|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 204 Dec/Jan 2016/17
A presidency of chaos and struggle
The election of Donald Trump as US president is one of the most shocking political upsets in living memory. It was the culmination of an election cycle when ordinary Americans rose up against the political establishment and against the destructive effects of globalisation and neoliberalism. This was expressed, on the left, with the campaign of Bernie Sanders which galvanised millions for a ‘political revolution against the billionaire class’ and, in a distorted way, on the right with Trump’s campaign.
But Trump did not just run as the alleged defender of the ‘forgotten men and women’ in working-class communities. He also ran the most overtly bigoted and chauvinist campaign of a major party candidate in modern times. He created a space for white nationalists and white supremacists to come out of their holes and try to reach disaffected white workers and youth. This is a very dangerous development.
However, we completely reject the notion that the outcome demonstrates that the bulk of the white working class shares Trump’s racism and xenophobia. Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote by a narrow margin. Tens of millions of the poorest and most downtrodden Americans did not vote at all.
Trump’s vote was, first and foremost, a vote against Clinton and the establishment – for a ‘change agent’ against a consummate representative of the corporate status quo. Many responded to his attacks on the ‘rigged system’ and corporations who move jobs overseas. What was tragically missing was a clear choice on the left that could offer an alternative to the seduction of right-wing populism.
Socialist Alternative stands with the millions of women who are disgusted by the election of an open misogynist and correctly see Trump’s victory as a step backward. With Latinos who fear that mass deportations of undocumented workers are about to ramp up to unprecedented levels. With Muslims and African Americans who fear that Trump’s hate speech will incite more violence and the growth of a far-right force.
We immediately called protests in cities around the country to make it clear that working people and the oppressed must stand together and prepare to resist the attacks of the right. We have been inundated with requests for more information about our organisation. We must start to build a genuine political alternative for the 99% against both corporate dominated parties and the right so that in 2020 we will not go through this disaster again.
The outcome of this election was also a shock – for quite different reasons – to the ruling elite of the United States. They see a Trump presidency as potentially deeply damaging to the interests of US imperialism at a time when its global power is waning, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. They strongly object to Trump’s vociferous rejection of free-trade deals and the dominant capitalist economic doctrines of the past 40 years. The ruling class also fears that Trump’s crude racism, xenophobia and misogyny will provoke social upheaval in the US. In this they will certainly be proved right.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this outcome for the ruling elite is that the way they have dominated politics through the two-party system is broken. In election cycle after election cycle, the primaries have been used to weed out candidates who are not acceptable to corporate interests. Then the electorate would choose between two vetted nominees. The elite might strongly prefer one or the other but they could live with either. Ordinary people then had the choice of picking a ‘lesser evil’, or voting for a third-party candidate with no chance of winning.
All that changed in 2016. First, Bernie Sanders raised $220 million dollars without taking a dime from corporate America and came very close to defeating Hillary Clinton in the rigged Democratic primary. Donald Trump was also largely shunned by the Republican ‘donor class’, while the last two Republican presidents and the party’s most recent nominee publicly rejected him. It is still staggering that people were left with a choice between the two most unpopular major party candidates of the modern era.
During the primaries, polls consistently showed Sanders doing much better against Trump. This speaks directly to the fact that significant numbers of Trump voters were open to a genuine working-class argument opposing the power of Wall Street, while calling for a $15 minimum wage, free college education, single payer healthcare and massive investment in green infrastructure. Disgracefully, most trade union leaders threw their support and millions of dollars behind Clinton, although an important section of trade unionists and several national unions backed Sanders.
Under pressure from the 45% who supported Sanders in the primary, the Democrats adopted the most left-wing platform at their convention in 40 years. But Clinton’s campaign did not stress issues like the minimum wage or ending college debt for fear of raising expectations among fired-up working people. She made Tim Kaine, who supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and bank deregulation, her vice presidential candidate. She refused to promise not to appoint Goldman Sachs personnel to her administration. It is therefore no surprise that Clinton was unable to enthuse greater voter turnout. In fact, neither Trump nor Clinton got 50% of the vote.
In the past few years we have seen a profound political polarisation in the US with the growth of support among young people for socialism and Black Lives Matter, while there has been a growth of open xenophobia and racism among a minority. The overall trend, however, has been to the left, expressed in support for marriage equality, a higher minimum wage and taxing the rich. This election does not change that underlying reality but it clearly puts the right-wing in the driver’s seat with control of the presidency, both houses of Congress and the bulk of state legislatures.
This is why it is tragic that Bernie Sanders was not on the ballot. Socialist Alternative’s warnings about the consequences of supporting Clinton have been borne out. If Sanders had continued to run all the way to November, his presence would have radically changed the character of the race. He would have almost certainly forced his way into the presidential debates and we would now be discussing the immediate question of forming a new party of the 99% based on the many millions of votes he would have received. This is a massive opportunity missed.
Socialist Alternative supported Jill Stein of the Green Party because she also put forward a platform that substantively spoke to the interests of working people. She received just over one million votes. Stein’s campaign had many limitations but her vote in a small way indicates the massive potential that exists for the development of a mass left alternative.
Trump’s election is a disaster which will have many negative consequences. But it is also a phase in the ongoing process of political and social upheaval in the US. There will be widespread despair in sections of the left. It is essential to push back against this mood. Real change comes from the bottom up, from mass movements in the workplaces and the streets. This is why those who have been radicalised in the past period must redouble their efforts to build a real mass movement for change, independent of corporate control. The social movements of recent years, especially Black Lives Matter, show the potential.
Trump will disappoint his supporters. Building a wall will not create millions of good jobs to replace those lost to automation and trade deals. He is also committed to even further massive tax breaks for billionaires like himself. A mass movement against Trump will need to appeal directly to the white working class and explain how we can ensure that all young people have a decent future, rather than trying to recreate the ‘American dream’ by deepening racial division. Such a future can only be achieved with socialist policies.
Philip Locker and Tom Crean, Socialist Alternative, USA
Extracts from a longer article, see: www.socialistalternative.org