Category Archives: Voting
William C. Anderson and Zoé Samudzi have an incisive article “The Anarchism of Blackness” in the current issue of “Roar” magazine (roarmag.org), headlined: “The Democratic Party has led Black America down a dead end. The sooner we begin to understand that, the more realistically we’ll be able to organize against fascism.” The authors believe that “in the coming months and years, left and left-leaning constituencies in the United States will need to make clear distinctions between actual and potentially counterproductive symbolic progress.” They also think the Black liberation struggle has and will provide “a blueprint for transformative social change,” thanks to “its positioning as an inherently radical social formation.”
Under the heading “The Failings of American Liberalism,” the authors write, “The United States’ self-ascribed democratic traits have long been filtered through oppressive forms deemed necessary by the state and a capitalist system benefiting only a few. For many years now, American liberalism has been a bitter disappointment to many who somehow maintained faith in the two-party system. The Democratic Party has seemingly been the only choice for those who consider themselves progressives working for a better society, but the notion that social inequities will be solved through the electoral process was always naïve at best. The entrails of this system are lined with the far-right fascism currently rising and long bubbling under the façade of liberal democracy at the expense of non-whites in a white supremacist society. A system predicated on the over-emphasis of ‘order’ and ‘security’ is primed for authoritarianism.
Over time, the genocide, enslavement, and other forms of violence present at this nation’s birth have been displaced and restructured by more insidious and invisible modalities of community destruction facilitated by liberalism like the reservation, the prison system, and austerity policies. Over the past few decades, the United States has seen a shift in liberal politics leaving the Democratic Party in a completely compromised position. Instead of moving left, the Democratic Party pandered to the right, facilitating a conservative shift. Liberal support for the Iraq War, post-9/11 domestic policy, and the foreign policy extensions of the War on Terror have led to the current administration led by a plutocratic tyrant hell-bent on the destruction of vulnerable populations. Despite the optics of change and the promises of a new day and the moral victories of ‘going high,’ an old sun is rising on a white horizon.
Societal fascism describes the process and political logic of state formation wherein entire populations are either excluded or ejected from the social contract. They’re excluded pre-contractually because they’ve never been part of the social contract and never will be; or they’re ejected from a contract they were previously a part of. Black Americans are the former: residents in a settler colony predicated on the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans; residents in the United States, as opposed to citizens of. Despite a constitution laden with European Enlightenment values and a document of independence declaring egalitarianism and inalienable rights as the law of the land, Black existence was that of private property. The Black American condition is perpetual relegation to the afterlife of slavery as long as the United States continues to exist as an ongoing settler project. Black exclusion from the social contract is existence within a heavily surveilled and heavily regulated state of subjection.
Whiteness has long sought to grapple with the existential threat posed by Black freedom. Black repatriation to Africa was the solution for slaveholders concerned that the presence of free Blacks would inspire enslaved Blacks to revolt and worried that Black families would burden state welfare systems and that interracial labor competition would ultimately compromise wages for white workers. The ‘Back to Africa’ project was subsequently taken up by Black thinkers like Marcus Garvey in the late-19th and early-20th centuries following the failures of Reconstruction in the South, the first attempt to meaningfully extend citizenship to newly emancipated Blacks and protect them from white supremacist violence, and also the social and political disillusionment of Blacks who had migrated to northern states.
Since then progress has been secured by Black people’s mobilization rather than by any political party. We’re the ones who have achieved much of the progress that’s changed the nation for the better for everyone. Our organization can be as effective now as it has been in the past, serving every locality and community based on their needs and determinations. This can be achieved through disassociating ourselves from party politics that fail to serve us.
While bound to the laws of the land, Black America can be understood as an extra-state entity because of Black exclusion from the liberal social contract. Due to this extra-state location, Blackness is in many ways anarchistic. African-Americans, as an ethno-social identity comprised of descendants from enslaved Africans, have innovated new cultures and social organizations and have engaged in anarchistic resistances since our very arrival in the Americas. From slave ship and plantation rebellions, to the creation of maroon societies in the American South, to Harriet Tubman’s removal of enslaved peoples from the custody of their owners, to post-Emancipation labor and prison camps, to combatting the historic (and present) collusion between state law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan, assertions of Black personhood, humanity and liberation have necessarily called into question both the foundations and legitimacy of the American state.
Liberalism can’t defeat fascism; it can only engage it through symbolic political rigmarole. The triteness of electoral politics that’s been superimposed onto Black life in the United States positions Black people as a mule for much of this nation’s social progression. Our hyper-visible struggle is a fight for all people’s freedom, and we die only to realize that everything gained can be reversed with the quick flick of a pen. While liberalism takes up the burden of protecting ‘free speech’ and the rights of those who would annihilate non-whites, Black people and other people of color assume all the risks and harms. The symbolic battles the Democratic Party and its liberal constituents engage in pose direct existential threats to Black people because they protect esteemed ideals of a constitution that has never guaranteed Black people safety or security. The current fascist moment is neither ideologically new nor temporally surprising; it’s an inevitability.
The mechanisms working against us deal death and destruction in countless numbers across the non-Western world while turning domestic Black and Brown neighborhoods into proxies for how to treat sub-citizen ‘others.’ The militarization of police, border regimes, stop-and-frisk, and ICE are clear examples of how the state regards the communities it targets and brutalizes. At the very least, a conversation on self-defense that doesn’t mistreat our survival as a form of violence is sorely needed. It would be even better if the conversation normalized anti-fascist organizing that prepared people for the possibility of a fight, instead of simply hoping that day never comes and respectably tut-tutting about those currently fighting in the streets.
Everyone has a stake in the fight against fascism. It can’t be defeated with bargaining, petitioning, pleading, ‘civilized’ dialogue, or any other mode of response we were taught was best. Fascists have no respect for ‘othered’ humanities. Regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, religion, physical ability, or nationality, there’s a place for each of us in this struggle. We’re always fighting against the odds because there’s no respite in a perpetually abusive state. It can only function through this abuse, so we can only prevail through organizing grounded in radical love and solidarity. This solidarity must prioritize accountability, and it must be authentic. Strategic organizing of this sort, organizing where we understand the inextricable linkedness of our respective struggles, is our means of bolstering the makings of a cohesive left in the United States. We no longer have time to waste on dogma, sectarianism, prejudice, and incoherence.
The sooner Black America in particular begins to understand our position as an inherently anarchistic element of the United States, the more realistically we’ll be able to organize. A better society has to be written through our inalienable self-determinations, and that will only happen when we realize that we are holding the pen.
William C. Anderson is a freelance writer, published by The Guardian, Pitchfork, Truthout, and at the Praxis Center for Kalamazoo College, where he’s a contributing editor covering race, class and immigration.
Zoé Samudzi is a Black feminist writer and PhD student in Medical Sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. Her current research is focused on critical race theory and biomedicalization.
One of the things I’m trying to learn, spiritually and politically, is that thinking in either-or binaries hobbles us unnecessarily and can prevent us from reaching our goals. Case in point: I don’t think working within the current system will get us where we want to go, but I support whatever progressive political actions others believe in and take. Being as informed as possible can help us choose good strategies, and to be informed I go to sources I trust. Jeffrey St. Clair, editor-in-chief of Counterpunch (counterpunch.org) is one of them. Below are my notes on his latest book, Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes from A Failed Revolution (2016). He’s also written on environmental issues, links between the CIA and the drug trade, and Obama and “the politics of illusion,” and has a book coming out next month on climate change. Bernie and the Sandernistas covers the 2016 presidential campaign up to and including the Democratic Convention.
St. Clair believes the Clintons, “the chief architects of the neoliberal takeover of the Democratic Party, stand for everything Sanders claim[ed] to be against. They push austerity programs at home and abroad, while giving Wall Street traders the keys to the treasury. They slashed banking regulations and weakened environmental and food safety laws. They’ve rammed through job-killing trade pacts, from NAFTA to GATT and the WTO. They’ve supported interventionist wars in Kosovo, Colombia, Iraq, and Libya. They gutted welfare, expanded the drug war, and institutionalized the federal death penalty. Clintonian pragmatism only runs in one direction: to the right.”
St. Clair says the so-called Sanders revolution “was over before it started, the moment Sanders decided to run in the Democratic Party primaries, instead of as an independent, where he might have proved a real menace to the neoliberal establishment. Sanders even pledged to support HRC in the general election. But he was never interested in a real revolution. He’s more Hubert Humphrey than Che Guevara: a timid reformer, an old-time liberal ranting in the antechambers of a party that’s long since made its Faustian bargain with the agents of austerity. Left and right, the sour mood of the country burns for a true political and economic revolution, and it may well happen. But look for it on the streets, not in the hollow rituals of these elections.
Both Clinton and Sanders are seasoned interventionists. Sanders supported Bill Clinton’s war on Serbia, voted for the 2001 Authorization Unilateral Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), which pretty much allowed Bush to wage war wherever he wanted, backed Obama’s Libyan debacle, and supports an expanded US role in the Syrian civil war. More problematic for the senator in Birkenstocks is the little-known fact that he voted twice in support of regime change in Iraq – first in favor of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which said: “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” Later that same year, Sanders backed a another similar resolution. These measures gave congressional backing for the CIA’s covert plan to overthrow Saddam, as well as the tightening of an economic sanctions regime that may have killed as many as 500,000 Iraqi children. They also gave the green light to” extensive bombing campaigns. “On the rare occasions when Sanders has been confronted about these votes, he’s casually dismissed them as being ‘almost unanimous.’ In fact, many anti-war members of Congress voted against the Iraq regime change measures. Even though Sanders markets himself as an ‘independent socialist,’ he’s rarely dissented against the Democratic Party orthodoxy, especially when it comes to military intervention.
A reformer, not a radical, Bernie’s goal is to refashion the Democratic Party from the inside. He’s been in elected office since 1981, tweaking at the gears instead of monkey-wrenching the machine. If Sanders now seems like a radical, it’s only a measure of how far to the right the Democrats have migrated since the rise of the neoliberals. Sanders may be as good as a Democrat gets (aside from Barbara Lee), but how good is that? And what will it get you?
Clinton’s top economic advisor, Alan Blinder, has publicly assured his Wall Street pals that Clinton will not under any circumstances break up the big banks and neither will she seek to reanimate Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era regulatory measure whose exsanguination by her husband enabled the financial looting by firms like Goldman and Lehman Brothers that spurred the global economic collapse of 2008. The lavish fee from Goldman for Hillary’s speeches was both a gratuity for past loyalty and a down payment on future services. Goldman’s ties to the Clintons date back to 1985, when Goldman executives began pumping money into the newly formed Democratic Leadership Council, a kind of proto-SuperPac for the advancement of neoliberalism. Behind its ‘third-way’ smokescreen, the DLC was shaking down corporations and Wall Street financiers to fund the campaigns of business-friendly ‘New’ Democrats such as Al Gore and Bill Clinton. The DLC served as the political launching pad for the Clintons, boosting them out of the obscurity of the Arkansas dog-patch into the rarified orbit of the Georgetown cocktail circuit and the Wall Street money movers.”
Under the heading “The Once and Future Sandernistas,” St. Clair says Sanders’ campaign “ended the way it began, with Sanders drawing huge energetic crowds and winning few votes from blacks and Hispanics. Sanders could never connect with the most vulnerable voters in the country. That fact alone doomed his campaign. The dream campaign came to an abrupt end with Sanders’s crushing defeat in California, where demographics and the party establishment were aligned against him. He lost by more than 400,000 votes, a humiliating margin that can’t be written off to voter suppression or hacked machines.
Running as an economic revolutionary, Sanders spent most of his time in the cozy milieu of college campuses instead of in desolate urban landscapes or working-class suburbs. It’s hard to earn the trust of poor people when you don’t spend much time in their company. And, he never satisfactorily explained his vote for the Clinton Crime Bill, which launched a 20-year long war on America’s blacks and Hispanics. Of course, his anemic appeal to black Democratic voters could have liberated Sanderds to attack Obama’s and Hillary’s dismal records. His curious timidity against confronting Obama’s policies, from drone warfare to the president’s bailout of the insurance industry (AKA ObamaCare), hobbled Sanders from the starting gate. Obama and Hillary Clinton are both neoliberals, who’ve betrayed organized labor and pushed job-killing trade pacts. Both are beholden to the energy cartels, backing widespread oil drilling, fracking and nuclear power. Both are military interventionists, pursuing wars on at least 12 different fronts, from Afghanistan to Yemen. But Sanders proved singularly incapable of targeting the imperialist ideology of the Obama/Clinton era. In fact, the senator is visibly uncomfortable when forced to talk about foreign policy. Even after the assassination of Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres by thugs associated with the Honduran regime, Sanders refused to press Clinton on her backing of the Honduran coup that put Cácere’s killers into power.”
St. Clair thinks the Democrats were “gratified to have Sanders drawing attention to a dull and lifeless party that would otherwise have been totally eclipsed by the Trump media blitzkrieg. He served the valuable function of energizing and registering on the Democratic Party rolls tens of thousands of new voters, who otherwise would have been content to stay at home. The biggest threat Sanders posed to the Democratic machine was his ability to raise lots of independent money ($212 million or more) outside of the party’s control – mostly from small online donors. But most of that money went to consultants,” who, St. Clair states, later stabbed Sanders in the back. “Real political revolutions (as opposed to rhetorical ones) begin after the futility of the ballot box has been proven, and they’re driven by issues, not personalities. Sometimes you have to bust your idols for kindling to get things ignited. Your move, Sandernistas.”
Covering the Democratic Convention, St. Clair wrote, “Bernie Sanders is getting shouted down by his own delegates this morning for pushing Hillary & Kaine down their throats.” He then notes that “after a supposedly disastrous, widely ridiculed convention, Trump was up 5%. He might well be up 10 after the Democrats finish theirs. They continue to ignore working class issues and the rising public animus toward interventionist wars. Pre-convention, independents split 34% Clinton to 31% Trump, with sizable numbers behind Johnson (22%) and Stein (10%). Now, 46% say they back Trump, 28% Clinton, 15% Johnson and 4% Stein. Both of the third party candidates are drawing more votes from Clinton than from Trump.
Nancy Pelosi was booed as she addressed her own California delegation. Who wants to be the next Democratic power broker to step up to the microphone? Chuck Schumer, stop hiding behind the curtains, you’ve never been shy before! Benediction booed. Barney Frank booed. Marcia Fudge booed. Next? This convention could be fun, after all! After waiting three days to apologize to Sanders for rigging the democratic process against his campaign, Democratic leaders now urge the Sandernistas to be ‘respectful’ of the ‘democratic process’! Sanders just texted his delegates to sit back and take it in silence: ‘I ask you as a personal courtesy to me to not engage in any kind of protest on the floor.’ What a monumental failure of nerve on his part! The DNC, with the help of the hired Sanders flacks, also just pushed through the platform on a voice vote, steamrolling efforts by the Sandernistas and Labor to get a floor vote on the TPP.
Listening to Clinton’s campaign guru Robby Mook mewl about possible Russian meddling in US elections is like listening to Trump whine about income tax rates when he apparently pays nothing. Shall we recall HRC’s direct intervention in the Russian elections? Her financing of the opposition in the Venezuelan elections? Her role in the Honduran coup? That’s essentially the job description of the Secretary of State, isn’t it? What goes around comes around, Hillary. (If it proves, in fact, to be the case that the hackers were Russians.) Warren’s encomiums for Hillary on economic justice and trade fell flat, with the crowd chanting “Goldman Sachs! Goldman Sachs!”
The Sandernistas are crying as Bernie takes the stage. What a strange magnetism he has, especially his appeal to younger women, who were the backbone of his campaign. Is it a longing for the lost grandfather? The appeal is almost mystical. Patrick Flaherty suggested that it was ‘a longing for a sincere, strong, open-hearted male, which is all too rare in popular culture.’ But look where he led them: right into the arms of the Wicked Stepmother. The boos began the moment Bernie began his refrain: ‘Hillary understands…’ Bernie’s vouching for Hillary, the Secretary of Fracking, on climate change also rang pretty hollow, especially when she doubled-down with Tim ‘Offshore Drilling’ Kaine. What’s worse? Someone who dismisses the science and supports the oil, gas and coal industry or someone, like Clinton and Kaine, who understands the science and still gives the fossil fuel lobby all they want? Bernie kept repeating the withered platitude that ‘We’re stronger when we stand together.’ But together with whom? For what? Perhaps all the tears were for the ragged spectacle of Sanders humiliating himself for 50 straight minutes on behalf of a ticket which has only contempt for him and his followers. The cognitive dissonance of this convention is at its max. How else can you explain how demurely Sanders just delivered his movement to the machine that represents everything he was allegedly waging war against: bailing out the banks, destruction of Glass-Steagall, fracking on a global scale, abandonment of organized labor, trade pacts from NAFTA to WTO to TPP, the death penalty, continuation of the drug war, the gutting of welfare, interventionist wars from Iraq to Syria, fealty to Wall Street money, vindictive and racist criminal justice policies, inaction on climate change, and blind loyalty to Israel? Most of the Sandernistas walked out after Bernie transferred (without consent) their votes to Hillary and had a sit-in outside of the convention center, where nobody saw them or cared. What kind of civil disobedience is that? Why not protest inside the hall, where the cameras and the action are? A last blown opportunity to shake the establishment.
I misted up during the testimonials of the Mothers of the Murdered, especially when Travyon Martin’s mother said that she was “an unwilling participant in this movement. I would not have signed up for this. I’m here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who’s in heaven.” Too bad this heavy ceremony was diluted and demeaned by giving an hour to the Incarcerator-in-Chief, Bill Clinton, whose Crime Bill put 100,000 new cops on the streets. Since the passage of that infamous law in 1994, police have killed at least 20,460 civilians.
An odd short film tried to sell everything that Bill Clinton did for poor people, but neglected to mention his destruction of welfare…Jane Fonda. Once she went to Hanoi to stop a war. Now she’s appearing in a music video for a war criminal. Jesse Jackson, too, is a hollow shell of his former self: a hired gun for the elites. In a strange cinematic interlude, the big screen behind the stage just aired a surreal film warning that Trump couldn’t be trusted with the ‘nuclear button,’ which was partially narrated by the nuclear bomber himself, Harry Truman! Leon Panetta, the CIA’s master of drones, is now being shouted down with ‘No war, No drone!’ chants, most of them coming from the Oregon and Washington state delegations. Play on, Sandernistas! Leon Panetta sniveling about Russian hacking is the best laugh of the night. Didn’t his own hackers, working with their cohorts in Mossad, unleash the malicious Stuxnet worm on Iran? The floor managers are in crisis mode. They’ve given all of the delegates on the floor ‘Stronger America’ placards, which they’re waving with patriotic vigor as they shout ‘USA! USA!’ to drown out the anti-war protesters. Did they import these people from the Trump rally in Scranton? They cut the lights on the protesters’ section, who are using the flashlight apps on their cellphones. Right on cue, Rachel Maddow denounced what another MS-DNC hack called the ‘lunatic left’ for heckling Panetta.
Optimism is the word from the O-Man, which means things must be worse than we think. Obama: ‘There are pockets of this country that never recovered from factory closings.’ Pockets? They’re big enough to shoplift the Great Lakes. Now he’s quoting Reagan. Truman and Reagan have been quoted more frequently than any other figures at this convention. In fact, Obama’s speech is played in the key of Reagan. He’s said that he sees himself as a ‘transitional figure’ like Reagan. Obama could sell Trump Steaks to a vegan. He swears that Hillary’s the ‘most qualified person ever to run for president.’ Perhaps. But she’s qualified in all the wrong areas. Obama possesses so many scintillating skills, perhaps more skills than any other political figure of the modern era. Yet he put those gifts to such meager, timid and often brutal uses. What a waste. His is the tragedy of a squandered presidency.
This was a night dominated by the hollow men of the Democratic Party: Panetta, Kaine, Biden, and Obama. The theme was liberal virility, strength, and managerial efficiency. Missing was any empathy for the homeless and the hungry, the poor and the downtrodden. It was a frontal embrace of the neoliberal order, a demonstration that the Democrats have the competency and toughness to manage the imperial order in a time of severe internal and external stress. Bernie sat passively in the imperial box seats with Jane squirming at his side, watching it all unfold.”
St. Clair heads his coverage of day four “She Stoops to Conquer,” beginning with an apology “to the Sandernistas for any impolite things I may have written about you in the past 10 months. I especially want to apologize to those of you who rose up after your leader abandoned you and sat passively as your brave chants of ‘No More Drones!’ were drowned out by the fascist war-cry of ‘USA! USA!’ I want to apologize for doubting your resolve. You didn’t cry when Bernie betrayed you – at least, not for long. You marched right back into the Wells Fargo Center intent on spoiling the party. You made this squalid affair fun for a few precious hours. Somewhere Abbie Hoffman is cracking a smile.
Trump took to Twitter early this morning, as his hair was being plastered into place, and denounced last night’s all-star lineup at the Democratic Convention as an orgy of ‘empty rhetoric.’ He wasn’t wrong. The whole affair had the feel of one of those rock concerts featuring bands from the 1970s. The first few phrases were thrilling, then it all started to fade into a nostalgic stream of familiar hooks and licks you’ve heard a thousand times before on classic rock radio. All played very well with magnificent staging and a dazzling light show, yet utterly antiseptic.
Expect flood warnings as the tears begin to flow when the nation celebrates its own enlightenment in finally nominating a woman for president. The rest of the world will view this ‘historic moment’ as something of a participation trophy, however. Eighty-five women from 54 different nations have already been elected or appointed as heads of government, starting in 1960 with Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka. Women have led governments in India, Israel, Central African Republic, UK, Portugal, Dominica, Norway, Pakistan, Lithuania, Bangladesh, France, Poland, Turkey, Canada, Burundi, Rwanda, Bulgaria, Haiti, Guyana, New Zealand, Mongolia, Northern Cyprus, Senegal, South Korea, Sao Tome and Principe, Finland, Peru, Mozambique, Macedonia, Ukraine, Liberia, Bahamas, Germany, Jamaica, Moldova, Iceland, Croatia, Madagascar, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Slovakia, Mali, Thailand, Denmark, the Philippines, Guinea-Bissau, Slovenia, Latvia, Transnistria, Namibia, Greece, and Myanmar. Terry O’Neill, head of NOW, was asked about the tardiness of the US in relation to the rest of the world in electing a female head of state. Her response was a strange, almost misogynistic putdown of other women leaders: ‘Many of them weren’t feminists. Hillary was a born feminist. It was a harder road for her. USA! USA!
Yet another cop at the mic, a moment of silence for the fallen police and speeches from the relatives of dead officers. The Democrats have featured more cops as prime time speakers than the GOP, all of them lecturing about how ‘violence isn’t the solution’ to anything. Since January 1st of this year, 668 civilians have been killed by police. Two parties, both proto-fascist. How to choose?
Mission impossible: Chelsea trying to humanize her mother. She says her mother lost the fight for ‘universal health care.’ Not true. Her plan was for another market-oriented scheme called ‘Managed Competition,’ and she failed to get it passed because of incompetence and hubris, setting back the single-payer cause by a generation.
Hillary looks and sounds more and more like Cersei Lannister with each new speech. I’m getting a weird vibe that they might actually bring out Qaddafi’s head on a pike. She says she loves to talk about her ‘plans.’ Has she started yet? I haven’t heard one specific plan. Maybe she’s talking about her invasion plans. Oh, yes, she’s getting around to that now. Pledge fealty to Israel. Check. Defend NATO. Check. Bash Russia. Check. Destroy ISIS. Check. Praise the Generals. Check. Hail our military (and its defense contractors) as a national treasure. Check. Salute the troops. Check. America is great. Check. America is good. Check. America is not a bully. Check. Manifest Destiny. Check. God bless America. Check. Unlike Hillary’s idol Ronald Reagan, she gave no pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons, just a vow to have a more stable hand on the button than Trump. Like Harry Truman. Duck and cover.
How appropriate that it all ends with Hillary and Kaine standing before a golden (or is it Goldman?) shower raining down on America! As a final blessing, Hillary’s preacher has come out to confirm at last what we’ve long suspected: there’s a Methodism to her madness. All Sandernistas should leave the Wells Fargo Center before they lock the exits. (See Red Wedding episode of ‘Game of Thrones’). Hillary’s the authentic Queen of Chaos, and when she stoops, she stoops to conquer.
Lance Selfa wrote a prescient article with that title in Socialist Worker over a year ago (1-13-16). The following is an abridged and slightly edited version:
“Writing in the conservative-leaning Real Clear Politics, political scientists David Brady and Douglas Rivers described Trump’s supporters as: ‘a bit older, less educated and earning less than the average Republican. Slightly over half are women. About half are between 45 and 64 years of age, with another 34% over 65 years old and less than 2% younger than 30. One half of his voters have a high school education or less, compared to 19% with a college or post-graduate degree. Slightly over a third of his supporters earn less than $50,000 per year, while 11% earn over $100,000 per year.’
It appears that white people are doing what they’ve often done when times are tough: blame brown people. Trump’s happy to fan those flames if it keeps his circus rolling another day or two. Conservatives also win over some members of the working class with conservative positions on abortion and gay rights and concerns about Muslim terrorism.
Is the ‘white working class’ really the main base of reaction in this country?
For pundits and scholars alike, the most common definition of the ‘white working class’ is whites who didn’t obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher. While education level is certainly related to the types of jobs people do, the main reason for adopting education level as a proxy for class is one of convenience, according to Andrew Levison in his The White Working Class Today. It’s far easier to capture education level than occupation on surveys. By this definition, ‘working class whites’ make up about 44% of the 18-and-over U.S. population.
Exit polls from the 2012 presidential election showed no difference among whites possessing a bachelor’s degree or less in terms of voting for Barack Obama – all groups came in around 37-38%. Only whites holding more advanced degrees than a bachelor’s voted in their majority (52%) for Obama.
Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels notes that non-college-educated whites in the lowest third of income distribution have been more likely to vote Democratic over the past few decades. Bartels concludes that most of the shift to Republicans that did take place among non-college-educated whites took place in the South, which was also true among those in the middle and upper ends of the income spectrum.
The non-college-degreed part of the population also overlaps more heavily with older people, who tend to be more culturally traditional.
Beltway pundits talk about all white working class people as the conservative ‘base,’ with all the gun-toting, Rush Limbaugh-listening stereotypes that image implies. But when you look beyond the caricature, you find a more varied reality.
Just as there are liberal billionaires like George Soros, there are workers who identify as conservatives. Even in the heyday of Democratic Party liberalism, a solid 35-40% of workers, including unionized workers, supported Republicans in election after election. What’s more, the Republicans’ ‘Southern strategy’ of using coded appeals to racism, pioneered in the late 1960s and ’70s, was aimed at least in part in winning layers of white workers to support the Republican opposition to government spending on the undeserving (black) poor.
Non-college whites not identifying as Hispanic or Latino amount to more than 104 million people 18 years old and older, according to U.S. Census figures from 2014. The group includes the full range of occupational experiences. According to Levison’s calculations, half of white non-college men work in blue-collar jobs, while the other half work in white-collar jobs. For white women without a bachelor’s degree, the split is about 3-to-1 in favor of white collar jobs. And, adds Levison: ‘Many workers are now also small businessmen. In large cities one can still walk by large construction sites where hundreds of unionized hard-hat workers are employed, but in single-family-home and small commercial construction, you’ll see instead a collection of pickup trucks and vans with the signs of independent contractors stenciled on their sides.’
Such occupational distinctions within the broad category of ‘non-Hispanic whites without a bachelor’s degree’ means that significant numbers of people in this group may see political issues not from the perspective of a worker, but from that of a small businessperson. Even given that, however, as Levison writes in analyzing research on this group’s attitudes towards religion, immigration, and military intervention, attitudes are sharply polarized between an intolerant and militaristic minority numbering 25% or less and a much more tolerant and open-minded majority.
Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community outreach arm, regularly canvases working-class Americans on political and social issues. According to one of its internal memos, quoted by Levison, ‘One-third of the people we talk to are with us. One-third will never be with us. The challenge is to reach the middle third.’ In 2016 terms, the one-third ‘with us’ are likely to be supporters of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, while the one-third that will ‘never be with us’ might be part of the GOP base, with the middle third being up for grabs.
So the ‘white working class’ has a greater diversity of political opinions than the standard media stereotypes allow. But it’s nevertheless true that at least a section of that group has apparently gravitated towards Trump’s reactionary and xenophobic candidacy. Why would working-class voters support a blowhard billionaire and a party whose economic policies are crafted to serve Corporate America and the very rich? To many liberals, this phenomenon is either unfathomable or another piece of evidence to confirm their suspicion that much of the American electorate is easily duped.
Trump appeals to his supporters’ sense that the U.S. is in decline, and that the main culprits for this are immigrants, Muslims, the Chinese government, and those in the U.S. who aren’t ‘strong’ enough to stand up to these supposed villains. This narrative resonates with a large section of the U.S. population that’s endured several decades of stagnating or declining living standards and dashed expectations. Between 1970 and 2014, the aggregate income of households defined as middle-income has declined from 62% of total income to 43%, and the groups that have experienced the greatest downward mobility are all people without four-year college degrees. The occupations falling downward are traditionally thought of as ‘blue-collar’ or ‘pink-collar’ jobs that mostly require a high-school diploma or a two-year college degree: sales, administrative services, transportation, mechanics and repairers, operators, and transportation. Latinos and immigrants also struggled, which exposes the error of blaming them (instead of managers and executives, who made out like bandits) for declining working-class living standards.
On the eve of his inauguration as president in January 2009, Barack Obama’s popularity had reached 80%, and large numbers of Americans had high expectations for his administration. A majority of those surveyed by USA Today believed the new president would be able to achieve every one of 10 major campaign promises, from doubling the production of alternative energy to ensuring that all children have health insurance coverage. Two years later, the formerly discredited and out-of-touch Republicans scored a historic landslide victory in the 2010 midterm election. After Obama’s re-election in 2012 and another setback for the GOP, the Republicans increased their hold on Congress and statehouses again in 2014.
The Republican sweep has been so broad that the party won a wide majority of governors and the largest percentage of state legislative seats since 1928. From these positions, the GOP has been able to carry out a counter-revolution against union rights, reproductive rights, and aid to the poor at the state level. Meanwhile, Obama’s term in office will be remembered for policies that saved the economy from a Great Depression-like meltdown in a way that prioritized saving the banks, pushing an austerity agenda, and deepening neoliberal economic policies of the last 40 years. These methods have prevented living standards for the working-class majority from returning to pre-recession levels. Despite giving election-year lip service to trade union organization and calling income inequality ‘the challenge of our times,’ Obama and the Democrats have done little to change either one for the better.
It’s well documented that trade union households are much more likely to support liberal economic policies, and that union members are more likely to embrace solidarity across race and ethnic lines than non-union households. Thus, in key states like Ohio and Wisconsin in 2012, white trade union households went overwhelmingly for Obama, while non-union households voted for the Republican Mitt Romney. The long-term decline of unions – not just in terms of collective organization, but in labor’s inability to resist the neoliberal onslaught – has contributed to atomization among workers and a sense that ‘nothing can be done,’ which characters like Trump can exploit. And while the Democrats would seem to have an interest in promoting unions and policies (like single-payer health care) that reinforce a sense that ‘we’re all in this together,’ they’ve proven that they’d rather chase after Wall Street dollars.
Another clear piece of evidence of this: When the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement injected into mass consciousness the powerful idea that the richest and most powerful ‘1%’ were the enemy of the ‘99%,’ the Obama administration didn’t embrace it. Instead, its Department of Homeland Security coordinated the effort to sweep it off the streets. This shouldn’t be any surprise. The Democrats are, after all, as former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips called them, ‘history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.’
For the left, the biggest challenge may not be that it’s losing the working class to the right, but that the Democrats’ bias to the status quo is encouraging more and more working people to conclude that since nothing will really change, it doesn’t matter what they do, in the voting booth or anywhere else. An analysis of voters and non-voters in the 2014 midterm elections showed that the poorest people, who support a social safety net, were more likely to be non-voters. People who were slightly better off – and more likely to agree with the conservative view that government gives benefits to the undeserving, with the obvious racial component involved in that view – were more likely to make it to the polls. This skew in the electorate is a much more compelling explanation for why states with poor populations have elected conservative political leaders and officeholders than the simple-minded liberal view that sees working-class people as fools who will now ‘get what they deserve.’
Bernie Sanders realizes that there’s a problem with Obama’s approach, and his frankly left-wing message is winning over millions of people. Unfortunately, he’s already promised to support whoever the Democrats nominate for president, and the odds are overwhelming that it will be the Obama-like neoliberal Hillary Clinton.
The Democrats may win the presidency, but if they continue to carry out policies that further hollow out living standards for millions of workers, and if the liberal organizations that mobilize support for the Democrats refuse to challenge those policies, the Trump phenomenon may be a signal of worse to come.”
The protests of today and tomorrow are mostly to psych ourselves up. When they’re done, we need to start the real work of opposing the new administration on whatever issues carry the most energy for us. They want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act? We want a single-payer, government-supported healthcare system — no need for a middleman, raking in undeserved profits. They want to make voting even harder than it already is? We not only want to make it easier, for all adults, we want to get rid of the Electoral College and initiate a new, more democratic primary system. Etc…
The biggest lesson of Trump’s election is that we need a more democratic electoral and legislative system on all levels of government. See my recent blogpost “How to move forward politically” for more on how this could be done. We don’t have the greatest, most democratic political system ever, as recent articles by international election monitors have demonstrated. It could be much improved. And, though it’s tantamount to heresy to suggest it, we don’t have to follow the Constitution (as sacred as the Bible to most Americans), which was written by the 1% of its day to protect their interests against “mob rule” (democracy). Proportional representation is not only a lot more democratic than the provincial, gerrymandered system we have, it puts the focus on issues rather than personalities. We don’t need any more personalities, especially show-business ones like Reagan and Trump. (We don’t need anymore dynasties either, à la Bush, Clinton, or Obama.) Winner-take-all’s a loser, too. I want my vote to count, even if my #1 choice doesn’t make it.
In short, there’s a lot of work to do, and we need to get started on it.
P.S. Let’s not get bogged down with either/or arguments about strategy and tactics, like “work on this issue in preference to this one,” or criticisms about each other like the ones I saw in my local paper this morning — letters to the editor criticizing the pussy hat phenomenon. We don’t all express ourselves the same way. That’s okay. Drop the judgment, especially when you’re thinking of directing it at someone who’s basically on your side.
Go get ’em, tigers!!
Analyzing what’s happened and what’s happening as close to correctly as possible has always been essential to creating effective political strategies. Now, with our country teetering at the threshold of authoritarian fascism, it’s even more important than ever.
We can’t afford to waste our time and energy on propagandistic wild goose chases like the charge that Russia hacked the 2016 election. Donald Trump won the presidency and the Republicans gained control of Congress for many reasons, including an undemocratic political and electoral system that offers no good alternatives, profit-driven mainstream media that fails to keep the public informed, and voters who either stay home or vote for wild cards out of desperation. But one of the reasons for Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was that she was the wrong candidate for the occasion. People wanted change, not more of the same, and the Democratic Party’s current strategy of blaming the Russians rather than acknowledging their mistake leads us down a false trail.
Back Bernie Sanders’ efforts in Congress and elsewhere if you want to stay in the mainstream. Read my recent posts on how to improve the system, if you want to go further.
It’s critical that we do this work now, while we’re still at the crossroads. When supposedly democratic political systems fail to address the people’s needs, they have two main options: populist authoritarianism or populist revolution, with many permutations in each category. Juan Peron of Argentina, Adolf Hitler of Germany, and Benito Mussolini of Italy are various “flavors” in the first category. In the revolutionary category, change can be sought violently or non-violently, with the non-violent option tending to be more democratic in outcome, since the means are the way. Cuban leader Fidel Castro led a violent revolution with democratic goals, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam started on the peaceful path and ended up having to use violence and dictatorial methods. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was a democratic populist who was also a typical Latin American “strongman” and at times a demagogue. The lines between all these “flavors” can be subtle, but the key questions to ask at every step are: Are people at the grassroots level well-represented? And does change come from the bottom up for the benefit of all equally?
Donald Trump fits the prototype of an authoritarian fascist leader. He’s a liar; a sexist; a racist, or at least a person willing to collude with racists; a nationalist at a time in our planet’s history when national borders should be obsolete, and at the same time a global businessman willing to put corporate interests above those of the nation. He’s a demagogue who threatens groups and individuals who disagree with or oppose him, and will soon have the power to use the greatest military, police, and judicial power on earth. He will also have the power, since the Democratic Party failed to oppose the Republicans’ illegal failure to approve an Obama-nominated Supreme Court Justice, to bring the third branch of government under his control.
This is a dangerous time, and we need to think clearly, outside the box, using reliable sources of information to create strategies to meet it.
You know what your values are. Hopefully, they’re similar to mine: preserving the vibrant life of Earth and all its life forms and protecting the right of every human man, woman, and child to clean air and water; basic nutrition, education, and health care; physical and emotional safety; and a say in every decision affecting their lives. The supposedly liberal Democratic regimes now behind us didn’t create or adequately safeguard these things, and the new Republican regime of Donald Trump actively threatens all of them. Act accordingly, without the need to respect the rule of unjust laws. But, most of all, base your actions on well-thought-out and researched analysis and strategy. I’ve given you some good sources in past blog posts, and there are book notes and other resources on my website www.wegotthenumbers.org. Start there, or forge your own path. Connect with others. Don’t waste time on false propaganda or too many feel-good actions that accomplish little else.
We may not be able to avert (further) disaster. But we can certainly give it our best shot.