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The revenge of forgotten America

John Bell

November 9, 2016


And so the horror that was the 2016 election reached its conclusion. The two worst candidates in electoral history duked it out for over a year, and the worst one won.

This is sort of like how it must have felt the morning after British voters chose to leave the European Union. The punditocracy is in shock. Global markets tank in terror. The price of gold is spiking. The “smart money” is looking pretty stupid. The banks, big business, the so-called 1% and the majority of their representatives are preparing to convince President Trump to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership deal after all.  The hoi poloi rush to put their assets in offshore havens – oh wait.

And like the Brexit experience, there will be many who will wake with remorse for casting a protest vote with Trump, begging “Can we have a do-over?”

The results are straight out of a shopworn 1980’s Hollywood script about a dystopian future – remember The Running Man. You saw that movie and laughed; Donald Trump was taking notes. The key element of those movies was the army of extras, American workers, dispossessed, simmering with anger, just waiting for a bigger-than-life saviour. Trump is a pretty down-market Ahnold, but he seized the moment.

These are the people who voted Trump in. CNN exit polls got it right; they reported a huge majority of voters in places like Florida and Ohio describing themselves as “angry” and “wanting change”. Whether Trump is the change they really need is another matter.

He spoke directly to them in his acceptance speech. “The forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no more.” He talked about putting America back to work rebuilding infrastructure in almost New Deal terms. Whether he can and will do these things is, for a while, irrelevant.

I don’t want to suggest Trump’s election is a good thing. It also looks like he delivered control of Congress to the Republicans as well, and will appoint the next generation of Supreme Court Justices. For social movements that have become ossified and solely focussed on a legal strategy to win and defend gains this is a sobering moment. The only consolation I can offer is the consolation of history: no gains for women’s rights, LGTB rights, or civil rights were won first in the courts. They were won in the streets, in town halls, in church basements, in factory lunch rooms – the very places our movements have ignored and turned over to the Trump trumpeters.

I often think of the words of a wise friend who says that every workplace, any random gathering of people, is made up this way: 20 per cent are on the left and offer progressive, collective analysis and solutions; 20 per cent are on the right and will argue division and cozying up with the boss; and in the middle are the 60 per cent who can be pulled in one direction or the other.

In the wake of this election shock, liberals will blame those in the middle for being racist or stupid. I blame us, the 20 per cent that should have been in there with them, feeling the hurt and anger of their dispossession and arguing to take it in a positive direction.

Bernie Sanders showed that this was possible. Imaging this morning seeing the stock market plunge, the price of gold spike, and the President-elect being a socialist. But where Trump took advantage of an already fractured Republican Party that couldn’t get its shit together enough to block him or find a consensus candidate to unite behind, the smarty-pants in the Democratic Party used every dirty trick in the book to block Sanders voters in a primary system that truly was rigged. Team player and nice guy to a fault, Bernie Sanders was no match for the DNC machine.

I am not going to pretend that Clinton was as bad as Trump; she actually was the lesser evil. First, this speaks to how monumentally evil Trump is. He knowingly encouraged racism and white nationalism in his campaign. He didn’t flinch when the KKK endorsed him. It is mind-boggling that it took this long for his sex crimes to be exposed – I’m talking about sexual assault and rape, not just the general aura of misogyny and contempt for women he never even bothered to conceal. Even his own supporters laughed when he claimed “No one has more respect for women than me. No one.”

At every stage of the campaign Trump revealed himself to be a self-satisfied bully used to having his money buy his every desire and protect him from any repercussions. He is not just the worst presidential candidate ever, he is well in the running for the worst person ever.

Yes, it meant something that Clinton could have been the first US woman president. There were moving scenes as women and men lined up at the grave of suffragette leader Susan B. Anthony’s grave to place their “I Voted” stickers there. But apart from that she was the candidate of the status quo, the epitome of standing pat.

The emails that haunted her campaign were not indictable, but that wasn’t the point. They, and the sleazy cash-for-connection workings of the Clinton Foundation, showed where her connections, support and empathy lie: with the so-called 1%. She shilled for the corner offices, the banks, the brokers, the people who had robbed a generation of Americans of their future. Trump –genuinely or not – spoke to that dispossessed America.

It was no contest.

A couple of last points.

The sordid revelations about Trump will continue to come tumbling out in the coming months. I predict that many will not only be indictable offences, but could lead to criminal action. He is a life-long sexual predator and unfit to be dog catcher, let alone president. His army of supporters will see this as an attempt of the status quo to reassert itself, and they will have a point, in so far as the status quo was content to conceal and even condone his crimes until it needed them. If you thought the last couple of years was an ugly shitshow, buckle up.

Parties like the NDP need to give themselves a slap. Will you continue to move to the centre, to the status quo, and write off disaffected Canadians as a stage army that can trotted out at election time? Or will you take their grievances seriously and begin with them to challenge the system? They know the system isn’t working, and if you try to deny it (balance that budget, nominate that cop) they will turn their backs on you for ever. Rightly so.

Join the public forum "What next after the US election?," Wednesday November 16, 7pm at Steelworkers Hall: 25 Cecil St, Toronto

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