In the early hours of Wednesday morning I experienced an all too familiar feeling. I experienced it on the night of the 2015 election, I experienced it on the night of Brexit and I experienced it on the night of the 2016 US election. Something had gone terribly wrong. Those assumptions and sureties, that we had all made, were wrong. Trump had defied the polls, he had defied the pundits, he had defied members of his own party and the history of conventional wisdom and had pulled off a shock victory in the Electoral College.
In my first article for Cherwell I said, naively, that Trump was almost certainly going to lose this election, and I thought the same thing right up until about 3am last night. Of course, I was nervous and had the dark spectre of the Brexit vote in the back of my mind. But, as I told a friend who raised the issue of the Brexit shock with me, the polling in the UK is so much worse than US polling – the same surprise won’t happen there. Look how wrong I was, and I was not alone. In fact, only one polling model, LA Times, consistently showed Trump ahead in this race and most others completely misjudged the result.
So why did this happen and what will it mean for our future? Well the ‘why’ is surprisingly simple. Trump spoke to a core demographic who felt politically and culturally left behind. In this election, white people (and especially white men) voted en bloc for Donald Trump. This is a group that feels that they are losing their influence upon US politics because of the increasing size of present minority ethnic groups such as Hispanic and Asian Americans. It will soon be the case that no one racial group makes up a majority of the US population. They were angry, they were upset and they turned to Trump in their millions to show that.
Trump also managed to get the traditional Republican voters on side, dismissing the fears that many had before the election of a switch in support to Clinton or to third party candidates like Evan McMullin or Gary Johnson. Clinton, on the other hand, could barely get her core voters out on the day. The primaries and her various scandals weakened her candidacy from the outset. Millennial voters never really fell in behind her with some, for reasons I am sure they now regret, voting for Jill Stein. She couldn’t even mobilise voters who had been so greatly discriminated against by Trump. Hispanic voters actually gave more of their vote to Trump than they gave to Romney in 2012, despite his continuous attacks on this group. Ultimately, Trump motivated his voters whilst Clinton did not.
In all honesty, there seem to be few positive outcomes from this electoral result. It looks certain that Clinton will win the popular vote at least meaning that half of the US voters rejected Trump’s vision of America. Similarly, the closing gap in states like Arizona and Texas should give some joy to Democrats already thinking about the next elections in 2018 and 2020. But even these small consolations do not hide the terrifying implications that this result will have. Trump is coming into the oval office with both houses of Congress under his control and an empty place, and several rather elderly justices, on the Supreme Court. He is going to have very few checks upon his power.
When Republicans last had this type of opportunity they voted to go to war in Iraq, introduced new powers of surveillance in the PATRIOT Act, and restricted abortions heavily. That was with George Bush in the driving seat and it was terrifying enough for liberals around the world. Now imagine that situation with someone who makes Bush look almost sensible, Trump. Trump has clear policy initiatives: building the wall, placing extensive checks on immigration and overturning Obamacare. I see no reason why these cannot, and will not, go ahead. It is true that the Democrats have enough votes in the Senate to apply a filibuster and stop any legislation passing though the houses of Congress. But can they really justify doing this with every bill that they see when they have to think about another election in 2018? I think not. So, we are stuck. We are really stuck.
I am no longer hopeful about politics, I no longer see any type of rationality in the political system and I will never again trust conventional wisdoms or polling companies. Cynicism and despair are the only reactions that I can have at the moment. Yes, at some point in the future we should think about what on earth we are going to do next but, for the moment, we should just mourn the death of rational politics. Good people no longer win; good people are no longer welcome in politics.
We should all prepare ourselves for more unpleasant guttural feelings in the upcoming weeks, months and years when we have the terrifying misfortune of seeing that seat in the oval office, a seat that has been used by so many great and strong leaders, occupied, not by the first woman to smash through the highest glass ceiling and win the White House, but by a man who has lied his way into office and who has gained power by attacking the weaker members of the US society. Trump will never unite America, he will continue to divide and, in my opinion, he will continue to win by dividing. That is the terrifying message of this terrifying election. I, for one, am scared.