Reflections on the Trump Election: What is to be Done?
In one of the most improbable scenes in US history Donald Trump – New York Real Estate huckster, Reality Show Host and narcissistic bunko artist – raised his right hand and was sworn in as the 45th President of the United states of America. It was a day that will live forever in Infamy! His rise to the most powerful office in the world surprised both the wisest wags among the punditariat and scientific pollsters alike.
They all had assured us that there was “no path to 270 delegates” for Trump, a rank amateur at the art of politics who gave every indication of being clueless about the matter of governance. An impression that has not changed despite the victory that has put him in the Oval Office. This is a frightening reality to most thoughtful people that have some idea what the duties and responsibilities of the Presidency are.
As the Democrats recover from the shock of it all, the conversation is about what went wrong? It is a question that is bound to result in a lot of soul searching and finger pointing. Some think the essential lesson of the electoral defeat is that the Democratic Party needs to be revamped, fire the leadership and remake itself. I disagree. I think we should first of all adopt the position “no enemies on the left;” calmly assess the reasons for the Trump victory and devise a strategy to fight back and limit the damage that right-wing ideologues who dominate the Grand Obstructionist Party can do before we remove them from power in the election.
I insist that this is not the time to talk about “reforming” the Democratic party; for the election had virtually nothing to do with the shortcomings of the Democrats. The fact is that they are already miles ahead of the Republicans in protecting and advancing the interests of the working and middle class demographic that voted for Trump. That’s why Hillary Clinton was endorsed and supported with manpower and money by the leadership of America’s great labor unions. Although much of their politically backward rank and file supports Trump, which could have been largely avoided if the unions offered political education classes and made them mandatory as a condition of Union membership wherever possible.
Yet, even so, Trump barely got elected by the skin of his teeth based on a peculiar algorithm employed by the Electoral College, who has the final word in deciding who shall be President. Yet it is an unassailable fact that Donald Trump, now President of the richest and most powerful nation in the world, actually lost the popular vote registering the will of the American people to Hillary Clinton, who won by almost three million more votes than Trump! This was by far the largest margin a candidate has ever polled in a US presidential election and yet lost to their opponent.
Ever the hype artist, Trump declared in a December 11th, interview on Fox News: “We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.” This is pure historical fantasy that wouldn’t be plausible as historical fiction; let alone real history. The fact is that Trump won the Electoral College with a mere 306 votes, which is far from a landslide. Trump got 56.88% of the Electoral College, while Barack Obama got 67.84%; this is 11 points higher. Franklin Delano Roosevelt got 98% and George Washington got 100%.
These are landslides; Trumps victory actually ranks in the bottom quarter of all the Presidents that have followed George Washington! Another measure of how far Trump’s anemic victory was from a landslide consider the fact that in 1964 Lyndon Johnson got 486 Elector’s votes to Barry Goldwater’s 52 votes. In the election of 1972 “Dirty Dick” Nixon got 520 Electoral College votes to George McGovern’s 17!
Trump’s margin of victory was a mere 77 thousand votes, spread over three states in the rustbelt where the prolonged misery of structural unemployment led them to seek salvation in a fast-talking bunko artists cum real estate huckster who knows nothing of industrial production or running a government. A sober assessment of the electoral numbers show that it is nonsense to talk about a sweeping Trump victory, such exaggerations run the risks of overestimating their mandate and underestimating their vulnerabilities.
One of their vulnerabilities that will become increaingly manifest is that Republican policies will inflict pain upon these voters because they are the most reliant on goverment programs. For instance, the 500 counties that voted for Hillary Clinton produce 60% of the Gross Domestic Product, while the over 2000 counties that voted for Trump produce only 37%, and receives the lion’s share of government assistance! Hence it’s only a matter of time before they begin to feel the pain.
I am not arguing that there is no room for improvement in the Democratic Party program, rather I am pointing out that this is not the main reason for Trump’s victory. In fact, we can reduce Trump’s victory to two factors: The general ignorance and apathy of the electorate and the increasing disappearance of good paying blue collar jobs with benefits that were once commonplace in the industrial centers of the Mid-West. Yet by any objective measure President Obama’s management of the economy was outstanding; the best that could have been done under the circumstances.
When he came into office Obama inherited an economy in the worst state of crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, a worldwide economic collapse initiated by the 1929 Wall Street crash. Among the consequences of that economic crisis was the rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany, a panicked and desperate population was prepared to make a deal with the devil if he could end their suffering. Although Barack Obama had nothing in common with Hitler, the election of an African American to the US presidency was also a radical act of desperation on the part of a populace that was thoroughly disillusioned with the conventional political leadership.
It turned out to be a very good choice President Obama rescued the economy from disaster, saved the US auto-industry from extinction; prevented millions of Americans from descending into poverty by virtue of the Economic Recovery Act – the most corruption free big money government program in history – signed the Dodd-Frank and also signed the Lillie Ledbetter Act making it illegal to pay women less than men for the same work, and passed the Affordable Health Care Act –which gave 20 million Americans life-saving health care for the first time in their lives. And as I write the final jobs report of the Obama era has come in at 4.8%, a great number that reflects the longest sustained period of job growth in the private sector in American history!
President Obama tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden, while devastating the leadership of Al Qaeda and rendering them virtually impotent. He wound down the Iraq and Afghan wars while keeping us out of new wars in the Middle East by crafting foreign policy with Solomonic wisdom. The President also signed a Nuclear arms agreement with Russia that reduced the threat of nuclear annihilation which won him the Nobel Peace Prize
The benefits Barack Obama bequeathed to the American people – which are far too numerous to recount here – have been outstanding, despite the machinations of the Grand Obstructionist Party. I have no doubt that historians of the future will look upon the presidency of Barack Obama as a golden age in American Civilization, one that could have matched the age of Pericles in ancient Greece had his vision for America not been throttled and his progressive program arrested by the Tea Party takeover of the Congress.
Hence the real lesson for progressives who now lament the victory of “The Donald”- an unmitigated disaster that will take this country backwards, the only question is how far – is to agitate and organize just as the Tea Party did. The conditions are propitious for the success of such an effort. Already the people are animated and rising up in a wave of spontaneous combustion. Now it must be organized into a coherent political movement with clearly defined goals. The polls show that this nascent resistance movement is more popular after two weeks that the Tea Party was at its peak: 43% to 60%!
Savvy organizers are already employing social media in highly effective ways. One effort that offers great promise is posting the schedule of public appearances and Town Hall meetings of every member of Congress along with their voting records. This will enable them to direct protestors to the meetings of elected representatives who opposed the progressive agenda and vote against the public interests. This strategy will put their business in the streets; there will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
Righteous Anger of the People
This is a good place to begin. However, like all mass movements, the present uprising has many factions and leaders with varying views of the problem. What unites us is the desire to put Trump in check and take back the Congress in two years the way the Tea Party did, and they accomplished this following what was arguably the most disastrous presidency in history!
Under George Bush the nation experienced the most devastating attack on American soil by a foreign force since the War of 1812; the second worst economic collapse in our history, and launched a disastrous war of choice in Iraq that has not only expanded the power of Iran in the region since it put the Shiite majority in power in Iraq, but also brought Al Qaeda into the area and created ISIS. Furthermore, they squandered over two trillion dollars in this misbegotten foreign adventure which, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, could have financed the rebuilding of the entire American infrastructure while putting a million or more Americans to work in its construction!
If the Tea Party could re-elect Republicans to control the nation’s purse strings in the face of such a recent disaster perpetrated by the Republican Party, organizing to take back the Congress in the face of the chaos that Donald Trump is unleashing upon the nation, and his obvious bait and switch in promising to “drain the swamp” and instead increasing the population of crocodiles from the previously vilified muck of Goldman Sachs, or promising not to repeal Obamacare before having a cheaper and better program in place “without missing a day,” or to keep us out of foreign wars while taking steps that will surely lead us into a much wider war in the mid-east and increasingly hostile relations with China. Not to mention the devastating effect that starting trade wars with Mexico and China will have on the pocketbooks of his long-suffering working class voters!
In view of these objective facts, all the talk about the need to completely rebuild the Democratic Party appears wrongheaded to me. What we need to do is what we are doing, stay vigilant and oppose every effort to turn back the clock by taking away benefits from the American people won over a century of struggle. Then use these struggles to educate and organize! As New York Times columinst Charles Blow warned: The enlightnement must not surrender to the ignorance and hysteria of the inquisition! Yet we also must recognize that the Tea Party had a Trump card that progressives don’t: White racial resentments!
This is a recurrent pattern in American civilization where every dramatic advance by Afro-Americans have been met by a white reaction. But, fortunately, the election of Donald Trump does not just offend the sensibilities, injure the life’s chances and endanger the interests of Afro-Americans, but also jeopardizes the gains of a broad segment of the US population that transcends racial divisions. Hence coalition building around common goals must be our principal method of struggle. Now is not the time to emphasize identity politics such as “Black Agendas,” our slogans must promote inclusive themes: “No Enemies on the Left!” “Unity in Diversity!” “All Power to the People!” “The People United Can Never be Defeated!” “No justice No Peace!”
To avoid the pitfalls that led to the squandering of the vast potential of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which died from the self-inflicted wound of apolitical folly, we should heed the advice of the Ghanaian political philosopher/activist Kwame Nkrumah: “Seek Ye first the Political Kingdom and all else will be added there unto!” And to accomplish this our method at this juncture we must take the advice of the great Frederick Douglass. In 1895, a period of political reaction much like our own, when Douglass was literally in his last days, some youths asked what should they do? The great “Drum Major for Justice” summed it up in three words: AGITATE! AGITATE! AGITATE!
In this Douglas summarized what he had long preached, it is a message that has withstood the test of time without revision:
“History holds no more august claim than where there is no struggle there is no progress. Men who profess to stand for freedom yet denigrate agitation are men who would have corn without plowing the fields; rain without thunder and lightning; the ocean without the awful roar of her many waters. Where there is no struggle there is no progress! The struggle may be moral, or physical, or it may be both: but there must be a struggle! Power concedes nothing without demand, it never has and it never will. Men may not always get what they pay for in this life, but we shall sure as hell pay for all that we get!!!”
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!!!
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
February 3, 2017