Trump, Racism, and the Future of the Left

By Paddy Quick

Trump’s success in becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for president is indeed a shocking indication of the power of racism and xenophobia in the US, and it is worrying to see so many people coalescing around Trump, BUT it is not, I think, a reason to be very pessimistic about the future here in the US:

• Trump has no ground-level organization, so the ability of his supporters to continue to exert a major influence on policy is limited.
• His appeal is indeed a reactionary one, but he has NO serious program to put in place – it is just plain silly to say “build a wall, have Mexico pay for it, and deport 11 million immigrants.” The anti-immigrant pressure will indeed continue, but Obama has not been good on this anyway (record number of deportations), and so that very important struggle will have to continue.
• On the other hand, Sanders has a very strong ground-level support. His campaign has been funded by an unprecedented number of small contributors (averaging $27) and he has 80-85% support (among Democrats) from those under the age of 30.
• Sanders has already had an influence with his support, for example, for the $15 an hour movement (Clinton had to move from advocating $12.50 to supporting the $15 move – quite a big (20%) leap), taxing the billionaires, opposing tracking (again Clinton had to change her positions on this), reducing cost of college, etc.

Thus, overall, there are good reasons for thinking that things are actually moving forwards here, and by quite a significant amount. The major remaining weakness in the “socialist” movement is the failure to put the struggle against racism in a central place. Sanders is clearly in favor of dealing with this, but it is just not part of his day-to-day thinking. One reason is that Vermont is 99% white, so that he has not had to integrate an understanding of race into his world view. A further indication of this is his (apparent) belief that it is sufficient to advocate increased income (etc.) for the working class in order to address the concerns of minorities (since they are disproportionately represented among low-income workers). But that would still leave them at the bottom of the income ladder, even if the entire ladder is higher than before. So Clinton has been able to build on the Obama legacy – it would be impossible to underestimate how significant the election of Obama has been to the African American community, even though he has done little as President to combat racism. Sanders just did not seem to recognize this. So a large proportion of those in the white left here is drawing the wrong conclusion by saying that African Americans are “conservative.” A real progressive movement here can never succeed without the full participation of active African Americans.

Paddy Quick

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