Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Why Do So Many People Vote for Trump? A View from Berlin

In the face of more than 200,000 deaths, how could people vote for the candidate whose campaign promise is to do nothing?

Nathaniel Flakin

November 9, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share
Photo: David Todd McCarty / Unsplash

Republished from Exberliner

Four years ago, I stayed up all night watching the election results. I was in a bar in Neukölln packed with other people from the U.S. I had only planned to stay for one beer, but I was still there when the cops came at 3am. to throw everyone out. We had to search for another bar that would let us watch CNN until 6am.

This time around, I just went to sleep. In a dream, I saw a map in which Biden had won every single state. But when I looked at my phone in the morning, reality was exactly as I had expected: Biden had won a few million more votes, but so had Trump. The two candidates were neck and neck, and the Times announced the beginning of a “nail-biter” that could last for weeks.

Join us for a post-election discussion. Sign up here. 

People in Germany wonder this could happen. If the U.S. President were elected in Germany, Biden would win by about 100%. (A dogged Exberliner reporter found a few Trump supporters in Berlin, but this is really the exception that proves the rule.) And just counting Americans in Berlin, my feeling is that Bernie Sanders would be President for Life.

Everyone here wants to know: In the face of more than 200,000 deaths, how could people vote for the candidate whose campaign promise is to do nothing? Do Americans really prefer macho posturing and xenophobic rambling to, you know, not dying of Covid? Not so long ago, conventional wisdom held that higher voter turnout would always benefit the Democrats. But the U.S. has now seen the highest turnout in generations, and Trump was able to mobilise millions of new voters.

What many people here don’t understand: life in the United States today is dystopic. It’s not just the acute crises of a deadly pandemic, an ostentatiously incompetent president, and mass unemployment. There are also the constant, soul-crushing fears of everyday life in the land of privatized healthcare, privatised education and no security. At any moment, you can get caught in the rapacious jaws of the hospital system, while you are drowning in college debt, and you could lose your job from one second to the next. In other words, even if you’re doing ok in the U.S.A., you are just one slip away from catastrophe.

And that despair, even if it’s not always on people’s mind, is bad for everyone. As Bertolt Brecht wrote about pre-revolutionary Russia:

Nobody had the desire to attempt a change. People had become accustomed to life crushing them with constant pressure. They did not expect any change for the better, and believed that all changes would only increase the burden weighing on them.

As people in the U.S. are confronted with massive fires that blacken the skies and terrifying storms that get worse every year, the need for radical change is obvious. Yet radical change also appears totally impossible. The ancient U.S. constitution offers no way to reform itself.

This is why such a huge part of the U.S. population doesn’t vote. You might hear that Trump got 47-48 percent of the vote. But only about 62 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot — so only about 26 percent chose Trump. And this does not even count the tens of millions of people excluded disenfranchised because they are not citizens, are in prison, or have felony convictions.

The situation is horrific. A significant part of the country focusses on paranoid fantasies about Antifa looters financed by George Soros (or even more extreme ideas). People vote for Trump to protect them from dangers that do not exist. And yet, this kind of political fever dream is actually a pleasant distraction from the actual, infinitely more horrifying dangers that humanity is facing: climate change is slowly making the planet uninhabitable before our eyes.

It wasn’t so much that Trump presents an attractive path. It’s that the Democratic Party has managed to make a monster look attractive by comparison. The presidential election is actually not giving people much of a choice.

Polls show that almost half of of people are opposed to frackingAnd no wonder: it causes earthquakes, it releases methane that is frying the planet, and it’s not even very profitable. Still, we are asked to choose between two candidates who support it.

For many years, over two thirds of Americans support some kind of Medicare for AllBut the elections offer a choice between two candidates who combine a fierce defence of privatised healthcare with useless platitudes about helping everyone.

Both candidates have long track records of supporting mass incarceration, deportations, racist police violence, and imperialist wars. But only one candidate is at least willing to defend his own policies — the other is cagey.

So given that “choice,” is it so hard to understand how desperate people might the candidate who is more dramatic? The one who at least doesn’t deny the fact that life in the U.S. feels like “carnage”?

The Democrats’ program, with Biden promising to billionaires that “nothing will change,” is what makes Trump seem like a realistic alternative to millions of people. Even if Biden is elected, the crisis in the U.S. will not stop all of a sudden. Many people are hoping for a return to “normal.” But if “normal” was the relative peace and prosperity that some people experienced for a short window in the 1990s, that is never coming back.

Trump is a product of capitalism in decline. Germany might feel like a fortress of civilisation at the moment. But capitalism will produce worse and worse forms of Trumpism all over the world as it falls apart. We are not safe here or anywhere until we throw this system onto the trashpile of history.

Four years ago, watching the electoral map switch from blue to red in the middle of the night at that Neukölln bar, it felt like we were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime shock. But that was, and is, the new normal. People like to say that socialism has failed — but would anyone today be bold enough to claim that capitalism is working?

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.


United States

Image: Joshua Briz/AP

All Eyes on Columbia: We Must Build a National Campaign to Defend the Right to Protest for Palestine

After suspending and evicting students and ordering the repression of a student occupation, Columbia University has become the ground zero for attacks against the pro-Palestine movement. What happens at Columbia in the coming days has implications for our basic democratic rights, such as the right to protest.

Maryam Alaniz

April 19, 2024
NYPD officers load Pro-Palestine protesters at Columbia onto police buses

Student Workers of Columbia Union Call for Solidarity Against Repression and in Defense of the Right to Protest

In response to the suspensions and arrests of students at Columbia, the Student Workers of Columbia is circulating a call for solidarity against the repression. We re-publish their statement here and urge organizations, unions, and intellectuals to sign.

Several police officers surrounded a car caravan

Detroit Police Escalate Repression of Pro-Palestinian Protests

On April 15, Detroit Police cracked down on a pro-Palestine car caravan. This show of force was a message to protestors and an attempt to slow the momentum of the movement by intimidating people off the street and tying them up in court.

Brian H. Silverstein

April 18, 2024

The Movement for Palestine Is Facing Repression. We Need a Campaign to Stop It.

In recent weeks, the movement in solidarity with Palestine has faced a new round of repression across the U.S. We need a united campaign to combat this repression, one that raises strategic debates about the movement’s next steps.

Tristan Taylor

April 17, 2024


SEIU Local 500 marching for Palestine in Washington DC. (Photo: Purple Up for Palestine)

Dispatches from Labor Notes: Labor Activists are Uniting for Palestine. Democrats Want to Divide Them

On the first day of the Labor Notes conference, conference attendees held a pro-Palestine rally that was repressed by the local police. As attendees were arrested outside, Chicago Mayor — and Top Chicago Cop — Brandon Johnson spoke inside.

Left Voice

April 20, 2024
A tent encampment at Columbia University decorated with two signs that say "Liberated Zone" and "Gaza Solidarity Encampment"

Dispatches from Labor Notes 2024: Solidarity with Columbia Students Against Repression

The Labor Notes Conference this year takes place right after over 100 students were arrested at Columbia for protesting for Palestine. We must use this conference to build a strong campaign against the repression which will impact us all if it is allowed to stand.

Olivia Wood

April 20, 2024

Occupy Against the Occupation: Protest Camp in Front of Germany’s Parliament

Since Monday, April 8, pro-Palestinian activists have been braving Germany's bleak climate — both meteorological and political — to protest the Israeli genocide in Gaza, and the unconditional German support for it. 

Alina Tatarova

April 20, 2024

Left Voice Magazine for April 2024 — Labor Notes Edition!

In this issue, we delve into the state and future of the labor movement today. We take a look at the prospects for Palestinian liberation through the lens of Leon Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, and discuss the way that Amazon has created new conditions of exploitation and how workers across the world are fighting back.

Left Voice

April 20, 2024