Dec 7th 2016

How class and the rise of China won Trump the White House

Most explanations concerning the reasons that led Trump to victory in the US presidential election are unconvincing for two simple reasons: they brush off the issue of class and the rise of China in the global political economy. In fact, these two factors were key to his success.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. It is often assumed that it was white men who won Trump the White House. But his support was, in fact, relatively broad – and was far more bolstered by class than race or gender.

Some 53% of white women opted for Trump and more black and Hispanic female voters voted for him than for Mitt Romney in 2012. As a percentage of votes cast, all racial groups swung more towards Trump in 2016 than Romney in 2012 – but white voters atually showed the lowest swing to Trump (1%), compared to Latinos (8%), Asian-Americans (11%) and African-Americans (7%).

Crucially, however, Trump registered support in the so-called “Rust Belt”, the de-industrialised and depressed zones of Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He flipped a third of the counties there that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and this is what gave him the presidency.

The rich and the affluent voted for Clinton by a much broader margin than they had voted for Obama in 2012. Some 3.46m with an income above $250,000 voted for Clinton, compared with 2.16m for Obama in 2012, a jump of 60%. But is was the working-class votes in the “Rust Belt” that made the difference.

This annoyed some feminists, such as Monica Potts in The Nation, who went as far as to insinuate that the (white) working class in the “Rust Belt” is a reactionary force. There is nothing more wrong than that.

If “identity politics” (politics that put an emphasis on gender or racial issues, for example) is on the wane in terms of electoral-political significance, it is because class inequality is on the rise. Since the late 1970s, the US – and, for that matter, the UK – has embarked on a programme of de-industrialisation and outsourcing, decimating the workforce, slashing real wages, augmenting a rather unproductive service sector, trading “fictitious” (financial products such as derivatives and insurance) rather than real commodities, and promoting precarious and part-time work across all economic sectors.

At the same time, and in order to solve the economy’s “demand problem” (low purchasing power of the consumer, inadequate health and pension provision, housing shortage) the neo-liberal ruling elites in Washington and London financialised everyday life – that is, they encouraged heavy borrowing of people from banks and various lending institutions.

The great collapse

When financialisation collapsed in 2007-08, the very same elites embarked on harsh austerity programmes, increasing class inequalities across society. “Between 1980 and the most recent period”, Martin Wolf wrote in the Financial Times, “the top 1% in pre-tax income jumped from 10% to 18%.” He continued:

The rise in compensation of chief executives, relative to that of workers, has been huge. The US has the highest inequality of any high-income country and has seen the fastest rise in inequality among the seven leading high-income countries.

Trump promised nothing more and nothing less than jobs for the unemployed and the deprived – an easy task since the Democrats took care to sideline Bernie Sanders in the primaries. But there is also another issue strictly linked to this.

It has to do with China’s rise in the international economy of globalisation that the US has pioneered. De-industrialisation and outsourcing gave a massive advantage to China and other emerging economies, which are now competing on an equal footing with the US.

China is now the world’s largest economy on a purchasing power parity basis. She is also the largest holder of foreign exchange reserves and her investments in Africa and Latin America have outstripped those of the US. China is also America’s second-largest trading partner and holds more than $1.3 trillion in US debt, enabling the US to finance its deficits.

In April 2016, Australia blocked a vast land sale to a Chinese-led consortium and in October 2016 Germany withdrew approval for the $1 billion takeover of chip equipment maker Aixtron by a group of Chinese investors. China is increasingly seen as an economic threat by some countries.

The rise of China

The value of Chinese overseas acquisitions announced in the first nine months of 2016 totalled $191 billion, almost double the inflows of foreign investment into China over the same period. Participation in the World Trade Organisation benefited China more than the US.

The paramount aim of the notorious TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) with the EU, which is not forthcoming, and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is not just to pulverise nation state power but also to consolidate a Western trade bloc to fight Chinese competition. Pointedly, China is excluded from the faltering US-led TPP.

Trump’s campaign grasped this shift in the global political economy. He promised “America first” – that is protection from the Chinese competition which destroys American jobs. The Clinton camp cultivated the old mantras of globalisation and “identity politics”, backed by aggressive financial interests that have brought the country to its knees.

Class inequality became even more pronounced in this light, trumping in significance and visibility any other form of inequality based on gender or race. Thus, while Clinton’s campaign was producing a narrative on “identity politics” creating, as Francis Fukuyama put it: “a coalition of women, African-Americans, Hispanics, environmentalists and the LGBT community”, Trump focused on the real issue of job creation and won the vote of the working class. Class politics and the power-shift to China won Trump the White House.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jan 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "During the second world war, Nazi Germany banned all listening to foreign radio stations. Germans who overlooked their duty to ignore foreign broadcasts faced penalties ranging from imprisonment to execution. The British government imposed no comparable ban which would have been incompatible with the principles for which it had gone to war. That’s not to say, though, that it wasn’t alarmed by the popularity of German stations. Most effective among the Nazis broadcasting to the UK was William Joyce. This Irish-American fascist, known in Britain as “Lord Haw-Haw”, won a large audience during the “phoney war” in 1939 and early 1940, with his trademark call sign delivered in his unmistakable accent: 'Jairmany calling, Jairmany calling'. "
Jan 6th 2021
EXTRACTS: "The revelation of Trump’s hour-long recorded call with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, over this past weekend crossed a new line – a line that not only set a high-water mark of moral reprehensibility, but a legal line as well, specifically in his pressuring Raffensperger to 'find the 11,780 votes' that would hand Trump the state and his veiled threat (' it’s going to be very costly…') if Raffensperger failed to comply. ........ Raffensperger – who has been forced to endure intense pressure, intimidation and threats – has proven himself to be a man of integrity and principle."
Jan 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "A final, perhaps more sinister, possibility is that Johnson knows exactly what he is doing. His political style evokes a unique blend of dishevelled buffoon and privileged Etonian. He is someone who likes to bring good news and doesn’t take life too seriously. Making tough, controversial decisions threatens this persona and so hiding in the shadows until his hand is forced helps him to reconcile his identity threat."
Dec 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "The resultant loss of land, the growing impoverishment of its citizens, and the hostile actions of Israeli occupation forces and settlers have forced many Bethlehemites to leave their beloved city and homeland. Given these accumulated violations of human rights and their impact on Christians and Muslims, alike, one might expect Christians in the West to speak out in defense of these residents of the little town they celebrate each year.  That, sadly, is not to be – most especially (and I might add ironically) among powerful Christian conservative groups in the US which, after all, claim to be the defenders of their co-religionists world-wide."
Dec 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "Worldwide, people donate hundreds of billions of dollars to charity. In the United States alone, charitable donations amounted to about $450 billion last year. As 2020 draws to a close, perhaps you or members of your family are considering giving to charity. But there are, literally, millions of charities. Which should you choose?"
Dec 1st 2020
EXTRACT: " The Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde – From Signac to Matisse and Beyond, examining the immense influence of this art critic, editor, publisher, collector and anarchist............A crucial feature of anarchism is the emphasis on the individual as the fundamental building block, the essential point of departure for any human association whatever. The individual was characterized by Grave in 1899 as a social creature who should be “left free to attach himself according to his tendencies, his affinities, free to seek out those with him whom his liberty and aptitudes can agree.” "
Nov 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "As the pandemic raged in April, churchgoers in Ohio defied warnings not to congregate. Some argued that their religion conferred them immunity from COVID-19. In one memorable CNN clip, a woman insisted she would not catch the virus because she was “covered in Jesus’ blood”. "
Nov 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Here are just a few ways exercise changes the structure of our brain."
Nov 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Perhaps it is Piller’s discovery that when it comes to war there is no such thing as innocence...."
Nov 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "I imagined America as the land of the free that gave voice to the forgotten. Where race, color, and creed do not matter and human rights are guarded with zeal. Where the ingathering of all cultures and people made it richer and human resources and talent knew no limits or constraints. Where opportunity awaits the able and generosity is extended to the needy. Where everyone is equal before the law and political differences are valued to make America better. Where sacrifices are willingly made to right the wrong morals and fortitude guide its leaders. Where caring about friends and allies is the hallmark of the nation and opposing oppression near and far is the emblem that distinguished America. This is the character of America. This is the soul of America. This is what made America great. The America that gave me a home. The America that fulfilled my dreams."
Oct 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "“The paintings which I propose to do will depict the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy” – this is how Jacob Lawrence described his project in 1954. Over sixty-five years later his proposal has, if anything, become only more urgent. Two days after this exhibition closes, Americans will vote in what is arguably the most significant election in a generation, an election that will measure our commitment to preserving that democracy, the struggle for which was Lawrence’s mighty theme."
Oct 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "There are also other ways our life stories can be passed down through generations, besides being inscribed in our DNA...... One 2014 study looked at epigenetic changes in mice. Mice love the sweet smell of cherries, so when a waft reaches their nose, a pleasure zone in the brain lights up, motivating them to scurry around and hunt out the treat.... The researchers decided to pair this smell with a mild electric shock, and the mice quickly learned to freeze in anticipation....... The study found this new memory was transmitted across the generations. The mice’s grandchildren were fearful of cherries, despite not having experienced the electric shocks themselves. The grandfather’s sperm DNA changed its shape, leaving a blueprint of the experience entwined in the genes."
Oct 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "As we Americans face the potential loss of a peaceful transition of power after the election and the possible end of democracy as we know it, we are reminded that discourse matters, that words matter and that the one who quotes poetry is a man who reads—and that matters."
Sep 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "We now know the potentially appalling long-term effects of suffering cruelty from others, including damage to both physical and mental health. The benefits of being compassionate towards oneself, rather than treating oneself cruelly, are also increasingly recognised..... And the idea that we must suffer to grow is questionable. Positive life events, such as falling in love, having children and achieving cherished goals can lead to growth..... Teaching through cruelty invites abuses of power and selfish sadism. Yet Buddhism offers an alternative - wrathful compassion. Here, we act from love to confront others to protect them from their greed, hatred and fear. Life can be cruel, truth can be cruel, but we can choose not to be."
Sep 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Over his incredible career, David Attenborough has seen more of earth’s natural wonders than almost anyone. To hear him talk, with such clarity, about how bad things are getting is deeply moving. Scientists have recently demonstrated what would be needed to bend the curve on biodiversity loss. As Attenborough says in the final scene, “What happens next, is up to every one of us”. "
Sep 15th 2020
EXTRACTS: "The Anglo-Australian multinational company Rio Tinto – the largest iron ore mining company in the world – demolished two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters in May.......The Dampier Archipelago of Western Australia is home to thousands of Aboriginal pictographs, and perhaps the oldest surviving rock art in the world. Indeed, Australia’s Indigenous art represents the longest uninterrupted tradition of art in the world – going back over 50,000 years......Aboriginal people represent the oldest continuous culture in the world...."
Sep 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution was a defining event that changed how we think about the relationship between religion and modernity. Ayatollah Khomeini’s mass mobilisation of Islam showed that modernisation by no means implies a linear process of religious decline.....Reliable large-scale data on Iranians’ post-revolutionary religious beliefs, however, has always been lacking...........In June 2020, our research institute, the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in IRAN...conducted an online survey......The results verify Iranian society’s unprecedented secularisation."
Sep 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Just as you can upgrade your old computer’s operating system, culture can evolve even if intelligence doesn’t. Humans in ancient times lacked smartphones and spaceflight, but we know from studying philosophers such as Buddha and Aristotle that they were just as clever. Our brains didn’t change, our culture did."