Trying to find a silver lining in today’s political climate

While the immediate results of the presidential election have ominous implications in the near term in the US, especially for the poor, minorities, women, and the LGBT community, and can make people feel depressed, it sometimes helps to take the long view and see that the pendulum swings back and forth and that in general, we are much better off now than we were in the past and that we can help swing that pendulum again away from the likes of Trump and what he represents.

Two people who are in a particularly good position to take the long view are Noam Chomsky and Harry Belafonte, two giants of US politics, who are well aware of how bad the past was, contrary to the views of some who say that we need to go back to those times in order to ‘make America great again’. At the 20th anniversary celebrations of Democracy Now! held at the Riverside Church before an audience of more than 2,000 people, they both reflected to host Amy Goodman on the dangers posed by the Trump presidency but also provided some glimmers of hope.

Here’s some of Belafonte:

I think, to a degree, we do reveal some resilience, but the real test has not yet come, until the inaugural transference has taken place. And what concerns me is that, beyond the mischief of Trump and all those in his Cabinet and the people that he’s appointed into roles of leadership, I had never quite understood that we had another severe, unattended enemy in our midst. And that was our species’ commitment or weakness in the face of absolute greed. And I think we have failed to come to certain solid conclusions, because we have been so contaminated with possessions and power that we have forgotten that we have destroyed our children, or set the tone for that.

Here’s some of Chomsky:

I think it’s extremely dangerous, in many ways, like the ones I mentioned and others that you’re quite familiar with. On the other hand, there’s plenty of opportunities. We should bear in mind that the country has become much more civilized in the past 50 or 60 years. A meeting like this could not have been conceivable in 1960, 1970. The kinds of commitment and engagement that you and many others like you are committed to is something quite new. And there have been many advances and achievements: women’s rights, civil rights generally, rights of gays, opposition to aggressions way—environmental concerns didn’t even exist at that time. There’s been tremendous progress. That means that struggles today start from a much higher plane than they did not many years ago.

At the time when Harry was marching in Selma, it was a much harsher world than it is today. The reason is that plenty of people did commit themselves to constant, dedicated struggle, and there were plenty of achievements. And that goes back in American history. No need to review it, but the earlier period is one of total horror. I mean, after all, the country was founded on two incredible crimes, unbelievable crimes: one, virtual extermination of the indigenous population—it’s kind of a migrant crisis of the kind we don’t think about today—and a form of slavery, which was the most vicious in history and is in fact the basis for a large part of the wealth and economic development of the United States, England, France and others. That’s history. When Donald Trump talks about making the country great again, for many people, it wasn’t that great. Quite the opposite. But the point is, there has been plenty of progress, because people, facing much harsher conditions than we do, didn’t give up. That’s an important lesson.

Furthermore, even the election itself suggests major opportunities. For one thing, as you know, the Democrats actually had a considerable majority of the vote. And if you look at the younger voters, the people who will shape the future, they were overwhelmingly anti-Trump and even more overwhelmingly pro-Sanders. That’s an—and we should also bear in mind what a remarkable phenomenon the Sanders campaign was. I mean, there’s—here’s somebody unknown, came from nowhere; practically no one in the country knew who he was. He was using words like “socialism,” which used to be a real curse word. No corporate support, no media support, no support from the wealthy—everything that has always been crucial to winning elections. Mostly we have bought elections. Had none of it and practically took over one of the two major parties—and could have taken it over if it hadn’t been for shenanigans we know about. That’s—and it was primarily driven by young people.

All of these are very hopeful signs. I mean, there are plenty of things that can be done. There are opportunities that can be grasped, and no time to run through them, but there are plenty of them. And it’s really very much in our hands and, among the younger of you, in your hands to carry us forward in this long path, long, arduous path towards trying to create a civilized society and a decent world.

Well, take a look again at the last few elections. Many of the Trump voters among the white working class voted for Obama. They were deluded by the slogans of the campaign. You may recall that the 2008 campaign was based on the slogan “hope and change.” Well, many people voted, rightly, for hope and change. The working class has suffered, not disastrously, but severely, from the neoliberal policies of the past generation, pretty much from 1979. So if you look, say—just take the 2007, the peak of what economists were calling the economic miracle, right before the crash. 2007, American workers had real wages, lower, considerably lower, than in 1979, before these policies were instituted. They lost.

Listen to Alan Greenspan, who, during the height of the euphoria over the economy, was called Saint Alan, you know, the greatest economist of all time. He testified to Congress explaining the basis for the success of the economy that he was running. He said it was based on growing worker insecurity—growing worker insecurity, meaning if workers are beaten down enough and intimidated enough, and if their organizations, their unions, are sufficiently destroyed that they can’t ask for higher wages and for decent benefits, then it’s good for the economy, creates a healthy economy, by some measure. We know the measure. Well, all of this has happened, and the working class has suffered from it. They had a real need for hope and change. Well, they didn’t get hope, and they didn’t get change. I don’t usually agree with Sarah Palin, but I think she nailed it when she asked at one point, “Where’s all this hopey-changey business?” Well, you know, there wasn’t any. So, no hope, no change. Already—it showed very quickly in midterm and future elections. This election, a con man came along and is offering hope and change, and they’re voting for it.

Suppose that people like you, the people who formed the Sanders movement, would present an authentic, constructive program for real hope and change. It would win these people back. I think many of the Trump voters—many of the Trump voters could have voted for Sanders, if there had been the right—the right kind of activism and organization. And those are possibilities. It’s been done in the past under much harsher circumstances. Organizing white working people in Indiana is a lot easier than what the Freedom Riders tried to do in the South 60 years ago. Much easier. Takes work, but it can be done.

And my feeling is that a core part of a progressive program is to rebuild the organized structure of the labor movement, which throughout modern history has been in the forefront of progressive change. And that’s not impossible either. It’s been beaten down pretty severely in past generation, but it’s been worse before. If you go back to the 1920s, a period which is not unlike today in many ways, the Gilded Age, you know, the labor movement was virtually destroyed. Woodrow Wilson’s red scare practically wiped it out. There had been a militant, activist labor movement. There was almost nothing left of it in the 1920s. By the 1930s, it revived. A militant labor action, organization of the CIO, overcame racist conflicts, laid the basis for the New Deal programs, which were highly beneficial. To the extent that they remain, they remain beneficial. That can happen again. No reason why it can’t.

This is not to downplay the immediate short-term and very negative impact that will be felt by those who are currently marginalized. Those who are well-to-do will benefit enormously under the coming Trump administration and their party affiliation will not matter in the least because as I have repeatedly said, what the US has is a one party system with two factions labeled Democratic and Republican that is united in its effort to benefit the ruling class, but divided in some of its social policies and the degree of willingness to throw some economic crumbs to the less well off.

What Trump has done is co-opt a key part of the Democratic strategy and offer to throw some crumbs to the poor as well in order to get them to shift their allegiance to him. He promised them that he would improve their conditions considerably but he will instead offer token gestures, like he did with his grandstanding about the Carrier deal. Bernie Sanders took aim at that con job.

Trump made a promise that he would save all of these jobs, and we cannot rest until an ironclad contract is signed to ensure that all of these workers are able to continue working in Indiana without having their pay or benefits slashed.

In exchange for allowing United Technologies to continue to offshore more than 1,000 jobs, Trump will reportedly give the company tax and regulatory favors that the corporation has sought. Just a short few months ago, Trump was pledging to force United Technologies to “pay a damn tax.” He was insisting on very steep tariffs for companies like Carrier that left the United States and wanted to sell their foreign-made products back in the United States. Instead of a damn tax, the company will be rewarded with a damn tax cut. Wow! How’s that for standing up to corporate greed? How’s that for punishing corporations that shut down in the United States and move abroad?

In essence, United Technologies took Trump hostage and won. And that should send a shock wave of fear through all workers across the country.

Trump has endangered the jobs of workers who were previously safe in the United States. Why? Because he has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives. Even corporations that weren’t thinking of offshoring jobs will most probably be reevaluating their stance this morning. And who would pay for the high cost for tax cuts that go to the richest businessmen in America? The working class of America.

The people who voted for Trump because of his racist, bigoted, misogynist, and xenophobic message are probably a lost cause. They are hoping for a return of a white, Christian, male dominated past that is simply not going to happen. But the working class who voted for him, despite his racist, bigoted, misogynist, and xenophobic message but because of his bogus promises that he would solve all their economic problems and end the crony capitalism that dominates US politics and has hurt ordinary people, are reachable if they are offered a genuinely progressive message by a candidate who is a credible messenger. This means that that person should not be just another neoliberal retread, the kind that Democrats keep putting forward time after time. Such neoliberal policies may have won them some election victories in the past but its failures have been laid bare.

Trump has to be exposed whenever he does a bait-and-switch like he did with Carrier. The struggle will not be easy. While the media may like to make fun of Trump, they will be against any serious critique of oligarchic control because they are part of it.


  1. Robert, not Bob says

    Good grief, Mano. I’ve been waiting for the pendulum reversal most of my life. It hasn’t stopped swinging rightward in 40 years! To extend the metaphor, what do you do when the pendulum bob swings so hard it breaks the clock? That’s happened. I think the pendulum-swing idea is bunk.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    It’s noteworthy that, in the last three elections, the “change” candidate won. In 2004, Obama was the obvious outsider. That was harder to pull off in 2008 when he was president, except that no one could possibly look more establishment than Mitt Romney — especially after his 47% remark. And this time, Hillary couldn’t realistically present herself as an outsider, and never made much of an effort to try.

    My gut feeling is that about 40% of the electorate seriously believes in Republican ideology, 40% believes in Democratic ideology, and the remaining 200% doesn’t give a crap about any type of ideology. That’s the group that says “My life sucks, and I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s easiest to blame politicians. Therefore, anyone who says they also hate politicians must be my friend.” And because the rest of the country is split down the middle, it’s that 20% that gets to pick our presidents.

    Ironically, this doesn’t seem to translate to candidates who can campaign on more of a retail level — as evidenced by the fact that the Change voters either seem to like their incumbents, or just don’t bother to do any research down ballot.

    (I’m just pulling those numbers out of a hat. The actual numbers of the Change party may well be a whole lot smaller, but I still think they’ve been the deciding factor.)

  3. sonofrojblake says

    I’ve been waiting for the pendulum reversal most of my life. It hasn’t stopped swinging rightward in 40 years!

    Gay marriage is legal and the president is black. That’s a pretty weird rightward swing you’ve got going on there. Are you left-handed?

  4. Robert, not Bob says

    @ sonofrojblake Just because the “pendulum” swings farther right doesn’t mean every single event has to reflect it. Gay marriage is, after all, a Supreme Court decision, not the result of political change. Cultural change, yes-but note that the cultural changes aren’t reflected in the politics. That’s part of the problem. And indeed, both the exceptions you cited have vastly accelerated the fascist movement.

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