By Paul Mason
(The Guardian) — Trump’s victory is a betrayal of ethnic minorities and women. Progressives must direct their energies to building an alternative to the failed neoliberal model
“Isit in one of the dives … uncertain and afraid,” wrote WH Auden, in the days before war broke out in 1939. Tonight it’s the entire leftwing, humanist and liberal world’s turn to sit in its modern dives – coffee bars staffed by global, precarious, young people – and face it. Globalisation is dead. The American superpower will die.
Donald Trump has won the presidency – not because of the “white working class”, but because millions of middle-class and educated US citizens reached into their soul and found there, after all its conceits were stripped away, a grinning white supremacist. Plus untapped reserves of misogyny.
The academic debate about what’s driving the ultra-right surge in liberal democracies – migration or economic hardship – was always sterile in the case of the US. High recent migration into an economy where growth provides only low-paid jobs, in the absence of a strong and progressive labour movement, is always going to fuel the right. But that’s not the US.
The US “won” the global recovery after 2008. It stabilised its banks and opted strong and early for monetary expansion. Real wage growth has wavered around the 4% line for the past five years.
And that was not the only source justifying confidence for Hillary Clinton. Her pollsters noted the inexorable demographic surge supporting liberalism: huge numbers of single-female households, rising black and Hispanic populations, gay marriages, historically high numbers of college graduates.
What they underestimated was the fragility of their own ideology and the deep reserves – even among educated men in crisp, white shirts – of fear and hatred.
If it is a sudden change in status to a once dominant group that drives electorates to the far right, as political scientist Roger Petersen has argued – then we have to start with the biggest change in status of all time. That is the reproductive shock that began 50 years ago, with the pill, which has put women into boardrooms, frontline combat roles and, more relevantly, control over who they have sex with, and when, and how.
The mass issuance of rape and death threats against women in public life, led by key figures on the alt-right media, is only the froth on the deep lake of bile nurtured by some men. You do not overturn 40,000 years of biologically rigged social control without a backlash. Before we agonise about the racial betrayal white America committed last night, we must understand the gender betrayal runs deeper.
When Trump explained his boasts about grabbing women “by the pussy” as “locker room talk”, anti-sexist sports stars went on air to say, “Not in my locker room.” But Trump was right. In the locker rooms of the developed world there is harboured – not among all men but enough – a deep fear about the economic and sexual liberation of women.
Leave aside the Wall Street dinners, the email servers and the pneumonia: it was ultimately Hillary Clinton’s gender – symbolised by the “pant suit” – that was too much for some male voters, college-educated or not.
As to ethnicity and migration, the dynamics of what drove Trump to power are pretty simple once you understand the right’s genius for subtext. Every time he said, “We’ll build a wall to stop Mexicans”, people understood the unstated second clause: and we’ll reimpose segregation on black America. The first victims of the now-unleashed fury of white supremacism will be those heroic, thoughtful black college graduates who’ve made “Black Lives Matter” a household phrase.
So this is not some two-dimensional revolt against poverty and wage stagnation. It is a three-dimensional revolt against the impacts of neoliberalism – both positive and negative.
Freemarket economics unleashed two forces that have now collided: the rapid rise in inequality, and a route to the top percentile for the talented female, black or gay person. As long as it delivered not just growth but a growth story, a foreseeable better future, those disempowered by neoliberalism could stand it.
But neoliberalism no longer works. It is broken. If it survived it would have delivered at best zombie growth fuelled by central bank money and at worst stagnation. But it will not survive. Last summer I predicted that if we do not break with the economics of high inequality, high debt and low productivity, populations will vote to dismantle the global order. With Brexit and Trump that process is inexorable – and the next wave of the tsunami will hit Italy and Austriain their plebiscites on 4 December.
In the next weeks, our denial reflexes will be in full swing. Like Auden’s generation we will “cling to our average day”. But one set of people now faces a moment where only honesty will suffice. It is the economists, journalists, civil servants, bankers and policy wonks who have rubbished the idea of the existential threat.
They claimed the capitalism of the past 30 years was merely the inner essence of the system revealed, unimprovable unless by the privatisation of the last hospital and the decline of union density to zero. They were wrong; they need to place their intellectual firepower and resources – as their counterparts did in the era of Keynes and Roosevelt – in the service of designing an alternative system.
You’re going to hear a lot of wailing from the left about our “disconnection” with the values of “ordinary working-class people”. It is bullshit – both as a fact and an explanation of what’s happened. In every state in America there are working-class people staffing beleaguered abortion clinics, organising unions among migrant cleaners and Walmart workers.
Those who tell you the left has to somehow “reconnect” with people whose minds are full of white supremacy and misogyny must finish the sentence. By what means? By throwing our black brothers and sisters under a bus? Eighty years ago the poets and miners of the International Brigades did not march into battle saying: “Mind you, the fascists have got a point.”
It’s not about reconnection. As in the UK, the racist right in America is a minority that can and must be defeated. It’s about re-forming the political coalition that won both the New Deal and the second world war. The left, the unions, the ethnic minorities; the liberal middle class; and that section of Wall Street and the US boardroom that is unprepared to lie supine as wannabe-Trumps put their “locker room talk” into practice.
It will not be hard for a common story to emerge that puts the defence of global interconnection, racial tolerance and gender equality at its heart.
But we have to tell it convincingly. And to do so Democrats in America must find the courage to learn what British Labour – in a huge and unfinished effort – has learned. Stop putting discredited representatives of the elite at the top of the ballot paper.