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No, there isn’t a popular uprising of the white working class against the status quo

by Kirk Serpes

I didn’t sleep very well the last two nights.  Cold sweats and waking up more scared than I’ve been about the future than in all my life.  Just the disbelief that this is all real.

In a more naïve time I actually thought it would be great for the Democrats if Trump won because he would lose in a landslide.  In my defence it wasn’t just me who though that, it was the entire Democrat and Republican establishment.  Nobody really thought we would end up here, well except for Michael Moore.  And I kinda redeemed myself a few months later with another blog post outlining a potential path to victory for Trump, which I really wish I was wrong about now.

So, taking into account that I have a mixed record on punditing, here a few key takeaways form this election that I’d like to get off my chest. 

  1. Trump didn’t win because a huge number of white voters (mostly male) were suffering economically and being “left out” suddenly turned up and voted.  He won 63% of the white male vote, which is pretty much on par with Romney, McCain and several other Republicans before them. The problem was that Clinton lost votes with the Democratic base.  Her share of the Hispanic vote decreased from 71% to 65% (while Trump gained 2% from 2012).  She also got 5% less African Americans than Obama, while Trump gained 2%.  Those are small percentages but they add up, overall Clinton lost 6.6million votes that Obama won while Trump was only 1.1 million voters lower than McCain and 2 million votes lower than Romney.  Turnout was down on both sides but it was much worse for Democrats. 
  1. (((Economic anxiety))) – A bit more on why this idea needs to die later. First up Trump voters overall were doing better economically than his Republican opponents' and definitely better than Clinton’s voters (another great link here).  What’s more is there’s a higher coorelation between their views on immigrants and African Americans and Trump support than on economic insecurity.  Now that’s not to say that a lot of poor whites didn’t support Trump.  They did.  But Clinton still won those earning less than $33k by 12% (53-41).  Yes, there was 16pt swing towards Trump but it’s hard to say if that’s was votes switching from Red to Blue or Blue votes simply staying at home.  Essentially the idea that the poor and downtrodden white working class man wanted to send a message about being ignored by the elites is a lot more nuanced.  More on this later. 
  2. Here’s another few numbers worth keeping in perspective.  Turnout was down to 48.62% this year from 54.9% in 2012, and 57.1% in 2008.  The toxic nature of the election turned people off.  What was also obvious was that the mood of the country overall was anti-establishment/status quo (for very different reasons).  But that’s nothing new.  In most elections the candidate with the more energised base wins because voting is a pain in the arse and you have to be really into your team to make the effort, and even more into your team to drag along your mates or actually volunteer to doorknocking/phone call to Get out the Vote.

    So keeping those three points in mind I honestly have no fucking idea why all the progressive white males I know keep saying we need to listen to the angry and disenfranchised people who voted for Trump.  Their movement doesn’t fucking exist. They got fewer votes than Romney and McCain! Please stop. It’s beginning to scare me that you want to listen to what is very clearly a solid core of racism and misogyny.  I’ve never been more afraid to be surrounded by so many white people. 

    Only 4.8% of Americans actually voted for Trump to be the Republican nominee.  We really don’t need to give them any more legitimacy than they already have now that they’ve won the Presidency. 

    Maybe your time is better spent trying to figure out why those 6.6 million people who voted for Obama didn’t show up this time?  I’m pretty sure they’re also poor and disenfranchised by the system, so how about you start by going and talking to them first, because you know it might be easier to get African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities to vote for you again than some neo-fascist who calls you ‘a cuck’ and thinks all women and minorities are inferior. 

    Okay that’s a bit harsh but what liberals are saying right now doesn’t make any sense.  A silver-spooned billionaire with a model wife who literally lives in a gold-plated house in New York is the champion of the poor working classes because they can’t relate to us?  Gimme a break.  I think you can probably relate to the working class white voter better than he does, so stop overthinking this, it’s not because you live in a “filter-bubble” and don’t see the world like the right wing does. 

    This election wasn’t about him winning but about the Democrats losing.  Both sides lost support from the public, but the Democrats did worse.  The bubble you need to break is not the one with the political right, it’s the one with the apathetic left. 

    The left won the culture war used that power to create culture walls around urban liberal sense of identity, while at the same time losing the courage to fight the economic ideologies that have left so many people behind.  Language policing doesn’t win elections, it just shrinks the number of people who can be in your cool little “in-group” of liberal elites and excludes all the minorities who might not have as slick a command of the English language, the money or the education.

    Even though I was born in India I came from a family that spoke English for several generations and was also deeply entrenched in Western music, books and films.  Do you have any idea how hard it would be for me to navigate all the culture traps liberals put in place around their little world if I didn’t have all those advantages? It’s not that surprising that so few of us get involved in politics.  Hell I was one of the cofounders of a large liberal organisation that over time even I began to feel like a cultural outsider in.

    So yes please leave your enclaves and go out there and talk to other people, but maybe start with people who share your values/interests and not those who don’t and never will.  Dropping the ‘holier than thou’ attitude (yes I know I’m very guilty of this as well) will make us more relatable to the apathetic non-voters and non-political but might also have that added bonus of making the losers of the culture war hate us less even if they don’t agree with us.  

    Clinton didn’t lose close to 7 million Democratic votes because her policies were really right wing or anything. She lost them because of the enthusiasm gap with the Democratic base.  Part of that isn’t her fault, with the FBI and Wikileaks doing their best and succeeding to destroy her credibility.  But a large part of it is hers and the rest of the DNC.

    It’s not just that they blocked Sanders, they blocked pretty much anyone else from entering the primary and making it competitive.  As I’ve said before, winning elections is hard hard grind with people working 12-hour days for months if not years.  Without a compelling vision and an inspiring candidate all voter engagement begins to get less efficient.  The usual supporters turnout to vote but they can’t honestly drag five of their mates along as well, because they haven’t spent the last six months evangelising about how he/she is going to change the world. 

    Clinton was not the best candidate for that, but she had a small opportunity to show some spine with her choice of VP and promptly blew it with a “safe” middle aged white guy choice.  Someone like Sanders, Warren or the other half dozen black, Latino and Asian Americans would have gone a long way to firing up the liberal base.  The hubris of the DNC, Clinton and Obama was thinking that they could hold on to Obamas coalition just with pure fear and hatred of the other side.  I mean thought they would to, as did you and everyone else. 

    I’m reminded of my time on the ground in North Carolina in 2012. One of the guys on my team as a young anarchist.  He knew all about and was not at all happy with Obama’s drone program, his ties to Wall Street and so on.  But he still spent close to 10 hours a day knocking on doors and making phone calls to re-elect Obama.  This year he was obviously in the Bernie camp and when that ended he went full Jill Stein.  He hated Clinton and was practically campaigning against her in a swing state. 

    Now as far as I’m aware there really isn’t a lot of space between Clinton and Obama policy-wise.  The only difference is that if you’re white and a lefty there’s no way that white guilt is going to let you be on the opposite side of the first Black president.  But a rich white Washington insider who’s the wife of a former President? Yeah, white liberal guilt is a force on par with white conservative fear of minorities. 

    This should be a hard lesson to “median voter” crowd (as if they haven’t had enough this year) that their strategy doesn’t work in today’s insecure world.  The massive flaws in the institutions and ideology governing our lives right now is obvious and pretending like they don’t exist is what I think is seeing us lose so many “Brexits” around the world.  The voters and most importantly our supporters aren’t buying our story of what’s happening and are staying at home.  The deplorables only ever needed the whif of xenophobia and misogyny to turn out their base and win by default.   Also every time we try to meet the other side halfway, the other sides keeps moving further away, moving the centre further right with them.  (We’ve seen this in Australia with refugees and climate change). 

    The diagnosis of an election where our side stayed at home more than our opponents shouldn’t be that we need to listen more the concerns of the other side. It should be that we need to be listening more careful to the concerns of ours and putting candidates and ideas forward that inspire them and reflect their sense of identity.   People want to believe in something bigger than themselves, and comprises that go against what you believe isn’t something to get very excited about. 

    Going forward the challenge for American progressives will be to divide the other side.  It’s already pretty fractured but lumping them all up as uneducated bigots will only make this worse by uniting them. (remember Trump isn’t very liked by most of Republican voters).

    If the left is good at one thing it’s winning culture wars, so we need to use that to our advantage to chip away at non-Trump Republicans and bring them over to our side culturally while at the same time offering disciplined non-violent resistance to all the crazy shit Trump is going to try and implement.  And most of all the left has to start talking to its base and maybe trying to understand where they’re coming from.

    I see empathy and intelligence as two key progressive values.  We have to be empathic enough to listen to and understand those different to us, but not stupid enough to comprise with people that are against everything we stand for.  And you know what, voters of all stripes like courage, authenticity and integrity.  

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