Credit: Chicago Tribune
I consider myself progressive politically, but I have a bone to pick with some people on the left. Unlike the modern GOP and their wealthy backers, we’re supposed to care about the “little people” — the poor, disenfranchised and otherwise vulnerable. Understandably, we are angered by the millions of working class red state voters who will be hurt by Trump’s draconian policies and cruel budget but voted for him anyway, because we will all suffer as a result of their ignorance too. Those of us who aren’t swayed by Fox News and right-wing radio and are able to think critically have a hard time understanding why so many poor and working class whites would vote against their own interests and doggedly continue to support a man who is dead set on taking away the little they have.
I understand the anger. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around their ignorance — maybe even their willful ignorance. But I’m seeing so many comments lately from people who consider themselves progressive, yet who not only blame working class Trump voters for the mess we’re in, but who seem to take pleasure in the prospect of seeing them suffer as a result of their folly. They say things like, “They deserve to lose their healthcare for voting for a monster,” or “let them taste their own medicine,” or “I’ll laugh in their faces when they lose their healthcare and food stamps.”
It’s natural to be angry and even feel a bit of schadenfreude (even though we’re being hit too), but this attitude seems as heartless as the cruel budget and healthcare bill the GOP has unleashed. How far a leap is it from “she made her bed, now she should lie in it” to the far-right refrain “if she had made better life choices, she wouldn’t be poor, sick, etc.” Not much, if you ask me.
The country is deeply divided. Things that were unthinkable in the past have become our new normal. Mudslinging, namecalling, and even violence abounds on all sides. This isn’t a left vs. right, GOP vs. Democrat issue. It’s an all out war and it’s not normal. Trump supporters hate “libruls” as much as they hate Muslim immigrants and Black Lives Matter — maybe more so. They are encouraged at Trump rallies to physically attack and intimidate those who oppose them. Reporters, in particular, are fair game. But it’s not just on the Republican side we are seeing aggression and hatred. Democrats who voted for Hillary hate hardcore Bernie supporters (“Berniebots”) who they blame for helping Trump win by refusing to vote for Hillary. In turn, Hillary-hating Bernie supporters (in some cases they hate her even more than they hate Trump) blame the neoliberal “corporate shills” of the DNC who foisted such a terrible candidate on the nation. Some even voted for Trump as a vote against Hillary. I have seen them talk about violent revolution, even homegrown militias to overthrow the government. Both the far left and traditional liberal Democrats blame working class Trump voters for what’s coming to them, even reveling in the prospect of seeing them suffer or even die when it happens.
This isn’t an uncommon sentiment on the left.
Like the far right who blame the poor and immigrants for all the nation’s ills, when it’s really social Darwinist policies that target the vulnerable and reward the super-wealthy that are to blame (and create even more poverty in doing so), some people on the left are just as guilty of blaming the victim. I’m annoyed and tired of far left ideologues who say, “they made their bed, let them lie in it.” No one deserves to suffer because they made a mistake — even if they still stick by their mistake.
Granted, some Trump supporters are racist, homophobic, intolerant, full of hate, and admire authoritarian leaders and a “strongman” approach to governing. Some of them really are terrible people. But not all of them are. Most are just ignorant. They’re not bad people and might even be kind and caring toward others in their daily lives, but they know no better. Their minds can’t be changed because they have been lied to all their lives and their only point of reference is Fox News and whatever their churches and equally uninformed neighbors and families tell them. Many lack the education and critical thinking skills to realize they have been misled and lied to.
In Trump, working class red state voters saw an anti-establishment, colorful character who refused to be politically correct and who shared their their anger at the “liberal corporate elite” — well heeled granola crunching opera-attending types who drive foreign SUVs and seem to care more about Mexicans, Muslims, and blacks more than they care about them, and who look down their noses at their way of life and lack of education. They heard Trump’s promises of “healthcare for everybody” and “the Mexicans will pay for the wall” and “we are going to eradicate terror once and for all” and saw someone who would make their lives safer and more prosperous. Finally, someone who seemed to care more about the white working class (and appealed to their religiosity even though Trump himself doesn’t seem to care much about God) than about immigrants, abortion rights, and urban gays.
Trump is a swindler and a conman who promised them an easier life and assured them they would not be forgotten. He played right into their fear and paranoia, and their anger at the corporate elite, who they understandably saw as the enemy. Without the critical thinking skills or education to know better, how were they supposed to know they were being lied to? It’s human nature to resolve cognitive dissonance by making excuses for an abuser who blatantly lies to you and is now targeting you. It’s easier to say, “he doesn’t really mean it” or blame the “fake news” than to say “I was wrong,” especially when you were never trained to think critically about anything or were raised in a subculture that encourages or even celebrates authoritarianism. Call it willful ignorance if you want, but it’s still ignorance. As Jesus said in Luke 23: 34, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
It’s not fair to place all the blame on the shoulders of ignorant Trump supporters because there were other factors at play in his winning the election. These voters are a minority of Americans. Trump did not win the popular vote, just the electoral college vote, but that’s the one that determines the outcome of our national elections. We had the same problem in the 2000 election of George W. Bush, who also did not win the popular vote. The electoral college is obsolete, even destructive, and needs to go. Are Trump supporters to blame for an outdated and unfair system of counting votes? No, they are not.
Another factor — and it’s the one most in the news right now — is Russia’s infiltration into the election. The far right media loves to target all the stories about Russian interference as fake news, but there’s just too much evidence for anyone with a working brain to not see that Russia had a lot to do with why Trump won. Are Trump supporters to blame for Russian interference? No, of course they aren’t.
There’s also the propaganda pushed by right wing media outlets like Fox News. People who don’t have much money who pay for cable usually will pick the most basic cable package. Unfortunately, these bare bones packages often don’t include progressive or even centrist news channels. So the only news they have access to, besides the local news (which is often conservative) is Fox News, which is included in every basic cable package. Fox’s selling point is “fair and balanced” and Fox News watchers see (now fallen) pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as one of them. Both O’Reilly and Hannity (as well as Rush Limbaugh from right wing radio) have a blue collar image and seem able to relate to their concerns and lifestyles better than a Rhodes scholar like Rachel Maddow ever could. Is it working class Trump supporters’ fault that they are never exposed to the facts or more progressive viewpoints? Is it their fault the left makes no effort to relate to their concerns, and seems to care more about immigrants and people of color (who they see as the enemy) more than them? Is it their fault that well to do liberals very often blame them for their lot and look down on them as much or even more than Republicans do? No, it isn’t.
Finally, there are the churches, especially the evangelical or fundamentalist variety so common in red states, especially the South. Organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention, which is notorious for mixing far right politics into religion, goes as far as warning their parishioners they will displease God if they do not support Trump. These churches use talking points such as abortion or homosexuality, knowing their followers will vote based on these issues, regardless of where the candidate stands on other issues. Because they cannot think critically or see the bigger picture, they can’t see that the “pro-life” candidate may actually not be pro-life at all, just pro-birth. People who can think critically can see how out of touch and easily swayed they are, but to a less-educated person who has been programmed all their lives to believe whatever their pastor tells them and is accustomed to appeals to their primitive emotions rather than their intellect, can we really blame them for supporting he candidate their pastor tells them is “opening the door to Christ’s kingdom?” Is it their fault they have been brainwashed into believing if they vote for anyone other than Donald Trump, they will make God mad and go to hell? Again, no, it really isn’t.
It’s time to stop blaming poor and working class Trump supporters and start placing the blame on the real problem: our broken political system where neither of the major parties addresses the needs and concerns of the average American and thus led to the rise of someone like Trump.
Very well said.
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I don’t “hate” Trump supporters, I pity them, I consider them uneducated, racist, homophobic. I hate what has happened and what may happen in the future to this great country of ours. Trump was elected, as you say, based on fake news…the mistakes of Hillary…especially Russian interference and finally the nail in the coffin…Comey. Blame will not help any of us…he is unfit for office.
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I pity them too. I only blame the rich ones who stand to benefit from his policies, but at least with them, their support is based on logic, even if it’s selfish logic.
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Damn WordPress. I wrote a long, impassioned comment on my smart phone which wasn’t logged in. I decided I might as well bite the bullet and go through the shit of creating a new password. It wouldn’t except a password I had used before. I finally did it and WordPress didn’t save my comment. So here’s a new one. Instead of re-writing what I had said, here’s something by Bill Ayers:
Identity Politics – What Is To Be Done?
05/09/2017 06:08 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2017
As the Democratic Party licks its wounds and lurches toward some kind of direction after the disaster of the Trump seizure of power, the term “identity politics” has come up. Representatives such as Tim Ryan from Ohio and Kurt Schrader of Oregon have taken aim at the “coastal elites” who champion issues related to white supremacy, patriarchy, and homophobia. Their concern is that progressives must do a better job of appealing to the “white workers” who have suffered economic hardship and have felt disenfranchised over the past decades. Even Bernie Sanders is part of this narrative, declaring that “[Clinton] should have won this election by 10 percentage points. The question is: Why is it that millions of white working-class people who voted for Obama turned their backs on the Democratic Party?”
The charge is ridiculous and, indeed, deeply racist. The suggestion is that white people who joined the Trump crusade (some low income whites can be found for sound bites but the majority of Trump supporters were solidly middle class) had grievances that were ignored. And even if they did join a lynch mob campaign, can’t we really feel sorry for them? It’s a particular quality of American politics that the most privileged population in the world manages to cast itself as victim over and over.
If we are looking at the fundamental problems of US and western societies, if we are trying to understand the engine of challenge and change, of course there is no question that colonial oppression, the conquest, killing, relocating, imprisoning, scorning, and starving of whole peoples is the primary contradiction. From the earthshaking Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movement to the Chicano Power, American Indian Movement, Puerto Rican Independence movement and others have come the critique and action for social justice; and internationally, the Third World struggles for national liberation – from Asia to Africa to Latin America – defined the fight for democracy and challenged white elite power at its foundation. Within these struggles, moreover, the leadership and special demands of women and LGBTQ people have deepened the fight.
These struggles take center stage in every institution of our society, from schools to housing, from health care to the environment and yes to the workplace. It is seen in Black Lives Matter, in the women’s march against Trump, in the May first immigrant walkouts. This is not coastal elitism; anyone who looks at the issues honestly knows where the movement gets its motion.
White workers, like all white people, have some challenging rethinking to do. Instead of demanding more for ourselves, we need to look at privilege – especially white, male, straight privilege. Economic hardships? Black people have been forced into poverty for centuries – denied housing, blocked from unions, locked out of the job market, and imprisoned; Chican@/Latin@ communities have been forced to do the worst, back-breaking work; the list could go on. Disenfranchised? Yes, that’s tough. Try being saddled with poll taxes, voting tests, gerrymandered districts, challenged registrations, and the denial of voting rights for ex-prisoners. The “appeal” to white workers, based on bread and butter self-interest ideas, is simply white nationalism dressed up in liberal rhetoric.
There is really no need to make this argument over and over. The Democrats are ridiculous and they may actually manage to cede more ground, including interim elections and the next presidential election, to the fascistic wing of the Republican Party.
My bigger complaint is with the Marxists – those who occupy the apparent critical left in US politics. For they have jumped on the “attack identity politics” bandwagon – uniting with the Democratic Party and saving their attacks for the liberation struggles. I shouldn’t concede the title Marxist, however, because anyone familiar with Marx and Lenin knows well their critique of imperialist conquest, their understanding of how colonial conquest creates a privileged working class in the imperial countries, their endorsement of the primary position of the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist struggles in confronting capitalism.
It was Lenin who raised the sharpest polemics against the mechanistic, class-only line of the Marxist movement. He argued that capitalism in the age of imperialism was characterized by imperialist conquest. That conquest was where super-profits came from – super-profits, which even allowed the capitalists to buy off the elite of the (white) working class, creating an “aristocracy of labor.” Moreover, in places like England and the US, this aristocracy label fit a very broad group of workers indeed. The crucial way to attack capitalism was then to support the dismantling of empire, the national liberation of the oppressed nations. Activists who focused only on “bread and butter” economic demands were only feeding national chauvinism in the imperialist centers.
This same polemic and position was taken up and elaborated by all the Third World revolutionary leaders of the 20th Century, from Fidel Castro to Frantz Fanon to Ho Chi Minh to Mao Tse Tung to Amilcar Cabral to Marta Harnecker, and on and on.
But you see the attack on so-called identity politics, the “class line,” the opposition to national struggles, all the time coming from the “Marxist” left, from publications such as Jacobin which features articles attacking postcolonial theory, reparations, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. They would of course attack James Baldwin too except he is too well respected, almost untouchable. You see it in Monthly Review, which subsumes struggles under the “multicultural working class.” You see it in the economist analysis of Richard Wolff who is regularly featured on Pacifica airwaves.
Most recently social media has been abuzz with the interview with Asad Haider in Seattle Weekly. Titled, “A Marxist Critiques Identity Politics,” it is a perfect example of how the “Marxists” have embraced the most right wing politics of the Democratic Party and catered to the punch line of the Trumpistas. Guys like this generally keep their heads down when powerful movements like Black Lives Matter blow up – then come back later to explain how they are all wrong. And in fact they argue that capitalism has managed to “resolve” the problem of racism so we should really move on to class. He states: “a governmental system which was once defined by the exclusion of people of color on the basis of legal forms of white supremacy, now suddenly was altered by the successes of the Civil Rights movement.” Oh joy. The Civil Rights Movement was a success. Race is so passé. Look through it for more zingers. The Black Panther Party is here recast as a group multinational-working-class Marxists – because they had differences with cultural nationalists like the US Organization. Note to Marxoids: they were called the BLACK Panther Party for a reason. And there are plenty of anti-imperialist Marxists, real Marxists, to be found not only in the BPP but also in Vietnam, Cuba, and elsewhere.
For the most part, the leftists who attack what they call identity politics are taking a cue from Todd Gitlin, former SDS president and long time scold against the radical uprisings of the 60’s. He coined the term identity politics in the 1990’s to demean and attack the struggles of various communities targeted by modern imperialism. Of course, these polemics, from Gitlin on until today, set up a straw dog argument, focusing on a caricature of activism that is sometimes seen on college campuses, something I would describe as “personal identity politics.” This phenomenon is a form of petty bourgeois, subjective politics. So personal identity politics is basically about how I’m feeling, what I’m complaining about, without reference to the broader struggle of targeted populations. I could go on about that phenomenon at length but that is not the point here. The opportunists of the left have used this straw dog to attack all national liberation, all anti-patriarchal struggles as “dividing the working class.”
But the truth is, imperialism has already divided the working class. The challenge is to understand the forms that oppression takes and to mount real struggles, popular movements, to defeat that oppression and win real participatory democracy.
END OF BILL AYERS’ COMMENTS
I notice among some leftists there is a big trend to say all candidates that aren’t anti-capitalist (and Bernie Sanders doesn’t qualify with these people) are the same. Some have even said Trump was “the lesser of the evils” because he’s an “outsider.” These people tend to talk a lot like Republicans attacking Hillary with the same stupidity and even poo-pooing the evidence of collusion with Russia on the part of the Trump administration. I say, “whose side are you on?” Some of these Marxists seem comfortable being an ineffectual and aloof faction of observers and snide commentators.
As for the people who supported Trump himself and voted for him and who drink all the cool-aide about “false news,” I am heartily sick of people telling me to “understand” them. So they have problems. Don’t we all? They feel “ignored?” Their problem is that they are losing their privileged place in a white supremacist system. I am no more inclined to sympathize with them than I am with cops. We’re in a war and we have to choose our sides.
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With some of these anti-capitalist far left Marxists, they have gone so far left they’re far right. They really do have more in common with the anti-establishment radical far right, to the point where an “outsider” (really?) rebel like Trump is seen as preferable to any mainstream liberal candidate. Yes, even Sanders is too “establishment” for the most extreme of these types.
I’ve also seen a few of the extreme far left dismiss the Russia story, just like the far right does. It’s really incredible. They are also responsible for a lot of the fake news stories about Hillary during the campaign. I bet some of them even read (and agree with) stories in Breitbart News, with the racism there being seen as an inconvenient wart.
Remember this too —
Steve Bannon is a HUGE fan of Marx. What both the far left and far right want isn’t reconciliation, compromise, or working for the common good. What they want is revolution, they want to tear everything down. I’m not sure what either side wants to fill the void with after the dust settles. What fuels both is rage.
Extremes of any ideology aren’t good; dictatorships arise from extremists, whether they’re on the left (Communism and left wing militias like Antifa or the Weathermen) or the right (fascism and Nazi-ism and in the Middle East, ISIS and al-Queda).
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Interesting read, you two, thank you.
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