Why the Left Should Support Donald Trump
By Reese Erlich
East Bay Monthly, May 2016
I know, I know, you’re thinking Erlich has gone crazy. But just hear me out. The U.S. political party system is in crisis. The Republican Party is fracturing into several parts. The Democratic primary has finally produced a real choice, but the establishment candidate will win.
So consider Donald Trump. He’s a disruptor. He’s unpredictable. He says things and takes positions hated by the establishment in both parties. Trump has called for reducing the budgets of NATO and United States bases in Japan and South Korea, an issue long promoted by the left and popular with ordinary people. Trump denounces trade agreements such as NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership, which have helped eliminate decent paying blue-collar jobs in the United States.
Trump is the first major Republican to admit that George W. Bush intentionally misled the United States into the 2003 Iraq invasion. Trump draws support from white workers otherwise alienated from the system. Isn’t the left supposed to represent the working class?
Convinced yet? I hope not. While all the above is true, Trump cynically raises such issues only to claim African Americans, immigrants, and Muslims are the source of the problem. He is a racist, misogynist, and xenophobe. So, no, I don’t really want the left or anyone else to support him.
But I do want you to think about the culture of politics in the United States in which millions of people, including a segment of older white workers, do support him. What has become of the political culture in America?
A whole sector of working-class people has been left out of the economic recovery since 2008 and has suffered from the de-industrialization of the country. They remain unemployed or are working for far lower wages. A worker who used to earn good union pay at General Motors in Fremont today may work two minimum wage jobs part time.
Trump promises jobs but his main appeal remains cultural. “Make America Great Again,” is a great slogan because it can mean anything from restore good paying manufacturing jobs to invade more countries. His brilliance is in his vagueness.
I spent some time browsing the Facebook pages of Trump supporters. I read one rant in something called Teamsters United for Trump, which doesn’t have many identified Teamster members but does reflect Trump supporters’ right-wing populism.
“All illegal aliens that come here without proper process are terrorizing are [sic] country,” read one post. “They terrorize our job market, our financial ability to provide proper education, health care, and social services.”
For these folks, America needs a strongman not beholden to the establishment. The Facebook page features an old movie still that says it all. Clint Eastwood, during his spaghetti western days, says, “You gonna vote for Trump or whistle ‘Dixie’?”
For about 10 years I lived in East Oakland and East Los Angeles, working blue-collar factory jobs and organizing workers. I came to understand populism that appeals to poor white people. They have a gut-level resentment of the rich and those in authority, whether factory management or politicians. But some see women, gays, and minorities as the cause of their problems.
Various demagogues have tried to channel that anger: George Wallace in 1968 and Pat Buchannan in 1992 and 1996. But there’s a flip side to right-wing populism. I worked with older white workers who made all kinds of racist comments but who joined together with black and Chicano workers during strikes. Jesse Jackson in his 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns attracted some of those folks by directing that anger in a progressive direction.
Today Bernie Sanders is doing the same. Sanders understands the political culture of populism. His strong attacks on Wall Street and income inequality have resonated with working people, as have his calls for free college education and single-payer health care. Sanders was slow to take up issues of concern to African Americans and Latinos but has made some progress in recent months.
Trump has emerged from the same slime as previous demagogues, but he can and will be beaten. His current base of support is actually quite narrow. According to the Wall Street Journal, he draws strongest support from white males who earn less than $50,000, have a high school education or less, and consider themselves somewhat conservative. Trump loses decisively among independents, minorities, women, voters under 45, and people with incomes more than $50,000 per year.
Trump has alienated a lot of Republicans, and Republicans are a minority of registered voters nationwide. So he appeals to a relatively small percentage of the voting population. According to the latest polls I could find,Trump loses to both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a national match up.. Clinton beats him 50 percent to 40 percent, while Sanders whomps him 53 percent to 40 percent.
Clinton is distrusted by many for her close ties to the wealthy 1 percent, most recently her acceptance of $675,000 for three speeches to Goldman Sachs. She and Bill Clinton have a long history leading the business wing of the Democratic Party under the guise of being moderate and electable. What’s the argument now that Sanders is more electable than her?
While the current numbers show both Trump and Ted Cruz losing badly in national elections, they may mobilize previously inactive voters and put up a real fight. This is an unpredictable election year.
I plan to vote for Sanders in California’s June primary. If Clinton becomes the nominee, then I’ll vote for her against Trump or Ted Cruz. 2016 will be a pitched battle between the forces of progress and reaction. Which side will you be on?
Oakland-based freelance journalist Reese Erlich writes this arts and culture column every month. Follow him on Twitter @ReeseErlich, on Facebook (Reese Erlich Foreign Correspondent) or contact him by email ReeseErlich2@hotmail.com.