Why people voted Trump in the 2016 election
Hindsight always leaves us wiser. Well, at least some of us. And as I wrote in a post on Facebook the other day, and as I said in my video the other day, and on the blog here on Monday, there are very good reasons for (American) voters to vote the way they did, and to fall for populists and demagogues. So what happened in this week’s election?
Obviously, “shy” voters were underestimated by pollsters, and as Nate Silver writes, two percentage points make all the difference in this election. Mrs Clinton won the popular vote and suffered a huge loss in the electoral college. Had she had one percent more votes, and Trump one percent less, she’d won, as predicted in the polls.
Then WHY? Why did she lose the election?
I think there are several factors at play:
- It’s the economy stupid
- Distrust in the federal government aka “the establishment”
- DNC overconfidence in group flock behavior by “blacks”, “Latinos”, “women”, “unionists”, “LGBT” etc.
Let me begin with the economy.
“It’s the economy stupid”
Well, yeah. It is, and this statement from the 1992 Clinton campaign proves true, in every single election. Eight years ago, at the height of the economic crisis, Bush and the Republicans were (rightly) blamed for the excesses of Wall St. and punished. Now, two terms later, many working class Americans (and what is left of the middle class) still struggle. Working double jobs, triple jobs, or no jobs at all. The simple fact of the matter is that entry level jobs, manufacturing jobs, and jobs that do not require college education are thinning out. They are outsourced to countries were labor is cheaper. Believe this or not, but even China is outsourcing labor these days, to places like Bangladesh, Cambodia. Even to African countries. On a global scale, this is amazing, great news, as more and more people will be able to leave poverty behind and more and more people will be able to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
On a national level, it is demanding. And America and many other countries struggle with this. The U.S. in particular, as it lacks the social welfare system net to catch those who lose out. As a father and husband, I know that my first priority is to feed my family, to make sure we have a roof over our head. I also worry about health insurance and maybe putting aside a bit of money for my 401K (pension for non-Americans). I have friends in American who can’t afford health care. To them, Obamacare is a luxury they cannot afford. They also don’t have the money to insure their belongings, and when they’re burglarized or robbed, they lose everything. If you can’t afford food on your table or winter clothes, you don’t worry about insurance, and health insurance only becomes a priority when it’s too late.
The democratic election campaign was beautiful, hopeful, warm. It spoke of a united country, where we each pursue our dreams and hopes. It spoke of civil rights and everybody’s equal value. Yet those things don’t get you a job when your factory moves out and the last supermarket shuts down. Those things don’t pay bills.
While I personally supported that campaign and its positive and hopeful message, I had no choice. As a member of a ‘threatened’ minority, I felt spoken to. But does a straight father of kids care about how we treat illegal immigrants? Who might (or might not) be perceived to have stolen jobs? He does not. It doesn’t even rock his world. Nor do women’s rights to abortions. His wife carried her kids to term. He never cheated on her or was otherwise even close to such a discussion. And LGBT rights? He may view gays as “strange” but probably accepts us as long as we don’t hit on him. But would he vote for a campaign because of our right to marry? Or our right to choose a bathroom? Of course not. Do not be delusional. Neither will the mother in that family. What do they care about? Paying bills, making mortgage and credit card payments on time, cheap gas to drive kids to and from school; a job to pay for all that.
Distrust in the Federal government, the establishment
It’s the economy stupid! Oddly, James Carville, the very man who coined that phrase and won Mr. Clinton his election in 1992, recently published a video about the “Day After” a Trump victory. Well, we have the result of the day after, and even though I said so before the day before the election, here’s his claims and I quote his “literally, there is not a thing that’s exaggerated” from the video:
- “Dollar lost half it’s value against the Yen.” – Didn’t happen. The dollar lost against the yen, yes, about 2% but has since gained more than that back.
- “Australian stock exchanges stopped trading.” – Didn’t happen. The ASX 200 closed down 0.57%
- Hang Seng down 50%, Nikkei down 49,5 down. The Hang Seng was down 2.16% and the Nikkei 5.36% (which were more than gained back on Thursday)
- “Putin in a t-shirt on the Red Square, massive crowds.” No, didn’t happen.
This is called fear mongering, and coming from a democrat I have to say I was very disappointed. The American indexes were up yesterday, contrary to what happened when Obama got elected (twice). Now I don’t pay much attention to a day here or there on the stock markets, but given Mr. Carville’s claim that his claims were NOT “exaggerated”? No they were not. It was a flat out lie. I’m sure the Washington Post had awarded you four Pinocchios for it. Then again, who reads the WaPo?
However, that isn’t even the point. The point is that when Washington political pundits, journalists and politicians make claims, and Mrs. Clinton and her surrogates made plenty of them, they simply aren’t credible to the average American, no matter how true they might be. In a combination of having been betrayed since the 1960s by politics (aka Washington), this notion that America was great way back when June & Ward Cleaver ruled television, that feeling is very strong with Americans. America was a different country then. It was before the civil rights movement, the only Latinos and blacks (on TV) were maids or nannies, America was lily white and the word LGBT wasn’t even invented yet. Asians? Yeah, they probably ran the local laundromat… America, land of stereotypes!
In many ways, this is the America many long back to, the America Trump refers to when he talks about “Make America Great again”, yet most people are too young to remember June & Ward. But the pictures, the references, the cars, they’re iconic, and for the white majority, a time when everything was just fine. Plus America was still winning its wars…
Today, most Americans are completely unaware of what the Federal government does, or doesn’t, and when people demand to dismantle it, they’re unaware that all Interstate highways, every national park or monument, airports and social security checks, Medicare or Medicaid would disappear, too. All they see is “Washington”, lobbyists, lying politicians (of all colors) etc. Mrs. Clinton, from that vantage point, is the very epitome of the establishment: she’s been around forever, she was a first lady “meddling” in politics, a senator, secretary of state and, last not least, lied about her fucking e-mail server. The real woman, the caring politician, the fighter for women’s and LGBT rights around the world? You had to look really hard, and you need an understanding of the business of politics to see her. How many have been in politics to truly be able to see through all that and understand what a “political compromise” is all about? Or that humans make mistakes? Just saying..
When Obama ran on his change platform, he was already a well established politician in Illinois, and as senator for the state. But he ran on a platform of bringing change and a breath of fresh air to Washington, and after two generations of Bush (!), the same (?) people who didn’t want a second Clinton in the White House, elected him president. Obama ran the way Trump did (minus all the despicable attributes of misogyny, racism and what not). Did he change Washington? No, of course not. By doing things his way, stubbornly, he only garnered more opposition from a GOP already well underway to become the racist and populist party it is today, and that combination of birtherism, racism and Obama’s principles made bipartisan agreement impossible after the 2010 midterms.
Who is to blame Americans for distrusting a federal government that isn’t working, with government shutdowns, and a GOP Senate obstructing the very constitution they claim to adhere to? In Trump, many see a man who used to be a democrat, ran as a republican but they really see him as an independent, an outsider. A guy who takes on the speaker of the house just as he takes on lazy GOP senators. He’s said very little of the house democrats and senators, but boy has he been blunt about his own party. People like what they see, and believe that he will truly bring change to Washington.
Will he? That remains to be seen. I remain a sceptic! If for no other reason than the federal bureaucracy, a fierce and sluggish beast. To change course of an apparatus the size of the federal government will take time, a lot of time. And we’re less than two years from midterm elections…
DNC overconfidence in group flock behavior by “blacks”, “Latinos”, “women”, “unionists”, “LGBT” etc.
It’s unfair to solely blame the DNC, because in all fairness, the RNC and the media do it, too. However, the DNC has been the home for minorities and special interest groups for a long time, and with it’s socialist inspired ideology, democrats tend to fall into that trap, to label people, to group people. Socialism primarily sees groups, while liberals see people, individuals. And while democrats are often mislabeled liberals in the U.S., in fact, the Libertarian movement might be a better banner carrier for that label. The GOP used to be conservative, now they’re also racist, populist, anti-feminist, trans- & homophobe. Quite a feat.
The problem we’ve seen early on in this campaign was people’s dumbfoundedness when it came to groups and individuals who didn’t “behave” as predicted: Women for Trump, gays for Trump, Latinos for Trump, blacks for Trump, young for Trump. Exit polls show that Mrs. Clinton carried far fewer African Americans than Obama did, and while she won the female vote, a good third of women still voted for Trump.
How’s that possible? Let me try to make this easy: I may be gay, but I’m not solely gay. I’m also a man, I am middle-aged (don’t tell Facebook!), I’m of mixed race, I am an author, an artist, an educator, I have a post graduate education, I am a “global citizen”, I am married and I am a parent (plus probably a gazillion other traits), from wearing glasses to sporting a dad bod. My priorities may be vastly different from someone else who may be gay, but not married, or someone who’s suffering from HIV. What is important to me is highly individual, and not automatically related to the group or minority I “belong” to.
To claim that women will vote for Clinton because she supports “Roe vs Wade”, or because she is a woman herself, is way too simplistic. Some women are deeply religious, fundamentally so (Catholic, Muslim, Evangelical) and might therefore oppose abortion rights. They’d probably vote Trump just because of that, even if they are muslim, or Latinas. Other women don’t consider this an issue, period. Because they’ve never even come close to having to have one, it’s just not a prioritized issue for them, being on food stamps on the other hand, because the husband’s job got shipped to Mexico just might be. Others again may be unable to bear a child and might just oppose abortions because it would give them a better shot at being able to adopt?
The same argument can be made for Latinos, gays and any other group. Why would a man like Peter Thiel, openly gay, support Trump? The most logical answer (and not the socialist one that he is misguided) is probably that he, like Trump, is an entrepreneur, a disruptive one, and he values Mr Trump’s business savvy much higher than Mrs. Clinton’s Washington CV, and that he finds his finances a more important aspect of his life than being gay. But what we’ve seen from the exit polls is that many African Americans, many Latinos, union members and members of other minority groups voted Trump. The rational explanation (and again, this goes to the first bullet point about the economy) is that these voters value the economy higher than what was promised “their group” by the DNC.
Particularly if these individuals are also (but not necessarily!) a) less educated and b) not very interested to stay abreast on current affairs, politics and rarely watch the news. Allow me to exemplify: many Americans believe that anti-discrimination legislation to protect LGBT citizens is already federal law, because “duh!”, it’s the right thing to do, right? Most Americans aren’t interested in seeing us get hurt, but they also don’t care enough to make sure to be informed. As painful as this may be to realize, it doesn’t make it any less true.
Sexism/misogyny, aka the infamous glass ceiling
Did the glass ceiling cost Mrs. Clinton votes? I’m sure. How many? Only exit poll research will tell. Personally, I believe that the fact that she is “infamous” and the wife of a former president, all other things aside, are much more important for people to be skeptical. Had she been a muslim, jewish, LGBT or – gods forbid – an atheist, that would’ve disqualified her a lot more. Although, Oregon just elected an openly LGBT governor. There’s hope, let’s never forget that. It does, eventually, get better, but there’s a reason why we have a word called “setback”!
How could people believe, trust, and vote for Trump?
Apart from loads of partisan voting, I think we have to differentiate between believing, trusting on one hand, and voting on the other. Have you ever watched Geraldo? Ricky Lake? Judge Judy? Jerry Springer? The Apprentice? If you haven’t, you may need to brush up on your average American entertainment… If you have, why are we asking the question? I think people in general had NO illusions, none whatsoever, that Mr. Trump was honest, or even sincere. But people have enough conviction that his business success is genuine, and that said success might eventually trickle down to them, because – remember – it’s been promised to them by the GOP since Reaganomics. I have a nephew who has this unshakeable belief in the American Dream. He buys and reads book after book about how to become rich over night. He also always fails, miserably. The only people who profit are the ones who sell him “The Art of the Deal” etc. But the dream is part of his DNA, like maple leaves, seals and snow are part of Canada. Nothing will ever convince him that you cannot become a millionaire overnight, and he’s certain that he will, eventually, succeed. That propensity for an unfaltered belief in the American economic dream, no matter your circumstances, that is why people voted for Trump on election day: “he did it for himself, now he’ll do it for us.” What Trump is effectively trying to do right now is to cut out the middle man, politicians. Just look at his 100 day plan, his attempts at capping terms. No better way to cut off the balls of any powerful Senator or House Representative, whether they physically have them or not. To win an election is costly, and if you can only do it two or three times, you’ll have less time to build a broad base which will make politics even more susceptible to the Koch Brothers of the world.
Yes, voters are convinced that Trump will walk away with even more money, just as they know that every secret tape, every grope, every insult, was true, but they also hope, need to believe, that good will come to them in the process. I pity them, because they’ve once again been conned. The only thing that really, truly works is hard work and commitment, not to become rich, but to pay your bills. Trump was born rich.
Most Americans aren’t alt right, they aren’t KKK, they aren’t white supremacists, and they certainly aren’t bad people. Most Americans simply “bought a bottle of Doctor Good” in this election, as Cher sang in 1971. They fell for a con man, just like my nephew did, so many times, and probably will, again. Sadly, I’m also convinced that the raw rhetoric we’ve seen in this election is a sign of what’s to come, with politics turning from a contest of ideas and philosophies to a battle of one-liners and insults, a sort of Jerry Springer does Washington… If we’re lucky, it’ll be more like the Kardashians, and I’m fully aware of the irony of such a statement.
After the election is before the election. If the DNC wants to win the next midterms in 2018, they need to start a true grassroots program, to reach out to people and get an educational program going. A trickle down movement where each member or sympathizer engages in x number of conversations in the coming months and years to talk to people about the complexity of today’s world, and how what we might take for granted isn’t really so, and how we, as a human society, need to also care and worry about that which we don’t have on our radar screens, that which we do not believe impacts us, a discussion about how some jobs are never coming back and how we need to become better educated, and the amazing opportunities a fossil fuel free future implies (e.g. Tesla). I also believe that a greater focus on local, district and state elections is needed, to counteract gerrymandering and follow up on the GOP argument to “leave it to the states.”
Because on thing is certain, and I’ll use set theory to exemplify: Mr. Trump may not be a politician, he’s a business man, an entrepreneur (A). He’s (filthy?) rich. Politicians (B) are a different group, but there is an intersection between those groups: we might call it greed, or at least the desire to make shit loads of money (Clinton’s Wall St. speeches are testament to that). And that intersection, that is what Trump never once mentioned in his campaign.
No, he’s no politician, but he interfaces with those politicians who will do whatever they can to make sure that the rich will continue to make (more) money, and that spells out the following:
- Free trade will continue wherever it serves their purpose!
- Fossil fuel (coal & oil) will be used as long as possible (with no regard to the environment)
- Middle Eastern politics will be governed by the need for cheap and freely flowing oil (including oil from Iran)
- Syria is economically inconsequential from that point of view and will be handed to the Russians to deal with as they please
- Human rights & the environment make for bad business in a fossil fuel economy and will therefore be disregarded in foreign relations
- Civil rights? That’s the big question mark for me. Best case? Nothing happens on the federal level in the next two years. More likely? Vitriol language and anti-equality language in federal contracts and the next two federal budgets. But let’s not forget: it’s bad business to anger people needlessly! Problem is that some Congressmen don’t care about that.
If we really want to understand Trump, follow the money. What makes a buck, what does not! Does he truly care about his constituents? Of course not. They’re a means to an end, just like any unpaid (sub-)contractor, Miss Universe or Apprentice contestant ever was.
What is your take? Do you agree? Disagree? What can we learn from this election?
Have a good weekend and remember, the sun will rise tomorrow (again)…