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.