The knee jerk nonsense of sundry liberals, which is already trying to carve a space for itself as the received wisdom on matters Trump, is most unhelpful. That the centre could not hold because the majority of white voters, some 62% of the population, voted because racism is the wrong conclusion. Yes, it was white people, but to mangle a phrase from a different context, not all white people. It was the well-off white folks, the middle class (not in the traditional American sense of the term) and the vast legion of small business people who are the constituencies who tipped it. In other words, the beginning of wisdom about Trump's victory begins with taking race and class together, of doing a touch of maligned intersectional analysis.
Just so we're clear, racism is as American as Mom and McDonald's. All through the American Revolution's heroic phase and down to today, the division of labour has always been heavily racialised. All whites, regardless of poverty and destitution, could draw deep from ideological resources that justified and maintained slavery to create an imagined superiority, and one that has blighted generations of white Americans. Of course, the Jim Crow laws in the South institutionalised racist supremacy and though they're long gone, the regular killing of black men by mainly white police forces show it hasn't gone away. Not completely separate from this is racial segregation. Despite being the great melting pot, it's probably fair to say that post-imperial Britain, with all its problems and issues, has proven much more successful in integrating ethnic minorities than the land born entirely from immigration. However, segregation and the racialisation of work, like all over the advanced West, had started to dissolve. More advanced in the socially progressive, metropolitan coastal states, it had a long way to go elsewhere, but nevertheless showed the interior its future. For the majority of white America, evidence of integration's insidious creep was felt through immigration. Year after year, more Hispanics appeared waiting tables in their restaurants, tending their gardens, working in their hotels, their service stations, their supermarkets and malls. They were a visual reminder that white America is a group in relative decline.
This is only part of the story. The race anxiety vote theory doesn't stand up. None of this is new, it was the case in 2008 and 2012 when enough white people voted for Obama. If whites are essentially racist, why the variance over time, and why were plenty prepared to vote for the mixed race fella with the very non Anglo-Saxon name? Economics might have something to do with it too. Neoliberal economics and governance, the subordination of all to the demands of capital and the whims of the market ceaselessly undermine our senses of self-security. The lot of the majority, regardless of ethnicity and race, is to sell our bodies and our brains, and therefore our freedom for a set period every week in return for a wage or a salary. For too many of us, there's even uncertainty whether there will be work enough available to pay the bills. Doubling down on this way of being has been the great transition of the last four decades, where the memories of industrial capital echo around crumbling factories. Manufacturing jobs, Proper Jobs, have either disappeared, got themselves exported, or absorbed into manufacturing machinery. They are now replaced by office jobs, service jobs, caring jobs, of jobs that no longer make things and instead produce the intangible. Across the Western world, but particularly in America and Britain, governments have overseen and connived with the abandonment of millions by capital. These are the left behind, a strata of people with a skill set and a mind for another time, and they have been discarded. That is the unmissable, crucial context for Trump's victory in the rustbelt states.
Yet, as we have seen, while white workers of modest means did vote for Trump, fewer than half of them did. It was the better off. How then to explain this? It doesn't seem to make sense. In studies of voting behaviour concerned with economic voting, summed up by another Clinton in a happier time as "it's the economy, stupid", researchers typically distinguish between two sub-categories. There is 'pocket book voting' (behaviour conditioned by the prospective impacts on one's finances, and/or those of relatives and friends) and 'sociotropic voting', which is where a voter looks at the health of the wider economy over and above personal circumstances. All aspiring governments construct narratives that address the personal and the social, and they are emphasised and de-emphasised when expediency requires. In Trump's case, the pocket book was addressed by cutting taxes, and attacking higher health premiums for the better off to pay for Obamacare. The macro story was about restoring industry to the rustbelt by repatriating it from the Far East and Latin America, and curbing immigration to ensure the right (white) people got the jobs. As a pitch, on paper it seems something you might expect white working class voters to get on board with. And some of them did. But it was the white middle class who were proper beguiled. Why?
Generations of Marxists have talked about the petit bourgeois - small business people - as if caught between the fundamental forces of capitalism. On the one hand, big capital can out compete and always threatens to put the smallholder out of business, throwing them down into the wage-earning mass. On the other, ungrateful employees are always bellyaching about not having enough hours, wanting pay rises, having more time off, wanting more autonomy, and, through incompetence or, heaven forfend, strike action threaten the viability of the business. To occupy the position of the petit bourgeois is to surrender to the icy grip of permanent existential dread, of not having mastery over one's fate (despite the promise of being one's own boss), and feeling hemmed in and under siege in the market place and at work. Second, for privileged layers of white people, the managers and the professionals, they share a certain outlook with their small business counterparts. Their good fortune is a consequence of their talents and graft. The privileges accumulated, the good salaries, nice house, multiple cars, expensive holidays, and the million and one trappings of the good life are theirs By The Sweat Of Their Brows. And they too are anxious it could all get take away, either by economic crisis leading to redundancy and unemployment, or ever-encroaching taxes and health insurance premiums. For both these groups, their sources of status anxiety are bound up with the great intangibles of class dynamics and process, they are therefore very likely to respond sociotropically to economic policy. Trump's pledge to decent, secure, well-paid manly jobs, to get Motor City motoring again perversely had more of an impact on the non-working class segment of white America than the worker. By giving the impression of a return to stability for the worker, so too the more excitable petit bourgeois is swept up in enthusiasm.
There's no real excuse for us commentators and so-called professionals not to have seen a Trump victory coming. His platform is backward and deeply troubling, but his campaign team - and The Donald himself - understood that stability and security, served as it was in racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric might appeal to enough people. And so it proved. One of the reasons why Hillary Clinton's campaign didn't, despite just edging the popular vote, was because it stripped out emotion and values. Technocratic managerialism was the order of the day, just as it was for the failed Remain campaign, just as it was for Labour's failed 2015 election campaign. For the future, assuming a Trump presidency affords us the luxury of having one, there has to be a revolution in the Democrats. It needs a vision of the good life and not rely on how awful Trump's presidency is bound to be. It needs to challenge the nativism and racism, and win enough people back to a positive programme that understands insecurity and is sincere about tackling it. They need to construct their own American story around a credible, non-political establishment candidate. It has to fight shit values with good values, not pander to them. Unfortunately, though it's early days yet, shrieks of liberal despair across today's media aren't good. Some have not only learned nothing about Trump's shock victory, they don't want to learn anything. If the Democrats choose to listen to these people again, come 2020 there's going to be exactly the same outcome.