We wake up this dreary Wednesday morning to an impending future of not only a President Trump but a Republican majority Congress and a soon-to-be conservative majority Supreme Court. Only time will tell exactly what this will mean for the political movement of the United States and the world, but I wanted to share with you some thoughts about how we got here as well as going forward.
What Do The Election Results Mean?
In short, everything and nothing. First off, US elections and especially US presidential elections are not an accurate reflection of public opinion. Even with record high turnout for this election, about 1/4 of the voting eligible population did not cast a ballot. For those that did vote, misinformation and lack of choice further skew whether a vote for Trump can actually be seen as a holistic endorsement of what he proposes. And as counted thus far, Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote.
That being said, this result would not have happened if there wasn’t a significant movement pushing for it. Despite all the desperate attempts by the media to narrow this phenomenon onto the poorest, it was white people as a whole that elected Donald Trump. Economic anxiety and government corruption may be factors, but the overarching root cause is racism and xenophobia.
However, one factor as to why the forecasters got it wrong was misconstruing the votes of
people of color, especially in Florida where 31% of Latinxs voted for Donald Trump. But I bring up this point cautiously, and not to reject the racism of Trump’s election but rather to state that such racism has permeated even into communities of color. Tied into this point is President Obama’s legacy and the myth of post-racialism: what does it mean to confront racism politically?
Ballot measures as usual tended to be more progressive than the elections, though less so than in previous years like 2010. Alabama passed a right-to-work referendum. Arizona did not legalize recreational marijuana but did raise the minimum wage. Arkansas legalized medical marijuana. The death penalty repeal failed in California but recreational marijuana passed. State healthcare failed in Colorado but the minimum wage was increased and assisted death is now legal. DC voted to petition Congress for statehood. Florida legalized medical marijuana. Controversy requirements for civil trials were raised in Hawaii from $5000 to $10,000. Indiana and Kansas created a right to hunt, which really deserves a post all of its own for being one of the most ridiculous legal fictions I’ve ever seen. Maine legalized recreational marijuana, increased the minimum wage, and expanded background checks for gun purchases. Massachusetts voted against allowing 12 new charter schools and legalized recreational marijuana. Missouri passed a voter ID law. Montana expanded medical marijuana. South Dakota passed its responsible lending law capping interest rates at 36%, retooled public finance of campaigns, and voted against a partial repeal of right to work. Nebraska reinstated the death penalty. Nevada expanded background checks for gun purchases and legalized recreational marijuana. New Mexico voted to give prosecutors the power to hold people charged with certain felonies without bail. North Dakota legalized medical marijuana. Oklahoma added a constitutional protection to the death penalty and rejected using public funds for religious uses. Oregon banned the sale of certain animal parts. Pennsylvania raised the mandatory retirement age for judges to 75. Virginia rejected right to work. Washington increased the minimum wage and created a new protection order to remove firearms access from certain at-risk individuals. And Wyoming passed a measure to allow billions of dollars of public funds to be invested in the stock market, an odd time to push for such investment to say the least.
Who Lost This Election?
While many pieces will focus on Clinton and the Democrats, I would argue that the Green Party is going to come out almost as big of a loser as them. Not so much because they were “spoilers”: the math simply does not back that up, even more so in this election than in 2000. Rather it was the choice of tactics. The Green Party pushed one central message this campaign: Hillary Clinton is just as bad, or even worse, than Donald Trump. It isn’t nearly as shocking as liberals treat it: as the closest thing to a “far Left” party in the United States, Jill Stein was competing for Clinton voters far more than for Trump voters. And of course opposition to “lesser evilism,” especially in the United States, is a central tenant of US Leftist politics. But the Green Party did not simply ask voters to reject voting for the lesser of two evils: they tried to frame the election as having no lesser of two evils. This strategy would have been dubious even in the event of Clinton winning the election, but with Trump winning it will be disastrous. We will never get to see how bad a Clinton presidency in 2017 would be, only how bad the Trump presidency is, and the first foreign aggression that Trump makes (and he will, especially with Mike Pence as his vice president) will make the Green Party’s equivocating look like a terrible joke.
And the Green Party utterly failed to garner the support that the Bernie Sanders campaign had mobilized because, despite its admirable rejection of capitalism this year, it remains a fairly bourgeois party. Jill Stein is, after all, a doctor, and despite some more serious Leftists like Howie Hawkins getting involved the party is still heavily dominated by crystal-wielding hippies who teach cultural literary studies at a $90,000 a year private college. I thought there was a possibility to make the Green Party more, especially when Ajamu Baraka was nominated for vice president, but they were intent on obsessing about the Podesta emails and erasing student loan debt.
I do not think however that we have left the window of opportunity to build a new party as an alternative to the Left, but how that party is built is definitely going to take shape in another way. Our main message is now the failure of the Democrats: the failure to nominate a candidate who could’ve beat Trump, the failure to put up a fight in Congress, the failure to be competitive in the state legislatures. The fault line in the Democratic Party between the Clinton liberals and progressives needs to be exploited and widened until there is a severance.
How Bad Is It Going To Get?
Again, we will not know anything for sure until next year, but there are reasons both to expect crisis and to situate the election in a historical context rather than as an apocalyptic event.
The US, regardless of Trump’s election, was already on the road to recession and as economist Michael Roberts writes, Trump will have to drink from that “poisoned chalice.” I am particularly concerned that Trump will institute something comparable to the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act, which deregulated savings and loan institutions triggering the only double dip recession in this country’s history. While deregulation is one route, a trade war with China or Mexico could also be a trigger. Regardless of the route, those “economically anxious” white working class voters are not going to see major improvements in their lives and may see quite the opposite in the next two to three years.
One less frequently discussed crisis we now face is that of transgender rights. It seems all too appropriate that last month saw a flaring up of tension between trans advocates seeking comprehensive protections and those asserting “incrementalism.” While not all federal protections are rendered moot, the controversial Title IX advisory opinion by the Department of Education is as good as gone. With an imminently conservative Supreme Court, Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County and other trans rights cases will likely not be ruled in favor of trans people having Title IX, Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection, and other protections. The EEOC and Title VII (employment discrimination) is somewhat safer: while Trump will get to appoint a new chair this coming July, the other commissioners’ terms do not end until 2017, 2019, 2020, and 2021 respectively, and even when they do the Commission is still required to be bipartisan. It also has far more of a flushed out case law, though not nearly enough for trans advocates to not worry at all.
Trump and his imminent Supreme Court change is also of great concern for those fighting for reproductive healthcare rights and feminist struggle. A majority anti-abortion, as in abolishing abortion, court could emerge with disastrous consequences for women and others oppressed by patriarchy. For survivors of sexual violence, it is a disgraceful slap in the face every day for the next four years at minimum, with chilling consequences as to what messages we are giving our society and especially our children about consent and sexuality.
What little institutional support for #NoDAPL and other movements against colonialism and environmental devastation will evaporate. The Paris Accords, imperfect and not nearly enough, could be derailed. Indigenous people and people of color will be the first hit by the wave of displacement and pollution, and then turned away if they become refugees.
The focus of state violence will likely shift more to the domestic arena (though again, Trump will likely continue to some extent the wars of Obama and Bush) with crackdowns on movements like Black Lives Matter and even greater impunity to law enforcement, especially the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and ICE. There could be legislation to erode what few stumbling blocks of due process exist for undocumented people. There will not be a wall, because as countless people have pointed out it is logistically impossible. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be an attempt or, more likely, some sort of border militarization to placate the rabid nationalists that propelled Trump to victory. There are some limits to what Trump can do: law enforcement for the most part falls into the state’s domain with substantial power also held by city and county governments. Many cities have enacted fairly powerful amnesty laws that directly cutoff ICE’s access to undocumented people. But we definitely now more than ever need to mobilize to fight these racist borders and the dehumanization of undocumented people.
The next four years will be terrible, especially for the most marginalized communities. There are reasons to believe it will even surpass the George W. Bush administration in magnitude of violations of human rights both at home and abroad. But we need not give into despair. As previously noted, this election does not reflect the will of the people of this country nor some absolute fate. Throughout the country there is a feeling of contempt for the media and political process that consistently puts predatory people into power. Trump exploited that distaste, but like most conman he will not retain his popularity for long: after all, he’s not even popular to begin with, just less unpopular than Clinton. He will pass in four or eight years and while the damage and scars he will leave will be horrible he will not be the end for us. History is made not by presidents but by movements of people.
We shall overcome.