not agree with them. Firstly, the left both sides of the duck pond are top heavy with affluent SJWs obsessed with identity politics, PC, ethnic minority rights sadly almost directly at the expense of the majority of working class people (white or not) who are more interested in getting fair paying jobs that pay the bills and give them security and a future, than worrying about ideological purity. Secondly, where are working class politicians? Perhaps if there were some real people in the political parties who’d actually done cleaning jobs, worked in McDonalds, lived in low rent housing etc, maybe the left might appeal to other working class people and not be an echo chamber for wine bar socialists? There is very little communication between the political left and the working class they want to lead. Next, a little bit of honesty and open debate might help! People are sick of PC and identity politics. Most people who are working class, and I include myself in that, are far more likely to be open and honest than middle class affluent SJWs and professional political types.

        Let’s be honest here. The left in the US and UK are full of affluent and very educated people who don’t really know working class people, and don’t really know about us, either. The media is also complicit in negative representations of working class people, too. In short, then, working class parties need working class voices and representatives in them, not just affluent professionals speaking on our behalf, because it’s obvious to many working class people, that few of them do actually speak on our behalf.

    • avatar
      James November 11, 2016 8:45 pm 

      That last line Ed is just stupid. It is ridiculous to think that. Even those among the “progressive left” who advocated strategic voting do not in any way believe that change is going to come from the top down. Michael Albert for one. Robin Hahnel, Chomsky, Bill Fletcher among others others, if not all.. And they don’t “act” as if that is what they believe either. And it goes without saying, and by definition, if they do believe that or “act” as if they do, then they aren’t progressive at all.

      • avatar
        Tee Hee November 12, 2016 4:57 am 

        The greatest fear most in the left seem to have is a genuine party that represents workers and workers rights, led by someone who is working class and wants to even the odds out a little. Sadly, I think many affluent people on the left and in nominally left of centre parties spend more energy fighting against true working class representation than trying to win elections.

  5. avatar
    Paul D November 11, 2016 4:06 am 

    “he could hardly do less about global warming or Wall Street than Obama did or Clinton would have. ”

    Clive, can you back that up with supporting data?

    Trump has already stated that he will immediately reverse all the meddlesome regulations and proposed regulations and programs Obama put in place regarding banking and Global warming. So if Obama dd nothing, why would Trump want to reverse it?

    Why are so many people on the left making facts up out of thin air?

    • Clive Ray November 11, 2016 2:16 pm 

      I am unaware of any meaningful regulations – proposed or extant – that Obama has put in place regarding Wall Street or global warming. If I knew of any, I would lament their potential passing. These are the two most pressing problems we face other than the desirability of avoiding nuclear war. Nothing would be worse than having another presidency of promising and pretending to act while actually doing nothing substantive. Trump just might even listen on global warming; Clinton’s role would have been to merely pretend to. By the way, maintaining the petrodollar precludes doing anything at all about global warming. If any US president says he is actually going to do something about it, he or she is lying. It’s the petrodollar that funds the military. It is the military that enforces the petrodollar. By talking about downsising the military, Trump is talking about creating the conditions whereby action on global warming could even be on the table. I’ll believe it if I see it, but with Clinton it wouldn’t even have been a vain hope.

  6. avatar
    Michael Lesher November 11, 2016 3:14 am 

    The more I reread this piece, the more conscious I become of the hope it holds out — in fact, the hopeful notes now strike me as no less compelling than the column’s (all too deserved) criticism of Left behavior before and during this election cycle.

    I don’t mean to speak down at anyone — I’ve probably been as much to blame as anyone else, though where I live (New Jersey) there was no need to warn people off Trump, and in my own broader community (Orthodox Jews) I’m working very much against the grain in any event… I’ve got my work cut out for me there.

    But that’s just it: when conditions are this bad, we ought to be able to find productive opportunities for improvement.

    Yes, it’s a grim moment to be saying this, but we shouldn’t forget that same electorate that (narrowly) voted in Trump was just as willing to vote in Barack Obama when he sang his “change is good” anthem. If those voters saw no alternative to Trump, that’s largely because we haven’t offered them one. But if we start building — and the Sanders movement seems to me a very non-trivial place to start building — we can change that. Never in recent memory has the American electorate been so volatile. But volatility doesn’t have to mean a descent to the depths. If we start giving the disenfranchised working class voters a chance — a real chance — who says they won’t give us a chance?

  7. Clive Ray November 10, 2016 9:37 pm 

    Has anyone at Znet considered the possibility that more would-be Green voters voted Trump than would-be Clinton voters voted Green? They probably did, and did so to keep the world’s biggest “we came, we saw, he died” bully away from the presidency. Mercifully, they made the difference. Whatever Trump has in store for us, it is better than WWIII, and he could hardly do less about global warming or Wall Street than Obama did or Clinton would have. Bring him on. He might not be Bernie Sanders – but then, in the end, neither was Bernie Sanders.

  8. Daniel Hopson November 10, 2016 3:42 pm 

    So things are looking pretty grim at this point. But, as Michael says, to give up and withdraw would make things considerably more dangerous. So we have to somehow pick ourselves up and get working on ways to possibly limit the potentially catastrophic impact this presidency is going to have on vulnerable groups. And is there any way to keep the environment an issue before it’s too late? Maybe there is something to learn here too, about why frustrated and angry people wanting profound change that the left genuinely offers didn’t turn to the left. Is the left constantly reaching out in an open minded and inclusive manner? Or could our own cynicism or even condescension be limiting our ability to do this? Perhaps one reason people are feeling so down is because they feel like fear, division, anger and hatred have prevailed. So let’s make sure we’re working on these things in our own backyard too. Getting angry or patronising with people who voted for this dangerous guy is not going to work. As Michael mentions, when these voters realize Trumps not working they could well think their only option is to go further right. So our essential and urgent work now involves reaching out to encourage the spread of information and discussion on more sane, humane alternatives to Trump and our present facade of a democracy. After all, in a more just, saner democratic socialist/ participatory/ Parecon world, a lot of these folks who just voted for Trump would be the key to genuine bottom up decision making.

    • avatar
      Tee Hee November 12, 2016 4:47 am 

      Those voters, by and large, are ignored until it’s time for their vote. Why on earth would the majority of working class and those struggling to move on and move up feel cynical and disillusioned about such a wonderful political system???!!!!

      The political system is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as far as most of us are concerned. It’s challenging an economic system with division, exploitation and injustice at it’s very heart that we have to talk about. All the rest is propaganda.

Leave a comment