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THE STRUGGLE AHEAD
by Richard Greeman
IF DONALD TRUMP’S electoral revolution came as a surprise, the profound disgust of the citizenry for the ruling elites has long been no surprise to anyone. The folks in the middle and at the bottom, left high and dry by the post-2008 “recovery” in favor of the top 1 percent, were totally fed up and ready for a political revolution. That slogan was successfully used in the Democratic primaries by the old Jewish socialist Bernie Sanders, who genuine popularity came near to dethroning Hillary Clinton, the pre-selected candidate of Wall St. and the DNC, considered “inevitable” by the media.
While Hillary was campaigning behind closed doors in luxury hotels to win the financial support of bankers and traders, Bernie was out on the hustings drawing crowds of up to 20,000 enthusiastic supporters, who were hard at work in their constituencies. Yet while the TV cameras followed Trump everywhere, we never got to see those mass meetings of Sanders supporters. And as we later learned from Wikileaks, the DNC and media barons were working together to marginalize Bernie’s candidacy by denigrating it as “futile.”
Nonetheless, Sanders kept rising in the polls, which consistently gave him a majority over Trump or any other Republican candidate in a hypothetical general election. These polls, deliberately ignored at the time by the Democratic leadership, were confirmed by the November 8 election results. Trump won in the very states and even down to the identical rust-belt counties where Sanders carried the primaries. Clearly, what those voters wanted was a political revolution.
YET THE DEMOCRATIC leadership, operating behind the scenes, obstinately imposed on the party the predictably disastrous candidature of Hillary Clinton. She was and is a shop-worn, visibly unpopular personality, according to polls, a symbol of the arrogance of the Washington elite, and weighted down with the heavy negative baggage of the two terms of her husband. The Clintons’ neo-liberal, globalist “New Democrat” policies are considered responsible for the poverty and insecurity into which millions of working families have fallen, black and white together. These former “middle class” working people have not forgotten that their lives were destroyed by deliberate de-industrialization of the Midwest, off-shoring of jobs to low-wage countries, financial deregulation, and the elimination of welfare and aid to dependent children under the Clintons’ presidencies. For these disenchanted Democrats as well as for the enthusiastic Democratic activists of Bernie’s “political revolution,” the imposed (if not rigged) candidacy was an arrogant slap in the face.
The elite Democrats’ electoral strategy was as disastrous and as far from reality as was their choice of candidate. Unbelievable as it may seem, they decided to turn the election by focusing on the narrow demographic of “college-educated Republicans” (who of course voted Republican). The Democrats were apparently so confident that they owned the votes of their historical (since FDR and LBJ) base of unionized and other working people and ethnic minorities that Clinton barely campaigned in the devastated areas (which voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but not for Clinton in 2016). Nor did she address the suffering of the millions who are upset about growing inequality, economic insecurity, unemployment, overwork (two jobs), low wages, race and gender discrimination, lost savings, underwater mortgages, debts, and bankruptcies. At least Bill Clinton pretended to “feel our pain”. Instead, Hillary stood for the status quo when everyone was crying out for change.
IN THE VERY FIRST fifteen minutes of the first televised debate, Trump was able to present himself as the champion of the working class. All he needed to do was keep reminding the audience of the Clintons’ responsibility for imposing the disastrous (for workers) 1994 North American Free Trade Association Treaty (NAFTA) and to trumpet his own opposition to the semi-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP, or “NAFTA on steroids,” favors the rights of multinational corporations over the welfare of workers, the environment and human rights. Long supported by globalists Obama and Clinton, it would have reduced U.S. wages to Asian levels and completed the ruin of “working-middle-class” viewers -- and they knew it. So after those fifteen minutes, many turned off their TVs and went bed. They had seen enough, it was already late, and tomorrow is work.
So is it really such a mystery that down-scale voters, deeply discontented with the Establishment and deprived of the option of a leftist “political revolution,” chose the option of a political revolution of the right?
THERE ARE TWO WAYS to react to this disaster. We can either blame the American people or point our finger at the country’s elites, at the political Establishment, the billionaire donors, and their commercial mass media who organized this catastrophe for which the American people will pay the price for a long time. To blame the American public, particularly to stigmatize the white working class, is to fall back into the same elitism that enraged Trump’s voters, whom Clinton famously categorized as “deplorables.” Indeed, the Democratic elite are now blaming their own failure on the very voters they scorned.
Of course, Trump barely hides his own racism and misogyny and did not reject the support of David Duke, the former KKK leader. But everyone who voted for Trump is not necessarily a bigot. According to the analysis of the New York Times, the election was decided by voters who had gone for Obama in 2012. Obviously, they all aren’t racists. Nor were the Brits who voted for Brexit all xenophobes. That electoral bomb also exploded “by surprise” when the Oxbridge elites of the ruling Conservative party, completely cut off from the people, called that referendum to settle an intramural contest. They thus gave the millions of common folk humiliated by neo-liberal globalization a target for their anger and alienation.
Michael Moore was one of the few to see the parallel. Well before the U.S. election, he noted that those portions of the U.S. that have been most ravaged by free-trade orgies and globalism are filled with rage and “see [Trump] as a chance to be the human Molotov cocktail that they’d like to throw into the system to blow it up.”
On the other hand, the fact that 53 percent of white women found it in their hearts to vote for a bully who brags about sexually abusing women is astounding and disturbing. “Elite white feminism gave Us Trump,” writes Liza Featherstone, the editor of a prescient pre-election collection of left-feminist essays False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which examines her track record on welfare, Wall Street, criminal justice, education, and war. “She has advanced laws and policies that have done real harm to the lives of women and children across the country and the globe. That certainly accounts for part of the problem.”
“Nevertheless,” writes the Marxist-humanist scholar Peter Hudis, “those who place the entire blame on Clinton for Trump’s victory are missing a critical point. Male chauvinism clearly was pivotal in the electoral outcome. That Trump could manage to grow his support even after the evidence of his history of sexual abuse became widely known is a very disturbing sign of the sexism that is endemic to this society.” Alas, aggressive verbal and physical male behavior toward women is already becoming “normalized” since Trump’s election. Turning next to the economy, Hudis continues:
Clinton’s defeat may show that neoliberalism is in crisis, but that does not in any way mean that it points to a weakening of the hegemony of capitalism. In fact, it is now clear how wrong it was for many leftists to focus their politics for the past two decades on attacking “neoliberalism”—without ever getting to explicitly oppose the logic of capital as a whole and articulate an alternative to it…. Capitalism may be turning away from its neoliberal phase as convincingly as it earlier dropped Keynesianism... Trump is part of a worldwide rejection of neoliberalism on the part of reactionary forces, who feel it has failed to live up to its promise. However, today’s collapse of neoliberalism does not represent a step forward, but a reactionary move to atavistic nationalism, racism, and misogyny.
We should have no illusions about the impact of Donald Trump’s victory. It is a disaster. The prospect of a unified rightwing government, led by an authoritarian populist, represents a catastrophe for working people. Some may have hoped that Trump’s outlandish campaign threats were not meant to be taken seriously, but the man means business, and he is not going to waste his crucial first hundred days pussyfooting around, as Obama did. Trump has already chosen Stephen Bannon, the alt/right blogger as his chief White House Strategist. He will now have Senator Jeff Sessions, an outspoken, unrepentant racist, as Attorney General, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, a notorious Islamophobe, as national security adviser, and hawkish Rep. Mike Pompeo, who wants to tear up the treaty with Iran, as CIA director. Under consideration for Homeland Security is immigrant-hunter Joe Arpaio, recently-ousted Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, now under indictment for his excessive brutality to prisoners. With such enemies in power, the struggle for equality and social justice will be long and hard. No sense counting on Obama and the Democrats, who are keeping a low profile and will play at conciliation -- unlike the Republicans who rejected Obama’s legitimacy and blocked him from day one of his administration.
ABOVE ALL, let us not divide our ranks by scapegoating the members of the famous “white working class” (no more racist than other whites) on whom the Democrat elites, having scorned them, are now blaming this catastrophe. These frustrated rust-belt voters, many of them former Bernie-supporters and Obama voters, having tossed their Molotov cocktail into the White House, are now waiting eagerly to see if President Trump will keep his promise to immediately end outsourcing of jobs. When their rightwing, pro-business, billionaire president lets them down, as he inevitably will, we will find them along side us again in the labor and social struggles of the next four years. “As long as power was split between a Democratic Presidency and a Republican Congress, each side could blame the other for the lack of positive accomplishments,” writes Ken Knabb from Oakland, California “But now that the Republicans have got a monopoly, there will be no more excuses.”
United we stand. Divided we fall.
Richard Greeman is a veteran socialist scholar and activist, best known for his translations and studies of Victor Serge (1890-1947), the Franco-Russian writer and revolutionary. Greeman divides his time between New York and Montpellier, France.