Think white voters won it for Trump? Think again…(Post-election reflections Part II)
The “left” must take stock. I say this with the caveat that of course Clinton, the epitome of the political establishment, of neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy, supported by almost the entirety of Wall St, the media and the Zionist lobby (which is mostly Christian) and (all but openly) by George Bush is far from a leftist. However most of the left, at least in the English speaking world, rallied behind her, however reluctantly, repeating tropes about Trump’s racist, ignorant supporters, retreat to nationalism, and in many cases, shamefully claiming a Clinton presidency would be a victory for women.
Tell that to the women of Serbia, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Syria, who were obliterated along with their husbands, sons and fathers. Who in many cases now live under extreme oppression from self-declared “religious” fanatics, who have reimposed modern-day slavery in once secular and prosperous countries, filling the vacuum created by decades of sanctions, bombs and interventions implemented by the Clinton dynasty or enthusiastically cheered on by them, and often directly armed by her as Secretary of State. And talk about racism to the black migrants lynched in Libya by the “rebels” Clinton so enthusiastically armed and empowered through airstrikes, even as she gleefully joked “We came, we saw, he died”, a reference to the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of a mob. The laughter never sounded so hollow.
On the day that Francis Fukuyama writes in The Financial Times that his dream of the end of history is over, dying, fittingly, on the 9th November 2016, exactly 27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall (though some would say it in fact perished long before), the dynasty which more than any other exemplified the “post ideology” 1990s suffered the most humiliating defeat in political history.
Despite having outspent her opponent by a ratio of 2:1, despite having almost the full support of the mainstream media and the entire political class not only in the US but globally, despite almost every expert, including many from the Republican Party, telling us Trump – cast as “a poor man’s Barry Goldwater” by ‘Labour tribalist’ Telegraph columnist Dan Hodges, and to be fair many others in America who had less excuse to not know better – was going down to a historic landslide defeat, that his campaign lacked any kind of machine, that the attacks on Clinton had little effect and that he coalition of progressive white middle classes, women and minorities would easily see of Trump’s ragtag band of “deplorables”.
Yet, as the early hours of the 9th November 2016 drew to a close, London learned, along with the rest of the world, that President Trump had gone from joke, to possibility, to probability, to reality. I predicted this back in May, again at the beginning of this month, and again on the night itself as the very first results came in and the Clinton camp put the champagne on ice.
So how did we get here? And what are the lessons for Britain? The liberals and, sadly, some on the left, are still repeating the same tropes about a racist white uprising, although in the latter case with some qualification. Although it cannot be denied that nationalism and in some cases racism were actors in this election, the most disastrous strategy for anyone wishing to rebuild the left in the wake of the destruction left by Clinton’s hijacking of their activist bases, would be to simply double down and deplore the deplorable Trumpeters – and although many of his core supporters are deplorable, this hardly helps us to explain why he was able to win over 48% of voters, many of whom previously voted for Barack Obama, many of whom are black, Latino or Asian themselves, and can hardly be considered White Supremacists. Bertolt Brecht’s quip “The People have lost the confidence of The Party; I propose The Party dissolve The People and elect a new one”, is one of my favourite quotes, but not if you take it seriously.
So we must start with a fact check, and look at that which is hidden in plain sight in the polling figures, though not commented on by any mainstream media (as far as I can tell). We were often told by “experts” that Trump had an incredibly narrow “path to victory”, that his polling numbers were identical to Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate who Barack Obama comfortably defeated, and that while he would probably maintain the Republican core vote of white, male, wealthy voters, he would be unable to make any inroads, and would suffer heavy losses amongst women and hispanics, while perhaps doing even worse than Mitt Romney among black voters (who got only 5%).
So what happened? A quick look at the polling figures is very revealing. According to the New York Times exit poll, Trump’s vote only increased 1% among white voters compared to Romney. Among black voters, Trump increased his share 7% on Romney (more than doubling it), 8% among Hispanics, and 11% among Asians. Clinton was only able to increase 1% amongst women compared with Barack Obama, while she went down 5% with men. She increased 9% on Obama’s share in the top income bracket, but he increased 16% on Romney in the lowest income bracket.
Therefore, while as expected Clinton did maintain the Democrats overall majorities amongst the lowest income voters, minorities and women, it is the direction of travel which is most relevant: she lost ground to Trump with her core supporters whilst he was able to sufficiently maintain the support of his own. Especially in the post-industrial wastelands of the Great Lakes region where many of the swing states are located, this may well prove to have been vital.
It may be no exaggeration to say that it was that 7% swing amongst black voters in the north mid-western industrial cities, and Latino voters in Florida, that won it for Trump, as the swing amongst white working class voters alone would not have been sufficient.
So, in effect, Clinton’s imagined coalition of white liberals, women and minorities, was not only not enough to see off Trump’s core white voters, but never materialised. Her only real gain was among upper income voters, which was more than offset by working class and poor voters.
Surprise surprise, what Bernie Sanders’ people tried to tell the Clintonites, what so many of us have been arguing for not just months but years, even decades in my case, proved to be true: you cannot implement progressive policies whilst staying slavishly loyal to parasitic finance capitalism, “free trade” and endless foreign intervention, (whether of the “neocon” or “liberal” variety makes little difference in practice and increasingly even in theory).
Of course black, latino and other minorities, and women workers, are subjected to extra oppression as minorities or women. But, if your campaign focuses primarily on this, while at best being equivocal or at worst actively defending or even supporting the forces of neoliberal globalisation and “liberal interventionism”, people will not trust you.
Not only does this alienate white workers – the majority in most western countries, and therefore one would imagine, pretty obviously a central plank of any genuinely progressive movement – it also has been shown to repel many minority and women workers. Perhaps it is time to realise that most working class women do not see their fathers, husbands or sons as “the enemy”, most black workers do not see white workers as the enemy, and the left would be better placed to offer industrialisation as a means to restore well-paid, skilled jobs, improving living standards and giving back the working class its dignity.
This is what Trump’s vague promises on trade, protectionism and infrastructure projects, coupled with tax cuts, alluded to. Whether those will be workable or not, time will tell, but the point is the left must address these issues in its own way. The actual policies are not the point so much as the core message, that industrial jobs are at the heart of our agenda, that the working class is our class, regardless of whatever other identity people may hold.
In fact, this is what Jeremy Corbyn is attempting to recover for Labour, and we must offer him our full support on this side of the pond. Bernie Sanders also took a similar message to the Democratic Party, and if they had listened, we would today be saluting President Sanders. It is time for the Democrats to now learn from this, and rebuild along radically different lines.
These points have been made by many others on the left, though perhaps not with as much detailed polling evidence as above. However, another issue, more of a taboo and therefore less often acknowledged, has to be faced up to. Unlimited immigration is not a left-wing cause. Supporting illegal immigration much less so. It harms all workers, by driving down their wages or making them easily replaceable, much like off-shoring or outsourcing. This applies to the whole working class, whatever colour, whatever creed…in fact it is black and other minority voters who are hurt most of all by it.
And, equally importantly, the idea that opposing illegal immigration or open borders makes you unpopular with legal or established immigrants or their children and grandchildren, has been blown out of the water once again (though not for the first time). Minority voters in Britain were key to ensuring Brexit, as they saw their communities, jobs and business overwhelmed or out-competed by white Eastern Europeans. While it is too early to say if this was a factor in the significant swing of black and Latino voters to Trump, it surely must be considered a serious possibility. A left wing candidate dealing seriously with these issues would have been able to integrate a serious control of immigration as part of a socialist, working class, anti-imperialist manifesto.
Finally, one last lesson. Trump’s victory shows how bankrupt, how detached, how profoundly disoriented, the mainstream media and their chosen “experts” have become. How could I predict this yet every news channel told us “no one saw it coming”? What this shows of course is that today you can win without the media, without a significant party machine, even spending considerably less than your opponents. Unhappy (justifiably) with media bias in favour of Clinton, Trump began LiveStreaming his rallies on Facebook, to tens of millions. Likewise, as and when stories broke, he by-passed the media and spoke straight to his followers via Twitter and, perhaps even more significantly, Facebook.
Social media has completely changed the game, and while this may sound a cliche, very few in the establishment really grasped what this meant until Tuesday night (though perhaps Brexit should have been an early warning sign). This is not only about electoral campaigns, but about the fact that people can now form their entire worldview outside of the filters imposed by corporate and state media. In such an environment, an anti-establishment candidate already has fertile ground to work on, and can then harness the power of social media to build on what are, in effect, already existing “movements”, however nebulous and ill-defined, waiting for political articulation.
This is something which progressive forces can and must harness. Time to ditch the establishment candidates, the Clintons and Clinton-lites, the Blairs and Blairites, time to offer real working class policies and stop worrying about what the mainstream media, or corporate lobbyists, or “experts” think. If this had been understood a few months ago, we could have President Sanders today, and the picture would look so different. As it is, these lessons must be learned urgently, as the right capitalises on discontent around the world and will continue to do so as long as the left fails to address globalisation, pernicious “liberal interventionist” ideology and unlimited immigration. Time is of the essence…