Time to stop hyperventilating about the legitimate result of the US election and look at some interesting figures.
I remember chatting with an American friend, about Hillary’s bid for the White House in 2008 and saying as an aside that if she didn’t get Hillary this time, she would have to put up with her in 2016. She said then that Hillary would never get to the White House.
I’ll admit, even then I didn’t quite believe her such is the mystique the Clintons are capable of casting across the Atlantic. I felt certain when the Republicans chose Donald Trump that my friend’s prediction was in grave jeopardy.
But RW Johnson makes clear (as did I) in his piece for the London Review of Books, the truth is that the US system favours whatever party has not had the White House for the previous eight years. Obama’s approval ratings are healthy, but not enough to bring Hillary over the line.
…this year was always meant to have been a Republican year. If you looked at the postwar presidencies that ran across two terms, and then at who won the mid-terms in the sixth year, you would have been able to predict the presidential result two years later in all but one or two cases. In 2014 the GOP heavily defeated the Democrats, gaining nine Senate seats, thus giving them a clear majority in both houses.
On that basis alone any Republican should have won this year. If you add in the fact that the GOP went into this election holding the governership in 31 of the fifty states – a powerful fact once the state administration is effectively put behind the governor’s party – 2016 should have been a shoo-in for a Mitt Romney or a John McCain, especially against such an unpopular candidate as Hillary Clinton.
As for cause, the profound restructuring (and emasculation of unions) of the Labour market is up there:
Between 1948 and 1973, productivity rose by 96.7 per cent and real wages by 91.3 per cent, almost exactly in step. Those were the days of plentiful hard-hat jobs in steel and the auto industry when workers could afford to send their children to college and see them rise into the middle class. But from 1973 to 2015 – the era of globalisation, when many of those jobs vanished abroad – productivity rose 73.4 per cent while wages rose by only 11.1 per cent.
Trump argued that this was caused by unrestricted illegal immigration and the off-shoring of jobs, though these were only partial causes: the erosion of trade unions probably accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of the net loss in earning power. The 11 million unauthorised immigrants in the US form only part of the vast mass of non-unionised labour competing for jobs.
And then this…
…it was masked for some time by more women going out to work, creating two-income households, and later by many workers taking two or three jobs. Sooner or later the stress of such a downward spiral had to be felt and the results are more and more visible. Drive across America and you will notice who operates the pumps at the gas stations.
Over and over again it is white men and women in their seventies, pensioners eking out a few more dollars. Such people were unlikely to be impressed by the parade of celebrities at Hillary Clinton’s rallies – Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Springsteen etc. The French use the expression ‘la richesse insultante’.
What does it mean for someone on social security to walk past shops with watches or shoes or dresses marked in the thousands of dollars? Each price ticket says: ‘You’re just nothing, you’re a loser.’
…the worst paid 10 per cent saw the biggest drop in wages between 1979 and 2013. At the same time, employers have slashed health benefits. In 2011, only 50 per cent of high school graduates – the peculiar America-speak for those who didn’t have a higher education or enter the middle class – got them (down from 67 per cent in 2000) and only 76 per cent of college graduates, down from 84 per cent.
The exasperation goes deep…
On average in 1965 an American CEO earned 20 times what a worker did. By 2013, on average, the number was 296 times. Marx foresaw ever greater concentrations of capital accompanied by the pauperisation of the working class. But the result has been the opposite of what Marx predicted: the rise of right-wing demagoguery. The elemental nature of this working and middle-class revolt explains why much of Trump’s support was impervious to his crass behaviour and his wish to give offence.
This too is interesting…
Trump then did something quite remarkable. He ignored most of the rules of the game. He didn’t prepare for the presidential debates, which Clinton easily won. He spent more on ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball caps than he did on opinion polls. And nowhere did he have a ground organisation comparable to Clinton’s to get out the vote. Overall he spent only half as much as Clinton and depended instead on projecting his campaign as a crusade, a ‘movement’. Like all successful populists, Trump promised to bring back yesterday.
Sanders? Nah, try Joe Biden..
…while it would have caused a Democrat civil war, given the ‘entitled’ Clinton bandwagon, Obama probably missed a trick by discouraging Joe Biden from running. Biden has always had a good rapport with working-class voters and would probably have beaten Trump by a clear margin. Clinton’s best chance was in 2008 and she would have done better to call it a day after that.
…this election was more about class than any election since the New Deal. The Fox News polls show the gathering landslide among white men with only high school education. With two weeks to go they favoured Trump by 48 to 32 (+16), with one week to go by 53 to 32 (+21) and on election day by 61 to 20, a crushing 41-point margin which swung the Rust Belt states to Trump.
Interestingly, white women with only high school education favoured Trump by 58 to 31 with one week to go, but moved in Clinton’s favour in the last week, ending up 53-32 on election day (though this was not so much a move to Clinton as a move away from Trump). Nonetheless, their class position outweighed their gender.
He finishes with a quote from a great column from Peggy Noonan, who defined Trump’s movement as ‘an uprising of the unprotected’. She also had another even more acute observation (that we should take to heart much closer to home):
On the way home Wednesday morning I thought of my friend who runs the neighborhood shoe-repair shop. He is elderly, Italian-American, an immigrant. I had asked him last winter who would win the Republican nomination and he looked at me as if I were teasing. “Troomp!” he instructed. I realized at that moment: In America now only normal people can see the obvious. Everyone else is lost in a data-filled fog.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty