What some saw as an electoral stunt concocted by a reality-TV star and four-times-bankrupt businessman to garner publicity has now developed into a campaign that may well land Donald Trump in the White House. If people didn’t first take seriously the man who claimed that upon becoming president he would suspend Muslim entry to the United States, deport 11 million immigrants, and build an $8 billion wall (for which Mexico would supposedly foot the bill),they are being forced to now. He has gone from being the leading Republican presidential candidate in a very crowded field to the last man standing for the GOP nomination.
Not only has he vanquished all his Republican competitors, but a report by Working America months ago found that Trump held an 18 percent lead over Democratic Party candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton among working class voters who had made up their minds regarding the presidential election. Those surveyed were from families that made $75,000 or less a year. The report warned that Trump’s bid for the presidency had “opened up a vein of right-wing rhetoric that has appealed to many Republicans and to middle-of-the-road white working-class Democrats as well.” It went on to note that Trump’s candidacy is “legitimizing a hard-right agenda among working-class voters, similar to the re-emergence of right-wing political parties throughout Europe.” Couple this with more recent polls showing Trump’s continued popularity, and you’ve got a situation that should give every activist cause for concern.
What’s at stake
How likely is a Trump win? What would a Trump presidency look like? What’s at stake for working people across America if an extreme right-winger like him is allowed to take the highest office in the land? These questions and more were discussed in a meeting of Florida activists at a retreat hosted by the Communist Party USA from May 13 through May 15.
A wide range of people participated in the meeting. They work in a variety of jobs and are active on various issues ranging from mental health advocacy to women’s reproductive rights. The retreat was led by Communist Party national chair John Bachtell, who opened the discussion with a survey of the group. He asked for people to answer, by show of hands, what they would do if Clinton was to become the Democratic presidential nominee. Bachtell gave the following options:
1. Vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party or another third party candidate;
2. Sit out the elections because they can’t stand either Clinton or Trump; or
3. Join with labor and allies to defeat Trump and elect Clinton and a Democratic majority in Congress and statehouses.
A few hands in the crowd went up for option one. Many more were raised for options two and three respectively, but they looked pretty evenly matched. It was clear that there wasn’t a unanimous consensus among participants on the strategy going forward if Clinton is the Democratic nominee against Trump. But instead of going down the rabbit hole on the shortcomings of Clinton’s political past, the focus of the meeting shifted to what a Trump presidency could mean.
Bachtell stated that allowing Trump to take the White House would “elevate voices of racism, misogyny, and hate to the highest levels of government, with all the power to set the national discourse, executive power, and legislative and judicial power.” Bachtell asserted that issues such as “a national right-to-work law, Supreme Court appointments, and ‘renegotiation’ of the UN Climate Agreement,” all mean that time is not on the side of working people. He noted that it wasn’t just a matter of a single person becoming president, but of “an administration coming into power.” “Can you imagine,” Bachtell asked, “if Chris Christie is appointed as Attorney General?”
A dehumanizing political debate
Retired school teacher and Tampa resident John Streater pointed out the issue of racism when it comes to Donald Trump. Streater noted that Trump “helped to make it so people can say and do openly racist things.” He believes that for the first time in a long time, people feel it is acceptable to openly express racist views. Trump has given their views a new sense of legitimacy. Participant Jesse Napier, a mental health advocate and member of the band Whiskey Faithful (which describes its music as “proletarian punk rock“), labeled Trump a “fascist.” When asked to expound on what he meant by fascist, Napier explained that Trump was an “authoritarian nationalist” whose presidency would be bad for most Americans. Napier also commented, though, that Clinton’s political past was also “not the best.”
A retired public school teacher and union worker asked, “What happened to being politically correct,” when remarking on the tone of the Republican debates. “Humanity is being taken away,” she noted. “I don’t even want my children to watch the debates or the election coverage.”
Participant Yennifer Mateo spoke about Trump’s deportation threats aimed at undocumented people. “As an immigrant woman, I fear for the safety of myself, my family, and other immigrants,” Mateo said. “Trump has created an atmosphere of violence and hate toward immigrants. People have gotten beat up in and outside of Trump rallies. A Mexican man was urinated on and beaten with a metal pipe after a Trump rally in Massachusetts.” “If that’s happening now,” she said, “imagine how poisonous things will be if Trump wins in November.”
Labor organizer Josh LeClair blamed the Republican Party for the emergence of Trump. “[Republicans] have created this of sort of mentality. It’s important to defeat it culturally. The atmosphere is scary right now. A minimum wage increase is not something we can win under any Republican president or Congress. We might be seeing right-to-work across the country.” He went on, saying, “This is an important battle for us to win. We have to continue to fight for the Sanders platform after the elections.” (story continues after video)
People need something to stand for
Despite the initial lack of consensus on what road to take in the event of a Clinton nomination, it was clear that all the attendees were in agreement that a Trump victory would be a huge setback. A few participants noted, however, that it is not always easy to just organize voters around what (or whom) they are against. Sometimes, people need something to be for.
One person argued that, given her political past, it would be hard to trust Clinton, let alone convince others to believe she would be any better than a Republican president. Participant Jessi Dover’s response to this sentiment was that, “She [Hillary] is a Democrat and she’s not Trump. If you don’t vote for Clinton, you’re voting for Trump.”
Bachtell explained the need to see Clinton as part of the larger political context. “Yes, she has connections with the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, but she is subject to influence by the wider social context, what is happening in society at large.” “She is influenced,” he noted, “by what is happening in the Democratic Party, the primaries, and by the movements.” Bachtell suggested that everyone should keep in mind that, as he put it, “2016 is not 1992.” He made the case that, “The country has changed. New issues have emerged. [The] Democratic Party is not the same. Yes, it is still dominated by corporate forces, but the DLC [Democratic Leadership Council] and “third way” politics have collapsed while left/progressive forces have grown.”
Focusing on the positive, Bachtell asserted that Clinton’s election “would be a powerful blow to sexism and misogyny, just as Obama’s election was a powerful blow to racism.” He also stated that what approach progressives take post-election will depend on whether we achieve a victory or suffer a defeat. This would entail “two entirely different tactics,” he said. “Victory would create conditions for a political advancement around issues of the election, a new more favorable political terrain for the working class. A defeat would mean fighting from a defensive position and a period of demoralization.”
Toward the end of the meeting, it became clear that, despite some disagreement on tactics, participants were in agreement that much was at stake if a Trump presidency comes to fruition. The prevailing sentiment was that the worsened conditions working class Americans would probably see under a President Trump would not lead them to seek out some sort of revolutionary upheaval. Few really embraced the old notion that the worse things get, the better they get. Instead, it was understood that it is important to fight for an improvement in conditions if you want to build up people’s confidence and their willingness to join in struggle. Further, it was agreed that the momentum around the Sanders platform needs to be built upon even after the election.
The session came to a close with Bachtell concluding, “The defeat of the extreme right is one stage in the long-term struggle for socialism; one of many stages.” He asked participants to see the struggle against the extreme right as a necessary stage toward transforming American society. “It is part of moving the broad democratic movement toward higher stages of development, stages that will draw millions into struggle to defend and expand economic and political democracy and address the dangers of climate crisis and nuclear war.”
“Politics will never be the same again,” he said. “What we’re doing today is part of the revolutionary process.”
Photo: Chauncey K. Robinson/PW