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Wednesday, November 25, 2020
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News + Politics Why did so many people vote for Trump?

Why did so many people vote for Trump?

Radical economic inequality causes social breakdown. We're seeing it right now.

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I think a lot of us feel the same way this week that David Campos does. From his Facebook page as the results were showing a likely (now certain) Biden victory:

Trump’s worst crime is encouraging hatred and bigotry.

Believe you me, that is a big relief and I’m certainly thrilled to think of the prospect of that victory. That said, I must be honest that there is a lot of heartbreak in knowing that this was even this close. Trump has been a disaster on so many fronts but especially when it comes to the open racism, xenophobia, sexism, and all the other hatred he has fostered. The guy put kids in cages, banned Muslims from entering the country, went after the Transgender Community, used tear gas on peaceful protesters, stoked racism against Asian Americans over the Coronavirus, and lent legitimacy to White Supremacy. And on top of all that, more than 238,000 people have died of COVID-19 because of his incompetence and negligence.

It is clear now that but for the pandemic, Trump would have been re-elected, in large part because his message of division and hate resonates with a significant segment of the population.

It’s nice to have the political victory that we are likely to get, but our country needed a moral victory as well. We needed a clear repudiation of the racism, misogyny, xenophobia and hatred. I don’t think this election gave us that clear repudiation, not when it’s this close.

I am still shaking my head, too: Biden and Harris won, but narrowly. How could so many people vote for Donald Trump?

I can think of three reasons, two of which are pretty obvious. And one is the fault of the Democratic Party as much as the GOP.

First, racism. It’s always been there. As Jamelle Bouie notes in the NYT, Trump is not an aberration. Ronald Reagan used not-so-subtle racist language to get elected. So did George W. Bush. So did Bill Clinton. What Trump has done differently is made open, active, racism part of the culture of his base. And sadly, in a lot of places, it worked.

He’s fired — but it was way too close for comfort. Photo by David Schnur

Then: Paranoia and distrust of government. There are always been people succeptible to (or just fascinated by) conspiracy theories and general anti-science quackery; they used to be mostly isolated and limited in their political relevance. Now they have online echo chambers that reinforce and expand their world views.

There have always been Americans who were suspicious of government and government power; some of them helped write the Constitution. But for the first half of the 20th Century, most people saw government as essentially a good thing; government got us out of the Great Depression, won World War II, and created the greatest middle-class prosperity in US history.

Then came Vietnam, the War on Drugs, COINTELPRO, Watergate … and my whole generation grew up seeing government as the enemy. Some still do.

Combine that with the longstanding American distrust of power, and you have a huge number of people who don’t think more government is going to help them.

Rose Aguilar on Facebook:

Trump has received 66,673,111 votes so far. That’s more than he got in 2016. WHY?

Here’s what I’ve heard/read from Trump voters this morning:

Vote for Biden and your freedoms will be taken away.

My family came to this country to be free. We left a socialist country. We don’t want to live in one. (NPR airs this nonsense without challenging the person)

This is pure idiocy. I rarely hear people say: “I support tax cuts for the ultra wealthy, family separation, the closure of clinics that provide abortions, a repeal of the ACA, and the continued exploitation of the planet. I want four more years of that.” That is what they are voting for.

Instead, I hear pure nonsense. We need to have an honest conversation about this.

Trump has weaponized “socialism.” It sounds to his fans like “some bureaucrat telling me what to do” instead of “free education and health care for my kids.”

The good news is that people under 30 don’t buy that. So there is hope for the future.

But there is also the element that the Democratic Party leadership has to accept part of the blame for. Many Trump voters were driven by an intense hatred of the “elites,” which the GOP has now branded the “liberal elites.”

Trump, in his speech Thursday night, claimed that he had “big media, big tech, and big money” against him and “farmers and police officers” on his side.

Of course, the real “elites” in our society are not, for the most part, “liberal:” They’re the likes of the Koch Brothers, billionaire right-wingers who have financed the modern Republican Party (oh, and Trump himself.) But what the Trump voters see are the tech and finance billionaires who get richer while the rest of us suffer.

I still think one of the biggest problems of the Hillary Clinton campaign was her connection with Goldman Sachs and Big Finance. To Trumpers (and potential Trumpers) the folks who work at Goldman Sachs do very little of any substance except move money around – but they make great salaries, they send their kids to private schools and the Ivy League, and when their business fails, the government bails them out.

The corner barber shop or small contractor who runs out of money is broke and unemployed. The big bankers get billions in taxpayer money to save their elite salaries; they never miss a meal or have to worry about making the rent or mortgage.

As the Democratic Party has befriended Big Tech (talk about elites!), Big Real Estate, and Wall Street, its old working-class base has crumbled.

In 1960, 20 percent of the members of Congress, many of them Democrats, had no four-year college degree. Today, that number is zero. Prior to Biden, you had to go back quite a while to find a Democratic candidate for president who didn’t have a degree from Yale or Harvard. (The last one was Walter Mondale in 1984; he went to the University of Minnesota. Jimmy Carter was educated at the Naval Academy.)

Trump, of course, has always been part of the elite – and he, of course, has been giving tax breaks to all of them. But he’s made a political career of attacking the “liberals” who come from the East and West Coast (as he does). See, the word “liberal” doesn’t refer to a political philosophy in Trumpism; it refers to someone who has never picked up a hammer or shovel or mop on the job, who is condescending to the hired help, and who doesn’t get the economic pain so many people are feeling.

And that pain is as much the fault of Democrats as Republicans.

Since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, no Democratic president has done anything to significantly raise taxes on corporations or the very rich. I remember interviewing Al Gore during his presidential campaign, and asking him about economic inequality and taxation of the one percent; he told me he thought “taxes are high enough already.” I never got either Clinton to address the issue, although I tried.

When I asked Kamala Harris, back in the spring when she was a candidate for president, what she thought about Elizabeth Warren’s idea of a wealth tax, she said “I think Elizabeth is onto something” – but it never became part of her platform, and it’s not a part of the Biden-Harris platform today.

High taxes on income and wealth are not just a way to raise money (although a very modest wealth tax on the 1 percent in the US would pay for free health care and college education for everyone in the nation). It’s about reducing economic inequality. If 80 percent of marginal income over $1 million a year goes to the government, there aren’t as many rich elites; the bankers don’t have all that much more money than the carpenters and janitors and service workers. The resentment of the elites is entirely legitimate (if grossly misplaced) and a function of our failure to take economic inequality seriously.

Thomas Picketty, who is the most important economist of our time, warned us about this in his groundbreaking book. Without serious, progressive taxes on wealth and income, he says, economic inequality will grow to the point where society will start to break down. Capitalism in the 21st Century is a recipe for exactly what we are seeing in the United States this week: The rise of right-wing populist demagoguery.

It’s happened before in the world, and it will happen again.

And that discussion hasn’t even started in the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

11 COMMENTS

  1. A few things:

    The election was a referendum on Trump and he lost-badly. Not 1980-sized badly but badly given that he was more popular than either Jimmy Carter or George HW Bush when they lost. Biden was and is a placeholder candidate. After NY and CA votes are tallied, the margin will be about the same as Clinton’s in 92–5 pts. And…

    The Trump voters who saw “socialism” everywhere they looked were a major problem in all of one county (Dade). They’re spoonfed bullshit in a hermetically-sealed cocoon. But there were lots of Trump voters who’re simply wary of change during scary times. Voting is generally instinctual, policy freaks like myself and Tim are the minority.

    Meaning that if the pandemic ends and rage-Tweeting ends and the seeds are sown for Universal Health beginning with a genuine public option and Biden makes good on his best issue (ending fossil fuel subsidies)?

    Let Trump have a rematch with Biden or Harris or (dare I say it), AOC?

    Three time loser.

  2. Political opponents always try to demonize each other. 48 Hills would demonize Marjan Philour by incorporating photos of Mitch McConnell in negative articles about her.
    Nationally, Republicans were painting Democrats as if they were Josef Stalin.
    Democrats were painting Republicans as Adolf Hitler.

    Many people rejected the messages of Trump’s hate, but also rejected progressives on issues.

  3. Closeted whites.
    Trump’s votes remind us that whites still in command in this country. They have the power and control of most of the country’s power elites. Also a great number of honest and decent white republicans voted for Trump, because his xenophobic message, message of fear and terror, got through, assimilated by many decent yet fearful whites. These whites voted from Trump from inside their closet, ashamed of the action and very afraid of losing their privileges. The good thing is that Trump was able to push white supremacists out of their caves and in the process gave us a good picture of who they are. Now we know who they are, their size, their commitment and they preferred actions. It is now up to the Democratic Party to stop them dead in their tracks.

  4. If you want this country to move and stay in the right direction then Democratic politicians have to enact policies which most people agree to, invest in infrastructure and stimulate long and short term economic growth. Very few politicians have enacted true change in the last 100 years since FDR. Clinton actually moved the party slightly to the right, and made some serious mistakes that the voters punished him for by electing Bush. Obama rebuilt the collapsed economy after the great recession of 2008, but couldn’t maintain majority in Congress so much of his agenda was blocked and stymied. I hope Biden and Harris are up to the task because the Trump voters are not going away.

  5. Don Grant,

    Keep in mind that the mean IQ number is 100.

    Tack on the fact that millions of people will vote against their own best interests in order to feed their demons of hate and prejudice.

    Why?

    I can speculate on and on but the ultimate answer is above my pay grade.

    I did get my vac unplugged tho.

    Took ten hours.

    Another skill to add to my resume.

    Ahhh, variety.

    That’s what makes this million year old game so much fun to play.

    My second most favorite college all time game was Nebraska/Oklahoma back when Johnny Rodgers and Billy Simms were battling it out for the Heisman.

    Go Giants!

    h.

  6. more-fiend: We had steel, auto, and rubber plants and tons of manufacturing.

    Yes, the cognitive elite have replaced the working-class in California.

  7. It is interesting that Trump got more votes than Obama and Hillary. Not sure what that means.

    The Republican party is becoming the party of the working-class, the Democrats the party of the (cognitive) elite. There was also a significant increase in Black and Hispanic votes for Trump.

    h brown: California is dumber and more violent. And stupid people vote dumber? Biden and the Democrats won California overwhelmingly. Dumb people vote Democratic?

  8. some people just vote Republican no matter who is running. Others have been brainwashed by the likes of fox news and other media organizations to believe that the Democrats represent creeping socialism. They think people will come take away everything they have and give it to someone else.
    Trump voters, for the most part, just want to insult someone. They don’t even know who they want to insult.
    The good news is that states are turning blue like Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico and we’re almost there with Texas. Once the go blue they don’t go back. Look at California . Twenty years ago the idea that Colorado would be a blue state was almost unbelievable.

  9. More-Fiend,

    Yeah, my numbers do not to match up to the California reality.

    Alas, my logic has never been flawless but my sincerity remains spotless.

    My alma mater, Clemson knocked outta 1st place in a double OT loss to Notre Dame.

    On the other hand …

    Gascon is new LA DA.

    That’s great news for American justice system.

    Go Giants!

    h.

  10. What you say may be true. But CA being somewhere close to last in ed spending would – according to your analysis – would make us a Red state, not the deeply Blue state we have become. When spending was high, we had republican governors and a Republican Party. (But we also had steel, auto, and rubber plants, and tons of manufacturing).

    I do agree that aim has been taken on ed – specially higher ed. Inn the 50s and 60s, one could get a National Defense Scholarship Loan with minimal interest and generous terms. Then in the 70s and 80s they decided too many ppl were using those loans to study things like Marxism and getting jobs working for the Legal Defense Fund. So they shifted away from scholarships to loans, with harsher and harsher terms. This has lead several generations of young ppl to drown in debt. The good part is, they can’t focus on social justice; but instead must focus on survival.

    The Super Rich have sucked all they can out of the poor and working class. The focus now is on the middle class (to paraphrase John Dillinger: “its where the money – what’s left of it – is”).

  11. Campers,’

    One more time to try and get you to pay attention.

    We are where we are because the wealthy through their Carlyle Group based in SF paid for a study a couple of decades back.

    How do we get richer they asked?

    How do we get rid of ;the middle class?

    How do we get rid of unions?

    The study said that they should dumb down the population by spending less on education.

    California, which was first in the nation at the time started dialing it down.

    Today we spend less per student than almost any other state.

    And, our population is dumber and more violent and works on the cheap.

    Mission accomplished for the rich.

    Stupid people don’t just work cheaper.

    They vote dumber.

    Go Giants!

    h.

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