By MARK UGOLINI
On Jan. 20, Donald Trump will be sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, and a new Republican administration will take control of the U.S. government’s executive branch. The election of this bigoted billionaire sent shock waves throughout the communities that were the targets of his racist, sexist, and anti-immigrant diatribes.
Angry demonstrations and student walk-outs took place in a number of U.S. cities immediately following the election. Shouting anti-racist and feminist slogans such as “My body, my choice!” thousands marched on Nov. 9 in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Chicago, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and elsewhere. In the San Francisco Bay Area, students marched out of several high schools while chanting, “Not our president!”
The popular vote tabulated on the night of Nov. 8 had Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton narrowly edging Trump by .2 percent of the nationwide vote total. But Trump amazed many by winning over large numbers of working-class voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states normally considered solid Democratic Party territory. By early the next morning, Trump had easily surpassed the 270 electoral votes needed to be declared victor and president-elect.
This year’s presidential election was unique in the way that it focused on the unsavory personal characteristics of the candidates, and in the harshly offensive tone of the national discourse. Trump made effective use of Hillary Clinton’s anti-working class, “unscripted” and supposedly “private” comments at a fundraising event attended by many of the Democratic Party’s richest campaign donors.
For her part, Clinton wrote off supporters of Trump as “deplorable” and “irredeemable,” comments that convey her distain for working people, and the absence of any recognition of the desperate situation they face under the heels of a severely depressed economy.
A big part of Trump’s campaign message concentrated on nationalistic and protectionist “America First” appeals to workers, and racist attitudes toward Mexican Americans, Blacks, Muslims, and immigrants. Trump’s sexist attitudes and behavior were also prominently on display, including a tape-recorded comment he made admitting his involvement in sexual assault. In one instance, Trump made vicious comments and gestures mocking a disabled reporter. Early in his campaign Trump tried to provoke his supporters to inflict physical harm on Black Lives Matter protesters.
A young Muslim woman, speaking on a PBS call-in show the night after the election, expressed the fear that the Trump victory has produced in minority communities. She stated, “Everyone here is in shock. … Even though I was born and raised in this country, if feels as if I am not a full American by Trump’s standards. … His rhetoric has emboldened the racists and bigots.”
Trump’s campaign drew international attention, particularly its racist aspects. The newly anointed “president-elect” received congratulatory messages from far-right, anti-immigrant nationalist leaders, including Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front in France and candidate for the French presidency.
However, the notion that Trump’s victory reflected deep and growing racist and sexist sentiments among U.S. workers is far from accurate. Virtually the same electorate chose the nation’s first Black president four and eight years earlier. Trump prevailed in spite of his racist and sexist tirades, not because of them. Seventy-two percent of those who voted on Nov. 8 believed that “the economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful.” Sixty-eight percent indicated that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.”
Trump’s populist demagogy
Vote totals revealed that Trump ended up with widespread support among working people, particularly white workers, some of whom had been voters for Democratic Party candidates in the past, including Bernie Sanders. It appears that a high percentage of the voters were attracted to Trump’s populist demagogy—including his anti-politician, “drain the Washington swamp” message that denounced a rigged system designed for the Washington insiders at the expense of the vast majority.
As the campaign proceeded, Trump placed more and more emphasis on populist themes, promising decisive changes in trade, immigration, and health-care policies. He promised to bring back manufacturing and good paying jobs. He promoted a national campaign to rebuild the decaying infrastructure, and he promised to sweep away the job-stealing international trade agreements of previous administrations.
Trump called for an end to Obamacare—with its skyrocketing expenses for working people—and for replacing it with a better system, with priority treatment for veterans. He seemed to promise anything and everything he could, almost always without specifics, to win working-class votes.
At the same time, despite a multi-billion-dollar media offensive conducted by both capitalist parties and designed to attract voters, many millions stayed away from the polls on Election Day. Forty-four percent of all U.S. eligible voters did not vote at all. This reflected widespread revulsion and distrust with both candidates. Millions felt both candidates were offensive in their personal characteristics and behavior, what they stood for, and in the way they communicated. For a large minority, there was less a sense of a “lesser evil” choice between the two capitalist candidates, and more a sense that there was no real choice.
As in most past elections, despite the modest efforts of our Socialist Action presidential campaign and other socialist campaigns, the political voice of the U.S. working class was generally absent in the corporate media. The United States is somewhat unique in this regard, as in many countries a Labor Party, based on the trade unions, or a mass Socialist Party, at least purports to speak for the working class. Without an independent working-class party, the ruling class has a far easier opportunity to convince working people into supporting pro-capitalist candidates, policies, and interests in the name of supporting the “lesser evil.” That’s why revolutionary socialists raise the pressing need for a Labor Party, based on a fighting, re-energized, and re-invigorated labor movement.
Partly due to this void in American politics, a significant portion of white workers in the U.S. chose to support the Trump campaign. Despite the reactionary, racist and misogynist tone underlying much of Trump’s message, the broad support that his campaign attracted expressed in a sometimes distorted way the fact that many U.S. workers believe that they are not being heard and their issues and problems are being ignored by the rulers in Washington.
In fact, the anti-working-class actions and policies of the Democratic Party’s Obama administration fed into many workers’ feeling of betrayal. Obama bailed out Wall Street and the banks to the tune of $32 trillion, while failing to create programs to create secure jobs with union wages or public works programs to rebuild depressed U.S. cities. He supported anti-working-class trade policies without concealing that his prime concern was to guarantee super-profits for big corporations.
Nowhere to be found under Obama were programs to provide adequate and affordable housing, clean water supplies, or funding for desperately needed public schools and day-care centers in working-class communities. Obama’s “Affordable Care Act” ended up as a bonanza for the insurance companies and a cruel hoax for victims of the profit-gouging health-care industry.
The Socialist Action presidential campaign
During the 2016 election campaign Socialist Action candidates Jeff Mackler for President and Karen Schraufnagel for V.P. successfully gained a hearing for revolutionary socialist ideas through speaking tours, and articles in our newspaper, website, and social media. Supporters around the country also took part in building our campaign, including distribution of thousands of copies of our four-page campaign platform.
Another socialist group, Freedom Socialist Party, called for a vote for Mackler and Schraufnagel because Socialist Action’s “far-reaching platform includes abolishing the U.S. war machine; getting rid of racist, sexist and homophobic laws and practices; providing amnesty and equal rights for all immigrants; and defending labor.”
A number of prominent individuals supported the Socialist Action campaign, while others invited our candidates to participate in debates around the country with candidates and representatives of organizations representing Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Jill Stein.
We call on all who were attracted to the Socialist Action campaign to continue to work with us in the coming months. During the election period we spoke about the need for working people and the oppressed to rely on their own power, organized independently in united action. This will be our focus going forward.
The reactionary programs promised by the capitalist Republican and Democratic parties underscores the need for all the movements for significant and just social change to redouble their organizing efforts. We must build our struggles on multiple fronts—against U.S. wars of imperialist aggression, for immigration rights and climate justice, against cop violence in minority communities, for full reproductive rights of women, and many other issues.
Join us in building these independent movements, and join Socialist Action!
Photo: Los Angeles Times