Over the past two weeks, many have challenged the notion that the election signified a “working class revolt against the elites.” This discussion is no academic matter and its resolution will will have a major bearing on the conduct of coming political struggles. Below is an excerpt of a longer analysis that I will post on Monday.
The “working class revolt against the elites” across the Midwest was boycotted by a substantial section of the working class, namely workers of color, immigrants, millennials, and substantial numbers of women.
And it wasn’t because they were winners in the economic and political restructuring over the past four decades. Or, in the years since the 2008 Great Recession. In fact, they experienced every bit as much and MORE economic hardship and dislocation than their white brothers and sisters who supported Trump. That’s the price they unwillingly pay for the other forms of oppression and discrimination that they experience.
Check out Detroit, Chicago, Gary, Cleveland, or Flint, where large numbers of African American workers reside, if you need evidence. Or the economic circumstances of the millennials in today’s workforce, some with mountains of college debt, and jobs that pay little and provide few benefits or stability. Or of the immigrants who labor in the fields in rural America and in low paid jobs in urban America, as they live in fear of deportation and the breakup of their families. Or women who still earn less than men as well as fill, despite some advances, the lower tiers of the occupational structures and do the unpaid and unappreciated labor of caring for the young and elderly.
If anyone has felt the pernicious and painful effects of the turn from broadly shared prosperity, the easing of inequality, regulations in the public interest, collective bargaining, an expansion of the social safety net, productive investment over finance, and more to its mirror opposite over the past three decades, it is these sections of the multi-racial, male-female, native born and immigrant, young and old, and gay and straight working class.
But the effects of this political and economic u-turn didn’t cause these workers to vote for Trump. Their votes went to Hillary who offered them a coherent economic program as well as respect for their humanity and democratic rights. Few of them thought a Clinton presidency would result in a radical rollback of corporate economic and political power. But most believed that the first woman president would give them space and opportunity to press their agenda in the years ahead.
Unlike too many of their white counterparts, they were not swayed by the words of Wayne LaPierre, “eight years of one demographically-symbolic president is enough.” Nor did they join the chant “Lock her up.” Most felt that someone who is a sexual predator should be automatically disqualified from the presidency or any other office. Finally, they knew from experience the subtext of Trump’s appeal to “Make America Great Again” or “build the wall” or “law and order.”
If this large (and growing) section of the working class had economic grievances or were troubled by the dysfunction of the federal government to address the many problems in their everyday lives, they didn’t buy into the notion that it was the simply the fault of our first Black president or liberal elites in Washington, or the “Establishment.” In contrast to their mainly white, male counterparts who jumped on the Trump bandwagon, their understanding of politics and the world had more complexity, sophistication, and depth. They were aware that the two parties were different in consequential ways and that each candidate represented in imperfect ways the clash of larger and competing social forces and coalitions.
While they – and many white workers as well – weren’t completely happy with the Democratic Party, or even the president, they knew that Trump and the Republicans would be a disaster. Indeed, they believed that this faction of the Establishment – a term that caused a lot of confusion in the primaries as well as the general election – had nothing but disdain for their democratic and human rights, and if victorious on election day, would usher in a frontal assault on their communities and the entire working class.
In short, they had too much class, democratic, and strategic sense to join this so called “working class revolt.”