The 2016 Election

Quick Thoughts on the Trump Victory
Mike Miller
November 11, 2016

When you ponder Trump's victory, consider this e-mail from a union member to one of his union's leaders:

You and me have went back and forth on this election. I want you to know this:

I didn't vote for my retirement. I didn't vote for my Healthcare. I didn't vote for my union membership. I voted for my son. Because I just didn't see a future for him if we elected Hillary.

I actually voted for Obama in the last two elections. Now, I stand here and tell you that if we lose our retirement, I will not bitch. If I lose my Healthcare, I will not bitch. If my tax rate goes through the roof, I will not bitch. I cast my vote and I will stand behind it. No matter what.

What I say to you and every elected Union Leader is this: "The majority of your membership just voted against what you all thought was in our best interests. Our Union Leadership has lost it's base. But now we need you more than ever. Fight like you're the third monkey up the ramp to Noah's Ark and its just starting to rain. Protect what's important to us. Do you want the membership back? Then do what you say you will. Fight for us.

The essential point is that Trump was a vessel in which people could place their anger at what has happened to them over the past ten, twenty ... fifty years.

[B]oth Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for 30 years ... since the 1980s the elites in rich countries have overplayed their hand, taking all the gains for themselves and just covering their ears when anyone else talks, and now they are watching in horror as voters revolt. — Vincent Bevins, Los Angeles Times.

Some Details On Why He Won

On a more technical level, these are factors that I think led to his victory:


I think it's an oversimplification to view the Trump election as an expression of racism in the country. No doubt among his constituents there are racists, and no doubt some of the things he said were racist.

There's nothing on the face of it that makes the Trump voter whose letter I've reproduced above a racist. On the Terry Gross NPR radio show, on the day after the election, she interviewed Atlantic writer James Fallows. He's spent the last three years visiting small town, middle America. His account was different. In some places, there are significant numbers of relocated immigrants from the Middle East ... he cited Erie County, PA as one of them. In his conversations with them, they described a welcoming atmosphere there. Erie voted Trump. In another small town, a near-majority of Latinos exists where there was a shrinking older Anglo population in what was a dying town. The old-timers attribute the town's re-birth to the new immigrants; they like the new Mexican restaurants and taco trucks. They vote for school bonds even though none of their kids are now in public schools.

Fallows had more to say along these lines. Having spent several years in and out of rural Nebraska at the height of the farm crisis, his stories of these towns rings true to me.

Trump demagoguery will give legitimacy to public expression of views that were held privately, or only shared among friends. At the same time, he spoke in some black churches in the last week-or-so of the campaign — hardly something any true-blue racist would have done. He made a point of asking for Ben Carson when he addressed his supporters on election night. It's far too simple to conclude he is going to pursue a racist agenda as president. He might, but let's see.

As one journalist put it,

Low-income rural white voters in PA voted for Obama in 2008 and then Trump in 2016, and your explanation is white supremacy? Interesting.

Which isn't to deny that racism isn't a major issue in the country, nor that he did a lot to give it legitimacy.

Strategically, minority community and immigrant rights organizations should ask themselves how they can develop relationships with this constituency. A serious discussion of that question is a pre-condition to building left- populist coalitions that can win legislative and electoral victories that address economic and racial injustice.

And most of what I've said above applies to the other "isms" — sexism, ageism, ableism, etc.

Positives In The Negative?

Organizers always look for the positive in the negative, and vice versa. I think there may be some:

Note that I distinguish between mobilizing and organizing. That's deliberate. The two are too often conflated — a serious mistake. We need a mobilizing organization that can build upon the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Hillary Clinton defeat. Mobilizing is what Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference did in the south (he did it through the strongest organization in the community — the black church).

We also need vital union locals and community organizations that can express the values and interests of this group in a continuing way, and create a sense of community among them that is not based on fear of, and contempt for, The Other. Organizing is what the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee did in the south, and what Saul Alinsky, Fred Ross and others did in the north.

Copyright © Mike Miller


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