Continuing the Discussion: Comments on Stansbury Forum Election Articles

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The articles by Mike Miller, Garrett Brown and Bill Fletcher Jr.(found below) on the elections form part of what needs to be a wide-ranging look at the implications of Trump’s victory. What follows are comments that I hope form a contribution to continuing the discussion.

Mike Miller speaks to an important truth — working class support for Trump grew out of anger at deteriorating economic conditions and lack of a political voice in our country. In consequence: many were willing to overlook his racism and misogyny. So too, Hillary Clinton lost because she failed to address basic concerns of working people and embodied the corruption and self-serving nature of the political system. Yet I would add that millions of workers voted for Clinton, notwithstanding a total lack of enthusiasm for her, because they feared the implications of a Trump victory and because they saw value in the possibility of expanding democratic rights by building upon the legacy of the Obama’s Administration. These two truths need to be held in mind or else we fall into a zero sum game of posing social rights and economic rights against each other. Furthermore, while it is certainly true that many who voted for Trump are not racist (and that Clinton’s characterization Trump supporters as “deplorables” was of a piece with her decades earlier characterization of black youth as “super-predators”), it is also true that they were willing to overlook his racism and sexism and thus acted in disregard for those whose plight is worse than their own. People may have immigrant neighbors and friends whom they like and respect and for whom they wish no harm. But harm will come their way. This isn’t to wag a finger at people from a standpoint of moral superiority, but simply to state the obvious that solidarity isn’t a choice — it is a necessity not only to movement building but even more critically to the task of organizing in the tradition of the models Miller suggests. Absent that, right-wing demagogues will reap the benefits of discontent by pointing the blame away from the real culprits.

Miller’s conclusions are reinforced by Garrett Brown’s information — his breakdown of election results paints a picture of people responding in anger to a world spinning out of control. The assault on “government” (in reality, an assault on democratic rights and public control over public resources) led by the right has so devalued politicians in the public mind, that people could see themselves voting for someone “unqualified,” for what difference does it make if one is disenfranchised anyway. That said, it is important to note that people who are genuinely in danger of being disenfranchised, those whose economic and living conditions are most dire, rejected the demagogue. It is not irrelevant to note that Clinton won more votes than Trump; that her vote total would have gone up had their been no voter suppression, that Bernie would have in all likely have done even better. There is a crisis in the system, and as Brown notes, there is an opportunity in Democratic Party politics, in progressive politics more generally, to break out of this impasse and address our society’s structural crisis. Yet we must recognize that the other side has more power and is willing to use it. The threat to civil liberties, civil rights and union rights are palpable and have to be soberly considered as we search for common ground upon which to move forward.

Bill Fletcher’s analysis was, frankly, inspiring — he addresses these nuances and provides a framework to conceptualize resistance. And he is correct that Trump’s appeal is based on a false nostalgia for a mythical past in which every one “knew their place,” and in which the “American Dream” was possible. I will add that we need to be careful about slipping into a liberal version of this (as many unionists do) when we look back on the 1950s as a golden time for the American working class — because that feeds into a subtext that social struggles (i.e. civil rights/black freedom, women’s liberation, anti-war movements and the counterculture) were in some ill-defined way responsible for decline; rather than seeing those movements themselves as active agents creating new rights (and indeed, new opportunities) that benefited all working people. We can and should mourn the loss of industrial jobs that have devastated communities from Michigan to West Virginia and fight to rebuild manufacturing, without for a minute forgetting or ignoring the oppressive conditions, low pay, health risks, discrimination, ever-present on those jobs. We do not contest myths of the right by substituting myths of our own.

At the same time, I would add to Fletcher’s analysis the important point that we have too readily allowed the right to wrap itself in the American flag. US history is complicated, its birth inseparable from slavery and the destruction of Native lives. Yet that is not the whole story; for people have fought to build and create a more equal and just society and thereby created a heritage that we can and should build upon. The universal rights inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution’s “We the People,” the words of the Gettysburg Address and on the Statue of Liberty — all form a part of our heritage that we should claim as our own. Struggles throughout US history have largely been defined by those prevented from enjoying such rights demanding that they be made real to them. Again, this doesn’t mean forgetting the structures set up to preserve a “white republic,” it does mean that we can hold that two clashing truths are valid at the same time: the racism and oppression at our founding and the promise of inalienable rights that are also part of our founding. . Anti-Trump protestors holding up signs that proclaim that Trump doesn’t speak for “my America” does that — for it defines the tradition we seek to realize in the future.

And a last point: we need to put opposition to war abroad and militarism back into the center of progressive, labor, left organizing. Trump’s election — in a complicated way — speaks to the coarsening effect of perpetual war, of the undermining of democratic rights it has entailed. The acceptance of violence as inevitable is an inevitable outcome of perpetual war. On the other hand, it has engendered a war weariness that has been misplaced. This is important because Trump’s election raises the danger of war in a new way, contained in the promise of a narrow assertion of US power abroad — a danger which coexists even with his “peace-making” noises. Those noises (similar to those Hitler made, notwithstanding his bellicosity) contributed to Clinton’s loss of the vote of many veterans, many soldiers, who are tired of “nation-building.” Too little recalled is that Obama’s initial victory over Clinton was because he was seen as an anti-war candidate (at least compared to her); Trump too played that card. The left needs to make non-intervention and peace part of every aspect of our resistance.

On all the above we need further thoughts and proposals — Stansbury Forum is providing a valuable service by giving space to this discussion.

About the author

Kurt Stand

Kurt Stand was active in the labor movement for over 20 years including as the elected North American Regional Secretary of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers until 1997.  That year he was arrested and served 15 years in prison on charges of having committed espionage for the GDR, charges he unsuccessfully contested at trial and upon appeal.  Currently he works at a bookstore, is a member of the Washington Metro DSA, is active in Progressive organizations in his community of Cheverly, Maryland, serves as a Portside Labor Moderator and is the facilitator of a Metro DC Labor/Reentry jobs project.

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