“Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks. I don’t agree, because I’ve been there. Let me tell you something else some of you might not agree with, it wasn’t that Donald Trump won the election, it was that the Democratic Party lost the election. We need a Democratic Party that is not a party of the liberal elite but of the working class of this country, we need a party that is a grassroots party, where candidates are talking to working people, not spending their time raising money for the wealthy and the powerful. And when we do that, when we transform the Democratic Party, we transform America.”
-Bernie Sanders, speaking at Our Revolution rally in Boston, Ma., as quoted in The Hill, March 21, 2017
I have some problems with what Bernie seems to imply in the first two sentences above as quoted in The Hill.
I believe that racism, sexism and homophobia absolutely played a role for many Trump voters. I believe that Trump’s attacks on Obama, for example, were thinly-veiled and sometimes overtly racist and that for a sizeable chunk of Trump voters those attacks resonated strongly. The same was true for his clearly sexist attacks on and language about Hillary Clinton.
Implying that most Mexicans are rapists, that people of the Muslim faith are inherently soft on terrorism, that Black people protesting police killings of Black people are rabidly anti-police, that his caught-on-tape sexual predator comments and the dozen women coming forward to specifically accuse him of sexual violence mean nothing or are all lies—these are some of the truly deplorable facts of the 2016 Presidential campaign that cannot be pushed aside.
Did everyone who voted for Trump instead of Clinton feel just fine about these positions of Trump’s? No, definitely not. Some were Republicans, Republican-leaning Independents or conservative Democrats who on the overall sweep of issues were just much closer to Trump than Clinton. Some didn’t like the Clinton family and the shadiness and corruption Bill and Hillary have both been guilty of, like Hillary getting those quarter-million-dollar speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. Some Trump voters weren’t consciously anti-racist or progressive but they did not feel good about this overtly regressive aspect of Trump’s campaign language.
Knowing of Bernie’s stated and public positions on these issues during the campaign, his record going back many years of being on the right side in regards to affirmative action, police violence, immigrant rights, the rights of women and the rights of lgbtq people, I expect that if I could speak to him about these issues, we’d probably end up at a similar place.
I do agree with his criticism of the Democratic Party and that “we need a party that is a grassroots party, where candidates are talking to working people, not spending their time raising money for the wealthy and the powerful.”
I agree with what is implicit in what Bernie is saying, that it is only when progressives are addressing issues that are affecting low-income and working class people of all cultures and nationalities that we will be able to build cross-cultural alliances and positive relationships between our various peoples.
I believe it is the responsibility of white progressives to understand and speak up in support of an intersectional approach to our movement-building. We need to appreciate that there are many people who can’t be pigeon-holed in just one category, like class, but that, indeed, a majority of the US working class are affected personally by multiple forms of oppression: not just class but also gender, culture, sexuality, age, disability and others.
And I believe that it is essential, absolutely essential, and right now, that white progressives work with “Trump voters,” interact with them on personal levels, support them in their struggles for a better life, and be prepared to respectfully disagree with them when they say something racist, sexist or homophobic. We should be doing those things with all people, really, not just “Trump voters.”
There are some actual Trump voters who we aren’t going to be able to have much impact on. The historic fact is that there’s a good 25-30% of the US population that has culturally and politically regressive views on most issues. We’re not going to change too many of them. But that leaves close to half of the Trump voters who might be reachable.
Indeed, look at Bernie’s poll numbers. He is far and away the most popular politician in the country, according to a March 15, 2017 Fox News poll, at 61-32%. Mike Pence was at 47-43% and Donald Trump was at 44-53%. These Bernie numbers are concrete evidence that the kind of approach he is taking and the issues he is addressing can win over a big chunk of those Trump voters.
White progressives, let’s do it.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.