So, Donald Trump, reality TV aficionado, Twitter troll extraordinaire has been elected the 45th President of the United States. As is becoming all too thematic in the exercise of Western democracy, the underdogs defied the odds and pulled off an upset on Tuesday night.
As the dust settles, and the losing side tries to make sense of the election, it would be to comfort ourselves by ruing the loss of Bernie Sanders or to pass off the result of the election as the resurrected endemic of racism in the West. That’s the comfortable choice, but in truth, neither is accurate, certainly not in their entirety. Both of these assessments are too reductionist, there are much bigger forces at play.
Trump’s victory is a knife to the liberal core of the ‘metropolitan elite’ – of that much I am certain. There is a palpable anger in many Western countries towards the status quo. It speaks volumes that 18% of people who viewed Donald Trump as incapable of holding office, voted for him anyway, along with 34% of people who would have been ‘concerned’ if he were triumphant. This Presidential election was less about pitting Clinton against Trump or liberalism against conservatism, but served more accurately as a referendum on conventional Western politics.
Of course, it would be negligent of me to paint this result purely as the mutiny of the working classes as a whole – that was not the case. In fact, the majority of Black, Latino and Asian proletariat voted Democrat; instead, this was very much the solitary revolt of the white working classes.
In essence, this result was a middle finger to globalisation, to neo-liberalism, and to the perceptions of ‘enforced multiculturalism’. You could be forgiven, as a blue collar worker in a forgotten town of a forgotten American state that has seen generations and generations of manual labourers lose the industries that defined them to cheaper labour overseas, for thinking that globalisation hasn’t worked for you. A plurality of American voters believe that today’s economic philosophies detract from the US job market, and 65% of them made their voices heard by backing Trump on Tuesday.
This has been coupled with the rise of immigration and the transformation of predominantly white towns, counties, states and countries in to multicultural hubs. All of a sudden, from these two issues alone, these insecure demographics are provided with a visible and tangible scapegoat, one that has successfully been harnessed and weaponised. That is why 84% of people who want immigrants deported voted for Donald Trump too.
Perhaps, the right-wing populist rhetoric about multiculturalism and immigration espoused by Donald Trump is intrinsically associated with a time of industrial boom. It is linked to previous era where things seemed simpler and more prosperous to white blue collar labourers. Donald Trump’s campaign provided a nationwide nostalgia therapy, offering hopes of a modern renaissance in flourishing manual labour and destigmatised bigotry.
But for many voters, Trump’s rhetoric was not a major factor in their decision. People across the World are pissed off, they want an alternative to a system that doesn’t work for them, they want to be heard not patronised, and inspired not ignored. That is why Brexit happened in the UK, why Labour elected Jeremy Corbyn twice, why Beppe Grillo, Marine Le Pen, and Podemos and Citizens are doing so well in Italy, Germany and Spain respectively.
When voters are disillusioned to the extent we are seeing now, they want the biggest caricature going to represent them. Somewhat ironically, it was Bill Clinton who argued that the reason for Corbyn’s success in the UK was because they were angry but didn’t expect change so let the “maddest man in the room” front their crusade. It’s a phenomenon happening all over the disillusioned West.
Peter Thiel has correctly argued that only the media took Trump’s rhetoric literally. He called for a wall, and the media scrambled around for the logistics, how would they build it? Who would foot the bill? He proclaimed he would destroy ISIS and adversaries demanded a stringent, extensive intervention strategy – neither came. But a lot of Donald Trump supporters weren’t perturbed by the specifics – they heard a man speaking passionately about two major concerns, immigration and security, and picked up a placard. They took his desire literally, not his methodology. His words were symbolic of real concerns being heard, and what was perceived as a ‘real person’ being prepared to make big decisions to address them.
What always seems to pass over the liberal-led autopsy of these events is that a large portion of Donald Trump’s voters feel that years of business as usual has left them with absolutely nothing. Let’s say that life is like a box, and right now theirs is empty. If you put a mystery box in front of them, that they couldn’t possibly know the contents of, whether good or bad, they’re going to open it – every single time, such is the gravity of their desperation.
Deconstructing the rationale behind Tuesday’s shock vote does by no means excuse it, or make it legitimate. What is frightening about this international trend towards right-wing populism is how successful dissenting conservative elites have been at tapping in to the undercurrent of dissatisfaction of the working class, with whom they have little in common.
In the United Kingdom’s EU membership referendum, Nigel Farage, an ex-City banker, and Boris Johnson, a privately-educated career politician led what was labelled as a ‘working class revolution’. The same scenario has reared its head in the States.
A white, misogynistic man born in to immense wealth, like Donald Trump, is by no means “anti-establishment” – in fact he’s the very antithesis of the term. These candidates are not the downtrodden; these are the egotistical, power-hungry nativist zealots who are posing the greatest threat to western liberal democracies – not the isolated working classes they purport to represent.
It is worth reiterating that this animosity for the establishment does not justify the support for a campaign that has called for a blanket ban on Muslim migration, a state-funded roll out of electric shock gay conversion ‘therapies’, and one which has been rife with misogyny. How can we continue to press ahead with making women feel comfortable about standing up to their sexual attackers, if the world’s most power democracy just made one of them their President? That is a legitimate question highlighting the moral quagmire we now find ourselves in.
We have seen an undercurrent of the nefarious entitlement of the white, heterosexual voters who have voted to reverse progress for ethnic minorities and queer communities, as spearheaded by VP-elect Mike Pence. They’ve seen this progress of rights for minorities whilst their liberties have remained stagnant. I guess when you’re used to preferential treatment, equality feels like persecution.
These are things that we cannot ignore no matter how frustrated and isolated so many people feel. We cannot cower and back down on things we know to be morally wrong. There’s a reverberation of hateful, divisive ideology abound in Western politics, and it’s one that liberals must fight back against without concession.
It is crucial to understand that millions of people who didn’t support Trump’s rhetoric threw their weight behind him anyway. It is fact that 29% of the people concerned about Trump’s treatment of women, held their nose and voted for him anyway – this shows just how deep the craving for change truly is.
We know that Donald Trump and his brand of politics is wrong, we know it. But we can no longer treat the people who feel so isolated from the mainstream that they support populism of this ilk with contempt. It serves nobody; people will not be shamed in to voting the ‘correct’ way.
We have entered the post-truth, post-fact era. The rational politics offered by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and centrists and liberals in general are fundamentally failing to mobilise support. It is clear now more than ever that people are voting with their hearts and guts. The great challenge for liberals and moderates everywhere is to inject the same passion in our message that can bring us victory again – it’s the only way.
Sneering at those who disagree with our world view will do us no favours. They are tired of the middle classes looking down on their frustrations, dismissing them without recoil and generally denigrating their reality.
No matter how contemptible, deplorable and unfathomable we believe Trump’s victory to be, we must start listening to the left-behinds and offer them a passionate, liberal alternative that gets them in the gut. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves to irreparable social divides for generations to come. It’s time to put the pitchforks away, right-wing populism has grabbed western liberal democracies by the pussy, and we’re all to blame.