Lessons from Trump’s vic­tory

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Ian Boyne is a vet­eran jour­nal­ist work­ing with the Ja­maica In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and ian­boyne1@ya­hoo.com.

IDEN­TITY TRUMPS ide­ol­ogy. This is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant lessons from the vic­tory of Don­ald Trump in the US elec­tions. White na­tion­al­ism, na­tivism and eth­nic sol­i­dar­ity mat­ter. We are in a postide­o­log­i­cal age in which is­sues of iden­tity – in­clud­ing sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der – count for more than ide­ol­ogy or phi­los­o­phy. Me­ta­nar­ra­tives are dead.

There is one dis­tin­guished aca­demic who is now dead but whose the­ory is very much alive: for­mer Har­vard political sci­en­tist Sa­muel Hunt­ing­ton who, in 1996, wrote the piv­otal book, The Clash of Civil­i­sa­tions and the Re­mark­ing of World Or­der. This was in re­sponse to his for­mer stu­dent, Fran­cis Fukuyama’s, sem­i­nal work, The End of History and the Last Man. Hunt­ing­ton sagely pointed out that in the post-Cold war era, the clash would not be over ide­ol­ogy but a clash be­tween West­ern and nonWestern civil­i­sa­tions.

The rise of mil­i­tant Islam and Is­lamic ter­ror­ism had deep­ened in­ter­est in Hunt­ing­ton’s schol­ar­ship. But the back­lash – or ‘white­lash’ – of right-wing pop­ulism in Europe and now Amer­ica shows that his the­sis is even more poignantly rel­e­vant. Which brings me to a book just pub­lished in Septem­ber this year by lib­eral so­ci­ol­o­gist Ar­lie Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourn­ing on the Amer­i­can Right. The book speaks to the anger and angst among ru­ral white folk who feel left be­hind by lib­eral, coastal elites whose agenda and val­ues are rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from theirs. They feel cul­tur­ally dis­placed and adrift in the sea of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism be­ing pro­moted by Amer­ica’s elite.

Strangers in Their Own Land forms part of a genre of schol­arly lit­er­a­ture that ad­dresses the pain, dis­tress and dis-ease of white, prin­ci­pally ru­ral Amer­i­cans who are say­ing, in ef­fect, white lives mat­ter. There’s a fas­ci­nat­ing ar­ti­cle pub­lished last week on The At­lantic web­site, ‘How the elec­tion re­vealed the di­vide be­tween city and coun­try’, with the sub­head­ing, ‘The 2016 elec­tion ex­posed a chasm be­tween ur­ban and non-ur­ban Amer­ica that will likely widen un­der a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’.

Says the ar­ti­cle: “Trump’s vic­tory was an em­pire-strikes­back mo­ment for all the places and vot­ers that felt left be­hind in an in­creas­ingly di­verse, postin­dus­trial

and ur­banised Amer­ica. Squeez­ing big­ger mar­gins from smaller places, Trump over­came a tide of re­sis­tance in the largest metropoli­tan ar­eas that al­lowed Clin­ton to carry the national vote but not the de­ci­sive Elec­toral Col­lege.”

Hi­lary Clin­ton did well in most ur­ban cen­tres and among many ed­u­cated white-col­lar sub­urbs. Says the piece: “Clin­ton has won only about 420 coun­ties to­tal —far fewer than any pop­u­lar vote win­ner over the past cen­tury. In the roughly 3,000 coun­ties be­yond the largest 100, Trump trounced Clin­ton by about 11.5 mil­lion votes. In the de­ci­sive states of Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia and Wis­con­sin, the elec­toral map was a sea of Repub­li­can red, in­ter­rupted only by lonely blue is­lands in big cities and col­lege towns.”

Non-col­lege-ed­u­cated whites in ru­ral ar­eas who iden­tify with con­ser­va­tive val­ues and who had seen not only those val­ues eroded na­tion­ally, but their jobs and liv­ing stan­dards also, fought back by vot­ing out the busi­nes­sas-usual Demo­cratic Party with its Ul­ti­mate In­sider can­di­date, Hil­lary Clin­ton.


More than 80 per cent of Evan­gel­i­cals, mainly whites, voted for Trump. That was about iden­tity, not strictly ide­ol­ogy. A vote against more than a vote for. It was a vote against lib­eral ide­ol­ogy, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, gay rights, pro­choice views and what Evan­gel­i­cals saw as a drift to­ward “an­other Amer­ica”, not God’s pure, white Amer­ica; His na­tion of Man­i­fest Des­tiny.

Trump is no ide­o­logue. He is not a clas­si­cal right-winger who op­poses all pub­lic spend­ing, for he is an advocate of big in­fras­truc­tural spend­ing (US$1 tril­lion, he has pro­posed) as well as an advocate of So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and Med­i­caid. He wants to raise the min­i­mum wage to US$10 an hour and he rails against Wall Street and would re-es­tab­lish the GlassStea­gall leg­is­la­tion that Bill Can­ton re­pealed and that laid the ground­work for the ex­cesses which re­sulted in the fi­nan­cial melt­down.

Right-wingers are usu­ally free-traders. Trump is anti-free trade and anti-glob­al­i­sa­tion. He is not a hawk who be­lieves in ‘de­fend­ing democ­racy’ all over the world and mak­ing the world safe for global cap­i­tal­ism. He is even call­ing on NATO al­lies to foot their own bill rather than rely on the Amer­i­can um­brella. One could ar­gue that he is not strictly a Repub­li­can.

But he suits an era that down­plays ide­ol­ogy and ex­alts crude prag­ma­tism and white na­tion­al­ism. ‘Amer­ica First’ and ‘Mak­ing Amer­ica Great Again’ are code phrases for white power. Small won­der than alt-right Dean Steve Ban­non has been ap­pointed chief strate­gist, amid howls from var­i­ous quar­ters. Ban­non will forge al­liances with all the right-wing groups around coun­try, and, in­deed, in Europe form­ing one grand coali­tion of peo­ple de­fend­ing West­ern civil­i­sa­tion against its as­sorted de­spis­ers.


The Trump vic­tory also ex­posed the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of glob­al­i­sa­tions, which is not a tide that lifts all boats. That is a myth. It pro­duces many losers, prin­ci­pally in the de­vel­op­ing world, but also in the in­dus­tri­alised world, and that is why Europe is see­ing a pop­ulist up­surge, too. Glob­al­i­sa­tion, mis­man­aged as it is and in need of a new in­ter­na­tional economic or­der, is pro­duc­ing chaos. Pro­gres­sives have been warn­ing for years about the ill-ef­fects of un­tram­meled free trade, fi­nan­cial­i­sa­tion of the global econ­omy, and neo-lib­er­al­ism. No one was lis­ten­ing, with the re­join­der that pro­gres­sives were anti-progress, so­cial­ists caught in a time warp or use­less ide­o­logues.

We are go­ing to pay a huge price for that ar­ro­gance. Those in power in Amer­ica, in­clud­ing its black pres­i­dent of the last eight years who made timid­ity into a virtue, con­tin­ued with the sta­tus quo, not lis­ten­ing to the cries of the for­got­ten. Now they will be for­got­ten. With Obama wor­ried about his legacy be­ing dis­man­tled by Trump.

Fifty-two per cent of the Amer­i­can elec­torate said the econ­omy was the most im­por­tant is­sue in the elec­tion. Six­tyeight per cent said their fi­nan­cial po­si­tion was the same or worse than the last eight years. (There is a strong dia­lec­tic be­tween the economic and the cul­tural as greater economic re­sources go­ing to whites in ru­ral Amer­ica would have mod­er­ated their na­tivism.)

But keep in mind that Obama did an ex­cel­lent job in steer­ing the econ­omy out of re­ces­sion and in cre­at­ing jobs. His ad­min­is­tra­tion was not eco­nom­i­cally dis­as­trous as far as macroe­co­nomic per­for­mance goes. But that is usu­ally the prob­lem with cap­i­tal­ist de­vel­op­ment: It is un­even and un­equal. The mar­ket alone can­not fix the needs of the so­ci­ety. There has to be de­lib­er­ate, con­crete ac­tion by the state to en­sure that the fruits of growth are shared by all groups. Ne­olib­er­al­ism is con­temp­tu­ous of that no­tion. The Democrats have paid the price for not be­ing tak­ing more bold pro-poor poli­cies.

An im­por­tant les­son from this elec­tion, too, is the num­ber of

per­sons who man­i­fested their dis­dain of both the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties. More than 99 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers did not vote or voted for a third party. Clin­ton re­ceived 26.6 per cent of the vote, Trump 25.9 per cent, but a whop­ping 43.2 per cent chose nei­ther.

In an ex­cel­lent ar­ti­cle in The Guardian last Monday ti­tled ‘Neo-lib­er­al­ism: The Deep Story That Lies Be­neath Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory’, Ge­orge Mon­biot writes, “It was in­evitable that the blaz­ing, in­sur­rec­tionary con­fi­dence of neo-lib­er­al­ism would ex­ert a stronger grav­i­ta­tional pull than the dying star of so­cial democ­racy ... . The result is first dis­em­pow­er­ment and then dis­en­fran­chise­ment. If the dom­i­nant ide­ol­ogy stops gov­ern­ments from chang­ing so­cial out­comes, they can no longer re­spond to the needs of the elec­torate. Pol­i­tics be­comes ir­rel­e­vant to peo­ple’s lives; de­bate is re­duced to the jab­ber of a re­mote elite. The dis­en­fran­chised turn in­stead to vir­u­lent anti-pol­i­tics in which facts and ar­gu­ments are re­placed by slo­gans, sym­bols and sen­sa­tion.”

That was what this US elec­tion was about: Slo­gans, sym­bols, sen­sa­tion – and the su­per­fi­cial. No won­der a re­al­ity-TV pro­ducer emerged pres­i­dent. Clin­ton, the so­phis­ti­cated in­tel­lec­tual, could not dis­lodge a man no one would ac­cuse of be­ing an in­tel­lec­tual, to put it most re­spect­fully. He didn’t have to know what the nuclear triad is or the names of cer­tain lead­ers of coun­tries or even that there is no such word as ‘phe­nom­e­nas’. The peo­ple to whom he was ap­peal­ing to couldn’t care less.

This elec­tion also proved that char­ac­ter and charisma can help. Many vot­ers be­lieved Hil­lary Clin­ton had nei­ther. They saw her as both crooked and unin­spir­ing. She laboured un­der too much bag­gage and is part of a dy­nasty that is too wed­ded to the Es­tab­lish­ment when the coun­try knew Washington and Wall Street were bro­ken. As Pro­fes­sor Jef­fer­son Cowie says in the Novem­ber-De­cem­ber is­sue of For­eign Af­fairs, “Un­til one or both par­ties find a way to ad­dress the prob­lems faced by poor and work­ing-class whites, Trump­ism is here to stay.”

A tri­umphant Trump.

Ian Boyne

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