Living in Australia and dependent on mainstream global news reports, many of us could not imagine that Donald Trump would become the 45th President of the United States. Of course Hillary will win, we assured ourselves as the polls tightened. How could it possibly be otherwise? There was little reporting of the economic underbelly of this surreal presidential race that in the end landed Trump as a “human Molotov cocktail” against the political system, as one reporter memorably put it. There was equally little reporting on what made Clinton such a singularly unsuitable candidate for the times and for the style of her opponent, Trump.
Could such disruption of the status quo happen here? Maybe it has already started with the election of four One Nation senators and the general mood against the major parties as was clear in the last federal election.
To drill down into why that may be so and what the connection might be between economics and intolerance and fear, this December Bulletin editorial is now augmented with discussion from other analysts who have studied both Trump and Brexit. Their conclusions are that we are seeing a revolt in western countries of millions globally whose lives have been “stomped on” as Glenn Greenwald puts it, during 30 years of globalisation and rule by ‘the markets’.
“I’m really upset” wrote an NRMA employee in a change.org petition. “We’ve just found out that they may sack a lot of staff by January and send our Aussie jobs offshore. How could they do this to their workers, and treat Australians like this? They made tens of millions in profit last year – but to make a little more they’re going to hurt Australians who’ve built this company.”
This social media plea that garnered almost 10,000 signatures in protest by late November, is reportedly part of a move by IAG Insurance to outsource and automate some unspecified services in the interest of greater ‘efficiency’. It highlights why the middle and working class is hurting and many are angry – not only in the US but right here in Australia and our region too.
During the same week came news that Essential Energy has been given the green light by NSW government authorities to lay off another 600 workers (having already trimmed the work force in March) and ‘outsource’ more tasks. All this directly affects jobs and the economy of our region, as well as possibly the safety and amenity of the wider community. The attrition in regional jobs has been happening for some time and promises to go on.
“Otto, a Bay area startup that was recently acquired by Uber, wants to automate trucking – and recently wrapped up a 120 mile driverless delivery of 50,000 cans of beer…From a technology standpoint it was a jawdropping achievement, accompanied by predictions of improved highway safety.” Silicon Valley has an empathy vacuum, by Om Malik The New Yorker, Nov 28 2016.
“From the point of view of a truck driver with a mortgage and a kid in college, it was a devastating ‘oh shit’ moment. That one technical breakthrough puts nearly two million long-haul trucking jobs at risk, he reported.”
If trucking, still a decent-paying job for non-college graduates went, so would a whole ecology of support services from truckstops to motels and retailers .
The ‘of course’ talk about efficiency and innovation trumps human concerns throughout the industry and admiring politicians like the Australian Prime Minister
Not only trade jobs, but white collar administrative jobs (think of all the corporate customer service centres that have been shifted to India and the Philippines and recent public service cuts state and federal) are being lost to young job seekers.
Behind the scenes are ‘efficiency’ drives on behalf of corporate shareholders. Together with government ideology leaning in the same direction, the driving economic ideas and policies value profit over sustainable communities. Automation is also having an effect and is gathering momentum everywhere.
With the ‘big surprise’ election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the forces behind growing income inequality and related pain for many families in western societies with like-minded economics, are coming under the microscope.
Criticism of job loss from the left as well as right
US Senator Bernie Sanders, (who gave Hillary Clinton surprising competition in the primaries calling himself a socialist, well social democrat) summed up his own appeal as a critic of the mainstream parties and why Trump won, He said: “I think a number of people who voted for Obama once, or twice voted for Trump. There are a whole lot of people who are really hurting. They’re working two or three jobs, they’re worried about their kids, they can’t afford to send them to childcare or college, and Trump comes along and says “I’m a champion of the working class”, promising jobs.
We’re seeing the fallout of 30 years of neo-liberal economic policies bowing to ‘the market’ and privatisation of public assets and jobs, together with globalisation of capital and labor on behalf of multi-national corporations that have done very nicely. That’s the new normal that public discussion in the mainstream media (amplifying the ruling politicians) tells us are the ground rules.
For example we’re told that it’s a disaster that the TPP (the transpacific trade partnership) is being disrupted by Trump. But is it? Many think that these global trade agreements are now at the point of threatening not only some domestic jobs but the ability to safeguard the environment, public health, animal welfare and local autonomy.
Why is the new normal failing?
Trump is just a messenger for the failures of too much of current major party politics in western democracies wedded to market economics. Top of the list is failure to counteract the gathering inequality and economic pain of the working and middle class. Add to that failure to publicly acknowledge the obvious pressures on jobs etc of human population increases and people movements. And failure to get it right on counteracting climate change that may yet be the biggest economic wrecker of all.
These failures then manifest in people scapegoating minorities and ‘outsiders’ for their problems and in electing demagogues who promise some quick fixes. [After all, where did Pauline Hanson’s four senate positions come from?]
Links to other analysts who look beyond the identity politics at the economic abyss we face
First off, a related story seldom canvassed in Australia: what has happened in India that led to the election of Prime Minister Modi? With striking similarities to a history of neo-liberal globalisation narratives elsewhere.
“Something is rotten in the state of democracy,” wrote Pankaj Mishra in a New York Times opinion piece in November.
India: poster child for what happens with ‘trickle down’ economics and populist politics
“The stink first became unmistakable in India in May 2014,” wrote Mishtra [following quoted passages from his article], “when Narendra Modi, a member of an alt-right Hindu organization inspired by fascists and Nazis, was elected prime minister. Like Donald Trump, Mr. Modi rose to power demonizing ethnic-religious minorities, immigrants and the establishment media, and boasting about the size of a body part.
“Mr. Modi’s ascent, like that of many demagogues today, was preordained by the garish dreams of power, wealth and glory that colonized many minds in the age of globalization. Americans are, as Mr. [Thomas] Frank writes, “a population brought up expecting to enjoy life in what it is often told is the richest country in the world.” In India, one of the poorest countries in the world, “the tutelage of a distant and self-satisfied elite” — to borrow from Ross Douthat, describing America — spawned a much more extravagant sense of entitlement. In that elite’s view, the India that embraced deregulation and privatization was a “roaring capitalist success story,” according to a 2006 cover of Foreign Affairs magazine.
“The narrative went something like this: Now that the government was getting out of the way of buoyant entrepreneurs, a rising tide was lifting the boats of all Indians aspiring to the richness of the world. Suave technocrats, economists and publicists (mostly U.S.-trained) endlessly regurgitated free-market nostrums (imported from America) — what [Thomas]Frank calls the “liberalism of the rich.”
“The fervent rhetoric about private wealth-creation and its trickle-down benefits openly mocked, and eventually stigmatized, India’s founding ideals of egalitarian and collective welfare. It is this extraordinary historical reversal, and its slick agents, that must be investigated in order to understand the incendiary appeal of demagoguery in our time.
“Writing after its explosion in 20th-century Europe, Karl Polanyi described in his 1944 book The Great Transformation how civil society and individual liberty are threatened as never before when a society has to reconfigure itself to serve the “utopian experiment of a self-regulating market.”
“Social and political life in India, America and Europe was drastically remade by neoliberal economism in recent decades, under, as the legal scholar David Kennedy has argued, the administration of a professional global class of hidden persuaders and status-seekers.”
The Thomas Frank that Mishra refers to is the political analyst, journalist and author of Listen Liberal, a book that the Bulletin reviewed in October. It’s addressed to the Democratic Party faithful in the United States.
U.S. working class disaster
Frank describes in some detail the working class wreckage littering the United States in the wake of three decades of mostly Democratic rule – Clinton two terms, followed by Bush (two terms) followed by Obama, two terms. He and others point to this as the main reason Hillary Clinton lost in the heartland states. A map shows the striking result that only both coasts, where the professional, technocratic and financial services demographic dominated, voted in majority for Clinton.
Frank writes about speaking at a firefighters convention “blue-collar workers who have watched with increasing alarm what has been happening to folks like them for the past few decades…watched as the people formerly known as the heart and soul of this country had their lives taken apart bone by bone.” While they are among some of the last unionised workers, ”they can see the inferno coming.”
A firefighter explained it this way: people have run out of ways to adjust and still have a more or less middle class standard of living. First they went for dual incomes. Then they ran up debt on the credit card. Most recently they have pulled equity out of their homes. All this has not been enough as wages continue to sink.
“If we want to understand what’s wrong with liberalism [in the American sense of the word] what keeps this movement from doing something about inequality or about our reversion to a 19th century social pattern, this is where we’re going to have to look: at the assumptions and collective interests of professionals, the Democratic Party’s favourite constituency.”
Democrats and other centrist parties look after the winners of globalisation
Thomas Frank argues that a political party that was until the 1990s the natural representative of working people, much like the Labor Party in Australia, has lost its way. It joined the Republicans in deed if not in “change” rhetoric in looking after the interests of the well-heeled who have continued to benefit from globalisation. This includes the ‘meritocracy’ of lawyers, economists, Wall Street bankers, Silicon Valley technocrats and corporate elite managers that dominate policy directions in the global market economy.
It was still possible to be progressive in cultural and identify politics – feminism, gay rights, multi-cultural tolerance etc, as well as welfare and medical reform like Obamacare – while neglecting basic economic democracy.
That remained the direction of the Democrats in the Obama years to the great disappointment of many. It explains the coolness towards more of the same under Hillary Clinton. (A matter of some confusion to many of us who could not understand what people had against Clinton, other than misogyny).
“History had dealt Barack Obama four aces, he could not lose” writes Frank of a campaign that had people on a high about hope and change with historic voter turnout. But after the 2008 Wall Street crash his technocratic administration “saved a bankrupt system that by all rights should have met its end. America came through an economic debacle, an earthquake that shook people’s faith to the ground. Yet out of it the system emerged largely unchanged. The predators resumed operations,” Frank concluded in his book.
Leveraged to the hilt
Australian European economist Yanis Varoufakis continues the analysis.
“Before 2008, workers in the US, in Britain and in the periphery of Europe were placated with the promise of ‘capital gains’ and easy credit. Their houses, they were told, could only increase in value, replacing wage income growth. In the meantime their consumerism could be funded through second mortgages, credit cards and the rest. The price was their consent to the gradual retreat of democratic process and its replacement by a ‘technocracy’ intent on serving faithfully, and without compunction, the interests of the 1%. Now, eight years after 2008, these people are angry and are getting even.
“Trump’s triumph completes the mortal wounding this era had suffered in 2008. But the new era that Trump’s presidency is inaugurating, foreshadowed by Brexit, is not at all new. It is, indeed, a post-modern variant of the 1930s, complete with deflation, xenophobia, and divide-and-rule politics. Trump’s victory is not isolated. It will no doubt reinforce the toxic politics unleashed by Brexit, the undisguised bigotry of Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen in France, the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland, the illiberal democracies emerging in Eastern Europe, Golden Dawn in Greece.”
Why did Hillary Clinton lose in this very particular matchup? Political lessons when running against a demagogue
Nathan J Robinson predicted in (U.S.) Current Affairs magazine with uncanny accuracy that a Clinton candidacy would lead to a Trump Presidency in February 2016.
Robinson wrote [following quotes from his article linked below] : “Instinctively, Hillary Clinton has long seemed by far the more electable of the two Democratic candidates. She is, after all, an experienced, pragmatic moderate, whereas Sanders is a raving, arm-flapping elderly Jewish socialist from Vermont. …Sanders campaigners grew used to hearing the heavy-hearted lament: ‘I like Bernie, I just don’t think he can win.’ And in typical previous American elections, this would be perfectly accurate.
“[A Trump Clinton] match-up is highly likely to be an unmitigated electoral disaster, whereas a Sanders candidacy stands a far better chance. Every one of Clinton’s (considerable) weaknesses plays to every one of Trump’s strengths, whereas every one of Trump’s (few) weaknesses plays to every one of Sanders’s strengths. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, running Clinton against Trump is a disastrous, suicidal proposition.
“For Donald Trump, sensationalist distractions are the whole game. He will attempt to crucify her. And it is very, very likely that he will succeed. Trump’s political dominance is highly dependent on his idiosyncratic, audacious method of campaigning. He deals almost entirely in amusing, outrageous, below-the-belt personal attacks, If Trump does have to speak about the issues, he makes himself sound foolish, because he doesn’t know very much. Thus he requires the media not to ask him difficult questions, and depends on his opponents’ having personal weaknesses and scandals that he can merrily, mercilessly exploit.
“This campaigning style [made] Hillary Clinton Donald Trump’s dream opponent. She gives him an endless amount to work with. The emails, Benghazi, Whitewater, Iraq, the Lewinsky scandal, Chinagate, Travelgate, the missing law firm records, Jeffrey Epstein, Kissinger, Marc Rich, Haiti, Clinton Foundation tax errors, Clinton Foundation conflicts of interest, “We were broke when we left the White House,” Goldman Sachs… There is enough material in Hillary Clinton’s background for Donald Trump to run with six times over.
“The defense offered by Clinton supporters is that none of these issues actually amount to anything once you look at them carefully. But this is completely irrelevant; all that matters is the fodder they would provide for the Trump machine. Who is going to be looking carefully? In the time you spend trying to clear up the basic facts of Whitewater, Trump will have made five more allegations.
“Even a skilled campaigner would have a very difficult time parrying such endless attacks by Trump. Even the best campaigner would find it impossible to draw attention back to actual substantive policy issues, and would spend their every moment on the defensive. But Hillary Clinton is neither the best campaigner nor even a skilled one…. carrying “Bill’s baggage with none of Bill’s warmth.” New York magazine described her “failing to demonstrate the most elementary political skills, much less those learned at Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie.”
“Noting Sanders’s catch-up in the polls, The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin said that she was a “rotten candidate” whose attacks on Sanders made no sense, and that ‘at some point, you cannot blame the national mood or a poor staff or a brilliant opponent for Hillary Clinton’s campaign woes.’ Yet in a race against Trump, Hillary will be handicapped not only by her feeble campaigning skills, but the fact that she will have a sour national mood, a poor staff, and a brilliant opponent.
[Sorry readers, had to leave the following in. Robinson got Trump to a T].
“One can already imagine the monologue: ‘She lies so much. Everything she says is a lie. I’ve never seen someone who lies so much in my life. Let me tell you three lies she’s told. She made up a story about how she was ducking sniper fire! There was no sniper fire. She made it up! How do you forget a thing like that? She said she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the guy who climbed Mount Everest. He hadn’t even climbed it when she was born! Total lie! She lied about the emails, of course, as we all know, and is probably going to be indicted. You know she said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq! It was a lie! Thousands of American soldiers are dead because of her. Not only does she lie, her lies kill people. That’s four lies, I said I’d give you three. You can’t even count them. You want to go on PolitiFact, see how many lies she has? It takes you an hour to read them all! In fact, they ask her, she doesn’t even say she hasn’t lied. They asked her straight up, she says she usually tries to tell the truth! Ooooh, she tries! Come on! This is a person, every single word out of her mouth is a lie. Nobody trusts her. Check the polls, nobody trusts her. Yuge liar.’
“Where does she even begin to respond to this? Some of it’s true, some of it isn’t, but the more she tries to defensively parse it (‘There’s been no suggestion I’m going to be indicted! And I didn’t say I usually tried to tell the truth, I said I always tried and usually succeeded’) the deeper she sinks into the hole.
Robinson points to the 2008 campaign. People forget that Clinton’s campaign fell apart against an outsider change agent back then too —— “it should have been a signal of the public mood that only worsened in the eight Obama years of economic stagnation for the middle and working class.”
Shorter than the book, this article by Frank explains where ‘Liberals’ have gone in recent times.
The Obama legacy continued the Democratic Party’s abandonment of working class people while waging foreign wars
American philosopher at Harvard University and civil rights activist Cornel West provides a sad postscript to the Obama years on the eve of Trump’s White House takeover. He writes that the hope and change agent that Obama appeared ( easily winning many of the working and middle-class white votes who then turned to Trump) never delivered and instead carried on a neo-liberal economic agenda led by Wall Street ‘criminals’ augmented by a hawkish foreign policy of drone bombing, and domestic disdain for civil rights. What happened to him?
Thomas Frank with Listen Liberal and a few other US journalists unpack the dismal picture of how the Democratic Party (not unlike centrist parties elsewhere) largely deserted the postwar compact between labor and capital to maintain working people’s income. This was so in the face of savage and often successful attacks on unionised workers – the bulwark of sharing the wealth in capitalist societies – and in the face of deregulation and globalisation that overtook the West in the 1990s and since.
In the US as in the UK (and to a less extreme extent Australia) the ‘liberals’ in American parlance (or the ruling non-Tory parties) shifted from defending the working classes to seeing as their constituency a technocratic and professional class that reaped the rewards of globalisation and free market economics.
I remember as we moved from the US in the late 1980s, the union-busting and wage-squeezing that was going on under Ronald Reagan and wondered where that might end up. Well here we are.
Thirty years later, the Democratic Party was under Obama’s leadership. While culturally liberating with a black family in the White House and gay marriage sanctioned, the party did very little to find solutions for the increasingly- destroyed old order domestic working/middle class. Not everyone can retrain and find new meaning in being a barista or a digital help-desk.
The beneficiaries of globalisation were the rising middle classes of Asia and Eastern Europe that benefited from jobs going to ‘cheaper’ offshore enclaves and parallel exports back to the older economies – cloaked in consumer propaganda that cheaper is always better (unfortunately always made overseas).
Domestically the beneficiaries in those 30 years have been those working in finance, law, real estate, banking, stock exchanges, politics! and other rewarding professions, not least big market journalism – and the super rich who emerged from this trading economic model.
Hence the striking images of Clinton’s voter appeal in the urban conglomerates of east and west coast USA while in the rural, regional, and former industrial heartland, males and females voted big-time for Trump, the only available change agent in 2016 – his unpleasant personality probably making the payback seem more delicious – at least in the heat of the moment.
Ignoring the lessons of Brexit, role of the media in building a Trump persona
Another American independent journalist,, Pulitzer Prize-winning Glen Greenwald, also thought Sanders would have had a better chance against Trump for many of the above reasons, He expanded the analysis to western Europe and how Americans ignored the lessons of Brexit. His comments below come from several interviews with democracynow.org and from articles published in The Intercept where is a founding editor.
Bernie Sanders, who was mostly ignored by the US media nailed it right after the US election, said Greenwald quoting Sanders: “Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. “People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids—all while the very rich become much richer.”
To which one might add that many of that working class doing it tough rightly or wrongly resent those receiving welfare under current policies.
As with Brexit, said Greenwald “supporters of Trump were continually maligned by the dominant media narrative (validly or otherwise) as primitive, stupid, racist, xenophobic, and irrational. In each case, journalists who spend all day chatting with one another on Twitter and congregating in exclusive social circles in national capitals — constantly re-affirming their own wisdom in an endless feedback loop — were certain of victory [for the Democrats].
“Senator Sanders is actually quite remarkable, because he isn’t coming out and saying everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a racist troglodyte. He’s not saying that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is a misogynist who hates women and cast their vote for that reason. He’s saying that there are a huge number of people who voted for Donald Trump, and not for Hillary Clinton, who have very valid grievances. And those grievances are grounded in a system of policies that both political parties have played an equal role in creating. Look at what he (Bernie Sanders) is describing: jobs going overseas, industries being destroyed, Wall Street being protected.
Suppression of huge numbers of people in the name of free-trade – Clinton was worst-choice to speak for those people
“You can go back into the ’80s, into the era of Reagan and trickle-down economics and the destruction of unions, to find the genesis of it. And then you look into the ’90s, with NAFTA and free trade mania and the liberation of Wall Street from all kinds of constraints, and into the 2000s, when in the post-2008 economic crisis the Obama administration prosecuted not a single Wall Street executive responsible for that crisis, while continuing to build the world’s largest penal state, largely for poor people, people with no power. And it’s this inequality, this oppression of huge numbers of people in the name of globalism and free trade, that Bernie Sanders is describing in that statement as why Trump won.
“Hillary Clinton, probably above every other politician who could have run, is the symbol of safeguarding that system, of believing in it, of advocating for it and, most of all, of benefiting from it greatly. And so, you sent a Democratic nominee into the general election, in this climate, who could not have been more ill-suited to voice the kind of systemic critique that Donald Trump, being the con artist that he is, was able to voice and that Senator Sanders has spent his entire career trying to advocate for. And I think you see the contrast really well in terms of how Senator Sanders would have run against Trump in that statement that he just issued versus how most Democrats are reacting to this Trump victory.
Role of the media in ‘constructing’ Trump
Democracynow interviewer: “And then you have the media part of this—right?—where you have the unending Trump TV, not the new Trump TV, but all the networks’ Trump TV, when it came to Donald Trump. They showed more footage of his empty podium, waiting for him to speak, than they ever played of the words of Bernie Sanders. So you had the endless platform for Donald Trump, but rarely did you have Bernie Sanders showing, in any way, the extent of the speeches that he gave. You’d have whole speeches of Donald Trump.
“But when it came to Bernie Sanders, that famous night, March 15th—every single victor and loser that night, from Rubio to Kasich to Clinton to Cruz to Trump, all their speeches were played—except for Bernie Sanders, who was speaking to thousands and thousands and thousands of people that night in Arizona. This is just emblematic of the rest of the coverage. They never played a word that he said that night.”
Glenn Greenwald: “Lets begin with the fact that Donald Trump’s public persona prior to this election was consecrated and constructed by one of the most powerful media organizations in the world, if not the most powerful media organization in the world, which is NBCNews, which for many, many years paraded Donald Trump in the format of a reality TV program, watched by tens of millions of Americans, that portrayed him as the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit. He marched into boardrooms, in charge, and unflinchingly fired people who weren’t working up to standard performance. He built new businesses. He was the embodiment of everything that Americans are taught to revere. And this is the person who, for decades, has been a racist, a demagogue, a con artist, and yet NBC turned him into this swaggering hero at great profit to itself.
“And so, already, he was a by-product of media worship. And then, once the campaign began, the media, as you said, nonstop fed on Donald Trump, to the exclusion, certainly, first and foremost, of Bernie Sanders, but even to the other candidates, who got far less TV time than Trump did, because he was a ratings gold mine.”
Greenwald notes however that once Trump was the Republican nominee the media’s belated wake up call to his shortcomings worked in his favour too, claiming that the media was being ‘unfair’ to him as people knew the media to be.
Editorial media judgement about who is important: communication is key
Greenwald continued: “[In] all of their editorial judgments about who is worth hearing from and who isn’t worth hearing from are all kinds of ideological and partisan biases. So the idea that Donald Trump, the billionaire, celebrity, TV star, should constantly be heard from, whereas Bernie Sanders, the old Jewish socialist from Vermont, who nobody took seriously, doesn’t need to be heard from, with all of his boring speeches about college debt and healthcare and the like, in that choice is a very strong and pedantic ideological choice that the American media embraced and played a huge role in enabling Trump to march to the primary.”
Worth noting is another observation about the crucial role of communication and media narratives in modern democracies coming from public intellectual and long-time critic of US policy Noam Chomsky. He writes: “Even the simplest, the most obvious, the most crucial facts are invisible if they do not accord with the needs of power “…citing also George Orwell who described how unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force simply by a cultural consensus of the elites that some things are not talked about. Excerpt from Power and Terror Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force, Pluto Press 2011.
Evgeny Morozov an insightful critic of the narrative that Silicon Valley ‘will solve everything and make our lives wonderful’, brings the western media story up to the present with a piece on how digital ‘fake’ news is being blamed for establishment politician losses and the media’s failure to understand those losses. Hillary Clinton and Russian hacking via Wikileaks being a prime example. He writes: “Democracy is drowning in fake news. This is the latest reassuring conclusion drawn by those on the losing side of 2016, from Brexit to the US elections to the Italian referendum.
“Apparently, all these earnest, honest and unfashionably rational grownups are losing elections because of a dangerous epidemic of fake news, internet memes and funny YouTube videos. For this crowd, the problem is not that the Titanic of democratic capitalism is sailing in dangerous waters; its potential sinking can never be discussed in polite society anyway. Rather, it’s that there are far too many false reports about giant icebergs on the horizon.” Fake news and silo-ised audiences are challenges for journalists, but Morozov argues so far all the focus on fake news and taming Facebook has served as new distractions from the economic underpinnings of present-day voter dissatisfaction.
Summing up the economic drivers of voter upset
Here’s Greenwald again: “The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.
“That message was heard loud and clear…….
“After the Brexit vote, I wrote an article comprehensively detailing these dynamics, which I won’t repeat here but hope those interested will read. The title conveys the crux: “Brexit Is Only the Latest Proof of the Insularity and Failure of Western Establishment Institutions.” That analysis was inspired by a short, incredibly insightful, and now more relevant than ever post-Brexit Facebook note by the Los Angeles Times’s Vincent Bevins, who wrote that ‘both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for 30 years.’ “
Bevins wrote: “Since the 1980s the elites in rich countries have overplayed their hand, taking all the gains for themselves and just covering their ears when anyone else talks, and now they are watching in horror as voters revolt.”
Added Greenwald: “Two short passages from a Slate interview I gave in July summarized those grave dangers: that opinion-making elites were so clustered, so incestuous, so far removed from the people who would decide this election — so contemptuous of them — that they were not only incapable of seeing the trends toward Trump but were unwittingly accelerating those trends with their own condescending, self-glorifying behavior.
“Like most everyone else who saw the polling data and predictive models of the media’s self-proclaimed data experts, I long believed Clinton would win, but the reasons why she very well could lose were not hard to see. The warning lights were flashing in neon for a long time, but they were in seedy places that elites studiously avoid.
“The few people who purposely went to those places and listened, such as Chris Arnade, saw and heard [the warnings] loud and clear. The ongoing failure to take heed of this intense but invisible resentment and suffering guarantees that it will fester and strengthen.
Three lessons after the US election and questions arising as outlined by Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept magazine
Democrats lost their tradition of representing the working person, when will they question themselves?
“You know the drearily predictable list of their scapegoats: Russia, WikiLeaks, James Comey, Jill Stein, Bernie Bros, The Media, news outlets that sinned by reporting negatively on Hillary Clinton. Anyone who thinks that what happened last night in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Michigan can be blamed on any of that is drowning in self-protective ignorance so deep that it’s impossible to express in words.
“But that’s just basic blame shifting and self-preservation. Far more significant is what this shows about the mentality of the Democratic Party. Just think about who they nominated: someone who — when she wasn’t dining with Saudi monarchs and being feted in Davos by tyrants who gave million-dollar checks — spent the last several years running around to Wall Street banks and major corporations cashing in with $250,000 fees for 45-minute secret speeches even though she had already become unimaginably rich with book advances while her husband already made tens of millions playing these same games.
“She did all that without the slightest apparent concern for how that would feed into all the perceptions and resentments of her and the Democratic Party as corrupt, status quo-protecting, aristocratic tools of the rich and powerful: exactly the worst possible behaviour for this post-2008-economic-crisis era of globalism and destroyed industries.
Populist promise to change the system
Greenwald continues: “Just as Obama did so powerfully in 2008, Trump could credibly run as an enemy of the D.C. and Wall Street system that has steamrolled over so many people, while Hillary Clinton is its loyal guardian, its consummate beneficiary.” [Whether Trumps cabinet picks of billionaires clouds that ‘outsider’ status remains to be seen].
“Trump vowed to destroy the system that elites love (for good reason) and the masses hate (for equally good reason), while Clinton vowed to manage it more efficiently. As Matt Stoller’s indispensable article in The Atlantic documented, is the conniving choice the Democratic Party made decades ago: to abandon populism and become the party of technocratically proficient, mildly benevolent managers of elite power. Those are the cynical, self-interested seeds they planted, and now the crop has sprouted.
Racism, misogyny, and xenophobia and their connection to economic conditions
“People often talk about ‘racism/sexism/xenophobia’ vs. ‘economic suffering’ as if they are totally distinct dichotomies. Of course there are substantial elements of both in Trump’s voting base, but the two categories are inextricably linked: The more economic suffering people endure, the angrier and more bitter they get, the easier it is to direct their anger to scapegoats. Economic suffering often fuels ugly bigotry.
“It is true that many Trump voters are relatively well-off and many of the nation’s poorest voted for Clinton, but, as Michael Moore quite presciently warned, those portions of the country that have been most ravaged by free trade orgies and globalism — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa — were filled with rage and “see [Trump] as a chance to be the human Molotov cocktail that they’d like to throw into the system to blow it up.”
Over the last six decades, and particularly over the last 15 years of the endless war on terror, both political parties have joined to construct a frightening and unprecedentedly invasive and destructive system of authoritarian power, accompanied by the unbridled authority vested in the executive branch to use it.
“As a result, the president of the United States commands a vast nuclear arsenal that can destroy the planet many times over; the deadliest and most expensive military ever developed in human history; legal authorities that allow him to prosecute numerous secret wars at the same time, imprison people with no due process, and target people (including U.S. citizens) for assassination with no oversight; domestic law enforcement agencies that are constructed to appear and act as standing, para-militarized armies; a sprawling penal state that allows imprisonment far more easily than most Western countries; and a system of electronic surveillance purposely designed to be ubiquitous and limitless, including on U.S. soil.
“Those who have been warning of the grave dangers these powers pose have often been dismissed on the ground that the leaders who control this system are benevolent and well-intentioned. They have thus often resorted to the tactic of urging people to imagine what might happen if a president they regarded as less than benevolent one day gained control of it. That day has arrived. One hopes this will at least provide the impetus to unite across ideological and partisan lines to finally impose meaningful limits on these powers that should never have been vested in the first place. That commitment should start now.”
Similarities to Britain, Brexit and European policies and public narratives, with many echos in Australia
Greenwald notes: “For many years, the U.S. — like the U.K. and other Western nations — has embarked on a course that virtually guaranteed a collapse of elite authority and an internal implosion. From the invasion of Iraq to the 2008 financial crisis to the all-consuming framework of prisons and endless wars, societal benefits have been directed almost exclusively to the very elite institutions most responsible for failure at the expense of everyone else.
“It was only a matter of time before instability, backlash, and disruption resulted. Both Brexit and Trump unmistakably signal its arrival. The only question is whether those two cataclysmic events will be the peak of this process, or just the beginning. And that, in turn, will be determined by whether their crucial lessons are learned — truly internalized — or ignored in favor of self-exonerating campaigns to blame everyone else.
“British elites, outside of populist, right-wing Murdoch types, pretty much were unified across ideological and party lines. You had the Liberals and the Labour centrists and the more establishment Conservatives united in opposition to Brexit. And they essentially stayed online all day on Twitter telling each other how smart they were and praising each other’s columns, saying that Brexit was this grave threat and this unique evil. [In the US] you had leading neocon intellectuals and establishment Republicans and establishment liberal pundits all in agreement that Trump was this grave evil, constantly praising each other and citing each other in this endless echo feedback chamber.
“And so, the people who were supporting Brexit and the people who were supporting Trump weren’t really ever heard from; they were just talked about in very contemptuous tones. These were the troglodytes. These were the uneducated idiots. These were the people motivated by malice and racism and xenophobia.
“And because this opinion-making elite was so unified, it led so many people, in both cases, to believe that their victory was certain. Nobody thought, in the opinion-making elite classes, that Brexit would win, and the same is true of Trump.
“And then, both before and after you had this result, what you saw is not any notion of accountability. Why are there so many people wanting to leave the EU? Why are there so many people supporting this person so far outside the norm? No accountability, no self-critique….. “
In revolt then are millions of ordinary citizens who have been ignored and patronised over 30 years of the neo-liberal , globalisation project. Greenwald argues that they knew exactly why they voted as they did even if the elite classes could not fathom it.
“A lot of people who voted for Brexit, a lot of people who voted for Trump understand exactly all the arguments that were made about why each of them is potentially destructive and so dangerous, and they did it, not despite that, but because of that, because they want to punish and ultimately destroy the institutions who no longer have any credibility with them and who they believe are responsible for the suffering and the lack of security that they experience in their lives without anyone really caring about it at all. And until we start to address that and until institutions, elite institutions, take responsibility for it, those things are going to continue to fester and grow, and it very well may be the case that Trump and Brexit are just the beginning of this very alarming cycle, rather than the peak of it, concluded Greenwald.”
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker wrote a piece in November that summarises not only the dangers before the country and the world with “the human Molotov cocktail” now at the helm, but also displays the mainstream liberal media analysis. This prefers a theory of right-wing conspiracy against a competent Democratic female candidate rather than drilling down into the political economy that Greenwald, Frank and others have analysed.