Hunter S. Thompson, whose visceral insight would be much appreciated today, said of Nixon’s election in ’72, “Everyone stopped doing psychedelics and speed, and started doing downers.” The natural impulse is to hide, clap hands over eyes or ears and pretend this isn’t the national nightmare it is.
Mr. Trump has triumphed, and whatever delight his supporters might take will be short-lived. The hangover will be in the way of buyer’s regret not unlike the British whose Brexit vote left everyone baffled. Why would they do that to themselves?
Indeed. But the answers come in truck loads: angry voters tired of political cant cast their anti-establishment vote. You could say they were sexist and racist and that’s probably true on the margins, but I suspect a little under 50% of the electorate is not racist or sexist. Many of them are simply fed up with the existing order of things. Healthcare cost traveling steadily upwards, retirement accounts vanished, college education– a second and third mortgage, tertiary jobs that still don’t pay the bills; while millionaire news anchors feed them a stream of nonsense. What this election should make liberal Democrats rethink is that extraordinarily near-sighted strategy of relying so heavily on identity politics to win national elections—and their concomitant decision to jettison blue-collar workers across the land. You can’t be both Wall Street and Main Street. Obama and the Clintons and the Democratic Party, in general, have aligned themselves with Wall Street throughout the last three decades. Their center right neoliberal policies have made a hash of the middle class, and eviscerated the poor. This started with Bill Clinton’s famous triangulation and has led us straight to here.
If you scan the electoral map, you’ll see the broad outline of Trump’s victory in the industrially devastated Mid-West and Appalachian regions of our country. Poor, white, less educated, left behind by a gutted manufacturing base, and sneered at by millionaire anchors hardly more literate than themselves, by commentarial dunces.
What’s happened is not hard to discern. Trump brandished a big loud ‘fuck you’ to the smug elites. He achieved what many a politician probably envy, traction with the common man by reacting authentically to being likewise snubbed by those same elites—his famously thin skin is a political asset for the voters who feel snubbed in the same way. Making ‘fun’ of Trump will do Democrats no good. Focusing on his abundant personality faults is a losing battle, because the people who voted for him voted precisely for those faults.
True, his cabinet picks are wildly disturbing. Pruitt, if confirmed, is a climate change denier who will be appointed head of the EPA. Ben Carson who favors dismantling much of HUD will be in charge of that agency. Pudzer, his Labor Secretary pick, is a fast food magnate who applauds the rise of robots as replacement labor and opposes raising the minimum wage. General “Mad Dog” Mattis has been anointed Secretary of Defense. He likes to talk about his enjoyment in killing people, or the necessity of it. “It’s fun to shoot some people…Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” But he does have sage advice for waging war, advice progressives should take to heart:
“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Most of my friends have had a visceral response to Trump’s ascension. After the election night, a few simply refused to get dressed the next day. A pervasive sense of doom has descended upon the ranks of America’s most hopeful demographic. For what are progressives if not hopeful? The scope of the disaster seems unprecedented. And the fall– from sanguine plans of mediating a Clinton victory to quasi-fascist takeover– is breathtaking. But regardless of our feckless media, we still have serious issues to handle. Trump probably isn’t going to help, but we shouldn’t let him hinder us, either.
How does that work? Make a list of concrete things we need to accomplish in the next four years. Not just rear guard defensive actions, but items that we would have pushed for under any administration. My list consists of switching our energy grid from carbon emitters like petroleum and coal to renewable energy sources, solar and wind. Reform our local, state and national election systems by eliminating gerrymandering, reforming the electoral college, instituting IVR (instant voter runoff), and re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine. Decrease income inequality by passing the ERA. Use things like a financial transaction tax to debit each trade on Wall Street by a small percentage and apply those funds to college tuition grants, healthcare subsidies, etc. With regard to our retirement system, we could shore up any problems with Social Security by raising the base wage Social Security tax to include those making over $118,500. Currently, those who make in excess of that annual salary pay no Social Security tax at all. Ideally, Obamacare should be overhauled and a single payer system should be rolled out. This is by far the most efficient system on Earth and has a successful track record in almost every other Western Industrialized society except the United States which refuses because of the scary word ‘socialism.’ Increase job opportunities by funding much-needed infrastructure projects-including making our economy green. Eliminate the poverty to prison pipeline by repealing ridiculously harsh drug laws that disproportionately affect minority and lower class communities and stop using for profit prisons.
This list is not comprehensive by any stretch but the ideas are all based on concrete goals that are actually broadly shared by wide swaths of the electorate. Everyone wants a clean environment. Everyone wants decent affordable healthcare and education. Everyone wants a living wage. Even Trump supporters. In fact, especially them. Yet, not one of these goals has the word ‘Trump’ in it, nor should it. Neither do they have the word ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’. They are prioritized based on necessity, starting with the survival of the species (moving off carbon based energy sources), then political reforms that can lead to ameliorating the harsh binary world of income inequality that leads to elections results that we’ve just seen.
So don’t talk about what Trump will or will not do. He thrives off the attention. Rather, discuss what we need to do, regardless of Trump. He’s a troll who has managed to con a portion of the nation that desperately wanted to be conned. Focus on the concrete. Trump is a symptom of a deeper malaise, and the solution is not only to defeat Republicans like Trump, but neoliberals of either party. One way of doing this is to run insurgent left primary candidates (including avowed democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders) against mainstream Democrats as well as Republicans. They may not win, but it forces the Overton window to the left and makes discussion of income inequality, fair trade rather than free trade, the centerpiece of an election rather than an edge issue. Make your own list today and work on it. Run for office, locally, or nationally. And, for God sakes, whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls.
~by Jack Johnson
Excellent Assessment! I always enjoy your writing.
I agree with you response to the election.