Just a week after the presidential election, Mark Levinson, the chief economist at the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU), didn’t mince words at a public lecture at the University of Rhode Island’s 2016 Honors Colloquium:
How is it that a candidate who the vast majority of Americans don’t like…and consider dishonest, lacking the temperament and experience to lead the country, with the endorsement of one major newspaper in the whole country, disowned by his own party establishment, including many of the billionaires who sat out this campaign, whose campaign was outspent and out-organized, his tax dodges exposed, a video documenting his predatory sexual boasts was seen by millions, so clearly unfit for office, a foul, boorish cad, racist, misogynist, who has insulted a majority of the voters and embarrassed the remainder — how could this person defeat Hillary Clinton (whatever we think of Hillary Clinton, and we’re going to come to some criticisms later), one of the most experienced and prepared presidential candidates in history? This is a profound question.
Levinson connected his answer to this question to the dramatic growth of economic inequality over the last 40 years in this country, with wages that have been flat despite increased worker productivity, the decline of union density, and more.
He argued that Trump’s election is the culmination of a bipartisan consensus that has ignored the concerns of working people while serving the interests of the wealthy.
Hillary Clinton came to – fairly or unfairly – personify the establishment, and campaigned on continuity, Trump, the billionaire buffoon, presented himself as the quintessential outsider, and Clinton was not able to put forward a compelling vision of fundamental change… This isn’t about gridlock. It’s about policies that have been supported by both parties: global trade agreements, tax deals by and for the corporations, financialization, Wall St. bailouts, big money politics, crony capitalism, worker organizations decimated, decades of promises not kept.
While Levinson did not directly focus on the role of race and racism in the election’s outcome, he did highlight the ways in which structural racism is embedded in the United States economy – in particular in relation to the unemployment rate, as well as average family wealth when broken down by race and education, which is largely the result of decades of discriminatory policies, especially in housing.
Levinson offered a rebuke of the interconnected decisions that have led to our current political crisis: corporate-dominated free trade and outsourcing, austerity focused on deficit reduction but causing slow economic growth and high unemployment, initiatives to shrink government such as privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy, and attacks on workers’ organizations and workers’ rights.
He then outlined ways to counter Trump’s false populism and proposals, which double-down on failed trickle-down economic ideas. Levinson recommended a political solution that includes: empowering workers and workers’ organizations, full employment to meet social needs including child care, home care, infrastructure, and green energy, raising wages, and fair globalization. Levinson urged those who want to push back against Trump’s dangerous agenda to get more involved – by forming a union at their workplace, joining a community organization, etc.
In a response to an audience question, Levinson predicted that:
Trump will fail. Trump will not meet the demands of the people who put him there. It’s not going to happen. And then this is going to present an enormous opportunity for our side…And we can’t go back to where we were. We have to use this as a moment where we are working on behalf of a much more serious economic program for working people, where the choice is clear. For too long Democrats have blurred this line: “Yeah we’re going to appeal to Wall St., and we’ll to appeal to working people too.” No.
Now the problem is we’re going to go through enormous damage in the next few years. But I think this moment is going to change American politics, maybe forever.
Whether his prediction will come true isn’t up to chance – it will depend on ordinary people coming together to fight for justice and equality. Click here to learn about getting more involved in Rhode Island.