How Trump won and the struggle ahead

Protesters on the streets after Trump's win.
The early protests against Trump’s election show the potential for building a stronger grassroots resistance.

The US International Socialist Organisation (ISO) released the statement below on November 11. It is slightly abridged from , which the ISO publishes.


1. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is a shocking and dangerous turn of events — not only for the US, but for the entire world.

It represents the latest failure of centre-right and centre-left parties in the advanced capitalist countries in the wake of the Great Recession, opening the way for the triumph of a candidate who used right-wing populism to stoke racism, xenophobia and reaction.

Trump’s electoral success on a platform of criminalising immigrants — Muslims and Mexicans in particular — will give confidence to racist and anti-immigrant forces worldwide. This includes the National Front in France — whose leader Marine Le Pen congratulated Trump and said that France would be next — and openly Nazi outfits like Greece's Golden Dawn.

Trump’s contempt for women, his history as a sexual predator and his vow to severely restrict abortion will boost reactionaries who want to roll back the gains of the women’s movement in this country and beyond.

His “America First” policy could sharpen imperialist rivalries and shake up Washington's alliances as the US manoeuvres to maintain global dominance. He will whip up nationalism, particularly on trade issues, and try to slam the door on the already paltry number of refugees that the US government takes in.

Trump’s campaign has already emboldened forces on the right in the US, including the far right. His election will no doubt give them more confidence. We can also expect racist police who already kill Black people with impunity to regard Trump’s victory as a green light for more of the same.

2. The election does not, however, represent an overwhelming turn to the right in US society — and not only because Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Instead, we see a political polarisation in which both the right and the left are growing.

3. The US capitalist class and its political establishment will attempt to rein in Trump’s excesses. But the Republican Party, taking note of Trump’s electoral success, will no doubt also seek to normalise his politics by adapting his agenda to meet their own interests.

The US capitalist class was unable to stop Trump despite overwhelming opposition within its ranks. A ruling class that stood astride the world in the mid-20th century is shot through with internal tensions, as hostile factions buy up politicians who tend to their own particular interests, with scarcely a nod to wider issues.

Without the discipline imposed by the Cold War or pressure from an organised working class, US capitalists have used the neoliberal era to grab all the wealth they can, political consequences be damned.

The Republicans act on that agenda openly and aggressively; the Democrats work to mediate the demands of capital with their party’s working-class electoral base. Trump, recognising that millions of people find the status quo intolerable, broke the political consensus, at least rhetorically.

Thus, the White House, once dominated by old-money ruling class figures and politicians socialised in the US military, will now be occupied by a rogue billionaire. Trump, despite the comparisons some have made to the Italian fascist ruler Mussolini, more closely resembles Silvio Berlusconi — the Italian media magnate who used his money and populist appeals to impose himself on a corrupt, conservative political establishment.

4. Whatever sops a Trump administration may give workers, if any, will be tiny in comparison to planned huge tax giveaways for the rich. A Republican-controlled Congress will seize the opportunity to roll back regulations and perhaps take aim at Social Security and Medicare.

Tax “reform” under Trump would further consolidate the greatest economic inequality the US has seen in a century. Sections of the white working class that supported Trump would see their conditions worsen, probably dramatically. The same is true for the backbone of Trump’s support in the economically battered white middle class, both small business owners and low-level managers.

This is a recipe for greater social and political discontent as the right wing overreaches, like so many times in the past.

5. Trump’s election, based on fear and hatred, comes eight years after Barack Obama’s first campaign to win the presidency, with its rhetoric of hope and change.

Taking office amid the worst economic crisis since the 1930s with a solid Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, Obama had the opportunity to marginalise the Republicans.

Instead, the administration bailed out the banks and shrunk the relative size of the federal government, while workers were given only minimal assistance as unemployment and home foreclosures soared.

The Obama health care law, which could have produced a hugely popular and badly needed government-centred program, instead entrenched the power of big insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Workers today are paying higher costs for a declining quality of health care. The Republicans got another stick to beat up on “big government” and the Democrats.

Such disappointments paved the way for the Republican comeback of 2010. This handed control of state governments to the Republicans and Republican wins in the House and Senate ensured gridlock in Congress.

6. The Democratic Party’s policies — from Bill Clinton in the 1990s to Obama — have undercut its traditional New Deal/Great Society electoral base in the working class by shrinking the size of the federal government and eliminating federal programs for the poor and vulnerable.

The decline of unions — accelerated by the pro-business policies of the Clinton and Obama administrations — has further weakened and disoriented the Democrats’ traditional base in the organised working class.

Led by “New Democrats” like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the party’s strategy was to build up electoral networks through urban political machines and a superficial turn to “diversity”. At the same time it promoted its pro-business policies in an attempt to take over traditional Republican bases of support in the white/suburban middle class.

Trump’s rise in the Republican Party encouraged this strategy within the Hillary Clinton campaign, whose leaders believed they could supplant Republicans as the first party of US capitalism.

7. The Democrats’ role as custodians of an increasingly intolerable status quo created the opening for a rebellion within — in the form of the Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

By targeting the “billionaire class”, Sanders — who did not shy away from his history as a socialist — showed that millions of working people were prepared to embrace a message based on workers’ rights and solidarity.

But Sanders, having abandoned his lifelong political independence to run as a Democrat, ultimately endorsed Clinton before the Democratic convention. From that point on, he supported her doomed campaign theme of portraying America as “still great”.

8. Trump responded by seizing the chance to speak about the working class — a rarity for a US presidential candidate.

Having used right-wing populism to dispatch his Republican rivals, Trump again went unchallenged in the general election campaign as he welded the economic grievances of white workers to the most reactionary traditions in US politics — centrally, racism against African Americans and immigrants.

In a country built on a foundation of slavery, genocide and imperial conquest, Trump followed the path of other right-wing populists. He relied on a base of support that was generally wealthier than Clinton’s and Sanders’, according to exit polls.

But some sections of the white working class — including in areas won solidly by Obama in 2008 and 2012 — rejected the Democrats’ defence of an intolerable status quo and went for Trump instead.

9. The hard right was already energised by the Trump campaign, and it will gain further confidence now to push its agenda on immigration, law and order, and other issues.

One likely consequence is a further polarisation around racist policing. The militarisation of law enforcement agencies that escalated under the Obama administration will intensify.

10. Trump’s victory in the presidential election comes despite his loss in the popular vote. The Electoral College — an archaic system designed at the founding of the US to favour the slaveholding Southern states — gave Trump the edge. The state-based character of the Electoral College meant that the great working-class population centres, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, played no decisive role in the 2016 campaign, since they are in states that aren’t competitive between the parties.

11. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party’s leading circles, having cynically played to rightful fear about Trump’s authoritarianism and bigotry for months, are now bestowing legitimacy on the president-elect. Clinton and Obama have spoken of the need to “give Trump a chance” and unite behind him for the good of the country.

This will lead to tensions with the large numbers of Democratic supporters who were drawn to Sanders. Some liberal party figures may try to respond by giving greater scope for activism. But as in the past, the liberal Democrats will ultimately seek to channel such activism into efforts to renew the Democratic Party.

But the early protests against Trump’s election show the potential for building a stronger grassroots resistance that could, in turn, pressure trade unions and/or mainstream liberal groups to challenge the right in some fashion.

Most importantly, the urgent need to fight new attacks of the right can connect already existing social struggles and movements in a common project of resistance, around a positive agenda for working people and the oppressed.

The multiple crises created or exacerbated by a Trump presidency can further radicalise a new generation that has already been drawn to Black Lives Matter, the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux (Lakota), immigrant rights and other movements, and the left-wing campaign of Bernie Sanders.