The right is to blame for Trump’s victory

Michael Harris /   November 9, 2016 at 9:31 PM 2,484 views


A few hours later, President-Elect Donald Trump seems both shocking and inevitable.

A good number of the hot takes I’ve read today put the blame on ‘liberalism’, meaning (variously) centrism, the ‘smug’ metropolitan elite, globalisation (trade, immigration etc), inclusion, gender equality, gay and transgender rights.

Some of these have been written by liberals themselves, others by those further left.

I’m the first to criticise lazy centre-leftism, its blind spots and complacencies. The lack of hard economic message. The soft focus comfort zone diversity. The impulse to accommodation rather than argument. The tendency to policy wonk abstraction rather than plain speaking. The supplication to the right’s version of globalisation. The institutional, political and organisational conservatism. The mistake of somehow – incredibly – getting yourself on the wrong side of the ‘outsiders versus establishment’ divide, even though you keep losing.

But let’s remember two things.

Firstly, the Democrats lost an election that was never going to be as easy to win as many assumed, due to incumbency, two decades of stagnant wage growth, slow growth in the wake of the financial crisis (for which no-one was held responsible), and the sense of an unstable shifting, frightening world.

Yes, Democrats picked a flawed insider candidate from a thin bench, whose campaign assumed that Trump was a gift of an opponent when it turned out to be the exact opposite (but who, those on the left may conveniently forget, actually had quite a progressive policy agenda).

Clinton wasn’t the first to underestimate Trump of course. Because secondly, Trump’s ‘movement’ started as a revolt against elites on the right. During the campaign he often generated much more energy by attacking and overwhelming other Republicans rather than liberals.

This was a revolt on and against the right, just as Brexit was (for many voters) a revolt against an elite-oriented corporate conservatism that had left them behind.

And just like Brexit, Trump’s victory has created a list of often inchoate but impossible promises and demands.

He has promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington lobbyists and corruption. Tear-up trade deals and ‘bring back’ millions of jobs. Provide great healthcare. Make America safe again. And win – there will be so much winning.

But of course, there won’t, not for his base supporters anyway. In reality, his actual programme will be the familiar Republican agenda of tax-cuts for the rich, cuts to entitlements, deregulation and favours for corporate interests.

He won’t drain the swamp. To paraphrase the President-Elect during the campaign, he knows the swamp because he is the swamp.

When he fails to make America great again, he and the no doubt remarkably re-united Republicans will blame ‘liberal elites’ for blocking them.

There’s much in Trump’s victory for liberals to reflect deeply on, but the last thing that liberals should do right now is to accept that they are the problem. No, Republicans and the right are the problem.

Trump’s agenda is and always was a con. Rather than amplifying his supposed radicalness by characterising him as ‘dangerous’ (though he is), this is how Democrats should have depicted him during the campaign: as a con man with a demonstrable history of fleecing ordinary people.

Well, the election is lost, but liberals should consistently seek to nail not only Trump but the whole Republican Party as con artists.

Starting now, instead of navel gazing.

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