Seven theses about what Donald Trump’s election does — and doesn’t — mean.
A fear-mongering, race-baiting, predatory Islamophobe has won the White House. I formed my first impressions of Donald Trump listening to a talk by Yusef Salam, one of the Central Park 5. Donald Trump used his inheritance to demand their lynching. He will soon become the most powerful man in the world. Say no more.
Yet leftists are forever trying to change the world, in various ways; let us understand it, first. My newsfeed is full of injunctions to organize. Absolutely. But to organize, we should learn the right lessons from this debacle. And to learn the right lessons, we need the right explanations.
White supremacy does not explain Trump’s victory, unless all we mean by “white supremacy” is that Trump, like every president before him, was carried to the White House by white people. All Klansmen are Trump supporters, but all Trump supporters are not Klansmen. The one-fact summary of this election is the defection of Rust Belt whites without a college degree. Fifty-odd years ago they were voting for LBJ. Today, left behind by globalization, capital flight, and technical change, they’ve lashed out at the establishment, defending their past (and their welfare state) against assault by any number of scapegoats: China, immigrants, black people. Their fathers had great jobs; they want that world back. The elephant’s trunk has had its revenge.
Misogyny does not explain Trump’s victory. 42 percent of women voted for him. Maybe a few were motivated to do so by his sexism, but surely most chose to ignore it. The costs of voting for a predatory, anti-choice sleazeball were outweighed by the benefits of sticking it to the man. If you cannot understand that choice (and I confess I cannot), you have probably not lived through what they have.
Stupidity and ignorance do not explain Trump’s victory. These people no longer trust milquetoast liberals, and why should they? Nativism is less establishment, more radical, more promising. Of course Trump won’t bring back the jobs — not from overseas, not from immigrants. But to defeat him we needed a bold, different agenda for those whose world has crumbled over thirty years. They are not the wretched of the earth; far from it. But they’ve lived a miserable few decades, and they’re angry. Instead, liberalism fought Trump with the sweet-nothings of an impeccable insider.
Establishment liberalism has no answer because Democrats live in a parallel universe. They are perched on the tip of the elephant’s trunk, where it’s not thirty years of factory closings and opiate addiction, but Uber and stock options.
Yet if the Left writes off Trump’s base, we too have no answer. All the socialist POC in the country can’t fill a football stadium, much less put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In the main, we live in universities and/or in blue-state bastions. If organizing means nothing more than doubling down, we are in trouble.