The task at hand to actively be supportive in direct ways for those who are most threatened.
By Doug Porter
Like many of you, I’m feeling shocked and scared this morning. Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States. Let’s work together to make sense of this looming reality. (I’ll write at another time in the near future about state and local contests, and there was much good news there.)
The people Trump villainized in his campaign have every right to be terrified. His win was a victory for authoritarianism, nativism, misogyny, and racism. Those who support cultural reaction will feel and act empowered by his victory.
But this is not why Trump won. His victory came for economic reasons in addition to those aforementioned causes. Trump promised prosperity after getting people’s attention by playing to their fears. His ultimate appeal came down to ‘a chicken in every pot.’
My social media feeds are filled with disbelief about the strength and virulence of white supremacy, patriarchy, racism, and sexism in the US. It is tempting to think that tens of millions of Americans stupidly voted in a dangerous new President simply because they hate people of color, immigrants, LGBT people and more. While there is a strain of truth to the existence of such prejudices, the desire to scapegoat others is often a sign of collective weakness and insecurity borne from having a sense of loss. In this case the loss of jobs, decent pay, good benefits, and more. Desperate masses will tend to pick the leader who offers the most dramatic change and promise to make their wildest dreams come true, no matter how impossible such claims may sound. It has happened in many countries throughout history in a phenomenon that social scientists have studied. Trump’s greatest support came from white voters without a college education.
While it might be tempting to dismiss these voters, it is precisely this dismissal, based on a sense of righteous arrogance that has angered Trump voters against educated liberals. Educated liberals oversaw the greatest rise in income inequality since the Gilded Age. Educated liberals shipped jobs off overseas and championed free trade agreements like NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership. And all Clinton did was appeal to educated liberals to elect her – an educated liberal just like them. To Trump voters, an exclusive club of elites has taken over the country. Even if the reality is highly different, even if there is great heterogeneity among those who voted for Clinton in terms of race, gender, age, college education, etc, it is the appearance of elitism that matters most.
This election was a rejection of the status quo, which was all that Clinton promised. She literally embodied a continuation of the past 8 years. Given no other major-party alternative to the status quo, voters chose Trump because Trump enthusiastically promised an end to the status-quo.
If there had been just bigots voting, Trump would have lost badly. Exit polls suggested that 7 in 10 voters favored a path to citizenship for immigrants. Large numbers of (white) women voted for Trump.
Those who support reactionary economics were empowered by Trump’s Triumph. The last time Republicans won the White House, the House, and the Senate at the same time was in 1928, and we all know how that turned out.
The point in the future where Trump and his congressional allies fail to deliver on economic promises represents both the greatest danger and opportunity for progressives.
As Kate Aronoff wrote in today’s Guardian:
Together we can propose plans for a democracy and economy that work for the vast majority of people living in them, calling out the system as rigged, showing the ways men like Trump rigged it and charting a tangible way forward. That socialist Bernie Sanders remains one of the country’s most popular politicians should inspire some hope, as should the fact that large majorities of Americans favor raising the minimum wage, reforming the criminal justice system and taking on climate change. Pointing out the gap between that fact and Trump’s rule could embattle his first term, and make a second unthinkable. (Fortunately, Trump will probably be as inept at governing as he was at running his business empire, creating both anger against him and a hunger for reasonable alternatives.)
Over the short term, we have a partial script for what happens next. As with Brexit’s Leave voters, the vast majority of those who backed Trump at the polls are not hardened racists – though many are suffering at the hands of the status quo’s disastrous economic policies. In stark contrast to Clinton’s establishment sheen, Trump simply offered an alternative and a series of scapegoats: chiefly, immigrants and Muslims.
As the state of the economy was an opportunity for Trump, so is it his biggest weakness. A Republican-run Washington DC won’t be moved by simple street demonstrations; it will collapse if confronted with economic disruption. Strikes, boycotts, and alternative workplace solutions are all part of that package.
White Progressives need to recognize our responsibility in creating this situation. An unrealistic faith in the power of core liberal institutions like the Democratic Party, coupled with a belief that truth is enough motivation, got us to where we are.
Thomas Frank, author of Listen Liberal! wrote about this in his post-election column at the Guardian:
The even larger problem is that there is a kind of chronic complacency that has been rotting American liberalism for years, a hubris that tells Democrats they need do nothing different, they need deliver nothing really to anyone – except their friends on the Google jet and those nice people at Goldman. The rest of us are treated as though we have nowhere else to go and no role to play except to vote enthusiastically on the grounds that these Democrats are the “last thing standing” between us and the end of the world. It is a liberalism of the rich, it has failed the middle class, and now it has failed on its own terms of electability. Enough with these comfortable Democrats and their cozy Washington system. Enough with Clintonism and its prideful air of professional-class virtue. Enough!
There will be plenty of time for finger pointing in the partisan arena. Playing the blame game won’t stem the incoming tide of reaction. The task at hand to actively be supportive in direct ways of those who are most threatened.
Again, Aronoff in the Guardian:
But even as we defend our brothers and sisters from attack, the broader fight against Trump’s rule can’t be a defensive one.
What Is to Be Done?
Change has always been about more than electoral politics and it’s time for the other parts of that equation, namely protests and organizing to come to the fore. I’m reminded of the FBI files on the Black Panther Party pointing to their free breakfast program as the most dangerous aspect of their work.
Here’s a quote from then-FBI Director J Edgar Hoover:
The BCP (Breakfast for Children Program) promotes at least tacit support for the Black Panther Party among naive individuals and, what is more distressing, it provides the BPP with a ready audience composed of highly impressionable youths. Consequently, the BCP represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.
As to the specifics of what needs to be done--no, we don’t need to recreate the Black Panther Party or its programs–there is (a little) time moving forward to have this discussion. Being elected president doesn’t entitle the office holder to a magic wand.
Folks should have deep humility in this moment, they shouldn’t be doubling-down. We all have things to learn from how Trump happened.
— deray mckesson (@deray) November 9, 2016
One Day at a Time
Chip Berlet has been studying and writing about the right wing in this country for forty years. He understands the dangers we are facing, perhaps more than anybody else I know.
Here’s his advice for coping, via Facebook:
Memo: A Dozen Things to Do
1). Make sure our allies and neighbors in our communities are safe from verbal and physical attacks. Defend every target of demonizing rhetoric threatening our allies and those facing oppression or repression.
2). Be strong. Have each other’s backs.
3). Help the next generation grow into leaders.
4). Reboot the grassroots movement for progressive social change and debate tactics and strategies openly and without rancor.
5). Boot the smug neoliberal elites out of the leadership of the Democratic Party and take it over one county at a time.
6). Build bridges across existing boundaries and develop broad-based and diverse ethical progressive coalitions built around democratically-determined Principles of Unity.
7). Leave no one behind. Build a society where no one is thrown under the bus or out of the lifeboat.
8). Study the dynamics of unfair power and privilege based on the intersections of race, gender, and class.
9). Since White folks (like me) are running out of White folks, us White folks need to learn how to talk to our White neighbors about social and economic justice for all. Capitalize “White.” Race is a biological fiction but a political fact.
10)…….Write limericks and
………….haiku to craft snappier
………….slogans, signs, and chants
11). Sing, dance, celebrate, grow flowers, and stay strong and healthy for yourself, each other, and our collective future.
12). Pass it forward so that the circle remains unbroken.
Finally, let’s face it. The Berners were right about their candidate’s strengths.
On This Day: 1872 – Twenty people, including at least nine firefighters, were killed in Boston’s worst fire. It consumed 65 downtown acres and 776 buildings over 12 hours. 1938 – Nazi troops and sympathizers destroyed and looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, burned 267 synagogues, killed 91 Jews, and rounded up over 25,000 Jewish men in an event that became known as Kristallnacht or “Night of Broken Glass.” 1967 – The first issue of Rolling Stone was published in San Francisco. John Lennon was on the cover.
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