Trumpism is dead, but economic injustice remains

“Politicians they chose to defend their interests decided on their behalf that having enough income to spend on plastic junk in a shopping mall was sufficient compensation for the loss of dignified work.” Molly Scott Cato argues the economic injustice that gave rise to Trumpism remains to be addressed. 


The silent majority stands with Trump
Molly Scott Cato

The response from many UK commentators to the historic Biden-Harris victory is that Trumpism lives on and that we must continue to accept the division and grievance that the US and the world have endured for the past four years. Whatever the future for the Trump crime family, this is dangerous anti-democratic talk and an insult to Trump’s own voters.

Trumpism was fascism in 21st-century guise: the mobilisation of grievance, difference and insecurity by a narcissistic leader to serve his own pecuniary and psychological interests. While a disturbing level of racism runs through communities in the US just as it does in the UK, to claim that the working-class men in Michigan or Pennsylvania who decided the outcome in the 2016 and 2020 elections are misogynists or xenophobes is both to insult them and to ignore their justifiable anger at the humiliating life chances they had been handed by a generation of Democratic politicians.

The roots of Trumpism go way back to the Faustian pact politicians of the Clinton-Blair era signed with global corporations. On their behalf, politicians they chose to defend their interests expanded trade, offshored their jobs, and decided on their behalf that having enough income to spend on plastic junk in a shopping mall was sufficient compensation for the loss of dignified work.

But working men of the US rust-belt and the UK’s industrial heartlands did not sign up for this. They felt and continue to feel insulted by being offered a paltry income in a demeaning job in a call centre or distribution centre. In a capitalist economy that leaves you no option but to sell your labour, feeling proud of what you do in your work is every bit as important as how much you earn. A generation of left-wing politicians who have ignored this are as much responsible for the rebellion of the working-class voter as Donald Trump is.

In the medium term, there is a straightforward solution to this dissatisfaction – because there is a great deal of vitally important, highly skilled, and well-paid work to do replumbing our society for the climate emergency. We need working men and women to retrofit homes, expand and upgrade our national grid, electrify our railway network, build thousands of miles of cycleways, restore our peatlands and forests, and so on. Jobs that have meaning and purpose are crying out to be done in all our communities across the country.

This is where the £150bn created by the Bank of England last week should be going. Rather than being spent to keep the economy in stasis and supporting airlines and oil companies, it should be invested in the dynamic transition to a sustainable future.

Longer term, as the need for our labour is displaced by machines and computers, we need other policies to enable and support a looser connection with the labour market. This is why the Green Party has always supported the four-day week and the Universal Basic Income. And we have to support a process of adjustment so that young people are not socialised to understand their sense of purpose primarily in terms of work. A post-capitalist economy will value us all as individuals, with more time to spend in our local communities, developing our skills and talents, and enjoying time spent in the natural world.

To make this utopian future a reality, we need politicians with the courage to challenge rather than retreat in the face of the powerful global corporations. Politicians who will ensure that the value of automation benefits us all, rather than just their shareholders. Politicians who will follow through on promises to ensure they pay a fair share of tax. Politicians who will reject the import of goods made to inferior social or environmental standards and reshore production in vital sectors, even if that means paying higher prices.

The failure to understand what Trumpism means arises from interpreting it as a social rather than an economic phenomenon. Both for the manipulator-in-chief and for those who believed in him, the appeal was as much economic as psychological. Joe Biden has a duty to the voters of Michigan, Wisconsin and his own state of Pennsylvania to listen to the Democrats in Congress who already have a plan to rebuild their future: it’s called the Green New Deal.