The limits of liberalism and the need for an anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist left
In the week since the election, Hillary Clinton has said “we owe [Donald Trump] an open mind and a chance to lead.” President Barack Obama said that “we are now all wishing for [Trump’s] success in uniting and leading the country.” Even the AFL-CIO has come out and said that “if he is willing to work with us, consistent with our values, we are ready to work with him.” This is a candidate who has threatened to register all Muslims living in the United States. He’s threatened to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and accelerate deportations, tearing families and communities apart. He’s unashamed of sexual assault and has been accused of rape. He’ll be on trial next month for fraud. His victory has been publicly celebrated by the KKK here in North Carolina. Nor is his economic policy progressive: it supports tax cuts for the rich and cuts in services for the poor and entails massive deregulation of the private sector. Still, the Democrats have pivoted from calling Trump as the greatest threat to democracy in history to a sudden willingness to work with him. This pivot is possible precisely because the dichotomy between Trump and Clinton – between a far-right GOP and centre-right Democratic Party – is a false one. There is a direct relationship between the two. The vocal racism and sexism of Trump was thought to have paved the road for a Clinton coronation, but in fact just the reverse occurred: Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the status quo that they represent, set up and are directly responsible for a Trump presidency.
Much has been made of the “revolt of the white working class” at the heart of Trump’s electoral success. Election returns demonstrate the undoubtedly white, male and rural base of Trump’s support. What returns far less often show is that Trump received less support – in terms of raw votes – than Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2008, Barack Obama received 69, 498, 516 to McCain’s 59,948,323. In 2012, the gap narrowed, with Obama’s support dropping to 65,915,795 to Romney’s 60,933,504. In 2016, Trump clinched the support of the Electoral College system but actually lost the popular vote to Clinton, 60,839,922 to 60,265,858 (as of Sunday, Nov. 13). Trump’s support was loud and vocal and dominant in rural America, but came in at just a 317,000 votes above McCain and 568,000 votes beneath Romney. The significant thing to note is the collapse in Democratic support since 2008. Obama received approximately 400,000 fewer votes in 2012 and Clinton lost another 500,000. Clinton support collapsed, especially in her “blue wall”: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania. Most of the low-income whites and union whites who voted actually broke for Clinton. If there’s a revolt of the working class at play, it’s that people just didn’t vote for Clinton. That base didn’t support Trump; it deserted Clinton. The DNC deserves all of the blame for Tuesday night; their answer to a racist, sexist, billionaire fascist, was the incarnation of a status quo that was and is killing people.
In Pennsylvania, there were low-income, rural, predominantly white counties that voted twice for Obama and this time for Trump. Trump, like Obama before him, doesn’t represent change, but he talks like change. Obama ran a campaign animated by hope in 2008, but most of his promises weren’t enacted: Guantanamo never closed, we’re still at war, and the economic recovery since the recession has overwhelmingly benefited the suburban and urban rich. The great recession is still felt immensely by the urban and rural poor, who have not seen the recovery that the media has praised Obama for. The point is not to say, as many have, that “not all Trump supporters are racist,” or that these Pennsylvania supporters weren’t racist because they voted for Obama before. That’s like saying having a Black friend means you can’t be racist – it’s just not true. In the end, every single Trump supporter, regardless of their personal relationship to white supremacy, voted for and empowered a bigoted white supremacist and fascist. I’m not here to tell you that “not all Trump supporters are racist.” But I am here to argue that Trump is wholly the responsibility of a decadent, elitist and arrogant liberalism that defines the Democratic Party.
Anecdotal support for Trump from white workers should not be overlooked. Dr. Tithi Bhattacharya of Purdue University shared an viral Facebook interview of a worker called “Mary.” Mary, according to Bhattacharya, “works for a housecleaning company… gets paid $12 an hour, no benefits… She has 4 children, one of them disabled. She is white and about 30. She voted Trump.” Bhattacharya quotes Mary directly, saying she “could never vote for Hillary. She sounds like my boss, John. I feel she is lying all the time… No one in my town has jobs… Every house has more unemployed people than ever. The Ford factory near Bloomington was where many of my family members worked… If Trump lowers the taxes, maybe Ford will come back again? All I want is people to have jobs.” Ford won’t come back under Trump. That’s not how our neo-liberal economy works. Trump wants to fix America’s economy with more capitalism, but that won’t help the working class. Trump has misled workers like Mary, tragically. But what does Mary think of Trump’s “comments about women and people of color”? Bhattacharya followed up, and Mary replied: “If I was alone in a room with him, I would hit him. I can’t stand him.”
The attempt by progressive whites to write off people like Mary as racist is a common response. To city liberals, Mary is ignorant white trash, and dismissing her allows those same city liberals to feel satisfaction about how “progressive” and “tolerant” they are. But in America, anti-blackness is so deeply woven into our language, our cultural imagery and mythology and our relationships with one another that I’m unconvinced any white person is capable of transcending racism. That doesn’t mean that racism can’t be fought, or that white supremacy is some immutable fact above time and nature. White supremacy will fall, but only through multiracial struggle.
Trump won plenty of votes because of his racism and sexism. He also won plenty of votes in spite of his racism and sexism. He won plenty of votes out of the desperation of folks like Mary, who would “hit him” if she could. Trump pledged to “Make America Great Again,” and with capitalism, racism, sexism, and homophobia, it’s abundantly clear that he’ll only make America worse. But Clinton’s response to Trump was that “America is already great.” With cops killing Black people like Keith Lamont Scott; with income inequality getting worse all the time and people struggling to make ends meet even when the economy is apparently rolling on all cylinders; with sexual assault, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate crimes rising, a slogan like “America is already great” is terribly tone-deaf. The working class didn’t carry Trump to victory, they just didn’t vote for Clinton. And they didn’t vote for Clinton or Trump because Clinton champions a bad, unequal and racist status quo, while the Trump calls for a return to a bad, unequal and racist past. Trump is sorely hated, but Clinton embodies the war and corruption and elitism and capitalism of a sorely hated social order.
Democrats like Obama and Clinton are already capitulating, already moving right. Clinton’s campaign refuses to acknowledge just how pissed the electorate was and just how tone-deaf their campaign was for all disaffected Americans. For the rest of us who want to legitimately resist a Trump presidency and the emboldened nationalism of the right, we have to see 2016 as the death of the DNC. The Democratic Party is dead. Those of us who, like Mary, want to hit Trump and can’t stand Trump need Marxism and we need it now. We need a political opposition that doesn’t sound like the arrogant bosses, that doesn’t think America is already great but that knows the whole damn system is guilty as hell.