A disaster for the whole world is how a university professor described the election of Donald Trump as the leader of the United States. But Professor of American History at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Robin Kelley has also argued that the problems didn’t begin with the businessman’s election victory.
A new CNN/ORC poll released on Friday showed that Trump has the lowest approval rating of any newly elected president. A majority – 53 per cent – of individuals surveyed did not approve of his performance.
Trump has been widely criticized at home and abroad for plans to build a wall on the US border with Mexico, as well as last week’s executive order that sought to ban entry to the US of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries.
And it was last Thursday, at the third Kamau Brathwaite lecture hosted by the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, that Kelley described Trump’s election as “a disaster for the US and the rest of the world”.
Speaking on the topic Trumpism and the Crisis of Black America at the 3Ws Oval, Kelley sought to explain some of the factors that contributed to Trump’s victory.
He told his audience that Trump’s rise to power was both the culmination of four decades of neoliberal policy, as well as a new historical bloc on the right, formed in response to multiple crises that the US and the world have been experiencing.
“And yet, what I would identify as an endemic crisis in US democracy cannot explain away the fact that the vast majority of white men and majority of white women across class lines voted for a platform and a message of white supremacy, Islamophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-science, anti-earth, militarism, torture and policies that enrich an oligarchy,” Kelley said.
“And the vast majority of people of colour in the United States voted against Trump, with black women registering the highest voter percentage for Clinton – 93 per cent. It’s not like black women were crazy about Clinton,” he added, questioning whether the female candidate would have been a better leader.
In his criticism of the presidency of the Democrat’s husband, Bill Clinton, Kelley noted that his administration “oversaw the virtual destruction of the social safety net by turning welfare into workfare, cutting food stamps, preventing undocumented workers from receiving benefits, and denying former drug felons and users access to public housing”.
“You have this dramatic expansion of border patrol in the US . . . people focus on Trump and building a wall, [but] we’ve had a war on the border consistently since 1976,” he said.
Kelley added that the so-called “crisis of Black America” is nothing new, as “we were already on a downward slope”.
He pointed to the protest movement, Black Lives Matter, which was formed in response to the killing of black men by police, which, according to him, “speaks of the anger, the anguish and anxiety of a generation that has had to endure snuffing out of Black lives in real time – looped over and over and over again on television and social media – [and] this was before Trump was elected”.
Kelley said there was an uptick in open racism immediately after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, even as pundits were hailing the achievement of a post-racial society.
However, the university professor argued that while the Obama administration’s policies were not responsible for the state of global affairs, “in the name of doing good, Obama created the architecture for Trump to do what he’s doing”.
“We love the idea of Barack and Michelle Obama as paragons of intelligence, reason, fairness and cool. We just lived through the deportation of 2.5 million undocumented people; a record, despite stop-gap executive measures like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“We have witnessed the continuation of Bush-era anti-terrorism policies; the consolidation of executive authority to prosecute war; and the deployment of drones and so-called targeted assassinations that produced thousands of civilian casualties . . . the largest secret domestic surveillance programme in US history, in a Justice Department that targets whistle-blowers while refusing to criminally prosecute Wall Street firms whose conduct wrecked the lives of millions of working people. And, meanwhile, Obama also brought in a bunch of Goldman Sachs folks to run economic policy,” he added.
Nevertheless, Kelley acknowledged that the country made enormous strides under Obama in the areas of climate change, health insurance, marriage equality, wage equity, and diplomatic relations with Cuba, among other areas.
“And from this vantage point, looking from the outside in, the US might look completely different. It’s like a completely different country for those unaware of what life was like before Obama’s election, and it’s an image that in some ways masks a global shift towards authoritarianism . . .
“And I would actually argue that the massive opposition to globalization and the policies of austerity . . . that these uprisings in many ways exposed and hastened the crisis that produced Trumpism.”
He explained Trumpism as a product of white male crisis identity, “shaped also by the declining US empire, tending to masculinity, race and religion”.
He believes that Trump’s election has ushered in “more dangerous times”.
“They were dark and dangerous before, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to pretend that we can continue to do what we were doing all along. However, like every crisis, it presents an opportunity; that means not just responding to the state of emergency but developing a long-term plan,” Professor Kelley said.