Donald Trump didn’t just win, he won Bigly. Everyone I know is shocked, stunned, and deeply saddened, but in many ways we should have seen this coming. Conditions in this country have produced a potent list of ingredients that led to this disaster of a recipe.
First, and most importantly, we have the permanent loss of good working-class jobs through globalization. This is the song that keeps running through my head:
Now main streets whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back… to your hometown
Bruce Springsteen, My Hometown, 1984
That song is from 1984. We now have a second generation of white working-class people who perceive few options. What are those with a high school education or less supposed to look forward to? They are staring at jobs at Walmart or Starbucks, at best. This country is founded on the belief in the American dream, and when it hits you that that dream will never become reality for you, it is devastating. Many people of color have always been left out of the American dream, but for whites, this deadening realization was a new and enraging development. Who is offering solutions for these people?
The second, vital ingredient is the tried-and-true – racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny. Blame the other. By whipping up the deep bigotry among whites in this country, Trump made people feel, for a while, empowered and important again. People vote based on their gut feelings. It didn’t matter that Trump doesn’t offer any real solutions and that, in fact, his presidency will make his constituents worse off. What matters is that he tapped into sentiments that Clinton was not able to even come close to touching. Despair and anger plus bigotry, it’s a very potent combination.
Third ingredient: lack of any significant counter weight to this simple demagogic solution. In the past, the main organizing force that offered an alternative to white and brown working-class people was the labor union. The union was not only an organization that fought for them and their welfare, it was a political force as well. In a very practical sense, unions turned out the votes for the Democratic Party. But in between elections, they were there for the working people, looking out for them. This is a huge loss. And we don’t have anything to replace it in terms of a progressive force or movement. Bernie tried, but his reach was not great or broad enough and the momentum/organization not enough to sustain a clear alternative. And his base was too white.
So now what?
We have to organize and fight back, for course. We need to build a movement that is fighting for the basic rights of working people in this country – for a higher minimum wage, for healthcare, and for investments in job creation. Wherever possible we should support unions in their efforts to organize industries old and new. We need to build bases at the local level, elect local candidates as we build power block by block to take this country back.
We also have to, each of us, take responsibility to protect the rights and the lives of people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folk, etc. Whites should join groups like those in alliance with black lives matter.
Do not despair. Despair only helps those who seek to divide and conquer. Preach and practice love while we organize resistance. And take care of yourself. Do not sink into passive resignation. There are still millions of wonderful, strong, smart people in this country who want to work with you for a better world.
Nora Cody lives and works in Oakland, California. She has survived the presidencies of Nixon, Reagan, and the two Bushes.