Unity can defeat Trump: new dangers and new opportunities

BY:John Bachtell| July 27, 2016
Unity can defeat Trump: new dangers and new opportunities

One of the things we constantly assess is what is new in politics, what changes are taking place in the political, class and social balance of forces and whether enough things have changed to produce a qualitatively new moment.

A number of new factors have arisen in economic, political and social life that are unsettling millions. Taken together they raise the question of whether the country has reached a qualitatively new moment fraught with the danger of far more right-wing extremism and with it the potential for these forces to make further gains.

At the same time we must also ask does the political moment contain a great possibility to inflict a ringing defeat on the extreme right and its policies.

What direction the country goes in depends in large measure on the fight for unity, the ability to build a broad multi-racial labor led movement working with the Democratic Party that can reach, educate and mobilize millions of voters and turn them out on Election Day.

GOP Convention

The Republican National Convention was without a doubt the most extremist major party convention I have ever seen. It was the most openly hateful, mean spirited and divisive.

The Republicans gathered in Cleveland adopted the most right-wing platform ever. Not surprisingly it was also the least diverse ever.

Every speech was devoted to scaring the hell out of the American public and conveying the coming apocalypse, of pushing racism and misogyny and demonizing and criminalizing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Calls could be heard in reference to Clinton to “lock her up, lock her up” along with the disgraceful t-shirts with misogynistic slogans.

The constant appeal to hate and fear was accompanied by a call for “law and order” and the election of the one person who could fix the country – Donald Trump.

The GOP convention was replete with an open embrace of the police accompanied by demonizing the Black Lives Matter movement, (especially putting up African American speakers to do the dirty work), a hysteria directed toward undocumented immigrants, and calls to destroy terrorists, etc.

This hid the obvious: not one meaningful policy solution for any major problem was advanced the entire convention. It was a recognition that if the American people knew the reality of the right-wing agenda they would reject it.

The disorganization and infighting among Republicans during the event belied the much bigger danger of the appeal of the message aimed at vulnerable sectors of the electorate.

And of course at the center of it all is Trump. Many political commentators have at each point written him off, claiming his campaign would collapse under the weight of his hate, brutishness and disorganization. And yet each time he seems to gain strength.

New factors influencing mass thinking

There are a number of new factors emerging that are producing for some a great sense of unease, anxiety, insecurity and even fear that the country is fraying at the edges and becoming unrecognizable.

After the mass killings in Orlando, the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, one couldn’t help but feel a nation on edge.

There is a widespread sense of frustration over the unrelenting police murders, especially of African Americans and Latinos, as the horror of it all is carried live on social media. In fact police killings have risen since the beginning of the year.

And viewing these videos on social media has engendered its own social trauma.

A new element is the shooting of police officers. While this is horrific and is unequivocally condemned by the Black Lives Matter movement and all democratic and anti-racist forces including the CPUSA, it didn’t come as a surprise. Extremist ideology, including anti-government ideas espoused by the Baton Rouge shooter mixed with frustration makes for unpredictable responses.

The Dallas and Baton Rouge police killings added to the national anxiety and opened the door for a wholesale right-wing attack on the BLM movement, which was on full display in Cleveland.

To these domestic developments, we have to add the fear being created by the more common terrorist attacks across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The gruesome attack in Nice came in the middle of our domestic events and added to the unease and fear.

But the terror attacks are occurring not just on foreign soil. There is a growth of home-grown terrorists motivated by right-wing extremism in various garbs. The mass killings in Charleston, San Bernardino and Orlando come in addition to the other regular mass killings across the country.

This type and frequency of violence is new.

The presence of so many weapons – one weapon for every person in the country – has reached a new qualitative point.

This is underscored particularly by assault rifles being openly displayed in public as a result of the open carry laws. Weapons were being openly paraded around Cleveland and as we know there were the guns carried at the demonstration in Dallas.

A vicious cycle is set in motion: the fear engendered by each mass killing prompts a rush to buy more guns.

And this is on top of the guns and drugs which have been flooding communities, particularly African American and Latino communities.  These working-class areas for some time have been ravaged by high homicide rates in segregated pockets of high poverty.

This state of affairs didn’t come out of nowhere. It has been a process under development for some time.

But here again it has reached a qualitatively new level.

The framework for all of this is 30 years of right-wing and GOP reactionary ideology including racism, xenophobia, nativism, homophobia and misogyny. It has created a mass base for the right. It gave rise to Trump and the other extremist GOP primary candidates.

And one has to underscore here especially the 8 years of right-wing racism and hate directed against President Obama.

Let’s recall in this regard that it was Trump who started the birther movement attack on Obama. And it was in particular his campaign that has been directed at Mexican immigrants and Muslims. The politics of open hate have been taken to a new level.

Ideas that were once on the fringes are being discussed in the mainstream. In the wink of an eye, he has let slide support for extremist and neo-nazi organizations, often retweeting their tweets.

The growth of a right-wing base on the one hand and its backing by a section of the 1%, their entrenchment in Congress, statehouses, the mass media alongside the simultaneous growth and emergence of a more active democratic coalition around a progressive agenda, means deeply polarized politics.

Long term economic factors

Meanwhile the long term economic and social crisis facing the working class and people has deepened. Working-class communities have experience over 30 years of wage stagnation and decline, including white working-class communities.

Most urban areas have faced deep and constant crisis with hollowed out manufacturing, creating mass joblessness particularly among African Americans and Latinos, deep poverty, segregation, the flood of guns and drugs, gentrification.

This is particularly the case in former industrial centers torn apart by loss of manufacturing jobs. Large cities and small towns alike are experiencing growing crises due to neo-liberal policies.

Suicide rates have surged to a 30-year high: the highest figures are among white working-class men and women.

It is also related to the epidemic in heroin and other drug use and increased deaths. Drug overdoses are the highest on record and surpass death due to guns and auto accidents.

This crisis is compounded by the impact of 15-20 years of austerity policies on a federal state and local level, especially where the GOP dominates. Every public service and entity has been impacted: public education, public universities, health care, home care, housing, and Social Security.

Another factor to consider is that the long-term demographic shifts have reached a qualitative new point. The prospect of a majority people of color nation is also unsettling to millions of whites, accustomed to majority status.

The issues of economic stagnation, wage decline, austerity, demographic shifts, terrorism and political polarization are not short-term. Rather, they are long-term trends that will be growing factors in U.S. political life for the foreseeable future.

They are the result of the deeper systemic crises of capitalism, globalization and global geo-political developments. Addressing them requires a shift in the balance of class and social forces in order to find solutions that go in the direction of radical restructuring.

The movements that Trump has sparked, the mass right-wing influenced base, the fascist tinged movements, will impact politics going forward even if Trump loses.

If he wins in November and if the GOP maintains its domination over Congress, the judiciary and statehouses, they will pose a new danger to workers, civil rights and the environment. And with their ability to appoint multiple Supreme Court justices in the mold of former Justice Scalia the damage will be long term.

At the moment many donors are pouring their money into maintaining control of Congress and not openly supporting Trump. But most people will vote straight ticket.

We have to recognize that there is a loss in confidence in government authority and its ability to act. The GOP and right wing has done all it can to render government ineffective through obstruction and austerity and attacked it ideologically at every turn.

This is also reflected in the rejection of so-called establishment candidates which Trump has exploited even though he is a billionaire.

Trump has exploited this anti-establishment mood. Along with itthe sense of insecurity, of fear, of rapid change have all made millions vulnerable to demagogic appeals. This is true of particularly white working people, former small business people and middle-income professionals vulnerable to demagogic appeals to fear and racism.

They are attracted to the image of a strong leader that will solve all problems with simple solutions right now.

The Trump campaign and GOP have calculated the only way they can win in November is by mobilizing enough white voters in key swing states coupled with voter suppression of African American, Latino and youth voters.

They are targeting white working-class communities and in particular white working-class men. These voters are concentrated in key swing states particularly Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Polls show very tight races in most of these states.

Law and Order candidate

Trump is taking a page directly out of Nixon’s Southern Strategy playbook and appeal to white working-class communities based on racism and fear.

The use of racism and wedge issues is not new for the GOP. But many of today’s social factors are.

With Nixon it was a similar period of high social tension coming at the end of the 1960s. Nixon ran a campaign based on ‘law and order’ which were code words for anti-African American policies. He called for the great Silent Majority to stand up, meaning white voters.

The same strategy and appeal was used by Reagan. Reagan made his appeal during the deindustrialization crisis and the so-called Reagan Democrats voted for him in large numbers.

In both cases, the appeal to law and order was followed by policies that attacked the gains of the 1960s particularly Civil Rights gains. But it affected the entire working class although they had a specially severe impact on African American and other communities of color.

These appeals are having their effect. For example in the Ohio Republican primary, in Mahoning County, home to Youngstown and the former major steel industry, the GOP vote more than doubled with a huge crossover of white Democratic voters. It’s conceivable Mahoning County could go GOP for the first time since 1972.

Defeating Trump with unity

In these circumstances it will take a massive outpouring of voters in November to defeat Trump. And there is every reason to believe the American people will not go for the hate and fear he is pedaling.

There has been the growth of a broad democratic alliance over the past 25 years on a range of economic, political, social and environmental issues. Today, there are broad majorities in support of progressive ideas like taxing the rich, curbing greenhouse gases, higher minimum wage, criminal justice reform, reproductive rights, immigration reform, marriage equality, etc. This was a driving force behind the Sanders campaign.

One can speak of an anti-racist majority, which helped elect the nation’s first African American president twice.

Millions of whites have also been deeply influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement and the national exposure to police killing of African Americans.

All these organizations are united and clear on the danger Trump poses and are prepared to do everything in their power to see he is not elected.

They too will have a long-term impact on shaping U.S. politics. That includes the legacy of the Sanders campaign, which will live on and spur thousands of people to run for public office on a progressive platform.

The Democratic Party convention will be a mirror opposite of the RNC. It will be multi-racial, feature the most progressive platform in history, advance thoughtful solutions on terrorism, police violence and criminal justice reform, etc.

The Democratic National Convention will shred Trump’s message and image.

On-the-ground expressions of multi-racial unity are driving this progressive agenda. Coalitions like Baton Rouge Together and Moral Monday Movement, led by Rev. Barber are examples.

These movements are combining unity and action on the economic issues and criminal justice reform with combatting racism and hate. They unite black, white and Latino, civil rights and labor, clergy and community.

They reject violence, including violence against law enforcement officers. They denounce the shooting of police officers.

Among all organizations probably the AFL-CIO is the best positioned to reach white working-class voters who have been influenced by Trump. Working America carried out a study in white working-class suburbs of Ohio and Western Pa. Intensive discussions of the issues were carried out over time by people they knew.

Working America found that about one-third of voters are hard core right-wing and unpersuadable. But the other two-thirds can be moved if approached in the right way, including by helping people understand Trump’s business practices, his failure as a businessman and the real life implications of Trump policies.

Working America’s effort reflects a recognition that victory requires unity. It won’t be possible solely by mobilizing the vote of people of color, women and youth. It will take the mobilization and inspiration of the broadest majority of voters who reject Trump.

The AFL-CIO will not, nor should the broad anti-ultra right movement, cede white working-class communities to Trump and the right wing.

This approach is now being generalized by the entire AFL-CIO in swing states.

Our Party and every member and supporter should be deeply involved in the campaigns, organizations, coalitions that are working to reach, educate, and mobilize millions of voters to the polls to defeat Trump and the GOP.

We are also encouraging every member and supporter to utilize the People’s World coverage and analysis, and to share it widely with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Through our mass communication tools, the newly launched cpusa.org and the People’s World we will also help promote broad based and realistic solutions to the crises the country faces including radical economic restructuring, rapid moves to sustainability, massive jobs creation, with radical restructuring of the criminal justice system and law enforcement, advanced programs to achieve social equality, funding of education and healthcare and wealth redistribution, etc.

Yes, it is a dangerous moment. But it is also a moment full of great possibility to defeat the right, create a far more favorable terrain of struggle for the working class, communities of color, women and youth and their allies and advance a progressive agenda. It all depends on the power of unity.

Photo: Creative Commons 3.0


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