Lessons from Trump’s win
I did not think Donald Trump would have won the presidency of the United States. As much as it was clear that he was appealing to a sentiment, albeit stunningly problematic for its racist, xenophobic and misogynistic notes, I still did not think he would take the spoils.
I am often called pessimistic and skeptical for the opinions I express in this column. However, I still believed that good sense would prevail and the people, good right thinking people, would vote for the more qualified, even tempered candidate who held a vision for the diverse and progressive country America is held up as around the world.
Perhaps my belief in humanity was misplaced but undoubtedly, I, along with so many others, were wrong and perhaps that says something about society, democracy and so much else. The polls up until Tuesday indicated that Hillary Clinton would have won. The well-known pollster Nate Silver said there was a 70 per cent chance the Democratic nominee would become Madame President. Post-election, persons are now wondering how Silver and so many others were off by so much.
If we were not before, we are now sure that anger and frustration can determine the outcome of elections. So much so that they have the ability to break models and depart from what the polls suggest are likely to be the outcomes. Perhaps a reminder for those of us in countries approaching constitutionally due elections, that we need to listen to the individual voter a great deal more. The sets of voters most chattered about in the last week, the silent Trump voter and the rural voter, are both said to have secured the win for the President elect.
The silent Trump voter is said to have swung the election in favour of the blustering businessman. These voters did not indicate to pollsters that they would vote for the Republican nominee, but ultimately did. One can safely presume that silent Trump voters did not indicate their true intentions because to do so it would have said something about the America they wanted and who they were, something they were not willing to tell everyone else in the context of a campaign where Trump said so much they were expected to disagree with based on markers like race, education, location and class.
Similarly, rural voters were won over by Trump’s rhetoric which suggested that he was going to return jobs to the jobless by tearing up trade deals that had led to domestic job loss. He also pledged to put coal miners back to work in parts of the country where the industry had been stemmed by attempts at finding cleaner sources of energy. Altogether, not terribly sophisticated nor pragmatic arguments but ones that worked in a race where his opponent did not have a consistent rhetorical argument on economics and jobs that voters could easily recall and repeat in their sleep.
It is a reality that led to a big loss in those parts. “Hillary lost rural America 3 to 1,” according to one report because “The billionaire New Yorker never issued any rural policy plans, but he galvanized long-simmering anger by railing against trade deals, the EPA and the “war on American farmers.”
It is unquestionable that race played a factor in this election. Although both principals were white, their predecessor was not, and the country they were seeking to lead is less white than it has ever been. Race has been a constant in the social currents of the country in recent years with the extra-judicial killings of black people by police and the Black Lives Matter movement pushing for better.
Additionally, beyond race, Obama has pursued progressive domestic policy which had addressed the concerns of many people once at the margins of society. The result of this has been that white men and women have felt less central to the American way and wished to course correct. They thus decided to follow the candidate who has said some of the most vile and racist things, not to mention false things, about a myriad of people who are all non-white.
Political commentators Danielle Moodie-Mills and Van Jones put it in stark terms in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Moodie Mills saying that Trump’s victory is white supremacy’s last stand in America”, and Jones calling it a “whitelash”. It is also impossible to distinguish Trump’s triumph from Brexit or the fact that “throughout western democracies there is a backlash brewing that is nativist xenophobic and racist”, an indication that as a global community, we have to brace ourselves for the worst but work towards better.
Despite these appeals, there has been an attempt after the election to normalize the problematic positions of the president elect. The media and pundits have been asking that electors not take him at his dangerous word. This, I think, is telling for it is indicative of how extremes are normalized in an attempt to move forward, and may even be evidence of the media already dropping the ball on a President who has scoffed at press freedom,
Additionally, it is fundamentally anti-democratic for what else does an electorate has other than the words of the candidate. Even in moving forward, there must be a commitment to keeping his feet to the fire especially when he has committed to blowing so many things up, at least figuratively.
It is blatantly obvious that Trump’s ascension will have ramifications for the rest of the world as has the ascension of every man who has entered that office before him. However, he is not only unlike his predecessors in his qualifications or lack thereof but in his world view. He makes light of many of the world’s most pressing issues. He thinks global warming is a figment of the imagination of Chinese scientists, a view that has the ability to put the global efforts related to such at risk. There should be similar consternation about several issues of high moral import like global human rights or America’s role in the world more broadly.
The next four years may be tough for those most affected by US policy and that includes many of us but Trump’s victory should also be a reminder that societal progress is not inevitable, that bad things can happen to good people, and we cannot afford to believe that right will always win.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture, holds a Master’s in international trade policy and is currently pursuing a law degree.)