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The story of this election is not a surge of support for the far right. It is the suppression, disillusionment and depression of the support for the left. The story of this election is not Donald Trump’s win, but Hillary Clinton’s loss. The story of the next four years will be a rising tide of authoritarianism, white supremacy, misogyny, environmental catastrophe, violence and the smothering of democracy; but what we need to understand right now, in the immediate aftermath of this election, and repeat in the future as we organise to resist the onslaught, is that this tide will not represent “the democratic will of the American people.” Representative democracy had already begun to be smothered before he was elected. This smothering is what enabled his election.
This is the story of this election:
1) This was the first election without the protection of the Voting Rights Act since it was passed in 1965. Due to a concerted voter suppression effort by the Republican Party, in key states that Clinton lost, African American, Latino and poor voters were barred from voting.
2) This was the second election since the nineteenth century where the winning candidate lost the popular vote (the first was Gore v Bush in 2000). Substantially more people voted for Clinton than for Trump. But because of the Electoral College system, the election result will not reflect the vote. (Also striking is, despite Obama having a far larger democratic mandate than Trump, he had far less power than Trump will have because the Republicans control both houses.)
These first two points are important because a kneejerk liberal response has been: “this is democracy, humans are a bunch of idiots, we need to protect the people from themselves with more grown-up antidemocratic technocracy.” Trump is not what democracy looks like. He is what voter suppression looks like.
3) Neoliberal business-as-usual is no longer electable from the left. Hillary Clinton was run by the Democratic Party as candidate despite her dire approval ratings, because it was “her turn,” not because she was likely to win the presidency. Clinton was so unpopular with her own voter base that they often could not bring themselves to turn out to vote for her.
Here’s a graph showing how Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 got more votes than Trump, and how Clinton got slightly more votes than Trump, and how the Democratic vote fell off a cliff under Clinton.
Here’s some analysis of how Sanders might have had a much better chance of becoming president.
There are also things showing how Clinton’s personal favourability rating amongst the electorate has always been abysmally low, etc. But as well as the bad polling data for Clinton personally, this is a more general trend about her kind of politics no longer being electable. In Europe, the centre-left’s vote share has shrivelled to make previously mighty parties outliers with single-digit shares of the vote. In many countries, the second largest party that rivals the centre-right in elections is a further-left party. This trend is called ‘Pasokification’ (after the demise of Greece’s historical left-wing party of power) and has been going on for a while now. Obama managed to buck this trend because he had the ability to be extraordinarily inspiring despite his relatively uninspiring politics. Clinton’s historic loss to a man feared and hated across America is a demonstration of how powerfully this lesson applies there as well: insipid technocrats which are going to carry on screwing you like you’ve been being screwed for the past 30 years are not going to get voted in from the left. They can get voted in as candidates from the right, under the aegis of cracking down, tightening belts and persecuting minorities and immigrants, but they are unelectable as candidates from the left. We need to rethink what we mean by ‘unelectability,’ which is an epithet traditionally reserved for candidates who are too leftwing; a shorthand for the need to triangulate, to pander to the right, to give the anti-immigrant vote something to get their teeth into no matter how distasteful that is in order to win power. This was the held to be the truth of the 1990s and early 2000s. It is no longer true.
The lesson we need to take from this election is not that America has suddenly been swamped by a baying crowd of fascists. It is now run by a baying (quasi?)fascist, but he was not carried to power on a surge of approval for that kind of politics (which has commanded a substantial and more-or-less static chunk of the American electorate for a long time). He was carried to power by a failure of America’s representative democratic system to represent the popular vote, and by a failure of the Democratic Party to run an electable candidate.
Judy, Plan C Manchester