November 9, 2016 | By | 9 Replies More

I was surprised by the results of Tuesday’s election, but in all honesty not shocked, and certainly less than awed. That reaction wasn’t due to any extraordinary powers on my part but to the fact that I travel the country quite a lot, I listen to people, I learn what their lives are like, what their concerns are. Fly-over country is drive-through country for me. I recommend that professional pundits take road trips in the future — their political forecasts might be more accurate if they rely more on human contact than on data-driven polls. More about that later.

For the moment, I’ll add that in addition to being surprised, I am profoundly dispirited by Donald Trump’s victory, and profoundly disappointed in my fellow citizens, some close friends, who voiced grave reservations about him yet elected to the most powerful office on Earth a foul-mouthed, foul-minded, narcissistic, misogynistic, racist ignorant of how government works, and who is, what’s more, proud of his ignorance. My daughter-in-law pointed out that when he is inaugurated in January, the U.S. will have gone from the first African-American president to the first president endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Quite an achievement for a country that has given us some exemplary Republican chief executives, from Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

Here is a link to a concise analysis, by the New Yorker‘s David Remnick, of Trump’s character and temperament, and what his election could mean for us:

If you are a Trump supporter, you won’t agree with it, but I urge you to read it and think about it.

Remnick notes that Trump’s campaign exploited “a feeling of dispossession and anxiety” among millions of Americans – mostly white – and that he was elected on “a platform of resentment.” It’s becoming a cliche to say that the sense of dispossession and anxiety (raw fear would be more like it) arose from the mass foreclosures and unemployment resulting from the Great Recession, the worst financial crisis to strike the country since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Well, sometimes cliches are cliches because they’re true. Approximately 7 million Americans lost their homes during the Great Recession; the foreclosure rate reached 3.5 percent, significantly higher than in the Depression; unemployment rocketed from 4.7 percent to 10 percent as 8.7 million jobs vanished; the gap between rich and poor widened into a chasm, with income inequality peaking at its highest level since 1928. (In 2007, the top one percent of the population captured about 63 percent of income growth, as compared with 70 percent in 1928).

Those stark statistics alone should explain why so many Americans feel dispossessed, anxious, and resentful. But they are mere numbers, abstractions. To really share in those feelings, you had to have taken road trips to the gutted textile towns in the South, the hollowed-out factory and industrial towns in the Midwestern rust-belt; the dying farm towns on the Great Plains; the neighborhoods almost everywhere decorated with foreclosure signs. You had to talk to the young woman in Tampa, Florida, burdened by a student loan debt that forced her to relinquish her teaching job and hire out as a bartender, earning  more in tips than she ever could on a teacher’s salary.

True, the foreclosure rate has returned to pre-crisis levels, income inequality has eased, the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9 percent, or something like that. But, again, those are statistics, and they don’t tell the whole story. Many high paying jobs have been lost for good, shipped overseas or taken over by robots. The pace of  the “recovery” has been glacial and erratic (due, in my opinion, not to President Obama’s policies but to Republican obstructionism). That is why a sense of dispossession, anxiety, and resentment persists in vast swaths of the American electorate; and Donald Trump tapped into that dark pool.

So did Bernie Sanders, but where Sanders appealed to the better angels in our national character, presenting a vision of an inclusive, tolerant, more equitable America, Trump appealed to our worst instincts — a virulent nativism, a suspicion, even a hatred, of the “other” — immigrants and Muslims to name two of his favorite whipping boys. Where Sanders wanted to tear down walls, between rich and poor, between and among black, brown and white, Trump has vowed to build  figurative walls (like banning Muslims from entering the country) and a real one along 2,000 miles of the Mexican border.

But the Democratic National Committee saw to it that Sanders — the one Democrat who could have beaten him — didn’t get the nomination. The youthful legions who rallied to his cause largely stayed home on Tuesday; so did a significant percentage of Latinos and African-Americans, because, according to a CNN report, they were disinterested and apathetic. Congratulations! I trust that when construction of the border wall begins, or the next time a white cop guns down an unarmed black man, we won’t be hearing howls of protest from you.

(BTW, out of 231 million eligible voters, 128.8 million cast ballots on Tuesday. The turnout — 55.6 percent — ranked the United States 27th out of 35 major nations that held elections in the past year. Another fine achievement).

There will be no end to the analyses of how the Democrats lost the election to the most flawed, vulgar, and disliked candidate in American history. There will be endless autopsies of Hilary Clinton’s flaws (and God knows, she has them) and her campaign. Ultimately, the Democrats lost because they lost the allegiance of the working class, whose interests they had traditionally defended; and, to employ a Twitter-like phrase, they lost that when they abandoned the union hall and moved into the faculty lounge and the boardroom.

There is also going to be a lot of yadda-yadda about healing the wounds of a bitter campaign and bringing the American people back together. It’s already started. I don’t believe it. The divisions among us, exposed in the past 15 months, are too wide, and rest assured, Trump and the radical rightists in the House and Senate will exploit them to the full.

I expect that in a year or two, a lot of people who voted for Trump, like the Britons who voted for Brexit, will be suffering a severe case of buyer’s remorse, and will learn the truth in the old adage: “Beware of what you ask for, you may get it.” Otherwise, I cannot imagine what will come next.






Category: Essays

Comments (9)

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  1. Seth Norman says:


    A thoughtful and elegant message that feels completely authentic…or perhaps I feel this way because I thoroughly–and sadly–agree. I try to remind myself to feel hopeful, because Sanders campaign went so well, but in the moment that’s difficult.

    Truth is, I believe a Trump had been coming for several decades now. Part of the reason he surprised so many was that the mainstream media so often stares into a mirror to write reports insisting “This is how Americans look.” As your travels informed you: not so. And the depth of the rage I’ve seen developing–all but invisible until the Internet, confined mainly to AM radio–is far beyond the pale. It draws from old animosities, revived; also from new prejudices that, based on personal and widely shared experiences, will be even more resistant to the kind of reluctant conversions we celebrated starting in the 1970s, and which culminated with Obama’s election.

    But I’ll tell you the two things that bother me most. First, that so many of my profoundly decent friends voted for Trump, the most indecent man to stand for President, motivated by a hatred for Clinton I still can’t quite fathom–people to whom I’ve trusted the lives of my kids. And the second thing that upsets me: my secret, visceral temptations to agree with a few of his positions, based on personal experiences: living under Sharia Law, watching students return from the horror of FGM; working in courts, jails and locked psych wards overwhelmed by non-native clients; raising kids in parts of Oakland where we heard driveby shootings almost daily–the main reason we moved to Washington.

    There’s a part of me that shouts “enough!”

    Did I imagine Clinton would address these issues effectively? No. Did I choose a choose a foul sex offender allied with fascists who might: no. Do I suspect the Clinton Foundation: yes, but no, I did not let that change my vote.

    Babylon, we sat by thy waters and wept for thee. (A misquote that fits.)

  2. Sean says:

    Interesting take on the election. I too am frightened over Trump winning. I might me more frightened over Hillary winning though. I saw what 8 years of her husband and 8 years of Obama did for us and I remain unimpressed. I live and work in Chicago and neither of them delivered here. Hopefully Trump will get some good people in with him. Hopefully he will not have War in his future. Hopefully he will relax on some of his controversial promises and deliver on the one where he united us.

  3. Nicole Dupre says:

    Totally agree with you, “political pundits” should “take the road ” to understand what is going on in their country, how people feel. The should read too. I am french but appreciate american writers because their books really show what is going on in the country. That’s what I tried to explain in a post I published yesterday on my blog.
    “The longest road” is one of those books policitians should read.

  4. Gerald Byrne says:

    A few thoughts regarding your post…

    I too was appalled that Trump was actually elected, though not particularly surprised.

    In the couple of weeks leading up to the election my wife and I spent a weekend at a resort in Indiana and attended a wedding in Iowa. Being out of the Chicago metro area and driving the rural back roads was a real eye opener.

    In Penceland, every small town seemed to have some sort of evangelical church for every 3.2 residents. Church signs and Trump signs were often side-by-side. So much for the separation of church and state. Until then I hadn’t actually seen enough Trump signs to think of them in any way other than as some sort of rare collectible that I ought to acquire and keep next to my Willkie button. Indiana, during the 1920’s, was the epicenter of the Klan revival. Had a bad feeling that Trump was more than a bad joke in a rural America of dying small towns and fundamentalist true believers.

    Iowa was lighter on evangelical churches and heavier with Trump signs. Even just driving main roads, the Trump signs badly outnumbered the Dollar Stores. Didn’t see a Clinton sign in either state. I was more surprised by Iowa than Indiana since I’d always considered Iowa to be fiscally conservative but socially progressive. Even in Decorah, where the wedding was, which is the home of Luther College, Trump signs were in front yards all over town – not just the less affluent sections, but in front of beautiful old Victorians whose owners were clearly not hurting.

    After the two road trips, it was pretty clear that Trump had a shot in spite of the polls.

    Why didn’t the polls capture the depth of the Trump support? My guess is that a sizeable number of respondents didn’t care to admit they planned on voting for Trump, even if only as a protest against the political establishment.

    Then there was Hillary’s grim, joyless slog of a campaign – the equivalent of a 25 mile march in a cold rain with full pack. Hard to work up much enthusiasm for her after Saunders.

    That said I still can’t believe that enough Americans were so mean spirited, idiotic, racist, misogynistic, homophobic and uncritical of Trump as to actually elect that creature. I am deeply disappointed in my fellow countryman and profoundly sad that we as a people seem to have come to this. There’s a scene in an old 1941 movie, “Meet John Doe” where a Yankee Stadium full of good hearted supporters of the John Doe movement are easily, almost instantly, stampeded in to becoming a blood thirsty mob by an evil businessman named D. B. Norton, who the film has earlier made abundantly clear, is the leader of a home grown fascist movement bent on destroying democracy. Can’t help but thinking we have elected D.B. Norton and his running mate, Elmer Gantry.

    Recent protests by the self-righteous not withstanding, presidential elections happen every four years. Sorry gang, no mulligans; no do overs. Time to find some way to mitigate the damage until the mid-term elections when The Donalds performance drives voters to return the Democrats to the control of Congress.

  5. Laura says:

    Amazing, penetrating essay written so quickly after the election. Unfortunately, I agree with everything you say. Beware indeed….

  6. Tony Baker says:

    Really glad to hear your voice on this, Phil, mostly to get your observation as to why this was not predicted – because pollsters and pundits chose to think rather than to look. I know a man in Alabama who closed his shop and gave his employees the day off to celebrate the fact that a nation that twice shed blood and treasure on a massive scale in the Twentieth Century to defeat fascism and tyranny has now embraced it in the Twenty-first, because a suffering people were persuaded that hatred of immigrants and religious and social minorities constitutes a policy to correct economic duress and international standing. The result will be consistent with historic trends of this kind and soon to come.

  7. Bruce Erickson says:

    Hi Phil Still alive and kicking and spending summers in Grand Marais Mi. Love your thoughts on the election. You hit he nail on the head. All I can add is God Help Us. I always thought you would the one to write a novel concerning Bishop Baraga with your ties to the Copper Country. Bruce E.

  8. Martha Richitelli says:

    Wow, Phil. You really told it like it is. I am hoping I turn out to be wrong about Donald Trump. Hoping he can tone down his ego, surround himself with sensible advisers, and then listen to them. One can always hope!

  9. John King says:

    Trump said he was going to really take care of the veterans. I am a disabled Vietnam Vet, and I will believe that when I see it. Nobody has ever taken care of the veterans including and most especially the VA. I just wonder how the media and all the pundits could be so wrong? I have seen on TV that Trumps has a rouge’s gallery of the Republican right wing to choose from for his cabinet. Somebody help us down here!


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