Note: A friend posted to Facebook asking her friends to show empathy and be a voice for those with opposing views, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as POTUS. Below was my obviously not thoroughly researched response, and I hope the spelling/grammar errors will be forgiven, and the factual errors will be corrected.
Okay, I’ll go first. I want to encourage those interested to give this lecture a fair chance as it is much more articulate and well researched than I will be in this post
I will write in defense of those who did not vote for a democrat this election. This race was likely never about the better candidate as many will admit willingly. It was simply about not becoming a race to the bottom, depending on what people perceived as the “bottom”. Since the 1970s, there has been a systematic removal of the radical left in America, the people who ensured workers rights were intact through strikes, unionization, participation in local elections and so on. The cold war played a role in this, and the economic system of capitalism played an even greater role.
Understanding The Problem
In the last several decades, we have experienced a decay in the living conditions of ordinary working people, and at the same time, a significant increase in the wealth and income divide between the rich and the not rich. As we saw the increase of neoliberal policies, many of which were actually endorsed by democrats, we saw the deregulation of banks, globalization caused jobs to move overseas (specifically, manufacturing industry in America was obliterated), thereby allowing rich people to get richer and remain immune to fluctuating economic conditions, while the poor and the middle class bore the brunt of these fluctuations. The telecom bubble burst happened, then the inevitable 2008 great recession hit.
Millions lost jobs, millions lost homes, and what did the government do? It protected the banks and corporations from failing using taxpayer dollars… I think this was a giant “F YOU” to the average citizen. 8 years later, people have yet to fully recover from it. Occupy movement started in order to address this issue, but it was effectively murdered. We love to point out statistics of how under an Obama administration unemployment reduced, but it is a skewed statistic because we don’t count people who stopped looking for jobs as unemployed…. this is just one example of how the working class has been disadvantaged repeatedly over the last 20+ years, but most significantly, in the last 8 years. Now, the obliteration of the manufacturing industry in America gave rise to the “rust belt”, where people now live in abject poverty, with polluted water and deplorable living conditions and only corrupt politicians “representing” them. This group has been largely ignored in America, causing a slow build of anger and frustration.
Social Media and Identity Politics Nexus
Next, in the social media era, we have seen a significant increase in identity politics. Personally, I understand that identity is very important to people… but unfortunately, identity is not the lowest common denominator. What I mean is, the facts that I am an indian and you are an asian are not what are bringing us together.. it is the fact that we are both working class human beings who need to work at a job to be able to eat and afford our homes, cars, and anything else we need. The elite (that is the rich and powerful) have seen our sensitivity toward identities and have used it as the perfect recipe to keep us divided.
This is why race is an issue, this is why sexual orientation is an issue… when we are pitted against each other over otherwise inane differences, what do we do? We get mad at each other over the stupidest shit, and we forget that we are ALL THE SAME in relation to the ruling class. But because we are so focused on protecting our identities, we are seeing a rise in racism, misogyny and so on. If we snapped out of it however, we would realize very quickly – oh wait a second, both me and my black neighbor work for an employer who exploits our labor. We are both equal. This understanding is far from achieved in the current political and economic climate of America.
A quick personal anecdote – I volunteer at a food pantry, and I have the loveliest group of clients. They are all old, they are all poor, and they are different races and from different places, but they are all the same. they recognize their poverty, and in that they find solidarity. This is largely missing from the middle class. The very rich are all friendly with each other because they need to protect their wealth and position of power. The very poor are the same, because they have nothing to lose 🙂
So… given the terrible conditions for working people, including exorbitant healthcare rates, inability to manage student debt (though a college degree gives no guarantee of a job anymore), 20+ years where every president promised they were an outsider, and promised hope and change, and the increased divide due to identity politics, ordinary people are simply fed up.
The Populist Response
So what do they do when they are fed up? They go looking for something that is different….. As Bernie put it perfectly, Trump appealed to the anger of the forgotten working class… it was never about race and I can explain the statistics. In 2008, white working class people uncharacteristically voted for Obama hoping for a refreshing change though he is black, the same people voted for Trump now because they did not get what they had hoped for.
As Hillary/democratic elite embraced Obama’s policies, they feared another 4 years of the same stuff….. those of us who do not have significant debt, didn’t struggle with jobs, enjoy privileges as minorities actually don’t have a problem with Obama or Hillary, we don’t get what the issue is…. but those who did not have those luxuries are simply fed up and upset. Many just sat out of the elections (46.9% did not vote actually). Those who came in to vote, voted in the hope that Trump, this new outsider, would fix their problems. Whether or not he will is yet to be seen, but this is the sentimentality expressed by these people.
Ultimately, liberal elitism cannot beat right populism. I have much to say about how liberals pushed away many many people in need to the fringes as deplorable, but I want to be respectful. This is also the same reason Bernie, despite using the dirty word “Socialist”, was so so so widely popular. If America’s left had been strong and not so marginalized, and had there not been lying, cheating and dishonesty on the part of the very political party which promises to uphold our most basic rights (the democrats), this would not have happened.
This whole phenomenon proves that the ruling class exists to protect its OWN interests… it doesn’t matter if it is represented by democrats or republicans, they are all the same.
Identifying The Problem
The real problem though, is capitalism. It has been no good for the last 40 years… changing our leaders has done nothing. A system that is more focused on profits and acquiring wealth for the few in power and not focused on improving conditions for workers, is not a system that will work for much longer. We must understand how intertwined our political and economic systems are to truly bring about change.
The interpretation of Trump’s victory as being racist, misogynist, about immigration etc,. horrible as his rhetoric was, is simply incorrect. It is nothing but an expression of dire frustration and desperation on the part of the common man. We should not eagerly push away any critical impulse out as contemptible, marginal, disrespectful and so on.