Yes, there was an election with a result. Everyone is dismayed. And everyone has an opinion. I thought I’d let the dust settle before I wrote something. Instead, I’ve read so many articles on what happened: it’s this, it’s that, it’s her, it’s him, it’s the populace, it’s the ‘basket of deplorables’, and so on, I can’t say that helped much. So I’m setting out my stall but that doesn’t mean I have any easy answers.
OK, Donald has been elected and we’re all very shocked. Really? After the UK’s referendum experience and the vote to leave the EU? And with such small poll margins for Hillary at 3%, even 1%? That’s far too small for the error you have to allow for.
Outside the US, there was a deep intake of breath on the 9th November. I woke early and watched the results come in live. I felt sad when the Democrats were told to go home and I cringed at the sight of Donald and his almost conciliatory acceptance speech. And we, in the UK, in Europe, around the world said why? Why would anyone vote for such a person? Yet, there are good reasons for Trump’s victory, and this is what I want to look at.
First. The underlying ethos of neglect and subjugation of forgotten ignored populations has consequences. And no party in the UK has the answer to this (I’ll write about whether Corbyn and his Chancellor have the answer in another post) and neither has any party in the States. Well, until this US election, and Bernie, and possibly Trump, but more about the last part of the sentence below. Yes, Obama has created more employment than you think, but are they call centre, courier, and carer jobs as they are in the UK? And wages? Where are they for ordinary people in America? They have stagnated is the answer. From 1973 to 2015 productivity rose by 96.7% while wages rose by only 11.1%. Meanwhile the 1% prospered and an American CEO on average earned 20 times what a worker did in 1965, but by 2013, the number was 296 times. (LRB 14 November 2016)
Here in the UK we are witnessing the de-professionalisation of the middle classes and their consequent low morale. Have you heard that many UK university lecturers are to be paid hourly? And apparently we can’t afford libraries. If they aren’t being closed their hours are being drastically cut. Our civil service is shrinking with 100,000 of them due to be cut soon. (Maybe they could be re-recruited for the Brexit fiasco where an extra 30,000 are needed.) I give these UK examples because I know more about them. You, in the States, you know all about library closures and the disappearing jobs happening in your country. Where you lead, we are rapidly following.
It’s an ethos that has become the norm. Industries go missing from your neighbourhood – that’s globalisation and is only to be expected. Jobs vanish – a shame but what can you do? Look, let’s be blunt this is capitalism and while it delivers goods, it’s also vicious, cruel and cut throat. Benefits go to the rich not the poor. And it is not unnoticed.
Second. The Hillary factor. A woman. With a husband, with a history. In a particular set of society. With some issues about emails. Over here in the UK there has been a lot in the media about the illegal emails that Hillary sent from a private server, which apparently are not illegal, says the FBI. For me the more interesting emails are the leaked Wiki Podesta emails which show the Democratic party machine in thrall to big business. And then the Clinton Foundation, etc, etc. Yes, who knew. And yes, I know there’s been a conspiracy around her ever since she began to be noticed in the political sphere decades ago, mainly because she’s a woman and doesn’t know her place (I’ve read those articles) but even so. Why choose someone so controversial? Why. Was. Hillary. Chosen? Yes, she was competent. But people, competency is not the only factor – you have to be liked or at the very least respected. And yes, of course, some people do respect her. But so many did not. And you have to swing votes. Here’s the thing. Class comes into it.
One of the articles that came to my notice was from a journalist whose family came from the rust-belt working class America. (Classifications in the UK and the US are different – but one parent had a good job in a factory until it closed down and the manufacturing disappeared abroad). In his parent’s milieu competent professionals were barely tolerated and generally looked at with disdain and contempt. Why? Because professionals like doctors, teachers, social workers told you what to do with your life, usually when you were down – what do they know? And the elite in Washington? It was so far removed from their lives that what they said about politics and life in America wasn’t worth thinking about. It was meaningless to say stuff about jobs and equal rights for blacks, women and anyone else. Who was going to speak for them? Hillary hob-nobbing with all those wealthy celebrities right at the last minute – was that going to sway these voters? No. But rich people who’d made their money through business, now they, they’d worked for their money. ‘I’d give them respect.’
And a candidate who is a businessman, who speaks his mind, who shoots his mouth off – now that’s different.
Third: Just like there is an ageist assumption in lumping everyone over 65+ as ‘older’ (a lazy categorisation) equally you cannot put everyone into neat categories of ‘stupid’, ‘baskets of deplorables’, ‘forgotten peoples’. It is too simplistic. So many categories other than the forgotten in Detroit (and Muncie, see below) voted for Trump. Rather than go into a lengthy explanation of intersectionality (because that is the key to understanding how the vote went and I might just get back to that in another post) I give you a little anecdote.
We went on a cruise – don’t judge! The passengers were 80% American. We had long conversations with about 20 of them. One couple were definitely Democrat and one other couple were obviously Republicans (they froze with horror when we said we liked Obama). The rest didn’t say what party they favoured, but every single couple said they intensely disliked both candidates, and gave their reasons, mainly Hillary was too much of the Establishment (even the Democrat couple thought her a tainted candidate) and Trump was a boor and a very unpleasant person. But without many exceptions, as they got up and were leaving our table or just moving on, they’d turn around and tap your arm, and say, ‘But of course, he is saying what we think.’ If I managed to get any more out of these people it was about the Establishment not knowing or caring about America and not listening to their needs. And that’s interesting, as these were not the forgotten of America, they were comfortably off people from all over the States. These were certainly the ‘shy’ voters. Make no mistake I bet they told the pollsters, ‘no we’re not going to vote’, or I haven’t made my mind up’. But they had, really.
American people appear to have wanted, and I would say, needed something different. And let’s not totally dismiss this need or the Donald saying he’ll bring back jobs to the mid-west. He may not get the big industries back, but he could build roads and bridges. I hear he’s promised an $800-$1tr programme of infrastructure investment financed by bonds plus a corporation tax cut aimed at creating 25m new jobs.
As Lord Skidelsky points out this is so Keynesian. And in my view, is what’s achingly absent here in the UK as well as the US, so enamoured are the main political parties with the neo-liberal view that what simply must happen is austerity and deficit and debt reduction, because it’s the only way that sensible people should think. It’s the norm, it’s common sense. But of course, it is not, it is an ideology of a small wealthy elite who have seriously bamboozled us all into acquiescence and acceptance.
However, so dominant is this elite, and so disconnected from other people’s lives it begins to not respond to its electorate. And I’ll give you a UK example. If the deteriorating working conditions of the majority in the UK are not enough the elite is bent on destroying an institution that everyone, of every colour, creed and political party loves, our National Health Service. We all love it, without exception. But the current government and Gordon Brown’s government and Tony (neo-liberal lite) Blair before that are/were all bent on the privatisation of this beloved institution, which no one wants, privatisation that is. The NHS is still effective, just. It is still free at the point of access, for now. But behind the scenes public money goes increasingly to private contractors, viz, a recent award to Virgin healthcare, otherwise known as Richard Branson and his shareholders, of £700m to run a council’s community health and social care.
We don’t want this to happen, but it’s happening. We don’t want CEOs to earn huge sums, but they do. We don’t want wages and pensions frozen, but they are. We want a better life for our children but will they? We don’t want an abandoned, harassed workforce (anyone seen the film I, Daniel Blake?) but we have one, and more so, I think in the States. We can all see what is happening but no one in Washington or Westminster says anything different or steps up to the plate and acknowledges the needs of the population, apart, that is, from Bernie, Trump and maybe Corbyn.
Because Trump did say something singular and distinctive about jobs. And if he gets America working through labour now that would be something.
What to do? The question to ask is, ‘Democratic Party – where are you going?’ In my view Hillary lost the election rather than Donald won it. Trump was lucky to have her as his opposing candidate. Pull your socks up, Democrats. Find the Bernie of the 21st Century.
And of course, despite my view that a few infrastructure builds is a good thing – we await with baited breath the next four years because Trump is everything that we should worry about. He is a boor, he is crass, he is racist, he is sexist, he is unpleasant and probably not all that competent. It’s quite frightening to watch who he’s appointing to his administration. It is clearly something to be anxious about.
However. I quote from George Monbiot “Those who tell the stories run the world.” We have a responsibility. We cannot, we must not pull the duvet over our heads. We must dig deep, uncover bias, cut through the crap, recognise false stories and half-truths, verify, and triangulate. Because we must tell the stories. And through the cracks that we make in the walls of untruths, we must shine the light of rationality and reason*.
It is up to us.
Penny Kocher 17th November 2016
P.S. There are a couple of links in this piece for you to look at but if I referenced everything I’ve read the post would be almost entirely pink! However, to get a good over-view I highly recommend Gary Younge’s articles on The view from Middletown. Younge is a Guardian journalist who spent a month in Muncie, Indiana, a town made famous by a team of researchers in the 1920s, who gave the town its reputation as the epitome of middle America.
*RIP Leonard Cohen