11.12.2016

president trump: what didn't just happen

Since I'm making an effort to put more of my thoughts here, I'm gathering up a bunch of my Facebook posts and responses. If we know each other on Facebook, apologies for the repetition.

I find much of the analysis and commentary I've seen about the recent US election to be quite strange. Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. That happened. Here's what didn't happen.

1. "The United States is a democracy. The people chose Trump, end of story."

60,467,601 US voters chose Hillary Clinton.

60,072,551 US voters chose Donald Trump.

More than 100,000,000 Americans eligible to vote did not vote.

More than 5 million Americans cannot vote because they are either incarcerated or have been incarcerated, and thus have been disenfranchised.

There has been rampant voter suppression and vote fraud in both the primaries and the general election.

The United States is also a democracy if you close your eyes and stop up your ears.

Some views on winning the vote but losing the election from: The Guardian, The Independent, and The Atlantic.

2. "If only it had been Bernie!"

Bernie Sanders was never, for one moment, going to be the Democrat nominee. He was not leading a revolution, he was not even leading a movement. If he wanted to do those things, he would not have been running as a Democrat, and he would not have voted in line with the Democrats 98% of the time during his Congressional career. His role in the race was to bring in the left-of-liberal vote and that's what he did.

However, if Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, where would he have gotten more votes than Clinton? In Vermont, and possibly in New York and California -- i.e., states that went to the Democrats anyway. Because of the electoral college and the winner-take-all state-by-state system, recent presidential elections come down to a small number of swing states. I see no evidence that a more progressive candidate would have succeeded where Clinton failed in key swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina.

"If only it had been Bernie" assumes that a sizeable number of voters with strong progressive values opted to stay home in large numbers, rather than vote either Democrat or for a third-party candidate. This is possible, but not likely. Voters progressive enough to vote for Sanders likely would have voted to stop Trump.

"If only it had been Bernie" posits that a Jewish socialist born in New York City, a long-time representative of the liberal state of Vermont, would have carried the key swing states. Let's just say this strains credulity and leave it at that.

I do want, have always wanted, a progressive candidate to take on the Republicans, someone who actually offers a different vision of the country's future. By running as a Democrat, endorsing Clinton, and urging his supporters to vote for Clinton, Sanders demonstrated that he was not that candidate and never was.

3. Hillary Clinton is a good, strong, liberal woman of the people, and she deserved to win. She lost because of sexism and misogyny.

There's plenty of misogyny to go around, but the sexism smokescreen isn't big enough to hide Hillary Clinton's monstrous record.

Thomas Frank, writing in The Guardian:
She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. . . . And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. . . .

To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they'd chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn't mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country's well-being, or maybe both. . . .

Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station. Here’s what it consisted of:
- Hillary was virtually without flaws. She was a peerless leader clad in saintly white, a super-lawyer, a caring benefactor of women and children, a warrior for social justice.
- Her scandals weren’t real.
- The economy was doing well / America was already great.
- Working-class people weren’t supporting Trump.
- And if they were, it was only because they were botched humans. Racism was the only conceivable reason for lining up with the Republican candidate. (See original for links.)

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.
Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch:
The DNC spent more time conspiring to defeat Bernie Sanders, than they did the Republicans. They absorbed nothing from the Sanders campaign, from the issues that resonated with his followers: a corrupt system fueled by corporate cash and militarism, working class people demeaned and ridiculed, the American youth burdened by debt with no opportunity for advancement, blacks and Hispanics treated as political chattel, captives to a party that demands their loyalty yet does nothing for them. The Clinton team vanquished Sanders, paid him off and then marched on arrogantly toward their doom.

Clinton herself showed a singular lack of courage to the very end of her campaign. She couldn't even speak out against the brutalization of tribal people in North Dakota defending their water and burial grounds against the mercenaries of Big Oil. How could anyone look at her silence in the face of those ongoing atrocities and believe that she'd ever stand up for them?
Robert Scheer, Truth Dig:
What you have is a defeat of elitism. Clinton's arrogance was on full display with the revelation of her speeches cozying up to Goldman Sachs—the bank that caused this misery more than any other—and the irony of this is not lost on the people who are hurting and can't pay their bills.
4. People voted for Donald Trump because they are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and ignorant.

Many Americans are indeed all of those things, and obviously Donald Trump appealed to voters on that level. But Trump was able to fashion those beliefs into a campaign because of the Democrats' abandonment of the American working class.

Sorry to Godwin here, but remember how we all learned how post-WWI Germany was in the throes of a gargantuan economic crisis, and that Hitler was able to blame all that on the Jews, by tapping into a hatred that was already there? Does this not ring a bell?

Do not underestimate the economic crisis in the United States. People are not just unemployed -- they are without hope. No party has been willing to change the laws that allowed corporations to move operations to countries without environmental and labour protections, with an ocean of cheap, surplus labour, and to pay no taxes while doing so. The election finance system ensures that any attempt to change this would result in political suicide. So what used to be the middle class tries to scrape by on sales commissions, retail and fast-food, and what used to be the working class is just plain poor.

For decades Americans have seen their prospects for a decent life evaporate, and the Democrats, once considered the party of the working class, did nothing but help that happen, caring more about its corporate masters than ordinary voters. The white working class was primed ready to see their bigotry legitimized, and their suffering answered with scapegoating. It's much easier to point a finger at "those people" than to do the hard work of rebuilding the manufacturing sector.

Donald Trump didn't invent that ugly stew of bigotry. We all know that. But the Democrats' abandonment of the working class created the anger and frustration, and the vacuum of hope, that paved the way for Trump.

People are suffering. They have been suffering a long time. The Democrats have been ignoring their suffering. And now they -- and the American people -- have paid a very high price.

Joshua Frank, Counterpunch:
...no matter what bullshit excuse Democrats come up with for Hillary's historic embarrassment, they have only themselves to blame. She lost because she deserved to lose. She ran an awful campaign, mired in controversy, and was unable to excite voters to the polls. She believed neoliberalism could carry the day, but she was wrong. The DNC was wrong. The establishment lost because the establishment deserved its fate.

By no means does this imply Trump will overthrow the status quo, it only means the outsider Trump was better able to exploit the boiling rage of middle America. All the workers who were undercut by Bill Clinton's NAFTA. The hundreds of thousands that never rebounded from the Bush recession. Trump provided an outlet of hope for these lost souls – a fabricated hope no doubt, but hope nonetheless – gift wrapped in rage. His mastery of social media, of vindictive and racist rhetoric, helped him gut the provincial electorate.
Richard Moser, Counterpunch:
The Democrats were oblivious to the deep discontent among the American people because that simply does not figure into their clever and cunning calculations. Why should it? Fear, lesser of two evils, scapegoating, palace politics — all these things worked in the past, didn't they?

So all the discontent and unhappiness from years of economic distress fed right into the only other choice. We have the "great two party system" don't we? Both Democrats and Republicans insist there is no alternative. ...

The Democrats run a candidate who spent eight years in the White House, crow about her experience, even when the experience included the fact that Bill Clinton was IMPEACHED and widely viewed as a bum. The Democrats embrace a family dynasty the includes one of the two presidents in all of American history impeached by the House of Representatives. Good choice!

This has to be one of the most amazing proofs that the Democratic Party echo chamber is truly deafening.
Robert Scheer again:
The people Hillary Clinton derided as a “basket of deplorables” have spoken. They have voted out of the pain of their economic misfortune, which Clinton’s branch of the Democratic Party helped engender.

. . . It’s a repudiation of the arrogant elitism of the Democratic Party machine as represented by the Clintons, whose radical deregulation of Wall Street created this mess. And instead of recognizing the error of their ways and standing up to the banks, Clinton’s campaign cozied up to them, and that did not give people who are hurting confidence that she would respond to their needs or that she gave a damn about their suffering. She’s terminally tone-deaf.

So too were the mainstream media, which treated the wreckage of the Great Recession as a minor inconvenience, ignoring the deep suffering of the many millions who lost their homes, savings and jobs. The candidate of Goldman Sachs was defeated, unfortunately by a billionaire exemplar of everything that’s evil in late-stage capitalism, who will now worsen instead of fix the system. Thanks to the arrogance of the Democratic Party leadership that stifled the Sanders revolution, we are entering a very dangerous period with a Trump presidency, and this will be a time to see whether our system of checks and balances functions as our Founding Fathers intended

Make no mistake about it: This is a crisis of confidence for America’s ruling elite that far surpasses Nixon’s Watergate scandal. They were the enablers of radical deregulation that betrayed Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s contract with the American people in the wake of the Great Depression. The people are hurting, and regrettably, Trump was the only vehicle presented to them by either major party in the general election to register their deepest discontent. The Trump voters are the messenger; don’t demonize them in an effort to salvage the prestige of the superrich elite that has temporarily lost its grip on the main levers of power in this nation.

Thankfully, the Clinton era is over, and the sick notion that the Democratic Party of FDR needed to find a new home in the temples of Wall Street greed has been rudely shattered by the deep anger of the very folks that the Democrats had presumed to represent. That includes working-class women, who failed to respond to the siren song of Clinton, whom the Democratic hacks offered instead of a true progressive like Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Yes, we need a female president, but not in the mold of Margaret Thatcher.
Scheer, I should note, believes that Sanders would have defeated Trump in a progressive populist versus neofascist populist showdown. If Sanders was not actually a Democrat, I might have believed that, too.

Michael Laxer, The Left Chapter, "The wages of liberalism is Trump":
Much of the worst damage actually happened under Democrats. It should never be forgotten that it was Bill Clinton who helped to destroy the American liberal post-war state. Nor the role the Clinton Presidency played in the passing of sweeping and deeply racist crime bills that imprisoned and also disenfranchised millions of people-of-colour in the United States. . . . .

It was bizarre, as so many apologists for Clinton and the Democrats did, to go on about the alleged achievements of "incrementalism" or Democratic governance when it is easy to prove that the United States has gone dramatically to the right in every meaningful economic sense and when inequality is greater than it has been since the 1920s.

This did not change in any real way at all under Obama, a fact that is easily demonstrated.

Liberals and social democrats have failed workers and people living in poverty so spectacularly that it is impossible to overstate the extent.

This is a day-to-day lived reality for staggering numbers of people and telling those who might well be inclined to support something that rejects what has happened around them that your candidate and party are singularly qualified to stay the course due to their experience over this time in having done so, was both typically liberal and the worst form of political folly. It was a blind and bizarre self-defeating arrogance, that was profoundly, truly, madly, deeply foolhardy in its timing.
(Thanks to Allan for collecting these.)

5. We know what lies ahead.

In fact, we don't. This may have been merely an upset in the polls. Or it may be a sea change in US politics. I don't know what's coming and neither do you. That's why we're all so afraid.

9 comments:

allan said...

Trump ran his campaign as a harsh repudiation of the Washington establishment. Now look at who he's thinking about stacking his cabinet and transition team with: members of the Washington establishment.

In many respects, Trump may not do (or may not be able to do) much more than move the status quo to the right (which is exactly what Clinton would have done). A lot of what he said during the campaign will not come to pass, mainly because he is not a dictator that can change laws with a snap of his fingers.

laura k said...

That's one way it could go. There are other scenarios that are equally plausible.

Kirby Evans said...

I don't entirely agree with your analysis re Sanders. The reason is that I think that Sanders was operating on the assumption that he wanted to shift debate toward the larger issue of inequality that has resulted from forty years or so of neo-liberal economic policies. I simply think that Sanders theorized that he could have a greater impact on the political landscape that way. Furthermore, his support for Clinton in the post primary period was based on the assumption that Trump is a special and particularly dangerous exception in the history of presidential politics, rather than because of his support of Clinton per se.

This is not to claim that Sanders is a revolutionary or anything. His long political career demonstrates that he is a pragmatist, both in the common political sense of the word as well as in the philosophical sense of the word (where he shares in the US pragmatist tradition with people like William James, Dewey, and Richard Rorty).

laura k said...

Kirby, you may be right about Sanders' motives. No one can say for certain what is in another person's heart or mind.

But whatever his motives, he has shown himself to be a Democrat through and through. He has been in the US political scene his entire career. He knows very well what happens to the candidate who tries to shift the terms of the debate. Hell, the fomer governor of his own state, Howard Dean, was one of them.

There have been a long line of these candidates, in every Democratic primary. Sanders took the exact same route they all did. So whatever his motives, his actions, which are much more important, show him to be a just another party apologist.

laura k said...

Also, everyone thinks they're a pragmatist. Being "practical" or "realistic" is often the cover for the so-called incrementalism that brought us to where we are today. If Bernie Sanders was committed to creating change, he wouldn't worry about being practical. He would roll up his sleeves and join others in building a movement, out of which would come a new party.

Kirby Evans said...

I still don't really agree with you because, as you said, whatever his motives, the fact is that for the very first time in decades people in the US are actually talking about structural inequalities and the roll of Wall Street etc. So I actually think he has changed the political narrative in a way that will become important as time goes by. He is, of course, a mainstream politician in many ways, but his politics is part of an important swing in the debate. If a new party forms or the Democrats decide to go back to their roots, the things that Sanders has brought up in the campaign will form an important part of that new narrative.

On the issue of pragmatism, I am not sure you are understanding what I am saying. There is a very specific philosophical pragmatist philosophy which I have personally heard Sanders appeal to (John Dewey in particular). I think based on that philosophical position, he truly believes that he is, as you say, "rolling up his sleeves and building something new." It may not meet with your (or even my) revolutionary approval but I think he can make a solid argument for what he is doing.

I think change takes multiple courses and manifests itself in myriad ways simultaneously. Sanders is on one branch of that change.

laura k said...

Thanks, Kirby. I agree there are many paths on the road to change, and if Sanders has helped some people go down a path, that's a very positive thing.

Grassroots movements like Occupy and Fight for 15 paved the way for Sanders. When Occupy was first in the news, that was the first time in recent memory that economic issues -- Wall Street, income inequality, corporations not paying taxes -- hit the mainstream consciousness. Sanders built on that, also a good thing.

Ultimately I cannot admire Sanders. I feel that his insistence on throwing in with the Democrats only worsened the situation. Once you feed at the corporate trough, you seal your fate. The Democratic party will not be remade from within. If Americans are going to get out of the mess they're in, they will have to see past the current system -- and all Sanders did was entrench it even further.

GK said...

A and L
I mostly agree with you on the critique of the Democratic party. But I dont agree that "The D's paid a horrible loss" for abandoning working class voters.I think this is a bigger loss.

I think when all is said and done the working class will be as big losers as the Ds are now. Not because there wont be attempts to pour money into helping communities that are hurting (Wait till the new senate convenes and Mitch McConnell start extolling the virtues of govt. spending) But because the person they just elected is a tyrant-to-be. And the common narrative to all tyrants is that they inevitably take the community or group that they claim to champion down the sewers. I will go there- One can argue that Hitler's greatest victims were the German people of every stripe. The ones he murdered, and the ones that were forcibly conscripted by his evil into something they probably shrugged or dismissed or had lukewarm support the first time he came onto the scene.

Why do I think that we have a tyrant-to-be? Because the overarching theme of his life has been white supremacy. His "championing" of the working class is not about them, he never lifted a finger in his life to help them ( union busting, foreign workers, stiffing small businesses doing work on his projects etc. ). For him it has always been about how every pre-dominantly non-white country has taken advantage of them, sending immigrants here or taken the rightfully owned jobs of the white person in small town Ohio. It his drive to change that narrative.

So, please dont overlook the blatant racist beliefs that drive him. Then you will see that there are some very dark days ahead.



laura k said...

Of course the working class has suffered -- is suffering -- a worse loss than the Democratic party! By saying the Dems took a horrible blow, I mean that this election should have been, could have been, easily theirs. A Dem incumbent, people ready for a change, progressive ideas thick on the ground. But the party's arrogance and sense of entitlement, and the liberal Americans' rallying cry that you MUST vote LOTE and never anything else, brought them to this point. Of course along with the racist, xenophobic, and fascist appeal of the other side.

The German people were also Hitler's victims. There is no doubt about that. Quite a bit less horrible than being slaughtered in death camps, but by and large they were the architects of their own destruction. And that may be the case for the people who voted for Trump as well.

I don't rule anything out. I've long ago learned not to say, "But they wouldn't do that..." or "That can't happen here".