Donald J Trump is President-elect of the United States; If the dinosaurs made a sound when they went extinct, then his election is a dying generation’s equivalent.
This isn’t a piece that’s going to go into mass hysteria and jump on the internet hype-train about how we need to build nuclear bunkers and how a Trump Presidency is the worst thing that could even have happened. Instead, this is a thought on how and why President Trump was even a possibility, namely that the alienation and disenfranchisement of the white working class is directly responsible.
The last 50 years of prosperity and globalisation has brought nothing for the forgotten, white working classes of the US
The last 50 years of prosperity and globalisation has brought nothing for the forgotten, white working classes of the US. Many of us have benefited from the change in the economy from industrially to service (i.e. finance, lawyers, managers) focussed, but there are whole swathes of America who relied upon the now-exported industry.
Industry provided well-paid, skilled jobs for the towns that sprung up around it and (whilst it’s decline was arguably inevitable) the fact that there was no retraining programme in place meant that coming out of the Reagan era these communities in the rust-belt states and the country were allowed to be utterly destroyed.
Unemployment has persisted in these communities as the cities became more and more the economic driving force of the US. People in the country and previously industrial states were forgotten about and mocked- the establishment media painted a picture of a benefit scrounging, jobless underclass and labelled it representative of rural Texans, Ohioans and others. There was no investment in the country as there had been in the cities and, overtime, this created a white working class who did not work, did not vote and did not care. They became a disenfranchised shadow of what they once were.
They are right about the fact that the past 50 years of unregulated capitalism has helped no one but the rich, too. America is second worst in the world in terms of child poverty with one in three children living in poverty. The gap between rich and poor is equally huge with the US having a Gini coefficient score of 81 (a measure of inequality in which 0 is perfect equality and 100 would mean perfect inequality, or one person owning all the wealth). The US has the most wealth inequality, with a score of 81 meaning more wealth is in the hands of proportionately fewer people, and this has widened.
To put it in context, there is a large part of the US – the white working class – who have suffered from the past fifty years of globalisation and have not benefited like the rich have. They have received no investment, no welfare and have had their beliefs and ideas laughed at. This has created a gulf of “forgotten voters”- whole communities of these white working class people who have not voted because, ultimately, it meant nothing to their daily lives.
His promise to “make America great again”- such a meaningless rhetoric, but to those who had nothing it meant everything
Of course, other groups have suffered as well. Ethnic minorities continue to be unequal in American society, particularly African Americans of whom one in three men will experience jail time in their lifetime. Women are likewise disadvantaged, earning (on average) 66% less than men. LGBTIQ+ individuals also continue to suffer persecution despite the fact that homosexual marriage is now legal.
But if the white working class was a group, Trump organised it into an army. He filled the void for an alternative to the status quo with his anti-establishment and populist sentiment. Giving the forgotten people an alternative where no one else had, he tapped into the same anti-establishment sentiment which made Bernie Sanders so popular. Trump told the white working class (who already associated wealth, ambition and hard work with him from watching his reality television programmes and eating his steak) that a liberal elite, minority-loving, city-based establishment was at fault for their problems.
He promised people he would take them back to times where the rust belt was a shining steel beam connecting America, he promised to get rid of ethnic minorities who had been appearing just as the white working class began to go down but ultimately this can all be summarised by his promise to “make America great again”- such a meaningless rhetoric, but to those who had nothing it meant everything.
The white working class ate up his promises for they had nothing else. The only alternative to Trump’s alternative was Bernie Sanders who was crushed by the Democratic establishment and that, in many people’s minds, proved the point that the Democrats were the lapdog of the elite.
We cannot know what Trump will do as president, but we can strive to understand why he was elected
The establishment that Trump directed his army’s hate towards was a liberal, lefty, foreign one. But in truth the establishment IS Trump. It is the racist, sexist, xenophobic, oppressive, rich white men who pass through the revolving door between business, congress and media, running the world. This establishment is embodied in Trump; he is what they see when they stare into the mirror of populism. So much so is this the case that you could argue Trump being in power is nothing new- merely the establishment revealing itself.
We mustn’t excuse the racism and xenophobia of poor, white Americans (and it is white America who voted for him) but we must attempt to understand why it exists and how we can prevent it from spreading. When we do, we can unite the struggles of the working class with that of ethnic minorities and women and, in turn, unite all these with the progressive movement that Sanders unearthed.
This Trump presidency will be as far from ‘ok’ as possible, but progressives must come together in opposition to the neo-fascist right which has reared its ugly head across the west. We cannot know what Trump will do as president, but we can strive to understand why he was elected and in doing so we can attempt to heal the massive divide that exists across the entire west, not just the US.
We live in desperate times, and if we are to destroy this far-right populist movement we must understand it and reach out to the white working class which has got behind it.
Donald J Trump becoming President must be the greatest achievement of the twenty-first century far-right – we cannot allow it to make any more ground.