There was a moment watching the election results when all those upper midwestern states shifted red and I knew that our country was about take a very dark, very different future. I felt sick. In the words of a shell-shocked CNN pundit – I think it was Van Jones – “this is a tectonic shift.”
Yes, the racism – Van Jones’ ‘Whitelash’ – and sexism of America were on full display but that neither scared me nor surprised me. I don’t think it was the racists that swung it for Trump. What did scare me was that a crucial number of people (maybe the “Shy Trump voter”) that actually think Trump is going to…to what? Save them? Save them from what? Make America Great Again? What does that mean?
It’s not the anger, frustration and resentment; I share those emotions. It’s the fact that so many think that Trump will fix things for them. And that is what scares me. Really scares me. Because the level of “magical thinking” – otherwise known as stupidity – to think that President Pussy-Graber will bring back the steel mills and restore America’s place in the world and make all the inconvenient facts and reality in general go away has the distinct whiff of true fascism.
There is the narrative of the voter who, while not liking Trump, really wants change and just wants to upset the apple cart for the sake of upsetting the apple-cart. Again, I can appreciate that; it does have a certain satisfying appeal. But this rationale must again fail because Trump isn’t an outsider. Trump won’t actually damage the neoliberal economic order – yes, he might withdraw from NAFTA – but that is small potatoes. Watch closely as his corrupt Administration slashes taxes on massive corporations and his fellow billionaires, and corporate America finds itself perfectly comfortable with Trump.
The only applecart that has been upset is America as a liberal democracy. These voters clearly didn’t consider the environmental damage that will be inflicted. Trump and the Republicans have no interest in being America’s president: they are going to rule viciously in favour of Duck Commander and Corporate America.
The entire right-wing populist edifice is built on the Fox News echo chamber, where a few crucial assumptions have been made: 1) Obama specifically and Democrats/Liberals in general are out to destroy America, 2) Obama has been a disaster as president, 3) taxation and regulation are the reason for economic decline and the death of the middle class. The entire Republican tone and mindset has been one of “aggrieved, angry, forgotten white male”. It’s secretly been this since Nixon, but with Trump, it is now out in the open in a way that I wish were only an episode of Black Mirror.
But what happens when this victim mindset has to actually govern? What happens when the assumptions I listed above have to be put into action? Trump and the Republicans will have no excuse when the steel mills don’t return, when rural America doesn’t return to prosperity, when gays continue to be seen on the streets and things go from bad to worse. Because clearly their entire mindset is based on a system of lies and falsehoods; it is out and out delusional.
How far will Trump and the Republicans go to maintain their illusions? Is is where the possibility of American Fascism and Apartheid become very, very real. When Trump’s pathetic, truck-stop-dive-bar level understanding of government (like for every new regulation, two must be eliminated, a frieze on the hiring of new federal employees) fails to make any meaningful change and actually makes things worse what are they going to do? The temptation will be a Reichstag Fire moment; the full leap into endless militarism. The temptation to dismantle the last vestiges of democracy might be too tempting and too easy. The Republicans – unable to win things like the popular vote – must stay in power by tactics like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and controlling judges. Democracy won’t function if people are over-worked, ignorant and fearful.
There is the long Republican tradition where a charismatic figure is elected, but the actual administration is left largely to a core of Republican insiders. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, Reagan, Bush and Cheney. There is a possibility, supported by Trump’s actions in picking a VP earlier in the campaign that what we are actually going to get is a Pence Administration, with Trump as demagogue and distractor in chief. While this is not necessarily the case – all bets are off you haven’t noticed – there is a decent chance that the next few years will be a typically disastrous Republican administration, but no worse.
The second scenario is that Trump and his gaggle of deplorables, alt-right bizzaros and strange sycophants runs rough shod over everybody and everything. The full Trump. I don’t know what will happen in this scenario; either Trump will be quickly abandoned and possibly impeached after two or four years, or it will be literally the end of democracy and America in any recognisable form.
Since Bill Clinton’s Administration, the Democrats have been a corporate centrist neoliberal party. Hillary fully embraced the mantle of The Establishment; full catered to insider Republicans instead of progressives. Her staff, and the inner core of the DNC where clearly locked in a baby-boomer centric, outdated model for American elections where the only way to win is to occupy the center and make no gaffes.
So it is no surprise that millennials and blacks didn’t turn out to vote for her. Hillary offered relative sanity, but nothing else. She really is the Herbert Humphrey of our time: the insider’s pick that nobody actually wanted. The Democrats, true to form, played to lose and where generally more interested in pleasing their corporate sponsors then acting like party that represented the interests of genuine Americans. This is not about lazy millennials too lazy and spoiled to show up to vote: this is about a DNC that had nothing to offer. Hillary was always the candidate we where meant to pick. They have nobody to blame but themselves.
So forcing myself to be hopeful here: this election does open a door for truely progressive politics a la Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to emerge. To quote Naomi Klein’s excellent article in The Guardian, (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/rise-of-the-davos-class-sealed-americas-fate?CMP=fb_us): “The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned.” This is the real opening of the election. It’s the only way that the Democrats can hope to win elections, but more importantly, it is the only way for our country to recover and move forward.