Trump: the 1990s are over

indexTrump ‘s victory is just the latest in a string of surprising electoral results for insurgent parties in the West. The 1990s are over, and we have to adjust to the new conditions quickly.

A detailed study showed that cuts and industrial decline were a more significant indicator of the likelihood of a Brexit Leave vote than immigration – and that spending on public services, not immigration controls, might have changed the outcome.

I’ll guarantee you that when the facts are all in (not the exit polls), a link will be found to economic factors. Trump’s voters will turn out to be richer on average than Clinton’s, but the key swing voters will be downwardly mobile working or middle class whites. This is the same voter coalition that Leave created.

It was obvious on the night. Democrats mocked Trump for campaigning in the “safe” rust belt, while Clinton focused on swing states. They were wrong. Just like insurgent parties from Syriza to the SNP to Le Pen and UKIP, he found the soft underbelly of all western centre left parties: areas where industry has given way to permanent un- and underemployment. Areas that have voted centre-left for years and gotten very little in return. We have only ourselves to blame – we didn’t learn from history.

After World War 2, we said “never again”, and built an international order designed to prevent the re-emergence of fascism  in the West. Systems were put in place across Europe to provide full employment and affordable housing.

In 1943, with his country still occupied by Germany, the Polish economist Michal Kalecki studied the plans for this system. He agreed that it would work, but posed a question: why did business prefer economists who were against government spending to create full employment?

He lists the short-term reasons, then presciently adds that after a long period of full employment, the sack would become less of a threat. This would lead to strong trade unions and industrial strife, which would provoke a political backlash. That is exactly what happened in the 1970s in Britain and America.

He then says that if we try to keep the economy going by cutting taxes and interest rates instead of by government spending, we will end up with negative interest rates and negative income taxes. That is exactly what has happened.

He didn’t predict the consequences it would have for the centre left parties. The crisis of the 1970s and 80s shattered the trade union movement, which had traditionally turned out the working class vote. Communities became atomised, and drugs flooded in.

35 years on, there are fewer and fewer voters who remember the trade unions, cooperatives, labour clubs and brass bands. They vote centre-left out of habit, they don’t get much under any government, and since the credit crunch they’ve become desperate enough to gamble on something different.

Political change in communities can happen in a rush. There are political groupings in every community, and often one has hegemony. At first, people feel differently but don’t speak up. If everyone around you is Labour, you’re less inclined to speak up for another party. Maybe you’re less likely to vote.

Trump won over some people who voted Obama, but he will also have brought the local racist right out of the woodwork to campaign, and they will have found the old obstacles to their rise, the shop stewards, the party, rotted from the inside out. His vote turned out, and the Democratic vote didn’t.

Now we have to prepare for what the far right might do next. Kalecki says that fascism made full employment “safe” by enforcing discipline throughout society. No strikes, no disorder.

Time will tell if the new populist right has the same intention. We’d best hope not. We have to work out what we can offer to suffering communities, whether in Detroit or Glasgow, while there’s still time.

Comments (24)

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  1. Crubag says:

    The social democrat movement changed too. It was based around big employers, and the only significant ones left are public sector – where the unions are more about cross-selling car insurance than class war.

    The cooperative movement culminated in the crystal methodist.

    But this article is still stuck in that mindset of retail politics, of dividing voters and targeting an appeal to them, rather than uniting, finding common ground.

    When you start asking people to vote based on skin colour, or ethnicity, sex or religion you can’t then greet about the results.

    1. Thrawn says:

      But I suppose the SNP asking people to vote on the basis of only their nationality is fine then….

      1. Crubag says:

        Civic nationalism, based on place, and a shared interest in making it better? I’d defend that.

        Nationalism based on ethnicity – where does that lead to? Dual passports, divided – or no – loyalties?

        (Though there is an argument made that having a culturally homogenous population leads to high levels of trust – as in the Nordics – but even their world is changing.)

        1. Thrawn says:

          Well the clue is in their name…you know the Scottish National Party…and of course the fact that they have no fixed ideology beyond nationalism

          1. muttley79 says:

            What did you make of the African National Congress (ANC), or the Indian National Congress (INC) Thrawn? No, I think your problem with the Scottish National Party (SNP) is that they support and advocate self determination for Scotland, and it is this that you are so viscerally opposed to. I don’t actually think your issue is to do with a name of a political party somehow.

          2. Stu says:

            You do know many nationalities voted in Indy1 dont you – actually maybe you dont, as you appear rather challenged.

      2. Stu says:

        When did that happen?

  2. manandboy says:

    “Just like insurgent parties from Syriza to the SNP to Le Pen and UKIP, he found the soft underbelly of all western centre left parties”
    So, the SNP is now an insurgent party.
    Must do better, Bella.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Oh for fuck’s sake.

    2. Alistair Davidson says:

      I’m in the SNP. I mean that, like the other parties listed, the SNP has a radical proposal, and suddenly took a lot of votes from a decaying centre left party.

      1. Thrawn says:

        And that “radical proposal” had no defining ideology other than nationalism…a bit like Trump really

        1. Crubag says:

          The SNP was an opportunity to vote for something other than more of the same – Labour – after 50 years of.sloth

          The SNP will go the same way eventually, probably not 50 years, things like the Chinese PFI deal will shorten longevity, and I think people now just have more information and less patience.

          The Scottish Podemos/Syrzia party – RISE – now seems to have gone through its entire lifecycle in space of an election.

          1. Willie says:

            Who or what was Rise. Where did it go?

        2. interpolar says:

          Well, the difference between the SNP and populist movements is that the SNP were in power in for four years and then increased their vote to the point that they could launch Indy1. They are now in government for the 3rd time in series. Most populist movements don’t last that long. The SNP has shown that they can govern a country with reasonable competence – and unlike the rest of the UK, they have stemmed the flow of xenophobia in their area of influence. Again, this is hardly the hallmark of a racist, nationalist party.

          Essentially, they are social democrats who happened to think Scotland is best governed by itself. That is not nationalism, it’s subsidiarity taken to its logical conclusion. Would you call the Swiss, Belgians, Austrians, Irish obscene xenophobic nationalists just because they have decided not to be part of a larger neighbour that speaks their official languages? No, I thought not. The only difference between Scotland and these countries is that they have preserved or regained their independence while Scotland has not (yet).

        3. Mark Rowantree says:

          It must be wonderful to be so wise: I guess simply repeating ‘SNPBad’ in response to any issue, may indeed assist in creating that impression or perhaps delusion?

      2. Stu says:

        The SNP actually had radical proposals to entice voters – Trump and Brexit only have/had lies and bluster. The only reason they should be mentioned in the same breath is the shook things up.

  3. tartanfever says:

    ‘Trump won over some people who voted Obama, but he will also have brought the local racist right out of the woodwork to campaign, and they will have found the old obstacles to their rise, the shop stewards, the party, rotted from the inside out. His vote turned out, and the Democratic vote didn’t.’

    Isn’t their a whole load of information you’ve missed out here ?

    Racism has seen a huge rise in America since 9/11, George W, the Patriot Act and the press going hell for leather on immigrants, particularly Muslims and the election of a Black president. These issues are nothing particularly to do with Donald Trump, they were in existence well before this election cycle. Trump certainly manipulated them, but to describe them as being ‘in the woodwork’ I don’t understand.

    It seems to me that they were out in Main Street, everyday America and getting plenty of airtime on network news.

    1. Aye, Islamophobia in particular has been encouraged by centre left governments. Racism and sexism are big motivators for Trump’s core vote – and probably turned out some people who don’t usually vote.

      I’m not the best person to go deep on his core vote though, others have done it better elsewhere.

      1. Darby O'Gill says:

        I heard a report today that 53% of women voters voted for Trump. Strange.

      2. tartanfever says:

        Hi Alistair, thanks for the reply.

        Spinwatch has a great article on Islamophobia, published a year ago now, that tracks it’s rise through various ‘think tanks’ in the US, including the Henry Jackson Society, which of course Jim Murphy was heavily involved with.

        It’s a great insight and may be of interest.

        link here:

        1. Crubag says:

          Now that article could do with an editor. Wasn’t the Spinwatch blog part sponsored by Muslim Brotherhood supporters?

          I’d say Left groups certainly made a mis-step in supporting political Islam – it’s not compatible with a secular society – but then that us true of any political party that allies with the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

  4. w.b.robertson says:

    it is not rocket science. the mainstream politicians in the UK (and USA) don`t want to know the poor … so the worms are turning and biting bums. This is what happens if everyone has the vote.

  5. Willie says:

    Each well, let’s look on the bright side. With a right wing Trump as the President of the USA and our very own right wing band of Brexiteering xenophobes like Boris, Theresa and Amber, don’t you think that they’ll all get along just fine. A Union Dividend so to speak.

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