Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Trump’s win this morning has left many of us in despair. To prepare ourselves for what is to come, here are some things we need to understand about class struggle, racism and climate change.
First, this vote is a victory for the far right and for racism on a global scale. Second, it is also partly a class revolt against the consequences of neoliberalism. Trump’s appeal to class anger through racism is a tragedy and an obscenity.
Trump’s racism and sexism matter. In this respect, Clinton was the lesser of two evils. Trump’s victory will unleash a right wing backlash on abortion, and it will be a license to arrest, beat and kill unarmed black men. Government repression of every kind will follow. So will persecution of Muslims, immigrants and refugees. Things will get easier for those who would harass, rape and torture.
Trump’s victory will give heart to authoritarian governments and far right racist parties around the world. It will shift the world to the right.
Trump’s victory is also a class rebellion. Almost every bit of mainstream commentary for months has been class blind. But forty years of increasing inequality has created a very considerable economic and cultural class division in the United States. On the one hand there are those who have done well. They are women and men, black and white, gay and straight. They are the head teachers and police chiefs, the fund managers and Soccer Moms, the college educated managers and professionals.
They can afford health insurance, cleaners, and nannies. They are more likely to get married. They have enough money to stay married. And they raise their children to be competitive, arrogant, entitled, selfish and lonely.
On the other hand, two thirds of Americans did not finish college. The average man is making less per hour than forty years ago. Men and women are afraid for their jobs. On any given day, two million working class people are behind bars.
The professionals blame the bottom two thirds. They call them ‘stupid’. In America now, the label ‘stupid’ is an expression of class hatred from the top down.
Those who hate, however privileged they are, will find themselves hated in return. The majority have every reason to be fiercely angry at the people who call them stupid. And treat them like trash, face to face in daily life. As working class supporters of Trump (and Sanders) say, Clinton and her friends have had twenty-five years to put things right, and have only made them worse.
Bernie Sanders’ socialist campaign in the primaries was about changing the lives of working class people. His campaign was addressed to such people, and more broadly to everyone who wanted to live in a more equal and generous world.
Sanders did not win. After that Clinton and the democrats and the commentators did not talk about the yawning class divide. Instead, they talked of Trump supporters as ignorant and irrational. Many white workers, left with no one to fight their corner, turned to Trump. Black and Hispanic workers could not do that – the racism was too shocking and obvious. So many of them stayed home. About five million fewer people voted this time than in the election four years ago.
Of course Hilary may win the popular vote, though not the electoral college. Of course the majority of workers voted against Trump – because there are so many workers of colour. Of course Trump was strongest in the middle, the people with a high school diploma and a bit of college, but no degree. Of course men and whites were more Trumpist. Of course many rich, educated people voted for Trump.
But the strategy of appealing to class anger in a racist way won enough people to swing the election. One telling change – for generations in America the Republicans lead in early returns from rural and suburban precincts, and the Democrats caught up in late returns from the cities. Not this time.
The Democratic Party is now pre-eminently the party of big business and the professionals with graduate degrees. On election night, again and again, commentators spoke of Trump voters with contempt because they were not educated. Such top down class hatred has fed racist reaction. Together they make an evil moment.
To see how this matters, let’s look at climate change.
Trump has been vociferous for coal, oil and gas production. He is a climate denier and does not care about emissions. This is an enormous victory for elite polluters in America – and everywhere else in the world.
Trump’s stated aim is to ensure America’s energy independence and create more jobs. We agree, we want more working class jobs. We rage when liberal pundits say ‘Those jobs are never coming back.’ We rage because the pundits mean other people’s jobs.
But oil and gas and coal will not deliver the jobs. In the long run, government investment in climate jobs makes much more sense. The American government could hire six million workers for twenty years to rehab all buildings, make all energy renewable, and cover the country in no-carbon electric transport.
There are campaigns for climate jobs like this in many countries now. Central to them is the fact that working people – black, white and brown – need jobs. Central also is a promise that every coal miner, oil tanker driver, roughneck and high carbon worker who loses their job will be given a permanent climate job.
An American politician who promised a programme of climate jobs, and meant it, and was believed, would carry West Virginia. And Ohio. And Michigan. And Texas.
Moreover, the rhetoric of ‘energy independence’ is a time-honoured spin to conceal an imperial project. Wind and sun do not have to be imported. And the US gets little oil from the Middle East. What does matter is controlling the access to Middle Eastern oil and gas for other countries like China, Japan and Germany. Dominating the Middle East is a route to dominating the world economy. If Trump continues that imperial project, his foreign policy will be as vicious and aggressive as those of Bill Clinton, Bush and Obama before him.
So what do we do?
Face reality. Cry, scream, get drunk, but face reality. And understand.
Don’t say Trump is stupid. He’s smarter than Clinton and all her entourage. The evidence for that lies before you. And don’t insult people who didn’t have the money or the good luck to finish college.
Don’t say smugly from the left that this shows a rejection of neoliberalism. It shows a rejection of ruling elites by and through an embrace of racist and sexist reaction. Trump is not a Nazi. But that combination of racism, jobs and class anger at elites was the beating heart of Hitler’s national socialism in Germany in the 1930s.
Do remember, though – Sanders would have won. He would have won because he would have won over many Trump voters. And he would have inspired millions who stayed home. Remember that even Hillary – even Hillary – won the popular vote.
Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and the Sanders campaign all happened. They all came, deeply, from the same place. More will come from that place. And remember that large majorities of the young voted for Sanders in the primaries and Clinton yesterday.
Do not patronise Americans. We live in Brexit Britain. Look at Hungary, Turkey, Russia, France, Italy, South Africa, Brazil. This is a global failure of the left.
So know the damage. This is a terrible defeat. That does not mean we should ‘listen to the legitimate concerns’ of racists and sexists. There we should not give an inch. But these defeats will multiply until we have a left, and a movement, that is instinctively, without hesitation, on the side of the people whom the elites humiliate and call stupid, the people who need a job.