Donald Trump’s election will cause tremendous suffering to hundreds of millions of people in the United States and throughout the world. As we have seen since his lightly attended inauguration, his appeals to bigotry were far more than hateful campaign rhetoric. Trump has begun to put in place the apparatus that will attempt to implement his reactionary vision – a racist Attorney General with a history of attacks against African Americans and opposition to equal rights to lead the Department of Justice and its Civil Rights Division; a billionaire opponent of public schools to run the Department of Education; a climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; a foe of raising the minimum wage to head the Department of Labor. Trump appointed a Scalia look alike and promises to appoint anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court. He threatens world peace and raises the nightmare of nuclear war.
The rise of Trumpism creates an opportunity for radical organizing at the scale of the 1930s and 1960s. Trump’s attacks on women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims and others provides a basis for unity in the defense of democratic rights and an opening to build alliances with working people and the poor, including many of those who voted for Trump and will soon learn the falseness of his promises.
Within the past few years we have seen massive upsurges of people demanding change, from the Occupy movement to Black Lives Matter to the powerful support of the Bernie Sanders candidacy. What has been lacking in these efforts is the intentional effort to build a structured opposition with a platform of demands and organizational structure outside the Democratic Party. I say the movement’s demands must be “radical,” meaning that they confront and change status quo power dynamics rather than simply seeking to change policies without addressing the stranglehold of the elite on all aspects of American life. It is time to begin that process.
Trump really does plan to build a wall at the border with Mexico. His Secretary of State from Exxon will continue his long career of putting oil production before the interests of people everywhere. He is building the Keystone XL and DAPL. Trump’s appointment of an administration overflowing with billionaires and Goldman Sachs bankers should convince anyone who thought otherwise that he cares little about the working people he convinced to vote for him.
The silver lining to this gloomy cloud is that a Trump presidency clarifies where people’s interests lie far better than the election of Hillary Clinton could. Clinton pandered to Goldman Sachs and accepted huge “speaking” fees while proclaiming herself the champion of women and people of color; Trump exposed Clinton’s eagerness to accept the bankers’ bribes and then named them to lead his government. Here is the irony of our supposed two-party system: two representatives of slightly different wings of the 1% competed for the votes needed for election by making arguments to different sectors of the 99%.
Clinton claimed she would fight for the rights of people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. Trump appealed to disaffected whites who resent the modest advances made by groups long shut out of the American dream and correctly viewed the policies of the neoliberal Democratic Party for the losses of their jobs and standards of living.
Two thirds of white working class workers voted for Trump; among whites with college degrees, less than half did. But attempting to explain the vote solely in class terms, or solely in racial terms, misses the mark. White voters with college degrees favored Trump over Clinton, 49 to 45 percent. My takeaway is that a large portion of Trump voters were just who they sounded like – narrow minded, ignorant people ready to blame Blacks, women, Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and LGBTQ people for their problems and disappointments. Many of these people are the same white racists who have voted Republican since Richard Nixon unleashed his Southern strategy against the Democratic Party and its support for civil rights laws in the 1960s.
Another substantial group of Trump supporters are the people who traditionally vote Republican – middle class business people, retirees, and farmers who do not live in the Northeast or on the West Coast. Many of them claimed to despise Trump’s rhetoric, but not so much that they would vote for a Democrat. The third large group was the one that surprised the Democrats, the pollsters, the pundits, and many of us on the left – traditional Democratic voters, particularly in the Midwestern, declining industrial states who rightly blamed the traditional elites for policies that have harmed them and their families. These voters were taken in by Trump’s populist, outsider, “drain the swamp” rhetoric. They understood that they had been victimized by the economic policies of the elites that dominate both parties.
Bill Clinton, both Bushes and Obama implemented policies that favor the interests of international finance over those of U.S. manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers. The rise of neoliberalism meant tax breaks for the rich, free trade, and free market capitalism, endless wars to protect narrow interests, reduction in support for education, housing, and public transportation, the virtual destruction of unionized working conditions in the private sector, opposition to affirmative action and equal opportunity through promotion of the myth of a colorblind society, and the use of police terror to compel submission to the neoliberal agenda. Efforts to transform the Democratic Party must confront the reality that Democrats and Republicans alike share responsibility for the state of the union.
I believe that many in what I have called the third group of Trump supporters will quickly see that his policies will not propel them back into prosperity and comfort. The erosion of union jobs, rolling back efforts to raise the minimum wage, taking away healthcare coverage extended under Obamacare, and cutting taxes for the rich will just accentuate the economic inequalities that have been growing for decades. The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from 10.7% in 1980 to 20.2% in 2014. The share going to the bottom 50% has decreased from 20% in 1980 to 12.5% in 2014. I emphasize that this period includes 16 years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies. Anyone who thinks these trends will change under Trump should take a hard look at the nice bridge I have for sale.
The relevance of this analysis is that it points the way to building a progressive coalition to bring change to American society. Imagine African Americans, Hispanics and all people of color, indigenous people, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, religious minorities, the poor, and open minded and progressive working people coming together to create and fight for a program of radical change. This coalition could include tens of millions of people and would be unstoppable.
The four million people who participated in the women’s marches represent just the beginning of a culture of resistance. That resistance must develop a program of concrete demands and an organization to rally support.
A strategy for creation of a new, Solidarity Coalition might include the following principles:
(1) Leadership by the disenfranchised, particularly people of color, women, youth, LGBTQ folk, and the poor.
(2) Radical, participatory democracy in every aspect of the organization.
(3) Independence from the Democratic Party. Progressive Democrats should be welcomed and supported, but the new organization must be independent of the Democratic Party.
(4) A multi-faceted strategy that includes direct action, community organizing, and electoral politics. Electoral efforts should prioritize local, winnable elections rather than symbolic statewide and national campaigns.
(5) A radical but simple program, something akin to the 10-Point Program of the Black Panther Party rather than a dense and complex tome. The challenge will be to formulate a set of no more than 10-15 broad demands that capture people’s needs and present radical alternatives to the status quo. The focus should be on political, social, and economic power – taking it from those who control it now.
The time is now. Millions will immediately see the relevance of a movement that proclaims Solidarity and Resistance and points the way to a better future. What are we waiting for?