In the General Election of 2016, Hillary Clinton faced Donald Trump in the fight to become president. Most Americans were very surprised to see Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton. It was predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the election. In fact, Donald Trump won the election.
So the questions are: Why did he win the election? How can anyone predict a General Election winner?
These political questions need some kind of framework of analysis beyond purely political squabbles. In the progressive view, politics and economics are completely intertwined in the present era.
The question as to why Trump got elected can only be given a reasonable answer when we make clear our basic framework in answering such questions.
The basic instruction for socialists is to vote for people who represent the interests of the working class, and not to vote for people who represent the interests of the capitalist class.
This analysis first considers a statement of the class relations and strengths in the American political economy. Specifically, what is the difference between progressive and centrist democrats?
Second, this analysis will consider the actual events of recent political history. In other words, one can examine in detail what is the impact of more centrist programs or more progressive programs.
Finally, this analysis will ask what is the best strategy to be used by those who understand the class analysis of the recent election.
After the prehistoric era some 5000 to 6000 years ago class divisions began to form. Classes were built on divisions within society between those who owned and supervised versus those who did all the labor. One prominent feature of all social evolution has been the struggles between opposing classes. When two or more classes are antagonistic, it may be called a class conflict.
For thousands of years under slavery, many people were forced to work to produce luxuries for a few. Under modern capitalism, in every strike workers have one set of interests, while the owners of the enterprise have a different set of interests.
A few prominent examples from different stages of American history make the concept of class conflict much clearer (for convenience we use the term America instead of United States of America, although we apologize to other North, Central, and South American countries). For example, in all of his speeches during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln explained how the interests of those who were trying to keep the Union together and stop slavery from expanding were different from the interests of the Southern slave-owners and their allies. Notice at that time the slave owners were all Democrats, while the radical anti-slavery people were all Republicans.
During his administration, Theodore Roosevelt often attacked Robber Barons and monopolists. He criticized their attempt to control the whole economy. His administration tried to restrict their power.
During the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, he often gave speeches attacking the powerful interests that caused the Great Depression. As a reaction to his agenda the wealthy called Roosevelt a traitor to his class. (see H.W. Brand, "A Traitor to His Class: The Life of Franklin Roosevelt").
As a final example, in the election of 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders spoke out against the big banks and corporations that were increasing inequality in America. After Bernie Sanders stated the problem and his solution, his critics called him a socialist because his reforms would hurt their profits.
Let us examine exactly what the divisions were in the Democratic Party in 2016 and 2020 with reference to economic classes and their interests. In 2016 the leaders of the centrist, liberal democrats were: the Democratic candidate for President, Hillary Clinton; former President Bill Clinton; President Barack Obama; and Vice President Joe Biden. Their common viewpoint was that the country urgently needed a large range of small reforms.
Yet their common viewpoint also included the argument that the announced program of Bernie Sanders could not be achieved because it was impractical and there was a lack of money to carry it out. Thus, centrist liberal democrats conflict with conservative Republicans because of the liberals' view that reforms are necessary, but also because of their clash with progressive democrats who argue for major changes in the political and economic system.
The leadership of progressive democrats was clearly in the hands of Senator Bernie Sanders, but he did have the help of many other progressive democrats such as Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kamala Harris. The issues between the two democratic camps clearly reflected their class alliances. Centrist Hillary's reforms reflected the urgent desires of much of the middle class, but they did not in any way harm the profits going to the business elite. Bernie Sanders, on the contrary, argued for free and universal healthcare, which would have stunted the growth of profits for the private healthcare corporations.
In the 2016 campaign, Bernie concentrated on the issues of inequality. Economic inequality causes political inequality, which increases the wealth of the richest Americans. Wealth can be used in politics so as to increase an individual's political power. Those with large amounts of wealth have used that wealth to get their favorite friends elected as Representatives or Senators in Congress.
Once they have power, the wealthy naturally tend to pass laws favoring themselves while harming middle-class employees and the poor. (See H. Sherman and P. Sherman, "Inequality, Boom, and Bust: From Billionaire Capitalism to Equality and Full Employment", Routledge, 2018).
As an example, when the wealthy controlled Congress in 2017, they attempted to pass bills to end public healthcare for millions of people. They were unable to pass a comprehensive bill which would have included their new package and ended the old Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The reason they were unable to pass their own bill was because of the mobilization of millions of middle class people who desperately wanted to maintain healthcare coverage for most people. Their strikingly large movement influenced many conservative congresspeople to decided not to end the ACA. Later, when the conservatives in Congress passed a bill on tax reforms, they were able to include a section that caused 13 million people to lose their health insurance, while everyone else with health insurance had to pay higher premiums.
This legislation also shifted trillions of dollars of income from the middle class employees to the wealthiest owners through both tax cuts for the rich and cuts in social services for the middle class and the poor. In the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress on December 18, 2017, 83 percent of the benefits went to the wealthiest one percent of the population. A poll at the time showed only seven percent of the American people believed that the middle class would benefit at all.
Under the new tax bill, people earning less than $50,000 a year will only be paying about $30 to $50 less a month in taxes, and that only for a couple of years. During the ten-year program of the new taxes, 90 percent of the population will end up paying more taxes than they would have before the bill was passed, while the tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent are permanent.
This illustrates how the dominant economic class uses the government to give itself more money and to take money and social programs from the rest of the population. All of these facts are investigated more fully in H. Sherman and P. Sherman, 2018.
Application of the Progressive Theory of Evolution and Revolution to the Present
The large majority of the American people have not benefited from the rise in national product since about 1980. In 2007 to 2009 the global economy was struck by a severe depression, called the Great Recession. It was a depression about half as deep as the Great Depression of the 1930's. It contained a financial crisis that caused all of the major banks to come close to bankruptcy. They were saved only when the government helped them with money taken from taxpayers.
The capitalist elite influenced the government to help the banks but the government did very little to help the rest of the population. Because government action was limited to helping bail out the very wealthy in 2008, the recession and financial crisis went on for a year and nine months.
Due to the lack of sufficient stimulus to the economy from the government, the economy did not recover until mid-2009 and the growth rate after that time was exceedingly slow. Millions of middle class families lost their homes in the Great Recession. For the next ten years, from 2009 to 2020, the economy grew very slowly and had times when it just about stopped, as well as some short-term economic booms that lasted less than a year.
Because the economy was very uncertain, there were many economic challenges and some disasters for the average person. From 2010 to 2019, during the weak economic recovery, wages and salaries remained about the same, with no cost of living adjustments. At the same time, corporate business profits continued to rise. The increasing gulf between rising profits and stagnant wages in America caused a great increase in inequality.
Many American voters remained angry all through the years that there were only weak economic revivals. The average voter grew very angry that the rich became richer, while the middle class did not increase its average wage or salary. Their anger arose because the average voter became less and less satisfied by statements that the economy was excellent and would soon lead to rising wages. Only toward the end of the expansion, when it was too late to save the economy, did real wages rise a little.
In the General Election of 2016, Hillary Clinton told voters that the slow rise of the economy would eventuallyincrease their wages and salaries. Since wages and salaries did not rise significantly, voters thereforeelected the right wing of the Republican Party, looking for a real solution that went beyond any political promise. At the same time, the Democratic Party slowly welcomed a progressive wing within it that attracted younger voters having great energy, enthusiasm, pragmatic intelligence and vigor.
In the elections of 2016, voters in the Republican Party replaced many of the remaining moderate Republicans with extreme right wing Republicans. The smooth-talking racist Donald Trump captured the Republican Presidential nomination and was then elected President of the United States. His administration represented a social base that considers racism, sexism, and authoritarian semi-fascism as positive, but it also represents the interests of the billionaire class. For example, in the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" legislation in 2017, 83 percent of all the tax cuts went to the top one percent of taxpayers.
The same voter anger pushed the progressive Senator Bernie Sanders up from three percent in early polling among Democrats in the Presidential primaries. His popularity kept rising until the polls showed he had about 45 percent of all Democratic voters. The emergence of a powerful progressive contender for the Democratic nomination was a new event in the electoral history of this era.
Having seen what occurred in past American revolutions, it is easier to understand the present situation developing in America. Because of the long fight for better conditions by millions of people, new possibilities exist in America today. America is only one example, since the same approach could be used to understand all major societies.
In America today there is a real possibility that a major change in some aspects of society could occur through a peaceful political revolution. The majority of Americans want better health care and free higher education, a livable wage, and a secure job. This gives momentum to the possibility that there will be a major shift to a new progressive government and policies.
In the coming election of 2020, the peaceful revolutionary process will move rapidly forward through a Congress and President committed to progressive reform legislation. This view is based on the kind of revolutionary trends that can be measured at present, such as the increasing authoritarian acts of the Trump administration and the rapidly expanding resistance to those acts. All of these trends are likely to be accelerated by a recession, if a recession begins in 2020.
In the election of 2020, as in any other election dominated in part by strong anger among the voters, progressive Democrats might increase their numbers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If there are sufficient progressive democrats in Congress, then some of the following very important programs can be passed.
- First, a new law should create a progressive medical program in which everyone could participate with no new taxes on any participant.
- Second, all public higher education can be made free to all qualified students.
- Third, a full employment law must be enacted. A living wage could then be guaranteed for all working participants in the economy.
- Fourth, the income and wealth of super rich billionaires should be taxed in order to help pay for these programs.
These measures would amount to a progressive economic revolution.
Class and Strategy
The following major points are agreed by most progressives. It is most helpful in the study in a society to define a class according to the amount of economic and political power that it has gathered together. The capitalist class in the United States today is defined to be a small class of about one percent of the population which controls over 42 percent of all the economic wealth. The capitalist class also controls a large part of all political power and all economic power in the United States.
Besides owning 42 percent of the economic wealth of the United States, it also has majority control of the large corporations. The American working class, including both manual and intellect work composes about 95 percent of the active labor force. The working class receives all wages, but the capitalist class receives all profits.
In every economic expansion under a capitalist economy, wages rise very slowly, while the profits of the capitalist class often rise very rapidly. As a result, the ratio of profit to wages usually rises rapidly during economic expansion. This increase of inequality leads to a lack of economic demand for most goods and services. The lack of economic demand always results in recession or depression.
Policies aggressively pushed by the capitalist class always result in recession or depression. If the objectives of voters are to increase economic growth of society -- including wages and salaries -- then those candidates flexing the power of the capitalist class must be defeated.
For these reasons, in every Democratic Party primary, the average voter helps themselves most by defeating those neoliberal candidates who follow the lead of the capitalist class. Voters help themselves most by helping progressive Democratic candidates to gain their nomination. Obviously, if a Democrat wins political nomination, and if they are progressive then most people will gain dramatically by supporting all such candidates.
If a conservative Democrat wins a nomination, then the voter must decide whether it is better to elect a Republican who supports all of the programs of the capitalist class, or a conservative Democrat who supports only most programs of the capitalist class.
If a Republican candidate is a racist who believes they are part of the best race or is a sexist who believes they are part of the best gender, or a fascist who believes in a small ruling group and dictatorship, then the road through the election process is clear for all voters including that type of voter.
Alternatively, if the voter wants programs that will benefit the working middle class and the poor, but also will benefit women as well as members of all races, then the voter should select a progressive candidate. When there is a party, like the Democratic Party, which has some of its strength from certain large capitalist funds, but has much of its strength also from the average voter, then one can observe which group is supporting each type of issue.
This article has shown how the strength of different classes who becomes president in a given election. It also mentions the odd case where individuals may vote by mistake for other tiny parties.
Howard Sherman and Paul Sherman