Trump’s election is an astounding upset that defies almost all the predictions. It shows how anger at the political system can be pulled to the right, as with the Brexit vote in the UK earlier this year.
Trump’s victory has caused shockwaves across global stockmarkets and raises concerns about the role of US capitalism and the stability of the world system. Like Brexit, it threatens to widen existing fractures and amplify the crisis in world capitalism.
This was a race between the two least popular presidential candidates in history. But Hillary and Trump were unpopular for very different reasons.
Clinton was the perfect representative of the status quo—a woman who has spent her whole life in ruling political circles, as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. She was widely seen as in the pay of the big banks and big business.
She offered anything but change.
Trump too is a representative of the billionaire class. But he ran as an insurgent, promising to bring back jobs and stand up to the political elite.
In the context of deepening inequality, and a widespread sense that the political system only works for the rich, this proved effective.
The wealth of a typical American household has fallen a staggering 14 per cent since 1984. But the people in the top 1 per cent have seen their share of national income soar, from 10 per cent in 1981 to 22 per cent last year.
The economic crisis in 2008 hit ordinary Americans hard. Median household income is still lower than it was before the crisis.
A Reuters poll on the eve of the election found that 75 per cent agreed that, “America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful” and 68 per cent agreed that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.”
One Trump voter in New York told the ABC, “Mr Trump is a bit crazy and sporadic, but I think we need that. I think we need to shake things up a bit.”
The Trump victory is also a measure of the failure of the Democrats and deep disillusionment with Obama. There are millions of people who enthusiastically campaigned for Sanders before their hopes were trashed as he sold out to Clinton.
Trump tapped into the bitterness many ordinary Americans feel, but has channelled it in a racist and reactionary direction. He posed getting tough on immigration, and pushed his ridiculous plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico, as a way to protect jobs and living standards.
Trump has no real solutions to the problems faced by working class Americans. His policies will do nothing to reduce inequality. Many of them will be simply impossible to implement.
Trump will be a chaotic and unpredictable President. But he will be constrained by the wishes of US military apparatus, and a Republican House and Senate that do not trust him. A whole raft of senior Republicans have distanced themselves from him and refused to support his campaign.
But serious resistance to Trump can only come from building powerful mass movements from below. The Black Lives Matter movement will now be even more important in the face of a President who wants to let police off the leash through racist “stop and frisk” laws that allow racial profiling.
The billionaire who has short-changed his own employees can be fought by a resurgent “Fight for $15 and a union” campaign.
The possibilities of building resistance are there. Trump is a deeply polarising figure. One poll the week of the election said 60 per cent of voters viewed him unfavourably. When his rhetoric is put to the test and he is unable to deliver policies that improve people’s lives, he could come crashing down.