Within days of the U.S. general election, central elements of the result have already entered into American mythology: the revenge of the “white working class voter”; the unprecedented anti-establishment character of the president-elect; the populist revolution that led to Trump’s victory; and the years in the wilderness now facing Democrats and progressives in America.
But the endless repetition of these themes by the corporate media deserves a great deal more skepticism and scrutiny before they worm their way into all our heads to form the established and accepted narrative of this election. Let’s first review some basic facts about what happened on Nov. 8.
Who voted Republican?
Though Donald Trump prevailed in the Electoral College, he failed to secure a plurality of the total ballots cast, getting a bit over 60 million votes to Hillary Clinton’s 61 million votes, according to The Associated Press tally. Meanwhile, only 55.6 percent of 219 million eligible voters, or 50.4 percent of the voting-age population, actually voted, placing the U.S. 33rd out of 35 advanced (OECD) countries in national voter turnout, above only Chile and Switzerland.
Only 27 percent of eligible voters or 24 percent of the voting-age population voted for Trump. Roughly the same number, about 60 million, voted for both John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. The result was different because Barack Obama received 69 million votes in 2008 and 66 million in 2012, while Hillary Clinton could only muster only a shade more than Trump, Romney and McCain.
As Sen. Bernie Sanders repeated in every stump speech during the Democratic primaries, “Let us never forget, Democrats and progressives win when voter turnout is high. Republicans win when people are demoralized and voter turnout is low.”
So, Trump deserves credit for finding a few new Republican voters to replace those who have died in the past four years, and for a successful strategy to gain votes in the right states to win the Electoral College. But the more decisive difference with 2008 and 2012 was the dramatic failure of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, to turn out the vote. This was despite, or maybe even because of, unprecedented SuperPAC money and overwhelming support from political, business and media elites.
If the Democrats hope to do better in future elections, they must confront this reality. Grassroots Democrats should insist that party leaders finally abandon the long obsolete Reagan/Thatcher-lite Democratic Leadership Council model of politics based on fund-raising, propaganda, corporate welfare and militarism, and welcome the kind of new, progressive leadership that inspired 47 percent of Democratic primary voters to vote for Senator Bernie Sanders.
This was all the more significant and impressive in the context of party leaders’ monolithic support for Clinton and their shameful campaign to stage a coronation instead of organizing a free and fair primary election.
We will find out more about who actually voted for Trump, but the pollster Nate Silver already exposed “The Myth of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support” in a fivethirtyeight.com article on May 3. Silver’s article analyzed a survey of the average household income of people who voted in the 23 primaries up to that point. The average Clinton or Sanders primary voter had a household income of $61,000, while the average Trump voter earned $72,000, about the same as Cruz’s supporters but less than Kasich’s.
The 70 percent of eligible voters who did not vote in either primary had an average household income of $52,000. In broad terms, this tracks the traditional pattern of U.S. politics, with wealthier Americans leaning Republican, the middle-class favoring Democrats and few of the poor African-Americans and immigrants who make up much of the real U.S. working-class voting at all.
These figures were for primary voters, but they suggest that Trump’s supporters were, well, Republicans, like Romney’s, McCain’s, Bush’s and so on. The Republican Party has continually rebranded itself over the past 50 years, generating great fanfares from deferential or captive corporate media for the Silent Majority, the Reagan Revolution, the Moral Majority, the Christian Right, the Contract With America, the Tea Party and now Trump’s Deplorables, but behind these well-funded P.R. campaigns, Republican voters remain roughly the same people or class of people. Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda and advertising, would approve their ever-changing public message!
What is Trump’s agenda?
Despite contradictory pronouncements on many issues, Donald Trump’s published plan for his first 100 days in office contained more policy details than Hillary Clinton’s campaign web site, which followed the DLC model of appealing to principles most Americans believe in without pinning the candidate down to anything detailed enough for most voters to disagree with.
In Clinton’s case, this includes voluminous treatises on a wide array of subjects, but the blizzard of words was short on actual policy details, leaving the formerly presumptive president plenty of room to do whatever she and her corporate and military-industrial colleagues really planned to do after the coronation. As WikiLeaks revealed, one of the few things Clinton’s staff and financiers were clear on was the necessarily wide gap between her public and private positions.
Warmed-over GOP fare
On the other hand, Donald Trump’s plan for his first 100 days in office includes more specifics and is, for the most part, a pretty standard wish-list of policies the Republican Party has backed for decades. That still leaves plenty of room for smoke and mirrors:
- On Trump’s first day in office, he plans to cancel every “unconstitutional” action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama; to cancel federal funding to cities that provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants; to begin deporting 2 million undocumented immigrants “with criminal records” (somehow expanding that group from the 178,000 counted in a 2010 Congressional report before Obama’s mass deportations reduced it still further); to stop issuing U.S. visas to people in countries that won’t accept unlimited numbers of U.S. deportees; to suspend immigration from “terror-prone” regions; and to begin work on selecting a new Supreme Court justice.
- The legislative portion of Trump’s agenda starts with “massive tax reduction,” including an across-the-board 15 percent corporate tax rate, which drops to 10 percent for repatriated offshore earnings to reward the outsourcing he condemned on the campaign trail. This is balanced politically by a vague promise of unspecified new tariffs to penalize future outsourcing.
- “The American Energy and Infrastructure Act” will declare open season on the environment and the climate, stimulating “energy infrastructure” projects like the Keystone XL pipeline with tax cuts and corporate welfare, and ending U.S. payments to the U.N. climate fund.
- A national school voucher program will expand the privatization of public education, while Trump also pays lip service to local control, reducing college tuition and ending common core.
- Trump wants to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new program based on health savings accounts, along with similar programs for childcare and elder care; states will be allowed to make unprecedented cuts in Medicaid; and he wants the Food and Drug Administration to speed up approvals for 4,000 new drugs.
- As well as funding Trump’s wall on the Mexican border, new draconian immigration laws will impose mandatory 2- and 5-year federal prison sentences on previously deported immigrants who try to reenter the U.S.
- New “national security” and “community safety” laws will blast military spending past Obama’s post-World War II record, and throw more money at local police to combat imaginary increases in “crime, drugs and violence” at home. Liberal state marijuana laws may be “trumped” by this new national “stop and frisk” program.
- Trump wants term limits in Congress to get rid of popular progressive legislators like John Conyers and Patrick Leahy. He also wants a federal civilian hiring freeze and sweeping deregulation under which any new federal regulation must be offset by canceling two existing regulations.
Controlling the levers
The most critical factor in the Republicans’ new-found power is that they now control the White House and both houses of Congress, as they did from 2003 to 2006 and for a shorter spell in 1953–54. This does not usually end well for them. The last time the Republicans held full control of the U.S. government for more than 4 years was in the 1920s, and that ended even worse.
If the Republicans exploit the support of 24 percent of Americans—not even a plurality of those who voted—to ram through their extreme right-wing agenda, they will deserve to be slung out on their ears in 2018 and 2020, as they were in 2006 and 2008.
If rank-and-file Democrats can force their party’s corrupt leaders to quickly hand over power to new progressive leadership who will represent the other 76 percent of Americans, this should not be a tall order.
In the meantime, progressives can contain the damage by countering every part of the Republicans’ (and corrupt Democrats’) agenda with clear, intelligent progressive proposals for real solutions to the serious problems facing our country and the world and building a popular movement around them.
This will all be a real test for the Democrats, but it is one they have brought on themselves, and the radical clean-up required is what progressives have been demanding of the Democratic Party for a long time.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of “Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.” He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in “Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.” He has also served as a local chapter leader and national team leader on war and peace issues for Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).