President-elect Trump. A fact that would have appeared unthinkable not long ago came true in the early hours of Wednesday morning. In a result that stunned not just America but the world, Trump pulled off one of the greatest upsets in political history.
As many Americans are still coming to terms with this seismic result, many people are wondering how this was possible. How could someone who espouses the most absurd conspiracy theories, promotes vicious racism and misogyny and overtly expresses authoritarian tendencies win a democratic election to become the most powerful man on the planet?
There is not one solitary answer to that question. A multitude of factors all coalesced to provide Trump with an opportunity of victory. If you listen to some Democrats, the answer is simple! The result is easily explained by racism and sexism, and other factors such as class, anger at the establishment and the incompetence of the Democratic Party should be discounted.
There is no doubt that prejudice contributed to Trump’s victory. His base is overt in their hostility to women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and movements like Black Lives Matter which aim to confront the racism which greatly plagues the US. The Republican Party has also spent many decades whipping up hostility towards minorities and this marks the culmination of that, Trump is certainly no more prejudiced than contemptible racists like Ronald Reagan and Dick Cheney, but unlike them he makes no effort to sanitise it which is why he has received such enthusiastic support from the KKK and people like David Duke.
But attributing the victory exclusively to prejudice does not compute. If there genuinely was a huge revolution for Trump, and massive voter turnout which favoured him there would be more credence to that claim. While votes are still being counted it looks like turnout among Democrats and Republicans was the lowest since 2000 – Trump won fewer votes than Bush in 04, McCain in 08 and Romney in 2012. It’s quite clear what happened here and Sanders and his supporters predicted this long before the eventual outcome. The Democratic vote collapsed which gave Trump a clear path to 270 electoral votes. Trump managed to win key battleground states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina but what was unmistakable was how he breached Clinton’s supposed firewall. Blue states that voted Democrats for decades turned red – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania all voted for Trump in narrow margins despite the confidence the Democrats had in holding these states. The results clearly show that Trump pulled this upset off not because he managed to inspire millions of new voters to come out for him, but because there was very little enthusiasm for Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Not a Trump revolution, but a Clinton collapse: the most revealing bit of data I've seen so far. pic.twitter.com/kriHyiQv72
— William Dalrymple (@DalrympleWill) November 10, 2016
Sanders’ prophetic words in 2015 on why the Democrats would likely fail:
Let me be very clear. In my view, Democrats will not retain the White House, will not regain the Senate, will not gain the House and will not be successful in dozens of governor’s races unless we run a campaign which generates excitement and momentum and which produces a huge voter turnout. With all due respect, and I do not mean to insult anyone here, that will not happen with politics as usual. The same old, same old will not be successful.
The people of our country understand that — given the collapse of the American middle class and the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality we are experiencing — we do not need more establishment politics or establishment economics.
We need a political movement which is prepared to take on the billionaire class and create a government which represents all Americans, and not just corporate America and wealthy campaign donors. In other words, we need a movement which takes on the economic and political establishment, not one which is part of it”
Some people have discounted the idea that income and poverty levels played any role in the defeat of the Democrats. They cite statistics showing Clinton winning among voters who earn below 50k a year and claim this debunks the notion of a working-class revolt; this is misleading however. Low-income voters always tend to vote for the Democratic Party opposed to the GOP but what occurred in this election was pretty staggering. They swung significantly in favour of the Republicans greatly reducing the margin of victory Democrats usually enjoy in that income bracket. A 16% percentage swing in favour of the Republicans among voters earning below 30k a year is highly significant bearing in mind how slim the margins of victory were in this election. Low voter enthusiasm among this group for a party they feel alienated and abandoned by was most likely the primary factor in this huge swing.
— ResolutionFoundation (@resfoundation) November 9, 2016
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) November 10, 2016
The Democratic establishment will vigorously deny this fact but Clinton was a woeful candidate who should have never been chosen to lead the party in one of the most important elections in decades. Some people have also tried to pin Clinton’s defeat on voter suppression but the evidence indicates it had little impact on the final outcome of the election. In most of the key states that Clinton lost, no new voting restrictions had been passed prior to the election. Her lacklustre campaign failed to resonate with most of the electorate and they were complacent and neglected states they assumed would remain blue; for instance throughout the whole general election campaign Clinton didn’t make one stop in Wisconsin. Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said: “It’s is nothing short of malpractice that her campaign didn’t look at the electoral college and put substantial resources in states like Michigan and Wisconsin,”
So the natural question to ask is would Bernie have won? Obviously this question can’t be answered with a high degree of certainty but there certainly is a compelling case to be made that he could have performed better than Clinton in some of the key states that she lost. Bernie didn’t have the unpopularity and untrustworthiness issues that Clinton had, and was in fact one of the most popular senators in America. Clinton’s supporters counter this by claiming that once Bernie became the nominee the Republicans would have waged a vicious campaign on him and his popularity would have plummeted, they also contend that it’s delusional to believe Bernie could have turned Trump voters into Democratic voters. On the latter point they’re correct, but it misses the point. The Democrats didn’t lose because they failed to persuade Trump supporters to vote for them, they failed because of voter apathy and the fact they couldn’t inspire millions more people to come out and vote. Clinton and her strategists put more of a priority on switching disillusioned Republicans than they did on motivating uninspired Democrats to come out and vote, the miscalculation was reflected in the fact more Democrats switched and voted Republican than vice versa. Sarah Jaffe writing for the NYTimes summed it up perfectly: “Mrs. Clinton opened her arms to disaffected Republicans rather than wooing the disaffected within and around her own party. Most of the television ads she ran were more about painting Trump as a dangerous aberration, an outsider unfit for office, than pitching any plan of her own for change.” More than 40% of people eligible to vote didn’t in this election, which isn’t particularly anomalous but Sanders’ campaign showed quite clearly he had the potential to inspire new voters, and that his message was resonating with a large number of Americans. In addition during the Democratic Primaries Bernie beat Clinton in two of the key states she lost – Michigan and Wisconsin. The dominant theme in politics at the moment is hostility towards the establishment, this manifests itself not only in people voting for anti-establishment politicians but also for people simply refusing to vote for establishment candidates and parties. Bernie was unapologetically anti-establishment and has spent his entire life fighting to make America’s economic system fairer, during times when it was unpopular he fought against racism and stood up for LGBTQ Americans. People would have seen that he was authentic, and that his message wasn’t simply a facade to gain votes.
Most Bernie supporters do not take great delight in Clinton’s defeat, and we aren’t criticising the Democratic establishment due to vindictiveness. The reason we think it’s vital not to downplay Clinton’s failings is because we fear the Democratic Party won’t learn anything from this humiliating defeat. We feel the party is out of touch with most Americans, and that unless it goes in a different direction, one more in tune with Bernie’s message, they will continue to suffer in congressional and presidential elections.
The Democratic Party in its current state will not inspire Americans disillusioned by the political system and it’s the politically apathetic voters they need to reach if they want to defeat the Republicans in upcoming elections.
What’s been striking since Trump’s victory is how the markets have responded. Despite predictions from pundits that the markets would crash and wouldn’t recover, the precise opposite has happened. They’ve surged with the Dow closing at an all-time high on Thursday evening. Unlike Brexit which ensured long-term uncertainty, the Republican victory in the presidential race and Congress actually satisfies Wall-Street executives, bankers and investors because Trump and the Republicans are determined to deregulate the financial system by repealing the modest regulation Obama put on the financial system and provide tax-cuts to the wealthy. In the next 4 years we’re going to see a return to extreme neoliberalism which will further exacerbate the economic inequality in the country and which will greatly increase the risk of another financial crisis. The Trump supporters who bought into Trump’s rhetoric of ‘draining the swamp’ and ‘shaking things up’ will most definitely be disappointed; they have been duped by a narcissistic demagogue who will now embrace the political and financial establishment.
Before Donald Trump won the Republican nomination the media provided him with disproportionate coverage compared to other candidates. It’s ironic that Trump complained so much about the media coverage of him, because without them it’s highly doubtful he would have won. The amount of exposure a candidate receives in the media strongly correlates with how successful they are. If they’re largely ignored by the media, they will struggle to compete in the primaries. The mainstream media gave unprecedented coverage to Trump, which greatly facilitated his campaign for the simple reason that coverage of Trump was profitable. When you contrast this with how little coverage Bernie got in comparison despite the thousands of people he was attracting to his rallies and events you can see why his supporters feel a little aggrieved. Far from conjecture, this is substantiated by empirical data from a study conducted by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics Public Policy.
“Of all the indicators of success in the invisible primary, media exposure is arguably the most important. Media exposure is essential if a candidate is to rise in the polls. Absent a high poll standing, or upward momentum, it’s difficult for a candidate to raise money, win endorsements, or even secure a spot in the pre-primary debates… In the early going, nothing is closer to pure gold than favorable free media exposure. It can boost a candidate’s poll standing and access to money and endorsements. Above all, it bestows credibility. Journalists seemed unmindful that they and not the electorate were Trump’s first audience. Trump exploited their lust for riveting stories. He didn’t have any other option. He had no constituency base and no claim to presidential credentials. If Trump had possessed them, his strategy could have been political suicide, which is what the press predicted as they showcased his tirades. Trump couldn’t compete with the likes of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush on the basis of his political standing or following. The politics of outrage was his edge, and the press became his dependable if unwitting ally.”
I do not hold animosity towards the Democrats for expressing their willingness to work with Trump. The Democrats lost the senate, the house and the presidency. They are not in a position of strength, and therefore trying to undermine Trump’s presidency would be completely counterproductive and would only lead to Trump doubling down on some of his extremist ideas. Every effort should be made by the outgoing president and elected congresspeople to mitigate the damage of a Trump presidency and there’s no conceivable way to do that without working with Trump’s administration. But Trump’s presidency has no moral legitimacy, and in an ethical political system he would have long ago been disqualified for his advocation of criminality. That’s not to say overthrowing him or advocating violence towards him is the solution, but people should exercise their 1st amendment rights and demonstrate against him. Trump and the dark forces that he represents have to be shown that there’s a significant portion of the country unwilling to give legitimacy to his presidency.
The United States is a deeply divided country and that won’t change anytime soon. But the country is a much more tolerant and progressive place than it was 30 years ago. Socially, the country has been moving in the right direction over the last few decades. Trump’s victory is a major setback, and considering that the Republican Party is one of the most dangerous political organisations in human history, the stakes couldn’t be much higher but the result has the potential to motivate hundreds of thousands of people to become politically active, and build a powerful progressive movement in the country. The future of the world very much hinges on whether they’re successful.