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.