United States

Nov 8, 2016

Rundle: why Americans will vote for Donald Trump

What is the meaning of Donald Trump? He's not a just clown, reality TV blowhard, a figurehead of the alt-right -- he speaks to an America that has been forgotten and trampled on. That is powerful -- and it is not going away.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle

Correspondent-at-large

With 24 hours until the US election is concluded, Hillary Clinton retains a lead in most polls, suggesting a solid victory of around 320 electoral college votes to 220 for Donald Trump. HRC has a two- to four-point lead in Democrat-held states of Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire,  Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Florida, Nevada and Maine's second district are on a knife-edge, as are the Republican states of Arizona and North Carolina. Ohio and Iowa, both 2012 Democratic states, are trending to Trump, and the Democrats have written off the latter state. There's some chance that Trump may lose Utah -- Utah! -- to third party candidate Evan McMullin, or even to HRC if the vote is sufficiently split. [Rundle: the spy who loved Jesus] To win, Trump has to get either 1) Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with no losses back; 2) Florida, Ohio and two or three smaller states; 3) Florida and four states without Ohio; 4) Ohio, Pennsylvania and a couple of states; 5) Ohio and about five states and districts; or 6) about six states without Florida or Ohio. All of the last five options assume no losses back to the Democrats. That would suggest that Trump has more pathways to victory than has been claimed -- and he does. But they're all very narrow paths, and everything has to go right on each pathway. Clinton only has to get one clawback -- North Carolina is the best bet -- and a couple of the other states, and she can weather a loss of several states. But there's no doubt about it: Trump is in a better position to stage an upset than was Mitt Romney in 2012. Reason? Trump has, to a degree, done what he said he'd do -- he opened up the map, so that the rust-belt states became competitive. Romney was eviscerated by Obama's 2012 campaign, painting him as one of the behind-the-scenes guys who shipped jobs overseas. That left Romney with but a single path -- Florida, Ohio, and two states like Virginia and Colorado, and he didn't get any of those (he won back Indiana and North Carolina, which had already been factored in). Donald Trump's negative characteristics have been extensively catalogued, so much so that Democrat strategists missed his admirable qualities, which recommend him to the 40%-plus of American voters who will vote for him. Chief among them is his relentlessness. Faced with poor polling, terrible debate performances, and mutliple mini-scandals, he may have got bitter, vengeful and deranged, but he never gave up. The energy remained the same. And he, and his team, hit on a new strategy that has changed modern campaigning - saturation appearances to the point of attrition and exhaustion. [Rundle: sitting 'round the round bar, in the wilds of north Philly, just talking Trump] The old rule of the last month of campaigning was one to two appearances per day, in spaced-out media markets, to get the maximum TV effect, and the best and most energetic possible performance. Trump has ramped that up, first to three in-state performances a day, and now to an insane level -- five appearances per day, in three or four different states. Nor has his energy flagged one iota. Doubtless none of this is chemically enhanced -- Trump rejects alcohol and drugs -- but I'd be surprised if his long-haired Dr Feelgood weren't plugging vitamin B12 into that wrinkled orange butt on Trump Air every night. The strategy has had its effect. The Trumpenade has become a story in itself and given the impression of momentum, the sense of a coming thing. It's also outpaced Clinton, who has increased her own number of appearances in response to Trump and is clearly flagging under the pressure. As a counter strategy, team Clinton have put on a series of mega shows -- tonight she'll appear with Barack and Michelle in Philadelphia -- and also events with big musical guests Jay-Z, Beyonce and Katy Perry, which also serve as get-out-the-vote efforts. The Clinton effort has been blessed by the announcement, yesterday, by the FBI that they had concluded the investigation into the fresh batch of Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner's laptop -- from server to pervert, as is being said -- thus lifting the cloud of "candidate under investigation" from the campaign. De facto, that's given the Clinton team a last day narrative point -- which is lucky because they never had one of their own. Win or lose for Clinton, I can't wait for the campaign memoirs to come out, because I really want to see what the strategy was in a campaign that appears to have had no narrative, no concise policy lead. For weeks it simply fed off Trump's errors, the tape revelations, the serial, unquestionably true accusations of sexual assault, the Twitter eruptions. When these stopped, campaign Clinton had ... nothing. Zip, zilch, de nada. So they went back to the politics of the personal cult. Vote for her for what she's done, for who she is. What will she do? Erm, see our hundreds of piecemeal small-time promises buried in our literature. [Rundle: Trump boasts of 'grabbing pussy', GOP ducks for cover] Should Clinton win this, the victory will be a shared one by all the thousands of groups and millions of people, such as those I wrote about yesterday, who worked to get her over the line, without much of a promise that their lives would be made better. Very little of it will have to do with the muddled, stop-start campaign, as sketched out in detail in the Podesta emails released by WikiLeaks, and amply displayed in the last fortnight of the election. Team Clinton has spent twice the money and has many times the ground game, and yet it hasn't been able to put more than three points between itself and Donald Trump. Even with the burden of incumbency, that is a pathetic outcome. That is what is so utterly elitist about much of the centre-left incomprehension around Trump support, or the actual disdain exhibited towards many of the people voting for him, who don't rate him much as a human being. This is the white working-class, and 40% of Latinos, who have heard nothing from HRC as to why they should vote for her, not one concrete take-away, not a single headline pledge on wage increases, tax relief, affordable education or the like. Many of these proposals are there, but they never built a campaign around them. And they never made enough of a commitment to a genuine repudiation of "free" trade for anyone to much believe it. The Hillary cult on the centre-left -- separate from those who simply, reasonably enough, admire her -- specifically argue that she represents some embodiment of progressive forces. It has become ever more dishonest, as the Democrats' campaign became more threadbare. The target -- the derisory number of Bernie supporters who won't come across for Hillary -- is a straw bro. The election is close not because of a few hipster holdouts, but because the Clinton campaign couldn't convince more than 40% of the white working class to come over for her -- including the 40% of white working class women voting for Trump. Had they got another 5% of these people, the result would be a landslide. Trump would have been locked out of the rust belt. Might still happen. [Trump's chances of 'doing a Brexit' are slim, but extant] This goes to the heart of the progressive incomprehension about the rise and rise of Donald Trump -- the sheer inability to understand how anyone could vote for him, the vaguely progressive-totalitarian idea that Clinton should be getting a 100% vote by now. It's another example of applying an abstract rationality to a concrete situation, as if rationality itself were not shaped by interests -- as if, at any given moment, "rationality" did not have its own interests. Appeals to abstract rationality are pointless -- if a rational system is using all its resources to try and kill you and the life around you, then it is rational to take a chance with the other guy. Correctly, or otherwise, many people in the rust belt believe that Hillary Clinton, the Democrats and the whole progressive class are out to kill them -- to finally destroy their community with free-trade pacts and open borders, making wage maintenance and industrial organisation impossible. They see the tie-up between the Democrats and the new high-tech industries, praise of "ingenuity", commitment to the future -- all of which is taken as meaning one thing: automation, the further redundancy, the dissolution of life. It is one thing to conclude that your own life is over, that your best has passed, it is quite another to see everything around you dying too. The Clinton campaign has given people nothing to suggest they might do better from her being in power. Those who support Trump have views on him ranging from deranged idolatry to cool and accurate assessment. The latter think he's a flim-flam guy, a crook, a corner-cutter, a grifter. They simply believe it's worth taking a chance he might grift for them. Nor is there any reason to believe that is necessarily untrue. Trump's commitments -- deficit reduction, tax cuts, and a supercharged military -- don't begin to add up. But it's entirely possible that a combination of corporate tax cuts and protectionism could deliver a short-term reversal in the decimation of industrial America, which is exactly what people are hoping for. In that sense there is nothing irrational in voting for Donald Trump whatsoever, and the calls to look at the big picture, or his personal character, appear more impertinent and arrogant than ever. Why should the raddled victims of economic scorched-earth policies care if Trump is going to create international crises, or mistreat undocumented immigrant, or imports a standard of vulgarity and thuggishness to the White House? [Rundle: sorry, Van Badham, but Clinton hasn't been left-wing since the '90s] This would appear to be why so many otherwise acute pundits are simple defeated by the rise of Trump. Take Richard Cooke's piece in this month's Monthly. It's a terrific piece of wide-ranging reportage -- and in that respect the best possible representation of standard left-liberal incomprehension at the rise of Trump. "Because politics is a circus, they've sent in a clown," Cooke concludes, of Trump supporters. But they haven't, or they don't believe so. The one thing Trump supporters say over and over again -- and this unites the reluctant with the passionate -- is that "he's a businessman; maybe he can sort this mess out". They see much of his vulgarity and forcefulness as a measure of that, as someone who would be able to bulldoze his way through entrenched bureaucracies to get simple and effective things done. Cooke's piece ends in a simple and honest confession of bewilderment, an inability to read off from Trump any direction history might take. What lies at the root of such incomprehension is how far we've come in the long divorce of the old '60s coalition of the working class and progressive groups -- and the degree to which progressive groups, now in the ascendant, will not recongise that their interests and cultures have diverged from those classes.  The progressives' most insistent desire -- a global, cosmopolitan world, ever more connected, high-tech, "exciting" and diverse - is not merely something that has no benefit to many left out of it, but may be actively inimical to them. All the things that members of the progressive class believe to be nothing more than the conditions of life -- abstraction, dynamism, rapid change, system reasoning, reasoning itself -- are now seen by many as the weapons of the enemy, against which they marshal bluntness, insult, tests of personal strength, concrete thinking, and mythological explanations of contemporary life. What drives many progressives wild is that such people don't place much value on an abstract sense of truth -- because they've found it tends to come round and bite 'em on the arse quite a lot. [Rundle: the unsinkable Donald Trump] This is the major political event of our era, and Trump is just one manifestation of it -- albeit, given nine aircraft carriers and the nuclear codes, one of a significance far beyond the event itself. Through the past year, he has kept one step ahead of us all, reinventing modern politics as surely as did Andrew Jackson in the 1820s, or Martin Luther King in the 1950s. He has been the vessel by which the terms and conditions of US popular culture -- the relentless spectacle and conflict pouring out of innumerable screens, the values most people live by -- have reshaped one whole side of politics. All that has held him back from an assured victory has been the other side of pop culture ethics -- the absence of application, reality-testing, the all-encompassing narcissism. Had he been able to subcontract whole sections of the process to political professionals who would talk back to him, then basic things would have got done. They weren't. For months, key swing states were covered by a handful of offices, a non-existent preliminary build-up. Nothing tells you more about the Trump campaign than that it spent more on "Make America Great Again" hats than on focused polling and strategic implementation. The thing has been an on-the-fly rock star tour from the start, and that, more than anything, may save us from him. There is no question of supporting Trump, of course. The "concrete" reason he offers is racist, misogynist, has made its deals with the Christian right, traded its favours with ultra-right economic figures and corporations, and contemplates not a withdrawal from global hot spots but a new politics of massive response and retaliation. But that does not answer the question as to what happens when he loses, and Hillary Clinton becomes locked down in four years of conflict with Congress. Those who pledged themselves to Trump will find themselves further abandoned -- at least in terms of anything they really want, fantastical or otherwise. Somehow, someone finds a way of putting a left populism together, or the mythical urge will prevail, the politics and the country will start to bear as great an internal tension as it has felt for a century or more.

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20 thoughts on “Rundle: why Americans will vote for Donald Trump

  1. Reverend Owen

    As well is the “progressive left” there is the iconoclastic left: the likes of your colleague Helen Razor and Slavoj Zizek who want to see the whole stinking global-financial-industrial-media-military-corporate complex collapse under the weight of its own inherent corruption. And they think that Trump will be the catalyst for that. It’s a tempting idea.

    1. Decorum

      I don’t think it’s so tempting. Just as the Deplorables nurture a fantasy about what will emerge from a Trump presidency, so the “too cool for all of this” Left (and it’s spelt Razer – insert ‘cutting edge’ joke here) have only a fantasy of a shiny communitarian phoenix rising from the flames of the Hyphenated complex. More likely IMO is totalitarianism, be it nominally Left or Right. As I say: to me, not so tempting.

  2. klewso

    A symptom of a political ecosystem in crisis – like a three-ringed billy-goat – Trump is an easy target?
    From the land of free-enterprise* that blessed us with the herpes of The Coalition of the Willing, followed up by a round of the GFC capitalist clap – for which virtually no one did time?
    A “21st Century P.T. Barnum” – “There’s a sucker born every minute”/“Every crowd has a silver lining” – it’s not human nature for low-pickers to take advantage of that?
    In yesterday’s issue of the local bog-roll I was struck by a comment from Chelsea Gallacher/Hairdresser (Boulder City Nv.) – “Trump takes responsibility for the worst things he’s ever done.”?
    From among a seeming myriad that included the likes of –
    – The Taj Mahal and all those other casinos. The losses of billions, for investors : while the banks allowed him to skulk away with much of his “investments” – as they’d invested too much in him to let him fail*?
    – That he was able to “sell” his Trump name to businesses*, such as hotel chains – as some sort of imprimatur of outstandingness?
    – His actions re the Central Park 5 – taking out a full page ad in the Daily News advocating “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY BRING BACK OUR POLICE” – who were exonerated 11 years after their wrongful “convictions”, on “Trumped-up” evidence/confessions brought before the court by police. But did Trump apologise?
    Everything wrong is “everyone else’s fault” rather than his?
    If he wins tomorrow, imagine the Grand Canyon scale of gully-erosion of responsibility, in a torrent of surreal excuses, every time he fails to deliver on a pre-election undertaking, real or overtly implicit?
    How can Trump (with an axe to grind against those banks, that humiliated him in public, over his lack of business skills) be held responsible for the perceptions of the wilfully delusional, too busy ignoring an avalanche of evidence of his history of duplicity – in the hope that this life-support for an anus will be different?
    Because they’ll be able to say they were duped – and that’s enough?

  3. Tom Nomat

    Who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union?
    Is the US immune from the same forces?

    1. Bob the builder

      Tom, you might want to google Dmitri Orlov, a Russian-born US resident, who’s been predicting it for ages. He has certain positions which are barking mad, but ignoring those, his central thesis, that the US is heading to the same break-up as the USSR (without the social safety net of free housing, comprehensive public transport and employment, widespread allotment food production, amongst others) is fascinating to consider.

  4. Saugoof

    I am one of the people who cannot for the life of me fathom why someone would vote for Trump. I am well aware of the vast number of people who feel left out of the political process or who feel that their world and its certainties and security has crumbled. But the reason I cannot understand why anyone would vote for Trump is that I am absolutely convinced that Trump doesn’t care about that either. Trump is only in this for one person alone, Trump. He’ll say whatever it takes to get the top job, but once he’s there and there is nowhere further to go, he’ll have zero interest in the people who voted for him.

  5. rhwombat

    Actually, I think your excellent piece of yesterday tells you where this is going. Sure, the dispossessed can bite back – but translating the fear, bitterness and despair into a vote for the Trump flim-flam is right up there with the great working class tradition of drinking the pay check then beating up your dependents. Ultimately we all end up choosing givers over takers.

    1. Saugoof

      I always think of it as being tired of getting punched in the face, so you pick the alternative who sledgehammers you in the face.

  6. mike westerman

    A vote for Trump is so much like Catholic confession, his next shot should be to run at being Pope. Our mistake of course is to countenance that humans are rational, when it’s so obvious they are social, preferring to swallow the most extraordinary shite just so someone loves them.

  7. Robert Manne

    I have believed and argued since the time before the rise of Hanson in 1996 that the divide between what I used to call the “elites” and “ordinary people” is near the heart of democratic politics in countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Guy R suggests that long ago the alliance between prosperous progressives and the working classes fell apart, and that what is needed is a new left populism, roughly along the lines of the work of Thomas Franks. No one however, so far I can see, has yet however worked out how there might be a left populism that challenged neo-liberalism but didn’t betray women, non-whites, gays, refugees etc., etc. and which didn’t, in addition, turn its back on reason and science regarding the catastrophic consequences of creating prosperity by burning fossil fuels into the future. Guy and many others have stated and re-stated the problem. What is missing is a plausible outline of how such a left populism could win a majority of votes by challenging neo-liberalism and simultaneously deepening the gains made since the beginning of the cultural revolution of the sixties with regard to feminism, antiracism, gay rights, refugee rights and radical action over the coming climate catastrophe. There have been straws in the wind–Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbin, the radical democratic left movements in the collapsing economies of Europe, like Greece and Spain–but nothing yet in practice or in theory (so far as I know) that presents a solution to the fundamental political dilemma of our times.

    1. mike westerman

      That those with power and privilege would share, or that they would protect the working classes of the US and Australia from the deprivations of their counterparts in, say, Mexico or Indonesia, has always been fallacious, but for a while our working classes were co-opted into this delusion. Now increasingly the predation on jobs is coming from technologically driven productivity improvements, such that not only are the low skill jobs not coming back, but even skilled work is disappearing. That brings us closer to the day when redistribution cannot be based on labour inputs, and ones standard of living based on satisfying artificially stimulated consumption. If the elite can reward themselves by doing nothing more than inflating asset values by pushing more and more precarious obligations onto the unsuspecting, then there is no technical impediment to the masses doing likewise. But as Razer and Rundle have often said, it requires structural, more so than individual change, and it requires not fearing things that can’t hurt you, and cessation of belief in things that can.

    2. Will

      To sum it up a bit, Guy R appears to be saying that the post-war class coalition between the middle class and working class has structurally dissolved, while Robert M seems to agree, but laments more the absence of any worthy new ideological narrative to reforge it. That is, both concur that the progressive side of politics is fundamentally riven, but appear to differ on which remnant is more worthy of backing (and preferably likely to make the more ‘useful’ political gains). Guy R respects Trump for at least championing the working class demand for economic rights. Robert M presses the more inherently middle class case for civil and political rights. And really, who could argue with either?
      It makes me wonder, though, is class analysis itself now not something of an impediment here (consider, don’t both really rest on it completely)? That is, has focusing on the connection between wealth and power obscured understanding the connection between system and psychology?
      Consider: Kim Beazley cogently argued on TV the other night that apart from the racism, etc, Trump was the most “left wing” presidential candidate in decades. He’s got a point! Trump’s critique of “the system” doesn’t reconcile with the labour theory of value – honestly, wtf does? – but it sure reconciles with how bummed-out formerly middle class – or middle class aspiring – Americans think. Maybe it’s just temporary mass psychosis. But it’s not class consciousness in any remotely Marxist sense.

    3. Woopwoop

      Excellent comment, but that’s hardly surprising if you are the real Robert Manne.

  8. zut alors

    The Trumpistas should carefully consider what they’re wishing for as they may be in danger of getting it.

    Could Dr Feelgood be injecting a combo of B12 & tincture which gives the Donald that disturbing tinge?

    1. rhwombat

      Beta-carotine? Nah, just Trump brand spray tan.

  9. Hunt Ian

    “Why should the raddled victims of economic scorched-earth policies care if Trump is going to create international crises, or mistreat undocumented immigrant, or imports a standard of vulgarity and thuggishness to the White House?” Is this because they are so “raddled”? International crises can lead to a scorched earthn economy. It can lead to immense problems: not just loss of income but loss of life. Anyone should care about these issues, although just how vulgar a President trump would be is not all that important.

    Nor is it clear that tax cuts and protectionism will save American businesses. Certainly, neo-liberal policies since Regan – now, it seems, become in death a “great” President – coupled with constant attacks on trade unions have meant that real income for most people has stalled for 35 years. Others, apart from Reagan, have contributed to this. Reagan’s tax cuts did not trickle down. Nor would any of Trump’s.
    Why is Trump doing so well? Well, it is a more farcical version of the reasons why Benito Mussolini tragically did so well. It is his slogan “Make America Great Again”. A recreation of the greatness – and terror – of Rome, was behind Benito’s rise as well. And, just as close analysis showed that it was the lower middle classes in Italy and Germany that most strongly rallied behind the really dangerous rise of full blown fascists, so I expect close analysis to show the same with Trump.

    Nor do I think talk about “progressives” is very useful. Hilary Clinton is not a progressive but she will be less dangerous than a President Trump. Working class problems cannot be the only worry of progressives either. If capitalism is unjust, then so is racism, male chauvinism, exploitation of women, religious intolerance and much more.

  10. Dog's Breakfast

    “They simply believe it’s worth taking a chance he might grift for them.”

    It’s not such a stupid thing. Sure, Trump is unlikely to be the answer to their problems, but Clinton just looks like like more of the same. I’m not in a pink fit suggesting that anyone should vote for Trump, but I can understand the rage, which is real and based on reality, and looking around desperately for anyone who looks different isn’t the worst idea a human being can come up with. Well, except for this time perhaps.

    Same goes for analysis around Brexit, always assuming that it was fearful creatures who didn’t want immigrants coming in, but it was probably a smaller group who could rationally see that the Euro community is an equally failed experiment. I would have voted for Brexit because national sovereignty is being gradually eroded and that is a big problem for the masses, and not just the unthinking ones. There are good arguments for getting out of the bus before it goes over the cliff.

    On the likelihood of the US breaking up, I suspect I will see it in my lifetime, but am quite sure that my kids will see it, and it won’t be so anodyne as the break-up of the soviet union.

    Leftist arrogance stops them from seeing that there is a new left order capable of being sold to an intelligent public that describes how FTA’s have screwed them over and will continue to do so, how foreign investment is not always a good thing, how neo-liberal economics is a continuing exercise in cognitive dissonance and how the financial industry is taking most of the cake and all the cream without adding a scintilla of value.

    It ain’t that hard. There is a clear narrative there if a party can summon up the courage. At least Labor made steps in Australia with their negative gearing, superannuation, capital gains tax and banking royal commission policies, but there is so much more that can be offered.

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