May The Best Woman Win

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7881538-3x2-700x467Michael Taft

From top: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Michael Taft

There is a difference between someone who is Trump and someone who is not Trump. The mature response is: support Clinton, oppose Trump.

America-born Michael Taft writes:

I suppose it would be expected of a progressive discussing the US Presidential election to describe Donald Trump negatively: a bigot, a liar, a tax avoider, a sexual predator, a charlatan who connives at arm’s length with the most profoundly anti-American groups (such as the Ku Klux Klan). But what’s the point?

We know all that and more – and we have Donald Trump to thank for that; he’s the one who’s provided the conclusive evidence.

What’s far more interesting is why so many people are voting for him. No doubt, this will become an industry in the future with books, articles, PhDs, earnest documentaries and pop-analysis.

I won’t pretend to have the answer (in any event, there are many answers which provoke even more questions). But I do know many of the people who are voting for him.

I grew up with them, went to school with them, played baseball with them, drank many beers with them. They are good people, caring people. I’m sure if you met them you would enjoy their company; just ordinary folk trying to meet their monthly bills.

But something has snapped. The ties that traditionally bound Americans in a social contact have been cut. These people grew up in the American dream and now they have woken in a place that they weren’t prepared for and weren’t supposed to be in.

The most dismal statistic is that the life-expectancy of whole swathes of the white working class is now falling. Poor health, poor wages, poor life-expectancy. The inclusive ties of community have been replaced by bleak networks despondency and anger.

Of all that was depressing about Trump’s rallies, to me the most depressing were the chants ‘Build the wall! Build the wall!’ Never mind that America became great because it tore down walls, creating a land of many cultures, languages, religions and national origins – a land for, and of, all people. Woody Guthrie said it best:

“This land is your land, this land is my land”

OK, there was always a bit of myth about this; the reality was more fraught, more tense with many injustices. But the mythic parts are important, too – it says something to us about us. And walls are not about us.

People build walls when they are afraid, lack confidence, live in fear, when the social order of cooperation that is so natural to us breaks down. Walls are the ultimate sign of weakness, yet this is the foundation for ‘Making America Great Again’.

Do Trump supporters recognise this weakness? No, not now anyway. That is the tragedy which they don’t deserve.

I know Europeans flinch at Trump’s language but I know the cadences, the syntax, the rhythms; it is a direct language. So much of the oppressive apparatus in America today comes with a ‘corporation-speak’, a ‘bureaucratic-speak’. People know this language and are sick of it.

Trump’s speeches are not written by committee where each sentence is parsed for its impact on this or that focus group. His speech is the speech of ordinary people. Ever read a written transcript of an ordinary conversation – it’s almost unreadable; so much is left to the unspoken word, the unfinished sentence, the wave of the hand, the angle of the head? That’s how Trump speaks. People understand.

But this is the allure and the danger of the demagogue. He or she cannot be neatly categorised on classical ideological graphs. They can act left-wing or right-wing. They can speak a progressive or reactionary language.

The most effective are able to weave these seemingly opposed perspectives into a unitary anti-establishment movement. They identify the elite, mobilise people against that elite and if they are successful, they end up becoming the elite. This is almost the inevitability of a desperate populism led by a persuasive demagogue.

There’s a lot of superficial commentary on the potential voting patterns of the rust-belt or the white working class or the ‘ordinary middle class’ (which means something different in the US than in Europe).

The polling data suggests something much more nuanced and differentiated: by region, by gender, by age, by educational achievement. Three-minute news pieces require neat summations; in many cases they miss the point.

But there’s one point that cannot be missed. Many of the people voting for Trump come from social constituencies that were once part of the greatest and most progressive coalition in the 20th century: the New Deal.

This was the new social contract that emerged out of the wreckage of the Great Depression and lasted for decades.

In the New Deal – which spread over a generation – equality spread as surely as electrification and water supplies, the welfare state was born, pro-labour legislation was implemented, financial interests were subordinated and the productive economy was privileged. Houses and motorways were built, art was created for the public, music classes were funded for schools and civil rights legislation was passed despite fierce opposition.

But the Democratic Party today has moved far from that heritage. Like social democracy and the Left throughout Europe, it proved incapable of fending off neo-liberalism, accommodated itself to capital (how so much different to President Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights), so intellectually debased itself it had no response to the financial crash.

Today, we are living with the results of the collapse of that great coalition and the Democratic Party’s inability to form a new one suited to modern times (though Senator Bernie Sanders gave us an insight into what that new coalition could look like).

How should progressive Americans respond today? Elect Hilary Clinton. Why? Because Hilary Clinton can forge a progressive America? I wish that were the case but I doubt it.

However, this is a defensive battle. Imagine if Trump won the Presidency? It’s not the successes that should worry us. It’s what happens if he fails his supporters. They have built the wall but they are still poor; they have kept out the ‘outsider’ but they still feel afraid. What happens when disillusionment with Trump sets in, when they see through the rhetoric to find another, more fundamental betrayal?

Don’t think they will automatically turn to a progressive and democratic alternative. They might retreat into a long-term apathy. Or worse, they might turn to even more reactionary forces which promise an even truer and more uncompromised politics. If Trump were elected America might spiral into an even more vicious cycle.

That’s why Clinton must win. I’ve come across the trope that, at root, there is no difference between Trump and Clinton. This betrays a profound ignorance of the fundamental issues at stake.

There is a difference between someone who is Trump and someone who is not Trump. The mature response is Senator Bernie Sanders’ response: support Clinton, oppose Trump.

And the mature strategy is Senator Bernie Sander’s strategy: support Clinton, win the White House and immediately start transforming the Democratic Party from the bottom up.

This is a lesson we should learn in Europe. How so much easier to set oneself apart to remain untainted. The real work of democratic mobilisation is so much harder and much more long-term. It is not the instant gratification that can be found in the supermarket aisle or the heated denunciations on social media.

And in America, this democratic mobilisation will need to include Trump supporters – those who are searching for a new social contract. Because they vote Trump today doesn’t mean they have stopped searching.

But it will need to speak directly, honestly. It will need to project a more authentic and liberating Americanism, rooted in a profoundly progressive history.

We must rebuild that coalition, fit for the 21st century. We must start that work now. And the first step is to elect Hilary Clinton today. The next step starts tomorrow.

Michael Taft is Research Officer with Unite the Union. His column appears here every Tuesday. He is author of the political economy blog, Unite’s Notes on the Front. Follow Michael on Twitter: @notesonthefront

20 thoughts on “May The Best Woman Win

  1. Clampers Outside

    Best piece on the election I’ve read of all of the last months posts.

    And I couldn’t agree more with the line about how the left has become so incredibly scatty and has “intellectually debased itself” ….and carries insight barely the depth of a Cavan pot hole, because virtue signaling and sloganeering don’t require any depth. I despair for the state of the left.

  2. Jake38

    Excellent article.

    It’s interesting how in the US the disaffected gravitate to Trump (billionaire self-publicist) and in Ireland they gravitate to the equally fantastical SF/AAA/PBP (eat-the-rich populists). It says a lot about the different mindsets of the two nations.

    1. bisted

      …you seem to have forgotten the hub who almost elected self-publicist Sean Gallagher…the shinners deserve some credit for their fantastic work there..

      1. Clampers Outside

        A fake twitter account…. slow clap for Sinn Fein and the RTE researchers who did a poor job in spotting it was fake. Don’t think I’d slap SF on the back for that one in fairness.

    2. :-Joe

      Congratulations,

      Now that your brain is making random nonsensical connections between abstract pieces of data…

      Tell us more about what it feels like….

      :-J

  3. Daisy Chainsaw

    Employers like Trump are the reason the life expectancy of white working class people has fallen. Why pay a decent wage when you can get away with fobbing workers off with the minimum? Trump can declare bankruptcy again and walk away again, continuing his tacky, luxuriant lifestyle without a pause for breath. The employees end up on food stamps.

    1. SOQ

      Let me correct that last phrase for you Daisy.

      The employees HAVE ended up on food stamps.

      Undocumented Polish workers and harassing tenants to the point of terrorism pales in comparison to intentionally wrecking local economies.

      “People will spend a tremendous amount of money in casinos, money that they would normally spend on buying a refrigerator or a new car,” Trump said. “Local businesses will suffer because they’ll lose dollars to the casino.”

      http://europe.newsweek.com/donald-trump-business-busts-victims-511034?

  4. gringo

    Sure, Trump is a bigot, a liar, and a tax avoider which makes him as American as APPLE pie. Good ole Hillary cannot wait to get her hand on the trigger, after all, there are still lots of kiddies in the middle east that need butchering.

  5. Eoin

    I think we all have to try and be careful what we wish for. Michael Moore said Trump was a molotov cocktail being aimed at the system. Problem is half of America sees a system that does nothing for them. They’d rather see it burn than continue. They’re willing to throw that cocktail by voting for Trump. That’s how desperate people are for real change. What’s it gonna be like after several years of Hillary? You think those people are going to be any happier then? US needs real systemic change. Like what Obama promised. Can’t see Hillary bringing that.

  6. pat okelly

    People become tired with the same regime but are generally too lazy to think things through so just vote for change in hope – remember the Nazis were elected
    ; they did not sieze power

  7. nellyb

    ‘But something has snapped.’
    It is public patience that snapped. Corruption is explicit, partly legalized and epic in size. Not only that. We’re being trolled with ‘catch me if you can’ bragging. Why can’t these ‘leaders of men’ embezzle little by little over long period of time, leaving enough money for public projects? Corruption is as old as prostitution and will never go away, but should we just let it roam free????
    I don’t think it matters who becomes a president. Trump will destroy the country fast, reforms might come sooner. Clinton will do it slowly, turning US into economically aimless and opportuneless Japan. And I believe prep for impeachment game is already starting on all sides.

    1. :-Joe

      Mr Taft fails to mention the actual problem.

      If you remove Goldman Sachs, Citibank and the rest of the big fintech greedy scumbag lobbyists from inside the white house you can start to write legislation that tips the balance back into some kind of representational democracy. Allbeit a sh1.te one that needs to recover over a long period of time to be anything near a “New Deal”.

      Along with this slow process of growing a moral spine again the economy needs it’s interest rates risen to stop all the cheap credit from being so easily abused by speculation.

      After about five years the ever present corruption will have been forced back to the margins of the economic system and democracy will have room to breath.

      Nobody can be sure if voting for Trump, an independant, absconding, spoiling a vote or anything that would prevent Clinton from winning would be the catastrophic disaster that so many would agree you should believe…

      Do you really think he would not be impeached from one of at least a dozen legal battles against him if not ousted by all the corrupt power centres that have already backed their candidate long before obama was allowed to play royal family.

      You’re not suspicious though are you? Most of you even here in Ireland are towing the line and you don’t even realise it when it’s being handed to you. As bad as he is, Trump is a petty gangster compared to the clintons.

      Get Jill Stein to 5% for a 3rd party representation in the next election and sit back and watch the US implode within six months trying to get rid of Trump and then you’ll get progressive change in a heartbeat.

      If clinton gets in any dream of Taft’s neo-new dealing will have to wait for about two decades until after at least eight years of the scumbags and highly likely a third world war with china +1 that we may not survive.

      The american dream, you must be asleep to believe in it.

      U ! . S ! . A !

      :-J

  8. Truth in the News

    What has happened is that Trump has emerged from the shadows and entered the fray unlike the rest of his class, who usually use proxies to fight their battles, unlike Clinton he is not of the establishment and is not predictable, this upsets the media and the lobbyist’s in Washington, while the Clinton’s are prisioner’s of Wall St, Donald is not, he has being able to play them at their own game, if he get’s in, who will go with the begging bowl on St Patricks Day, the best thing, is send Micheal O’Leary.

  9. f_lawless

    “support Clinton, win the White House and immediately start transforming the Democratic Party from the bottom up.”
    Good luck with that! I think this article misses the point. The US needs to move away from the two party system which has failed the average American and only favours elites.

  10. Deluded

    Fair play to Noonan and his red carpet, he showed remarkable prescience. Let’s hope our bowl of shamróigí are received so well next March.
    All joking aside, that was May 2014 so for 2½ years now we have been slagging Trump and I don’t recall a single article about Hillary or what she was likely to do as President.
    It seems enough people didn’t trust her.
    Excellent piece Mr Taft.

    1. :-Joe

      Oh space monkey…

      We had no articles about clinton because the majority was sleepwalking into believing it was inevitable that she would win and what do we need to know when she represents all the same nonsense internationally? Quantative easing, austerity, fiscal space etc…

      Trump is gonna screw Irelands economy because we rely so heavily on exports and he wants to start a trade war with china. Unfortunately instead of progressive economics our political class and the establishment favoured the now hopefully, abandoned TTIP. (ANTI)-trade agreement.

      :-J

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