Unity With the Right? A Deplorable Idea

Photo by Alec Perkins | CC BY 2.0

Donald, Trump, the United States’ first fully sub-human president, is a rolling atrocity. Tracking the Insane Clown President’s idiocies and outrages on and off Twitter is a full-time job. From his first day, spent claiming that the media had under-stated the size of his Inauguration Rally and telling the CIA that the U.S. might have another chance to invade Iraq and get its oil, it’s been one horrid episode after another:

+ His bungled, child-killing first-blood imperial raid on Yemen, approved while he dined.

+ His granting of a photo-op for rich diners at his Florida resort to pose with the military officer who carries the nuclear codes.

+ His idiotic Muslim travel ban.

+ His denunciation of a distinguished federal jurist who blocked his ban as a “so-called judge.”

+ His decision to single out the Environmental Protection Agency for the biggest budget cuts of any agency even as scientists recorded the first carbon dioxide reading above 410 parts per million.

+ His use of the presidential bully Tweet to denounce a retail chain for dropping his daughter’s perfume brand.

+ His juvenile upbraiding of his Press Secretary Sean Spicer for being parodied on Saturday Night Live.

+ His strange Twitter accusation that Obama wiretapped him.

+ His asinine missile-launch into a Syrian airfield.

+ His authoritarian banning of certain top media companies from a White House briefing.

+ His idiotic trade-spat with Canada.

+ His failure to adequately staff the White House, so egregious that he hadn’t even nominated anyone for 90 percent of the executive branch’s top 533 jobs by the 100th day of his presidency.

+ His bizarre dinner and discharge relationship with former FBI Director James Comey, which looks very consistent with the charge that he has been trying to obstruct justice.

+ His inability to secure Obamacare repeal even though the Republicans control both houses of Congress.

+ His adolescent Twitter post showing him beating up “CNN” at a World Wrestling Federation match.

+ His idiotic hiring and rapid firing of the revolting, foul-mouthed narcissist and mini-Trump Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director.

+ His laughable feud with his racist, right-wing Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

+ His continued preposterous refusal to release his tax returns.

+ His continuing, multiply farcical response to the Russiagate madness, which he only fuels with his own bottomless stupidity.

Future historians are going to have a hard time finding a worse U.S. chief executive. That’s saying quite a bit when you consider the sickening and squalid records of James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (who was already crippled by Alzhiemers in his second term), and George W. Bush, an open moron who thought that God told him to invade Iraq.

As Promised

This moronic “Bad Grandpa” presidency, possibly fueled by Trump’s dementia (would anyone like to review the 25th Amendment?) is misfiring as promised. “Elect a clown, expect a circus,” says one sage bumper sticker.

Nobody should be remotely surprised by anything absurd and venomous said or done by the orange-tinted beast in the White House.  During the presidential campaign, just to mention a few soul-numbing incidents, the Clockwork Orangatun:

+ Said that immigrants from Mexico were rapists and murderers and went on bizarre rants claiming that “criminal aliens” were wreaking havoc in the United States

+ Suggested (against all evidence) that blacks and Latinos would commit mass voter fraud.

+ Attacked a Mexican-American federal judge for ruling against the scam “Trump University,” attributing the magistrate’s decision to his ethnicity.

+ Advocated banning adherents of an entire world religion (Islam) from the United States.

+ Questioned John McCain’s status as an imperialist war hero (war criminal, actually) by saying that Trump preferred “heroes who don’t get captured.”

+ Offered to pay the legal bills of a white man who sucker-punched a black protester at a Trump rally.

+ Responded to the racial turbulence sparked by repeated video-captured police killings of black Americans by calling for a “national stop and frisk law”—that is, for a declaration of national racist martial law.

+ Continued to defend the railroading of the “Central Park Five”—five young black men wrongfully convicted (with Trump leading the charge) of raping a white woman in New York City in 1989. (The subsequently exonerated five spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit).

+ Engaged in the ugly racist imitation of an Asian accent in front of a hot microphone.

+ Mocked a disabled reporter in a chillingly juvenile way in front of a hot microphone.

+ Called climate change “weather” and said that global warming was a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese to harm U.S. manufacturing.

+ Promised to honor the results of the presidential election only if he won, thereby egging his more extreme backers to engage in violence if the count didn’t go his way.

+ Called his political opponents “losers,” gave them nasty, juvenile nicknames and bragged about his genitals.

+ Insulted the looks of a fellow Republican presidential candidate and those of other candidates’ wives.

+ Engaged in a rolling sexist vendetta against Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

+ Behaved like a lazy, boorish, and spoiled adolescent during his “presidential” “debates” with Hillary Clinton.

+ Followed his first hideous debate performance by going on a bizarre Twitter tirade at 3 a.m. against a former Miss Universe he once labeled “Miss Piggy.”

+ Wondered aloud why the U.S. couldn’t use nuclear weapons.

+ Advocated the use of torture and even the killing of terrorists’ families and relatives in the U.S. war on (of) terror.

+ Boasted that he’d “shoot” Iranian naval ships if they ever again interdicted “our beautiful destroyers with their little boats.”

That’s a short list.  Anyone who doubted that Trump revealed himself  to anyone paying attention as an idiotic monster before the election should watch his mind-bogglingly stupid and mean-spirited performance alongside Crooked (yes, he got that right) Hillary at the Al Smith Catholic Charities Dinner in October of last year: A 12-year old school bully from New Jersey and on crack could have handled this occasion with more grace.

But so what?  All these and other terrible moments in Herr Donald’s not-so presidential campaign hardly deterred more than 69 million sentient U.S.-American beings from marking ballots to place the demented and vicious buffoon in the world’s most powerful office. That’s 3 million less than voted for the “lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton, but 69 million is a big number of votes for an Insane Clown President.  And, remember, presidents aren’t actually elected through the popular vote in the “democratic” U.S.

A Party True Fairy Tale

Herr Donald’s outrages in office have not tended to dent his popularity with his base all that much.  A CNN report on a recent Gallup poll shows notes that “Trump supporters are just as on board as they were during the campaign.” Even after everything so far, Trump has a 74% approval rating from Republican Party members.  It was 80% as recently as July 15th.

So who actually backs this vile, unmitigated racist and sexist uber-asshole and national carnival-barking disgrace, this malevolent circus clown called Donald Trump? One of the sillier leftish folktales of our time holds that the quasi-fascistic Donald Trump won the presidency with a “working-class base” that would have elected the self-declared “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders if Sanders had been Trump’s Democratic Party opponent last November.  Trump won this cohort over to the Republicans, this storyline says, with his deceptive and effective use of economically populist anti-“free trade” rhetoric aimed at the blue collar and white working-class.

As a soulless neoliberal and Wall Street-captive candidate, the narrative runs, Hillary Clinton was vulnerable to Trump’s successful ploy to steal the Democratic Party’s onetime white-working class base.  Bernie, the line goes, would have avoided the theft, because he is an actual and sincere progressive populist who ran in accord with the onetime pro-worker, anti-inequality, and anti-plutocracy rhetoric of Democratic Party in its long pre-neoliberal New Deal era.  The white working class wouldn’t have fallen for a fake-populist Republican like Herr Donald if he’d been seriously opposed by an actual populist like Bernie.

This is a fairy tale on the whole, but not in its entirety.  Big parts of this historical account are true.  Hillary Clinton really was an awful and corporatist candidate  (see OR Books’ recent How I Lost, By Hillary Clinton, introduced and annotated by Joe Lauria) who failed egregiously (and quite pathologically) to attract enough working- and lower-class votes to prevail. As Sanders told one of my Iowa City neighbors in confidence after the Senator from Vermont spoke here to lackluster crowds on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf the Friday before the 2016 election: “she’s in trouble.  She doesn’t stand for anything.”

Well, not for anything beyond hatred of the eminently hate-able Trump and a related noxious brand of neoliberal identity politics. The ridiculous media wag Trump talked about policy more than did the wonkish Hillary on the campaign trail.

The arch-plutocrat Trump did in fact darkly and ironically wrap himself in the deeply disingenuous flag of blue-collar “heartland” populism.

Sanders did in fact run as an anti-plutocratic progressive. He would likely have garnered millions of working- and lower-class votes that Hillary could or would not mobilize.  He would probanly have defeated Trump if he’d been the Democratic Party nominee.

The Deplorable Petit-Bourgeois White-Nationalist Base

Where the storyline breaks down and collapses is on the question of who really constituted Trump’s base and why they voted the way they did.  Let’s start with the who. As the left  Lehigh University political scientist Anthony DiMaggio noted on CounterPunch a month and a half ago:

“Support for Trump … is largely concentrated among more affluent Americans. Trump voters were significantly more likely to be older, white, Republican conservatives—a group that has been quite privileged historically speaking. Trump voters were not more likely to be unemployed, compared to non-Trump voters. Income-wise, the single largest group of Trump supporters was comprised of individuals hailing from households earning incomes of more than $100,000 a year—which made up 35 percent of all his voters. Those earning between $75,000 to $100,000 a year accounted for 19 percent of Trump voters, meaning that 54 percent of the president’s supporters came from households earning over $75,000 a year. Another 20 percent of Trump supporters earned between $50,000 to $75,000 a year, putting them over the national median household income, which has long hovered around $50,000. In sum, approximately three-quarters of Trump voters were from households earning more than the national median income, while just one-quarter earned less than the median.”

Lost in the hoopla over Trump’s alleged “working-class base” is the all-too-easy-to-forget fact that a higher percentage of Trump’s voters (35 percent) than Hillary Clinton’s (34 percent) were from the one-fourth of Americans who live in households that “earn” (receive) over $100,000 a year.

Yes, the white working class, defined as Caucasians with less than a college degree demonstrated yet again their preference for Republicans over Democrats in the presidential election. Indeed, Trump bested Clinton among white voters without college degrees by 66 percent to 28 percent, the biggest Republican margin with those voters since 1980.

But the lack of a college diploma is a highly imperfect measure of working-class status. Bill Gates never got a bachelor’s degree. Neither did his proletarian comrade Mark Zuckerberg. Occupation and income are far better indicators. Exit polls include the second category but not the first. And nearly 60 percent of white people without college degrees who voted for Trump were in the top half of the income distribution. One in 5 white Trump voters without a college degree had a household income over $100,000.

Another difficulty with the white Trumped-proletarian narrative is that most whites without an allegedly class-defining college degree don’t vote. Thanks in part to this silent election boycott, Trump got votes from approximately just a fifth of the 136 million white American adults who lack the higher ed diploma.

The image of poor and working-class whites flocking to Trump is a media myth. Like fascist and other right-nationalist political movements of the past, Trump has drawn his main support from the more reactionary and status anxiety-driven  segments of the middle class and petite bourgeoisie.

Why did these people vote for the noxious, proto-fascistic brute Herr Donald? As Eric Draitser noted here last March, academic studies of exit polling data show that Trump’s backers were concerned primarily with the “social issues” he championed from the white nationalist and patriarchal right. Sexism and racism (white identity) were the leading correlates with Trump voting, not economic dissatisfaction or disadvantage. It was Trump’s chauvinistic positions and statements on race, gender and immigration—not his “blue-collar populism”—that scored him the most points with his mostly middle-class backers.

Even a Crooked Corporatist Clock Tells the Time Right Twice a Day

While I have long been a harsh Left critic of Hillary Clinton in particular and of the neoliberal and imperial Democratic Party “elite” in general, I have to say that “the lying neoliberal warmonger” was pretty much on target when (speaking at a $6 million LGBT fundraiser in New York at which some attendees paid $50,000) she referred to much of Trump’s base as “a basket of deplorables…racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobc, Islamophobic, you name it.”

Well, yes. She might have added “nativist, violent, militaristic, white nationalist, and eco-cidal.”

Score one for Hillary Clinton.  Even a crooked and corporatist clocks tells the time correctly once every twelve hours

Trump responded to Hillary’s politically unwise description of his base as saying that her remarks showed “her true contempt for everyday Americans.”  The truth in Trump’s response was that the arch-neoliberal Hillary has “true contempt for everyday Americans” – as does much of the Democratic Party’s corporatist and imperial establishment.  But the people Hillary described as deplorable are not truly all that representative of “everyday Americans.”  They are a relatively affluent and very disproportionately white and nasty, right-wing and reactionary segment of the populace.

If Sanders had been the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee (as would have occurred but for Clinton machine and DNC rigging) and then defeated Trump, many of these “deplorables” would be doing everything they could fight and destroy a president they’d be denouncing as some kind of totalitarian Marxist dictator. Think Tea Party on super paranoid-style steroids and with a much nastier and more undeniably fascistic and violent feel and more than a hint of heartland “anti-Semitism.”  They’d be up in arms, some literally, driven to new heights of apoplectic and apocalyptic madness by the nation’s giant Koch-snorting right-wing noise and Web machine.

Not “the People Who Ought to  be Organized by the Left”

One of the more childish and least defensible ideas floating around certain left circles these days holds that real and smart progressives should reach out to – and find “common ground” with – the kind of racist- sexist-homophobic-xenophobic-nativist-violent-militaristic-white nationalist-eco-cidalist people who voted for the quasi-fascistic Trump.

This is moral and practical nonsense.  The people who voted for the orange-tinted beast – a man who made his vicious attitudes and malignant, Twitter-addicted narcissism clear during the campaign – are not the deluded but ultimately decent proletarians some confused left thinkers imagine them to be.  They are the very right-wing petit-bourgeois white nationalist kinds of volk who will always be against just about everything good and decent: against peace, racial justice, working class struggle, unions, social equality, civil rights, environmental sustainability, the ecological commons and common good, and democratic socialism.

I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s uncharacteristically mistaken October 2009 advice to Left activists on how to respond to the rise of the supposed “right wing populist uprising” (Chomsky’s inaccurate characterization, widely shared on the left at the time) that was the AstroTurf Tea Party phenomenon: “these are people who ought to be organized by the left…don’t ridicule these people, join them and talk about their real grievances and give them a sensible answer like ‘Take over your factories.’” As DiMaggio noted in his important book The Rise of the Tea Party, Chomsky’s comment did “not comport well with the ideology of Tea Party activists, who are deeply suspicious of collectivism and unions, who abhor socialism, and who support fiscal discipline for the ‘undeserving poor,’ all in line with ‘free market’ rhetoric.”

Chomsky’s remark was ill-suited also to the Tea Party’s actual social-historical base, which is similar to Trump’s base.  It did not include many of the justly aggrieved proletarians who leftists fantasized about “taking back” from the right by telling deluded, FOX News-propagandized  white workers who is really screwing them – those the Occupy Movement labelled “the One Percent.”

The mistake is repeated, I think, in Chomsky’s praise for Arlie Hochschild’s widely read  2016 book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on American Right. Chomsky, channeling a common sentiment in liberal and left circles, said that the Democrats’ “former working-class constituency” had been “disillusioned by the disappearance of hope and the lack of change” under Obama and thus “switched to the con man [Trump] who declared that he will bring back what they have lost.”

The working-class disillusionment is real but it has led mainly to working class depression and demobilization, not a proletarian “switch to” Trump

Seek unity and common ground with Trump’s “good American” base and the right-wing more broadly? Why? What for? Beyond the problem of moral pollution (you can’t lie down with reactionary dogs without getting reactionary fleas), there’s a vast army of depressed and demobilized (thank the neoliberal Democrats and the dysfunctional Left for that) but decent and basically progressive, left-leaning lower-, working-, and middle-class workers and citizens to make contact with. A serious and functioning Left would be organizing the unorganized to build vast and powerful grassroots social movements that would easily dwarf Trump’s not-so working-class base of reactionary and middle-class whites

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for good liberal and Left people using whatever persuasive power they have to get as many right-wing Amerikanners as possible to have their own personal “American History X” moments and stand down from the interrelated poisons of white nationalism, racism, nativism, sexism, homophobia, militarism, hyper-masculinism, hyper-individualism, “free market” delusion, victim-blaming classism, authoritarianism, and (last but not least) ecocidalism.  I’m sure the pleasant liberal-left sociologist Arlie Hochschild made some good and useful impressions on the white and Christian Louisiana Tea Partiers she hung around with for five years while researching Strangers in Their Own Land.  Good for her.

Still, our top priority is most certainly not reaching out to the white-nationalist right. The right doesn’t actually have “our people.” It’s not anything remotely close to a majority.  The real and decidedly non-working-class Tea Party-Trump- FOX News-Breitbart base will be our fierce and dedicated (and armed) enemy if and when U.S. left progressives ever get their shit together and purge the last remnants of their deadly captivity to the pathologically demobilizing dismal, dollar-drenched, elitist, and neoliberal Dems.  Trump’s deplorable base is not pining to come over to the Left once the real populists and socialists take over or transcend the Democratic Party. Make no mistake it will have to be dealt with quite harshly and unsentimentally, if and when we ever take power.

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Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).