As this is written on Thursday morning after Election Day, there’s no winner yet. Ballot counting continues and it appears that Joe Biden will win both the popular vote and the Electoral College. I’ve believed for some time that Biden would win. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a landslide as some were projecting, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be this close either. Which raises the question: Why have almost 70 million people voted for Trump? He’s been the most divisive and polarizing president in our lifetimes.
This is an important question because the reasons and their implications will remain long after Trump has left office and faded away. A friend posted his personal analysis on Facebook this morning, which I think is the most thorough and clearest I’ve seen anywhere. He agreed that I could republish it here.
Why Almost 70 Million Voters Chose Trump
By Tony Prince
Originally published on Facebook on Thursday, October 5, 2020
At this point the US election is still undecided, but it’s worth thinking about why Trump did better than expected and why Biden failed to meet the expectations of a “blue wave.” Given Trump’s character and many of his policies, it is difficult for a lot of people who can’t stand the man to understand why he is supported by such a significant percentage of the population.
So, to get a few things out of the way first — There is his appeal to racism, which will still garner the support of a certain percentage of the population. There are his calls for law and order, in spite of his long record as a scofflaw. There is his pandering to evangelical Christians, even though he doesn’t have a religious bone in his body. Leaving that aside, there are more substantial factors.
Just before the election the Wall Street Journal published a “semi-endorsement” of Trump. It pointed to the tax break he gave to the richest Americans early on in his term. Also, he has eliminated many environmental regulations which cost manufacturers money. Also, according to a recent article in the New Yorker, the Department of Labor under Trump has basically become an advocacy organization for the employers.
For these reasons and more, many big capitalists think Trump is just fine.
Then there are middle-class layers — small business owners and self-employed people. These are some of the people who have been hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. Many of them have gone bankrupt or are on the verge of bankruptcy, so when Trump disagrees with the recommendation to wear masks and calls for opening the country back up for business, this resonates deeply with these people. After all, their backs are against the wall, and they don’t want to hear about COVID-19. They want things to go back to the way they were before. The demonstrations in the Michigan state capital several months ago are an example of this social layer.
Then there are workers, especially workers in the Rust Belt, who have been hard hit by the closing of many factories and whose standard of living has declined as a result. It is natural to look for an easy explanation for this situation, and when Trump blames Mexico and especially China, he has a receptive audience.
Trump blasted NAFTA as one of the worst deals in history, and I remember from my own experience [working in industry] that many of my coworkers used to blame NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs. Of course, the new trade agreement that Trump negotiated with Mexico is almost the same as NAFTA, but after all, this is about image, not substance.
Now the target is China, which has become the factory of the world, and with which the US has a major trade deficit. Of course, the drift of factory jobs away from the US and other developed countries is a trend that has been going on for a long time and which will continue regardless of who is president. But the rhetoric on China and the tariffs appeal to many workers. They appealed to farmers as well until China stopped buying US soybeans.
Added to this is the scapegoating of immigrants for supposedly “stealing” American jobs. For workers whose standard of living has been in decline for decades, this demagogy falls on receptive ears. Trump has made extravagant promises about bringing back manufacturing jobs to the US, which there is no way he can fulfill, but nevertheless, this is music to the ears of many workers. The reality will sink in later.
But that is not all. It is true that unemployment was at historically low levels before the Coronavirus hit. Although the ups and downs of the economy don’t have much to do with who is president or what the president does, nevertheless, Trump gets the credit for this in the eyes of millions of workers.
Then there is the question of the Democratic Party. For decades, since the time of Roosevelt, working-class families have voted for the Democratic Party as the party that supposedly helps the working class. But under successive Democratic administrations like Clinton and then Obama, the conditions of life of working people have not improved. On the contrary, they have continued to slowly get worse. In response to this situation, supporters of the Democrats say, “Well, where else are you going to go? You know the Republicans are not on your side.”
But then along comes Trump and says what many workers want to hear. The fact that he is lying through his teeth is not the point; all politicians do that. But not only that — in the minds of a lot of workers, he actually has delivered, given the state of the economy before the pandemic.
Some people say that the poor showing of the Democrats in 2016 and again this year is because they have had terrible candidates. I disagree. Clinton and Biden are the appropriate candidates for a party that has no vision for the future and only want things to get back to normal. The problem is that normal is not good enough. If people thought normal was okay they never would have voted for Trump. In fact the Democratic Party is facing a crisis over its identity and its place in US politics, and this crisis will only deepen in the coming years.
Finally, regarding Trump’s low moral character, many workers will say that they are not voting for him because they think he is such an upstanding person (some will say that, but many won’t). Instead they will say that he is addressing their most pressing issues like jobs, and will point to the economic data. And in this maybe they have a more realistic view of politicians. They recognize that they are crooks; they just want a crook that they think is on their side.
Title image: NASA photograph by Bill Ingalls. Public Domain.
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2 thoughts on “Why Almost 70 Million Voters Chose Trump”
The author provides an analysis of the problem but, alas, no solutions. It’s easy to say that Biden has no solutions and that his administration will simply offer more of the same. More of the same… what? A happier, kinder version of Trumpism? Heaven help us! A return to the Obama approach? We could do worse. I think it’s reasonable to say that Trump represents a discontinuity with previous American experience — at least since the early 1930s. The seeds of his authoritarian mindset (white supremacy, anti-democratic style) have been part of the American mix since the start. Read Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here for a kind of prequel. I don’t agree that the Democrats lack vision. At their best, Democrats have given the U.S. a healthy dose of socialism, e.g., Social Security, finance oversight and reform, civil rights, and more recently a step toward single-payer health care. They’ve done this against constant opposition by Republicans for whom politics and economics is a zero-sum game. Take the Great Recession: One can fault Obama on many levels, but it’s easy to forget that the U.S. (and world) financial system was in melt-down in 2008, the worst panic since the 1930s. Most of the blame goes to financial system “experts” (mostly Republican) who wanted to make money and had no scruples about how to do that. Obama has been taken to the woodshed for a “slow” recovery, as if this had been a minor rough patch that a few simple decisions could have cured in, say, two years. But as the Great Depression made clear, financial meltdowns are not easily reversed. As the author points out, it’s true that Trump’s economy produced a lot of jobs, not necessarily good jobs, but jobs nonetheless. However, Trump did this by massive tax cuts that put the economy on a “sugar high” that was unsustainable. I’m convinced that even without the novel coronavirus, his economy would have foundered and he would have had nothing left to manage a recovery in the face of titanic debt. In the end, I believe that much of Trump’s impressive vote total in this election reflects residual anger at a system (for which both Republican and Democratic parties are responsible) that has largely abandoned the middle and lower classes. The poor have been left without hope. The middle class may have food, clothing, and shelter, but no real hope of handing on a better lifestyle to their children, let alone having a secure life themselves. If Biden is unable to address this problem of economic inequity, he will sacrifice a rare opportunity. By the way, the best analysis I’ve read, coupled with prescriptions for action, is by Robert Reich in his book Aftershock. Although published ten years ago as Obama was digging us out of the muck, his argument is comprehensive and intelligent.
Thanks for writing. I’ll jump in here as owner of this blog. I believe guest author Tony’s intent was primarily to delineate the reasons that different people voted for Trump. Too often Trump voters are lumped together as racists, idiots, or both. The reality is far more complex and nuanced than these popular stereotypes and generalizations acknowledge. As for solutions, that is a different and longer conversation.
With regard to other points you raised, I think you and I start from different vantage points. It appears you have greater confidence in the Democratic Party than either I or Tony do (though I’m speaking here solely for myself). First, you cite “Social Security, finance oversight and reform, civil rights, and more recently a step toward single-payer health care” as accomplishments of the Democrats.
It’s true that Social Security came about under Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. But this wasn’t grounded in altruistic good will. The New Deal and Social Security were defensive reactions to preserve the stability and upper hand of capital in its class struggle against the working class. They were implemented to blunt an upsurge in labor rebellion that was sweeping the United States during the Depression. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 only came about as a result of the mass civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Democrats (and Republicans) showed little interest prior.
Regarding the 2008-09 economic crisis, you say “Most of the blame goes to financial system ‘experts’ (mostly Republican) who wanted to make money and had no scruples about how to do that.” Actually the seeds of the 2008 collapse were planted by the Democrats during Clinton’s administration with the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 (aka Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act). Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, lead the charge to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act. It took years for the consequences to play out and ultimately crash the economy while Bush happened to be President.
While bolstering profits with these polices, Clinton concealed the plight of unemployed workers by inventing the category of “discouraged workers.” The most down, out and discouraged workers were written off and excluded from the Labor Department’s unemployment figures.
I don’t say any of this as support for the Republicans. It’s just that their sins are more visible. They’re the “Bad Cop” while the Democrats are the “Good Cop.” Both serve the interests of a super-wealthy ruling class against the interests of working people.
So, what’s the solution? Writing about Engels’ Socialism: Scientific and Utopian, George Novack wrote:
“So long as the capitalists owned the means of production and operated them for private profit, either directly as individuals and corporations or indirectly through the state they controlled, all the evils of the system — exploitation, unemployment, crises, poverty, wars, discrimination, and inhumanity — would not only persist, but grow worse, said Engels. The massive productive forces summoned into being by modern science and technology had outgrown the national boundaries and the capability of the capitalist class to manage them. They called for a different kind of organizer and a better social planner…”
“The proletarian revolution is the inevitable outgrowth of the economic processes and irrepressible conflicts within capitalism. It provides the only enduring and progressive solution of the contradictions between socialized production and private appropriation, between the mode of production and the form of exchange, that underlie the crises of capitalism.”
In other words, socialism. The super-wealthy rulers and their two parties have had their turn, and we’re in quite a mess. It’s long past time for the working class to take charge.