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Why Trump? Getting Over All the Wrong Answers
by George Salamon
“The Democrats have become the party of the more affluent and more educated, while the Republicans have become the party of the less advantaged working class –- a pattern which has accelerated in this election season.” --Richard Florida, “America’s Class-Divided Electorate,” in Citylab, October 26, 2016
THAT DISCOMFORTING TRUTH is not one liberal pundits in the corporate media and horrified Hillary Clinton supporters have been willing or able to confront. On the morning after the election of that “monster” Donald Trump to become the 45th president of America, they are still not looking into the neo-liberal mirror to discover who pushed the great unwashed in flyover country to make the worst ever presidential candidate the winner.
Like Pogo, they might have understood that “it was us” and our flag bearer Hillary. No way.
Instead, like Paul Krugman of the New York Times, they blame the people: “We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law. It turns out that we were wrong. There turn out to be a huge number of people -– white people living mainly in rural areas –- who don’t share at all our ideas of what America is about. For them it is about blood and soil...” (“Our Unknown Country,” November 8, 2016)
Krugman invokes a piece of Nazi ideology about the ethnicity and purity of Germany’s old agricultural society, and slathers its ludicrous notion over those who voted against Clinton. (Even Germans mocked “Blut und Boden” -- blood and soil -- as “Blubo,” and understood it as crude propaganda against the cosmopolitan and urban Jews among them.)
Another Times man, Roger Cohen, blames the same people for the rise and success of Trump: “For some Americans -– and this is painful to admit -– a woman following a black man to the White House was simply too much to swallow” (“President Donald Trump,” November 9, 2016). Sure, there’s plenty of misogyny to be found in America, but not only among rednecks and Trumpsters, as the story about “locker room talk” among the men of Harvard’s soccer team informed us (“Harvard Men’s Soccer Team Produced Sexually Explicit ‘Scouting Report’ on Female Recruits,” Harvard Crimson, October 25, 2016). As some women on the other Harvard team noted, the whole (male) world is a locker room. Trump is merely one of its most noxious club members.
The media narrative depicts Trump’s support as primarily driven by innate prejudices, private resentment, and personal character, but not so much by economics and class issues. Typical is this assessment: “The ascendance of Donald Trump tells us much about the quality of the American character -– particularly about our enduring and toxic legacy of hate, ignorance, bigotry, and white supremacy.” But that does not explain why that same character elected Obama to the presidency twice and, more relevant to the 2016 campaign and its outcome, why “nearly half of the voters in the West Virginia Democratic primary who backed Bernie Sanders say they would vote for Republican Donald Trump in the fall presidential election” (“Exit polls,” The Hill, May 10, 2016).
It’s the “Anybody but a Clinton Again” syndrome, driven by the knowledge that the Clintons were instrumental in orchestrating the class war that dashed the expectations of achieving the old American Dream for millions of middle-class and blue-collar Americans during the past three-and-a-half decades. Even Bill Clinton admitted at a fundraiser for Hillary in November of 2015 that lower-income whites “don’t have anything to look forward to when they get up in the morning” (“Leaked Bill Clinton Speech: Obama Years Left No Hope for White Working Class,” Daily Caller, November 7, 2016). Of course, the buck never stops at a Clinton door or desk; there is always somebody else to blame.
But voters from Florida to Michigan knew: It was America’s bipartisan elite that destroyed their future, a destruction that included the Clintons’ sponsoring of NAFTA, of trade agreements with China, of a “welfare reform” that brought much suffering to inner-city single mothers and their children. And yet the liberal elite threw itself behind Hillary, in part because Trump is so despicable, but also because the liberal elite, in government, in the professions, in education, having become the “catering class” to the really rich, must believe in their -- and Hillary’s -- goodness, in order to engage in the fight to defeat the Evil Donald:
“The elites believe they are privileged because they are convinced they are the smartest. Most creative, most talented and hardest working. They cap this grotesque narcissism with a facade of goodness and virtue. They turn their elitism into a morality play.” --Christopher Hedges, paraphrasing Thomas Frank
THE VOTERS didn’t want to buy tickets for a repeat performance of elite rule of financial and corporate interests the elites service. For many of them, it was Sanders or Trump, even a Trump whose amoral and gross character they smelled but still preferred to the phony goodness of an elite wanting to preserved the status quo in which they thrive.
Progressives, the place to start building the movement, and perhaps a third party, is in recognizing and acknowledging that this is what happened in the 2016 presidential election. And by being pleased by the fact that Trump supporters were willing to back Sanders as Sanders supporters were to switch to Trump.
It’s a place, or intersection, from which we could march forward.
George Salamon taught German at Harvard, Haverford, Dartmouth and Smith colleges. After leaving academe he worked as a business reporter, as editor of a defense journal, in corporate public affairs and organizational consulting. For the past five years he has contributed to the Gateway Journalism Review, the New Verse News and Jewish Currents. He lives in St. Lois, MO.