During the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election I was totally immersed in an all-out effort to ensure the success of the historic State of the Black World Conference IV in Newark. Therefore, I had precious little time to pen my views on the election or its aftermath. With the Conference behind me, this is my first opportunity to offer my assessment of one of the most bizarre and consequential elections in American history; an election which resulted in Donald Trump ascending to the office of President of the United States; a dire outcome which will produce a regime that will be like Reagan on steroids.
I recently had the occasion to be Panelist for The People’s Democracy Conference, organized at the National Press Club by Atty. Barbara Arnwine’s Transformative Justice Coalition. The focus of the Conference was the numerous massive voter suppression schemes employed by the Republicans that helped deliver the election to Trump. While providing testimony on voting suppression tactics in North Carolina, Brenda Harding, Chairperson of the Board of the Transformative Justice Coalition, also pointedly reminded the audience that “elections matter.” By that she was suggesting that in addition to voter suppression, far too many potential voters sat out the election for various reasons, apparently oblivious to the potential consequences of a Trump presidency or for that matter the concrete ways in which the policy outcomes of any election affect the lives of people.
The words “elections matter” certainly struck a chord with me because it echoed the constant warnings I expressed on my radio show on WBAI, the Pacifica Network affiliate in New York, my weekly segment on Make It Plain with Mark Thompson on SIRIUSXM and interviews on other media. Yes, elections matter, and I am shocked that some who did not take this reality seriously were shocked, dismayed, depressed and traumatized by the outcome of the November 8th election. There were far too many potential voters who failed to cast ballots because of apathy or indifference (some of which is understandable); others who felt that both candidates were flawed, identical or simply representative of different manifestations of “evil” within the Capitalist “empire;” or as it relates to Hilary Clinton, there was the oft repeated refrain, “I just don’t trust her.”
Frankly, I understand and am sympathetic to these misgivings, but tried mightily to persuade well-meaning skeptics to consider the Ron Daniels axiom: The differences between the Democrats and the Republicans are not fundamental, they are incremental but not inconsequential in terms of policy outcomes on the lives of people. I devised this axiom as a way of encouraging liberals, progressives and revolutionaries to consider the notion that, by definition, neither Establishment Party is committed to transforming the Capitalist political-economy, but that it is important to make critical tactical choices within the electoral process as we pursue the strategic goal of radical, fundamental transformation – the creating a new society.
Simply put, we must creatively exploit the differences between the Establishment Parties and factions within the ruling elite in a manner that builds mass based/popular support for a politics of social transformation. This means always considering how our decisions will impact the lives of the people we hope to enlist in the quest for a new society. The rhetoric of revolution, progressive sloganeering and mechanical ideological formations are easy to advance and may play well among the true-believers, but will be irrelevant if they do not deal in a meaningful way with the reality of the day to day lives of oppressed Black people, other people of color, women, workers, the poor and the struggling middle class. It’s the difference between simplicity and complicity. In the real world, we who claim to be progressives and revolutionaries must face the need to make complex decisions. The presidential election of 2016 was certainly such a moment.
The Trump administration will be like Reagan on steroids. Reagan rode a racially inspired “white backlash” into office, pledging to undue the “reverse racism” of affirmative action and social programs perceived to be of benefit to Blacks. Hence, his appointment of William French as Attorney General was calculated not to enforce Civil Rights statutes and regulations but to undermine them. Reagan also vowed to undo, reverse or dismantle programs he claimed were advantaging Blacks to the disadvantage of Whites. He was also determined to declare war on organized labor. It’s hard to imagine an administration that did more damage to Civil Rights, social programs and labor than Ronald Reagan, but that regime is about to occupy the White House.
Almost immediately, President Trump will revoke Obama’s Executive Order which provides temporary legal status for Dreamers and other categories of undocumented immigrants to remain in the country without fear of deportation; cancel the Executive Order extending the right to overtime pay to some four million workers; and, issue Executive Orders loosening regulations on corporations and financial institutions. These are “modest” reversals compared to the damage Trump’s Cabinet appointees will inflict. Consider the following:
• Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, is an outright climate change denier who will rip up environmental regulations in order to give the fossil fuel industry a free pass to maximize profits.
• He will have a willing co-partner in former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who as a presidential candidate, vowed to eliminate the Department of Energy as a presidential candidate to free the fossil fuel industry of the proverbial onerous regulations. He will now head the Department he once promised to kill – a double death blow to rational efforts to save the environment and the planet.
• Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, who is a medical doctor, is the perfect choice as Secretary of Health and Human Services to lead the charge to “end Obamacare,” rollback Medicaid expansion and take aim at privatizing Medicare and aspects of Social Security. In his view the “free market” will solve all ills.
• Andrew Pudzer, CEO of CKE Restaurants, is a fierce opponent of Labor who will serve as the new Secretary of Labor. He is vehemently opposed to the minimum wage, period, let along an increase in the paltry $7.25 an hour. Pudzer also opposes extending overtime benefits and paid pregnancy and sick leave. He views all of these benefits as impediments to job creation in the free-market.
• Senator Jeff Sessions, Senator from Alabama who has expressed racist sentiments in the past, will block any attempt to strengthen the voting rights act, weaken civil rights enforcement at every turn and attempt to undo the significant criminal justice reforms implemented under President Obama. He will be the anti-justice head of the Department of Justice.
• Then there is Stephen K. Bannon, the white nationalist Director of the ultra, ultra, rightwing Breitbart News, who will be securely positioned in the White House as President Trump’s Chief Strategist.
• To top it off, President Trump will nominate ultra-conservative judges to the Supreme Court in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia that will provide judicial sanction to this radical rightwing retrenchment. The Trump Supreme Court will be in position to inflict damage for decades.
Now liberals, progressives and revolutionaries who couldn’t stomach Hillary Clinton should answer a simple question, would she have appointed these kinds of people to her Cabinet? The honest answer is no! We would have justifiably complained that some of Hilary Clinton’s picks were too cozy with Wall Street, others too interventionist for our taste and that most of her appointments were not progressive enough. But, that’s a far cry from a Cabinet filled with billionaires in lock step with Wall Street and agency heads bent on turning the clock back on the hard-fought gains of civil rights, women’s rights, health care, labor, the environment and consumer protection.
To the millions of immigrants who will now face deportation; the millions of workers who will lose the right to file for overtime, and others who can no longer look forward to an increase in the minimum wage; millions who will lose help health care benefits and have their lives shortened as a result; Black and Brown communities that will have less protection against environmental racism; untold thousands, if not millions, of women who may be forced again to endure unsafe abortions; and, millions of potential voters who will continue to be disenfranchised because of voter suppression policies, practices and laws that will be upheld by a rightwing Supreme Court, the differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were not fundamental, they were largely incremental but they were absolutely not inconsequential! Trump is Reagan on steroids, and millions of people will suffer the consequences. Elections matter!
There are certainly lessons to be learned from this bizarre and frightening election and it should not have taken hindsight to see them. For liberals, progressives and revolutionaries, Hillary Clinton was not the “lesser evil.” Tactically, she was clearly the “better choice” given a serious analysis of the “clear and present danger” posed by Trumpism. This is why progressives like Angela Davis and Danny Glover could make a somber decision to support Clinton despite her flaws – because her flaws paled in comparison to Trump’s.
Another lesson to be learned is the way Conservatives and Republicans of all stripes united around Trump, despite the ugliness of his rhetoric, his loose-lipped shoot from the hip style and differences with him on policy positions. The majority of Republican leaders kept their eyes on the prize -- securing national electoral power by winning the White House/presidency! While there were a few “never Trump” Republicans, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and the majority of Republicans closed ranks behind Trump. Even if they had to hold their noses, they adopted a win first argue over differences later approach, realizing that winning the presidency would dramatically improve the likelihood of imposing their agenda on this country. They understood that elections matter and did everything possible to win. Now you are seeing them argue over some policy positions, though they seem in synch on much of the big picture agenda.
On the liberal, progressive side, the reluctance to enter the electoral arena by some, distaste for Hillary Clinton by many, or righteous desire to support a third-party candidate by others prevented us from forging a united front to turn back the virulent tide of Trumpism. Now we must deal with the consequences.
And, here’s the real danger: Over the next four years if Trump is able to distribute enough largess to individuals and sectors of the African American and Latino communities such that he can win just 15% of the African American and 25% of the Latino vote and maintain or broaden the support of his White base, he will flip the script and by entrenching a rightwing, reactionary Rainbow Coalition – the ultimate counter-revolution/post-reconstruction scenario! That’s frightening.
But, all is not lost. We must constantly remind ourselves and the American electorate that this is a “minority regime” that did not win the majority of those who voted. Trump and Trumpism lost the popular vote by nearly three million ballots and more than that when you add in the votes of third party candidates. So, having learned the painful lessons and consequences of this election, it’s time for a season of resiliency and resistance; a time to gather the progressive forces to devise strategies and actions to reverse the temporary triumph of Trumpism, fully confident that “the arc of the universe bends toward justice” when the forces of righteousness unite and engage the struggle to make it so!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org