I do not intend to either praise or castigate the American people for voting Trump into power. I draw a clear line in the sand when it comes to partisan politics. It is unprofessional, and a gross abuse of power, for professors to discuss such matters openly with students, unless it comes with the added proviso: ‘This is just my opinion, and I respect yours.’
So with that proviso out of the way, allow me to continue.
I intend to explore the reasons that The Donald won, which is a far more interesting endeavour. Polling agencies and academics, including the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, got it wrong. Even the famous pollster Nate Silver was shamed on election night.
Furthermore, groups that should have voted Hillary, such as Hispanics, African Americans, women, and young people, either did not turn out, or chose to ride the Trump train. Compared to Romney’s 2012 campaign, Trump retained female support, and gained black and Hispanic votes. Clinton actually lost young voters, compared to Barack Obama in 2012.
(I am tempted, at this point, to be a smart aleck, and remind people that it is political scientists, not economists, who make such bad election predictions – but then again, we economists consistently fail to predict anything accurately.)
The current crop of journalists is full of idiots, and it is therefore no surprise that publications are now ripe with conspiracy theories about racist, pro-Trump white Americans who are also sexist, xenophobic murderers of transsexual Hispanic children; I exaggerate, of course, but speculation is what such journalism boils down to. Apparently, 60 million voters are plain bigots!
There are exceptions to such laughable media standards; Glenn Greenwald is an intelligent breath of fresh air, for example, though I often disagree with his views. Americans elected a black president in 2008 and 2012, so I find the racism angle hard to digest.
To determine exactly why Trump won, we should start with his campaign’s narrative: ‘Make America Great Again,’ and, subsequently, ‘Drain the Swamp.’ These are not visions of fascist post-apocalyptic glory, but rather, as Greenwald correctly observes, reflect real concerns among working and middle class voters.
First, Trump’s promise to return the United States to its place as a Shining Beacon upon the Hill conjures a happy image, in which unemployed machinists in Michigan are back at work, building the engines of American capitalism which allow the U.S. to compete with slimy salesmen like China. It is, ostensibly, a renewed nation without foreign wars and dubious trade deals. This is an America for Americans, as I previously wrote.
Second, and more importantly, Donald Trump is a threat to the political class, those Capitol Hill boys who moonlight as $1 million hookers for Big Banks and California Tech. Trump claims that he was not bought, that his campaign was self financed (however, although less so than Clinton, he too had Wall Street and Silicon Valley‘s aid). He also correctly warned that Clinton is corrupt, as Wikileaks emails show, and she is hence part of an oligarchic Brahminic caste with little regard for the People.
Is there indeed a coterie of rich elites intent on enriching themselves at the expense of American interests? The answer is yes, though that is a subject for another blog post. What matters is that Americans believe this to be the case: globalism’s result, as corporations scurry across borders for particles of profit, is to make human beings into either narcissistic consumers or brainless worker-drones, destroying communities, families, and cultures. When Americans see the banks that caused a worldwide recession escape with government largesse, while regular homeowners are humiliated into homelessness, it floods their faces with rancorous rage.
Is it therefore any surprise that Trump’s Contract with the American Voter resounds like a chime from the tallest belfry?
Clinton’s campaign reacted to Trump’s rhetoric with ‘Stronger Together,’ instead of crafting its own narrative. Indeed, Clinton’s appeal to identity politics possibly back-fired upon her, causing division, not unity. She also allowed herself to fall prey to neo-McCarthyism, blaming Russia for interfering in the U.S. election, without any proof whatsoever.
Every event that occurred followed the Trump narrative to a T: media collusion with the DNC, Republicans disavowing Trump, Goldman Sachs banning its employees from donating to Trump. Understanding this is key to understanding Trump’s win on Tuesday night.
I do not deny that race, sex, etc. played a factor, but one should focus on what is important: class.
The Democrats had a golden opportunity to beat Trump, and they could have done so by electing Bernie Sanders as nominee: a serious candidate, and not a silly social justice warrior or corrupt Washington stool. Yet, as we now know all too well, Debbie Wasserman Schultz repudiated the idea.
Trump, of course, will be a disappointment to those who elected him to the Oval Office. He is, after all, a war hawk like Hillary, and his call for a Wall is likely a ruse. Regardless, the lesson is instructive. Trump won because, even in a flawed manner, he told a tale that resonated with Rust Belt workers, disenchanted Millennials, and many others, addressing real grievances. Leftist and Centrist politicians should take a cue from his playbook.