A View From Afar: Trumped! It was the economy, stupid

by Dennis Broe

Everyone, meaning mostly the neoliberal elite, is searching for answers at the moment for why the billionaire Trump beat the corporate candidate Clinton. Was it his xenophobic rhetoric which drew angry white Americans, his macho humiliation of women in the face of which his supporters had to hold their noses to vote for him, or was it the (Trumped-up) charges of “Crooked Hilary” aided and abetted by the FBI “October Surprise” of a new treasure trove of (probably mostly irrelevant) emails that are now being “investigated.”
A revealing article here in Paris in Le Monde on the eve of the election seems instead to contain the answer for why solidly union and industrial states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania would abandon the Democratic party and vote for Trump, who after all was not the choice of the Republican elite. For decades now, politicians have looked to the October economic, labor and jobs report, released last week, to boost their status just prior to the elections. And indeed, the report showed the creation of 161,000 new jobs and a slight decrease in unemployment of one-tenth of a percent for a total of 4.9 percent, figures that compare favorably to pre-2008 financial crisis statistics. So you would think the Democrats would argue that the economy is in good hands.
In fact the Clinton campaigners did not bring up the “optimistic” report because they felt to do so would be incendiary, that is throwing flames on the fire as Trump emphasized that the new jobs were extremely low paying and could not compensate for jobs lost under the Reagan-Bush-Clinton neoliberal regime whose Clinton variant featured the repeal of Glass-Stiegel which loosed the banks and financial capital and resulted in the 2008 crisis and NAFTA, a jobs disaster for both the US and Mexico.
A further examination of the statistics reveals the pain behind this supposed rosy picture, a pain that voters expressed at the polls. This “dynamic” job creation is in the lowest paying sectors of the economy, the service sector, mainly bars and restaurants, where there is constant turnover, such that from 2007, 1.7 million new jobs have been created but at the same time 1.5 million lost their jobs in the industry.
A second “rosy” statistic in the report is that salaries rose 2.8 percent. Great, right. Well, hold on, this rise is in the context, as Thomas Piketty has demonstrated so thoroughly, of a dramatic shift of income as a whole upward to the wealthiest 10 percent and now to the wealthiest 1 percent. So, the increase in salaries went mainly to corporate executives who saw their pay increase 4.7 percent, while the bottom 83 percent of the workforce saw their pay increase only 2.1 percent, an increase that was mostly eaten up immediately by an inflation rate of 1.5 percent. So, the rise in pay was essentially meaningless and could have easily been felt as again simply a rewarding of the wealthiest.
But it is in the unemployment statistics themselves, or rather the concealing of the true nature of unemployment, where even more real pain and suffering, and perhaps the key to the Trump victory, emerges. Only 62.8 percent of Americans even have a job, the lowest in 40 years, and, in the 25 to 55 age category that constitutes the majority of the workforce, the percentage keeps falling so that it is now below both 2007, in the supposed boom years of the housing bubble and below 2000, in the supposed boom years of the dot.com bubble. That is, employment following the constant booms and subsequent busts is no longer fully rebounding, but instead returning to lower levels. That is, after these continual crises, things may get better but they do not fully recover and the recovery is less effective after each crisis, certainly giving rise to a feeling that even when things are apparently getting better they are in fact gradually getting worse.
The true tragedy though lies in a statistical sleight of hand perfected under the Clinton administration, of “retiring” workers from the labor statistics who have given up looking for work, that is, no longer listing them as unemployed. Today this accounts for 11.5 percent of Americans from 25 to 55, with 7 million having simply abandoned the search for work in areas where jobs no longer exist, such as the hallowed out former industrial zones of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. If you add these workers, who may not have jobs, but can still go to the polls, to the unemployed, we now have roughly 16 percent unemployment. These are workers who are now resorting to anti-depressants, and other over and under the counter drugs to live with the pain of no prospect of jobs. To that, we might also add, the underemployed, that is, the 5.9 million workers who are working part time but who would very much like to work full time, approximately 4.6 percent of the working population. Add this to the over 16 percent and there is approximately 21 percent of the workforce either not working or working in low paying, part-time jobs with little reward.
Is it any wonder then the hardest hit in these areas went to the polls to express their grief, anger and despair at being left behind. Trump offered a largely delusional hope that someone was hearing their pain and responding. He will most likely betray that hope; that is the history of the far right. But a Democrat party that was so eager to run, in this year of the Brexit and of a generalized anger being expressed everywhere at corporate elites, a candidate who was the epitome of the corporate order, who took more money from corporate funds than any single candidate before her, must now stand chastised. Clinton stole the California primary and the nomination from Bernie Sanders, a candidate who was speaking to this generalized and largely warranted anger and channeling it in more positive directions and so instead of a battle for the heart and soul of the American black and white working class, we had a name-calling campaign in which the message of the supposedly more rationale candidate was, “under me things will only gradually get worse.” This is what passes for hope at the dawning of the end of the neoliberal age and voters, who felt the pain inflicted on them by a greedy corporate elite which could no longer be concealed in phony statistics, choose outright delusion over gradual hypocrisy.

Dennis Broe lives in Paris. He is a cultural and political correspondent for Arts Express on the Pacifica Network, a professor of film and television at the Sorbonne, and the author of Class, Crime and International Film Noir: Globalizing America’s Dark Art from Macmillan and Maverick or How the West Was Lost, an entry in the TV Milestones series.


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Nov 12, 2016 1:08 PM

…or was it the (Trumped-up) charges of “Crooked Hilary” Although the latest batch of 650,000 emails may yet turn out to be a distraction (I’m not convinced they were even investigated) – the truth was already out in the earlier Podesta emails and FOIA requests. “Crooked Hillary” is not a Trump fantasy – it’s a fact. The evidence points to raketeering (RICO violations;) so called pay-to-play; accepting donations from foreign donors; illegal arms shipments and so on. (Not to mention – Chelsea got her wedding paid for – which is the only thing the media has mentioned) Podesta and probably Abedin were on the Saudi payroll. There are at least five FBI investigations into the Clinton Foundations nefarious activity still open. Not to mention the House Oversight committee under Jason “the pitbull” Chavetz. http://www.globalresearch.ca/hillary-and-bill-clinton-pay-to-play-racketeering-the-bonnie-and-clyde-of-american-politics/5554804 The corrupt DoJ and FBI directorate will have a hard time pushing it all back –… Read more »

Nov 12, 2016 9:37 AM

There is an extremely insightful article on how Trump won at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-10/trump-s-data-team-saw-a-different-america-and-they-were-right.
It would be interesting to know more about what role Nigel Farage – master mind of the UK “Leave” Brexit campaign – played in Trump’s campaign.
Also, what other activities Cambridge Analytica (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Analytica) have been involved in (like Brexit 2016) and – even more importantly – may be involved in in future.
Little wonder that Trump kept saying “This is Brexit plus, plus, plus”.
There is a whole new mass data management world out there…….

Nov 12, 2016 9:04 AM

Yes, it would appear that the liberals – including their house journals the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post – are having a collective nervous breakdown over Trump’s election victory. In the main, this is because they live in their own virtual universe where everything is apparently going swimmingly. However, even a cursory perusal of the economic statistics contained in Federal government publications, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, reveals a rather less rosy picture than the one touted by the Yellow Press. US labor participation rate, i.e., the number of able-bodied persons between the ages of 16-65 fit for work has declined consistently from 66% in 2006 to 62.8% at the present time. In fact, the figure has been the same throughout 2016. The reasons for this are various: outsourcing abroad, labour saving technology, downsizing of the workforce, and, the quite… Read more »

Nov 12, 2016 8:48 AM

Another (in parts quite similar) view from afar:
„US Elections are Over, Trump Won: Will He be President in Face of Neocon Power?“: https://wipokuli.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/us-elections-are-over-trump-won-will-he-be-president-in-face-of-neocon-power/
Weekend regards

Nov 12, 2016 5:59 AM

It wasn’t just the economy, stupid. Many people listened to Trump saying he would not use nukes first because “then it’s over” nor make an enemy of Vladimir Putin and they thought, “Yeah!! I like the sound of that”. Initially, I could not believe Trump even wanted to win …. I mean …. what kind of candidate mocks the disabled in front of the world’s TV cameras? His behaviour made no sense. It looked like the establishment had put him forward to beat a path to the White House for Hillary. He was the candidate who was so repellent he could make the butcher of Libya smell of roses. All of which reminded playwright John Stepping of Mel Brooks’ The Producers’ and the following: Max Bialystock: How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?!!… Read more »

Nov 12, 2016 5:43 AM

Dennis Broe is absolutely right – that is why Trump kept saying “Brexit plus, plus, plus”. One slight caveat, though. Broe refers to ‘…the dawning of the end of the neoliberal age…’. This ‘dawning’ may take a very long time to come and there is no certainty it will end any time soon. This applies not just to the US but to the rest of the world too. The increasing allocation of wealth to capital and reduced allocation of wealth to labour is a global phenomenon. This is what is funding the growth of automation, robotization and development of artificial intelligence. Already, speculation is being engaged in as to whether or not algorithms may not become individual actors. The world of the future is uncertain and it is this uncertainty that Trump supporters reacted against. It is unlikely he will be able to turn the clock back to the nostalgic… Read more »