Statement from PRA on the 2016 Election

About Tarso Luís Ramos

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9 November 2016

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

This is a difficult moment for justice-minded people and anyone who believes in democracy.

Taken at the 2015 Donald Trump rally at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Photo: Jamelle Bouie via Flickr.

A man who ran an insurgent campaign as a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and anti-establishment demagogue is now president-elect of the United States. In the coming days and weeks there will be extensive soul-searching and detailed analysis of the electorate and the dynamics that produced this result. There will be angry finger pointing. Both major parties, the news media, the polling industry, the Supreme Court (this was the first election since they gutted the Voting Rights Act) and large segments of civil society will have much to answer for. But let’s be clear: Trump built his campaign around a culturally exclusionary vision of America and mobilized White racial solidarity across class and gender—with unprecedented success. Whatever else was in play, the White vote handed Trump the presidency.

There is a good deal more reflection needed, but, there’s also no time to lose in preparing for what are sure to be difficult times ahead. We cannot be certain how a President Trump will govern, but if the coming administration bears any relation to the campaign that brought it into being, our human and Constitutional rights are in serious jeopardy.

Here are just a few possible battles we’ll have to fight together in the coming days:

  • Trump cannot possibly produce on all his election promises (more on that below), but to satisfy his base, Trump will need to be seen to make good on some of his bigoted—and eliminationist—policy proposals with respect to deporting unauthorized immigrants, punishing Muslims and refugees, and that southern border wall. (We can all anticipate who Trump will blame for his failures—the same liberal elites and undeserving dark-skinned/foreign/dangerous masses against whom he campaigned.)
  • We will likely face the elimination of the Affordable Care Act and collective bargaining for unions (“Right-to-Work” legislation).
  • We can expect a more regressive tax structure and curtailed/privatized social safety net & services.
  • We should anticipate heightened threats to abortion and funding for the largest nationwide provider of comprehensive women’s healthcare is in jeopardy.
  • Trump could define the Supreme Court for a generation.
  • Trump’s outspoken denial of climate change may be disastrous for the planet, the economy, and for the most vulnerable communities in the Global South.
  • White nationalists, buoyed by Trump’s campaign, are primed to seize the moment for a show of force, the Alt-Right will be trolling cyberspace, and everyday incidents of discrimination—already surging during the election season—may spike even higher.
  • There is a danger that police units across the country may view a Trump victory as a green light to unleash “blue rage” beyond even the rampant racial profiling and violence we’ve already seen.
  • Trump could continue his campaign practice of encouraging vigilante violence by naming and demonizing his detractors. Might he also amplify use of federal and local law enforcement as political police charged with repressing dissenters?
  • His administration may accelerate the erosion of democratic and civic institutions – including the press.
  • Trump’s election positions the Christian Right as king-makers, with pre-election polls placing Christian evangelicals as his most loyal backers. Trump has promised to repeal IRS rules barring church involvement in candidate races and to champion the cause of religious exemptions from (LGBTQ and other) antidiscrimination and labor laws, as his running mate Mike Pence has done as Governor of Indiana.

Any administration that would advance even a fraction of the above agenda would be unacceptable. Given that the president-elect’s party controls of both chambers of Congress and, at the state level, now hold trifectas (Governorship, House, Senate)  in 25 state governments, this agenda isn’t just possible, it’s likely.

What Then Must We Do?

We offer these takeaways as important lessons as we move forward into action:

  • The country is more racially divided that it has been in decades.
  • For most white people racism has been and continues to be economic suicide. For the past 40+ years, the Right Wing (and even centrist Democrats) has successfully used racist wedge issues to attack public services, the social safety net, and unions. In the months ahead we can expect to witness the further betrayal of working people—White and people of color—as Trump’s empty economic populism gives way to regressive taxation and private sector profiteering.
  • To adapt journalist Salena Zito’s formulation, many progressives have made the mistake of taking Trump literally but not seriously, while many of his supporters have taken him seriously, but not literally—voting for him in spite of rather than because of his full-throated bigotry. We must compete for those hearts and minds. Even those who voted for Trump don’t deserve what’s coming. None of us do.
  • Now more than ever, we need to invest in multi-racial organizing around a shared, integrated vision of, especially, racial and economic justice, and a shift in the culture of White anti-racist education and organizing away from notions of privilege and allyship and towards shared struggle in which White people take leadership in organizing other White people.
  • We must learn how to better present our social justice vision of racial, gender, and economic justice as a common, majoritarian, vision and not a partisan or set of special interest planks. We must boldly claim and compete for all of the country – including rural communities often abandoned to become zones of Far Right experimentation.

While reflection is critical, we can afford little time for mourning in the United States. Nature abhors a vacuum and the Right Wing abhors it even more. We must prepare to defend the targets of the coming administration and its supporters, including immigrants and refugees; Muslims, Jews and other religious minorities; and frontline organizers—including in rural communities. But we need more than defense. We must stop the momentum of the Right by pivoting now, and in a sustained way, to compete for the hearts and souls of white people drawn to regressive populism even as we remain firm in our commitment to advance racial, gender, and economic justice.  Trump promised jobs, manufacturing, and economic revival for working people in America. Perhaps we should demand it of him from the start, forcing and exposing his inevitable betrayal of working people as quickly as we can.

Current political and economic order is corrupt and some significant portion of Trump’s margin of victory came from the victims of neoliberalism—the bipartisan program of economic austerity and converting public services into profit centers. Especially in this populist moment we cannot win by burying our vision for justice and defending modest adjustments to the status quo. The electorate just repudiated that approach.

You can count on PRA to be here for you, monitoring the threats and revealing what each of us can do to advance justice and democracy in these turbulent times. Here are our early suggestions:

What Else Must We Do?

  • Rethink/reorganize progressives’ path to power, including a much more robust inside/outside posture to electoral politics.
  • Develop a robust strategy for organizing white people around a shared, synthetic program of, especially, racial and economic justice, aligned with existing racial justice movements & strategies. The Right successfully linked race and the economy in this election; progressives generally either confuse one for the other or treat them as fundamentally separate goals, when they are not.
  • We must lead with courage, humility, and compassion. This is a time for truth telling and rethinking failed strategies—out own, as well as others’.
  • We must build on important local victories—from the defeat of Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona to the defeat of charter school expansion in Massachusetts, without becoming parochial; progressives must identify a path to state and ultimately national power.

We take courage and inspiration from our dialog with many social justice visionaries about how we move forward from this nadir. We are not fleeing to Canada or retreating to a safe space. There is no safe space aside from the ones we build together, that protect us all.

Ever forward.
Tarso Luís Ramos,
for Political Research Associates

Find more PRA resources for organizers, here.

Tarso Luís Ramos is the Executive Director of Political Research Associates. He has been researching the U.S. Right for over two decades, contributing numerous articles and reports on Christian Right, anti-immigrant, anti-labor, and anti-environmental movements and campaigns. Ramos previously served as founding director of Western States Center’s racial justice program. Throughout the 1990s, Tarso worked in various western states to counteract anti-gay campaigns, right-wing militias, and other organized threats to social justice. As director of the Wise Use Public Exposure Project in the mid-’90s, he monitored the Right’s anti-union and anti-environmental campaigns.