Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential elections is a political earthquake that has shattered the entire global Establishment. Trump is not the problem, however, but a symptom of a more general malaise in society. The system has broken, and the American Dream has become a nightmare for millions. John Peterson of Socialist Appeal USA analyses "America's Brexit".
Thus ends the “School of the Democrats”. What once seemed unthinkable—akin to an episode of the Twilight Zone—has become a surreal reality. As Hillary’s “blue wall” of “secure” states came tumbling down, tipping irreversibly in The Donald’s favor, the media pundits tried to maintain their composure, but they were clearly shellshocked—along with millions of others.
Obama offered the feeble consolation that “the sun will rise in the morning.” As night follows day, the sun will indeed rise in the morning. But it will rise over a very different world: one that has witnessed the overnight collapse of the rotten Clinton dynasty and the shattering of the lesser evil electoral strategy.
“This can’t be happening!”
“Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand.”
“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.”
- Karl Marx
All things being equal, it shouldn’t have been close. But as we’ve explained, all things aren’t equal. Logic and reason all pointed to a win for Clinton, but under the blows of the economic crisis, logic and reason have been thrown out the window. 2016 has been the year of the populists—both left and right —and with Sanders forced out of the race, Trump was the main beneficiary. The huge, organic crowds he gathered, while “Crooked Hillary” struggled to generate momentum in the general election was a clear indication that something big was brewing.
We should therefore not be at all surprised. After all, as we explained in our pre-election analysis: “if Brexit can happen, Donald Trump can become the next President of the United States.” In the epoch of advanced capitalist decay, the unthinkable is the new normality. When the Marxists say that “sharp and sudden changes” are on the order of the day, it is not an empty phrase. When we explained no matter who won the election, it would mark a decisive change in the situation, it was not hyperbole. In the aftermath of Sanders’s run, and now the election of Trump, who can say nothing ever changes in the US? It may not be the kind of change millions had hoped for, but it is nonetheless a colossal change.
The full implications for the world economy and class struggle are impossible to predict, but they will be far-ranging. Even before the final results had been announced, futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen 700 points, the Mexican peso had lost 10% of its value in relation to the dollar, gold prices shot upward, and Asian markets tanked.
The US is not a marginal second-rate former world power, but the belly of the capitalist and imperialist beast. As the Financial Times expressed it: “The larger implications of Mr Trump’s election will take a while to sink in. Every pollster in the land misread the US public. By electing a man whom voters knew to be disrespectful of US constitutional niceties, America has dispatched the electoral equivalent of a suicide bomber to Washington. Mr Trump’s mandate is to blow up the system. His forecast of ‘Brexit times ten’ was an understatement. The UK may have cut itself adrift but the consequences of its decision are largely parochial.”
Hillary Clinton was supposed to have this in the bag. Every polling organization gave her a hefty margin of victory. But by 10:30pm Eastern, the tide had turned and the phrases “seismic,” “unsettling,” “populist revolt,” “end of the American experiment,” “failed state,” and “apocalypse” peppered the airwaves. It was increasingly clear that “not Clinton” was going to be the winner. How could the pundits have gotten it so wrong?
Simply put, the polls were widely off the mark because the media wanted to believe its own fairy tale: that the populist anger was fleeting and that the candidate with the deepest campaign coffers always wins. Just as they gave Bernie Sanders less than a snowball’s chance in hell to threaten Clinton, they smugly assumed that Trump’s crass racism, sexism, and ignorance would be enough to sink him. Sanders capitulated to the pressure. But Trump did not, despite the merciless efforts by the media and his own party to toe the line or drop out of the race—and his supporters rewarded his tenacity by turning out in droves to hand him the win.
It was a contest between America’s most unwanted and unpopular candidates. In the end, as one analyst put it, “The worst nominee in American presidential history turned out to be Hillary Clinton.” With little in the way of a campaign machine, Trump rode the wave of outrage all the way to the White House.
As we explained before election day, “This was always Clinton’s election to lose—that is, after she and the DNC maneuvered undemocratically to deny Bernie Sanders the victory. After all, Obama is relatively popular, the economy has not yet dipped back into a slump, in the aftermath of Occupy and Black Lives Matter the general mood among the youth is clearly trending to the left, and Trump is a reactionary ignoramus and a buffoon. But there's a fly in the ointment: millions of Americans hate Hillary Clinton with a passion. They see her as a lying, dishonest cheater, bought and paid for by Wall Street. She is the epitome of a ladder-climbing insider, the embodiment of business-as-usual politics. After the Sanders experience, ‘at least I'm not Trump!’ isn't motivation enough for millions to go to the polls.”
A supermajority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track and this worked against the incumbent party. Among Millennials, Clinton did 11% worse this year in Florida than Obama. Many chose to vote for a third party despite the risk of playing “spoiler.” Given the Electoral College and big business domination of campaign finance, a majority think their vote doesn't matter. And who can blame them? The youth saw both major candidates as “scary,” “a joke,” “mockery,” and an “insult.”
“This election, I feel like you know who you don’t want, more so than who you want,” said Abriona Johnson, 20, a server at the Draught House in north Philadelphia who planned to vote for Hillary Clinton because “she’s not Trump.”
Some Trump supporters were just as dissatisfied with the election. Cal Summers, a 19-year-old student at Bucks County Community College, planned to vote for Mr. Trump because he supported Mr. Trump’s economic policies and because “Hillary Clinton is a criminal.” But he found the election “kind of scary” because both candidates were so flawed. Asked if he’d supported another candidate in the primaries, he said, “honestly, anyone would’ve been better.”
Even The Onion had trouble satirizing the election. According to Ben Berkley, the online magazine’s managing editor: “It’s hard to turn up the volume when the speaker is already blown out and everyone’s ears are already bleeding.”
Women and Clinton
Some will blame sexism and misogyny for the result. No doubt about it: this divisive poison is alive and well in the US and will continue as long as classes and artificial scarcity are allowed to continue. However, there is much more to the rejection of Hillary than her gender. As activist-actress Susan Sarandon bluntly put it: “I don’t vote with my vagina.”
Although Trump is a repugnant sexist in words and personal actions, this pales in comparison to Clinton’s actions against the interests of millions of working women in the US and around the world. As just one example, take the infamous Clinton Foundation, which pays its female employees just 72% what it pays male employees—even less than the 75% average for nonprofits. To put this into perspective, this means she pays women $7.20 versus $10 an hour for men doing the same job. Never mind the suffering of millions of women in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and everywhere else Secretary of State Clinton presided over bombings and immiseration.
The vast majority of Americans would have no problem electing a woman president and think it would mark an important milestone. But when push came to shove, millions of men and women could not bring themselves to vote for that woman for president. They voted for Trump, not because they are stupid or ignorant, but because their class instincts told them that Hillary Clinton was their class enemy.
“It’s the economy, stupid”
Obama’s real, not his imagined legacy after 8 years in power is the root explanation for the result. As Martin Wolf of the Financial Times outlined before the vote:
“Yet, the scars left by the crisis, which include diminished confidence in the probity and competence of the financial, intellectual and policymaking elites, also came on top of older ones.
“Real median household income increased by 5.2% between 2014 and 2015. But it remains below pre-crisis levels. Indeed, it is below levels reached in 2000 and has even fallen relative to real GDP per head consistently since the mid 1970s. This performance helps explain the tide of disillusionment, even despair, revealed so starkly by this grim election.
“Not surprisingly, inequality has worsened markedly. Between 1980 and the most recent period, the share of the top 1% in pre-tax income jumped from 10% to 18%. Even after tax, it rose by a third, from 8 to 12%. The rise in compensation of chief executives, relative to that of workers, has been huge. The US has the highest inequality of any high-income country and has seen the fastest rise in inequality among the seven leading high-income economies. The divergence among these countries suggests that rising inequality is far more a social choice than an economic imperative.
“Closely related to the rising inequality has been a decline in the share of labor in GDP from 64.6% in 2001 to 60.4% in 2014. Workers have not only suffered from declining shares of the pie. Just as significant is the steady rise in the proportion of men aged 25 to 54 neither in work nor seeking it from about 3% in the 1950s to 12% now. Even France had a higher fraction of prime-age men in jobs than the US every year since 2001. Since 1990, the US has had the second-largest increase in male non-participation in the labor force of all members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. After 2000, the declining trend in non-participation of prime-age women also halted. The proportion of US women in this age category in employment is now among the lowest of all the members of the OECD.”
It is no accident that Trump’s message got an echo in the rust belt and beyond. The Midwest in particular was hit hard by the crisis, and former Democratic strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin, along with rust belt Pennsylvania and Ohio went for Trump. Without a clear lead from the labor leadership, the effects of capitalist globalization are being rejected impressionistically and nationalistically, with a backlash against immigration, China, etc.
Millions of Americans feel that they have no future and that their very dignity has been stripped by the endlessly grinding crisis. The raging heroin epidemic is just one manifestation of this. They want to “drain the swamp” in Washington and “take back their country”—though they never had it in the first place.
The Democrats have presided over the most lucrative years in Wall Street’s history and nearly a decade of stagnation and decline for workers. They can’t live on past fumes and promises forever. This explains why, despite being a billionaire, Trump was able to pose as the ultimate outsider—and compared to Clinton, he certainly is one. He is the first president to have never held public office or to have served in the military. And despite lying with nearly every breath, his attacks on the establishment often contain more than a grain of truth.
“Left” and “right”
So although on the surface it seems counterintuitive, millions who voted for Trump were in fact expressing their class instincts, albeit in a confused and distorted manner. It is again worth quoting from what we wrote on the eve of the election:
“How to make sense of the support for Trump? If he is actually in a position to win, it means millions of American workers will vote for him. His core base of support is clearly the "enraged petty bourgeoisie"— numerically reduced and socially impotent as it may be—but he has also tapped into the deep-seated anger of millions of ordinary workers. To understand what is happening, we must abandon the mainstream-academic-bourgeois-liberal understanding of what constitutes "left" and "right." In short, we must analyze this process from a class perspective.
“For Marxists, the "left" represents the living, historically progressive interests of the working class in its struggle for the revolutionary socialist transformation of society. The "right" are the defenders and beneficiaries of dying, decrepit capitalism, a retrogressive system based on exploitation and oppression that has survived long past its "sell by date" due to the betrayals of the labor leaders. The fundamental determinant is not this or that policy in the abstract, but class: are you a worker or do you live off the dead and living labor of workers?
“To maintain the illusion of "majority rule" democracy, the workers, who vastly outnumber the capitalists, must be allowed to cast ballots (or at least those who have not been disqualified from voting for myriad spurious reasons). During normal periods, superficial differences in social, economic, or foreign policy are enough for voters to "make up their minds” as to who they should vote for. But at times when the contradictions of the system stretch the existing parties to the breaking point, and no mass working class alternative emerges to take its place, other methods are required to keep things within safe limits.
“Consciously or unconsciously, the function of both left and right populism is to rope workers into voting for parties that stand for class interests diametrically opposed to their own. By framing the world and politics as "us versus them" along various ideological and demographic lines, attention is deflected from the root problem: the organic crisis and impasse of the system. At the same time, however, stirring up these forces represents a potential threat to the established order, as the conjurers may not be able to keep them under control. The trick is to rile people up just enough to get them to the polls, but not so much that they actually believe they have a real say in how society is run. After the elections, everyone is supposed to go home and leave politics to the professionals. Heaven forbid they take to the streets, march on the capital, occupy factories, and organize mass strikes.
“So let us be clear: the Democrats are not "left," and the Republicans are not "right." They are both right-wing parties. Both have always been and remain to this day parties, of, by, and for the ruling class. They are at best the "liberal-right" and "conservative-right" wings of the capitalist class. Though they evolved historically in ideological antagonism to one another, both liberalism and conservatism are variants of capitalist rule and will always band together against the interests of the workers. Both the Democrats and the Republicans lean demagogically on the working class, promising the sun and stars during elections, but ruling in the interests of the capitalists once the results are in.
“In the absence of a mass workers’ party, the working class majority is forced to "choose" which one of these wings they see as the "lesser evil" every time an election comes around. For decades the Democrats could pose as more “left” due to the legacy of modest reforms under FDR and the New Deal, John F. Kennedy’s youthful dynamism, and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” But the crisis of the system means there are no more crumbs to be had. The capitalists want to keep the entire pie, although it is the workers that do all the baking.
“After nearly a decade of stagnation, neglect, un- and underemployment under Democratic Party rule, it's not so clear to workers which of these evils is "lesser.” It is mainly older, white, male workers who support Trump, many of them union members. They were the main beneficiaries of the postwar boom and can now sense the walls closing in. Not yet aware that the cause of their declining standard of living is the capitalist system itself, and imbued by their labor leaders with the idea that workers are in "partnership with the bosses," they are desperate to conserve what little they have. They hope against hope that a "strong businessman" can do the job.”
No solution under capitalism
But their misplaced hopes will soon be smashed against the rocks of capitalist reality. As Trump takes over the reins of a system he’s called rigged and corrupt, the degree of his delusion is apparent. In his acceptance speech he made the following promises:
“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.
“. . . We will embark upon a project of national growth and renewal. I will harness the creative talents of our people and we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It is going to happen. We have a great economic plan. We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world. At the same time we will get along with all other nations, willing to get along with us. We will be. We will have great relationships. We expect to have great, great relationships. No dream is too big, no challenge is too great. Nothing we want for our future is beyond our reach.
“America will no longer settle for anything less than the best. We must reclaim our country's destiny and dream big and bold and daring. We have to do that. We're going to dream of things for our country, and beautiful things and successful things once again. I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America's interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone. All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.”
For all his demagogy and nastiness, Trump promises jobs for all, an end to the mess that is Obamacare, and furthermore, that he will make “your dreams... come true!” While he has attracted the support of plenty of avowed racists and white supremacists, for most workers, his message resonates despite his overt racism and sexism. He has held out the promise of a return to the mythical good old days when America was “great.” Most Americans don’t understand that those days were predicated on a never-to-be-repeated convergence of conditions that lasted just a few decades, only benefitted a portion of the population, and are never coming back, despite Trump’s wild promises.
The president-elect has also asserted that “it’s so easy!” to fix the problems confronting American workers. A nice, easy electoral fix to the problems facing workers is precisely what millions voted for in 2008. The results under the Democrats were dismal, but given the political duopoly that has dominated US politics for 150 years, and the labor leaders’ abject failure to build an alternative, it is natural that “the other party” is again the main beneficiary of the boiling discontent.
But we have bad news for Mr. Trump: solving the capitalist crisis within the limits of the system is impossible. In his acceptance speech he called for unity and pledged to be president for all Americans. However, this is unrealizable. He can only rule for one part of the population: the billionaires, whose interests are diametrically opposed to the workers’.
The Republicans now control Congress as well as the White House. The gloves will be off in their attacks against the workers, and they will have no excuses for not delivering on Trump’s pie-in-the-sky promises. When the disappointment inevitably sets in, it will be evident that in his own distorted way, Trump’s campaign has helped unleash social forces he and his party will be unable to control. This is why the ruling class preferred Hillary. However, by preferring her so openly, they merely fueled the anger and encouraged the backlash against her candidacy.
Bernie Sanders’s historic near-miss
Despite Trump’s colossal upset, let’s not forget the other big story to come out of the 2016 election: the massive movement that bubbled up around Bernie Sanders. Just 25 years after the fall of the USSR, in the land of Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare, his call for a “political revolution against the billionaire class” earned him over 13 million votes in the Democratic Party primaries and caucuses. His openly socialist campaign drew massive crowds and generated levels of enthusiasm Clinton’s coldly calculated marketing team could only dream of. Despite his left-reformist-lite program, the enormous outpouring of support for Sanders represented a political earthquake that resonated around the planet.
Even after Wikileaks revealed the trickery and dishonesty of the Clinton campaign and DNC apparatus, Sanders succumbed to the pressure, supported Hillary, and refused to run as an independent (which we urged him to do). The reason given was that launching a new mass socialist party would effectively hand the election to Trump. Now that lesser evilism lies in tatters, who can deny that Sanders could have defeated Trump either in a two, three, or more-way race?
Whether people want to accept it or not, the truth remains: the workers will continue to be the losers until we have our own party. A historic opportunity was missed. But we should not despair. Other opportunities will arise. Nothing has been resolved and nature abhors a vacuum. The objective need for a mass political outlet for the working class is more acute than ever. The Sanders phenomenon contains within it many fertile seeds for the future. The Democrats have suffered a shattering blow, but until they are replaced, they can limp along for quite some time—just as the system they represent must be replaced by the conscious action of the organized working class.
Hell hath no fury like the working class scorned
We are witnessing American pragmatism in action, as a large layer of workers try to take matters into their own hands in the only way available to them at this juncture. After all, when the television isn’t working, the classic American answer is to give it a good bang with your fist. And if that doesn’t work, it’s time to throw the whole thing into the dumpster and get a new one. Millions of Americans have just given the establishment a good initial thumping. In time they will see that the current setup is beyond repair and needs to be replaced altogether.
As the Washington Post starkly put it, “That disconnect can only be explained by a desire to blow up the whole system. And I don't just mean the political system. I mean every elite and establishment institution that's ever assumed they know best — the media very much included. Trump is the collective middle finger from all the people who think the elites have laughed them off and dismissed them for too long. It is the average man's revenge — made all the more remarkable by the fact that the vessel of this rage against elites and the establishment is a billionaire who tells anyone who asks how smart and rich he is.”
So while many Americans have illusions in Trump, millions of others were never with him and are already preparing to fight back. After the disappointment of Sanders’s capitulation and Clinton’s miserable failure to stop Trump through lesser evilism, people won't swing blindly back to the Democrats, though, as we have explained, until they are replaced, anything is possible.
After decades of betrayal, the white working class has finally abandoned the Democratic Party. However, its flirtation with the Republicans will be short-lived as they too have nothing to offer the workers. Others who had illusions in the Democrats will also be deeply rattled by this result and will be looking for alternatives.
These are the bitter fruits of so-called lesser evilism. It took over 20 years, but the rust belt has finally gotten its revenge for NAFTA, the dismantling of the welfare state, and the slew of anti-worker laws passed by Bill Clinton in the 1990s. As we warned time and again, if you adopt a lesser evil strategy, eventually the greater evil wins. And for many this electoral year, it was not so clear which evil was which.
A new era of polarization, austerity, and class struggle lies ahead
To those who are devastated by the result and fear the world is caving in on itself we say: the struggle is just beginning! In a certain sense, far better that Trump and his ilk be exposed sooner rather than later, instead of gathering steam as the opposition for another four years, repeatedly bleating “I told you so!” We can rest assured that something even further to the right would have taken his place—and may yet emerge.
But for now, the onus is on Trump and the Republicans, and when they fail to meet expectations, the civil war already raging within their ranks will lead to one crisis after another in that party as well. Trump has raised unrealizable expectations. Though they are riding high today, his supporters will eventually turn on him. The anger, which has yet to find a coherent working class outlet, will eventually find a class expression: a mass party of labor in whatever form it may initially take.
Liberals and many on the left will blame the alleged ignorance of the working class. They will run around like Chicken Little, declaring that the sky is falling, and that things are moving far to the right, perhaps even to fascism. In reality, things are moving in the unpredictable swirls and eddies of capitalist chaos. Trump is not the cause, but merely the result and expression of the destabilization of the system as a whole. One thing is clear, however: the molecular process of revolution in the US has been given a hefty shot of adrenaline.
The labor leaders’ strategy of backing the Democrats lies in ruins and their credibility has been severely undermined. To reverse course and organize a winning fight back against the coming onslaught, the labor movement needs new policies. Existing unions need to be flooded with fresh members and new ones formed for the tens of millions of workers who have no collective defense against the bosses. If the current leaders are incapable of reviving the militant, class struggle basics that built the unions in the first place, they will be pushed out and new leaders will be forged in the struggles that lie ahead.
The working class’s aspirations go far beyond what capitalism can deliver. Young people and workers will have no alternative but to fight. The 2016 election should serve as a wake up call. Change will not come by voting for the bosses’ parties. We need our own political tools of struggle. Furthermore, we need Marxist ideas, theory, and perspectives to orient our work.
Fight for socialism!
The desire to “Make America Great Again!” reflects a desperate desire to turn back the clock to an illusory time when the American Dream seemed to have real substance. But the Marxists understand that no country can truly be great under capitalism. There’s only one way forward: to make the entire world great through socialism.
Many people are understandably demoralized, dejected, and disgusted. But there is no time to waste. We must transform anger into action. But for our action to be effective, we must be organized and armed with a program and a plan. There may be some disorientation at first, but the protests will not be long in coming and and in time will swell and involve millions across the country. As the most crass and unsophisticated party of the ruling class, the Republicans will have one unholy protest movement on their hands in the not-too-distant future. Protests are already being organized on social media and the IMT will be there.
As we explained just days before the election: “No matter who wins, the next occupant of the White House will preside over a powderkeg of crisis and instability. Cuts, austerity, and attacks on the working class are on the agenda no matter what the candidates promise. The workers will have no choice but to fight back at the workplace and in the streets. If Trump wins, not only will there be spontaneous mass protests, but the next economic crisis may well be triggered as a result. His supporters will learn in short order that they've been bamboozled. If Clinton wins, her honeymoon will almost certainly be short-lived, especially with what may be one hell of an economic meltdown looming on the horizon. The last crisis not only tapped out the treasury but also public willingness to bail out the 1%. Shock and paralysis will be replaced by outrage and mobilization.
“. . . Far from merely letting off steam, the elections have destabilized the situation even further. Whether we are ready or not, mass movements on a scale not seen in our lifetimes are on the horizon. Life teaches and the events of the coming years will be an accelerated course in capitalist crisis at all levels. While following the twists and turns of the election, we cannot be distracted by the circus of bourgeois politics. There is no room for demoralization or routinism. On the contrary, we should be filled with a burning revolutionary optimism while keeping our eyes on the prize: the building of a cadre organization capable of training and educating the revolutionary battalions of the future.”
The credibility and legitimacy of the entire system has been deeply undermined. According to William Cohen, former Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton the country is “slouching towards the mutual assured destruction of our political system.”
And as a worker friend in Ohio wrote me as the results were unveiled: “Well old friend, looks like the fun is about to begin. I still chose 3rd party and don't feel like I threw away my vote at all. The way I see it is if I have the options of Rottweiler shit, Doberman shit, or pizza, even if there is a very very slim chance of getting pizza, I'm still going to ask for that pizza. I am seeing a very big shit show playing out when the American people realize that this orange billionaire doesn't represent them or their best interests.”
Capitalism is bankrupt and so are its political parties. The crisis of the bourgeois economic system is inevitably reflected in a crisis of bourgeois political leadership. Overnight, the changing consciousness in America has taken a tremendous leap forward. Donald Trump’s election marks yet another step in the nonlinear but inexorable path to the socialist revolution.
We’re in for a wild ride. This is no time to sit on the fence. It’s time to get organized! To fight Trump, fight capitalism! Join or donate to the IMT! For a mass socialist party based on the unions and working class!