The Silent Majority Strikes Again
The election of Donald Trump is the perfect storm making landfall. In November 2016, all the wind and waves which had been building for a generation came ashore, devastating and reshaping American politics in the process. The Donald picked an excellent time to enter politics. He threw his hat in the ring at a time of anger, decay and distrust. All of the stars which would guide him to victory shone at their brightest during his White House. The ultimate cause of Trump’s victory was the severe alienation of White middle Americans from the political, cultural, and economic elite which run this country. This long-simmering alienation erupted to the surface in a big way this election cycle. Donald Trump won because the elite has economically failed White Americans, pushing many into a seemingly pit of poverty and despair. They have also grown culturally distant from these people, adopting new, progressive, values with such speed that the economic distance ended up undergirding a very real cultural gap. This gap ultimately would have been survivable, had the Democratic party not elevated a woman whose name became a byword for these establishment failures in the new millennia.
Why have you forsaken me?: The policy failures of the establishment
Economic factors are the ley lines along which all political activity is conducted. For the past forty or so years, uneducated white Americans have found themselves slipping into poverty. Automation, neoliberal economic policies and free trade has led to a gutting of dignified employment opportunities for men without an education. While these macroeconomic shifts created an immense glut of wealth and opportunity for those with the education and means to find gainful employment in urban areas, those without found themselves left in the hollowed out shells of their communities. As the jobs and the skilled individuals left, a rot began to settle in. Drug addiction became commonplace and suicide rates skyrocketed. All of this was happening out of the eyes of liberal, urban Americans (As one of these Americans, I had no idea about these problems until the Trump Train began to pick up speed, and mainstream outlets began running articles about this malaise). When Trump promised to make America great again, it truly spoke to people who have seen their once thriving communities fall apart. His promise to bring back good jobs by renegotiating the trade deals spoke to people who saw their jobs shipped away by these very deals, and his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration was comforting to those at risk of being economically displaced by immigrant workers. At the core of the Trump coalition were white men without a college education, those hardest hit by economic change, with Trump winning the overwhelming majority of them. Trump’s victory ultimately came from the states of the rust belt which have been hit hardest by the forces of deindustrialization. Beyond the realm of economics, Trump’s isolationism won him points from the men and women whose sons and daughters make up the bulk of our military. They have seen their family members killed and maimed in the desert, and for what? For ISIS and Iran to take control of the steaming rubble that was once Iraq? They feel their blood and treasure spent in the Middle East was squandered. It was in the states blasted by generations of macroeconomic trends and policy failures of elites that “Making America Great Again” was at it’s most appealing. It should thus be little surprise that the candidate who called for doing so carried the day there.
Maybe telling them to check their privilege wasn’t such a good idea
While the core of Trump’s support came from the white working class, his support did not end there by any stretch of the imagination. Across gender, income and geographic lines, Trump carried the white vote handily. While the voters who actually won him the election were from economically depressed areas, the average Trump voter was a middle class, professional, white person living in the suburbs. For many of Trump’s supporters, it was not economics which drove them into Trump’s camp, but socio-cultural issues. Since the end of the Cold War, the fabric of American society has changed at a dizzying pace. We have become, by any metric, one of the most open and tolerant societies in human history. Accompanying this tolerance, however, has come a regime of political correctness that many find stifling and oppressive. In recent years, the idea of intersectionality rose to dominance across the intellectual left. Intersectionality views the world through the lens of privilege, elevating the needs and concerns of those it sees as the least privileged. In practice, this has led to the creation of a moral hierarchy based on how victimization, with straight white men at the absolute bottom of the totem pole. The most avid evangels of this new ideology have become known as Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). Emerging from the internet and college campuses, SJWs have become famous for their haranguing language policing, imploring people to ‘check their privilege’ while using their hierarchy of victimhood to discredit and disregard the opinions of those on its lower rungs. While the instinct to help the dispossessed cannot be called a bad thing, many Social Justice activists have lost the script, choosing to rail against the immorality of those they see as being the most privileged rather than for those in need of help. The indiscretions and unpleasantness of these SJWs was overlooked by elites, who saw a more tolerant society as a laudable goal. They were decidedly not overlooked by Middle America, which saw the Social Justice Progressivism as a fundamental threat to their way of life. One of the most overwhelming theme amongst Trump voters is that they supported him because he was not going to bow down to the regime of political correctness, that he said the things they had been thinking for so long, but were afraid to say lest they be tarred as a bigot. In it’s eagerness for social progress, the left ended up producing the forces which elected a president nigh-certain to intensely chill progress for at least the next four years. In a lot of ways, I see a parallel between Trump and Obama. Obama was, in no small part, elected in reaction to the right wing cultural crusades which had dominated the Bush years. Much as people were sick of right wingers telling them how to live then, they are sick of left-wingers telling them how to live now, and Trump is that sentiment made manifest.
No post-mortem of Donald Trump’s victory would be complete without understanding exactly how Hillary Clinton led directly to his victory. On almost all levels, she was a horrible candidate, utterly unsuited for the political climate of America in 2016. On a personal level, she is cold and lacking charisma, incapable of holding a rally or genuinely energizing voters. While Trump did not get significantly more votes than Mitt Romney or John McCain, Hillary Clinton did lose millions of the votes from Barack Obama’s victories, a fact which puts her failings in stark contrast to her predecessor. Her long tenure in the public eye, coupled with her secretiveness and defensiveness have earned her a dangerous reputation as untrustworthy, a reputation which the email scandal kept in the mind of the public as they went to the polls. Her extended isolation from the majority of Americans has also earned her a reputation for being out of touch, a reputation her communications team did its absolute best to reinforce with off-key tweets and botched photo-ops. Most dangerously, she has, on both the left and right, acquired a horrible reputation for corruption. It would be fair to say that the most potent arrow in Donald Trump’s quiver was the nickname “Crooked Hillary”. On the right, her apparent immunity to justice was evidence of this corruption, as she seemed able to bend the law in ways average citizens would never get away with (despite the fact that most of her alleged offenses were the ravings of the right wing press). On the left, Clinton’s close ties with wall street were anathema, dampening her appeal to progressives. Beyond the realm of the personal, Hillary was emblematic of the establishment’s failure of and distance from the majority of the country. She embraced the neoliberal economic policies which led to the hollowing of the American working class, and was a vocal cheerleader of the Iraq war and Libyan interventions which have left the Middle East in shambles. While Trump spent much of his time attacking Hillary personally, her failures as a leader did play a prominent role in his attacks. On the trail itself, Clinton’s campaign was extremely complacent and poorly run. Hillary assumed that she had the states of the rust belt safely in the bag. As a result of this assumption, her campaigns strategy can be described as one of overreach, trying to win red states like Arizona or Georgia. Thus, Hillary never stepped foot in Michigan or Wisconsin while Trump was aggressively campaigning in them, undermining her firewall all the while. Even the messaging of her campaign was off. Literally no effort was made to appeal to white men, the embrace of ‘demographics as destiny’ had convinced Democratic strategists that their vote could be eschewed without severe consequence, as white women would certainly make up for their loss (an assumption proven to be dead wrong). Outside of the constant chip damage done by the email scandal, her decision to describe half of Trump’s support as deplorable was probably the largest gaffe of the election, reinforcing the contempt for the common people the elite left was reputed to hold. Clinton ultimately because lost came off as a corrupt, out of touch and indifferent creature of the establishment vying for votes in a raging sea of anti-establishment anger. A leaky ship put to sea in the storm of the century