Over and over again I made it clear that Donald Trump was not only a pathological liar and despot but that, if he lost, it was unlikely he would abide by the Constitution, accept defeat, and leave office voluntarily. Tragically, the insurrection of 6 January 2021, and later disclosures made it abundantly clear that my concerns were justified, and that much of the national Republican Party has descended into rightwing, anti-democratic extremism.
That was all the more evident in 2022, when Trump-backed election deniers ran in states across the country on the Republican line. And it will remain true in 2024, as Trump again bids for his party’s nomination and the presidency.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the 2020 election was that, while Joe Biden won, Trump got 10 million more votes than he had received in 2016. He did especially well in white, rural, economically depressed parts of the country. Why? Why did working-class people, many of them struggling economically, vote for Trump? Why was he able to hold rallies in the middle of nowhere that drew tens of thousands of enthusiastic followers?
I know that some pundits and politicians respond to those questions by suggesting that all of Trump’s supporters are racists, sexists, and homophobes; that they really are “deplorable” and there is nothing to be done. Sorry. I don’t agree. And I should know. I have been to almost every state in this country and, unlike corporate pundits, have actually talked with Trump supporters. Are some of them racists and sexists who vote for bigotry? Absolutely. But many are not.
I think the more accurate answer as to why Trump has won working-class support lies in the pain, desperation, and political alienation that millions of working-class Americans now experience and the degree to which the Democratic Party has abandoned them for wealthy campaign contributors and the “beautiful people.”
These are Americans who, while the rich get much richer, have seen their real wages stagnate and their good union jobs go to China and Mexico. They can’t afford health care, they can’t afford childcare, they can’t afford to send their kids to college and are scared to death about a retirement with inadequate income. Because of what doctors call “diseases of despair,” their communities are even seeing a decline in life expectancy.
Many of these voters have spent their lives playing by the rules. They worked hard, very hard, and did their best for their kids and their communities. During the worst of the pandemic, they didn’t have the luxury of sitting behind a computer at home doing “virtual” work. They were putting their lives on the line at jobs in hospitals, factories, warehouses, public transportation, meatpacking plants, and grocery stores. They kept the economy going, and many thousands of them died as a result.
Many of these so-called racist Americans voted for Barack Obama, our first Black president, and for “hope” and “change” and “Yes We Can.” And they voted to reelect him. But their lives did not get better.
After almost 50 years of wage stagnation, Democrats were in charge – but we did not raise wages for workers. After a massive amount of illegal corporate anti-union activity, we did not make it easier for workers to join unions. We did not improve job security.
We did not address corporate greed or the massive levels of income and wealth inequality. We did not provide health care for all or lower the cost of prescription drugs. We did not make childcare and higher education affordable. We did not address homelessness or the high cost of housing. We did not make it easier for working people to retire with security and dignity. We did not reform a corrupt campaign finance system.
Today, tens of millions of Americans feel deep anger toward the political, economic, and media establishment. They look at Washington and the corporate media and see rejection and contempt.
They see not only a government that is ignoring their needs but politicians busy attending fundraising events with the rich, who have no clue as to what the lives of the great majority of Americans are about. The absurdity of the current-day situation is that Trump— a phony, a pillar of the establishment, a billionaire, and an antiworker businessman—has been able to fill that political vacuum and tap into that anger. Donald Trump, “champion of the working class.” Beyond pathetic!
Bernie Sanders is an American politician serving as the senior United States senator from Vermont, a seat he has held since 2007. This piece is an extract from his book, It’s OK to be Angry about Capitalism, published by Allen Lane at £22.00 Copyright © Bernie Sanders 2023