Sunday, December 25, 2016

Trotskyist Psephology

Psephology -- the study of election returns -- is not in the Trotskyist wheelhouse. For them, apart from the one-and-done variety that elect people like Castro to 50-year terms, elections are "bourgeois," and unimportant. Not worth discussing.

Except this year. Trump's election has upset the apple cart. The standard Leftist line is that a plurality of American voters, especially including the working class slice, are racist/sexist/homophobic/fascist. Of course that's a depressing conclusion, which the grouplets I follow are now trying to walk away from.

Socialist Action (SA) has made the most dramatic retreat. A current article by Mark Ugolini, argues that instead of being racist, etc., workers are just plain stupid. They've been completely bamboozled by Trump's claims to help the working class. Instead he's just a craven capitalist out to stuff the pockets of his own class, determined to betray his supporters by demolishing Obamacare, gutting Medicaid, eliminating pensions, and in general being an all around bastard.

And what of Trump's supposed racism, etc.? Today that gets downplayed. Mr. Ugolini writes:
Despite the virulent expressions of racism and sexism displayed by Trump during the campaign—which gave a swift boost to the ultra-right fringe—and the steady stream of insults, rants, and repulsive behavior, millions responded to his populist-sounding message. These voters viewed Trump as an agent of change—someone capable of shaking things up, who in a distorted way embodied their distrust and hatred of a political system and a news media that ridicules, belittles, and ignores them.
Racism and sexism are today just a sideshow. Trump won "despite" that.

How different that is from what Jeff Mackler wrote back in October, 2015.
No doubt Trump’s rants find fertile soil in a small layer of the overall electorate, but even less in the general population, some half of which increasingly does not bother to vote. 
But Trump’s backwater histrionics are not new to the increasingly polarized and crisis-ridden world capitalist scene. Overtly far-right, if not neo-fascist, views are similarly expressed in France, England, and across Europe. In the former two nations such right-wing parties have, for the first time in nearly a century, outpolled the traditional capitalist stalwart parties of the status quo. 
Trump is the American reflection of overtly racist and neo-fascist ideology— if not a conscious experiment with it. His racist rants in some instances have encouraged the use of violent physical attacks by his disaffected followers, who find his scapegoating of the oppressed to their liking.
Mr. Trump hasn't changed--he wasn't a fascist then and he isn't a fascist now. As Scott Alexander eloquently points out, he's no more racist than the average 70-year-old white guy. He's certainly no more racist than any former president (barring perhaps Mr. Obama).

The American people haven't changed, either. They're no more stupid today than they were ten years ago. By SA's lights they must be true idiots, falling for the same scam every four years as predictably as the sunrise.

Solidarity, having made a French Turn into the Green Party, were fully invested in the Jill Stein campaign. In a statement from the Steering Committee of Solidarity they acknowledge that she was not successful.
Meanwhile, the Green Party--the most visible alternative to the left of the Democrats--seems to have won less than 1% of the vote in the Presidential race; a result both disappointing to those seeking to build the Greens as a party of the left, many of whom named 5% of the vote as a goal, and totally insignificant compared to the numbers of Democrats and independents who either stayed home or, worse, jumped ship to vote for Trump.
While they're still quick to accuse Mr. Trump himself of racism, they try hard to get his supporters off the hook.
The outcome of the election is, no doubt, in part an expression of white supremacy. But it’s more than that: many commenters have already pointed out that the rustbelt battleground states that arguably cost Clinton the election were areas where Obama performed significantly better among white voters in 2008 and 2012 than Clinton did in 2016, complicating any suggestion that the results are simply about the racism of white voters.
This is essentially the same argument as SA makes--the American People were bamboozled into voting against their own self-interest. They're only slightly more specific about why, blaming "neoliberalism"--a catch-all term that is approximately a synonym for all evil.

Scott Alexander provides convincing evidence that white supremacy is not a significant current in American politics. After presenting much data, he concludes
So the mainstream narrative [including Solidarity--ed] is that Trump is okay with alienating minorities (= 118 million people), whites who abhor racism and would never vote for a racist (if even 20% of whites, = 40 million people), most of the media, most business, and most foreign countries – in order to win the support of about 50,000 poorly organized and generally dysfunctional people [white supremacists--ed], many of whom are too young to vote anyway.
As it turns out, Mr. Trump received a larger fraction of the minority vote (both Hispanic & African-American) than either Romney or McCain. Whatever else Trump is, he is not a white supremacist.

The Militant's view is refreshingly different. The paper describes the Trump phenomena as more a split in the ruling class rather than stupidity by the workers. Quoting Steve Clark,
“For the first time in decades, the US rulers and their government have begun to fear the working class,” Clark notes. “More working people are beginning to see that the bosses and political parties have no ‘solutions’ that don’t further load the costs — monetary and human — of the crisis of their system on us.” The rulers “sense that mounting struggle — class struggle — lies ahead.”
So, according to Steve, desperate times call for desperate measures, and a radically different presidential candidate, one which a big part of the Republican establishment disowned, suddenly becomes the tribune of the bourgeoisie.

But The Militant has long insisted that Trump is not a fascist, as Naomi Craine wrote last April.
“Trump’s not a fascist, he’s a demagogic bourgeois politician,” said Naomi Craine, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party here, who spoke along with Kennedy. “He uses crude anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and there’s a real edge to his comments on women.” 
What he proposes to do is not much different from the other capitalist politicians, however.
The paper argues that Trump accurately reflects the attitudes of most American workers, but the solutions he proposes are straight from the capitalist playbook. Far from being radical, he's just another capitalist candidate dressed up in proletarian clothing.

I think The Militant is closer to the truth than any other grouplet. Donald is certainly no fascist, as can be seen by his "ground game," or lack thereof. It has been assumed that a presidential candidate needs activists on the ground in an organized Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign. Hillary certainly had that. But Trump, with a staff only a fraction the size of Hillary's, never assembled a ground game.

Yet a ground game is just an incipient fascist gang if the candidate chooses to use it that way. Indeed, both Bernie and Hillary used their ground game in just that way on occasion. But Donald never did that, in part because he never organized a gang to begin with. So he's not a fascist.

The Militant is also correct that Trump has no "solutions." They're hardly unique in pointing that out. But the reason isn't some betrayal of the working class--rather it's that no solutions exist.

  • There is no solution to the health care problem in America that solves all the problems people want solved.
  • There is no solution to the regulatory state--there will always be both too much and too little regulation.
  • There is no solution to structural unemployment in this country.
  • Etc.
Even in a socialist society--especially in a socialist society--no solution to any of these problems will be found.

Let me end with a little psephology of my own. Why did Trump win the election? Simple. He both out-smarted and out-hustled Hillary.

Hillary is stupid, and I mean that in the literal, IQ sense of the word. Anybody who rises to high office has to be smart, and the 17 candidates who initially graced the Republican stage were mostly brilliant. I need only mention Rand Paul and Chris Christie to make my case. And Trump was smarter than most of them.

But Hillary just isn't in that league. She inherited her position solely by virtue of being Bill's wife. Of course being smart isn't everything--after all, Rand Paul isn't president. But it is a prerequisite, one that Hillary couldn't meet.

That's why she lost the election.

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