Elsewhere—Now We've Seen It All Edition

Among the earliest responses to Trump's election, this one from Jacobin was one of the best:

[B]laming the American public for Trump’s victory only deepens the elitism that rallied his voters in the first place. It’s unquestionable that racism and sexism played a crucial role in Trump’s rise. And it’s horrifying to contemplate the ways that his triumph will serve to strengthen the cruelest and most bigoted forces in American society.

Still, a response to Trump that begins and ends with horror is not a political response—it is a form of paralysis, a politics of hiding under the bed. And a response to American bigotry that begins and ends with moral denunciation is not a politics at all—it is the opposite of politics. It is surrender.

To believe that Trump’s appeal was entirely based on ethnic nationalism is to believe that a near majority of Americans are driven only by hate and a shared desire for a white supremacist political program.

We don’t believe that. And the facts don’t bear it out.

This election, in the words of New York Times analyst Nate Cohn, was decided by people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Not all of them can be bigots.

Clinton won only 65 percent of Latino voters, compared to Obama’s 71 percent four years ago. She performed this poorly against a candidate who ran on a program of building a wall along America’s southern border, a candidate who kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists.

Clinton won 34 percent of white women without college degrees. And she won just 54 percent of women overall, compared to Obama’s 55 percent in 2012. Clinton, of course, was running against a candidate who has gloated on film about grabbing women “by the pussy.”

This was Clinton’s election to lose. And she lost. A lot of the blame will fall on Clinton the candidate, but she only embodied the consensus of this generation of Democratic Party leaders.

Writing in the Guardian, Thomas Frank expresses exasperation with the leadership of the Democratic Party, which handpicked a candidate they knew to be deeply unpopular with the American public:

[Clinton] was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders. [...]

To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn’t mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country’s well-being, or maybe both.

If you feel you need help understanding the social attitudes of rural and small-town America, where Trump got most of his support, you might want to read this piece by David Wong, the editor of a website called Cracked:

It really does feel like the worst of both worlds: all the ravages of poverty, but none of the sympathy. "Blacks burn police cars, and those liberal elites say it's not their fault because they're poor. My son gets jailed and fired over a baggie of meth, and those same elites make jokes about his missing teeth!" You're everyone's punching bag, one of society's last remaining safe comedy targets.

They take it hard. These are people who come from a long line of folks who took pride in looking after themselves. Where I'm from, you weren't a real man unless you could repair a car, patch a roof, hunt your own meat, and defend your home from an intruder. It was a source of shame to be dependent on anyone—especially the government. You mowed your own lawn and fixed your own pipes when they leaked, you hauled your own firewood in your own pickup truck. (Mine was a 1994 Ford Ranger! The current owner says it still runs!)

Not like those hipsters in their tiny apartments, or "those people" in their public housing projects, waiting for the landlord any time something breaks, knowing if things get too bad they can just pick up and move. When you don't own anything, it's all somebody else's problem. "They probably don't pay taxes, either! Just treating America itself as a subsidized apartment they can trash!"

The rural folk with the Trump signs in their yards say their way of life is dying, and you smirk and say what they really mean is that blacks and gays are finally getting equal rights and they hate it. But I'm telling you, they say their way of life is dying because their way of life is dying. It's not their imagination. No movie about the future portrays it as being full of traditional families, hunters, and coal mines. Well, except for Hunger Games, and that was depicted as an apocalypse.

So yes, they vote for the guy promising to put things back the way they were, the guy who'd be a wake-up call to the blue islands. They voted for the brick through the window.

It was a vote of desperation.

 

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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