Monday, November 14, 2016

A Bitter Harvest

By Reginald Johnson  


  It was last April 24, the day Donald Trump came to Connecticut during the Republican presidential primaries, that I realized something unusual was going on in this country.

 That was the day Trump visited Bridgeport and Waterbury, two once powerful industrial centers that have been struggling for years to recover after a succession of companies closed down their factories and left town.

  The lines of people waiting to get in and see Trump at two rallies --- many of them waiting for hours in a light rain --- was amazing.  In Waterbury, the line to get into Crosby High School stretched along one building, down a hill and up along another building. In Bridgeport, people queued up through the length of the parking lot outside the Klein auditorium where Trump was set to speak.

   Something about Trump’s message and persona attracted these people, in both cases, a mostly white, middle-aged crowd. “He does something to me, I don’t know what it is,” said one woman waiting in Waterbury.

 As I watched these people line up both in person then on the news, and then heard Trump speak at the Bridgeport event recorded on You Tube --- an absolutely raucous rally (what else in Bridgeport?) with Trump blasting away at a “60 percent loss of manufacturing”  in the region and denouncing NAFTA --- it occurred to me that Trump had really hit on something.

People lining up to see Donald Trump in Bridgeport last April. Trump decried the loss of manufacturing and blamed trade deals like NAFTA.

 For the past 40 years, the middle class in this country --- mostly white --- has been sinking.  You can tie that decline very much to the disappearance of manufacturing.  People with only high school educations back in the day could walk into the GE plant in Bridgeport, or the Uniroyal plant in Naugatuck, or Scovill in Waterbury, and get a decent paying job, with medical benefits and a pension. But those plants are long gone.

  Try and find a quality job today with just a high school diploma. Forget it.

  The process of plants closing and corporations fleeing overseas to make more money didn’t just happen back in 1970s and 1980s. It has continued into the 1990s and 2000s’ courtesy of the pro-corporate North American Free Trade Agreement --- promoted by leading Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore --- which laid out the red carpet for companies to leave the country.  And leave they did in droves, from the Northeast to the northern Midwest.
  People’s lives have been ruined in the process and communities devastated.

  I got the feeling that day back in April that many of the people going to hear Trump either had worked in now closed factories or maybe their parents had, and their lives were better then, and their communities were stronger. They were also likely upset over the hollow  “economic recovery” since the 2008 Wall Street bank crash. They came believing that Trump could turn this sorry trend around, and Trump --- though a billionaire capitalist --- knew what they were thinking and catered to it.

  Except for Bernie Sanders, no one else among the presidential contenders saw this major undercurrent in the electorate --- the rage of the middle class. I don’t think too many people in the media saw it either.


 While I felt blue collar anger would be a powerful force in Trump’s favor, I never thought it would be enough to overcome Hillary Clinton’s advantage in key battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. So I was shocked, as many were, by the result last week, with Donald Trump capturing the presidency by winning the most votes in the Electoral College, copping 290 votes to Clinton’s 228. (Clinton won the popular vote.)

 When Tuesday’s election results first came in, I thought for sure the Democratic ground game and union power would be enough to give Clinton the edge in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But it wasn’t. It turns out there was a “Brexit Effect” going on --- a lot people angry at their economic status declining , angry at the Establishment, angry at being ignored --- turning out in surprisingly large numbers to say “enough.”

   When I related what was happening in the Rust Belt states with what I saw earlier in Connecticut, it all made sense. The white working class was pissed off and making their feelings heard.

  Was race a factor in the election? It might have been for some voters. There’s no question that Trump demagogically played on voters’ fears about job loss and terrorism/security by engaging in constant immigrant bashing and slamming Muslims.  Some Trump backers, particularly the rabid followers at his rallies, responded to this.

  But I do not think that all the 60 million voters or so that voted for Trump in the end were racists and xenophobes --- an argument some liberal commentators seem to be making. Most people voted for him due to anger over their declining economic fortunes and the perception that Trump, and not the Democrats, had some kind of answer for the malaise: rewriting trade treaties, stopping the corporate exodus, lowering taxes, as well as restricting immigration.

  As the old saying goes, people vote with their wallets.

A Trump banner hangs on a tractor trailer in Skowhegan, Maine. The area of central and northern Maine, which voted for Trump, has been hit by plant shutdowns and a general economic slowdown.

 This is not to imply that Trump’s prescription for an economic recovery is the right one. While rewriting the trade deals is a good idea, other ideas of his are the same old Republican bromides --- like cutting corporate taxes and lessening regulations --- that have been tried before and don’t work.

  Trump is basically a populist demagogue. While he has correctly identified some real economic problems, he’s mixed his message with hateful and divisive rhetoric. This is to be condemned.

  Since the election, numerous acts of bigotry directed against minorities have been popping up around the country. Trump needs to come out and make a firm, public statement renouncing this behavior.

  It needs to be recognized that it is the U.S. economic system --- corporate capitalism --- that is the real reason why an irresponsible candidate like a Trump can succeed. The system --- with corporations dumping millions of workers as they relocate to other countries to gain higher profits and with big banks engaging in risky investment schemes that crash the economy --- has created masses of people frustrated with their lives and resentful towards government.

Desperate for answers, they fall prey to someone like Trump.  


Monday, November 7, 2016

Jill Stein for President

By Reginald Johnson                                      

   When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will certainly recognize the top two names on the ballot --- Hillary Clinton, Democrat, and Donald Trump, Republican.

   Dropping down a couple of lines will be the name of Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.  Some people might have heard of him. But the next name will likely be a mystery to many --- Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.

   This Harvard-educated pediatrician has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, which sees independent left candidates as a nuisance.  Stein also doesn’t have the kind of the large sums of money needed to buy expensive TV ads, so the Green Party candidate has struggled to be heard.

    That’s a shame, because Stein is clearly the most progressive choice in the presidential line-up. America deserves to know who she is.

   She and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, have advanced an agenda which says no to the pro-war, pro-military, and pro-corporate agenda of Hillary Clinton and also rejects the pro-corporate, pro-military, socially regressive and divisive positions of Donald Trump.

  Stein and Baraka favor a sweeping “Green New Deal” which will transform our fossil-fuel based economy to an entirely renewable energy-based economy, and in the process create 20 million of new jobs. It will be funded by cutting our astronomical defense budget by 50 per cent and close our 700 military bases around the world.

 Stein rejects further wars of intervention and says we must make peace in Syria. She says the U.S. has to stop funding repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt and end any funding for Israel’s illegal settlements and occupation of Palestine.

  She wants to break up the big banks, replace NAFTA and other corporate trade agreements with fair trade, provide aid to a new local economy of small businesses and co-ops, abolish student debt and establish a Medicare-for-all health care system.

 Stein and Baraka recognize that unless we give up, once and for all, trying to work within the two major corporate parties and build an independent and revolutionary movement that rejects the power of big corporations and rejects militarism and war, there can never be meaningful change in this country.

 “We are in a state of emergency and it requires a new way of thinking and political independence to stand up not just for what we can get but what we must have if we are to survive as a human species,” Stein said in an interview in CounterPunch.

Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President (photo from TruthDig)

  Correctly, Stein rejects the pick the “lesser evil” approach of many progressives who always say during presidential contests that you can’t “waste” your vote on a desirable third party candidate, but you must vote for a Democrat --- however flawed --- in order to stop the latest Republican monster from being elected. The GOP monster this year, and one whose rhetoric is particularly obnoxious, is Donald Trump.

  Stein points out that progressives in general lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008,  believing his promises that he would carry out a liberal, anti-war administration. People saw Obama as far preferable to Republican John McCain.

  But what we got was the following: Wall Street bail-outs costing trillions of dollars; a succession of wars in the Middle East; regression on stopping the climate meltdown; heightened attacks on civil liberties; and persistent racism in the criminal justice system.

 With her deep ties to Wall Street, a track record of promoting wars and regime change and her failure to criticize the erosion of civil liberties, Hillary Clinton threatens to carry on the same kind of program.

 “The Lesser Evil argument has failed,” Stein told CounterPunch. “It has a track record. And what have we gotten from it? The politics of fear.”

  If we are ever to break the stranglehold of corporate capitalism over our society and end the pattern of militarism and war, we need to make a clean break from the two corporate parties, and embrace a new movement.

  Please vote for the Stein-Baraka ticket on Tuesday.