Unlocking the Trump secret

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Since Donald Trump won in November, there has been a lot of talk about the electoral college, so-called “fake news“, Russian hackers and third party candidates. We’ve heard that the electoral college is illegitimate and should be abolished (because it ensured Trump won), the next minute we’re being told that the electoral college can and should overturn Trump’s victory. Apparently, fake news on Facebook is responsible for people voting the wrong way. But then it turns out it was the Russians all along. Are we really so blind?

The bitter truth is that the Clinton campaign was fundamentally weak in crucial areas. If the Clintonites had ran a strategy of mobilising working-class Americans in states like Wisconsin, the Democrats may have held their own. Yet this possibility was foreclosed by Hillary’s politics. It was Bill Clinton who rammed NAFTA through Congress. Can the Clintons rock up in rust-belt towns and claim to represent the working-class? We don’t know because the Clintons were unwilling to play the class card. And they are not alone in US politics in this aversion.

Hillary spent the majority of the primaries on the defensive. She had Bernie Sanders to contend with, so the Clinton campaign moved to the left to try and pacify the threat. At the same time, the Clintons found themselves confronted by Black Lives Matter on more than one occasion. Faced with this, Team Hillary fell back on identity politics as part of its media strategy. Sanders was painted as pale, male and ever so stale; whereas Hillary was going to take the White House for American women – in the way Obama took it for Black America.

In the end, the Democratic establishment won out thanks to its strength over the grass-roots campaign backing Sanders. Though the identitarian claims were a useful foil, this strategy would not suffice against The Donald. Instead, Hillary tried to outflank Trump – positioning herself with the neocons and the pro-Israel lobby on foreign affairs, for example. She tried to turn Trump’s slogan against him, claiming America is already great. Yet the tone of entitlement still seeped through into the social media campaign.

#ImWithHer was a terrible hashtag to run with. The Clinton camp wide open to its populist opponent. It was easy for Donald Trump to tell supporters at the RNC: “I am not with her. I am with you.” The American ruling class began to coalesce around Hillary as their candidate, and so reinforced Trump’s claim to be the outsider. Even National Review and Wall Street Journal columnists sided with Clinton. Nevertheless, the Trump campaign won without the support of the mainstream.

People should stop trying to unlock the secret to Trump’s success. There are myriad factors to take into account, and not one simple explanation (an obvious point, I know). It can’t be dispelled by pointing out Russian interference, Breitbart bullshit or the flaws of the US electoral system. Even if these factors were involved, it is plausible Trump would have won even without them. This is a key assumption for any credible opposition. Global Trumpism has to be confronted with sober eyes.

In the age of Trump, the American left faces a clear choice: either make a bid to take over the Democratic Party, much like the British left is trying to recreate the Labour Party in its image; or try and build an alternative party outside the establishment. If anything, The Donald has shown us the system can be broken into from outside. The good news is that the left is already organising protests against Trump and planning for the inauguration. The bad news is the left still has a lot to do, and the Democrats are addicted to capitulation.

About Joshua White

a writer and journalist living in the UK where he works as Africa editor and researcher for the World Weekly. White is a philosophy graduate, specialising in political thought, and maintained a blog for several years. His main focus is national and international politics having written on subjects as seemingly far apart as US elections, Russian nationalism and the state of modern Britain.
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