Donald Trump’s surprising rise and popularity and the equally surprising durability of Bernie Sanders, an openly “socialist” candidate for a major party nomination, are both opposite responses to the collapsing historic American social compact.
It is also an indication that the forces that the GOP has so happily been courting for so long – those who tend to live in trailer parks with no more than a high school education and who love their Jesus – have found their voice, unadorned by any subtleties or coded language, just straight-up belligerence and open bigotry in Donald Trump whose rise to prominence has been wholly due to his venting the politics of resentment without apology. The chickens are coming home to roost. And if they drop a lot of chicken poop when they appear, then you shouldn’t be surprised,
For a time, those who were so enthused by Obama’s election publicly asked: Is racism over? But even with a half-black POTUS, and with more black faces in charge of major institutions such as the Attorney General’s Office, racism is getting worse, with more blacks dying at cops’ hands than they were being lynched during the height of the KKK’s reign of terror. It is very popular now to be openly racist and sexist in many quarters.
This is a process that has been happening for more than thirty years, becoming progressively more severe under successive administrations, regardless of whether they are Democratic or Republican. You cannot tell what’s going on by party affiliation but what you want to ask is this: is this White House and Congress coming after the last one? If it is, then it is worse than the one before it. And so it has gone since 1981, with Reagan, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., Bush Jr., Obama, Obama, …
For those who see their historic white heterosexual male privilege and economic opportunity disintegrating – aka core Trump supporter – Trump, the bad businessman who messed up his Daddy’s billions with bad management, bad hair, and bad attitude, is a lightning rod for those who wish to go back to when “America [is] great again.”
Translation: these Trump fans want to go back to the 1950s (or in some cases, pre-civil war) where American might was at its peak and resistance and revolution were still yet to rock the world, when everyone knew their “place” (segregated buses, neighborhoods, schools, et al), high school or less and white skin could get you a unionized and therefore well-paying manufacturing job, a lifetime career, a chicken in the pot, 2.5 kids, an obedient wife, and a white picket fence.
Trump’s campaign slogan is brilliant because it and he perfectly capture the wished-for 1950s America nostalgia. He and Sanders also both concentrate a lot of disaffection with neoliberal (aka market fundamentalism) policies such as NAFTA (brought to us courtesy of Democrats) and now the TPP and the deindustrialization job losses etc. that have gutted Main Street. America as both the right-wing and the left-wing have known it is rapidly disappearing and in its place a world where just 85 billionaires have more than the bottom 50% of humanity, a ruthless and heartless world.
People wonder – is it really possible that a reality-TV star could become president? It’s not likely that he can garner enough votes when he makes no secret of his misogyny and racism. But the significance of the Trump candidacy isn’t whether he can actually win the White House. He is someone who’d rather whip a crowd into a lather than run the Empire. That’s too complicated for him and the complexities he would have to deal with don’t suit his temperament. The significance of his candidacy is in its stirring up the most reactionary forces and giving a green light to them to lash out violently, those among his base who are so inclined, against the shifts they see going on and the undermining of their historic privilege.
The political center, occupied by people like Hillary Clinton and Obama, cannot long hold this together. The civil war that is coming is evident in the violent clashes going on in microcosm at Trump rallies. The ruling class which includes the Republican and Democratic establishments will not stop catering to big business and to transnational capital, selling out the “little guy” right and left, so Trump’s and Sanders’ roles are to promise that America can be great again, whether in a pre-1960s version a la Trump, or in a post-1960s version a la Sanders. You cannot make “America Great Again” if you didn’t much like lynching and women as male property. And you cannot “fulfill America’s promise” if you won’t acknowledge how this rests upon the imperialist plunder of the rest of the globe, the way Sanders sees it.
Neither can deliver their promises because capitalism-imperialism have their fundamental character and exporting jobs and downsizing will continue no matter who’s in office. The only question here is whether a real revolution, because that is what is necessary, no other path will resolve these gigantic contradictions, can be accomplished in the maelstrom that the present situation promises.
Dennis Loo is Professor of Sociology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is a Harvard honors graduate in Government and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of “Globalization and the Demolition of Society” and Co-Editor/Author of “Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney”. Website: Dr. Dennis Loo