As this is written on Thursday morning after Election Day, there’s no winner yet. Ballot counting continues and it appears that Joe Biden will win both the popular vote and the Electoral College. I’ve believed for some time that Biden would win. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a landslide as some were projecting, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be this close either. Which raises the question: Why have almost 70 million people voted for Trump? He’s been the most divisive and polarizing president in our lifetimes.
This is an important question because the reasons and their implications will remain long after Trump has left office and faded away. A friend posted his personal analysis on Facebook this morning, which I think is the most thorough and clearest I’ve seen anywhere. He agreed that I could republish it here.
Why Almost 70 Million Voters Chose Trump
By Tony Prince
Originally published on Facebook on Thursday, October 5, 2020
At this point the US election is still undecided, but it’s worth thinking about why Trump did better than expected and why Biden failed to meet the expectations of a “blue wave.” Given Trump’s character and many of his policies, it is difficult for a lot of people who can’t stand the man to understand why he is supported by such a significant percentage of the population.
So, to get a few things out of the way first — There is his appeal to racism, which will still garner the support of a certain percentage of the population. There are his calls for law and order, in spite of his long record as a scofflaw. There is his pandering to evangelical Christians, even though he doesn’t have a religious bone in his body. Leaving that aside, there are more substantial factors.
Just before the election the Wall Street Journal published a “semi-endorsement” of Trump. It pointed to the tax break he gave to the richest Americans early on in his term. Also, he has eliminated many environmental regulations which cost manufacturers money. Also, according to a recent article in the New Yorker, the Department of Labor under Trump has basically become an advocacy organization for the employers.
For these reasons and more, many big capitalists think Trump is just fine.
Then there are middle-class layers — small business owners and self-employed people. These are some of the people who have been hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. Many of them have gone bankrupt or are on the verge of bankruptcy, so when Trump disagrees with the recommendation to wear masks and calls for opening the country back up for business, this resonates deeply with these people. After all, their backs are against the wall, and they don’t want to hear about COVID-19. They want things to go back to the way they were before. The demonstrations in the Michigan state capital several months ago are an example of this social layer.
Then there are workers, especially workers in the Rust Belt, who have been hard hit by the closing of many factories and whose standard of living has declined as a result. It is natural to look for an easy explanation for this situation, and when Trump blames Mexico and especially China, he has a receptive audience.
Trump blasted NAFTA as one of the worst deals in history, and I remember from my own experience [working in industry] that many of my coworkers used to blame NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs. Of course, the new trade agreement that Trump negotiated with Mexico is almost the same as NAFTA, but after all, this is about image, not substance.
Now the target is China, which has become the factory of the world, and with which the US has a major trade deficit. Of course, the drift of factory jobs away from the US and other developed countries is a trend that has been going on for a long time and which will continue regardless of who is president. But the rhetoric on China and the tariffs appeal to many workers. They appealed to farmers as well until China stopped buying US soybeans.
Added to this is the scapegoating of immigrants for supposedly “stealing” American jobs. For workers whose standard of living has been in decline for decades, this demagogy falls on receptive ears. Trump has made extravagant promises about bringing back manufacturing jobs to the US, which there is no way he can fulfill, but nevertheless, this is music to the ears of many workers. The reality will sink in later.
But that is not all. It is true that unemployment was at historically low levels before the Coronavirus hit. Although the ups and downs of the economy don’t have much to do with who is president or what the president does, nevertheless, Trump gets the credit for this in the eyes of millions of workers.
Then there is the question of the Democratic Party. For decades, since the time of Roosevelt, working-class families have voted for the Democratic Party as the party that supposedly helps the working class. But under successive Democratic administrations like Clinton and then Obama, the conditions of life of working people have not improved. On the contrary, they have continued to slowly get worse. In response to this situation, supporters of the Democrats say, “Well, where else are you going to go? You know the Republicans are not on your side.”
But then along comes Trump and says what many workers want to hear. The fact that he is lying through his teeth is not the point; all politicians do that. But not only that — in the minds of a lot of workers, he actually has delivered, given the state of the economy before the pandemic.
Some people say that the poor showing of the Democrats in 2016 and again this year is because they have had terrible candidates. I disagree. Clinton and Biden are the appropriate candidates for a party that has no vision for the future and only want things to get back to normal. The problem is that normal is not good enough. If people thought normal was okay they never would have voted for Trump. In fact the Democratic Party is facing a crisis over its identity and its place in US politics, and this crisis will only deepen in the coming years.
Finally, regarding Trump’s low moral character, many workers will say that they are not voting for him because they think he is such an upstanding person (some will say that, but many won’t). Instead they will say that he is addressing their most pressing issues like jobs, and will point to the economic data. And in this maybe they have a more realistic view of politicians. They recognize that they are crooks; they just want a crook that they think is on their side.
Title image: NASA photograph by Bill Ingalls. Public Domain.
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