John Winterson Richards explores Donald Trump’s appeal, and examines the reasons so many chose to vote for him.
Articles on the American elections in the mainstream media, and so far on this website, seem to be following the same template: “Horrible… Just like ‘Brexit’… Bigot… Racist… Misogynist… What about the children?” etc.
None of this is helpful – except perhaps as an illustration of one of the factors that contributed to Mr Trump’s surprise victory, of which more in a moment.
What we need to be doing is sitting down calmly and objectively and asking how is it that a man with such obvious character flaws, and some very silly ideas, has just been elected as the most powerful man in the world, why we did not see it coming, and what we must learn for the future?
We must begin by accepting that the people who voted for Mr Trump are not, in the main, idiots or racists or bigots. Although there is an unpleasant element within his base, they are the minority. He won because he managed to stitch together a surprisingly broad coalition of almost half the electorate. It is, for example, significant that it seems that he attracted more support from black and Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney did. Most were fully aware of his shortcomings and many of those who voted for him actively disliked him.
Yet they still voted for him – because they considered that that the only alternative was worse.
That is the key to understanding what has happened. It was not a vote for Mr Trump but a vote against Mrs Clinton and the Establishment she represents – the self-styled ‘liberal elite,’ the increasingly closed political class, the one-sided mainstream media, the unaccountable ‘charities,’ the interventionist judiciary, the lobbyists, the crony capitalism, the shadowy ‘NGOs,’ and the jet-setting New World Order.
If there was a decisive moment in the campaign it was Mrs Clinton describing those voting against her as ‘deplorables.’ In the eyes of many voters, the mask had slipped. “Does she mean us?” It was, they suspected, how the ‘liberal elite’ really thought of them. It was Marie Antoinette looking down on the peasants.
On this point, there is a parallel with the ‘Remain ‘ campaign in the EU Referendum. Those who assume an air of moral and intellectual superiority demonstrate neither when they insult those who disagree with them …and then wonder why they lost.
It is a fairly basic rule of politics that you do not win people over to your cause by calling them ‘racists’ or ‘idiots’ or, indeed, ‘deplorables.’
This feeling of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ has been bubbling under the surface of America for some time, as it has in this country and most other Western democracies.
That Mr Trump’s victory still comes as a shock is due to our being ill-served by the mainstream news media, which, as all the ‘Why, oh, why’ pieces are confirming, are dominated by one side of that ‘Us’ and ‘Them.’ They are incapable of understanding what has happened. More than that, they do not want to listen. They have become a giant ‘echo chamber.’ That serves only to increase the frustration felt on both sides of the Atlantic that the dead hand of so-called ‘political correctness’ has suffocated proper free debate. That people vote for the Trumps of this world is a sign of their desperation to be heard.
Remember that the UK media coverage of America consists of edited highlights from US media coverage, and both sets of media share the same world view. This is why George W Bush, a particularly well-read man with degrees from two Ivy League universities, is portrayed routinely as an idiot, while Barack Obama is still revered as a living saint by hardened journalists who simply do not mention the shambles he has made of foreign policy. The stereotypes of Democrats as educated cosmopolitans and Republicans as rural inbreds are repeated without challenge. As soon as the ‘Tea Party’ is mentioned, that photograph of the old guy with the musket is produced.
As a result, most of what most Britons think they know about American politics is wrong. Could one in a hundred here say what it is about ‘Obamacare’ that has upset so many American voters? How many are aware of the fact that the average Trump voter is more likely to have graduated from high school and had at least some college education than the average Clinton voter?
What Britons do not have to set against the skewed media portrait of Clinton supporters chanting ‘Love Trumps Hate’ is the nightly barrage of ‘attack ads’ on American television screens – Mrs Clinton spent far, far more on them than Mr Trump. They are certainly not loving and are frankly often hateful.
Nor have most Britons been exposed to the positive messages of the Trump campaign which appealed to many American voters. That a lot of Mr Trump’s ‘promises’ are impractical and contradictory is not the point here, which is that Mr Trump campaigned on ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ in much the same way that Mr Obama did in 2008. The difference is that Mr Obama’s presentation was as faultless as Mr Trump’s was execrable, and Mr Trump included more nastiness mixed in with the nice than Mr Obama. Yet the fact remains that much of Mr Trump’s appeal was that there was a great deal of positivity, most notably on jobs, amid the more widely reported negativity.
This is not a defence of Mr Trump, but we need to move beyond the name-calling if we are to have a more serious and honest discussion about where politics goes from here.
Losers usually try to explain their defeats in terms of their own meta-narratives. So the cliché is now that Trump, like ‘Brexit,’ is a symptom of the alienation of the working class due to globalisation. No, it is not. People voted across class boundaries for ‘Brexit’ because they did not like the EU and for Trump because they did not like Mrs Clinton. It is as simple as that. In both cases, they felt that those against whom they were voting despised them and the values they held dear.
If those in positions of authority and influence do not grasp that, and respond positively to close the growing gap between rulers and ruled, we will find that there are worse things than Donald Trump ready to take advantage.
9 thoughts on “The Truth About Trump’s Triumph”
Rather than the voters preferring trump over Clinton it looks like millions of Americans did not vote at all – Trump actually had fewer votes than either John McCain or Mitt Romney, while Hillary Clinton lost over 6 million of barack obama’s voters. So maybe another candidate – someone like Bernie Sanders – would have beaten donald trump? We’ll never know.
Furthermore the FBI’s unparalleled intervention in a US election a week before polling clearly damaged Clinton more anyone realised, feeding into a republican narrative years in the making that she was someone who could not be trusted. Indeed it was this episode which was likely ‘the most decisive moment of the election’.
There are two other factors which help explain Trump’s victory which John doesnt touch upon and which don’t seem to have received a lot of coverage in the post election analysis:
The first is the significant role evangelical christians played in handing trump the keys to the white house. Over 80 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump – in florida it was nearer 90 percent – and with millions of americans adhering to evangelical christianity you dont have to be a mathematical genius to work out that means an awful lot of votes for trump (the price they are demanding in return for their support will of course be the overturning of Roe v Wade).
Secondly stringent new voter ID laws – pushed by GOP leaders – barred tens of thousands of people from voting in every state. Such people are invariably poor people and people of colour – people highly unlikely to vote for trump in any large numbers. When you consider the narrowness of trump’s victory in some important states this was clearly a factor in trump winning the electoral college.
One final point and one which seems to be being overlooked by british brexiters who have seized on trump’s triumph as if it were their own. The republicans in the US will now control the white house, the senate, the house of representatives and have a majority on the supreme court – they will very soon be the “party of the establishment”! So it will be their opponents who will soon be able to say “we want to take back control”.
PS John millions of americans do support the affordable care act. It already covers 20 million people – and there’s has been a surge in enrollments since Trump’s victory. And support for it is only likely to grow when Trump tries to scrap it and when they see his alternative – he basically doesnt have one!
Sensible article – thank you.
An interesting well written article by JWR.
One aspect in all of this that is missing, however, is the role of religion. The US is a great deal more ‘religious’ than we are in Wales and, in my view, the election of Trump is an unmitigated disaster for the ‘Christian’ religious right. The ‘Hand of God’ has manifested itself in this last minute event.
C.S.Lewis’ Screwtape is tamping with fury at Wormwood screwing up Satan’s best laid plans for a Clinton coronation at the last second. I don’t envy Wormwood’s fate upon his recall to Hell corporate HQ for ‘retraining’. Screwtape himself is in for a real bollocking.
I find channeling ‘The Screwtape Letters’ a useful exercise in trying to get my head around recent political events such as Brexit and the US election. It all makes perfect sense to me that God has intervened to trigger these events and put a spoke in the Devil’s long laid plans for turning the world into a vast corporation run by experts and informed/indoctrinated by walled social media gardens.
God bless America! er ..and us in Wales too.
I’d also like to thank you for this article. There’s been a lot of hysteria around the Trump victory – much of it child-like sulking if I’m honest from people who are ignorant of the subtleties of American politics to which you allude. I think you’ve pretty much got this spot on. Diolch.
There is a great deal of good sense in this article but John should regret writing about the shambles in Obama`s foreign policy in the same sentence that lauds George W Bush. Rather like complaining that your parent hasnt done a good enough job of cleaning up the mess you made of your bedroom.
I am afraid I still adhere to the “cliche” of the left behind working class. I dont see that theory as inconsistent with most of John`s argument. A generation ago left wing parties were still (largely) of the working class and understood their dependence upon them. They could not afford to despise or ignore their values and aspirations.
This article is another in a series of articles that I have read over the last two days trying to criticise the ‘liberal left’, the ‘liberal elite’, ‘out-of-touch political class’ etc for Clinton’s failings and for Trump’s success.
I didn’t want Trump to win (neither did I want Clinton to win) but I could easily be one of the ‘liberal elite’ which the author alludes to.
The suggestion is that I and people like me are out of touch with the masses, popular opinion, and that we are ‘sneering’ towards the working class/uneducated/blue collar workers.
This however is equally dangerous because it de-legitimises my/our opinions, and the implicit ‘threat’ therefore is that our views should be discounted and we should be brought into line. Extremely dangerous.
The author also tries to explain how people like us (in this case in the latest presidential campaign) fail to take heed of basic political rules:
“It is a fairly basic rule of politics that you do not win people over to your cause by calling them ‘racists’ or ‘idiots’ or, indeed, ‘deplorables.’”
So the lesson we should learn is that you DO win people over to your cause by calling them ‘rapists’ (Mexicans), “Dishonest and Stupid” (Republicans), “Dishonest” (media), “Not our friend” (Mexico); “Laziness is a trait in blacks” (Black people), or indeed the many quotes he has about rescinding equal rights for LGBT people in the US.
How come it’s OK for the right to invoke free speech, and argue that political correctness has gone to far, and plain speaking is better, but then when a ‘liberal’ or heaven forbid a leftist should speak plainly it’s just not cricket!
“This is not a defence of Mr Trump, but we need to move beyond the name-calling if we are to have a more serious and honest discussion about where politics goes from here.”
Absolutely 100% correct.
Don’t agree with everything in this piece – this working class uprising may have as much to do with Republican electoral strategy in the Rust Belt as disaffection – although, of course, they appear to have spotted it while the Democrats missed it (Clinton’s failure to visit Wisconsin after the primaries is unforgivable).
However, what is interesting is that, following the 2007-08 financial crash, the best commentary came from Marxists, while the best writing on Trump’s win has come from the right wing. Wonder if that means anything?
A political party and media discourse that is at odds with a significant, large, proportion of the people. Is that the US or us?
JWR refers to ” the one-sided mainstream media”. Can he be referring to the Sun, the Daily Mail or the Daily Express? Or the BBC which follows their agenda faithfully and then erects a futile “balance” when discussing it? The press in this country was largely pro-Brexit and not particularly anti-Trump. In the US there is no national print press so the pro-Clinton role of the New York Times or the Washington Post was basically preaching to the choir. Meanwhile Fox News and all the shock-jock stations were virulently anti-Clinton.
It is normal in a capitalist system that the media will be commercially owned and driven and will generally be more sympathetic to the right wing than the left wing in politics. What is odd and interesting is that right wingers still manage to feel persecuted by a non-existent liberal establishment and their equally imaginary mouth pieces in the media. Last time I looked the media was owned by people like Rupert Murdoch not people like Shami Chakrabarti.
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