Did the left help elect Trump?

November 16, 2016

Some liberal commentators are rerunning old complaints about how the left once again "spoiled" the election. Todd Chretien looks at their arguments and finds them wanting.

TENS OF thousands of people have taken to the streets around the country because they recognize the enemy at the gate. And a large number of these fighters agree on the broad outlines of why Hillary Clinton failed to defeat Donald Trump. After all, it's not the first time a Republican lost the popular vote, but rode voter suppression and the slaveholders' Electoral College into the White House.

But back in 2000, when George W. Bush stole the White House and Al Gore pathetically stepped aside rather than challenge the theft, a torrent of abuse rained down on the wrong target.

Millions of people fed up with eight years of Clintonism in power voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 as a radical alternative to the two-party disaster. But a common sense developed among many liberal commentators--especially in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, followed the Bush administration's invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq--that somehow the left was to blame for "spoiling" Gore's election.

This time around, the "spoiler" wailers are a lot quieter, but the "left is to blame" myth still has some vocal proponents. Although perhaps more unhinged than most, liberal columnist and award-winning author Kurt Eichenwald fits the bill.

Jill Stein speaks to a crowd filled with many Bernie Sanders supporters outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia
Jill Stein speaks to a crowd filled with many Bernie Sanders supporters outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia

In a post-election article for Newsweek, Eichenwald writes about wishing he could punch a Jill Stein voter in the face in an airport, but settling for telling him to go "have sex with himself--but with a much cruder term." He concludes by telling a section of the people protesting Trump today that they, too, can go fuck themselves:

If you voted for Trump because you supported him, congratulations on your candidate's victory. But if you didn't vote for the only person who could defeat him and are now protesting a Trump presidency, may I suggest you shut up and go home. Adults now need to start fixing the damage you have done.

Well now...which adults? Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Donna Brazile? Howard Dean? Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic National Committee that rammed through the relentlessly unpopular Hillary Clinton as the party's presidential nominee in opposition to Sanders, who had a better chance to beat Trump?

Or perhaps the Clinton staffers who asked the corporate media to "elevate" Trump as a candidate because they believed it would be so easy to beat him? Or Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and even Elizabeth Warren, who are "rooting" for Trump and want us to lend him "an open mind and the chance to lead?"

No thanks, Kurt, I'll take my chances with tens of thousands taking to the streets.

ON THE other hand, radical author Rebecca Solnit, in a commentary for the Guardian, rightfully exposed the right-wing machinery behind Trump's victory and ruthlessly criticized Clinton's neoliberal background. Instead of dismissing anti-Trump protests, Solnit identifies social struggle as the most effective means for exposing that "Trump has no mandate."

At the same time, as she did in 2012, Solnit dismisses those who refused to support Clinton for having a "shortsighted campaign of hatred on the left." Rather than engaging in the debate about whether we can reform the Democrats or need to replace the party with a left-wing political force, Solnit derides those who disagree with her:

It's impossible to disconnect the seething, irrational emotionality from misogyny, and the misogyny continues. Since election night, I've been hearing too many men of the left go on and on about how Clinton was a weak candidate. I've wondered about that word weak, not only because it is so often associated with women, but because what they're calling her weakness was their refusal to support her. It's as if they're saying, "They sent a pink lifeboat and we sent it back, because we wanted a blue lifeboat, and now we are very upset that people are drowning."

So how about Jill Stein, who can hardly be accused of misogyny? Unfortunately, Stein's principled and tenacious campaign was ignored by the mainstream media, and the understandable fear of Trump among left-of-center voters squeezed her final vote total.

On a technical point, unlike in 2000, when mental gymnastics led some to blame Nader for Gore's defeat in Florida and Bush's theft of the White House, this time, there is no mathematical way to blame Stein for Clinton's Electoral College defeat--Clinton would have lost regardless of the impact of Stein's vote in decisive states. In fact, as it turned out, Trump just barely survived the "spoiler" impact of right-wing Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

Be that as it may, the genuine reasons for Clinton's defeat are crystal clear, and they have nothing to do with the women and men who voted for Stein being misogynists. Understanding the real causes will help us fight the Trump administration's coming assault, while preparing to win more than a return to status quo Clintonism.

FIRST, TRUMP gave voice and confidence to a dangerous surge of anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, racist and misogynist sentiment that the Republican right and its associated extremists have stoked for decades. Breitbart media boss Stephen Bannon, chosen to be Trump's top White House adviser, isn't a figment of anyone's imagination. He and his kind will have to be fought step by step.

But that's not the end of the story. As Adaner Asmani wrote for Jacobin, "All Klansmen are Trump supporters, but all Trump supporters are not Klansmen."

Rather than a lurch to the right among "a silent majority," a significant section of white workers hard hit by NAFTA and the Great Recession switched their voting allegiance from Obama to Trump. Many more who previously voted Democratic stayed home, and as a result of both, Clinton got millions of votes less than Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012.

Clinton presumed that loyal and enthusiastic Black and Latino workers and students would line up to back her and the party that masterminded decades of mass incarceration and deportations. This was a fatal illusion.

Clintonism helped create the conditions that fed the bacilli of Trumpism. America is not "already great," as Clinton's informal slogan put it, for tens of millions of those struggling with stagnant wages, long-term unemployment, student loans, police brutality, ICE raids, union busting and the slow death of the planet.

Even if we could return to the pre-election status quo, we have to recognize that this would guarantee the development of further lethal strains of right-wing populism and emboldened Trumpist racism and misogyny.

Exactly how to combine an immediate, united-front defense against Trump's policies and vigilante assaults inspired by him with a medium-term plan to break the cycle of dependence on the leadership of the Democratic Party is a debate that deserves its rightful place in the coming months and years.

That discussion has begun with a variety of thoughtful articles--here at SocialistWorker.org, as well as from Seth Ackerman in Jacobin, Micah White in the Guardian and a statement by 75 prominent members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Those of us who believe that history shows radicals don't change the Democratic Party so much as it changes them can work alongside other organizers as we compare notes on this question. We can even enthusiastically unite in practical, active defense of immigrants, women, unions, LGBTQ people, and the environment with writers and organizers who think we're to blame for Clinton's defeat.

We will, however, argue that the future of our struggles and movements and the planet depend in part on distinguishing fact from fiction.

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