More articles by
Yacov Ben Efrat
Trump and the white minority's revenge
Four months ago, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore forecast the victory of Donald Trump. He listed five main reasons to explain why Trump would win, and all of them have come true, one by one.
The first was what he called the “Brexit” effect of the “Rust Belt" states. He foresaw the collapse of the Democratic Party’s “firewall”, states that traditionally vote democratic thus preventing a Republican candidate from reaching the necessary 270 Electoral College votes to secure the election. The second factor is the status of the white American male who finds himself with his back to the wall. He endured two terms of a black president and now a woman wants to parachute into the office of the presidency. The third factor is Hillary Clinton herself. 70% percent of voters distrust her and think she is a liar. The fourth factor is Bernie Sanders’ supporters. Against their will they voted for Hillary Clinton, but without enthusiasm and without persuading others to support her. The fifth and last reason is the "Jesse Ventura phenomenon." Ventura was an ex-boxer who became governor of Minnesota as head of the Reform Party in the late nineties. Moore predicted that on Election Day Americans would take out their anger and vote 'Trump' not because they share his views, but, as with Ventura, to take revenge against the establishment.
This article ("Five Reasons Why Trump Will Win") convinced me, and I believed then that Trump would be the next president of the United States. However, after seeing the shocking Trump videos, the many women who complained that he sexually harassed them, his outbursts and his dismal performance during the three TV debates, I began having doubts. When the media, who had given Trump widespread exposure during the primaries, began running a negative campaign against him, I thought, like many others, that Michael Moore’s prophecies were exaggerated, especially in light of his new documentary that could be seen as a “public service” film for Clinton. So I downloaded Moore’s illuminating article to the hard disk and buried it away deep in the recesses of my mind.
All of Michael Moore’s reasons turned out to be correct, but his first reason is the one that really turned the election: the shift of states that were considered a stronghold of the Democratic Party to the Republican Party because of the rebellion of the "underprivileged whites." Trump, the billionaire from New York wearing a baseball cap, disguised himself as an unemployed worker of General Motors.
Michael Moore became an authority to me not because he is a political strategist, but because he began his career making documentaries in the city of Flint, Michigan, which gave him the vital knowledge and intuition to understand reality in its full force. His film "Roger & Me" from 1989 portrays the regional economic impact of General Motors CEO Roger Smith on Moore's hometown of Flint. This is not just another city, but the setting of the famous auto workers sit-down strike of 1937. The strike changed the United Automobile Workers (UAW) from a small local into a major national labor union. The film focuses on the decision to move the General Motors plant from Flint to Mexico, and the terrible aftermath for the residents. Eighty thousand Flint employees lost their jobs and, in 2015, only 5000 factory workers remain.
As a former Flint resident, Michael Moore could feel the humiliation and rage of those millions of workers, mostly whites, whose salaries were once the envy of American workers. They are people who assembled the cars that captured the world. They received good wages and generous pensions and, over time, stopped seeing themselves as workers. Instead, they saw themselves as part of the American middle class. Their lifestyle and privileged status on the American social ladder gave them a sense of safety and an absolute loyalty to the political establishment in Washington, which, for its part, looked after their welfare due to the economic and political power of the union.
That ended with US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Both declared war on trade unions and were determined to defeat them. The origins of the British Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump are rooted in the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution”. The welfare state that President Franklin Roosevelt had established was defeated. At first, globalization was responsible for the mass exodus of American factories to countries offering cheap labor, such as Mexico. Afterward, China became the manufacturer of the global economy. Well-paid jobs in the industry were replaced with inferior ones in the service sector. Average real wages in the US declined and each new generation felt worse off than its predecessor.
Trump's slogan “Make America Great Again" spoke to the millions of white workers who lost their employment and their futures. Speeches against globalization and its devastating effects were not just part of Trump’s repertoire, but also of Bernie Sanders', the socialist running against Clinton in the Democratic primary. However, returning workers to the auto and steel plants and coal mines is no easy task. True, globalization is destroying the social fabric of America and creating intolerable economic disparities. The world has entered a post-industrial era where the traditional industries that made America into the world’s largest economy have lost their place. The technological revolution requires new skills that former auto workers simply don’t have. The technological revolution doesn’t need assembly-line skills.
The US working class has lost its central importance, and the technological revolution has left it far behind. American capitalists have eliminated millions of jobs, and American banks and credit card companies have taken advantage of the impoverished workers and their desire to maintain their standard of living. They've issued credit cards to the workers’ heart’s desire. This has enabled the workers to continue their consumer lifestyle amid falling wages, creating an illusion of normality, which lasted only as long as they could repay their debts. The modern economy is developing in the direction of robotics, autonomous vehicles, and three-dimensional printers. With the elimination of each job, the company’s profitability increases and the gap between a rich minority and a poor majority grows.
No wonder that Trump's cry "the system is rigged” produced a huge electoral echo. The current economic system does not create jobs that respect the worker. It creates a very thin layer of the mega-rich and a very broad layer of poor people who do not find their place in society. Hilary Clinton represents the old system that left many Americans behind. Obama created high expectations when elected in 2008. That was also the year of the deepest economic crisis since 1929. With enormous popular support, he had the backing to come down on the banks and big companies and to help the millions of workers and minorities who had rallied to support him. However, for eight long years, he poured trillions of dollars into the banks and corporations. As corporations grew rich, they “bought” the entire political system.
Washington ceased to serve the citizen and remained indifferent to their needs. On November 8, the day of vengeance arrived and the Washington establishment was sent packing. America elected a millionaire playboy, a racist, a misogynist and a serial sexual abuser to the world's most sensitive position. Trump does not represent America only, but a world that has lost all shame, compassion, solidarity and respect, a world that is approaching total anarchy. More than anything else, Trump symbolizes the end of an era, the final stage of a political system that has become corrupt, a system which nurtures a technological revolution that favors the rich while neglecting the average citizen. For that the world is being punished.
- Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman