Donald Trump is headed to the White House, he has stunned most observers and the press by delivering such a comprehensive defeat to Hillary Clinton and her well-oiled machine.
How did so much of the press and the Democratic Party miss out on an entire groundswell of sentiment that put Trump in the victory seat?
There was a palpable arrogance among liberals in the US that dismissed Trump’s supporters as bigots, loonies, the fringe and in Clinton’s own words – a “basket of deplorables”. A broad swathe of Trump’s voter base is indeed deplorable but that doesn’t mean that all of them were deplorable. Neither does it mean that the “deplorables” didn’t have sincere fears about the direction that the US was headed in.
The New York Times reporter Declan Walsh, who travelled across the country engaging voters, told TRT World that Trump voters based their decision on a “basket of factors drawn to traditional Republican ideas like small government and social conservatism among others.”
If you look at communities that previously voted for Barack Obama and this time flipped to Trump, it is quite clear that they didn’t vote for Clinton because she is viewed as the status quo – and that is not what they were looking for in a candidate.
Walsh stated that Trump voters were extremely anti-establishment and not only did Hillary Clinton embody that elite, but that Trump voters also wanted to send a firm rebuke to the establishment Republican-elite who had rejected Trump.
Hillary Clinton has had a career that should be inspirational for men and women alike. Yet many people don’t seem to find Hillary Clinton, the person, to be very inspirational. This could be due to misogyny, and this applies even to many women voters, or it could be chalked down to what people call her “robotic personality”.
Donald Trump on the other hand genuinely inspired people. One may not like his support base, or the sentiment he inspired in them, but he was nonetheless inspirational to many. In their eyes Trump’s victory is a validation of the "American Dream" and testament to the vibrancy of the American brand of democracy.
Early in the primary race he identified and tapped into the Tea Party sentiment – a movement that had its genesis during John McCain and Sarah Palin’s run for the presidency – in a way that none of his Republican rivals were able to do. He spoke their language and wasn’t burdened with the responsibility of managing a political reputation that his peers had to cultivate their entire lives.
He could easily reinvent himself solely for the purpose of running for president. A man who for all intents and purposes has been a Democrat his entire life, ended up taking the Republican Party further to the right than any of his peers were willing to do so. Essentially the Donald Trump of the 2016 campaign is a man who created himself in the image of “White America”. Whether he genuinely believes in White America’s vision is only significantly relevant once he’s in the White House – but he recognised early on that this was the America that still holds the keys to the White House.
Eight years of a black president and White America was ready to take back the keys to their country. The liberal elite including the media weren’t willing to believe that this was the truth and swept it under the rug. In neglecting this disconcerting truth – and possibly swayed by the complacent notion that a black president had somehow cultivated a post-racial America – they ended up oblivious to the other truths that drove Trump voters.
The rust belt as Michael Moore correctly predicted (among a number of other accurate predictions) went to Trump. Why? Trump spoke their language and spoke to their fears. It is one thing to trump up fears like xenophobia that creates enemies where there aren’t any, but what Trump also did is speak to people’s genuine fears. Fears of losing their job, fears that they’ve been left behind by an evolving country. When people in factories lose their jobs, and Trump reprimands the executives responsible – in a way that no candidate has previously done because they are so indebted to corporate America – it resonates all the way to the White House.
Trump supporters see him as a successful businessman, and a successful businessman delivers. They don’t want a politician who is too caught up in politics to deliver effective policy. While the inexperience is terrifying for many people, there are just as many people who are sick and tired of what they often derogatorily refer to as “Washington”.
The Washington Post mapped out former Obama strongholds that they say “sealed the election for Trump”. These are Obama-Trump voters. Sound like an oxymoron? How can the same community that voted for Obama now be voting for Trump? It cannot be comprehensively explained by race.
The common thread seems to be that neither Obama nor Trump were seen as status quo. Clinton defines the status quo. She also represents four more years of Clinton, and dynastic politics doesn’t always sit well with people, especially when they already distrust her and her husband.
Many counties in the US that only voted for Obama once, this time switched to Trump. That is a key element that the Democrats and the press missed out on. A vote against Obama’s administration is equally a vote against Clinton. If they had bothered to find out why certain communities who voted for Obama the first time around didn’t do so a second time – they would have been able to work towards securing those counties and making amends with those voters.
The press also missed out on this Declan Walsh says “fundamentally people weren’t asking the right questions and were not able to [meaningfully] engage with the Trump phenomenon and the support for him.” He mentioned that reporting on Trump was difficult “conceptually” – in that Trump was such an outsider – that conventional wisdom and means of engaging with a candidate didn’t apply. This created a lot of misunderstanding leading to a misreading of the situation.
Instead, these supporters were ridiculed and mocked, both by the press, and by Clinton and her supporters. Chances are Bernie Sanders would have fared better – but that is a hypothetical and the polls were wrong about Clinton, so they could also be wrong about Bernie Sanders.
The entire sentiment that Clinton and the liberal establishment missed out on, Sanders tapped into. He could have turned those, who voted for Obama once, back to the Democratic Party by addressing them and respecting their fears without pigeonholing them as bigoted loonies. One cannot excuse those who want to make America white again, but it proved a fatal error to see his support as solely those people.
This election is an important lesson in humility, both for the press and for the Democrats, as well as for the world at large. There will be a potentially dangerous and volatile man in office but no one took him seriously. What that says about us is that, in our arrogance, we tend to be quite badly out of touch with the pulse of a nation. If you can’t read the pulse you most certainly cannot diagnose the problems. If you can’t diagnose the problems, you will not be seen as a solution to those problems.
Hillary Clinton, and the press, have learned this the hard way.