The Trump effect on American politics

New book puts dominant parties on the analyst’s couch

After the election, California Teacher interviewed Robert Samuels, president of the University Council-AFT, and author of the new book, Psychoanalyzing the Left and Right After Donald Trump.

California Teacher: What does your approach try to explain that other approaches cannot?

Robert Samuels: I focus on the irrational and unconscious aspects of politicians and their followers. I also offer a critique of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump from a historical and psychoanalytic perspective. Although we want to believe people vote according to a rational analysis of policies, most voters make decisions based on unconscious, irrational motivations. It is then easy for someone like Trump to take advantage of their racism and sexism.

CT: Why was Trump so successful with men without a college degree? And why do people with degrees vote Democratic?

RS: Many people with college degrees did vote for Trump, but one thing I critique in my book is the way Democrats have often seen higher education as the solution to jobs, inequality and poverty, and this has allowed them to avoid directly addressing more progressive policies that help the working class. The Democrat Party has become the party of the professional class, and this at times cuts them off from many voters. 

Many liberal politicians and professionals think that because they used higher education to advance, everyone else can do it. They also have a hard time confronting the negative results of their policies and actions because they are highly invested in seeing themselves as doing good.

Democrats have often seen higher education as the solution to jobs, inequality and poverty, and this has allowed them to avoid directly addressing more progressive policies that help the working class.

CT: Do you think the push for free college will succeed?

RS: Due to the high cost of higher education, college now increases inequality and decreases social mobility, and that is why we have to fight to make it free. Some states and counties are moving ahead with free public higher education, but the Trump administration may focus on supporting for-profit colleges.

CT: What does the election say about the future of unions and the organization of labor?

RS: Unions are going to have to do a better job at organizing new workers, but with a new U.S. Supreme Court, they may lose fair share, and so they will have to rethink their whole economic and political model. They will also have to stop giving the Democratic Party a blank check. We should run our own progressive candidates in primaries.

CT: Do you think the election bears out your conclusions that moderate Democrats have moved away from their support for workers and a more equal society, and that moderate liberals remain tied to outdated policies and the status quo?

RS: Since Bill Clinton, the focus of the liberal class has been on growing the economy and education but not dealing with stagnant wages for most workers. Some liberals fear that a real radical change would upset their relatively comfortable lifestyles, and so they demonize someone like Bernie Sanders and a true left alternative. Many of our own unions attacked Sanders. 

Half of all Americans live in poverty or near poverty, and their pain is real, but conservatives have pushed people to see the liberal elites as the real victimizers. Even very wealthy Republicans see themselves as the victims of taxes, government regulation, and progressive politics. The working poor and the billionaire class can then bond over their shared victim identity. We need to provide a real progressive alternative.

CT: Many people see Bernie and his campaign as the direction the Democratic Party should move. Do you think the Sanders candidacy has the ability to point a way forward?

RS: Sanders never was really talking about revolution or socialism, and so he ran to the right of his own radical rhetoric. He did do a great job attacking inequality, Wall Street, and our campaign finance system. He promoted universal healthcare, free public higher education, and strong climate change legislation. So Sanders definitely points in the right direction, if the Democratic Party is willing to listen.