What can we learn from Trump’s victory?

US $15 an hour campaigners speaking in committee room in Parliament

Last weekend I went to see two exhibitions at the Royal Festival Hall. One was called We are all Human and showcased offender art and the other was the ‘photo journalist of the year’ exhibition. Each in their different ways showed extremely graphically what a brutal and inhuman world we live in today.

The offender art exhibition exhibited a wide range of art from paintings, sculpture, poetry and song. They illustrated the humanity of those who have been incarcerated in one of the most non-human environments. Their art, poetry and song also reveal the mental and physical distress they find themselves in.

The photo exhibition was harrowing to see. Pictures of dead children cradled in their parents arms. Photographs of living children, looking like ghosts, covered in blood and dust from the bombed buildings in Aleppo from which they have just been dragged. Images of young black men and women refugees looking up at the camera from the hull of a boat, reminiscent of slave ships of the 18th Century.

The reason why I start with this in an article about Trump is because this is the world we are confronted with today: war, environmental disaster, unimaginable poverty and mass migration on a scale we have not witnessed since the Second World War.

Trump will not deal with these problems. Not simply because he is a misogynist, racist and reactionary but because he is part of the establishment, all be it a maverick one, that created these problems in the first place.

As usual fingers point to the ‘stupid’, ‘uneducated’ white working class to explain why Trump was elected without providing any explanation as to why he succeeded in beating Hillary Clinton. A simple but not unimportant starting point to explain why Trump won is his use of the race card. He played on the real fears and anxieties of sections of the working class in the United States. In the rust belt areas like Michigan, Trump connected with voters when he promised that a vote for him would take away the pain of mass unemployment and halt the wage decline that now means that it takes two wages to provide the same standard of living as one wage did in the 1970s.

No wonder that, living in such dire circumstances, some of the working class want to believe Trump can bring back a mythical world where ‘America is great again’.

His victory was made easier by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Clinton is part of a political dynasty that is despised by millions of Americans. Rightly, the Democratic Party tradition is seen as one that has spectacularly failed generation after generation of working class people. If you want to beat a populist reactionary who puts themselves up as an anti-establishment candidate don’t put up a candidate who has impeccable establishment credentials. Bernie Sanders was in a much better position to beat Trump. Many of the same people who voted for the reactionary Trump were also excited by the socialist vision that Sanders offered.

President Francois Hollande would do well to remember this as he stands against the Nazi Marie Le Pen in the French presidential elections coming up soon.

‘It’s the economy, stupid’

Trump will fail to make good on any of his promises. He will continue to play the race card and stir up divisions so that he can push through further attacks on working class lives. In an interesting article by Michael Roberts he states that,

Trump has been handed a poisoned chalice that he will have to drink from: the state of the US economy. The US economy is the largest and most important capitalist economy. It has performed the best of the largest economies since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. But its economic performance has still been dismal. Real GDP growth per person has been only 1.4% a year, well below levels before the global financial crash in 2008. It’s a story of the weakest economic recovery after a slump since the 1930s.

The IMF now expects the US economy to expand at only 1.6% this year. And the US Federal Reserve bank economists are now forecasting just 1.8% a year expansion for the foreseeable future. And all this assumes no new economic recession.’

He goes on to explain that

US corporate profits are falling. According to economists at investment bank JP Morgan, US corporate profits declined 7% over year-ago levels. On that basis, they reckon, “the probability of a recession starting within three years at a startling 92%, and the probability within two years at 67%”.’

Trump’s only solution to this will be to cut the tax of the very rich and slash government spending, hitting welfare, education and health.

United resistance

As usual, then, we are back to the only people who can defend ordinary people’s living standards – themselves. In the US, over the last couple of years, we have seen mass movements in defence of black, working class communities from police killings that are reminiscent of the struggle of the 60s. Those struggles radicalised a new generation of activists, and led to the US pulling out of Vietnam – and the impeachment of a President. We have seen the inspiring campaign by fast food workers demanding a living wage of $15 dollars an hour which united black and Hispanic communities.

We also saw in Bernie Sander’s campaign that collectivist and unifying socialist ideas, in the heart of the US, caught the imagination of millions of young, working class people.

It is to this vision of collectivism and resistance we will need to look to stop the continued attacks on the working class, here and in the US.

It won’t be long until Trump will be faced with a mass resurgence of working class unity against his policies. The sleeping giant of the American working class has the potential, as it has done historically, to challenge poverty and injustice.

It will be interesting to see how big and confident Trump then looks when confronted by one of the most powerful working classes in the world.

Sean Vernell

UCU National Executive Committee

One Reply to “What can we learn from Trump’s victory?”

  1. This is a thoughtful article. And the article helps,us to re-focus on the dangers inherent in UK media. Where the UK media has been negligent in their explication of the BREXIT and Trump victory phenomena is in their disingenuous refusal to make explicit the relationship between the voracious appetite among many white people in the West to re-imagine whiteness aa privilege in ever more overwhelming, overbearing and insidious ways. BREXIT and Trumpism are not the cause of division. They merely surfed the divisive class, race, ethino-cultural and belief tensions that are a natural undertow of living in the secular West. White identity and cultural forms have been challenged, have been subsumed within the confluence of colourful ‘otherness’, have ‘lost their way’. BREXIT and Trumpism promise the unbound Prometheus of Whiteness. This is the agenda we are living within, those white people who have consciously abandoned their white privilege as well as people of colour whose identities are forged within the contours of white privilege.This article names the challenge unlike the mainstream British media whose analytical contribution to contemporary politics is nothing short of woeful. Excellent.

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