By Dr. Paul Kellogg
On Friday, January 20, former Reality Television star Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
He is not the first person to ride a career in entertainment to high office in the United States. Jesse “the Body” Ventura went from professional wrestling (which is not a sport) to being the 38th governor of Minnesota. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from body building to cinema to being a two-term governor of California – the largest state in the country (leaving the office in a cloud of scandal over an affair with his housekeeper). And of course, Ronald Reagan went from being a B-rated Hollywood actor to running the world’s most powerful country for eight years in the 1980s.
All three, like Trump, were on the conservative end of the spectrum. But none were elected through the kind of campaign waged by Trump. Trump was exposed on video, openly advocating techniques of sexual assault against women. Trump’s call to build a wall to keep out Mexican “rapists” and “drug dealers” has been well documented, as has been his call to ban the immigration of Muslims and to deport millions of undocumented residents. We have seen racially charged campaigns like this before – George Wallace being a prominent example. But unlike Wallace, Trump moved from the fringe to the mainstream.
Some argue that he built his support among ordinary voters by opposing the trade deals which have devastated blue-collar employment in the United States. Rick Salutin, for instance, says that Trump “won because he carried four states in the rust belt, where factories once guaranteed people decent lives and which Democrats had always taken for granted. … In those states, the issue was hatred of free trade, largely in the form of NAFTA”. Trade unionists, Salutin argues, voted for Trump to vote against free trade. “They didn’t vote for racism, anti-immigration or misogyny.”
Is this persuasive? First, we know from exit polls that approximately 24.5 million voters were members of union households, and we know that by a small majority, they voted for the pro-NAFTA candidate Clinton, and not the anti-NAFTA candidate Trump (51% to 43%). Second, from those same polls, we can see that, like the rest of the country, union household voters were divided along racialized lines. Two thirds of Latina/Latino union household voters backed Clinton. Ninety-one percent of African-American union household voters backed Clinton. But 58% of white (non-racialized) union households voted for Trump. In other words, there might have been an “anti-free trade” vote for Trump – but in union households it was one exclusively preserved for white voters. More than eight million of them were able to look past Trump’s extraordinarily racist campaign and put an “X” by his name. Only 2 million racialized members of union households could make that move, swamped by the 6.5 million who voted for Clinton.
Salutin might profit from reading Toni Morrison’s compelling post-election article “Mourning for Whiteness”. She asks why “so many white voters – both the poorly educated and the well educated – embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump.” She suggests that there is a fear, in white U.S. society, “of a collapse of white privilege” to the extent that millions “flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength.” Morrison’s thesis parallels that of Jamelle Bouie, who identified the key dynamic in the election as a backlash, among white voters – a backlash against the eight-year presence of an African-American in the White House.
Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton – by an incredible three million votes. Clinton, in fact, received almost exactly the same number of votes as did Barack Obama in 2012. Trump lost almost every major city to Clinton. Clinton won majorities – often crushing majorities – in 88 of the country’s most heavily populated counties. But Trump swept the rural areas, the small towns – lightly-populated, and heavily white. He of course swept the old states of the Southern Confederacy. And – without winning the popular vote – he was able to win the electoral college. Time magazine, and many others, have now reminded us that this archaic institution was created, in the first place, to protect the barbaric institution of slavery.
January 20 will inaugurate not just a new presidency, but a deeply divided society. Trump will have extraordinary power, controlling not just the White House but both Houses of Congress. But – he is also the most unpopular president-elect in history, seeing an approval rating of just 37% in the days running up to the inauguration. And, some of that disapproval will be very visible on the streets of Washington the day after the inauguration. As this is being written, the Facebook group for the January 21 Women’s March on Washington reported 204,000 planning to attend, with 254,000 interested. As Trump implements the deeply unpopular elements of his program, it is likely that this will be the first of many such mass outpouring on the streets. Given the fact that Trump is not just president of a country – but of the most powerful country in the world – the politics associated with his presidency, and with the social movements that oppose his presidency, will be politics that affect everyone, inside or outside the United States.
U.S. Election Notebook #1: Grief of the Parents
U.S. Election Notebook #2: Memories of Goldwater
U.S. Election Notebook #3: Calculus of ‘misspeaking’
U.S. Election Notebook #4: Birther origins
U.S. Election Notebook #5: Memories of George Wallace
U.S. Election Notebook #6: The Colour Line
U.S. Election Notebook #7: Glass ceilings & backlash
U.S. Election Notebook #8: Approval and Disapproval
U.S. Election Notebook #9: Locking up the vote
U.S. Election Notebook #10: The New Jim Crow
U.S. Election Notebook #11: Not a dime’s worth of difference?
U.S. Election Notebook #12: ‘A sort of public and psychological wage’
U.S. Election Notebook #13: Political futures
Paul Kellogg (Ph.D. Queen’s, M.A. York) is an Associate Professor, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Master of Arts – Integrated Studies Program, Athabasca University. Among his courses at Athabasca is POLI 345, “American Government and Politics”. A new course in development will be focused on the “post-truth” era signaled by the Trump election. He is the author of Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy After Left-Nationalism (University of Toronto Press, 2015). His teaching and research interests are political economy, social movements and global governance.