Okay, twenty four hours on and it turns out Trump is still going to be president. Congratulations to those who won, the election was fair, those who voted for Trump did so I believe out of the best interestes of their country and their party. Disagree as I might, that is what happened, just like at every election.
Felt pretty horrible for me though. It was with the same sick, pit-of-the-stomach feeling as Brexit happening that I went to sleep in the early hours, not knowing but suspecting that the worst (from my point of view) was going to happen, and it did.
Liberals such as myself love a good narrative, and it’s already been written. Discontent by the working class in America has caused them to believe Trumps claims of bringing jobs back and making America great again. They agreed with Trump that they had nothing to lose, so chose the (hopefully not literally, but then again…) nuclear option. Mixed in with that is a fair suggestion that Trump won, not in spite of being sexist, racist etc, but because of it – that this was “white America’s last stand”.
I don’t buy any of that, not for a single moment. Anyone in my job knows what grief looks like, and this is what grief looks like. Reasoning around a tragedy, finding ways in which it could have been averted. It happens all the time, and the liberal narrative writers are very intelligent, and so they are intellectualising like mad around this tear in their heart. But the assumptions of the narrative which have swiftly been developed in the media are not only speculative but counterfactual.
It’s important to re-write the narrative which has been devised, because I think that liberals need to be strong and fight the right battles. The narrative which is being written are going to cause them to fight the wrong battles. Here’s my take.
Trump didn’t win because he was sexist/racist.
He won because enough people thought that the reasons for voting for him were more important than the reasons not to. The issue isn’t that people like sexism and racism, it’s that it doesn’t impinge on their lives enough to take it more seriously than jobs and the economy. To engage people in the fight against sexism and racism, we need to tell stories, to share experiences, to persuade, to share, to move these issues higher up people’s priority list. We do that by listening, not by screaming. We do it by using those peope’s virtues of compassion and justice – not by treating every Trump voter as an irredeemable trailer-trash hick. We do this because that’s a reality of human existence – compassion and virtue are more powerful than suspicion and prejudice. But when the more liberal group demonise those who could be persuaded, then they are creating an enemy. And when the fight is framed as “you can’t vote for him, or you are a racist/sexist” then that becomes a battle about someone else’s identity – and demonising doesn’t win elections.
The poor didn’t vote for Trump to give Washington a bloody nose. Some people did, certainly, but it wasn’t the poorest. Most supporters of Trump were in the $50,000 pa or above bracket. That’s not rich, but the voting was pretty even 60/40 from that wage bracket up. There was a definite race issue, with white people (particularly older white men) voting Trump – but again, see above – they were the ones who didn’t have too much of a stake in the racist/sexist issue, because of the way that issue has traditionally been famed. That’s where the battle needs to be fought.
This wasn’t an underclass rising up. Trump did not create a whole new voting block of newly engaged voters. Those who wanted to give Washington a bloody nose were those who were already politically engaged, not people who were not . New voters registered to vote, or people voting for the first time in years, was as far as statistics can tell us, no different from any other election. Voting was actually down on previous years. This election generated more heat than usual, but it didn’t electrify an underclass. The battle was fought by those who normally vote, the usual electorate, and some of them stayed at home instead of voting Clinton.
This wasn’t a whitewash. It was a polling prediction disaster. Clinton won the overall vote by over 200,000. Clinton lost four key states by less than that margin combined. If those votes had been spread into Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, we would be celebrating a Clinton victory. This was in almost every respect other than the quality of the candidates, a completely normal election.
This wasn’t a battle of policies, but personalities. America always votes for the most charismatic leader. This is so important to understand. The problem with those who are currently busy writing the narrative of the election is that they are obsessed with politics. Most people aren’t. If you look at ALL the Presidential elections going back to the sixties ever since the advent of television, the winner has always been the most charismatic:
Kennedy v Nixon, Johnson v Goldwater, Nixon v Humphrey, Carter v Ford, Reagen v Carter, Bush v Dukakis, Clinton v Bush, W. Bush v Gore, Obama v McCain.
Any unbiased observer would have to conclude that the one who becomes President is the one which the most engaging personality, the most folksy charm, the most charism. Putting Clinton against Trump is a non-starter.
It is really important to understand that. The narrative which is being formed is about the economy, about the underclass, the disenfranchised, about those who have lost jobs and those who have just had enough.Sure, there are people who have lost jobs who have tipped this election in the rust belt states – but the margins in those states were by thousands of votes, not hundreds or millions. But the reality is that the battle was lost because of already voting, engaged political people, who were fed up of Washington, and who were attracted to someone who wasn’t from that camp. Sanders may well have won – he would certainly, certainly have won had he been twenty years younger and more charismatic. These are the margins of victory.
There are many reasons (from my perspective) to mourn for this result. I suspect President Trump will be nothing more than hot air, and will make America slightly worse again, but it is equally possible that he could start world war three – especially if as I suspect he is frustrated at all turns in his domestic policy.We’ll have to wait and see on that one.
But let’s not paint a narrative which isn’t true. Democrats have failed because they didn’t get enough people to vote for Clinton, by a percentage point or two. Democrats failed because they battles against racism, sexism, insularity and xenophobia have been fought in a way which implied enemies not potential allies. They failed because they chose someone who was far less charismatic than the other guy. They failed because they wanted to tweak the system not change it.
In short, Democrats will win when they are more like Obama than Clinton – less superior, more engaging, more charismatic, and more canny. Not more self-righteous.