On Tuesday, over 47 percent of voters chose a racist, billionaire demagogue to lead the country. It was a victory for nativism, bigotry, regressive economic theories, anti-LGBTQ identity politics, and antichoice policies. But it was not a repudiation of radical progressive programs.
In fact, the time is ripe for common-sense socialism to make concrete gains across the country–and it’s needed now more than ever.
It’s impossible to understand Donald Trump’s victory without recognizing a stunning shift in the Democratic Party’s voters. Writing in Jacobin, Jedediah Purdy showed that Hillary Clinton fared much worse with voters who make under $50,000 a year than Barack Obama did, while doing much better with those who make over $100,000. In other words, the Democratic Party’s base has shifted from the working class to the elites.
Trump saw that shift, and he took advantage of it. He repeatedly criticized Clinton for being out of touch with common people, tapping into the widespread disdain the public has for politicians. And it worked. His rightwing populism resonated with many voters.
With secretive trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the growing influence of dark money after Citizens United, and the pervasive use of gerrymandering to limit public influence, it didn’t take much to turn these voters away from the Democrats.
Of course, Trump’s populism is a clearly sham. He’s just the kind of elite he claimed to oppose, as his list of potential cabinet members proves. But more importantly, his politics thrives on a hateful approach that turns people against each other, ensuring that those who have power stay in power and that those who are oppressed will only be more oppressed.
Certainly, that hateful rhetoric appeals to dedicated racists, who in turn helped fuel Trump’s rise. But it’s a mistake to write off all of Trump’s voters as unrepentant racists who can’t be convinced to see his bigotry for what it is: a moral failure and a political dead-end. It’s also a mistake to forget about the 45 percent of eligible voters who did not vote at all, many of whom did so because they don’t believe anyone in Washington will work for them, whatever their party. If we present those two groups another political program, one that addresses their justified disillusionment with politics while fostering solidarity among all peoples, we can start building a world based on justice and equality.
That political program is socialism.
Bernie Sanders’s primary campaign showed that there is a widespread interest in a working-class politics, especially among young people. Building from that, we must show those who are disillusioned by the status quo that there is a better way. But we also must stand explicitly against Trump’s bigotry, ensuring that antiracism, antisexism, LBGTQ rights, and immigrant rights are central tenets to our movement.
We can only do those things by uniting all working people into one political party. But that’s exactly what a socialist politics does. With it, we can fight back against both the Democratic Party’s elitism and the Republican Party’s regressive nativism.