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Why the Democrats Couldn’t Defeat Someone as Loathsome as Trump

Photo by Tyler Merbler | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Tyler Merbler | CC BY 2.0

Some preliminary thoughts on the Democrats’ failure to beat someone as loathsome as Donald Trump:

1) Insider Democrats did all they could to tilt the scales (Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, et al) to nominate the most out-spokenly neo-liberal candidate ever. Though I wasn’t a Bernie supporter, leading Democrats chose to ignore how their candidate was the least able to defeat anyone in the Republican field – Wall Street had their candidate, and they were with her, and everyone in the Dems’ base just had to suck it up.

In 2008, Obama and Clinton did their best to out anti-NAFTA each other in the Ohio and other rust belt primaries, and despite evidence to the contrary, hope-against-hope, many working class people believed them. Eight years later the evidence was too glaring to ignore — Goldman Sachs speeches, Clinton Fdn pay-to-play, TPP, etc., and for good, and demonstrably bad reasons, white working class voters deserted the Democrats. Any wonder why Trump swept the rust belt?

2) The last two years have, with good reason, seen an explosion of fury against racist police murders – with most of the mayors covering for the cops being Dems of the Rahm Emanuel variety. So is it any wonder that Dems couldn’t more motivate urban areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio to offset the white, rural racist vote?

3) As a political junky I’ve tried to engage as many people of as many different backgrounds as possible to find out their views on the election. Despite many months of conversations, I have yet to have had a face-to-face discussion with anyone who was enthusiastically FOR Clinton. The enthusiasm of her many supporters always went the other way – AGAINST the bigotry of Trump, and “yes she’s got faults, but Trump is SO horrible.”

This was seen in the largest, truly motivated group of Clinton voters – Latinos. After a record 2 million deportations of the undocumented under an incumbent Democrat, Latinos swept to the polls not in an act of pro-Clinton allegiance, but in anti-racist disgust against Trump.

3) The United States has always been much more racist and otherwise bigoted than most liberals congratulated themselves about after the 2008 victory of President Obama. The 2008 election should have been an FDR vs. Herbert Hoover cake-walk victory. We had by far the worst recession since the Great Depression (that year’s October surprise) and yet the incumbent party only narrowly lost?

The explanation should have been clear at the time – the only reason it was close at all was because the challenger was a black man, and racist America largely wasn’t ready to accept a black man as president despite the disaster that was the was the incumbent party.

Seven years later and most working class incomes are just beginning to recover to the pre-Great Recession levels, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that real working class incomes have lost enormous ground since the early 1970s. Enter a racist bloviator who blames that declining income on all the usual scapegoats, and adds in some phony anti-Wall Street populism for good measure.

Just about the only solace the Dems should take from this is that the next recession will likely occur during a Trump first term, and it will likely not be a “usual” recession, but a really bad one that will hurt all working class people enormously.

Here’s why: We already have one of the longest (and weakest) economic expansions in history. The next recession will probably be unusually savage because the usual stimulators for moderating such recessions — lowering interest rates and deficit spending — are already largely tapped out. The savage effects of the next recession will not only be accentuated by a governing party that loathes U.S. cities and their residents.

The incumbent party, in this case the Republicans, will be blamed for it, just as the Democrats have been blamed for the failure of the current anemic expansion to make a real difference in most working class people’s incomes.

But don’t expect the Democrats to offer the sort of truly paradigm-altering programs we saw during the Great Depression — unless forced to by massive opposition to BOTH parties from the ground up. Things like the three general strikes in 1934. Things like the occupations of all major workplaces and the formation of the mass, industrial unions in the immediate few years thereafter that forced the creation of America’s first social safety net after many previous decades’ failures.

Rather than tinker around the edges with phony “help the homeless” vouchers, token job-training programs and other such neoliberal nonsense that is common currency today, massive public works programs put millions to work, massive construction of affordable housing put people in homes, and rights like the 8 hour day and Social Security pensions for the elderly were won.

All of the promises of the early New Deal years began to go down the toilet when the independent left largely threw its lot in with Democrats in the 1936 election and thereafter. With the onset of WWII, McCarthyism and then the more severe recessions beginning in the 1970s, Democratic politicians increasingly attacked their own base. The same was seen after the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, when the remnants of those movements threw their lot in with the Democrats in the 1970s.

Unlike some Bernie supporters, I do not see that even the most robust New Deal style programs will even begin to solve the most fundamental, anti-human, anti-planet problems of capitalism. They will at best ameliorate them.

But this side of overthrowing capitalism, widespread amelioration is a better alternative to the far more savage results we saw during the 1930s in other countries. And for that we need to re-learn the lessons of the struggles of the 1930s, and how BOTH major parties were at the core of the problems, and not the solutions.

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Andy Thayer has written previously about the then-impending Supreme Court decisions here and here. He is a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network in Chicago and can be reached at LGBTliberation@aol.com

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