Why Clinton lost and what to do about it
If you want to hear a good analysis of the recent election from a leftist Brit, check out podcast episode #927 at www.thisishell.com. Or better yet, subscribe to the This Is Hell podcast on iTunes. Unfortunately, “This Is Hell” transcripts are a year behind, so I went to the article “Saturn Devours His Young” by Richard Seymour and his fellow editors on www.salvagezone.com. Here are its salient points:
“Between 2012 and 2016, the Republican vote barely changed, but the Democrats shed, at the latest estimate, approximately six and a half million votes. And 2012 was already three and a half million votes lower than Obama’s 2008 peak.” Early on, Clinton demoralized Democrats, managing “expectations down to close to zero, scolding Sanders supporters that universal healthcare was ‘never going to happen.’ She barely even had the grace to be red-faced about her convivial relationship with Goldman Sachs and Wall Street. Far from embarrassed, she was proud of her plaudits from Henry Kissinger, Laura Bush, and Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, her team noised it abroad that she would be looking to privatize social security, and re-arm liberal imperialism after Obama’s ‘Realist’ detour. And, while she dropped her old opposition to gay marriage and rowed back on locking up those ‘superpredators’ she once warned us about, she deliberately focused her campaign on wooing suburban Republicans. To little overall effect, other than the collapse in the Democratic vote.
Low voter turnout has always been key to Clinton’s strategy of “center-fishing” for the largest single segment of a shrinking pie. Banking on mass demoralization and abstentionism, it’s a democratic maneuver that embraces the hollowing-out of democracy. If discussed at all, this relied-upon and too-little-investigated mass disaffection has generally been described as ‘apathy.’ Liberal intellectuals are more likely to rage against marginal third-party candidates than look at the decades-long shame of a crisis of representation.” Ninety million eligible voters stayed home on Election Day this year, an estimated 57.9%.
Trump voters aren’t “mainly the poor and ‘left behind.’ Ample research and exit polls demonstrate that Trump had stronger support from among those with incomes above $50,000 than Clinton, including specific groups like male college graduates. The likelihood is that most workers, white or black, rather than rallying to Trump, simply didn’t vote. Numbers voting for both parties were down on 2012: but for the Republican candidate, only by relatively little; for the Democrat, by a lot.
This is not to deny that Trump won over some white workers, that he shook loose some elements of the Democratic coalition. The particulars of this are important though. Many commentators, for example, are citing, a ’16 per cent swing’ to Trump in certain rustbelt states – but declining turnout might mean that is rather than evidence of large-scale party defection, this represents greater motivation of Republican voters to actually vote. Such judgments can only be made with close analysis of the statistics across several variables. For example, in Wisconsin, the level of Republican support increased by just over 1,200 votes. The bigger change was that the Democrats lost roughly 240,000 votes. In Michigan, thus far, the Republican gain of approximately 165,000 votes is greatly outnumbered by the Democratic loss of roughly 300,000 votes. On the other hand, in Pennsylvania, the Democratic losses and Republican gains were more or less even at approximately 230,000 votes. To assess the meaning of this, one would still need to understand how much of the Republican gain in these states was concentrated in the working class, and how many of these were new voters, as opposed to former Obama voters. Instead, already every datum is being fed into the rapidly emerging nostrum that Trump ‘won over the white working class.’ The national figures alone already tell us this is wrong, as are many of the conclusions the anguished Left is coming to, especially the idea of blunting, with whatever niceties, our pro-migrant, internationalist, anti-racist politics.
In neglected, rusting areas in the US and Europe there are concentrated layers of unemployed and poor workers who don’t vote, downwardly mobile ‘skilled’ workers who often vote right, and middle-class strata who resent being ‘left behind’ with the wreckage.
In this election, for the first time, millennials were the largest generation, outnumbering babyboomers. And millennials, to the extent that they voted, supported Clinton by a margin of 54 to 46%. Those aged 45 and over, however, preferred Trump by a margin of 53 to 44%. Generational change has brought with it changes in demographic composition as well as in attitudes toward race and sex. One of the functions of Trump as father figure in this election was to devour the more multiracial, socially liberal young and their threat to the values, interests and property of older, whiter and more affluent voters.
There was, for a brief moment, the possibility that a social-democratic campaign, launched to the surprise of veteran cynics of all wings from within one of the main capitalist parties, could galvanize and enthuse the left-moving young, linking debt-ridden students and racially oppressed young people to the neglected in the rustbelts, as well as the working-class mainstays of the Democratic vote. Bernie Sanders, in his own way every bit the ‘anti-political’ politician that Trump is, outpolled Trump and other Republican candidates far more convincingly than Clinton. There was no guarantee that he would have won, but this was by far the best, the only plausible chance to counter the electrifying effect that Trump’s potential fascism was having on the Republican base. The resilient and disgusted Democratic establishment, coupled with the inherited weaknesses and poor class-rootedness of the Left, ensured that it was passed up. Newly leaked emails actually show that the Democrat machine actively bolstered the hardest-right bigots of the Republicans, in what they called the ‘Pied Piper Strategy’ to pull the party right, leaving the Democrats that mythicized center ground. To repeat: the Democrats cynically and deliberately enabled racist, nativist, misogynist, homophobic thuggery out of political calculation.
For the collapsing of the order of the center – the order that birthed Trump, the system of which he is not pathology but symptom, we shed no tears. But our worst enemies are building in its rubble faster and more effectively than we are. In 2017, we can expect major fascist advances – a Le Pen presidency in France for example. This is an epochal shift, and threat.
The American Supreme Court is lost to liberals, and Roe versus Wade is likely to be overturned. Some of Trump’s policies he will not, cannot enact: he can’t make Mexico pay for any wall he might build, and he can’t ban Muslims from entering the US. But this is cold comfort: unconstrained, with Republican majorities in both houses (and even the Republican ‘moderates’ who thought he had no chance now feeling permitted or obligated to follow his alt-right direction), he can approximate and jury-rig similar measures, and usher in a program of delirious, murderous reaction. Which is to say nothing of the concomitant cultural shift, the emboldening of resentment, spite, and social sadism. And, of course, the promised bonuses for newly privileged sectors of capital, above all energy, construction, and those associated with the military-industrial complex.
Yet Trump’s victory is fragile. He won because Clinton lost. He won with fewer votes than Romney. And he lost the popular vote by a slight margin. The form of politics he represents has been on a long-term slide, and his presidency is a one-off chance to halt it. While the Democratic establishment now predictably lays down its arms, urging us to give the new president ‘a chance,’ we support the protests of the justly disgusted and frightened. The platitudes about uniting, to which the political class are addicted, aren’t likely to be heeded by those against whom such uniting is taking place, and shouldn’t be by us.
The Left must remain hard not only in its aggressive, militant solidarity with migrants, and with the black activists insisting that the police be held to account, against whom an onslaught is to be expected. We must work vigorously in united fronts without succumbing to the forthcoming wave of sentimentality about Obama – the mechanisms of drone death, whistleblower-attack, and trenchant state surveillance now in the hands of a bloviating monster are Obama’s. In response to the liberals with whom we will march, who insist that ‘love trumps hate,’ we must argue instead for more hate in the right direction.
More than one commentator, and not only of the far Left or right, has discerned in this moment a slide toward a new civil war. This is only half-correct. One of the few positive things one can say about Trump’s victory that it clarifies the fact that the war was here already.”