Trumping the odds : Talking to Young People about the USA Election

Occasionally we’ve posted on issues you might well be chatting to young people about. Thursday’s ‘shock’ result from across the Atlantic seems a likely talking point. How on earth did Trump pull this off? Hence I found myself wondering what I would say, either in response to a young person’s comment or as an opening remark of my own, hoping to get a conversation going. As I did so, I recognised that the chat would be similar, yet different, according to the young person’s gender, race, sexuality, disability, faith and class. Pondering the contradictions I realised that my own perspective was less than sorted out. Indeed throughout today the emphases of my best crack at what’s going on have fluctuated. Let me share a bit of a diary.

8.00 a.m. Whilst walking my beloved mongrel, a neighbour greets me with the news that Trump is President. ‘What is the world coming to?’, he conjectures. I’m almost indifferent, not buying the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument. I need to own up to a decades-long prejudice against the Clinton clan. Is this getting in the way of my judgement?

8.30 a.m. Arrive home to find Trump’s unlikely triumph almost certainly the case. An arrogant, failed business person of maverick disposition with no experience of political office has beaten an arrogant career politician backed by the party machine with a quarter of a century’s experience of high office. Sure Trump is an ignorant asshole [note empathetic American spelling], but Clinton is an amoral hypocrite. Even the Murdock Sky News team, now ensconced LIVE all over the States, seem perplexed. What to think?

Ta to Getty images

9.30 a.m. Access Facebook to be met by comment after comment belittling the Trump support, as thick as turkeys voting for Xmas. I scribble. ‘What to do? I don’t normally cut myself off from the world? On the other hand can I cope with another round of patronising and insulting crap to the effect that all those, who voted for Trump, are stupid. racist, xenophobic etc…? Increasingly across the globe we are witnessing a contradictory and complex expression of anger and frustration with a corrupt political class and a failing casino capitalism. The irony in the USA is that Clinton was widely seen as a the living expression of a system you couldn’t trust and that Sanders might well have been a better bet. In this there is hope. What won’t get us anywhere is a sneering disregard for the complicated motivations of those, who voted for Brexit or for Trump. The enormous task is to move beyond the emptiness of personality politics, two horse races, political parties claiming to know what’s best for us as long as we agree with the entirety of programmes they seek to impose on us and the stereotyping/ categorisation of whole swathes of humanity. Clinton or Trump, May or Corbyn the struggle continues.’

11.00 a.m. Phil Scraton intervenes on FB to underline the political consequences of economic marginalisation and social exclusion across Europe, wherein the Right harnesses the deep disillusionment within working class communities where generations now stare joblessness in the eye with a reactionary ideology of institutionalised racism … hence the continuing mantra, ‘getting OUR country back’.  I respond, Further to Phil – a serious dilemma for us is that the mantra is not just reactionary it contains an authentic desire to wrest control from a globalised ruling elite and in grappling with this we are forced to revisit the national and local state, not to mention local communities. Above all the struggle must be democratic, which demands democratically committed citizens. And I would argue you become democratic by experiencing being democratic, which obviously is far beyond participating in a representative charade every blue moon. My feeling is that such a mutual process of democratic education, which will have to grapple with racism, sexism and so on, will have to be nourished firstly at a local level. The Right have appropriated the notion of taking control. In truth History is a continuous struggle by the exploited and oppressed for autonomy, for taking control of our lives in concert with one another. Hence what might be a way forward? It will certainly have to grapple seriously with patriotism in the struggle for internationalism.

11.30 a.m. Walking round thinking that my comments are in danger of being abstract, which doesn’t deter me from a final generalisation on FB. ‘And a last thought on the Trump victory, given a torrent of comment, fearful for the world. On foreign policy Trump is isolationist with little appetite for interventions abroad. To chance my arm further his cautious attitude towards Putin might be welcome if you’re worried about nuclear conflict. As for Clinton her track record as secretary of state was aggressive and war-mongering, witness her role in the overthrow of Gaddafi and the consequences in terms of fuelling terrorism and exacerbating the refugee crisis. In Syria there is every possibility she would have worsened relations with Russia. Of course the situation is more complicated, but, you must, forgive me, if I don’t immediately see Trump as a threat to world peace, which doesn’t exist anyway’

1.00 p.m.It’s certain Trump is the President-Elect. As I take this in, munching a corned beef buttie [comfort food?], a series of further posts on FB plus links to a fast growing number of attempts to explain WTF’s been going on bring me back to earth. Trump has ridden to power on the back of a brazen mix of misogyny, racism and Islamophobia, tapping into, at one and the same time, a deep resentment towards the establishment amongst a ‘forgotten’ working class. As to the former it’s necessary to recognise the trepidation felt by many faced by Trump’s Mexican Wall, real or imagined, and the threat to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. It’s necessary to be anxious about a potential attack on a ‘Woman’s Right to Choose’ and LGBT rights. As for the latter Trump’s promise to restore manufacturing to the heart of the US economy via a strategy of protectionism and import tariffs is problematic. Although there is much support for his commitment to pour money into improving the country’s infrastructure. And this is to overlook, for a moment, Trump’s desire to end Obamacare and increase levels of surveillance and policing.

3.00 p.m. Grappling with this reality on the ground is disturbing. Significant sections of American society have reason to be fearful. As one Pastor observed the danger is that prejudice becomes normalised and the new orthodoxy. Back in 1974  Gil Scott-Heron sang,

The Constitution
A noble piece of paper
With free society
Struggled but it died in vain
And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner
Hoping for some rain
Looks like it’s hoping
Hoping for some rain
And I see the robins
Perched in barren treetops
Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor
But just like the peace sign that vanished in our dreams
Never had a chance to grow
Never had a chance to grow
And now it’s winter
It’s winter in America
And all of the healers have been killed
Or been betrayed
Yeah, but the people know, people know
It’s winter, Lord knows
It’s winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting
‘Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your souls
From Winter in America

4.30 p.m. Given this anxiety am I changing my mind about Hillary Clinton? In truth, not at all, if anything my aversion is deepened. Why? Because, in close company with Blair and New Labour, the Clintons and the Democratic Party embraced with passion the destructive ideology of neoliberalism. Dressed up as a Third Way they imposed an obsessive individualism, which undermined crucially bonds of collective solidarity. Naomi Klein suggests,

Here is what we need to understand: a hell of a lot of people are in pain. Under neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade, their living standards have declined precipitously. They have lost jobs. They have lost pensions. They have lost much of the safety net that used to make these losses less frightening. They see a future for their kids even worse than their precarious present.

At the same time, they have witnessed the rise of the Davos class, a hyper-connected network of banking and tech billionaires, elected leaders who are awfully cosy with those interests, and Hollywood celebrities who make the whole thing seem unbearably glamorous. Success is a party to which they were not invited, and they know in their hearts that this rising wealth and power is somehow directly connected to their growing debts and powerlessness.

For the people who saw security and status as their birthright – and that means white men most of all – these losses are unbearable.
Donald Trump speaks directly to that pain. The Brexit campaign spoke to that pain. So do all of the rising far-right parties in Europe. They answer it with nostalgic nationalism and anger at remote economic bureaucracies – whether Washington, the North American free trade agreement the World Trade Organisation or the EU. And of course, they answer it by bashing immigrants and people of colour, vilifying Muslims, and degrading women. Elite neoliberalism has nothing to offer that pain, because neoliberalism unleashed the Davos class. People such as Hillary and Bill Clinton are the toast of the Davos party. In truth, they threw the party.

6.30 p.m. I’ve had a bit of tea, a piece of cheese on a crumpet and if I was a proper youth worker I’d be getting ready to to go to the youth club [if it was open] or onto the streets on my own, if it was allowed. All of the above is still whirling around my head, some of it sorted, some unsorted, but plenty to be going on with. As ever it all depends on the mood of the evening. Will they be up for it, interested or will they say we’ve had enough of that crap, what’s it got to do with us? We’ll have to see.

7.30 p.m. Bluff called. I’m at home, dreaming about what I would have done if…….

10.30 p.m. Bluff called a second time.  Just received a message from proper workers on the ground.


Probably not much use, but in case you’re posting on Trump I attach a photo from youth club tonight. We discussed the presidential election result (nothing special, just discussed informally as part of club) and invited young people to make print posters in response. Most young people knew about it and were worried about an escalation in racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Bit hard to read, the slogans include ‘be you’, ‘be proud’, ‘no one is illegal’ ‘be yourself’.

One comment

  1. Tony: Thank you for putting yourself out there in such a brave and challenging way – and, for youth work, for such an affirming final entry! Thought in support it might be worth quoting from the statement in today’s papers from Bernie Sanders – shafted in his bid, we now know, by the Clinton Party machine.
    ‘People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.
    “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.’

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