The Trump vote, the Brexit vote and the general turn to white, ultra-national, and hard Right in European and ‘First World’ politics has stimulated the curiosity and speculations of many puzzled observers. The common explanations seem to be that the trend is either a sheer mistake of voters’ turnout, or a revenge of poorer classes against the elites, or a manifestation of ignorance and misleading news, or simply racism or xenophobia. However, these explanations do not really offer an understanding from the point of view of those left behind, but assume that while ‘our’ votes are rational, theirs aren’t. So, in what follows, I would like to suggest that these trends have a clear classed and interested aspect, and are effects of the form that the global and extreme Capitalist system takes today.
An epitome or exemplar of this argument can be demonstrated by deconstructing pragmatic assumptions behind Trump’s campaign slogan: ‘Make America Great Again!‘ What this slogan does is evoke certain sentiments about experiences of America today of those left behind. This slogan suggests that:
- America is not great now; which means that it is not working for me, the voter, as I am experiencing it today.
- America used to be great; which means that I, or my family or community, used to manage better here.
- We must change America; i.e. stop my or our deterioration, which also makes claims to ownership.
The third point above is key to understanding the political beliefs. When people say ‘Make America Great Again,’ they are saying ‘we’ must change ‘our’ country, so they are making claims for inclusion in the great and better nation. For many lower classes supporters, this is an attempt to situate themselves in a more advantaged location within an (unjust) social system; also, because changing the entire unjust system is much harder to achieve, or even imagine. So, they are actually being rational and realist.
There are strikingly similar assumptions behind ‘Taking Back Control‘ in the UK’s Brexit campaign. Namely, that: [1-] there is no control now; [2-] there was control before; [3-] ‘we’ must act to fix it, which means it is ours (ownership claim). In fact, the same wish to secure the benefits of the poorer privileged groups, i.e. among those in the first world who have most to lose from a globalised system, holds true to many other Right-wing ortho-dox calls and achievements among nationalist working classes around the world. For example, with only minor adjustments, it explains the Right-wing support among lower classes Jewish-Israelis in the continuous state of oppression of the Palestinians.
Inspired by Deniz Kandiyoti’s Patriarchal Bargain theory, we can call this explanation ‘the Capitalist Bargain.’ The poorer First World groups support the nationalist Right in the hope to safeguard their inheritable benefits by fighting to continue to distribute the extremely uneven global wealth (and prestige) along national and/or racial lines, rather than in other ways, thus continuing to enjoy some privileges of the First world. They prefer it because, in an increasingly unruly globalising capitalist world, they witness in fear how their few advantages deteriorate towards those of poorer parts of the world, whose enslavement we all benefit from; (and, of course, over believing that a better system is possible altogether). This is a rational privileges-securing deal with the nationalist/racist Right, who, within the current form of Capitalism, vow to secure their position of superiority and advantages over those from the Second and Third World.
This is also why many in the First World, for example in Sweden, insist that limiting immigration is supposedly ‘inevitable,’ fearing the cost it might have on their existing level of privileges within the global unequal system.
And, by the way, when people respond to the Trump slogan by saying that ‘America is still great,’ they are expressing a view that is situated in privileged positions within America, one which allows them to overlook from how broken their society is. America is only great for some.