The Meaning of the 2016 US Presidential Election stands up well as a first take on the events that had rocked the media on the morning of November 9, 2016. In fact, while going against the then-prevalent grain, it captures succinctly how such an unlikely, unworthy character could attain the highest office in the most powerful country in the history of the world. We suggested that:
...much of the liberal and left commentary has focused on President-elect Donald Trump, and the danger that his ascension to the White House portends.
While that is a matter of great and serious concern, it should not overshadow the meaning of the election — what the election says about the two-party system and the mood of the electorate. Without a class analysis, without an understanding of what the vote expresses… future results will be even more disappointing.
Four years later, that forecast is not at all off the mark. We are, as Matt Taibbi noted recently, “...arriving where we might have four years ago…”-- with a Trumpian entr’acte.
While the left within the Democratic Party has made notable gains with the public, its influence within the Party is no greater today. Bernie Sanders, a popular left icon, and others left of the party’s center worked diligently to elect Biden and the ticket, but they have garnered no concessions from the Democratic establishment.
The Democratic Party, despite some electoral successes by its small progressive component, has lost further congressional ground in the interim election and in 2020, even with Biden’s close victory.
We noted in 2016 that Hillary Clinton was clearly the favored candidate of the ruling class: “It is important to note that nearly 85% of those super PAC contributions went to Hillary Clinton’s campaign… Nearly every major newspaper endorsed her. And Wikileaks revealed the widespread collusion between media figures and political operatives working in her favor. Like most of monopoly capital, most of the vast news and entertainment empires favored Hillary Clinton.”
“Among the big losers in the November 8 US federal elections were the commentators, the media, the electoral consultants, the pollsters, and the two major political parties.”
We saw Trump overcoming the Democratic Party advantage with his false promises of deep and radical change: “The Democrats lost because they refused to address the issues that mattered most to the electorate. By nearly twice the number of the next most popular trait, voters sought a candidate who ‘can bring needed change.’ Instead, Clinton offered experience and continuity.”
Alternatively, Trump postured as a faux-populist, intent on “draining the swamp” of cynicism, corruption, and apathy. We characterized Trump’s campaign as an exercise in right-wing populism, “...a contradictory ideology, combin[ing] attacks on socially oppressed groups with distorted forms of anti-elitism based on scapegoating. Trump’s populism represented an amalgam of white racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, isolationism, anti-intellectualism, American nationalism, nostalgia for a golden past (Make America Great Again!) and hostility to ‘establishment’ elites.”
We were careful to distinguish right-wing populism from home grown fascism, as so much of the left failed to do: “Though the Trump movement has certainly attracted fascistic elements of the so-called ‘alt-right’... and could conceivably morph in a fascist direction, as of now it lacks, except in embryonic form, most of the classic elements associated with fascism...”
“And of course, unlike Germany in the early 1930s… there is no existential political crisis in which the US ruling class feels threatened enough by revolution to turn away from normal bourgeois democratic methods of rule.”
We warned that “[I]t would be a mistake not to see the economic distress, frustration, and anti-elitist anger as the central force in the Democratic Party defeat. Many key, if not most, predominantly white, working class areas that abandoned the Democrats in 2016 backed Obama in 2008 and 2012. And they backed Obama, not necessarily from racial identity, but from a thirst for change. They voted for Trump — a corrupted, wind bag businessman — for the same reason.”
In the immediate wake of the election, the MLT collective anticipated that: “Democratic Party operatives are working feverishly to channel the anti-Trump sentiment into nothing more than a fresh campaign of uncritical support for Democrats… They assiduously avoid any remedies to the inequalities, declining living standards, and indebtedness that plague working people. Instead, they rail against Trump’s personal failings and vulgarity, but make no demands on his administration.”
This was to become the persistent theme of Democrats and the liberal media for the next four years. While anticipating distractions, we no doubt underestimated how the Democratic Party would obsess over bogus Russia connections and assorted conspiracies rather than address issues important to US citizens. Politics were reduced to reality-show drama, while urgent needs went unaddressed. Though Democratic officialdom and a compliant media tirelessly and tiresomely intrigued against and mocked the Trump administration, it became clear that, at the same time, they sought to delegitimize the 2016 election with charges of foreign collusion and domestic chicanery.
It is a bitter irony that questioning the 2016 election results served as a prelude to Trump’s own Quixotic campaign to challenge the legitimacy of the subsequent election results in 2020.
In summary, we sized up the 2016 election results as follows: “For the people, this election marks a further deterioration, a deepening crisis, of the US two-party system. The distance between the interests of the masses and the actions of elected public officials are, today, virtually unbridgeable. The working class loses again, as it would have if the Democratic Party candidate had won.”
And now a lackluster, center-right Democrat has eked out a narrow victory over a proven mediocrity, and we are, as Matt Taibbi put it, “arriving where we might have four years ago.”
We placed hope, perhaps somewhat misplaced, that while: “...after Clinton’s nomination, many were shepherded back into the Democratic Party fold by the Party’s cry of impending doom, still others saw clearly the corruption and corporate-complicity of the Democratic leadership. They recognized the impossibility of securing real change through the vehicle of the Democratic Party. They give hope to the emergence of a truly independent movement, one that understands the need to replace capitalism with people’s power — socialism. This election could well mark an important step in that direction.”
We remain hopeful that even more people will be drawn away from witting or unwitting obeisance to the Democratic Party. The lure of funding, the fear of being marginalized, the seduction of access to seats of power, and unbridled opportunism hold many within the party’s orbit. Yet more and more grow frustrated with the complacency and detachment of elected Democrats, an affliction that has historically infected even the party’s most progressive figures.
Nonetheless, we are encouraged by the growing interest and support our website has enjoyed, especially in the last few years.
The Force the Vote movement for shaming the Democratic leadership toward a floor vote on Medicare For All is a welcome, early, and healthy sign. Rising over a month before Biden’s inauguration, it shows that there exists a militant, independent left determined to be neither servile nor compliant, an encouraging omen for the future. In the face of resistance from weak-spined “progressive” Democrats, it has spurred some, even Bernie Sanders, to pledge to hold up the obscene military budget in order to secure spending on a more humane pandemic response. Still others now join the fight, seeking to leverage advanced, progressive issues against Speaker Pelosi-- the symbol, in the House of Representatives, of all that corporate ownership of the Democratic Party buys. These engagements portend other battles brewing in the coming year.
Four years after Marxism-Leninism Today’s early analysis of Trump’s ascension, it is satisfying to revisit the document. It shows the usefulness and sagacity of “a class analysis,” of the science of Marxism-Leninism over the fog of distortion spread by the capitalist scribes.
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