Sunday, 27 November 2016

The election of Trump

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign - with racist messages at its heart - had clear echoes of two previous campaigns. One was the Republican Richard Nixon’s campaign in 1968. This followed the passing of historic legislation three years earlier by the Democrat president Lyndon Johnson to increase the rights of blacks and to ensure that they could exercise their right to vote.

Nixon sent coded and not-so-coded racist messages to whites in the South. These had the affect that the South, which had been solidly Democrat since the Civil War and the abolition of slavery by the first Republican president Abraham Lincoln, turned solidly Republican and it remains so today. This is why the poorest states in the US, which are all in the South, all vote Republican.

The other campaign was fictional. 

Since the election of Trump, there has been a huge surge in demand for a book published in 1935. It is a novel called “It Can’t Happen Here” and is by Nobel prize winning American author Sinclair Lewis.

The book describes how Senator Buzz Windrip is elected president after a campaign based on fomenting fear and grandiose promises. After his election, he becomes a fascist dictator.

It is impossible to read “It Can’t Happen Here”, without thinking of Donald Trump.

Windrip is described as a "clownish swindler”.  He is “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his "ideas" almost idiotic…” 

The fictional Windrip has barely ever read a book, as is also the case with Trump - a fact revealed by Trump’s one-time ghost writer.

This account of Windrip could be describing Trump too: - “He was an actor of genius. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts - figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.”

And Windrip, like Trump, was a “Professional Common Man.”  So that, “they’ll all be convinced that, even if he maybe has got a few faults, he's on the side of the plain people”.

Key to Windrip’s political appeal is the technique which has been used by the ruthless and unscrupulous for centuries. He tells the American people that their problems are caused by “the other”. He advocates restricting rights of Jews, blacks and women. He reasons, “Every man is a king so long as he has someone to look down on”.

Over 130 million people voted in the US election and it is now reported that over 2 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Donald Trump. 

However, as the world knows, it is not the popular vote that counts in US presidential elections but the votes in each state which go to decide the Electoral College votes. The result was decided by about 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all in the Rust Belt, an area of the US which was once a power house of industry but which has been in decline for decades. Trump won Pennsylvania by 1.1 percentage points (68,236 votes), Wisconsin by 0.9 points (27,257 votes), Michigan by 0.2 points (11,837 votes). 

The Washington Post described Trump’s victory as the “Revenge of the working-class whites”. Trump won among whites without college degrees by a huge 39 percentage point margin - much larger than Mitt Romney’s 25 point margin in 2012. No doubt this was crucial in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan and elsewhere.

However, it is the white rather than the working class which was more important in deciding how people voted. Trump won white voters by an overwhelming 58:37 margin.

However, amongst voters - of all races - earning less than $50,000 a year, Clinton beat Trump comfortably 52:41. 

As the Financial Times reported, “Trump’s support lay predominantly with those earning more than $56,000, the median income.” 

Just as with Brexit, although the narrative is of the working class being responsible for the victories, in fact both the Leave campaign and Trump relied on more middle class than working class voters.

How did Trump appeal to the blue collar white voters without alienating the college educated middle class white voters? Among white voters with a degree, Trump won 49:45.

Tens of millions of well-educated, comfortably off white Americans voted for Trump. They knew about his racism, his sexism, his bullying, his links with white supremacists, his lack of respect for the democratic process and the rule of law. They knew the danger of Trump in power being authoritarian or even fascist. They still voted for him.

Don’t just blame the “poor whites” for Trump’s election. It was middle-class and rich whites too.

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