What they voted for
With every election shock there is one period that dominates the next few weeks: blaming the candidate who did not defeat the right winger. It’s often a call for reflection, a rally cry for some soul searching for the left and an urge for better strategies. There’s been piece after piece of how Bernie would have won (although there is little to back this up as a hope does not equal reality) but so many outlets have missed the basic point of the matter: people voted for a racist platform because they wanted to.
If they were to vote for Bernie, it might have been because he was a white man – but he is also Jewish. The backlash started in 2008; the second Obama got elected. There were protests, despite whatever Republicans may claim, and while the mainstream media will like to say that it was due mostly to the fact that Obama failed to deliver early enough on key promises, there were many who resented having a black man as president. Romney was the most average candidate one could ever imagine (and after the primaries, that was almost a blessing) and yet he pushed Obama hard. The backlash was not just about Clinton, emails or even a woman president. It was about having a woman Democrat follow a black Democrat into the White House.
There’s a reason why the wave of hate across the US has been largely targeted on the basis of race. Policies were never the topic, it was personality and people voted for someone who threw out racist slurs more often than any insight into policy – just as they did in Britain with Brexit.
Clinton gave policy after policy. She even released a book on it. She explained her theory constantly from ‘the bottom up, the middle out’ growth of how to improve inequality and make the system fairer. She talked about bringing people out of low wages, about job creation and job protection and she gave clear plans of how she was going to do this and pay for this. Her website even had a calculator for those who wanted to work out how much they could save under her presidency. In every single debate, she hammered home her messages. The only reason why people say they don’t know her policies is because they never wanted to listen. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric was enough for them, in much the same way the arguments for Remaining got drowned out by shrill cries of “experts! Don’t trust the experts!”
We’re in a time where education and intellect is devalued. Trump was overwhelmingly supported by those without a college education. The problem is that the education system is so expensive that many people are shut out from ever getting close to getting a degree. However, people of colour are far less likely to be able to get access to higher education and they did not vote for Trump.
People shouldn’t be shamed for a lack of education. Education was a cornerstone of Hillary’s entire campaign after all. However, anti intellectualism in both Brexit and in Trump’s campaign were embraced by white people. Any facts were disregarded as lies or conspiracies. Trump was caught out lying consistently but his fans still flocked to defend him, and worst of all they believed in him as the candidate that would stand up to the lies of the establishment. It was largely because he was saying what he wanted to hear, and in that situation the facts don’t bother people much.
Any Democrat has got an uphill battle. The system of the electoral college is based on largely prejudiced ideas that were designed to appease states that had supported slavery. They give enormous power to rural states with far smaller populations and there has been no change in this system. It means that the Republicans hold the balance of power in their hands, regardless of whoever won the election the last time out.
Hillary looks like she’s going to win the popular vote perhaps by as much as two million. She looks set to win by a bigger margin than even some of the most popular presidents like JFK secured. Yet, she still won’t be president.
The popular vote then, is utterly pointless particularly when the electoral college is not bound to vote for who each state selects. In the days running up to the election, Democrats said how they would not vote for Hillary no matter what the result. This is now the second time in sixteen years that the Democrats have won the popular vote and not the White House. To top it off, the Democrats will win the Senate votes by around five million – but they still won’t take control.
Clinton as a candidate vs Sanders
A lot of talk has revolved around the unknowable and will-never-be-proven premise that Bernie would have done better than Hillary. It’s not a bad question to ask but there are a few gaping holes with this theory.
One is the electoral college (as has been shown). It’s hugely stacked against Democrats so they are on the back-foot in almost every race they go into, regardless of what swing states they claimed last time out.
The other reason often cited is that Bernie doesn’t have half the scandals surrounding him. The problem with this though, is that the scandals surrounding Hillary don’t actually add up to a whole lot. The biggest was obviously the email debacle, but as scandals go it amounted to nothing. It wasn’t criminal, it wasn’t unethical but it was slightly sloppy; but when you’re up against a man who bragged of committing sexual assault on tape then it really doesn’t matter. The fact the email was hung around HRC the whole time again highlights that people really just didn’t care. They got Trump and the more outrageous he was, the more he was loved for it. Emails were just a reason people used to justify not trusting Hillary, but it was a desperate claim when put against all the things Trump has done.
Additionally, this does feed into a misogynistic narrative. A woman shouldn’t have to be spotless to be credible. Not when she’s up against someone with as bad a record as Trump. The idea that a woman has to jump through a thousand hoops to be credible and it’s her fault she lost, and not just the fact the voters are really bad at prioritising ethics, is a form of misogyny. Hillary isn’t to blame for the fact people wanted racist policies. Racism is.
Hillary’s policies became much more progressive as the race went on. Some will point to the Bernie factor, but from the start she was clear to include LGBTQ+ people (and this included trans people to the ire of many white cisgender feminists) and challenge racism. Her record in the past has been diabolical, particularly regarding the prison industry, yet still Bernie gave some marginalised people huge doubts. His sincerity on LGBTQ+ rights was questioned repeatedly, particularly when his initial objection to banning same gender couples from marrying was actually based on constitutional rights and the power of the state. Many felt he spun this to his own advantage in later years, when his initial focus was not LGBTQ+ people. On race, Bernie was hard for many to decipher. His focus appeared much on the white working class but his commitment to economic inequality would undoubtedly help people of colour (who are disproportionately likely to be born into poverty) than a passive approach. Yet, Bernie himself and his supporters were regularly facing calls of racism. Hillary had the rhetoric but Bernie arguably had the better policies. The truth is, both had flaws and for older voters it would be hard to look past Hillary’s record. Would Bernie be able to pick up where Hillary lost out? Perhaps, but the problem is Bernie’s message was about class, and that was not a factor in this election in the end.
White people of all classes voted overwhelmingly for Trump. This was not about class. This was about being white (and being cisgender and heterosexual). This was about being anti migrant and anti black. It was racism. It was not about kicking it to the establishment when rich white men came together with poor white men and women to vote for someone supported by the Ku Klux Klan. It was not anti establishment. The establishment handed Trump the win through the electoral college. It was about getting the establishment back. The privilege of whiteness didn’t want to share its toys anymore, and so like Brexit, it had a strop and voted for to ‘take back America’, or ‘make America great again!’…whichever it was…
Whiteness as Working Class
There are a few reasons why class is dominating the narrative. One is that anti intellectualism is being deliberately mistaken for working class. The race was dominated on hating facts, and the prevailing myth was that Trump’s supporters were all ignorant and poor. This is a classist assumption in itself. The working class were much more split between the candidates. The white working class does bear some responsibility: because of race, but not class.
When we talk of the working class, there’s usually a white man leading and big white crowd of working class men. What’s been erased is that people of colour make up a significant proportion of working class people. They’re far more likely to be born into poverty and to be able to have the opportunity to advance through the class ranks. Class systems are racist.
The working class narrative is always presented of white workers struggling on low wages and being exploited by employers. The left and liberals have failed to challenge this. When the media reports on migrants, especially The Daily Mail in the UK, the story is often on what’s viewed as excessive benefits and how they’re taking too much from the system. There’s very little focus or attention given to migrants and people of colour who work terrible hours for very low pay. To draw sympathy, the media puts a white face on the front of its stories. It’s part of why so much of the narrative has become white working class vs poor people from other countries ‘stealing jobs’. There’s an entitlement that comes with being white and born in the country. If the vote was about getting better jobs, it wasn’t about securing them by making employers act in a fairer way (Trump would never promise that) but about making sure Mexican migrants couldn’t ‘take’ jobs.
Corbyn has backed up this point spectacularly by his complete failure to take on Trump. He’s been happy to claim Trump’s win as an anti establishment vote, despite that clearly not being the case. It risks looking as though he is trying to personally gain from a victory that has left many marginalised people devastated. His first statement did not even mention the issues of racism that propelled Trump to the White House. In comparison with centrists Sturgeon and Merkel, he doesn’t seem to really comprehend the horrors oppressed people in the States are facing right now.
“Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views… I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.”
The role of Russia will be talked about for potentially many years. There are rumours of their interference, which has drawn anger from Democrats given the FBI’s handling of the email mess but one of the biggest reasons people are happy that Clinton failed was because of her policy of standing up to Russia, and here’s what sums up so many issues people are having with liberals. There seems to be a deeper fear of the consequences of standing up to fascism than of what it means to be living under, or with, fascism. People are happy to go with Trump’s policy of attacking marginalised people in the US as it means there will be no risk of a confrontation with Russia.
Hillary was clear. Nobody wants a war, especially with one of the greatest powers of the world, but she emphasised that Russia’s imperialism couldn’t continue. There are many Eastern countries watching Russia nervously after what happened with Ukraine. The illegal occupation of Ukraine was met with muttered shock from the West at the time, but it led to no real action. The West was simply glad that Russia wouldn’t pick on them next.
We have become weak. ‘Never Again’ has become ‘never risk standing up with bullies in case they hit us’. It’s become ‘let someone else go under the bus but not me’. But when has trying to appease an imperialist power ever worked? Putin has targeted LGBTQ+ people at horrific rates and has sought an illegal expansion of Russian powers. A passenger plane was blown out of the sky. The liberals and the left have shown the length of their solidarity and it extends only to themselves.
Liberalism did help bring us here with both Brexit and Trump. For years, the liberal tried to appease everybody. They wanted hugs for everyone. They told LGBTQ+ people to wait for marriage at the right moment as though they were acting as an annoying father trying to stop kids from arguing over who gets to use the shower first. They let migrants in but didn’t defend that as a moral position, instead they pandered to white people’s concerns about jobs and said that they should be listened to – even though that’s all we ever hear. They caused frustration on both sides and gave legitimacy to views of hatred. They called fascists the ‘alt right’ as though they were a legitimate alternative viewpoint and not just spewing hatred.
Liberalism gave us nothing but cheap slogans. They haven’t provided allies worth anything because they’re more upset at the idea of people protesting than at the idea of an actual fascist being president. They’d rather support an oppressive order than a righteous disorder. They want people to find common ground through love and peace, while ignoring that the opposition are actually trying to erase marginalised people from society. They want people to wait four years and then politely ask for their rights back. They want Britons to accept the vote, and try to move forward even though it isn’t legally binding and is being pushed through by a Prime Minister nobody voted for. They want us to watch our tone as we tell people to stop being racist, sexist and LGBTQ+phobic. They want us to stop saying that people are ‘arseholes’ as people fight not to lose healthcare or are having racial slurs screamed at them. Mostly though, they just want us to absolutely know that they are definitely the good guys.
Empathy stirring anger
The election and the referendum were decided upon by a denial of the humanity of certain groups of people. We had to take back control, aka take it away from migrants. We had to look after our own, aka not care for anyone else.
Our empathy has gone. Go back to the 80s under Thatcher and the priority was selfishness. It was to not care for others. Trump and Farage built platforms on mocking other people and being the embodiment of the most toxic form of masculinity. There’s a lack of empathy too from those who don’t want action or protests. They think people can wait when suicide hotlines are being posted everywhere because transgender people are so bloody scared, but to them that’s an acceptable price worth paying.
To those who do have empathy, the solidarity is being utilised into an anger that isn’t going to go. To have been granted so many rights after decades of struggle is going to be a bitter pill to swallow. Everything from non discrimination laws is up for grabs in both Trump’s America and a post-Brexit UK.
Young vs old, neighbour vs neighbour
That anger is propelling people forward, at least in America. The UK’s opposition to Brexit has been pathetic at organising. Thanks to Miller, the legal challenge was successful so that MPs have to debate triggering Article 50 but protests have been muted despite the fact that the vote was based on a series of lies. It isn’t as simply young vs old, however. Not every old person is bigoted and the Trump election (and subsequent hate crimes) certainly showed that not all young people are progressive. It’s much more unclear. The left is fragmented. Typically cisgender, white straight men focus on themselves and marginalised people are growing increasingly frustrated at being left behind at a politics designed to lift everybody up. The left has finally gotten sick of liberalism, but there are still those who call for coalitions (mostly liberals). The vote in America was black vs white, straight vs LGB and cisgender vs transgender.
The rage is simmering. There are two choices that the opposition to Trump (and Brexit) face: accept the result or keep going. To keep going will bring more anger and more conflict. There is no brink of civil war but America’s future internally will be far from quiet. Trump may not bring war with Russia, but he might not be able to reconcile Americans with each other.
America just does not seem compatible with one another. The progressives envision greater racial justice, binge watch shows with queer love at its heart and celebrate diversity. The right, want this gone. Even Hollywood’s products won’t align with the vision of Trump’s America. It’s hard to know how on earth America will go forward, but it will hopefully not be in silence.
The last point, and last hope, that people are grasping at is that Trump may not be as bad as he said he would be. This is a cold comfort to those who are directly facing losing their rights but it’s also a silencing tactic. It’s a plea not to cause problems when Trump might not be ‘that bad’. It gives validation to all the bad things he will do, because they were slightly less bad than they could have been. It’s folly to hope for a world slightly less awful. It sets the lowest standard and it suggests many should just accept poor treatment because at least it isn’t worse.
Even if the electoral college realises what a nightmare America is heading to and refuses to vote for him (they won’t), look at the damage that has already been wrought. Women are being told not to wear their hijabs, and hate crimes have been reported all over social media. This is only a few days later and America is already being torn apart by hate. If this election destroys one myth once and for all let it be the vapid saying that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. Trump hasn’t done anything yet, but already his words have caused tremendous pain.