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How Trump won—and who is to blame

This article is over 7 years, 5 months old
Charlie Kimber gives five reasons why the unthinkable happened—and why we should take action
Issue 2530
An abandoned factory in Michigan - one of the states won by Trump in the Democrats northern industrial heartland
An abandoned factory in Michigan – one of the states won by Trump in the Democrats’ northern industrial heartland (Pic: Flickr/Moon Man Mike)

Donald Trump’s election as US president horrified the world. The victory of such a vile candidate was thought to be unthinkable.

It has led to despair and belief that the US has swung sharply to the right or that white workers are irredeemably racist and sexist.

Racism and sexism certainly motivated some voters, including the Republicans’ core base. But the roots of Trump’s win are in bitter anger, hatred of the political and corporate establishment, betrayals by the Barack Obama administration and a desperation for change.

1 It wasn’t a Republican surge but a Democrat collapse

Hillary Clinton received about ten million fewer votes than Barack Obama did eight years ago and five million fewer than Obama four years ago.

Donald Trump received fewer votes overall than Clinton, but won in the electoral college. This gives some states a larger say in the outcome than their population size.

Trump received the fewest votes of any candidate since 2000—even though there are 18 million more elegible voters than in 2008.

His vote total was less than that won by Republicans Mitt Romney in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004, and only just more than John McCain in 2008.

Almost 100 million eligible voters abstained at the 2016 election or voted for a third party.

This is a measure of discontent with the system, not apathy. While Clinton and Trump received the vote of 27 and 26 percent of eligible voters, the rest chose neither.

Clinton on the big screen at a rally in Philadelphia

Clinton on the big screen at a rally in Philadelphia (Pic: Flickr/Garen M)

2 It’s not women they hate—it’s her

Survey after survey has shown that US voters could vote for a woman president—but not the bosses’ candidate Clinton.

Jean Hannah Edelstein wrote in The Observer, “Much of his criticism of Clinton had strong sexist undertones.

“And yet, misogyny was not the reason that Clinton was defeated.

“She lost because lower and middle class white people wanted dramatic change, and these voters felt that, in spite of her gender, she offered them more of the same.”

3 It was not just a racist ‘Whitelash’

As a percentage of votes cast, all racial groups swung toward the Republican candidate in 2016 compared to 2012.

White voters showed the lowest swing (1 percentage point), compared with African-Americans (2 points), Latinos (3 points), and Asian-Americans (7 points).

Trump won the votes of people who previously backed Barack Obama—hardly a sign of deep racism. But Obama let people down.

Even his health care reforms proved largely empty. Workers got huge increases in their Obamacare premiums on the eve of the voting.

4 Clinton offered workers no change

There is deep and bitter anger among working class people in the US. The era of the richest 1 percent stuffing their pockets has left its mark.

Exit polls showed 53 percent of urban respondents, 63 percent of suburban and 71 percent of rural respondents said they believed the economy was on the wrong track.

An ABC News exit poll asked people what qualities they looked for in a candidate. The biggest factor (38 percent) said it was someone who can “bring about needed change”. Among Trump voters, it was nearly all about change.

Clinton was the candidate of the status quo at a time of boiling anger against the status quo.

What happened should not be seen as a victory for hate over decency but as a repudiation of  the US power structure Robert Reich Former secretary of labor

What happened should not be seen as a victory for hate over decency but as a repudiation of the US power structure

Robert Reich, former US secretary of labor

(Pic: Flickr/ATIS547)

Millions of people aged between 45 and 55 voted for Trump this time who had voted Democrat before. This is the generation whose working lives began during the 1970s.

Real hourly wages are no higher than they were in 1972.

Their jobs are often less secure or gone, they’re worried about their children’s future and their union has been defeated or too often doesn’t stand up for them.

One hugely comprehensive US health study last year found that, “Every age and ethnic/racial grouping has continued to see a steady reduction of morbidity (disease) and increase in lifespans for decades.

“But there’s one major exception: middle aged (45-54) white people.”

The difference was 488,050 extra deaths between 1998 and 2014. The reason is “drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide and chronic liver disease”.

In ravaged working class areas you could not put up a worse candidate than Clinton who, Glenn Greenwald wrote, has been “piggishly running around to Wall Street banks and major corporations cashing in with $250,000 fees for 45-minute secret speeches”.

Trade unionists voted for Clinton, but quite narrowly. In 2012 the vote was 58 to 40 for Obama, this time it was 51 to 43 for Clinton.

5 Sanders could have succeeded

Ohio and Iowa went by huge margins for Trump—almost ten points in Iowa and nine in Ohio. Trump won Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Michigan by less than a point.

These are all states that went for Democrats in six straight presidential elections—and might have been won by Bernie Sanders.

When he ran against Clinton as a democrat socialist to be the Democrat candidate, Sanders nearly succeeded.

He brought enthusiastic crowds and won 13 million votes.

He was stopped largely because of the power of the Democrat establishment who wanted a “safe” candidate. This was disastrous.

Frederik deBoer, an academic, wrote in the Washington Post, “Nationally, Sanders’ favorability rating is more than ten points higher than Clinton’s, and his unfavourability is more than 15 points lower.

“This popularity would have been a real asset on the campaign trail.”

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