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Progressives must stand firm in Trump's shadow



Perhaps it is a fitting flourish to a year that has remade expectations of voter behaviour that Donald Trump would become United States president. What remains to be seen is the extent to which this pattern can be endured.

Donlad TrumpIt was not meant to go this way. The demographics had not boded well for Republicans. Their candidate alienated nearly every segment of the population needed to win — black, Latino, queer, Muslim, women and college-educated Americans. One GOP pollster suggested that even if white turnout matched 2012, Trump would still need other segments to win. I expected a record turnout that would favour Hillary Clinton.

The old templates are useless now. Voter turnout, which has hovered around the mid-50s since 2004, does not look to have broken away with an estimated 55 per cent. While blacks overwhelmingly supported Clinton (88 per cent), she took only 65 per cent of the Latino vote, 78 per cent of LGBT, 54 per cent of women, and 49 per cent of college-educated Americans.

Something else that flouts the narrative: despite anti-establishment fervour, those on the lowest income levels voted Democrat.

The saying 'success has many fathers; failure is an orphan' doesn't apply here. There are many variables that led to Clinton's defeat — the 'whitelash' described by CNN commentator Van Jones, the diminished credibility of the left, the role of the media, perhaps the contributions made by Wikileaks and FBI director James Comey, a campaign strategy that neglected mid-west blue states. Most of all, there is anger and hunger for change.

It did not take long for me to be asked, as were other Filipino friends, 'How do we Americans deal with this?' There is nothing soothing to say. Donald Trump is not Rodrigo Duterte, of course, and there are differences in governance and law enforcement that (as yet) better protect Americans.

But here is what I know. It is not the office that makes the person presidential. Trump will not change, and it is a waste of time to expect him to do so. There will be no post-election unity, despite the conciliatory noises being made in some circles.

Dissenters and resisters will be told to get over it, to fall in or get out of the way. They will be called traitors — the new president becoming an embodiment of the state in a way that Barack Obama was not allowed to be.


"Some of the comparison to other periods in history, like Germany in the late 1920s or the 'fall' of the Roman Empire, is probably justified, though lazy and needlessly deterministic."


Clocking off is not an option, though. Letting the Trump administration fail, perhaps as an abject lesson for his supporters, would be at severe expense to the most vulnerable. Those on the margins are always the least able to afford political experiments, even when they participate. The concerns of rural Americans, for instance, still deserve to be addressed. The onus of doing so falls heavily on Democrats, given their repudiation of Clinton.

The looming struggle for them, as it has been for Filipino progressives so far this year, will be this: how will they press for ethical and democratic values while fighting to improve the lives of people who do not believe them or in them? Who despise them and may threaten them? Where will their fortitude come from?

For one thing, the Democratic base hasn't been decimated despite the rhetoric. Clinton has won the popular vote, with more than half a million between her and Trump — so far — from more than 120 million lodged. The gap suggests that enough political capital remains to rebuild and create opportunities. The Philippine opposition did not start with that much room. Duterte had an unassailable mandate, taking 39 per cent of the vote from a plurality of five candidates.

Second, Democrats have the luxury of a party system that remains fundamentally binary. In contrast, Filipino progressives work within a fractured, non-ideological framework that makes it difficult to make a case around things like the rule of law and separation of powers. They end up spending a lot of time explaining what is not allowed in constitutional democracies.

While this may become the case for Democrats as well, the parameters for collaboration among the American left are clear at least — things like a living wage, criminal justice reform, healthcare, fair fiscal policies, the principle of non-discrimination. (It is worth noting that plenty of the affluent, college-educated Americans who opted for Clinton would have voted for a social compact that benefited the needy. Railing at 'elites' can be useless.)

Given the often-invoked grievances in the rust belt, the unions are due for a meaningful revival in the United States. The unions in Nevada, for instance, helped deliver the state to Clinton.  

But with Republican control of Congress and the prospect of at least two Trump appointees in the Supreme Court, there is no doubt that these are uncertain, dark times, especially for people of colour and for future generations. Some of the comparison to other periods in history, like Germany in the late 1920s or the 'fall' of the Roman Empire, is probably justified, though lazy and needlessly deterministic.

The temptation to retreat will at times be irresistible — and as activists like DeRay McKesson have already pointed out, a necessary part of the work. There is no choice but to endure. And sometimes, the best that can be done is to make bad guys have to work.


Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She tweets @foomeister .

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, US Election, Duterte, Philippines



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Existing comments

"There is no choice but to endure." That's what the 80% of evangelicals and 52% of Christians who voted for Trump expected to have to do in the face (or teeth) of the Anti-Christ of the social 'progressive' juggernaut that would have been Hillary Clinton's third Obama term.

Roy Chen Yee | 10 November 2016  

You are quite right: endure, grin and bear it, and "grieve" and "lament"- most of all as the good and decent folk with just a sprinkling of evangelicals and Christians are sent packing into the bitter springs of the desert.

Rein | 11 November 2016  

The article ignores the reasons Clinton lost in a country that still has a high attachment to Christianity (like it or not). Her pro-abortion, pro-same sex marriage, public misandry and posturing to the black population, all probably for no reason other than to realise her life long ambition, contributed to her loss. People saw her as untrustworthy with good reason. Also, the predictions of those blind to reality who saw Trump as the out of touch redneck with no chance of the presidency can hardly be trusted to have credible insight into Trump's presidency. Their biases will almost certainly continue to see him as the unworthy usurper who impinges on their personal desires.

john frawley | 11 November 2016  

While Roy Chen Yee expresses no surprise that 80% of Evangelicals and 52% of all Christians voted for Trump, I cannot help but wonder what part of the life of Christ Trump reflects. In rally after rally, Trump expressed his disdain and even hatred for Hispanics in America and Mexicans in Mexico, African descent Americans, Muslim Americans and Muslims who might wish to migrate to America. Whatever his intent, he released the hatred for minority peoples which had been somewhat constrained under previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican since about the early 1970s. And for those Christians who still emphasise the nether regions of their bodies as the main area of moral concern, Trump's now infamous bragging about sexual assault, quite apart from many women publicly alleging such assault, should be sufficient for Christians to understand that this man does not hold sacred much of what Christ taught.

Ian Fraser | 11 November 2016  

Hi Fatima , an interesting reflection. At least there are curbs on Trump's excesses as the Congress while Republican majority, will keep him on a leash. Rodrigo Duterte excesses, already apparent has not the same restraint and that is deeply disturbing to the Filipinos in our community that I have spoken to. As it turns out I will be in the Northern Philippines from next week for a month, so I will be able to observe at first hand what has changed since my last visit about six years ago. I certainly agree there is no choice but to endure.

Gavin | 11 November 2016  

It seems that the deciding votes in the US election came from those who became victims of the economic rationalism promoted by the ‘Haves’. The Trump vote seems to be an instinctive irrational reaction; a lashing out by people feeling abandoned and turning to anyone who seemed to recognise their concerns, even though they were the cause of their plight, by hastily moving their jobs ‘off shore’. It is ironic that it was then from their ranks that a spokesman arose to give them some recognition, even though they are the least likely to help them.

Robert Liddy | 11 November 2016  

"Come Healing" by Leonard Cohen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUB1O2cT2gM

Stephen de Weger | 11 November 2016  

Stephen de Weger. At 3.40 pm today I heard that Leonard Cohen had just died. I listened to him sing "Halleluja" with, strangely, a tear in my eye - am becoming a silly old bugger, I'm afraid. One of this world's great poets - like the new Nobel Laureate, Dylan, although, I believe, greater.

john frawley | 11 November 2016  

Enjoyed this article, well written. Thank you

Máire O'Donoghue | 12 November 2016  

Ian Fraser, 1. Typo: 52% of Catholics. 2. "Trump's now infamous bragging about sexual assault, quite apart from many women publicly alleging such assault, should be sufficient for Christians to understand that this man does not hold sacred much of what Christ taught": The bragging occurred in the past. Contrition was expressed. A sin confessed is no longer to be nagged at any more than your mother should continue to nag you in middle age about something you did when you were eight. Is he still bragging now? 3. But what was the sin? ‘Assault’ or sleazy conversation? Trump is heard to say that he tried but failed to initiate a relationship with a woman whom he knew to be married. She would not reciprocate and he accepted it, which is hardly the behaviour of an ‘assaulter’. If there are women who believe Trump ‘assaulted’ (as defined by law) them, they’ll have to put up (lodge complaints with the police) or hold their peace. Allegations are easy to make and to leave hanging like a miasma. 4. “what part of the life of Christ Trump reflects”; “this man does not hold sacred much of what Christ taught”: Trump is on the cusp of greatness – as a Christian disciple – by virtue of the high profile of the presidency. It is a ready-made light or lighthouse on the hill. The question is what quality of light it will shine. At best, on objective evidence, he’s a nominal Christian who didn't know the difference between a collection and a communion plate. One of his new Christian buddies, Ben Carson, Pat Robertson, should call him out on whether he wants to stay a laggard or get real about the faith he professes to have. We can assume there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one Trump repenting than ninety-nine Jimmy Carters who remain sturdy, and the fruits of faith will flow on to practical policies. But it’s up to him and one of his first appointments should be a White House chaplain to pep or prep him up a couple of mornings a week without fear or favour. 5. “Hispanics in America and Mexicans in Mexico, African descent Americans, Muslim Americans and Muslims who might wish to migrate to America”: None of these are cut and dried issues.

Roy Chen Yee | 12 November 2016  

' It is not the office that makes the person presidential'. It worked with Thomas a Becket, when he became Archbishop of Canterbury. If Trump can see that the responsibilities of his office are much greater than his Ego, then the outcome might surprise us all. But given the size of his Ego, it will be a big ask. We can only hope and pray for the best, and give him a chance to rise to the task.

Robert Liddy | 12 November 2016  

@John Frawley. Must agree with you about Dylan/Cohen comparison. Dylan too often told us what to think, Leonard made us think, and about a great deal more, without taking sides. Huge difference. Hope he gets a postumous Nobel prize and maybe not just for 'literature'. He had a skull on his desk, one we all need to take seriously while we continue to do what we can while we're here: Passing Through: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnvv1Lgj9zM

Stephen de Weger | 12 November 2016  

Ian Fraser, re: 52% Catholics, my typo, that is.

Roy Chen Yee | 12 November 2016  

I guess a majority of Americans couldn't quite get their head around voting for a would-be representative who ignored their needs and bad mouthed them with ideological labels.

John | 13 November 2016  

Donald Trump's American presidential election victory is a victory for big business, white supremacy, anti-feminism and racial and religious bigotry. Trump's victory also demonstrates that mainstream political parties are alienated from the majority of people. Hillary Clinton received more votes, but not in the right areas. It is bemusing that only 52% of eligible voters voted and only 30% of young eligible voters voted. As happened in the United Kingdom with the Brexit vote, a lot of the young people whom did not vote are now whinging about the result and holding anti-Trump demonstrations, but the horse has bolted. Trump also was advantaged by the dysfunctional politics of the Republican Party, which started the campaign with 17 candidates: a classic divide and rule situation. Trump also was a much more effective media campaigner than Clinton and cleverly targeted voters in the 'rust belt' mid-west who had lost their jobs because of globalisation of the economy. In my opinion, Trump's election will have very little effect on Australia because of the development of Asian economies such as China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Phillipines. It is unfortunate that Bernie Sanders did not win the Democratic Party nomination because he had much better policies for social democracy than either Trump or Clinton.

Mark Doyle | 14 November 2016  

"Dissenters and resisters" in reaction to the election result aren't "traitors", Fatima - they're more aptly described as living proof of Allan Bloom's thesis in The Closing of the American Mind.

John | 15 November 2016  

Hillary Clinton is down but not out. If the Trump experiment implodes in this coming term, the woman who was forced to wait 8 years, and then 12, will be back as dangerous as a cut snake for the lessons learned about assumptions that should not have been made. America may still be susceptible to the 'It's Time' siren call for a woman president and she did win the popular vote, albeit by a hair's breadth. Trump shouldn't be providing an accommodating shadow in which so-called progressives can shelter and recover. They should be wilting in the blaze of heat and light from the consonance with the public good of his policies.

Roy Chen Yee | 24 November 2016  

Hair's breadth Roy? A couple of million last time I looked but as my old football coach used to say, a win is a win. I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

Brett | 05 December 2016  

Brett: So Hillary Clinton is now more dangerous for 2020 than a cut snake, not merely as dangerous as one. Has the point of the post, that she is down but not out, changed because the margin has changed?

Roy Chen Yee | 05 December 2016  

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