From the November-December 2018 issue of News & Letters
by Ron Kelch and Bob McGuire
Voters in the midterm elections, led by Blacks, Latinxs, women and youth, roundly repudiated President Donald Trump, who had declared that his name was on the ballot for every office. Amid the largest midterm turnout in 50 years, his party lost the popular vote by millions in both House and Senate elections. Still, Trump remained in the White House, tightened his grip on the Republican Party and kept control of the Senate, cementing unfettered reactionary control of U.S. courts even if a future election ousts Republicans.
CRISIS OF LEGITIMACY
The stark contrast between majority votes and minority control deepened the crisis of legitimacy set off by Trump’s victory after losing in 2016 by three million votes. Blatant voter suppression, including Brian Kemp’s theft of the election for Georgia’s governor, raised the specter of an open right-wing grab for permanent minority rule. The outpouring of revolt—manifested in the massive women’s marches, airport occupations, youths’ March for Our Lives and mobilizations against the separation of immigrant families—provoked divisions in the ruling class. That is only a reflection of the fundamental division of two worlds: the rulers and the ruled. Fearing the revolutionary potential of the oppressed and exploited, Democratic Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi repeated their traditional calls for bipartisan unity.
Trump campaigned incessantly with an escalating barrage of racist lies and faked threats. He engineered a military buildup of 15,000 soldiers on the southern border to drum up hysteria about an “invasion” by a caravan of unarmed refugees—mostly women and children—desperately fleeing state violence, climate change and poverty in Central America. (See article below.) Tens of millions of voters fell in line behind his racist and sexist appeals.
The election results made crystal-clear that Trump rules over a growing opposition. That opposition, and the size of Trump’s crushing loss, were masked by the surgically precise gerrymandering in some Republican states. In North Carolina, Republicans got just 48% of the major-party vote for House seats, yet sent 10 of 13 Representatives to Congress.
The Republican loss came despite voter suppression measures in 24 states that were so multi-tentacled that it has been called neo-Jim Crow. The most flagrant were:
1) Georgia, where the Republican gubernatorial candidate and Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, purged over a million voter registrations in a scheme designed to disproportionately block Black, young and poor voters. Kemp’s razor-thin margin means he stole the election from Stacey Abrams, who would have been the first Black woman governor.
2) North Dakota, which passed a law requiring voter ID with a full street address in order to thwart voting by Native Americans, most of whom use P.O. boxes on reservations. A record turnout by outraged Native Americans propelled Ruth Buffalo to defeat the law’s sponsor.
Many Republicans have been caught on tape explaining that preventing Blacks and students from voting was crucial for winning elections. Most recently, Senator Hyde-Smith of Mississippi publicly said that making it harder to vote was “a great idea.”
The reason is clear from the race gap, age gap and gender gap. African Americans voted by 10 to 1 for Democrats, all nonwhite voters by more than 3 to 1, low-income voters by almost 2 to 1. The gender gap was 19 percentage points, that is, 59% of women voted for Democrats and 40% for Republicans, nearly double the gender gap of 2016; while voters under 30 more than doubled the 2016 youth gap to 35 points. “Recent extremist violence” was an important factor for 83% of voters.
The portions of the Constitution that were rotten compromises with slaveholders, like the Electoral College, allowed Trump to invade the White House. Those compromises with slaveholders minimized the scale of the beating that voters administered to Trump in this election and kept the Senate in his hands. Half the states, with a population equal to California, send 50 Senators to Washington alongside the two from California. That helped Republicans add to their Senate majority even as their Senate vote nationally was 45%.
OVERCOMING URBAN-RURAL DIVIDE
The urban-rural political split that averted even worse electoral disaster for Trump has been bridged in the past during rural revolts. Black and white Populists in the late nineteenth century, Filipino and Mexican harvest workers half a century before the United Farm Workers, the Black-led Civil Rights Movement mobilizing sharecroppers and farmers in the South, reveal the promise of future revolt.
Mechanized agriculture left fewer field workers, but the fear by local powers of seasonal and dairy workers and the new immigrant packinghouse workers is seen in the voter suppression in Dodge City, Ks., a packing house town with a 62% Latino majority: first allotting the town just one polling place, then moving it miles out of town. Yet the Republicans’ rural vote margin shrank.
Voters, overcoming these obstructions, rejected the shocking fallout from Trump’s racist rhetoric. In the week before the election
► a rabid Trump supporter sent pipe bombs to the top Democratic leadership, CNN news outlets, and other Trump critics like the “open society” advocate George Soros, a favorite foil for anti-Semitic propaganda;
► a white supremacist gunned down two African-American shoppers at a supermarket in Kentucky after failing to get into a Black church to copy Dylann Roof’s 2015 mass murder of Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.;
► a neo-Nazi killed 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history (see editorial, p. 1);
► on Nov. 3 a racist woman-hater shot up a yoga studio in Tallahassee, killing two women.
WOMEN VOTED THEIR ANGER AND REASON
Women’s massive #MeToo movement, following previous gigantic marches against Trump, was reflected in the flipping of many suburban districts to give Democrats control of the House. Nor did voters, women especially, forget how Trump and the Senate majority rammed the hated misogynistic perjurer Brett Kavanaugh down the nation’s throats and onto the Supreme Court. (See “Masses for freedom fight Trump-Kavanaugh’s reactionary grab for power.”)
The new House is more representative of that other America with respect to both diversity and opposition to sexism and ethnic hatred. Up from 65, there will now be at least 100 women in the House, including two Muslim women and two Native American women, one of whom is a Lesbian.
The new set of self-described “socialist” candidates are already co-opted by the capitalist Democratic Party, one of whose biggest funders is finance capital like Wall Street. Nevertheless, their ability to run, and in several cases win, under the socialist banner reflects widespread rejection of capitalism, especially among youth. A survey this year found that a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. view socialism positively—and capitalism negatively.
Several referendums hit back at gerrymandering and voter suppression, most strikingly the landslide passage of Florida’s constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to 1.4 million people who completed sentences for felonies. This partially meets one of the main demands of this year’s nationwide prisoner strike. For over a century, the racist criminal injustice system has been one of the primary tools for denying political power to African Americans.
Capitalists, who got a huge tax cut under Trump, are desperate to hold onto power. They try to turn attention away from their status as a tiny ruling minority and limit political participation by people of color, youth and others who are solidly against them. Most working people, including whites, are not doing well in this economy either with respect to job security, a living wage, healthcare, housing or hope that their children will have better lives. Minimum-wage ballot initiatives passed even in Republican strongholds like Missouri and Arkansas.
HEALTHCARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT!
A winning issue for Democrats was Republican duplicity on healthcare: their repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act without creating an alternative and then to undermine the very foundation of meaningful health insurance, covering pre-existing conditions. Voters passed initiatives in Republican states of Nebraska, Idaho and Utah to extend coverage to hundreds of thousands more through Medicaid expansion. Anxiety about the future is pervasive in this precarious gig economy with its inability to provide steady jobs and full-time employment and healthcare for all.
Trump, who told Bob Woodward that “real power is fear,” has convinced many capitalists that Trumpism is their path to preserve power. Certain industries are especially lopsided donors to his allies: guns, oil, gas, coal, mining, logging, agribusiness, construction, waste management, trucking, steel and auto.
Most have a stake in gutting environmental regulations. Yet climate change was barely a part of most major campaigns—aside from referendums in Washington for carbon fees and Colorado to restrict fracking, both defeated by mountains of Big Oil money and propaganda threatening job losses. Thus this existential question for humanity is held hostage by corporate powers with vested interests and largely evaded by the opposition party.
With few exceptions, the Republican never-Trumpers, many of whom were humiliated by Trump’s belittling smears, became forever-Trumpers—both fearing him and embracing the pathological liar who plays to the basest fears and prejudices for his own self-aggrandizement.
TRUMP RUNS A PLATFORM OF HATE
Since his elevation to the Presidency, Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened homegrown terrorists—white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and misogynists—to attack minorities, women and foreigners. Hate crimes have spiked, including against Jews, Muslims, Trans people and the homeless. Racial hatred and fear spewed out of the 2016 campaign when Trump tagged Mexicans who come here as “rapists” and “criminals” and saturated media with ads picturing hollowed-out factories in the Midwest interspersed with photos of Jews like Soros and Janet Yellen, former head of the Federal Reserve Bank.
For one moment Trump grudgingly condemned anti-Semitism after the Pittsburgh pogrom, but continues to cite the neo-Nazi conspiracy theory that Soros financed the refugees trudging through Mexico and the mass demonstrations against Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh.
The credence given to a conspiratorial, anti-Semitic view of “globalism” run by Jews, justifying the Holocaust, keeps open Trump’s line to what he called the “fine people” among the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville and chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
This feverish opposition to “globalism” is really an attack on anyone other than white Christians and on international human rights law, like the right of refugees to asylum from persecution. Hatred is diverted from global capitalism, which engendered the inhuman circumstances that created refugees everywhere, and is aimed at desperate Central American families, or Syrians and Africans headed to Europe, and anyone who would help them. Fleeing wars, extreme violence, genocide, economic deprivation, climate change, etc., refugees are the hated “other,” expendable and dehumanized.
TRUMP ENABLES FASCIST WORLD ORDER
Trumpism has joined misogynistic, racist, xenophobic and narrow nationalist movements and regimes across Europe and around the world to push toward a fascist world order projecting hatred of the other and reactionary views of women, the family, religion and the nation. This new axis is making inroads on “democracies” everywhere. It is a symptom of capitalism’s unsustainability in this period of capitalist crisis and of fear by the rulers of social revolution.
Trump’s alternative globalism, permeating the Republican Party more and more, finds affinity with the most brutal authoritarian rulers, whether Russia’s Vladimir Putin; the Saudis, whom Trump helps perpetuate the genocidal war and unprecedented human catastrophe in Yemen; the newly elected Trump admirer Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (see article, p. 12); Kim Jong-Un in North Korea; the murderous Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines; Poland’s Law and Justice Party, whose leaders just marched together with the far right in marking Poland’s Independence Day; and Viktor Orban’s Soros-and-refugee-hating, authoritarian regime in Hungary.
What capitalists are happy about is the way Trump’s racist, misogynist agenda helps them peddle their agenda. When President Barack Obama dealt with the collapse of the financial system and impending Great Depression, Republicans put up every barrier, including shutting down the government, to thwart deficit spending. By the 2016 election the deficit was on a downward trend. Trump’s huge tax cut for the ultra-wealthy 1% shot the fiscal 2018 deficit up to $779 billion, the biggest since 2012, when stimulus spending was still in effect.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s immediate response was to say funding for Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid will now have to be cut. Any deficit is OK if ever more revenue goes to the capitalists. It is clear that, as Marx put it, the national debt is the only part of national wealth owned by the people. No amount of largesse to capitalists will solve the problem of the collapse in the rate of growth in the world economy, because value only comes from living labor, which capital is forever driving to eliminate.
No election outcome could have papered over capitalism’s prolonged crisis. The upsurge from below, though partially shackled for now by the Democratic Party, is pushing against those limits and reaching for new beginnings to reconstruct society on a truly human foundation.