Letter From America: Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: November 19, 2016 Last modified: November 17, 2016

At least the Clintons are consistent. They maintained a serene sense of entitlement almost to the end of the election night count. They had explained that the cancellation of the victory fireworks display in the East River was a consequence of the lateness of the count rather than a lack of confidence in victory.

That complacency had been unperturbed by Obama’s victory over Hillary and hardly dented by the Sanders’ upsurge. They really did not see how much they had alienated their traditional constituency with the huge gap between what she was forced to support by the Sanders’ campaign and her actual delivery on these issues.

The emails were not the major treasonable activity that Fox News would have, but the whole episode and her treatment of it, betrayed an arrogance that epitomised her whole campaign. To take huge fees for speaking to the bankers in private while denigrating them to the electorate was insulting the intelligence of the latter, not least when she refused to disclose what she had actually said.

It was historic irony that two such well-heeled candidates, both ethically challenged, should have been appealing for the votes of the victims of the system that had enriched them both. In the end, however, as always in American politics, it was race that won the race. The ‘Centrist’ politics of New Labour and Clinton’s Democrats is a mixture of liberalism on social issues of gender and identity thinly veiling unabashed neoliberalism on economic issues. It has a superficial charm: bankers and billionaires can indeed be gay and broadminded racially and continue raking in the benefits of a government and fiscal system loaded in their favour.

But the New Democrats depend on minority votes, so the Clintons specialized in vociferously and publically courting them as a vote bank – while screwing them with neoliberal policies, just as New Labour took working people in Britain for granted, paving the way for Farage and his ilk.
During the Sanders campaign many leftists bemoaned his lack of traction in the black community. Whether designedly or serendipitously, the Freedom Road rider and struggler for civil and economic rights eschewed Clintonian verbal pandering to the black community. His approach might have cost him the primary –  but it very likely would have won him the election.

The polling data suggests that too many of the minorities saw through Clinton’s feigned affection, while many white working class voters were alienated by her ostentatious courting of black and Latin voters as she happily gadded with Goldman Sachs and the rich elite. Sean McElwee of Demos published some interesting data on the prejudices of white working class voters showing how they feared minority competition along with elite domination, and it is a convincing explanation of where Trump’s support emerged from on election day.

In the dewy-eyed New Deal nostalgia of the left, we often overlook FDR’s very cynical deal, which was to ensure support for its policies by excluding most American blacks from its direct benefit. Those attitudes are alive and well, even, one might say even more so, in a country with a black president in the White House, not least a technocrat President who integrated rather too seamlessly into the neoliberal Washington consensus.

With all that, however, the incestuous political punditocracy’s assessment of electability has proven completely wrong and polls suggest that if it were not for the machinations of the Democratic leaders we would now be cheering a President Sanders. They completely missed the louche charms of Donald Trump, who, despite his inherited wealth came over as an outsider, a brash self-made man not scared to confront the metropolitan elite and their consensual ranks.

Of course, he now has to meet the expectations his insurgent candidacy have raised, and, sadly, highly visible executive action like beating up on immigrants is far easier than actually creating the jobs and wealth he has promised his supporters. One of the iconic moments of the election day was Trump turning up to vote in New York and being booed by a typical Manhattanite crowd. But not all TV clips showed that, up on the scaffolding across the street, the hard-hatted construction workers were cheering a man whose first major project employed undocumented Polish workers, who had to spend years in court to get their minimum wages out of him.

They probably could not afford to live in Manhattan, let alone in the apartments they were building, but the unions that secured them a living wage will be under threat from Trump policies now backed by Republican majorities in Congress. Trump is no ideologue, but he has surrounded himself with as slimy a bunch of ethically challenged conservatives as ever slithered out of the undergrowth. One hopes his arrogance will cow Giuliani, Christie, Gingrich, Bolton and the like, who even the hard right Republicans had shunned. If he wants a second term, he has to meet the expectations he aroused in the Rust Belt.

About Ian Williams

Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent