The Election that Shocked the World: How Donald Trump Became President of the United States
Acknowledging the fact that Donald Trump will be sitting behind that desk in the oval office literally makes me feel sick.
It comes as such a shock. I’ve just returned from a trip to the US, where residents of New York and DC were confident not only of a Clinton victory, but a resounding win that would also see the Democrats retake the Senate.
Alas, neither happened. And we’re left trying to understand why.
You’ve read article after article over the last week about how Donald Trump did it. How arguably the worst candidate in history, at least by normal standards, became President of the United States.
Having read most of these conclusions, I’ve attempted to simplify them.
The Year of the Populist
Throughout Europe, the UK and even parts of the US — a new wave of populism has emerged.
The Greeks and Spaniards have elected far-left officials, while Jeremy Corbyn has (twice) been elected to the position of leader of the Labour Party.
Bernie Sanders’ success, which included beating Hillary Clinton in 22 states during the Democratic Primary, was a sign that the US could also be moving in that direction.
And then there’s Donald Trump. An outspoken, anti-establishment (or so he likes to claim) figure, who knew how to tap into the anger felt by many in the working and middle classes.
He promised to shake up the system. He attacked political figures for not doing their jobs, and spoke to those who felt they had been cheated out of earning a good living.
Millions across America are paid low wages, receive no paid sick or vacation days, and are straddled with insane healthcare costs. Regardless of a (relatively) successful eight years under Obama, people still felt let down by Washington.
They felt that radical change was necessary. And so turned to Trump.
Of course, he was full of shit. Trump is as establishment as they come, has spent his life paying political figures to do what he wants, and took the route of blaming Muslims and Mexicans for the economy being so bad — rather than his rich friends.
But he delivered his message with such conviction — and blamed the corporate media (who had also let down regular people) whenever they attacked him as “bias” and “unfair” — that he was able to garner incredible amounts of support.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was deeply-ingrained in the political establishment. Whether you like her or not, or whether you agree with her policies — there’s no denying that she would probably have been more of the same for many.
People were desperate for a populist, anti-establishment candidate who would overhaul the Washington culture of corruption that had failed them so often.
They wanted it so desperately, they didn’t even care about his offensive comments to women and minorities.
Bernie Sanders knew this. He admitted himself that he couldn’t have run successfully in the past, but that this was the moment in time that people were likely to respond to his message.
Unfortunately, he lost in the primaries to Clinton. And we’ll never know what might have been.
But all the polls showed him to be a much better candidate than Clinton in a Democratic-Republican matchup.
Voter Turnout was Down
Democrats typically win when voter turnout is high.
This year, it was down. Only a little for Republicans — although they’re still counting votes, and Trump may equal/slightly exceed the number of votes Mitt Romney got.
But for Democrats, it was down by millions. Many people either switched to Trump, or just stayed at home.
This speaks to the argument that Clinton failed to generate any enthusiasm about her campaign.
Now, that might be ridiculous. Obviously people should be more concerned about her policy ideas (and his), and the fact that Donald Trump is a serial sexual assaulter, than they are with who gives the best speech.
But, unfortunately that’s not how it works. People need a reason to come out and vote — and not just “I’m better than the other guy”.
Democrats Lost the White Working Class Vote
I’ve already looked at some of the reasons people voted for Trump over Hillary.
He wasn’t a typical politician. He promised jobs. He understood their anger.
This appealed to one group in particular — the white working class. Without them, Trump wouldn’t have won states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (and ultimately the Presidency).
Looking at national exit polls, you can see that Hillary actually won more votes from people with an annual income of less than $50k (52% to Trump’s 49%).
However, in Pennsylvania she lost the ‘whites with no degree’ demographic by 64% to 32%. And in Michigan by 62% to 31%.
It isn’t easy to reach these people, who are typically low-information voters (this sounds patronising, but there’s no better way to explain it).
But that’s exactly what Trump was able to do. And Hillary wasn’t. For all her good intentions, she represented the political class that has, for too long, failed to help working class people.
Now, some would fairly argue there should be just as much discussion on how Democrats can help and appeal to the black working class, and the latino working class.
And that’s true. But it’s a slightly different issue. The problem there isn’t that they came out to vote for Trump, it’s that many didn’t come out to vote at all.
The party needs to work to figure out how to fix both of these problems. And they can do so by talking more about poor people problems — like good paying jobs.
Blue collar workers used to be the signature voters of the Democratic Party. That’s no longer the case.
People Voted, just not for President
As election day came around, more than 18 months after the candidates started campaigning, 85% of people said they couldn’t wait for it to be over.
People were sick and tired of this election. It had dominated the news cycle all this time — and there were a lot of people who didn’t like either candidate.
She’s corrupt. He’s a racist. I won’t waste time talking about the false equivalency here, this is just how a lot of people saw Hillary and Trump.
Many hated both so much, that they showed up to vote for their congressional representatives, the senate — but left the Presidential section blank.
The number of people who did this totalled almost 90,000 in Michigan, where Trump won by just 12,000 votes.
If even 15% of those people who left their ballot blank voted for Hillary, she would have carried the state.
The Damn Emails
We can’t blame the Democrats for everything. They may have been complacent, and at times arrogant, but there were other factors at play.
The FBI’s decision to publicly revisit the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, just a couple of weeks before the election, undoubtedly played a role in her defeat.
Trump’s continued accusations of Hillary being “corrupt” found new momentum, and he began to close her lead in the polls.
As we now know, the FBI found there was still not enough evidence to bring charges against Hillary Clinton.
In fact, the vast majority of the “new” information they had amounted to little more than duplicates of emails they had already seen.
But it didn’t matter, the damage had been done.
And Comey, a lifelong Republican, was widely criticised for handing Trump such a large stick to beat Clinton with — despite the fact that their recommendation to not prosecute had not changed.
Unfortunately, the racism-fuelled rhetoric coming from the Trump campaign managed to inspire a portion of society usually left on the fringes.
In Donald, white nationalist groups such as the KKK believed they finally had somebody running for President, who could represent them.
They weren’t entirely wrong. Trump’s comments about Muslims and Mexicans, as well as his historically controversial relationship with the African American community, drew criticism from across the political spectrum.
He denies accusations of him being a racist, but the comments he has made over the last 18 months undoubtedly gave a platform to racists throughout America.
That’s not to say that all Trump supporters are racist (although they certainly enabled one), but those who are, and are unapologetic about it, feel their views are now mainstream, and acceptable in the political discourse.
The evidence for that is in the spike of hate crimes that has occurred, primarily against Muslims, since election day. As well as the numerous attacks against anti-Trump protesters.
The final point I want to make is a contentious one, that Hillary Clinton lost (in-part) as a result of rampant, unchecked sexism from Donald Trump, certain elements of the media, and a group of the American people.
Now, I’d like to preface this by stating I’ve been appalled by Clinton supporters who cry “sexism” at the hint of any criticism regarding their candidate.
The “Bernie Bros” narrative during the primaries was highly-exaggerated, incredibly misleading, and downright insulting to anybody who didn’t want to vote for Hillary.
But it is impossible to deny that she suffered from prejudice because of her gender throughout her campaign against Donald Trump.
Sometimes it was obvious. Individuals who attended Trump rallies would claim that a woman shouldn’t be president — while regularly using degrading words such as “bitch” and “whore”.
Other times it was more subtle. Mainly in the sense that Hillary was held to a higher standard than her opponent, because she was a woman. When she did something wrong, it was amplified and created a sense of false equivalency.
Can you imagine if Hillary had talked about men, the way Trump talked about (and acted towards) women?
When it was revealed that Donald Trump used to wonder around the dressing rooms at Miss Teen USA, while contestants were dressing, it was talked about a little bit. But only until he said something else offensive.
Donald Trump made about a thousand comments that would have disqualified any other Presidential candidate in the last 30 years. If Hillary had made just one of those comments, or had adopted a loud, angry and offensive persona — her campaign would have been over a long time ago.
As it happened, running on an inoffensive, inclusive and relatively-sensible platform saw her lose the election to Trump. And now the world must deal with a racist, misogynist demagogue leading the most powerful nation on earth.