Trump’s victory sent shock and disbelief across the world. It means a racist who boasts about assaulting women will hold the presidency in the most powerful country on the planet.
His election has emboldened Pauline Hanson and far right parties everywhere. It has given confidence to bigots in the US, where racists celebrating Trump’s victory have physically attacked black people, torn off Muslim women’s headscarves and scrawled racist graffiti on the homes of migrants.
Mass protests erupted as soon as Trump claimed the Presidency. This has to be the start of a fightback that can stop Trump’s bigotry and right-wing agenda from becoming the new normal.
The stakes are high. If anger at inequality is turned in a racist direction the results will be extremely dangerous.
There is enormous resentment across the US as a result of declining living standards over the last several decades. The neo-liberal era has seen working class people asked to take continual pain while the top 1 per cent have seen their wealth explode.
The wealth of a typical American household has fallen a staggering 14 per cent since 1984. But 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 after 2008 made life even worse. Most people’s 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.”
The Trump victory is a measure of the failure of the Democrats and the deep disillusionment after eight years of Obama. Under the first black president black Americans are still being routinely shot down by police, forcing people to take to the streets to assert that “Black lives matter”.
Hillary Clinton was the worst possible candidate for this situation. The Democratic Party insisted on running someone who personified the political elite and their contempt for ordinary people. It is possible that Bernie Sanders, who called for a “political revolution” against the corporate domination of the political system, could have beaten Trump. But the Democratic Party elite did everything in their power to ensure he would not be their candidate, and once Hilary Clinton became the Democrat candidate Sanders backed her.
Clinton is notorious for her paid speeches at investment bank Goldman Sachs where she cynically admitted to having two positions on many issues—one for public consumption and another for the discussions with lobbyists behind closed doors. She has spent her whole life as part of the political elite, as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State.
Clinton’s defeat was sealed in mid-western states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio which Obama won in 2012. Her share of the vote here was down by between 6 and 7 per cent. Clinton’s vote share was down 15 per cent in small towns like Trumbell, Ohio.
This is the area known as the rust belt, once dominated by manufacturing jobs that have now disappeared.
As the New York Times put it, “Industrial towns once full of union voters who for decades offered their votes to Democratic presidential candidates shifted to Trump.”
Trump won an increased number of white working class voters. Exit polls showed Trump won 58 per cent of white voters overall. Clinton maintained an overwhelming lead among blacks, Latinos and Asians. But Clinton lost millions of black votes. Her share of the black vote was 5 per cent lower than Obama’s in 2008.
Trump cynically appealed to the anger at the political system by promising to bring back jobs and attacking a “rigged economy” run by “powerful corporations, media elites and political dynasties”. Trump channelled the massive political and economic discontent into a vicious, racially charged nationalism. He blamed China and foreign workers for taking jobs. And he promised to deport millions of immigrants so that “jobs are offered to American workers first”. Alongside this was his call for a halt to all further Muslim immigration.
Racism works to divide the working class by scapegoating immigrants and minorities for the destruction of jobs and living standards. Both here and in the US, the left has a serious task on its hands to build anti-racist movements capable of countering the racism of our rulers.
Since the election Trump has given little indication of backing down on the racism of his campaign. He has pledged to deport two to three million immigrants he claims have criminal records as soon as he takes office.
His staff appointments include Steve Bannon as chief strategist, who runs the “white nationalist” Breitbart News website that promotes a cocktail of Islamophobia and other forms of racism.
His national security adviser, retired general Mike Flynn, has described the Islamic religion as “like cancer” and tweeted “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”. Jeff Sessions, his nominee for Attorney-General, opposes immigration and was rejected by the US Senate for a post as a federal judge over racism against blacks.
He plans to appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn abortion rights won in the Roe v Wade decision. And he wants to bulk up arms spending and the size of the US military. This includes expanding the navy in order to ratchet up tensions with China.
Trump posed as an anti-establishment candidate. But the billionaire’s policies will favour the super-rich. Global stockmarkets recovered from the initial shock after his election as they remembered that he wants to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15 per cent.
There is no way he can meet his promises to bring back jobs and double economic growth. Workers who voted for him in the hope that he would stand up to the rich and powerful will get nothing but more misery.
The mainstream Republicans and corporate elites who disowned him during the campaign are now talking unity and collaborating with him. Even Hillary Clinton said Americans owed him “an open mind and the chance to lead”. Tragically, Sanders has now also said that he would cooperate with Trump on anti-corporate campaign promises.
The control of the Democratic Party by a section of American capitalism and the political elite makes it incapable of offering an alternative to Trump’s right-wing populism.
The discontent that Trump and other far right parties around the world are capitalising on can also be pulled to the left. There are millions of disillusioned Sanders supporters who did not vote for Clinton or Trump who can be won to a fighting alternative to Trump and the Democrats. In Britain, the discontent has seen the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.
The demonstrations that exploded in the days after Trump’s victory show the desire to fight his dangerous racism, sexism and xenophobia. The last few years have seen the rise of new movements from below in the US like Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 minimum wage.
The task of the left is to shape them into a fightback capable of countering Trump’s racism and scapegoating, and directing workers’ anger against the bankers, corporations and the top 1 per cent. This is where the hope lies for building a genuine left alternative in the US.