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Three Assessments of the Trump Victory and its Meaning

The election of Donald Trump as the Presidet of the United States of America has given rise to fear of a fascist or at least ultra nationalist and racist  power at the top. But this has also raised a series of questions.

How democratic is the US election system?

Is the Democratic Party at all of any use?

What is the legacy of 8 years of Obama?

Who will resist Trump ad how?

As the battles shape up under terribly difficult conditions, different segments of the US left try to make sense. We publish below responses from journals associated with three organisations whose members are members or permanent observers of the Fourth International. The first piece is an editorial from Against the Current, associated with Solidarity. The second is a article from Socialist Action. The final piece is from International Socialist Review. Put out by the International Socialist Organisation.

 

Fighting Back for Survival

— The Editors

ON NOVEMBER 8, some 135 million U.S. voters chose between the two least popular capitalist party candidates in the country’s modern history.  By a margin of close to 2.7 million votes — concentrated, to be sure, in huge majorities in California and New York — they opted for the choice that seemed less frightening, if hardly inspiring. She did not, however, win the election. By virtue of a relic of slavery-era federalism called the Electoral College and narrow victories in Midwestern battleground states, Donald J. Trump emerged as the president-elect.

Instead of the widely anticipated result, which for progressive hopes would have been dismal enough — the stagnant neoliberalism of a Hillary Clinton administration — a con man with a well-earned frightening reputation, uniquely unfit to hold any responsible office, will now assume power on January 20 as probably the most reviled incoming U.S. president in history. The shock waves from the electoral result continue to reverberate, if anything magnified by the bestiary lining up for Cabinet and high-level White House appointments and the prospective rightwing packing of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Drain the swamp? Trump’s actually digging a deeper Wall Street-military-corporate cesspool. If one appointment is representative of the lot, it would be Secretary of Education nominee billionaire-heiress Betsy DeVos — a voucher-and-charter-school lobbyist and the architect of Michigan’s empire of disastrously failing charters, whose only connection to public education or the teaching profession is her commitment to destroying both.

Contrary to premature and superficial prophecies of its demise, the Republican Party will control the presidency and both houses of Congress. What does this portend in a new period where, in fact, both corporate parties find themselves in low-level internal civil wars, where regional wars are raging across the world — and where capital is at war against nature itself, with incipient mass extinction as planetary collateral damage?

First, what happened? The result is in part a fluke, but also the culmination of certain trends both internationally — including Brexit and a rightwing nationalist tide in much of Europe — and in the United States. Even if the voters favored Clinton over Trump by a pretty substantial margin of close to two percent, the Democrats got smashed in areas they once dominated — swamped by a revolt against the neoliberal, free-trade “new economic order” to which the Clinton-Obama-Pelosi leadership attached itself.

Second, on a closer look, it’s highly dubious to call the election a “populist working class revolt.” As Kim Moody’s analysis in this issue of Against the Current shows, it’s much more an uprising of the affluent. (See other election articles in this issue.)

Nonetheless, in those closely fought battleground states that produced the Electoral College result, a declining overall working-class vote and a swing by white workers were decisive factors. A New York Times post-mortem analysis concisely nailed how the Hillary Clinton Democrats managed to lose:

“(A)s the dust settled, Democrats recognized two central problems of Mrs. Clinton’s flawed candidacy: Her decades in Washington and the paid speeches she delivered to financial institutions left her unable to tap into the anti-establishment and anti-Wall Street rage. And she ceded the white working-class voters who backed Mr. Clinton in 1992. Though she would never have won this demographic, her husband insisted that her campaign aides do more to try to cut into Mr. Trump’s support with these voters. They declined, reasoning that she was better off targeting college educated suburban voters…” (Amy Chozick, “Clinton’s Campaign of Hopes and Missteps,” NYT special section Election 2016, November 10, P1.)

There’s one point to add. Beyond the fact that the Democratic neoliberals saw no need to address much of the working class — white, Black or Latino — is the reality that they have nothing to say to workers whose jobs, communities and lives have been damaged by industrial flight and deteriorating wages and job security. Donald Trump had something to say to them: We’ll bring back those jobs by cancelling “bad trade deals” and building that “big, beautiful wall” to keep out those Mexicans.

It was both racist and pseudo-populist, of course. These promises, despite the sound and fury over “saving” those several hundred Carrier jobs in Indiana with a big tax giveaway, are a “huge” fraud that can’t and won’t be kept. The Trump/Republican game plan is to make those folks feel “great” about being white again, even while their real lives continue to stagnate.

How they will respond when their expectations are betrayed — whether by turning against Trump as the fraudster he is, or becoming more virulently nationalist and racist — is one of the great open questions of the new period. Precisely because the Democrats’ abandonment of working people’s concerns is one of the main tendencies that have come to fruition in this election, it’s up to the independent left and social movements to present an alternative.

Rightwing Agendas

Both parties are sorting themselves out after this election. The Obama/Clinton/Pelosi Democratic “center” is mobilizing to ward off the “progressive” challenge for control of the Democratic National Committee, while much of the Bernie Sanders movement’s leadership undertakes the perennial, ever-failing crusade to turn the Democrats into a “people’s party.”

On the Republican side, the internal divisions are actually greater — and it was the GOP, after all, which was supposed to be going into crisis in the wake of Trump’s hostile takeover. Relations between the “Trump party” and Republican establishment will remain tense, but the advantages that power confers will help bridge them at least for a while. That’s why the comforting conventional platitude that the responsibilities of government should “moderate” the party’s hard-right edge is more likely to prove radically false in this case.

Tactically, to be sure, the need to “replace” and not merely “repeal Obamacare” means that the Affordable Care Act probably won’t disappear all at once. But on the whole, the Republicans will not be gradualist. A set of overlapping reactionary agendas, even if partly contradictory, will be pursued with all the more vigor since the ideologues in power know that these next few years might be the only chance to ram them through. Those disparate elements of the Republican coalition — Wall Street and big business, the religious right, and the extreme racist-nationalist elements — can hold together only while each of them feel they’re getting something from the new dispensation.

Paul Ryan’s scheme to enact huge tax cuts to benefit the rich, and to starve and wipe out most of Social Security and Medicare, is definitely on the table even though Trump promised not to touch these programs. That such tax-cutting policies, to say nothing of the promised massive increases in military spending, would balloon the budget deficit and cause ultimate economic damage as well as absolute social disaster, is a problem to be cleaned up down the road — perhaps when neoliberal Democrats next take over, according to the usual alternating pattern. A national “right to work” assault is also pending.

As these measures hit some of Trump’s own working-class voters, the Republicans meanwhile need to consolidate their 2016 electoral good fortune by permanently tilting the scales against Black and Latino voters. Jeff Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General means a Justice Department hostile to the Voting Rights Act, which can be effectively dismantled through all of the Grand Theft Election voter-suppression and gerrymandering techniques perfected in rightwing state legislatures.

The same goes for women’s right to choose, as states’ assault on abortion will now be abetted by the federal government and ultimately, quite likely, the Supreme Court. Heavily militarized police forces — a product of both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations — will be further emboldened to smash protests and racially profile civilians. The election result has also encouraged the extreme racist “Alt-Right” to emerge from its hole, as Angela Dillard’s discussion of events at the University of Michigan shows.

The very idea of “registering” Muslim residents smacks of classic fascist technique. The wave of fear sweeping through immigrant communities will intensify, whether or not mass workplace raids and deportations materialize. One hopeful sign is the open statements of refusal by several large city administrations to cooperate in such atrocities — both as an act of principle and a defense of their own economies that (notably in the case of New York City) are already threatened as people hunker down and stop spending.

Imperial Contradictions

Global strategy is trickier as it involves imperial dilemmas, real risks and potential conflict with adversaries that can actually fight back. Trump’s boastful pledge to “smash ISIS and take their oil” (as if it were “theirs” or “ours” to take) is likely to produce little more than a continuation of president Obama’s drones-and-special-forces strategy. The new president’s peculiar elective affinity with the likes of Vladimir Putin is a wild card that troubles some militarist conservatives even as it sits well with more neo-isolationist America-First types.

For the Palestinian people, as bad as the Obama presidency has proven to be, the Trump and rightwing ascendancy will be even worse. The U.S. election result has emboldened the Netanyahu government and the even more extremist Klan-type Israeli settler forces.

There are open questions. Would Trump really “tear up” the crucially important nuclear deal with Iran, sabotaging the United States’ main strategic allies — Britain, France and Germany — and pushing the Iranian regime into the protective embrace of Russia? If motivated by the interests of American business, would he want to mess up the commercial aircraft industry’s sales opportunities in Iran (or for that matter, the already lucrative opportunities for business with Cuba)?

No one knows what, if anything, Donald Trump actually believes about any of these issues, or whether he’ll be driven by profit or ideology. It may be best to avoid further speculation at the moment, except to say that all those wars that president Obama inherited from George W. Bush, and the new ones that he entered, will rage on under the new administration.

Bitter Neoliberal Legacy

It is still difficult, and will remain so for some time, to grasp the concept: President. Donald. Trump. The anachronistic peculiar institution of the Electoral College has played a particularly nasty trick this time — and we are in the midst of a political upheaval that will reverberate for many years. Although we can’t yet know whether this reality will turn out to be problematic for U.S. capital, it will certainly be brutal for the working class, oppressed and immigrant communities, women and civil rights.

Resistance is critical — and it’s underway. The flood of contributions to Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, the upsurge of people (many from the Sanders upsurge) signing up with socialist groups, the flood of activist volunteers heading to Standing Rock — all these are among the positive signs.

But amidst the horror over Trump, it would be remiss to overlook the pernicious role played by the present administration in paving the road to reaction. When Barack Obama took office eight years and so many broken dreams ago, who thought that the Guantanamo prison, which he announced on his first day would be closed, would remain open so that a Republican president could plan to expand it and revive waterboarding “and much worse” torture?

Who imagined then his deportation practices would be so vast that the new president will be hard-pressed to match them? Or that after 15 years in Afghanistan and 13 years after the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military would remain deeply entangled in both, with no end in sight?

A proper assessment of the Obama presidential era requires a separate treatment, but as we head into a period of escalating reaction and confrontation, it would be wise not to become overly nostalgic for it. There can be, in any case, no going back. The truly sinister menace that Donald Trump represents will be defeated by defiance and mass action, by movements in the streets and by a vibrant genuinely progressive political agenda, not by the resuscitation of a dying Democratic neoliberalism.

January-February 2017, ATC 186

A watershed election for U.S. Imperialism

LYNN HENDERSON

The 2016 presidential election concluded with the improbable election of real estate billionaire and reality show celebrity Donald Trump. In this historic 2016 election the dual parties of U.S. capitalism ended up presenting the American electorate with the choice between two individuals who were universally recognized as the most unpopular, distrusted candidates in the history of U.S. presidential politics. How did this happen? Was it just a fluke? Was it just the accidental luck of the draw?A large army of professional media commentators, pundits and political gurus continue to struggle mightily to explain the election and ponder its results. Initially the best they could do was comment that “people were angry.” While true, this was hardly an adequate explanation. People have been angry for quite some time now. Continued anger alone is an insufficient explanation. The American “middle-class” (a more accurate label would be “working class”) have seen their standard of living and future prospects not only stagnate but steadily decline for well over three decades. Until recently most hoped, and half convinced themselves that this situation was temporary—that there would be a reversal in this long downturn for the “middle class” and a return to more “normal” times. This election cycle however was faced with a dramatic new shift in sentiment. In the main, the “middle-class” concluded that the steady deterioration in their prospects was not temporary but permanent. Not the function of some recurring business cycle, which would eventually be reversed, but rather something much more sweeping and fundamental. And increasingly they correctly concluded that the existing political parties and the entire body of politicians that make them up, not only had no solutions, but no desire or self-interest in challenging this. They also knew of course that not everybody was hurting. Under the joint leadership and policies of both these capitalist parties the “one percent” has been doing fabulously well, even outstripping in concentrated wealth the fabled “one percent” of the notorious “Gilded Age.” This then was the reality in which the nation’s two party system approached the 2016 presidential elections. Despite all this, in smug and blind confidence, these two parties then marched ahead with their original plans to present the U.S. electorate with the “democratic” privilege of choosing between another Bush and another Clinton as the nation’s 45th president. Their arrogance stunned much of the American electorate and opened the door for the improbable candidacies of two “outsiders” with no real support in the official two-party system. One was the billionaire reality TV host Donald Trump, the other a self-proclaimed “socialist” Bernie Sanders. Their candidacies were universally written off with derision and ridicule by all the political experts and commentators. Donald Trump became the official candidate of the Republican Party and Bernie Sanders came within a hair’s breadth of being the Democratic Party candidate despite an organized conspiracy by virtually the entire Democratic National Committee to secretly smear and sabotage his candidacy in favour of their anointed, Hillary Clinton. The seemingly bizarre unfolding of the 2016 presidential election is not the product of some unfathomable accident or fluke. On one hand, much of the U.S. middle-class/working class, for the first time, lost all confidence in the ability of either wing of America’s two-party monopoly to address and reverse their long decline. In their desperate search for some alternative we had the completely unforeseen emergence of the Trump and Sanders candidacies. But even more fundamentally the election represents the confused, disruptive reaction of America’s ruling elite to the painful ending of an almost century-long era of U.S. global domination. The present two party system and its political actors have been thrown into complete disarray by this new reality. Whatever name they may have used in the past to describe it—“American Exceptionalism”—“Leader of the Free World”—they certainly never contemplated its demise. Despite their growing confusion and deepening internal dissent the U.S. ruling elite are determined that the costs of this new reality will be borne not by them but by America’s increasingly hard pressed middle-class/working class.

The U.S. middle-class and the American century

The mass U.S. middle-class of today is a relatively recent development. It was primarily created through WWII and its aftermath. Prior to that, what was then called the middle-class was a much smaller and narrower phenomenon consisting primarily of professionals, small businessmen, managers, etc. The United States won WWII. It won WWII big. It won WWII not just against the Axis powers but against its own allies as well. With the exception of the United States, the entire capitalist world came out of WWII in a shambles. Europe’s industrial plants were destroyed or in decay, its working classes were reduced, dispersed, and demoralized, its political structures in turmoil, and its national economies for the most part flat broke.But the United States on the other hand came out of WWII immeasurably stronger in every way than when it entered the war. U.S. industrial capacity had dramatically expanded, incorporating all the new technologies in manufacturing, electronics, chemicals, etc., developed during the war. The U.S. working class was intact with better skills and education than prior to the war. The U.S. was politically, militarily and financially the completely dominant capitalist nation in the world. The war ushered in what Time/Life founder and publisher Henry Luce, triumphantly proclaimed as the coming “American Century.” The usual laws of capitalist international competition were temporarily in suspension. The dollar, freed from any monetary gold backing, was enthroned as the reserve currency for the entire capitalist world replacing the pound sterling. This gave the dollar and U.S. capitalism a uniquely advantageous position—the exorbitant privilege of paying its foreign bills in its own currency, which it could just print. This status lasted for decades. But not for a century. This utterly unique and yet predictably unsustainable hegemony provided U.S. capitalism with the opportunity for an extended period of prosperity and astoundingly large profits. Faced with a strong trade union movement which had emerged out of the “Great Depression,” U.S. capitalism concluded that its best course was to concede some wage concessions where necessary, rather than disrupt the immense profit opportunities available to them by avoidable class conflicts. For now there were bigger fish to fry.

But this new era provided for more than just a general rise in wages. To take maximum advantage of these unique opportunities required a more skilled and educated workforce. For the first time, university and college education was made available and affordable to large sections of the working class through the GI Bill and other subsidies. Between 1944 and 1971 the U.S. government spent $95 billion on the G.I. Bill. The general prosperity created in this era also sustained a new consumer economy, primarily benefiting but not entirely limited to the white working class. This was marked by increased home ownership, widespread automobile ownership, leisure time activities, etc.

Continued class struggle

While this unique period of prosperity allowed for some tactical concessions to America’s middle-class/working class it did not mean the class struggle was suspended. U.S. capitalism also used the combination of post WWII prosperity and its long reactionary cold war with the Soviet Union to housebreak the American labor movement. Through red baiting, the Taft Hartley Act, and support for “right-to-work” legislation they cleansed the labor movement of the class struggle radicals who were central to revitalizing the union movement coming out of the 1930s. They were able to reshape the trade union leadership into a conservatized bureaucracy utterly tied to the capitalist two-party system, converting it into little more than an adjunct to the Democratic Party. Because the Democratic Party was never a working-class party, it never initiated unions. However, once unions were formed the Democrats became quite good at absorbing them into their political machines.

To their immense advantage they also used their world hegemony to create a series of international institutions, which were utterly dominated and controlled by U.S. capitalism. Among these was the already mentioned reserve currency status of the U.S. dollar. Equally important was the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. With the inevitable reemergence of intense international capitalist competition the hegemony of the “American Century” began to come to an end. How has U.S. capitalism responded to this new global reality? For one, in response to growing global competition in manufacturing, it shifted its profit making focus. It concluded that the quickest, largest, and easiest profits were now to be made not in the making and selling of products, but in the so-called financial sector. Between 1973 and 1985, the U.S. financial sector accounted for about 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In the 1990s, it ranged from 21 percent to 30 percent. In the recent decades, it soared to as high as 41 percent of all U.S. domestic corporate profits.

With the closing of this long post-WWII prosperity, U.S. capitalism also returned to the unavoidable necessity to cut wages and working conditions for the U.S. middle-class/working class. One typically revealing example as documented by Stephanie Coontz in her excellent article: Why the White Working Class Ditched Clinton—between 1947 and 1979, real wages for an average meatpacking worker, adjusted for inflation, increased by around 80 percent, reaching almost $40,000-per-year, a salary that could support a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. But between 1979 and 2012 the average meat packer’s wage declined by nearly 30 percent, to about $27,000. Also the need to quickly upgrade the educational level of the domestic workforce was no longer required or “cost effective” for U.S. capitalism. Policies were put in place to return affordable college and university training to the province of the relatively wealthy. As U.S. hegemony began to weaken, the international institutions it created and dominated since the close of WWII began to unravel. Despite U.S. capitalism’s increasingly frantic attempts to shore them up, this unraveling has significantly impaired their former ability to direct and control events. Last June’s “Brexit” vote by Britain, one of U.S. imperialism’s most loyal and reliable postwar allies, to leave the European Union was almost as big a shock then as the November Trump election was later on.

An earlier and at least equally stunning action was the August 2013 vote by the British Parliament refusing to support Obama’s imminent move to launch yet another Middle-East war, this time against Syria. The significance of this action and its aftermath is worthwhile reviewing as it has never been honestly reported and was largely ignored even by much of the American left.

The war against Syria

Despite the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. imperialism now under the Obama administration, moved to initiate yet another major war in the Middle East, this time against Syria. Another regime change was projected with Obama’s announcement that Syria’s president Assad “must go.” The “mushroom cloud” justification this time centered on the use of chemical weapons, supposedly breaking a precedent adhered to by “all civilized countries” going back to the end of WWI. Ignored by the Obama Administration were the massive U.S. use of the deadly chemical “agent orange” in Vietnam and the massive use of poison gas during the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds and Iranian military. The U.S. supported Saddam Hussein in that war and made no criticism of his use of poison gas. We know, through U.S. documents leaked by Manning, Snowden, and others that the U.S. government even used its satellite network to provide targeting intelligence to the Iraqi military during this U.S. backed war with Iran.

As Obama prepared to go to war against Syria it was clear that his only real partner would be Britain. The support for the Bush era Middle East wars had over time been reduced to the so-called “coalition of the willing” which eventually became little more than Britain and places like American Samoa. Then to the shock of everyone, and especially U.S. imperialism, the British Parliament refused to sanction this latest war. With a fleet of American war ships and aircraft in place and publicly poised to launch a massive air and missile attack on Syria within days or at most weeks, Obama remained committed to go ahead. Now however he felt required to have a supporting war vote in Congress, something he had previously asserted was unnecessary. He was convinced he could get such a vote and orchestrated a crash media campaign to build support in Congress and with the American public. Despite little in the way of an organized antiwar movement there was an immediate and spontaneous outpouring of opposition to Obama’s war vote. Congress was inundated with thousands of messages demanding they vote no. As the date set for the vote loomed it became clear it would be defeated. Such a result would have been an unmitigated disaster for U.S. imperialism. As far as I know, never in the history of the nation has a presidential authorization for war been voted down. The Obama administration and U.S. imperialism were forced to retreat. A cover strategy was concocted to allow for and explain away this retreat. Suddenly at a relatively minor news conference a reporter asked Secretary of State Kerry if there was anything Assad could do to avoid the impending U.S. attack. Supposedly, Kerry off-handedly replied, “… only if Assad agreed to get rid of all his chemical weapons.” It is virtually certain this reporter’s question was a plant. A deal with Assad on chemical weapons, brokered by Putin, was then quickly announced, negating the need for U.S. military action and avoiding the scheduled war vote in Congress. The most immediate cause of this imperialist defeat was the massive, spontaneous and successful opposition to the proposed congressional war vote. This was a major victory by and for the American people. The aid of Putin in helping to pull Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire didn’t come without a cost. Obama had to acquiesce to Russia’s military and diplomatic intervention in the Syrian civil war in support of the Assad regime. More broadly, the unfolding of the Syrian-Obama scenario demonstrated at each stage the continuing collapse of U.S. post WWII hegemony and its decreased ability to control and shape events. Today we continue to be inundated in the popular media with references to the “Special Relationship” between the U.S. and Britain as if it is some kind of mystical eternal institution. The U.S. for most of its history has had a hostile relationship with Britain and its Imperial Empire. The so-called “Special Relationship” is another product of WWII and its aftermath, which like much else is now unraveling. As a matter of fact, the term itself was first invented by Winston Churchill in his infamous 1946 Fulton, Missouri bellicose speech launching the cold war with the Soviet Union.

Imperialist institutions challenged

The U.S. created World Bank, which it has used to its advantage in directing and controlling major infrastructure investments throughout the world since WWII is also being challenged. More than a year ago China announced it was launching a competitor to the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. U.S. imperialism immediately moved to isolate and kill the Chinese initiative by pressuring its World Bank allies to boycott it. Almost immediately Britain broke ranks with the United States, becoming a member in the fall of 2014. Other members of the European Union, including France and Germany quickly followed along with 27 other nations.

 

Socialist Action online magazine


We got Trumped

Results and prospects after the 2016 election

 

On the night of November 8, 2016, I boarded a flight to London, on my way to the annual Historical Materialism conference.1 As the plane took off at 7:30 p.m., the polls across the United States were still open. I was confident that when I arrived in London the next morning, Hillary Clinton would have been declared the president-elect of the United States. I believed that not only would Donald Trump be defeated, but also that the Democrats might regain their majority in the Senate. Only three weeks before, I had predicted that Trump’s middle-class, right-wing populist insurgency, which had temporarily captured the main party of capital in the United States, would go down in flames.2 

Clinton was the clear favorite of the US capitalist class, who were repelled by Trump’s nationalist hostility to neoliberal trade policies and the system of imperialist military-diplomatic alliances that guarantee US world domination, and his threats to deport all undocumented immigrants. According to Opensecrets.org, Clinton received over 92 percent 

of corporate contributions in the 2016 election cycle, including over 80 percent of the contributions from finance, insurance, and real estate, communications/electronics, health care, defense, and “miscellaneous business.” Trump’s support was limited to 60–70 percent of contributions from construction, energy and natural resources, transportation, and agribusiness—which together accounted for less than 10 percent of total capitalist donations.3 With such a huge war chest, I expected the Democrats to build a “get out the vote” machine across the United States that would deliver a victory for its unpopular candidate.

When the plane landed on the morning of November 9 and I turned on my phone, I was greeted by the unexpected—Trump had been declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election and the Republicans had maintained their majorities in both the House and Senate. The media had declared Trump’s victory a “landslide,” winning 306 Electoral College delegates, compared with Clinton’s 232. The revolt of the “white working class” in the former industrial Midwest and Great Lakes region was credited for Trump’s sweep. 

What really happened?

I was not alone in my failure to foresee a Trump victory. Most of the political commentators in the United States and globally, based on pre-election polling, had predicted a Clinton victory. How do we explain this unexpected turn of events?

First, we cannot overlook the fact that Clinton won the majority of the popular vote. She leads Trump in the current vote tally by approximately 2.7 million votes. If the United States had direct election of the president, Clinton would be on her way to the White House. However, the Electoral College—created by the slave owners and merchant-bankers to prevent challenges to their class rule—allowed a popular minority to elect the president. As in many elections in the past forty years, extremely small changes in the participation and preferences of miniscule portions of the US electorate produced a sharp swing in electoral votes and the continued Republican majority in Congress.

While it initially appeared that voter participation rates dropped in 2016,4 as paper ballots were counted, voter participation came within 1 percent of 2012.5 Clinton’s vote is still about one million below Obama’s last election. More importantly, voter participation among traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate fell.6 African Americans dropped from 13 percent of all voters in 2008 and 2012 to 12 percent in 2016. In some predominantly African-American communities, the drop was even more precipitous. In Milwaukee’s Council District 15, which is 84 percent Black, voter turnout was nearly 20 percent lower than in 2012.7 Households earning less than $50,000 per year, who made up 51 percent of the US population in 2014,8 dropped from 41 percent of voters in 2012 to 36 percent in 2016. The percentage of households earning over $100,000, a mere 17 percent of the population, rose from 28 percent to 33 percent of voters between 2012 and 2016. Put simply, the electorate in 2016 was even more disproportionately well-off than in the last three elections. 

Within these key categories, there were also small but significant shifts in voter preference. While 60 percent of voters in households earning less than $50,000 a year voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Clinton’s share of these voters dropped to 52 percent. Clinton only won 88 percent of the Black vote, down from 95 percent and 93 percent for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Especially alarming for the Democrats was their falling share of the Latino vote. Democratic pollsters had been confident that Trump’s racist diatribes would allow Clinton to sweep this key sector. However, the Democrats’ share of the Latino vote declined from 71 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2016. Finally, the percentage of union households voting Democratic fell from 58 percent in 2008 and 59 percent in 2012 to a mere 51 percent in 2016.

Trump’s ability to retain the core sectors of the Republican’s voter base since 1980—primarily the traditional (self-employed and small businesses with less than ten employees) and new (professionals, managers, and supervisors) middle classes, including evangelical Christians; and a minority of older, white workers—was clear in all of the exit polling. However, Trump’s margin of victory—greatly exaggerated in the fun-house mirror of the Electoral College—came from a tiny group of voters who had supported Obama in 2008 and 2012.9 Of the 700 counties that had voted for Obama twice, nearly one-third (209) swung to Trump; and of 207 counties that Obama won once, almost 94 percent (194) went to Trump. The swing to Trump was concentrated in traditionally Democratic states of the Great Lakes and Midwest, which had suffered the loss of manufacturing jobs and were experiencing a rise in the Latino population. 

However, Trump’s victory was primarily a result of a sharp drop in the participation of traditionally Democratic voters, rather than a sharp swing to Trump. Trump did gain approximately 335,000 more votes than Romney among households earning less than $50,000 per year in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. However, Clinton received 1.7 million fewer votes than Obama among the same group.10 It was these miniscule shifts in voter preference and participation that gave Trump his razor-thin margins in a number of key states: less than .25 percent in Michigan, less than 1 percent in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and less than 1.5 percent in Florida. According to one analysis, had about 100,000 Trump voters in these areas voted for Clinton instead, she would have swept the Electoral College.11

Put simply, Trump did not so much win the 2016 election, as Hillary Clinton lost it. Despite her enormous campaign treasury, Clinton did not build a “get out the vote” operation to mobilize traditional Democratic constituencies—African Americans, Latinos, and working-class households.12 Instead, the Clinton campaign took these groups for granted, believing that they would have little or no choice but to turn out to defeat Trump. Time, funds, and energy were focused on “socially liberal” suburban new middle-class professionals and managers. At a Washington Post symposium in July 2016, Chuck Schumer, the neoliberal Democratic senator from New York, was quite clear: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”13 

Rather than knocking on doors in working-class and minority communities, and making a pretense of supporting the sort of social-democratic policies championed by Sanders, the Clinton campaign targeted upper-middle-class suburbs, allowing her to win substantially more votes than Obama among households earning over $100,000.14 Traditionally Democratic working-class voters were faced with the choice between a neoliberal who disdained working people and a right-wing populist who promised to bring back well-paying manufacturing jobs. Many stayed home and a tiny minority shifted their allegiances from the first African-American president to an open racist and xenophobe.

The social foundations of Trumpism

The core of Trump’s support, like that of the Tea Party since 2009, is the older white and suburban/exurban middle classes.15 His success among non-college-educated whites—he won 52 percent of all voters without bachelor’s degrees—appears to be concentrated among traditional small businesspeople (construction contractors, small shopkeepers, etc.) and those supervisors (factory foremen, store and office managers, etc.) and semi-professionals (technicians, etc.) who do not require a college education. His success among households earning over $75,000 a year reflects the support of the managerial and professional elite of this class. Put another way, Trump’s social base is that of the Republican Party since 1980—politically and socially conservative older, white middle-class voters. 

However, the politics of these groups have radicalized since the economic crisis of 2008. Prior to 2008, hostility to the democratic gains of racial minorities, women, and LGBT folks animated the hearts and minds of Republican voters. For most of the past four decades, these voters were willing to settle for symbolic concessions on these issues (restrictions, but not a legal ban on abortions; limiting access to contraception; local anti-LGBT ordinances), while loyally supporting the neoliberal agenda of the mainstream Republicans—those who traditionally represented the majority of capitalists in the United States. 

The 2008 recession radicalized this base, leading them to challenge key components of the Republican establishment’s agenda. Faced with declining living standards and the possibilities of downward social mobility into the working class,16 the Tea Party and later the Trump campaign put forward a distinctively populist political and economic agenda. The new middle class right now wanted the wholesale deportation of undocumented immigrants, threatening the supply of cheap and vulnerable workers that capitalists in agriculture, large-scale construction, garment, and other industries depend upon. They opposed the pro-corporate immigration reform proposals that would institute a permanent guest worker program in the United States, and offer a circuitous “path to citizenship” for the undocumented. The Tea Party was also willing to shut down the federal government—threatening the US public debt and the entire global financial system—to achieve their goals, alienating the major organizations of the capitalist class, the Business Roundtable, and the US Chamber of Commerce. 

While the Chamber helped defeat a majority of Tea Party supporters in the 2014 Republican congressional primaries, their middle-class supporters radicalized further in 2016. Not only were traditionally evangelical Christian voters willing to support a twice-divorced, profane billionaire who routinely made jokes about his penis size, but they also rejected key elements of neoliberal economic and political policies for a populist nationalism. No significant segment of the capitalist class in the United States wants to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement, withdraw from the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or slap prohibitive tariffs on Chinese imports. Nor is there a substantial group of capitalists willing to threaten the existing system of military and diplomatic alliances (NATO, alliances with conservative Arab and Muslim regimes, etc.) in favor of an “America First” foreign policy. 

It is the radicalized middle-class supporters of Trump who have embraced economic protectionism and diplomatic isolationism.17Caught between a decimated labor movement and an extremely aggressive capitalist class, parts of the middle classes globally have been drawn to a politics that scapegoats immigrants, unions, women, LGBT people, and people of color, fueling the growth of Trumpism in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom Independence Party, French National Front, Italian Five Star Movement and similar formations across Europe.18 

Recent sociological studies demonstrate how populist nationalism, with its deadly mixture of anti-elitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia, provides a “mental road map of lived experience” for the middle classes since 2008. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson in The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism point to growing economic and social anxiety among the older white middle classes, who see undocumented immigrants as a threat to their “quality of life” and competitors for scarce social services, particularly Social Security pensions and Medicare.19 Mass deportations and denying the undocumented any path to citizenship (and access to social services), combined with lower federal deficits, would protect the “earned” social benefits (Social Security, Medicare) upon which they rely. Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land portrays people who believe they are “hard workers” who “play by the rules” and never ask for “handouts” (government subsidies, etc.) but are constantly falling behind socially and economically.20 They are threatened both by powerful economic and social elites and “line jumpers”—African Americans, Latinos, women who benefit from affirmative action, undocumented immigrants, and refugees. 

The Marxist Left has a rich analysis of the attraction of the middle classes—what Trotsky described as the “human dust”—to right-wing populist demagogues. Caught between the fundamental social classes, capitalists and workers, the middle classes are attracted to political “strong-men” who promise to defend the “little man” against the forces that squeeze them from above and below. However, the socialist Left has had a more difficult time explaining the support of a minority of workers for right-wing politics. Why have approximately 40 percent of union households supported Republicans or other right-wing candidates (e.g., Ross Perot in 1992) in most of the elections since 1980?21 Why did another, minute group of white working-class voters embrace the nationalist populism of Trump? 

For many on the left, working class support for the Right is some form of “false consciousness”—a mistaken identification of their own interests with those of their bosses as the result of capital’s control of the means of ideological production (press, media, etc.) For others, working-class racism and sexism is the defense of some form of racial or gender “privilege” against threats from below. Both of these explanations are inadequate. “False consciousness” makes capital and their ideologists all-powerful, and portrays workers as passive consumers of capitalist ideologies. Simplistic notions of “defense of privilege” ignore the increasing precarity all workers face today. 

Grasping the contradictory character of capitalist social relations of production allows us to explain the attraction of some workers to right-wing politics. The objective, structural position of workers under capitalism provides the basis both for collective, solidaristic radicalism and individualist, sectoralist, and reactionary politics. As Bob Brenner and Johanna Brenner pointed out in their 1981 analysis of Reagan’s election: 

Workers are not only collective producers with a common interest in taking collective control over social production. They are also individual sellers of labor power in conflict with each other over jobs, promotions, etc. This individualistic point of view has a critical advantage in the current period: in the absence of class against class organization. It seems to provide an alternative strategy for effective action—a sectionalist strategy which pits one layer of workers against another.22

As competing sellers of labor power, workers are open to the appeal of politics that pit them against other workers—especially workers in a weaker social position. Without the lived experience of mass, collective and successful class organization and struggle, it should not surprise socialists that segments of the working class are open to right-wing politics. 

Workers in the United States have experienced forty years of attacks on their living and working conditions. The labor movement has responded with one surrender after another, as concession bargaining and futile attempts to forge “labor-management cooperation” have destroyed almost every gain workers made through mass struggles in the 1930s and 1970s. Faced with an impotent labor movement that tails after an ever rightward moving Democratic Party, it is not surprising that a minority of older white workers are attracted to politics that places responsibility for their deteriorating social situation on both the corporate “globalists” and more vulnerable workers—African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, women, and queer folk. Kirk Noden, writing in The Nation, grasps why the Republican right wins working-class votes:

Two narratives emerged about the collapse of the industrial heartland in America. The one from the right has three parts: First, that industry left this country because unions destroyed productivity and made labor costs too high, thereby making us uncompetitive. Second, corporations were the victims of over-regulation and a bloated government that overtaxed them to pay for socialist welfare systems. Third, illegal immigration has resulted in the stealing of American jobs, increased competition for white-workers, and depressed wages. . . . The second narrative, promoted by corporate Democrats, is that the global economy shifted and the country is now in transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy. This story tacitly accepts the economic restructuring of the heartland as inevitable once China and other markets opened up.23

Trump and his nationalist populist ideologues from Breitbart and the “alt-right” added a fourth element to the right’s narrative—the role of globalizing corporations and “free trade.” Given a choice between an elitist neoliberal who refused to speak to the realities of their lives (and rejected Sanders’s social-democratic program as “unrealistic”), and a populist demagogue who offered an illusory solution to their problems, it is not at all surprising that a minority of white workers embraced Trump.24 Trumpism is the fruit of decades of the politics of “lesser evilism,” where the Left trails after the labor officials, who continually surrender to capital, while tailing after a rightward-moving Democratic party in the name of “fighting the Right.” Without a clear and potent independent working-class political alternative—one rooted in mass struggles in the workplace and communities—more workers will see no alternative to the neoliberal capitalist offensive other than white populist nationalism. 

Trump in office

Not only were left and liberal commentators shocked by the election results, but also, it seems, was Trump himself. Like a drunken frat boy who wakes up after a bender to discover that he is now the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Trump appears to be completely out of his depth. Ultimately, the chaos in his transition team and the behind the scenes struggles over key appointments evident before he assumed office were the result of the contradictory pressures pulling on Trump.25 On the one hand, there are the establishment Republicans, with their ties to key segments of the capitalist class, which Trump consistently denounced throughout his campaign. On the other, there are the alt-right nationalist-populists, who helped script his simultaneously anti-corporate, isolationist, and racist appeals. 

A situation of veritable “dual power” was created within Trump’s team with his concurrent appointment of Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff and his campaign manager and former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon as chief strategist.26 The Republican establishment was outraged that a “right-wing media provocateur”—an economic populist, and “America First” critic of the US role in the world—has the ear of the President. The alt-right was deeply angered by Preibus’s appointment, denouncing him as “the enemy within” and “everything the voters rejected.”27

What are the politics of Breitbart and the alt-right? Despite their claims to the contrary, the alt-right is racist. They eschew the biological racism of openly white supremacist and fascist groupings, which they refer to as the “1488ers”—a reference to a neo-Nazi slogan “We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children”, and “Heil Hitler.” The alt-right instead embraces cultural racism—that certain groups have superior, and others inferior values and behaviors—to justify the exclusion of non-European immigrants and the segregation of “cultural groups.”28 Trump and Breitbart have attempted to distance themselves from open white nationalists like Richard Spencer, who originally coined the term “alt-right,” defining themselves as primarily nationalists and populists.29

In a multi-part article in Breitbart, the pseudonymous “Virgil” argued that a successful Trump administration would need to achieve two goals. First, it must revamp US foreign policy, ending the subordination of American to its historic allies (NATO). Trump needs to put “America first” and “treat China and Russia as great powers to be dealt with as potential partners, not as bad actors to be ‘reformed’ by America.” Second, Trump has to defend “blue collar America” against the “globalist” corporate elite.30 In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bannon insisted: “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist. . . . The globalists have gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f-ed over.”31 Central to saving “blue collar Americans” is the dismantling of neoliberal “free trade” deals and the deportation of all undocumented immigrants. The forces around Bannon are clear that they are at war with the Republican establishment, and in particular House Speaker Paul Ryan, over both cabinet appointments and economic and military policy.32

The battle over cabinet appointments has produced mixed results.33 Most of Trump’s appointees come from the extreme right of the Republican establishment. Betsy DeVos, the nominee for secretary of education, is a bitter foe of public education and teacher unions, but is a mainstream Republican on economic policies and did not support Trump’s candidacy. Attorney general candidate Jeff Sessions, a nasty racist and early Trump supporter, is well within the Republican consensus on trade and diplomatic alliances. Nikki Haley, his nominee for UN ambassador, broke with many southern Republicans’ defense of the Confederate flag in the aftermath of the racist shootings in a Charleston church in 2015 and opposed Trump’s populist nationalism. Elaine Chao, the second Bush’s labor secretary and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his pick for Transportation secretary, is a consummate Washington insider. Scott Pruit, the Oklahoma attorney general tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, is a close ally of the energy companies and climate change denier, but not an opponent of “free trade.” General John F. Kelly, nominated to head Homeland Security, shares the bipartisan consensus for “greater border security,” but is not an advocate of wholesale deportations. Ben Carson, the nominee to head Housing and Urban Development, advocates massive privatization of public housing, but is a mainstream neoliberal on trade.

Several supporters of the populist camp have been nominated. Tom Rice, the choice for Health and Human Services, is a militant critic of Obamacare and “free trade.” Mike Pompeo, nominee for director of the CIA, has been highly critical of “free trade” and is hostile to the UN. Michael Flynn, Trump’s nominee for national security advisor, is a former Democrat and Islamaphobe who is perceived by mainstream Republicans as too sympathetic to Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey. Rice may have the greatest room to pursue his agenda of dismantling Obamacare, but will face pressure to preserve both popular aspects of the program (coverage for pre-existing conditions and coverage for children to the age of twenty-six) and massive tax subsidies to private health care corporations.34 Pompeo and Flynn will have to negotiate any changes in policy with the “professional staff” of the CIA and the Defense Department.

Ultimately the appointments to head the four most important cabinet offices—State, Defense, Commerce, and Treasury—will shape the Trump agenda. Trump has nominated two Wall Street financiers who had supported his candidacy for two key positions. Both Wilbur Ross, who has been nominated for commerce secretary, and Michael Mnuchin the pick for treasury, have made statements hostile to “free trade” in general and Chinese “currency manipulation” in particular. However, it is unclear whether they actually want to dismantle the neoliberal financial and trade policies of the past three decades. In fact, Trump has selected Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a longtime advocate of free trade with China, as US ambassador to the People’s Republic.35 James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the choice for secretary of defense, is critical of the Obama administration but has not advocated an abandonment of NATO or the traditional US alliance system. 

The debate on who to appoint as secretary of state—Mitt Romney, a quite mainstream Republican who opposed Trump’s candidacy; the disgraced former CIA director David Petraeus, the Trump loyalist Rudolph Giuliani; or Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson—wracked the Trump transition team. He finally settled on Tillerson. Whatever the final cabinet ends up looking like, it will need to secure the cooperation of the thousands of permanent bureaucrats in the key federal departments, who are likely to resist any sharp shifts in policy towards economic and diplomatic nationalism.

In Congress, the populist nationalists will face resistance from the Republican establishment. Despite Trump’s victory in the presidential election, the congressional Republican Party is solidly pro-corporate. The US Chamber of Commerce announced, “95 percent of Chamber-endorsed candidates in House and Senate won.” 36 This is reflected in Ryan’s “A Better Way” legislative proposals.37 Most of Ryan’s proposals continue “business as usual” with new cuts to public education and social welfare and more deregulation of capital. However, in both “A Better Way” and in public statements, Ryan and the establishment Republicans in Congress have made clear their opposition to any retreat from “free trade” or the central military and political role of the United States in preserving and defending global capitalism. 

They are also adamantly opposed to mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, other than the “felons” already targeted by Obama, and support expanding guest worker programs to provide cheap and vulnerable workers to capital in labor-intensive industries.38 Despite the bitter opposition of the remnants of the Tea Party, Paul Ryan was overwhelmingly re-nominated for speaker of the House by the Republican caucus.39 In sum, the Trump administration will probably be unable to carry out most of its nationalist-populist proposals on foreign policy and trade, and will be a hard right neoliberal regime.

What’s next? Neoliberalism is not dead

Despite riding to the White House on the revulsion of a segment of the white middle- and working classes with the political class (“drain the swamp”) and its commitments to neoliberal policies, the Trump administration will continue and intensify neoliberal attacks on working people, racial minorities, immigrants, women, and LGBT folks. Put another way: Do not expect a sharp break with the forty yearlong bipartisan capitalist offensive. There is no question that the minor regulations placed on the financial industry after the economic meltdown of 2008 will be repealed, while new cuts to corporate taxes are on the agenda. Although Wall Street overwhelmingly supported Clinton in the elections, they appear willing to give the new administration “a chance.”40 

Similarly, there are few obstacles to Trump’s removing the modest environmental regulations the Obama administration imposed. He can easily rely on the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a creation of the Clinton administration, which has the final say on authorizing new regulations.41 Both Trump and the Republican congressional leadership agree that the time is ripe to massively reduce funding for antipoverty programs like Head Start, Medicaid, and food stamps (which suffered their sharpest cuts under Obama).42Trump and Ryan agree on a major overhaul of Obamacare—but one that will probably continue to provide huge subsidies to the private health care-insurance industry. Trump may find himself in an uncomfortable position, as Ryan and the congressional Republicans try to privatize Medicare and Social Security, programs Trump’s older supporters depend upon.43 

Trump will also intensify the Obama administration’s policy of deporting “criminal” undocumented immigrants, while backpedaling on his promise of wholesale deportations and even hinting he may not rollback Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived as children.44 For all of Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric, his policies will continue the Obama presidency’s toleration of police killings. The first two African-American attorney generals in US history, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, have not indicted a single cop for violating the civil rights of the young black men they have murdered. We can expect the Justice and Defense Departments to continue the sale of surplus military equipment to local police forces that began under Clinton. While the Democrats, who are the primary beneficiaries of union election contributions and support, will oppose a National Right to Work Act, they are unlikely to stop its serious consideration.45

Trump’s nationalist-populist proposals will face much more resistance both from congressional Republicans and the unelected, permanent professional bureaucracy in the executive branch of the federal government.46 His infrastructure program, which relies primarily on tax credits to encourage private companies to rebuild and repair roads, bridges, and the like rather than massive federal spending, may well pass Congress. However, it is unlikely to provide the sort of Keynesian stimulus that would create the “good paying jobs” that many of his middle and working-class supporters hoped for.47 However, on the key populist elements of his program—repealing neoliberal trade pacts, wholesale deportations of undocumented immigrants, and a realignment of US foreign policy toward Putin’s Russia—Trump will either continue to back-pedal, or face concerted opposition. 

Trump has already backpedaled on some of his more populist and nationalist proposals. Not only is Trump no longer threatening to indict Bill and Hillary Clinton, but he has also waffled on calls for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord (which would require congressional approval) and reinstituting waterboarding and other forms of “enhanced interrogation” (torture).48 Other key elements, like the renegotiation or withdrawal from NAFTA or the imposition of tariffs on companies moving production abroad will likely require the cooperation of Congress to implement. The repeal or restructuring of Obamacare and the building of a wall on the US-Mexico border also requires congressional approval. Other policies, like the suspension of immigration from “terror prone areas” (having abandoned a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants), ending foreign trade “abuses,” and leaving the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be done through executive order.49 

However, it is clear that key congressional Republicans and key groups of capitalists will oppose any and all attempts to undermine the neoliberal order.50 Any attempt to realign US imperialist alliances away from traditional allies in Western Europe and the Middle East in favor of Putin’s Russia, will face other resistance from both capitalist policy advocacy groups like the Business Roundtable and the US Chamber of Commerce and the permanent officialdom of the State, Defense, Commerce and Treasury Departments.51Trump will likely face the sort of structural-institutional obstacles social democrats face when attempting to implement anticapitalist reforms through the capitalist state.

Trump’s vacillations and the opposition to his nationalist populist proposals portend a continued civil war within the Republican Party. In this battle, the Republican establishment, with its historic ties to old-line WASP capitalists, has all of the advantages in a confrontation with the populist nationalists. The Republican leadership controls the party’s purse strings and they are well situated to change the rules for the next presidential nominating race. They already have the Democrats’ road map to prevent any future insurgency: the creation of unelected “super-delegates.”52 Trump’s failure to “Make America Great Again”—rolling back neoliberal trade deals, mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, and the revival of industrial employment—will disillusion many of his white middle- and working-class supporters. Without their support, the populist nationalists may find themselves marginalized in the Republican Party well before the 2020 election.53

The biggest danger comes not from the corridors of power, but from the streets. Small groups of organized fascists and individual right-wingers believe they have the “wind at their back,” freeing them to assault people of color, immigrants, Muslims, queer folks, and leftists. Through November 16—just one full week after Trump’s election—the Southern Poverty Law Center counted approximately seven hundred violent hate crimes in the United States.54 The greatest number occurred in the three days following the election, but incidents continue to be reported from across the United States. Approximately 29 percent of the attacks targeted immigrants, 22 percent African Americans, 11 percent LGBT folks, 7 percent Muslims and 5 percent women. Another 11 percent involved swastika vandalism, while less than 4 percent involved verbal or physical attacks on Trump supporters. 

The fight back against Trumpism will have to take various forms—organized, collective anti-fascist defense against attacks; mass protest demonstrations, and, ultimately in struggles in the workplace. Strategically, new organizers need to understand that we cannot rely on either the Democrats or the forces of official reformism (labor officials, middle-class leaders of people of color, women, immigrants, LGBT folks, etc.) in these battles. With most leading Democrats, from Clinton to Sanders, arguing that we “need to give Trump a chance,” any notion that the Democrats will tact to the left after their 2016 defeat is illusory. 

The “insurgent” bid of African-American Representative Keith Ellison (MN) for chair of the Democratic National Committee will likely go down to defeat, especially after the routing of Representative Tim Ryan’s (OH) challenge to Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader. While the labor officials and their allies may be more willing to mobilize against Trump than they were against Obama, we can expect them to “double down” on their support of the Democrats in the 2018 congressional election. Given the commitment of most of what passes for a left in the United States—social democrats and former Stalinists who share a commitment to a “strategic alliance” with the forces of official reformism—it will be an uphill battle to build movements capable of acting independently of the Democrats and their reformist supporters.

The spontaneous protests in many cities and the growing campaign to wear safety pins as a sign of solidarity against racist and homophobic violence are promising beginnings. However, the danger is that these struggles, like the Wisconsin Uprising, Occupy, and Black Lives Matter, will be short lived and leave little independent organization in their wake. The way forward for the Left is rebuilding the militant minority—the layer of activists with a strategy and tactics that go beyond reformism, if not explicitly to revolution—in workplaces and social movements. Without such a layer rooted among broader layers of working people, the labor officials, Democratic Party politicos, and the middle-class leaders of the social movements will be able to continually derail and demobilize promising struggles—as they have for most of the last forty years. 


1.         This essay was completed in early December, 2016 and does not reflect developments since then. 

2.         Charlie Post, “The Republicans Have Been Trumped,” Jacobin, October 14, 2016, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/trump-gop-republicans-tea-party-populism-fascism/.

3.         For information on the Clinton’s contributors, see https://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/industries?cycle=2016&id=N00000019, and on Trump’s, see https://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/industries?id=N00023864&cycle=2016&type=f&src=b.

4.         Gregory Wallace and Robert Yoon, “Voter Turnout at 20 Year Low in 2016,” CNN, November 12, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/11/politics/popular-vote-turnout-2016/.

5.         This data is drawn from the running total on uselectionatlas.org

6.         Voter participation by demographic group for 2008 and 2012 is drawn from Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University, http://ropercenter.cornell.edu/polls/us-elections/how-groups-voted/how-groups-voted-2008/ and http://ropercenter.cornell.edu/polls/us-elections/how-groups-voted/how-groups-voted-2012/. Data for 2016 is drawn from CNN Exit Polls, http://www.cnn.com/election/results/exit-polls

7.         Sabrina Tavernise, “Many in Milwaukee Neighborhood Didn’t Vote—and Don’t Regret It,” New York Times, November 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/many-in-milwaukee-neighborhood-didnt-vote-and-dont-regret-it.html?_r=0. Matt Karp points out that similar shifts took place in other predominantly Black areas of major cities like Detroit, St. Louis’ northwestern wards, West and North Philadelphia, and East Flatbush in New York. See his article, “Fairfax County, USA” Jacobin, November 28, 2016, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/clinton-election-polls-white-workers-firewall/.

8.         http://www.census.gov/library/publications/2015/demo/p60-252.html.

9.         Kevin Uhrmacher, Kevin Schaul, and Dan Keating, “These Obama Strongholds Sealed the Election for Trump,” Washington Post, November 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/2016-election/obama-trump-counties/?tid=ss_mail; and Loren Collingwood, “The County-By-County Data on Trump Voters Shows Why He Won” Washington Post, November 19, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/19/the-country-by-county-data-on-trump-voters-shows-why-he-won/?postshare=6041479586306602&tid=ss_fb-bottom.

10.      Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr, “The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt,” Slate, December 1, 2016, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/12/the_myth_of_the_rust_belt_revolt.html.

11.      Eric Asson, “Blame Trump’s Victory on College Educated Whites, Not the Working Class,” New Republic, November 15, 2016, https://newrepublic.com/article/138754/blame-trumps-victory-college-educated-whites-not-working-class.

12.      See Christian Parenti’s excellent analysis, “Garbage In, Garbage Out: Turns Out Clinton’s Ground Game Sucked,” Jacobin, November 18, 2016, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/clinton-campaign-gotv-unions-voters-rust-belt/; and Karp, “Fairfax County, USA.” 

13.      Quoted in Jim Geraghty, “Chuck Schumer: Democrats Will Lose Blue-Collar Whites But Gain in the Suburbs,” National Review, July 28, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/438481/chuck-schumer-democrats-will-lose-blue-collar-whites-gain-suburbs.

14.      Karp, “Fairfax County, USA.”

15.      Much of the following draws on Post, “The Republicans Have Been Trumped,”; “Why The Tea Party?” New Politics 53, Summer 2012, http://newpol.org/content/why-tea-party; “Whither the Republican Party? The 2014 Election and the Future of Capital’s ‘A’ Team,” The Brooklyn Rail, December 18, 2014, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2014/12/field-notes/whither-the-republican-party. Eric Sasson makes a similar point in “Blame Trump’s Victory.” 

16.      Michael A. McCarthy, “The Revenge of Joe the Plumber,” Jacobin, October 26, 2016, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/trump-small-business-whites-xenophobia-immigration/.

17.      While he correctly points to Trump’s ability to win the vote of the Christian Right in 2016, Mike Davis mistakenly labels this a “cynical covenant,” underestimating the populist radicalization of these layers of the population. “Not a Revolution—Yet” Verso Blog, November 15, 2016, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2948-not-a-revolution-yet.

18.      For the European populist Right, see F. LePlat (ed), The Far Right in Europe (London: Resistance Books, 2015).

19.      Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

20.      Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (New York: New Press, 2016).

21.      Phillip Bump, “Donald Trump Got Reagan-like Support from Union Households,” The Washington Post, November 10, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/10/donald-trump-got-reagan-like-support-from-union-households/.

22.      Johanna Brenner and Robert Brenner, “Reagan, the Right and the Working Class,” Against the Current (Old Series) 1, 2, Winter, 1981, 30.

23.      Kirk Noden, “Why Do White Working-Class People Vote Against Their Interests? They Don’t,” The Nation, November 16, 2016, https://www.thenation.com/article/why-do-white-working-class-people-vote-against-their-interests-they-dont/

24.      See Richard C. Longworth, “Disaffected Rust Belt Voters Embraced Trump—They Had No Other Hope,” The Guardian, November 21, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/21/disaffected-rust-belt-voters-embraced-donald-trump-midwestern-obama. Also see Rick Rommel, “In Western Wisconsin, Trump Voters Want Change,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 27, 2016, http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/11/26/western-wisconsin-trump-voters-want-change/94436384/. For an excellent analysis of Trump’s appeals to working-class voters see Christian Parenti, “Listening to Trump,” Jacobin, November 22, 2106, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/trump-speeches-populism-war-economics-election/.

25.      Lauren McCauley, “Ugly and Unprepared, ‘Knife Fight’ Breaks Out in Trump Transition,” Common Dreams, November 15, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/11/15/ugly-and-unprepared-knife-fight-breaks-out-trump-transition; Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Mark Mazzetti, and Maggie Haberman, “Firings and Discord Put Trump Transition Team in a State Disarray,” New York Times, November 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/us/politics/trump-transition.html; Michael D. Shear, “Trump Says Transition’s Going ‘Smoothly,’ Disputing Disarray Reports,” New York Times, November 16, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/17/us/politics/donald-trump-administration-twitter.html

26.      Michael D. Shear, “Donald Trump Picks Reince Preibus as Chief of Staff and Stephen Bannon as Strategist,” New York Times, November 13, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/14/us/politics/reince-priebus-chief-of-staff-donald-trump.html.

27.      Julia Hahn, “Michael Savage Warns Donald Trump: ‘Rinse’ Reince; He’s ‘Everything the Voters Rejected’,” Breitbart, November 13, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/11/13/michael-savage-warns-donald-trump-rinse-reince-priebus/.

28.      Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” Breitbart, March 29, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/03/29/an-establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-alt-right/.

29.      Alan Rappeport and Noah Weiland, “White Nationalists Celebrate ‘an Awakening’ After Donald Trump’s Victory,” New York Times, November 19, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/us/politics/white-nationalists-celebrate-an-awakening-after-donald-trumps-victory.html?_r=0; Joseph Goldstein, “Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election with a Salute: ‘Heil Victory,’” New York Times, November 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/alt-right-salutes-donald-trump.html?ref=todayspaper. Trump, in his interview with the New York Times distanced himself from the white nationalists saying “I don’t want to energize the group,” while claiming that Bannon was not a racist. “Donald Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript,” New York Times, November 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/trump-new-york-times-interview-transcript.html

30.      Virgil, “How a Newly Elected Republican President Can Gain 17 Points in His Reelection Campaign,” Breitbart, November 18, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/11/18/virgil-how-a-newly-elected-republican-president-can-gain-17-points-in-his-re-election-campaign/; “It’s On! The Battle for Blue Collar America: Remembering the Forgotten Man,” Breitbart, November 21, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/11/21/virgil-battle-blue-collar-america-remembering-forgotten-man/’.

31.      Michael Wolff, “Ringside With Steve Bannon at Trump Tower as the President-Elect’s Strategist Plots ‘An Entirely New Political Movement’,” The Hollywood Reporter, November 18, 2016, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/steve-bannon-trump-tower-interview-trumps-strategist-plots-new-political-movement-948747

32.      Julia Hahn, “Day Before Election Paul Ryan Said GOP Not Trump’s Party,” Breitbart, November 12, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/11/12/day-election-paul-ryan-said-gop-not-trumps-party/; “GOP Lawmakers Work Behind Closed Doors to Stop Donald Trumps Mandate,” BreitbartNovember 15, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/11/15/gop-lawmakers-work-behind-closed-doors-to-stop-donald-trumps-mandate/.

33.       “Donald Trump is Choosing His Cabinet: Here’s the Latest List,” New York Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/...

34.      Reed Abelson, “Health Insurers List Demands if Affordable Care Act is Killed,” New York Times, December 6, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/business/health-insurers-obamacare-republicans.html?emc=eta1.

35.      Binyamin Appelbaum, “Terry Branstad, Iowa Governor, is Trump’s Pick as China Ambassador,” New York Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/us/politics/terry-branstad-china-ambassador-trump.html?emc=eta1.

36.      Thomas J. Donohue, “US Chamber President Comments on Election Results,” US Chamber of Commerce Press Release, November 9, 2016, https://www.uschamber.com/press-release/us-chamber-president-comments-election-results

37.      Paul Ryan, “A Better Way,” http://abetterway.speaker.gov/.

38.      Pam Key, “Ryan: Border Security is Our Focus, Not Mass Deportations,” BreitbartNovember 13, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/video/2016/11/13/ryan-border-security-focus-not-mass-deportations/; Julia Hahn, “Paul Ryan: No Deportations,” Breitbart, November 13, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/video/2016/11/13/ryan-border-security-focus-not-mass-deportations/; Julia Hahn, “GOP Rep: Paul Ryan’s Immigration Policy Not ‘In Best Interest of America,’” Breitbart, November 14, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/11/14/gop-congressman-mo-brooks-paul-ryans-position-immigration-not-best-interest-america/. Ezra Klein, “Senate Republicans Can Save the Country—and Their Party—From Trump,” Vox, November 28, 2016, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/28/13758376/senate-republicans-trump.

39.      Julia Hahn, “Dave Brat Urges Delay on Speaker Vote: A ‘Better Way” Did Not Animate This Historic Election,” Breitbart, November 14, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/11/14/dave-brat-urges-delay-on-speaker-vote-a-better-way-did-not-animate-this-historic-election/

40.      Landon Thomas, Jr. “Investors Make Bullish Bet on Trump, and an Era of Tax Cuts and Spending,” New York Times, November 21, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/business/dealbook/investors-make-bullish-bet-on-trump-and-an-era-of-tax-cuts-and-spending.html?ref=todayspaper.

41.      Henry Fountain and Erica Goode, “Trump Has Options for Undoing Obama’s Climate Legacy,” New York Times, November 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/science/donald-trump-obama-climate.html?ref=todayspaper.

42.      Bob Herbert, “Get Ready for War on the Poor,” The Nation, November 22, 2016, https://www.thenation.com/article/get-ready-for-a-war-on-the-poor/

43.      Robert Pear, “ A Battle to Change Medicare Is Brewing, Whether Trump Wants It Or Not,” New York Times, November 24, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/24/us/politics/donald-trump-medicare-republicans.html.

44.      Amuy Chozick, “Trump Appears to Soften on Deporting Thousands of Young Immigrants,” New York Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/us/immigration-dreamers-trump.html?emc=eta1.

45.      https://nrtwc.org/facts-issues/national-right-to-work-act/. See also Harold Meyerson, “Donald Trump Can Kill the American Union,” Washington Post, November 23, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/11/23/donald-trump-could-kill-the-american-union/?postshare=6271479932172355&tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.29ed659b93ab.

46.      Leon Neyfakh, “Can the ‘Secret Government’ Save Us?,” Salon, November 14, 2016, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/11/can_the_secret_government_save_us_from_donald_trump.html

47.      Jennifer Steinhauer, “Senate Democrats’ Surprising Strategy: Trying to Align With Trump,” New York Times, November 16, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/17/us/politics/democrats-house-senate.html; Jared Bernstein, “Trump’s Misguided Flirtation with Keynesianism,” Politico, November 21, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/trumps-misguided-flirtation-with-keynesianism-214468.

48.      Demetri Sevastopulo and David J. Lynch, “Trump Reverses Course on Core Campaign Promises,” Financial Times, November 22, 2016; Michael D. Shear, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, and Maggie Haberman, “Trump, in Interview, Moderates Views but Defies Conventions, ” New York Times, November 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/us/politics/donald-trump-visit.html. The permanent staff of the CIA opposes the reintroduction of waterboarding. Michael Hayden, the former CIA director said that Trump should “bring his own bucket” if he wants to bring back waterboarding. Matt Apuzzo and James Risen, “Donald Trump Faces Obstacles to Resume Waterboarding,” New York Times, November 28, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/us/politics/trump-waterboarding-torture.html?ribbon-ad-idx=17&rref=politics&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Politics&pgtype=article.

49.      Larry Buchanan, Alicia Parlapiano, and Karen Yourish, “How Hard (or Easy) It Will Be for Trump to Fulfill His 100-Day Plan,” New York Times. November 24, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/21/us/politics/what-trump-wants-to-do-in-his-first-100-days-and-how-difficult-each-will-be.html

50.      Carl Hulse, “Trump’s Next Battle: Keeping These Republican Senators Happy,” New York Times, November 26, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/us/politics/donald-trumps-republicans-senate.html; Klein “Senate Republicans Can Save the Country,” Vox, November 28, 2016, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/28/13758376/senate-republicans-trump

51.      Among other recent articles, see Eduardo Porter, “Trump Campaign’s Easy Answers Confront Hard Reality,” New York Times, November 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/business/economy/trump-campaigns-easy-answers-confront-hard-reality.html; David E. Sander, “From Iran to Syria, Trump’s ‘America First’ Approach Faces Its First Tests,” New York Times, November 17, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/us/politics/from-iran-to-syria-trumps-america-first-approach-faces-its-first-tests.html; Neil Irwin, “What Will Trump’s Trade Policy Actually Look Like? Three Possibilities,” New York Times, November 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/upshot/what-will-trump-trade-policy-actually-look-like-three-possibilities.html; Eduardo Porter, “A Trade War Against China Might Be a Fight Trump Couldn’t Win,” New York Times, November 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/business/a-trade-war-against-china-might-be-a-fight-trump-couldnt-win.html; Nelson D. Schwartz, “Wary Corporate Chiefs Keep an Ear Turned to Trump’s Messages” New York Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/business/donald-trump-corporate-chiefs.html?emc=eta1.

52.      See Paul Heideman, “It’s Their Party,” Jacobin 20, 2015, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/02/democratic-party-realignment-civil-rights-mcgovern-meany-rustin-sanders/.

53.      Michael Kruse, “What Trump Voters Want Now,” Politico, November 18, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/donald-trump-voters-pennsylvania-blue-collar-214466; Sherryl Gay Stolberg, “Trump’s Promises Will Be Hard to Keep, but Coal Country Has Faith,” New York Times, November 28, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/us/donald-trump-coal-country.html

54.      Hatewatch Staff, “Update: Incidents of Hateful Harassment Since Election Day Now Number 701,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Hatewatch, November 18, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/18/update-incidents-hateful-harassment-election-day-now-number-701.

 

Closely related to the World Bank is the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.). In the global economy U.S. imperialism set up following WWII, the I.M.F. functions as the thug debt-collector and enforcer. In any national financial crisis the I.M.F. insures that the first priority will be the repayment of debt obligations to the international banks. To guarantee this, the I.M.F. imposes cuts in wages, pensions, social safety nets and increases taxes on the middle-class/working class. It is the designer and enforcer of austerity. In Europe today its policies are generating increasingly fierce resistance, especially in Greece, Spain and Italy. Given its increasing unpopularity, the I.M.F. has a difficult time finding credible people to act as its director. Former director Mr. Strauss-Kahn had to resign following accusations that he sexually assaulted a maid in a New York City hotel. The present director, Christine Lagarde, was convicted in December of criminal charges linked to the misuse of public funds. Despite her conviction the 24 directors of the fund decided not to remove her explaining: “With international elites and their institutions facing populist criticism amid political and social change in the United States and Europe this was not the time to leave the I.M.F. rudderless.”

The diminished ability for U.S. imperialism to direct and control events is reflected in the failure to consummate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). TPP was a major element in Obama’s “new tilt” toward Asia, and was never primarily just about trade. The deal, which excluded China, was conceived as a vital move for shoring up U.S. economic and military influence in this fastest-growing and strategically vital part of the world. Resistance to the deal is deeper than U.S. domestic opposition to yet another unpopular trade pact. With the end of U.S. post WWII hegemony it is China that is now the largest trading partner for most of the countries in the region. The Philippines, despite its long status as a colony and semi-colony of the United States, has under its new president, Rodrigo Duterte, begun dramatically shifting away from U.S. influence, and toward China instead. Even a long-time ally like Australia has shown little enthusiasm for TPP announcing just last month plans to push ahead with a Chinese-led trade pact that would cover Asian nations from Japan to India but exclude the United States. Perhaps even more revealing, Australia has also resisted pressure to join the United States in naval patrols in the South China Sea supposedly designed to ensure freedom of international traffic.

Of all the post WWII institutions created by and for U.S. imperialism none was more central to implementing the era of U.S. hegemony than NATO. What made NATO possible, and the glue which held it, and the otherwise competing capitalist nations in Europe together for so long, was the existence and threat of the Soviet Union. This was not essentially a military threat but rather a philosophical and ideological threat. Even under what emerged as the conservative, bureaucratized leadership of Stalinism, the example of the Soviet Union and the 1917 Russian Revolution posed a revolutionary alternative for workers that was a continuous threat to every capitalist regime in Europe. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the NATO of old began coming apart and its days are now numbered.

NATO as any kind of unified bloc, especially any kind of unified bloc following U.S. imperialism’s direction and lead is disintegrating. The ability to get NATO support for U.S. directed sanctions against Russia, Iran or anyone else is becoming increasingly difficult. The recent evolution of NATO member, Turkey, is revealing. Not only does Turkey apparently believe that its national interests, at least for now, are closer to Russia than NATO, but Turkey even accuses the U.S. government of being involved in the recent military coup-attempt against its president.

Even some of NATO’s oldest and formerly most supportive members are beginning to resist continued U.S. leadership and hegemony. With the collapse of the Soviet Union U.S. imperialism pushed an aggressive expansion of NATO, which placed NATO arms one thousand miles to the east closer to Russia’s borders, putting St. Petersburg, for instance, within range of NATO artillery. In response to a recent U.S.-led NATO military exercise in Poland and the Baltic states, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned U.S. officials that the action amounted to “saber-rattling and warmongering.”

The unraveling of these post-WWII international institutions certainly reflects an increasingly more difficult global environment for U.S. capitalism. But even more immediately frightening for U.S. capitalism is the massive political damage inflicted by the 2016 presidential election on its dual political parties. For the ruling elite of U.S. capitalism there has been no more essential and valuable political institution than its stable two party monopoly. This has been true for more than 150 years, ever since the smashing of the slavocracy in America’s great Civil War. But even prior to the election popular confidence in both the Democratic and Republican parties were at all time historical lows. The election itself has now resulted in a further dramatic deterioration.

The political damage inflicted by the 2016 campaign

On one hand, the Republican Party is captured by an extreme right wing, rogue billionaire, an open racist, who brags about his successful sexual assaults on women, banning individuals from entering the country on the basis of their religious affiliation, and among other things, promises to launch a global-wide trade war. The ruling class itself sees Trump as a loose cannon, dangerous and unstable—the kind of president that in this threatening new era for U.S. capitalism, demonstrates every potential for making things dramatically worse. For the first time in history every major newspaper in the nation opposed his candidacy. Yet despite the overwhelming opposition within its ranks the U.S. capitalist class was unable to stop his election!

On the other hand, decade after decade of “lesser evil” politics made it easy to shift its entire two party monopoly further and further to the right. But this also has a downside for the U.S. capitalist class. The Democratic wing of their dual party system became less and less able to even demagogically present itself as a populist party posing to defend middle-class/working class Americans from an ever more austerity-driven capitalism. The term “populism” even becomes a pejorative among liberal commentators and Democratic Party functionaries. The Hillary Clinton candidacy was the perfect reflection of this right-wing evolution. The “super” capitalist Trump successfully claims to speak for an increasingly desperate blue-collar working class as the “change” candidate—“Make America Great Again.” Hillary spoke for the status quo—with her campaign theme of portraying America as “Still Great.”

The unchecked and un-checkable rightward evolution of the Democratic Party is reflected not only in the candidate but its entire electoral strategy. Especially after Trump’s capture of the Republican Party the Democrats embraced a strategy built around a superficial turn to “diversity,” while promoting their pro-business policies in an attempt to win votes in traditional Republican bases in the white suburbs. New York’s Wall Street Senator Charles Schumer, who more and more emerges as the chief political strategist and spokesperson for the Democrats, predicted: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”

In addition, no other potential Democratic Party candidate was more closely tied to the disastrous results of “lesser-evil” politics than Hillary Clinton. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the Clinton administration’s 1994 $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. In her full throated support of the legislation, as Michelle Alexander documented in, “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast Black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.” By the time Bill Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Hillary supported the Clinton administration welfare-reform legislation, which under the slogan of “ending welfare as we know it,” shredded the federal safety net for poor families. The legislation also barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and initially slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion. As late as 2008 she continued to defend the legislation as a success. She also supported bank deregulation during the Clinton administration and the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

Her most famous political act was her vote as Senator for the Iraq war. As the disastrous results of that war became more and more obvious she attempted to take her distance from it by claiming she was deceived by faulty intelligence. However, this did not prevent her continued attraction for an aggressive policy of military-imposed regime change. She enthusiastically supported the Libya military adventure, with again disastrous results. She then became the most vocal proponent for a “no fly zone” in Syria, which like the “no fly zone” originally declared in Iraq, would have been nothing less than a conscious precursor to yet another regime-change war.

The 2016 election and the Trump presidency pose a dangerous threat to two opposite and opposing constituencies, on one side the U.S. capitalist class, on the other side America’s middle-class/working class. For the U.S. capitalist class the immediate question becomes how best to spin the election to insulate their two-party system from the disastrous results and at the same time restore some level of confidence in the Democratic and Republican Parties? Their solution was the launching of a massive propaganda campaign absolving their two-party monopoly from any responsibility in the bizarre unfolding of the election and the dangerous Trump victory. The Trump success, they wish to assure us, is not because of any fundamental failings on the part of the Democratic and Republican Parties or U.S. capitalism or even Trump’s inept electoral opponent Hillary Clinton. Rather we are to believe the Trump victory is the product of a diabolical, foreign conspiracy engineered by the evil Russians. The prominent, liberal, New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, even seriously proclaims, in a word play on the 1962 conspiratorial and reactionary film The Manchurian Candidate, that Trump is the “Siberian” candidate.

During the campaign the organization WikiLeaks released a series of documents damaging to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Among these were speeches Clinton gave to Wall Street fund-raising groups, the text of which she repeatedly refused to make public. In one she tried to assure her Wall Street backers not to worry about statements she might have to make on the campaign trail because as a politician you: “need both a public and a private position.” In another speech to wealthy campaign donors she wrote off working class voters attracted to Trump’s promise of change as “…the basket of deplorables. They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it.”

DNC documents also released by WikiLeaks revealed that the committee staff through scheduling, secret smears and other maneuvers had been engaged in a conspiracy to sabotage the Sanders campaign in favor of Clinton. As a result, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign her position as chair of the DNC. A few weeks later her replacement, Donna Brazile, also had to resign when other WikiLeaks documents showed she had secretly provided debate questions to the Clinton campaign prior to at least some of the Clinton-Sanders primary debates. CNN also had no choice but to fire Brazile from her lucrative and valuable position as a Democratic political commentator as her stunningly unethical activities were revealed.

No one challenges the authenticity and accuracy of these damning WikiLeaks documents. But the increasingly frantic campaign charging Russia with hijacking the U.S. election, wants to pretend their authenticity is irrelevant. Pay no attention they say to Clinton’s secret speeches, to the actions of Wasserman, Brazile and others. Rather focus on the claim that WikiLeaks obtained these documents from Russian hackers. That said, WikiLeaks denies their source was Russia. U.S. intelligence officials back up the claim of a Russian source “with high confidence.” WikiLeaks past record for veracity is excellent, for the U.S. intelligence community, not so much. It wasn’t that long ago that U.S. intelligence guaranteed the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a “slam dunk.” In reality the dispute over the WikiLeaks source is an irrelevant “red herring.” The undisputed authenticity and accuracy of the WikiLeaks documents, and what they reveal are not irrelevant.

The most cynical aspect of this entire campaign is the portrayal of the U.S. as an innocent victim of unprecedented foreign interference in the election. A December 23, 2016 article in the Washington Post by Lindsey A. O’Rourke, documents that since 1947 the U.S. has tried to change other nation’s governments 72 times. Sixty-six times by covert actions six by overt means. The article reports that 26 of the covert actions succeeded, apparently all six of the overt actions were successful. Often when U.S. intelligence services meddle in foreign elections it doesn’t hack—it murders. In 1963 the CIA organized a coup against their supposed South Vietnam ally, President Ngo Dinh Diem, in which he was killed. In 1973 the CIA organized a coup against the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, in which he was killed. In truth no government has been involved in more actions to subvert foreign governments and their elections than the United States.

The Obama legacy

To restore some level of confidence, especially for the Democratic Party, we have also witnessed the launching of an over-the-top campaign to burnish Obama’s lackluster, eight-year, presidential legacy. Typical of the tone is New York Time’s columnist David Leonhardt’s claim that: “Obama leaves office as the most successful Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt.”

On the index of income inequality the Obama eight years saw essentially no reduction in the enormous gap between the one percent and the rest of society. In the eight years of the Obama administration ninety-five percent of households have not seen their incomes regain 2007 levels. Income inequality in the United States continued to far exceed anything seen in other advanced nations. In new data just released by the World Economic Forum the United States ranked 23rd out of 30 advanced economies in wage and non-wage compensation, and it ranked last in social protection. And lately things have hardly gone in the right direction. On January 27th the government reported that the economy grew by only 1.6 percent in 2016 a significant reduction from around 2.5 percent in both 2015 and 2014. Many of the white working-class, who voted for Trump, voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, some no doubt despite holding racist views. Obama ran as the “change” candidate who they hoped would provide some relief in their desperate economic and social situation. They got eight more years of the same.

But the most telling part of Obama’s legacy is how much his administration has prepared the ground for Trump’s reactionary, extreme right-wing program. Trump in his promise of mass deportations, inherited a well-oiled deportation infrastructure from the Obama administration, which has deported 2.5 million people—more than every single U.S. president of the 20th century combined. In the spring of 2014 the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s largest Latino advocacy organization, which had previously supported Obama, could no longer remain silent. NCLR President Janet Murguía delivered a speech lambasting Obama’s deportation policy: “We consider him the deportation president, or the deporter-in-chief.”

In 2007 before taking office Obama assured the public that he would oversee the nation’s extensive surveillance program without “undermining our Constitution and our freedom.” Once in office, however, the Obama White House failed to meaningfully scale back surveillance practices established by Obama’s predecessor, including the unlawful bulk collection of Americans’ domestic phone call records. Michael Hayden, the former director of the U.S. National Security Agency, praised Obama explaining that surveillance programs have “expanded” during Barack Obama’s time in office and said the spy agency has more powers now than when he was in command under President Bush. Expansion of dangerous surveillance rules continued right up to the end of the Obama administration. With mere days left before President-elect Trump took office, Obama finalized new rules to make it easier for the nation’s intelligence agencies to share unfiltered information about innocent people.

The Trump administration certainly plans to build on the already expanded surveillance program he inherited from Obama. Trump also promises to dramatically increase bombing in the Middle East and expand it to target family members of those he concludes are terrorists. Obama did not begin the drone-killing program but he did greatly expand it and greatly loosened its rules. Under Obama’s approach many aspects of his targeted killing policy are, to say the least, on dubious legal footing, which have set hugely dangerous precedents.

Obama administration officials have variously argued that targeted killing with drones is a state secret or a so-called political question that isn’t properly “justiciable,” (subject to trial in a court of law), even if the target is an American citizen. The Obama administration asked Americans to believe not only that it was empowered to kill an American in secret; but that after the fact courts should refrain from judging whether such killings violated the right to life of the target. Thanks to Obama’s actions, Donald Trump is inaugurated into an office that presumes the authority to secretly order the extrajudicial killings of American citizens.

Trump will also be inaugurated into an office that construes its mandate to kill with drones broadly, encompassing strikes in countries with which America is not at war and targeting groups and individuals that had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks. In effect, Obama has construed the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force so broadly that it’s now hard to discern any meaningful limit.

Many Democratic officials are expressing shock over Trump’s nomination of the completely unqualified Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. DeVos, a Republican billionaire from Michigan who labeled the U.S. public education system a “dead end,” is an advocate for privatizing public education by requiring the use of public funds to pay for private school tuition. But a January 21, 2017 article in the Washington Post by its education reporter, Valerie Strauss, titled, “Democrats reject her, but they helped pave the road to education nominee DeVos,”[4] shows that Democrats can’t just blame Republicans for her ascension. “It was actually Democrats” Strauss writes, “…who helped pave the road for DeVos to take the helm of the Education Department. Democrats have in recent years sounded—and acted—a lot like Republicans in advancing corporate education reform, which seeks to operate public schools as if they were businesses, not civic institutions. By embracing many of the tenets of corporate reform—including the notion of ‘school choice’ and the targeting of teachers and their unions as being blind to the needs of children—they helped make DeVos’s education views, once seen as extreme, seem less so.”

There is probably no position in which Trump invests more emotional capital than his promise to constrict and constrain what he calls the “lying press.” James Risen, an investigative reporter for the New York Times in an December 30, 2016 news analysis article for the Times titled, “If Donald Trump Targets Journalists, Thank Obama,” writes: “If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistle-blower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist, he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama.”

Risen continues: “Over the past eight years, the administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.”

Risen concludes, “When Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, press freedom groups had high expectations for the former constitutional law professor…But today many of those same groups say Mr. Obama’s record of going after both journalists and their sources has set a dangerous precedent that Mr. Trump can easily exploit. ‘Obama has laid all the groundwork Trump needs for an unprecedented crackdown on the press,’ said Trevor Timm, executive director of the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation.”

Trumpism

 

What is the political nature of Trumpism? Does it constitute a burgeoning fascist movement? The truly massive and uncontested anti-Trump demonstrations in dozens of cities throughout the nation, the day following his inauguration gives the answer to that. Where were Trump’s fascist “brownshirts?” The best Trumpism could do, was a few dozen “Hell’s Angels”-type motorcycle gangs that did not even make themselves visible.

However, this does not mean that Trump is just another right-wing Republican in the mold of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is a deeply dangerous development that dramatically escalates the threat to America’s middle-class/working class. It is a decisive shift, representing the growing failure of center-right and center-left parties not only here but in all the advanced capitalist countries. What makes it particularly dangerous for the U.S. middle-class/working class is the complete absence here of any mass working class party that could present a fighting alternative.

Trump will quickly launch an aggressive attack on the civil liberties and civil rights of Blacks, Latinos, the women’s movement, unions, immigrants (especially Muslims), the press, and anyone who dares to criticize him. As Barry Sheppard already highlighted in his excellent article “The Rise of Trumpism,”[6] he will first of all be the “law and order” candidate. He will greatly increase police powers including the further militarization of the police. There will be no rollback of the War on Drugs or mass incarceration, and there will be no more federal oversight (already weak) of police violence. Already within days of his inauguration Trump is proposing a large-scale federal policing intervention into Chicago with its large Black, Latino, and Muslim populations. Finally he intends to use the expanded powers of a militarized police to suppress the anti-Trump demonstrations which he now knows are coming and which he takes as a personal affront.

He will increase the militarization of the border with Mexico and greatly step up the massive deportations begun under Obama. He will prevent, under one formula or another, most Muslims from immigrating to the U.S. including millions of desperate refugees from Washington’s wars against Arab countries.

Trump will move quickly on his promise of big tax cuts for the rich and large corporations. Regulations will be relaxed for the banks and other financial concerns and environmental regulations will be abolished or made inconsequential.

He will dismantle Obamacare, which was already wholly inadequate, providing the worst healthcare system of any advanced industrial country. Despite promises to the contrary it will be replaced with something covering even less people with even less healthcare.

He will put in place a massively expanded program of voter suppression. He does not intend to have his “legacy” besmirched by defeats in midterm elections in two years, or his own reelection in four years. That is what is behind his seemingly ridiculous charge of massive voter fraud in the last election and his call for launching a voter fraud investigation.

Fighting Trumpism

How can we successfully fight Trumpism, which clearly does not represent the views or interests of an overwhelming majority of America’s middle-class/working class? In her penetrating article, “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote, [7] Michelle Alexander attempts a balanced evaluation of Senator Bernie Sanders and his call for a political revolution. Alexander concludes: “The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he’s running as a Democrat…I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself.”

Alexander expresses considerable political wisdom here. It would be easier to build a new party, as difficult as that certainly would be, than to save the Democratic Party. All the evidence, especially the recent history, demonstrates there is no “saved” Democratic Party that can successfully fight Trump. It is the dual parties of capitalism, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party together, that have created the conditions that gave rise to Trump. It’s not irrelevant that Trump, for his entire life, has supported and participated in both these parties.

This of course does not mean that the fight against Trump should wait on the creation of a new alternative political party. The fight against Trump has already gotten off to a pretty good start—the really massive anti-Trump demonstrations and the Women’s Marches in the streets that took place immediately following his inauguration. And this is certainly only the beginning. Trump sells himself as a “man of action,” and to bolster that image and his ego, he will quickly attack Black youth, immigration, the woman’s movement, Muslims, the labor movement, Latinos, Roe V. Wade, the environmental movement, and anyone who challenges him. His administration will be one that constantly provokes and energizes more people into opposition.

The mass demonstrations following Trump’s inauguration were not initiated by the Democratic Party, rather they were initiated independently by a small group of women activists. Trump was obviously stunned by their size and breath, but you can also be sure the Democratic Party leadership was more than a little apprehensive about its independent nature, remaining largely outside of their control. They recall the anti-Vietnam War movement, which despite their best efforts remained independent, successfully resisting being incorporated into the Democratic Party electoral machine.

This is the essential political debate which will take place as the anti-Trump movement evolves—the fight to keep it independent of the Democratic Party. New York Senator Charles Schumer, who is replacing a discredited Hillary Clinton as the principal spokesperson for the Democratic Party, is already pushing to channel the movement into Democratic electoral politics. It’s well to remember Schumer’s history and background. In his long political career he came to be known as “The Senator from Wall Street.”

He raises millions and millions of dollars from the finance industry, both for himself and for other Democrats. In return, he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and voted to bail out Wall Street in 2008. In between, he slashed fees paid by banks to the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay for regulatory enforcement, and eviscerated congressional efforts to crack down on rating agencies.

Schumer voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and sponsored its predecessor, the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. During a Senate hearing, Schumer explained that “it’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.” Schumer also defended the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims across the region, which Trump has cited as a national model.

Returning to Michelle Alexander’s perceptive quote, she describes what she believes would be necessary to accomplish a political revolution, “a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change.” That is what the anti-Trump movement which began with the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 should aspire to become. A placard I saw being carried at the Washington March was prophetic, “FIGHT TRUMP—THE DEMS WON’T.”

—January 2017

We got Trumped

Results and prospects after the 2016 election

By Charlie Post

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On the night of November 8, 2016, I boarded a flight to London, on my way to the annual Historical Materialism conference.1 As the plane took off at 7:30 p.m., the polls across the United States were still open. I was confident that when I arrived in London the next morning, Hillary Clinton would have been declared the president-elect of the United States. I believed that not only would Donald Trump be defeated, but also that the Democrats might regain their majority in the Senate. Only three weeks before, I had predicted that Trump’s middle-class, right-wing populist insurgency, which had temporarily captured the main party of capital in the United States, would go down in flames.2 

Clinton was the clear favorite of the US capitalist class, who were repelled by Trump’s nationalist hostility to neoliberal trade policies and the system of imperialist military-diplomatic alliances that guarantee US world domination, and his threats to deport all undocumented immigrants. According to Opensecrets.org, Clinton received over 92 percent 

of corporate contributions in the 2016 election cycle, including over 80 percent of the contributions from finance, insurance, and real estate, communications/electronics, health care, defense, and “miscellaneous business.” Trump’s support was limited to 60–70 percent of contributions from construction, energy and natural resources, transportation, and agribusiness—which together accounted for less than 10 percent of total capitalist donations.3 With such a huge war chest, I expected the Democrats to build a “get out the vote” machine across the United States that would deliver a victory for its unpopular candidate.

When the plane landed on the morning of November 9 and I turned on my phone, I was greeted by the unexpected—Trump had been declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election and the Republicans had maintained their majorities in both the House and Senate. The media had declared Trump’s victory a “landslide,” winning 306 Electoral College delegates, compared with Clinton’s 232. The revolt of the “white working class” in the former industrial Midwest and Great Lakes region was credited for Trump’s sweep. 

What really happened?

I was not alone in my failure to foresee a Trump victory. Most of the political commentators in the United States and globally, based on pre-election polling, had predicted a Clinton victory. How do we explain this unexpected turn of events?

First, we cannot overlook the fact that Clinton won the majority of the popular vote. She leads Trump in the current vote tally by approximately 2.7 million votes. If the United States had direct election of the president, Clinton would be on her way to the White House. However, the Electoral College—created by the slave owners and merchant-bankers to prevent challenges to their class rule—allowed a popular minority to elect the president. As in many elections in the past forty years, extremely small changes in the participation and preferences of miniscule portions of the US electorate produced a sharp swing in electoral votes and the continued Republican majority in Congress.

While it initially appeared that voter participation rates dropped in 2016,4 as paper ballots were counted, voter participation came within 1 percent of 2012.5 Clinton’s vote is still about one million below Obama’s last election. More importantly, voter participation among traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate fell.6 African Americans dropped from 13 percent of all voters in 2008 and 2012 to 12 percent in 2016. In some predominantly African-American communities, the drop was even more precipitous. In Milwaukee’s Council District 15, which is 84 percent Black, voter turnout was nearly 20 percent lower than in 2012.7 Households earning less than $50,000 per year, who made up 51 percent of the US population in 2014,8 dropped from 41 percent of voters in 2012 to 36 percent in 2016. The percentage of households earning over $100,000, a mere 17 percent of the population, rose from 28 percent to 33 percent of voters between 2012 and 2016. Put simply, the electorate in 2016 was even more disproportionately well-off than in the last three elections. 

Within these key categories, there were also small but significant shifts in voter preference. While 60 percent of voters in households earning less than $50,000 a year voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Clinton’s share of these voters dropped to 52 percent. Clinton only won 88 percent of the Black vote, down from 95 percent and 93 percent for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Especially alarming for the Democrats was their falling share of the Latino vote. Democratic pollsters had been confident that Trump’s racist diatribes would allow Clinton to sweep this key sector. However, the Democrats’ share of the Latino vote declined from 71 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2016. Finally, the percentage of union households voting Democratic fell from 58 percent in 2008 and 59 percent in 2012 to a mere 51 percent in 2016.

Trump’s ability to retain the core sectors of the Republican’s voter base since 1980—primarily the traditional (self-employed and small businesses with less than ten employees) and new (professionals, managers, and supervisors) middle classes, including evangelical Christians; and a minority of older, white workers—was clear in all of the exit polling. However, Trump’s margin of victory—greatly exaggerated in the fun-house mirror of the Electoral College—came from a tiny group of voters who had supported Obama in 2008 and 2012.9 Of the 700 counties that had voted for Obama twice, nearly one-third (209) swung to Trump; and of 207 counties that Obama won once, almost 94 percent (194) went to Trump. The swing to Trump was concentrated in traditionally Democratic states of the Great Lakes and Midwest, which had suffered the loss of manufacturing jobs and were experiencing a rise in the Latino population. 

However, Trump’s victory was primarily a result of a sharp drop in the participation of traditionally Democratic voters, rather than a sharp swing to Trump. Trump did gain approximately 335,000 more votes than Romney among households earning less than $50,000 per year in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. However, Clinton received 1.7 million fewer votes than Obama among the same group.10 It was these miniscule shifts in voter preference and participation that gave Trump his razor-thin margins in a number of key states: less than .25 percent in Michigan, less than 1 percent in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and less than 1.5 percent in Florida. According to one analysis, had about 100,000 Trump voters in these areas voted for Clinton instead, she would have swept the Electoral College.11

Put simply, Trump did not so much win the 2016 election, as Hillary Clinton lost it. Despite her enormous campaign treasury, Clinton did not build a “get out the vote” operation to mobilize traditional Democratic constituencies—African Americans, Latinos, and working-class households.12 Instead, the Clinton campaign took these groups for granted, believing that they would have little or no choice but to turn out to defeat Trump. Time, funds, and energy were focused on “socially liberal” suburban new middle-class professionals and managers. At a Washington Post symposium in July 2016, Chuck Schumer, the neoliberal Democratic senator from New York, was quite clear: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”13 

Rather than knocking on doors in working-class and minority communities, and making a pretense of supporting the sort of social-democratic policies championed by Sanders, the Clinton campaign targeted upper-middle-class suburbs, allowing her to win substantially more votes than Obama among households earning over $100,000.14 Traditionally Democratic working-class voters were faced with the choice between a neoliberal who disdained working people and a right-wing populist who promised to bring back well-paying manufacturing jobs. Many stayed home and a tiny minority shifted their allegiances from the first African-American president to an open racist and xenophobe.

The social foundations of Trumpism

The core of Trump’s support, like that of the Tea Party since 2009, is the older white and suburban/exurban middle classes.15 His success among non-college-educated whites—he won 52 percent of all voters without bachelor’s degrees—appears to be concentrated among traditional small businesspeople (construction contractors, small shopkeepers, etc.) and those supervisors (factory foremen, store and office managers, etc.) and semi-professionals (technicians, etc.) who do not require a college education. His success among households earning over $75,000 a year reflects the support of the managerial and professional elite of this class. Put another way, Trump’s social base is that of the Republican Party since 1980—politically and socially conservative older, white middle-class voters. 

However, the politics of these groups have radicalized since the economic crisis of 2008. Prior to 2008, hostility to the democratic gains of racial minorities, women, and LGBT folks animated the hearts and minds of Republican voters. For most of the past four decades, these voters were willing to settle for symbolic concessions on these issues (restrictions, but not a legal ban on abortions; limiting access to contraception; local anti-LGBT ordinances), while loyally supporting the neoliberal agenda of the mainstream Republicans—those who traditionally represented the majority of capitalists in the United States. 

The 2008 recession radicalized this base, leading them to challenge key components of the Republican establishment’s agenda. Faced with declining living standards and the possibilities of downward social mobility into the working class,16 the Tea Party and later the Trump campaign put forward a distinctively populist political and economic agenda. The new middle class right now wanted the wholesale deportation of undocumented immigrants, threatening the supply of cheap and vulnerable workers that capitalists in agriculture, large-scale construction, garment, and other industries depend upon. They opposed the pro-corporate immigration reform proposals that would institute a permanent guest worker program in the United States, and offer a circuitous “path to citizenship” for the undocumented. The Tea Party was also willing to shut down the federal government—threatening the US public debt and the entire global financial system—to achieve their goals, alienating the major organizations of the capitalist class, the Business Roundtable, and the US Chamber of Commerce. 

While the Chamber helped defeat a majority of Tea Party supporters in the 2014 Republican congressional primaries, their middle-class supporters radicalized further in 2016. Not only were traditionally evangelical Christian voters willing to support a twice-divorced, profane billionaire who routinely made jokes about his penis size, but they also rejected key elements of neoliberal economic and political policies for a populist nationalism. No significant segment of the capitalist class in the United States wants to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement, withdraw from the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or slap prohibitive tariffs on Chinese imports. Nor is there a substantial group of capitalists willing to threaten the existing system of military and diplomatic alliances (NATO, alliances with conservative Arab and Muslim regimes, etc.) in favor of an “America First” foreign policy. 

It is the radicalized middle-class supporters of Trump who have embraced economic protectionism and diplomatic isolationism.17Caught between a decimated labor movement and an extremely aggressive capitalist class, parts of the middle classes globally have been drawn to a politics that scapegoats immigrants, unions, women, LGBT people, and people of color, fueling the growth of Trumpism in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom Independence Party, French National Front, Italian Five Star Movement and similar formations across Europe.18 

Recent sociological studies demonstrate how populist nationalism, with its deadly mixture of anti-elitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia, provides a “mental road map of lived experience” for the middle classes since 2008. Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson in The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism point to growing economic and social anxiety among the older white middle classes, who see undocumented immigrants as a threat to their “quality of life” and competitors for scarce social services, particularly Social Security pensions and Medicare.19 Mass deportations and denying the undocumented any path to citizenship (and access to social services), combined with lower federal deficits, would protect the “earned” social benefits (Social Security, Medicare) upon which they rely. Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land portrays people who believe they are “hard workers” who “play by the rules” and never ask for “handouts” (government subsidies, etc.) but are constantly falling behind socially and economically.20 They are threatened both by powerful economic and social elites and “line jumpers”—African Americans, Latinos, women who benefit from affirmative action, undocumented immigrants, and refugees. 

The Marxist Left has a rich analysis of the attraction of the middle classes—what Trotsky described as the “human dust”—to right-wing populist demagogues. Caught between the fundamental social classes, capitalists and workers, the middle classes are attracted to political “strong-men” who promise to defend the “little man” against the forces that squeeze them from above and below. However, the socialist Left has had a more difficult time explaining the support of a minority of workers for right-wing politics. Why have approximately 40 percent of union households supported Republicans or other right-wing candidates (e.g., Ross Perot in 1992) in most of the elections since 1980?21 Why did another, minute group of white working-class voters embrace the nationalist populism of Trump? 

For many on the left, working class support for the Right is some form of “false consciousness”—a mistaken identification of their own interests with those of their bosses as the result of capital’s control of the means of ideological production (press, media, etc.) For others, working-class racism and sexism is the defense of some form of racial or gender “privilege” against threats from below. Both of these explanations are inadequate. “False consciousness” makes capital and their ideologists all-powerful, and portrays workers as passive consumers of capitalist ideologies. Simplistic notions of “defense of privilege” ignore the increasing precarity all workers face today. 

Grasping the contradictory character of capitalist social relations of production allows us to explain the attraction of some workers to right-wing politics. The objective, structural position of workers under capitalism provides the basis both for collective, solidaristic radicalism and individualist, sectoralist, and reactionary politics. As Bob Brenner and Johanna Brenner pointed out in their 1981 analysis of Reagan’s election: 

Workers are not only collective producers with a common interest in taking collective control over social production. They are also individual sellers of labor power in conflict with each other over jobs, promotions, etc. This individualistic point of view has a critical advantage in the current period: in the absence of class against class organization. It seems to provide an alternative strategy for effective action—a sectionalist strategy which pits one layer of workers against another.22

As competing sellers of labor power, workers are open to the appeal of politics that pit them against other workers—especially workers in a weaker social position. Without the lived experience of mass, collective and successful class organization and struggle, it should not surprise socialists that segments of the working class are open to right-wing politics. 

Workers in the United States have experienced forty years of attacks on their living and working conditions. The labor movement has responded with one surrender after another, as concession bargaining and futile attempts to forge “labor-management cooperation” have destroyed almost every gain workers made through mass struggles in the 1930s and 1970s. Faced with an impotent labor movement that tails after an ever rightward moving Democratic Party, it is not surprising that a minority of older white workers are attracted to politics that places responsibility for their deteriorating social situation on both the corporate “globalists” and more vulnerable workers—African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, women, and queer folk. Kirk Noden, writing in The Nation, grasps why the Republican right wins working-class votes:

Two narratives emerged about the collapse of the industrial heartland in America. The one from the right has three parts: First, that industry left this country because unions destroyed productivity and made labor costs too high, thereby making us uncompetitive. Second, corporations were the victims of over-regulation and a bloated government that overtaxed them to pay for socialist welfare systems. Third, illegal immigration has resulted in the stealing of American jobs, increased competition for white-workers, and depressed wages. . . . The second narrative, promoted by corporate Democrats, is that the global economy shifted and the country is now in transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy. This story tacitly accepts the economic restructuring of the heartland as inevitable once China and other markets opened up.23

Trump and his nationalist populist ideologues from Breitbart and the “alt-right” added a fourth element to the right’s narrative—the role of globalizing corporations and “free trade.” Given a choice between an elitist neoliberal who refused to speak to the realities of their lives (and rejected Sanders’s social-democratic program as “unrealistic”), and a populist demagogue who offered an illusory solution to their problems, it is not at all surprising that a minority of white workers embraced Trump.24 Trumpism is the fruit of decades of the politics of “lesser evilism,” where the Left trails after the labor officials, who continually surrender to capital, while tailing after a rightward-moving Democratic party in the name of “fighting the Right.” Without a clear and potent independent working-class political alternative—one rooted in mass struggles in the workplace and communities—more workers will see no alternative to the neoliberal capitalist offensive other than white populist nationalism. 

Trump in office

Not only were left and liberal commentators shocked by the election results, but also, it seems, was Trump himself. Like a drunken frat boy who wakes up after a bender to discover that he is now the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Trump appears to be completely out of his depth. Ultimately, the chaos in his transition team and the behind the scenes struggles over key appointments evident before he assumed office were the result of the contradictory pressures pulling on Trump.25 On the one hand, there are the establishment Republicans, with their ties to key segments of the capitalist class, which Trump consistently denounced throughout his campaign. On the other, there are the alt-right nationalist-populists, who helped script his simultaneously anti-corporate, isolationist, and racist appeals. 

A situation of veritable “dual power” was created within Trump’s team with his concurrent appointment of Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff and his campaign manager and former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon as chief strategist.26 The Republican establishment was outraged that a “right-wing media provocateur”—an economic populist, and “America First” critic of the US role in the world—has the ear of the President. The alt-right was deeply angered by Preibus’s appointment, denouncing him as “the enemy within” and “everything the voters rejected.”27

What are the politics of Breitbart and the alt-right? Despite their claims to the contrary, the alt-right is racist. They eschew the biological racism of openly white supremacist and fascist groupings, which they refer to as the “1488ers”—a reference to a neo-Nazi slogan “We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children”, and “Heil Hitler.” The alt-right instead embraces cultural racism—that certain groups have superior, and others inferior values and behaviors—to justify the exclusion of non-European immigrants and the segregation of “cultural groups.”28 Trump and Breitbart have attempted to distance themselves from open white nationalists like Richard Spencer, who originally coined the term “alt-right,” defining themselves as primarily nationalists and populists.29

In a multi-part article in Breitbart, the pseudonymous “Virgil” argued that a successful Trump administration would need to achieve two goals. First, it must revamp US foreign policy, ending the subordination of American to its historic allies (NATO). Trump needs to put “America first” and “treat China and Russia as great powers to be dealt with as potential partners, not as bad actors to be ‘reformed’ by America.” Second, Trump has to defend “blue collar America” against the “globalist” corporate elite.30 In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bannon insisted: “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist. . . . The globalists have gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f-ed over.”31 Central to saving “blue collar Americans” is the dismantling of neoliberal “free trade” deals and the deportation of all undocumented immigrants. The forces around Bannon are clear that they are at war with the Republican establishment, and in particular House Speaker Paul Ryan, over both cabinet appointments and economic and military policy.32

The battle over cabinet appointments has produced mixed results.33 Most of Trump’s appointees come from the extreme right of the Republican establishment. Betsy DeVos, the nominee for secretary of education, is a bitter foe of public education and teacher unions, but is a mainstream Republican on economic policies and did not support Trump’s candidacy. Attorney general candidate Jeff Sessions, a nasty racist and early Trump supporter, is well within the Republican consensus on trade and diplomatic alliances. Nikki Haley, his nominee for UN ambassador, broke with many southern Republicans’ defense of the Confederate flag in the aftermath of the racist shootings in a Charleston church in 2015 and opposed Trump’s populist nationalism. Elaine Chao, the second Bush’s labor secretary and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his pick for Transportation secretary, is a consummate Washington insider. Scott Pruit, the Oklahoma attorney general tapped to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, is a close ally of the energy companies and climate change denier, but not an opponent of “free trade.” General John F. Kelly, nominated to head Homeland Security, shares the bipartisan consensus for “greater border security,” but is not an advocate of wholesale deportations. Ben Carson, the nominee to head Housing and Urban Development, advocates massive privatization of public housing, but is a mainstream neoliberal on trade.

Several supporters of the populist camp have been nominated. Tom Rice, the choice for Health and Human Services, is a militant critic of Obamacare and “free trade.” Mike Pompeo, nominee for director of the CIA, has been highly critical of “free trade” and is hostile to the UN. Michael Flynn, Trump’s nominee for national security advisor, is a former Democrat and Islamaphobe who is perceived by mainstream Republicans as too sympathetic to Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey. Rice may have the greatest room to pursue his agenda of dismantling Obamacare, but will face pressure to preserve both popular aspects of the program (coverage for pre-existing conditions and coverage for children to the age of twenty-six) and massive tax subsidies to private health care corporations.34 Pompeo and Flynn will have to negotiate any changes in policy with the “professional staff” of the CIA and the Defense Department.

Ultimately the appointments to head the four most important cabinet offices—State, Defense, Commerce, and Treasury—will shape the Trump agenda. Trump has nominated two Wall Street financiers who had supported his candidacy for two key positions. Both Wilbur Ross, who has been nominated for commerce secretary, and Michael Mnuchin the pick for treasury, have made statements hostile to “free trade” in general and Chinese “currency manipulation” in particular. However, it is unclear whether they actually want to dismantle the neoliberal financial and trade policies of the past three decades. In fact, Trump has selected Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a longtime advocate of free trade with China, as US ambassador to the People’s Republic.35 James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the choice for secretary of defense, is critical of the Obama administration but has not advocated an abandonment of NATO or the traditional US alliance system. 

The debate on who to appoint as secretary of state—Mitt Romney, a quite mainstream Republican who opposed Trump’s candidacy; the disgraced former CIA director David Petraeus, the Trump loyalist Rudolph Giuliani; or Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson—wracked the Trump transition team. He finally settled on Tillerson. Whatever the final cabinet ends up looking like, it will need to secure the cooperation of the thousands of permanent bureaucrats in the key federal departments, who are likely to resist any sharp shifts in policy towards economic and diplomatic nationalism.

In Congress, the populist nationalists will face resistance from the Republican establishment. Despite Trump’s victory in the presidential election, the congressional Republican Party is solidly pro-corporate. The US Chamber of Commerce announced, “95 percent of Chamber-endorsed candidates in House and Senate won.” 36 This is reflected in Ryan’s “A Better Way” legislative proposals.37 Most of Ryan’s proposals continue “business as usual” with new cuts to public education and social welfare and more deregulation of capital. However, in both “A Better Way” and in public statements, Ryan and the establishment Republicans in Congress have made clear their opposition to any retreat from “free trade” or the central military and political role of the United States in preserving and defending global capitalism. 

They are also adamantly opposed to mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, other than the “felons” already targeted by Obama, and support expanding guest worker programs to provide cheap and vulnerable workers to capital in labor-intensive industries.38 Despite the bitter opposition of the remnants of the Tea Party, Paul Ryan was overwhelmingly re-nominated for speaker of the House by the Republican caucus.39 In sum, the Trump administration will probably be unable to carry out most of its nationalist-populist proposals on foreign policy and trade, and will be a hard right neoliberal regime.

What’s next? Neoliberalism is not dead

Despite riding to the White House on the revulsion of a segment of the white middle- and working classes with the political class (“drain the swamp”) and its commitments to neoliberal policies, the Trump administration will continue and intensify neoliberal attacks on working people, racial minorities, immigrants, women, and LGBT folks. Put another way: Do not expect a sharp break with the forty yearlong bipartisan capitalist offensive. There is no question that the minor regulations placed on the financial industry after the economic meltdown of 2008 will be repealed, while new cuts to corporate taxes are on the agenda. Although Wall Street overwhelmingly supported Clinton in the elections, they appear willing to give the new administration “a chance.”40 

Similarly, there are few obstacles to Trump’s removing the modest environmental regulations the Obama administration imposed. He can easily rely on the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a creation of the Clinton administration, which has the final say on authorizing new regulations.41 Both Trump and the Republican congressional leadership agree that the time is ripe to massively reduce funding for antipoverty programs like Head Start, Medicaid, and food stamps (which suffered their sharpest cuts under Obama).42Trump and Ryan agree on a major overhaul of Obamacare—but one that will probably continue to provide huge subsidies to the private health care-insurance industry. Trump may find himself in an uncomfortable position, as Ryan and the congressional Republicans try to privatize Medicare and Social Security, programs Trump’s older supporters depend upon.43 

Trump will also intensify the Obama administration’s policy of deporting “criminal” undocumented immigrants, while backpedaling on his promise of wholesale deportations and even hinting he may not rollback Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived as children.44 For all of Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric, his policies will continue the Obama presidency’s toleration of police killings. The first two African-American attorney generals in US history, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, have not indicted a single cop for violating the civil rights of the young black men they have murdered. We can expect the Justice and Defense Departments to continue the sale of surplus military equipment to local police forces that began under Clinton. While the Democrats, who are the primary beneficiaries of union election contributions and support, will oppose a National Right to Work Act, they are unlikely to stop its serious consideration.45

Trump’s nationalist-populist proposals will face much more resistance both from congressional Republicans and the unelected, permanent professional bureaucracy in the executive branch of the federal government.46 His infrastructure program, which relies primarily on tax credits to encourage private companies to rebuild and repair roads, bridges, and the like rather than massive federal spending, may well pass Congress. However, it is unlikely to provide the sort of Keynesian stimulus that would create the “good paying jobs” that many of his middle and working-class supporters hoped for.47 However, on the key populist elements of his program—repealing neoliberal trade pacts, wholesale deportations of undocumented immigrants, and a realignment of US foreign policy toward Putin’s Russia—Trump will either continue to back-pedal, or face concerted opposition. 

Trump has already backpedaled on some of his more populist and nationalist proposals. Not only is Trump no longer threatening to indict Bill and Hillary Clinton, but he has also waffled on calls for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord (which would require congressional approval) and reinstituting waterboarding and other forms of “enhanced interrogation” (torture).48 Other key elements, like the renegotiation or withdrawal from NAFTA or the imposition of tariffs on companies moving production abroad will likely require the cooperation of Congress to implement. The repeal or restructuring of Obamacare and the building of a wall on the US-Mexico border also requires congressional approval. Other policies, like the suspension of immigration from “terror prone areas” (having abandoned a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants), ending foreign trade “abuses,” and leaving the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be done through executive order.49 

However, it is clear that key congressional Republicans and key groups of capitalists will oppose any and all attempts to undermine the neoliberal order.50 Any attempt to realign US imperialist alliances away from traditional allies in Western Europe and the Middle East in favor of Putin’s Russia, will face other resistance from both capitalist policy advocacy groups like the Business Roundtable and the US Chamber of Commerce and the permanent officialdom of the State, Defense, Commerce and Treasury Departments.51Trump will likely face the sort of structural-institutional obstacles social democrats face when attempting to implement anticapitalist reforms through the capitalist state.

Trump’s vacillations and the opposition to his nationalist populist proposals portend a continued civil war within the Republican Party. In this battle, the Republican establishment, with its historic ties to old-line WASP capitalists, has all of the advantages in a confrontation with the populist nationalists. The Republican leadership controls the party’s purse strings and they are well situated to change the rules for the next presidential nominating race. They already have the Democrats’ road map to prevent any future insurgency: the creation of unelected “super-delegates.”52 Trump’s failure to “Make America Great Again”—rolling back neoliberal trade deals, mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, and the revival of industrial employment—will disillusion many of his white middle- and working-class supporters. Without their support, the populist nationalists may find themselves marginalized in the Republican Party well before the 2020 election.53

The biggest danger comes not from the corridors of power, but from the streets. Small groups of organized fascists and individual right-wingers believe they have the “wind at their back,” freeing them to assault people of color, immigrants, Muslims, queer folks, and leftists. Through November 16—just one full week after Trump’s election—the Southern Poverty Law Center counted approximately seven hundred violent hate crimes in the United States.54 The greatest number occurred in the three days following the election, but incidents continue to be reported from across the United States. Approximately 29 percent of the attacks targeted immigrants, 22 percent African Americans, 11 percent LGBT folks, 7 percent Muslims and 5 percent women. Another 11 percent involved swastika vandalism, while less than 4 percent involved verbal or physical attacks on Trump supporters. 

The fight back against Trumpism will have to take various forms—organized, collective anti-fascist defense against attacks; mass protest demonstrations, and, ultimately in struggles in the workplace. Strategically, new organizers need to understand that we cannot rely on either the Democrats or the forces of official reformism (labor officials, middle-class leaders of people of color, women, immigrants, LGBT folks, etc.) in these battles. With most leading Democrats, from Clinton to Sanders, arguing that we “need to give Trump a chance,” any notion that the Democrats will tact to the left after their 2016 defeat is illusory. 

The “insurgent” bid of African-American Representative Keith Ellison (MN) for chair of the Democratic National Committee will likely go down to defeat, especially after the routing of Representative Tim Ryan’s (OH) challenge to Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader. While the labor officials and their allies may be more willing to mobilize against Trump than they were against Obama, we can expect them to “double down” on their support of the Democrats in the 2018 congressional election. Given the commitment of most of what passes for a left in the United States—social democrats and former Stalinists who share a commitment to a “strategic alliance” with the forces of official reformism—it will be an uphill battle to build movements capable of acting independently of the Democrats and their reformist supporters.

The spontaneous protests in many cities and the growing campaign to wear safety pins as a sign of solidarity against racist and homophobic violence are promising beginnings. However, the danger is that these struggles, like the Wisconsin Uprising, Occupy, and Black Lives Matter, will be short lived and leave little independent organization in their wake. The way forward for the Left is rebuilding the militant minority—the layer of activists with a strategy and tactics that go beyond reformism, if not explicitly to revolution—in workplaces and social movements. Without such a layer rooted among broader layers of working people, the labor officials, Democratic Party politicos, and the middle-class leaders of the social movements will be able to continually derail and demobilize promising struggles—as they have for most of the last forty years. 


1.       This essay was completed in early December, 2016 and does not reflect developments since then. 

2.       Charlie Post, “The Republicans Have Been Trumped,” Jacobin, October 14, 2016, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/trump-gop-republicans-tea-party-populism-fascism/.

3.       For information on the Clinton’s contributors, see https://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/industries?cycle=2016&id=N00000019, and on Trump’s, see https://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/industries?id=N00023864&cycle=2016&type=f&src=b.

4.       Gregory Wallace and Robert Yoon, “Voter Turnout at 20 Year Low in 2016,” CNN, November 12, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/11/politics/popular-vote-turnout-2016/.

5.       This data is drawn from the running total on uselectionatlas.org

6.       Voter participation by demographic group for 2008 and 2012 is drawn from Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University, http://ropercenter.cornell.edu/polls/us-elections/how-groups-voted/how-groups-voted-2008/ and http://ropercenter.cornell.edu/polls/us-elections/how-groups-voted/how-groups-voted-2012/. Data for 2016 is drawn from CNN Exit Polls, http://www.cnn.com/election/results/exit-polls

7.       Sabrina Tavernise, “Many in Milwaukee Neighborhood Didn’t Vote—and Don’t Regret It,” New York Times, November 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/many-in-milwaukee-neighborhood-didnt-vote-and-dont-regret-it.html?_r=0. Matt Karp points out that similar shifts took place in other predominantly Black areas of major cities like Detroit, St. Louis’ northwestern wards, West and North Philadelphia, and East Flatbush in New York. See his article, “Fairfax County, USA” Jacobin, November 28, 2016, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/clinton-election-polls-white-workers-firewall/.

8.       http://www.census.gov/library/publications/2015/demo/p60-252.html.

9.       Kevin Uhrmacher, Kevin Schaul, and Dan Keating, “These Obama Strongholds Sealed the Election for Trump,” Washington Post, November 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/2016-election/obama-trump-counties/?tid=ss_mail; and Loren Collingwood, “The County-By-County Data on Trump Voters Shows Why He Won” Washington Post, November 19, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/19/the-country-by-county-data-on-trump-voters-shows-why-he-won/?postshare=6041479586306602&tid=ss_fb-bottom.

10.    Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr, “The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt,” Slate, December 1, 2016, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/12/the_myth_of_the_rust_belt_revolt.html.

11.    Eric Asson, “Blame Trump’s Victory on College Educated Whites, Not the Working Class,” New Republic, November 15, 2016, https://newrepublic.com/article/138754/blame-trumps-victory-college-educated-whites-not-working-class.

12.    See Christian Parenti’s excellent analysis, “Garbage In, Garbage Out: Turns Out Clinton’s Ground Game Sucked,” Jacobin, November 18, 2016, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/clinton-campaign-gotv-unions-voters-rust-belt/; and Karp, “Fairfax County, USA.” 

13.    Quoted in Jim Geraghty, “Chuck Schumer: Democrats Will Lose Blue-Collar Whites But Gain in the Suburbs,” National Review, July 28, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/438481/chuck-schumer-democrats-will-lose-blue-collar-whites-gain-suburbs.

14.    Karp, “Fairfax County, USA.”

15.    Much of the following draws on Post, “The Republicans Have Been Trumped,”; “Why The Tea Party?” New Politics 53, Summer 2012, http://newpol.org/content/why-tea-party; “Whither the Republican Party? The 2014 Election and the Future of Capital’s ‘A’ Team,” The Brooklyn Rail, December 18, 2014, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2014/12/field-notes/whither-the-republican-party. Eric Sasson makes a similar point in “Blame Trump’s Victory.” 

16.    Michael A. McCarthy, “The Revenge of Joe the Plumber,” Jacobin, October 26, 2016, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/trump-small-business-whites-xenophobia-immigration/.

17.    While he correctly points to Trump’s ability to win the vote of the Christian Right in 2016, Mike Davis mistakenly labels this a “cynical covenant,” underestimating the populist radicalization of these layers of the population. “Not a Revolution—Yet” Verso Blog, November 15, 2016, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2948-not-a-revolution-yet.

18.    For the European populist Right, see F. LePlat (ed), The Far Right in Europe (London: Resistance Books, 2015).

19.    Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

20.    Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (New York: New Press, 2016).

21.    Phillip Bump, “Donald Trump Got Reagan-like Support from Union Households,” The Washington Post, November 10, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/10/donald-trump-got-reagan-like-support-from-union-households/.

22.    Johanna Brenner and Robert Brenner, “Reagan, the Right and the Working Class,” Against the Current (Old Series) 1, 2, Winter, 1981, 30.

23.    Kirk Noden, “Why Do White Working-Class People Vote Against Their Interests? They Don’t,” The Nation, November 16, 2016, https://www.thenation.com/article/why-do-white-working-class-people-vote-against-their-interests-they-dont/

24.    See Richard C. Longworth, “Disaffected Rust Belt Voters Embraced Trump—They Had No Other Hope,” The Guardian, November 21, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/21/disaffected-rust-belt-voters-embraced-donald-trump-midwestern-obama. Also see Rick Rommel, “In Western Wisconsin, Trump Voters Want Change,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 27, 2016, http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/11/26/western-wisconsin-trump-voters-want-change/94436384/. For an excellent analysis of Trump’s appeals to working-class voters see Christian Parenti, “Listening to Trump,” Jacobin, November 22, 2106, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/trump-speeches-populism-war-economics-election/.

25.    Lauren McCauley, “Ugly and Unprepared, ‘Knife Fight’ Breaks Out in Trump Transition,” Common Dreams, November 15, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/11/15/ugly-and-unprepared-knife-fight-breaks-out-trump-transition; Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Mark Mazzetti, and Maggie Haberman, “Firings and Discord Put Trump Transition Team in a State Disarray,” New York Times, November 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/us/politics/trump-transition.html; Michael D. Shear, “Trump Says Transition’s Going ‘Smoothly,’ Disputing Disarray Reports,” New York Times, November 16, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/17/us/politics/donald-trump-administration-twitter.html

26.    Michael D. Shear, “Donald Trump Picks Reince Preibus as Chief of Staff and Stephen Bannon as Strategist,” New York Times, November 13, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/14/us/politics/reince-priebus-chief-of-staff-donald-trump.html.

27.    Julia Hahn, “Michael Savage Warns Donald Trump: ‘Rinse’ Reince; He’s ‘Everything the Voters Rejected’,” Breitbart, November 13, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/11/13/michael-savage-warns-donald-trump-rinse-reince-priebus/.

28.    Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” Breitbart, March 29, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/03/29/an-establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-alt-right/.

29.    Alan Rappeport and Noah Weiland, “White Nationalists Celebrate ‘an Awakening’ After Donald Trump’s Victory,” New York Times, November 19, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/us/politics/white-nationalists-celebrate-an-awakening-after-donald-trumps-victory.html?_r=0; Joseph Goldstein, “Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election with a Salute: ‘Heil Victory,’” New York Times, November 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/alt-right-salutes-donald-trump.html?ref=todayspaper. Trump, in his interview with the New York Times distanced himself from the white nationalists saying “I don’t want to energize the group,” while claiming that Bannon was not a racist. “Donald Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript,” New York Times, November 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/trump-new-york-times-interview-transcript.html

30.    Virgil, “How a Newly Elected Republican President Can Gain 17 Points in His Reelection Campaign,” Breitbart, November 18, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/11/18/virgil-how-a-newly-elected-republican-president-can-gain-17-points-in-his-re-election-campaign/; “It’s On! The Battle for Blue Collar America: Remembering the Forgotten Man,” Breitbart, November 21, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/11/21/virgil-battle-blue-collar-america-remembering-forgotten-man/’.

31.    Michael Wolff, “Ringside With Steve Bannon at Trump Tower as the President-Elect’s Strategist Plots ‘An Entirely New Political Movement’,” The Hollywood Reporter, November 18, 2016, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/steve-bannon-trump-tower-interview-trumps-strategist-plots-new-political-movement-948747

32.    Julia Hahn, “Day Before Election Paul Ryan Said GOP Not Trump’s Party,” Breitbart, November 12, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/11/12/day-election-paul-ryan-said-gop-not-trumps-party/; “GOP Lawmakers Work Behind Closed Doors to Stop Donald Trumps Mandate,” BreitbartNovember 15, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/11/15/gop-lawmakers-work-behind-closed-doors-to-stop-donald-trumps-mandate/.

33.     “Donald Trump is Choosing His Cabinet: Here’s the Latest List,” New York Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/...

34.    Reed Abelson, “Health Insurers List Demands if Affordable Care Act is Killed,” New York Times, December 6, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/business/health-insurers-obamacare-republicans.html?emc=eta1.

35.    Binyamin Appelbaum, “Terry Branstad, Iowa Governor, is Trump’s Pick as China Ambassador,” New York Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/us/politics/terry-branstad-china-ambassador-trump.html?emc=eta1.

36.    Thomas J. Donohue, “US Chamber President Comments on Election Results,” US Chamber of Commerce Press Release, November 9, 2016, https://www.uschamber.com/press-release/us-chamber-president-comments-election-results

37.    Paul Ryan, “A Better Way,” http://abetterway.speaker.gov/.

38.    Pam Key, “Ryan: Border Security is Our Focus, Not Mass Deportations,” BreitbartNovember 13, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/video/2016/11/13/ryan-border-security-focus-not-mass-deportations/; Julia Hahn, “Paul Ryan: No Deportations,” Breitbart, November 13, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/video/2016/11/13/ryan-border-security-focus-not-mass-deportations/; Julia Hahn, “GOP Rep: Paul Ryan’s Immigration Policy Not ‘In Best Interest of America,’” Breitbart, November 14, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/11/14/gop-congressman-mo-brooks-paul-ryans-position-immigration-not-best-interest-america/. Ezra Klein, “Senate Republicans Can Save the Country—and Their Party—From Trump,” Vox, November 28, 2016, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/28/13758376/senate-republicans-trump.

39.    Julia Hahn, “Dave Brat Urges Delay on Speaker Vote: A ‘Better Way” Did Not Animate This Historic Election,” Breitbart, November 14, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/11/14/dave-brat-urges-delay-on-speaker-vote-a-better-way-did-not-animate-this-historic-election/

40.    Landon Thomas, Jr. “Investors Make Bullish Bet on Trump, and an Era of Tax Cuts and Spending,” New York Times, November 21, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/business/dealbook/investors-make-bullish-bet-on-trump-and-an-era-of-tax-cuts-and-spending.html?ref=todayspaper.

41.    Henry Fountain and Erica Goode, “Trump Has Options for Undoing Obama’s Climate Legacy,” New York Times, November 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/science/donald-trump-obama-climate.html?ref=todayspaper.

42.    Bob Herbert, “Get Ready for War on the Poor,” The Nation, November 22, 2016, https://www.thenation.com/article/get-ready-for-a-war-on-the-poor/

43.    Robert Pear, “ A Battle to Change Medicare Is Brewing, Whether Trump Wants It Or Not,” New York Times, November 24, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/24/us/politics/donald-trump-medicare-republicans.html.

44.    Amuy Chozick, “Trump Appears to Soften on Deporting Thousands of Young Immigrants,” New York Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/us/immigration-dreamers-trump.html?emc=eta1.

45.    https://nrtwc.org/facts-issues/national-right-to-work-act/. See also Harold Meyerson, “Donald Trump Can Kill the American Union,” Washington Post, November 23, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/11/23/donald-trump-could-kill-the-american-union/?postshare=6271479932172355&tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.29ed659b93ab.

46.    Leon Neyfakh, “Can the ‘Secret Government’ Save Us?,” Salon, November 14, 2016, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/11/can_the_secret_government_save_us_from_donald_trump.html

47.    Jennifer Steinhauer, “Senate Democrats’ Surprising Strategy: Trying to Align With Trump,” New York Times, November 16, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/17/us/politics/democrats-house-senate.html; Jared Bernstein, “Trump’s Misguided Flirtation with Keynesianism,” Politico, November 21, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/trumps-misguided-flirtation-with-keynesianism-214468.

48.    Demetri Sevastopulo and David J. Lynch, “Trump Reverses Course on Core Campaign Promises,” Financial Times, November 22, 2016; Michael D. Shear, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, and Maggie Haberman, “Trump, in Interview, Moderates Views but Defies Conventions, ” New York Times, November 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/us/politics/donald-trump-visit.html. The permanent staff of the CIA opposes the reintroduction of waterboarding. Michael Hayden, the former CIA director said that Trump should “bring his own bucket” if he wants to bring back waterboarding. Matt Apuzzo and James Risen, “Donald Trump Faces Obstacles to Resume Waterboarding,” New York Times, November 28, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/us/politics/trump-waterboarding-torture.html?ribbon-ad-idx=17&rref=politics&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Politics&pgtype=article.

49.    Larry Buchanan, Alicia Parlapiano, and Karen Yourish, “How Hard (or Easy) It Will Be for Trump to Fulfill His 100-Day Plan,” New York Times. November 24, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/21/us/politics/what-trump-wants-to-do-in-his-first-100-days-and-how-difficult-each-will-be.html

50.    Carl Hulse, “Trump’s Next Battle: Keeping These Republican Senators Happy,” New York Times, November 26, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/us/politics/donald-trumps-republicans-senate.html; Klein “Senate Republicans Can Save the Country,” Vox, November 28, 2016, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/28/13758376/senate-republicans-trump

51.    Among other recent articles, see Eduardo Porter, “Trump Campaign’s Easy Answers Confront Hard Reality,” New York Times, November 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/business/economy/trump-campaigns-easy-answers-confront-hard-reality.html; David E. Sander, “From Iran to Syria, Trump’s ‘America First’ Approach Faces Its First Tests,” New York Times, November 17, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/us/politics/from-iran-to-syria-trumps-america-first-approach-faces-its-first-tests.html; Neil Irwin, “What Will Trump’s Trade Policy Actually Look Like? Three Possibilities,” New York Times, November 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/upshot/what-will-trump-trade-policy-actually-look-like-three-possibilities.html; Eduardo Porter, “A Trade War Against China Might Be a Fight Trump Couldn’t Win,” New York Times, November 22, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/business/a-trade-war-against-china-might-be-a-fight-trump-couldnt-win.html; Nelson D. Schwartz, “Wary Corporate Chiefs Keep an Ear Turned to Trump’s Messages” New York Times, December 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/business/donald-trump-corporate-chiefs.html?emc=eta1.

52.    See Paul Heideman, “It’s Their Party,” Jacobin 20, 2015, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/02/democratic-party-realignment-civil-rights-mcgovern-meany-rustin-sanders/.

53.    Michael Kruse, “What Trump Voters Want Now,” Politico, November 18, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/donald-trump-voters-pennsylvania-blue-collar-214466; Sherryl Gay Stolberg, “Trump’s Promises Will Be Hard to Keep, but Coal Country Has Faith,” New York Times, November 28, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/us/donald-trump-coal-country.html

54.    Hatewatch Staff, “Update: Incidents of Hateful Harassment Since Election Day Now Number 701,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Hatewatch, November 18, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/18/update-incidents-hateful-harassment-election-day-now-number-701.