In the aftermath of this election, my thoughts are occupied by two questions. First, how did it happen; and second, what happens next.
We first must ask, how did Trump win? This is not the same as asking how the polls got the result ‘wrong’ – which is something of a red herring when most gave a sizeable approximately 20 per cent chance of a Trump victory. Instead, we want to know what the key factors that contributed to his win are. We are still waiting for a lot of the data that can answer this, but preliminary evidence suggests there are three important groups of voters to think about. First, the hardcore Trump supporters – people who are suffering economically and misidentify the causes and viable solutions, and the people who are just plain racist and take pleasure in the idea of kicking large groups out of the country.
But Trump’s low favorability ratings suggest that those who fully agree with him cannot entirely explain the result. We must consider a second group, the people who held their noses and voted for Trump. This is a diverse set of voters. It includes those who feel economically left behind, who do not support many of Trump’s racist or sexist views but are desperate for someone, anyone to take seriously their fears about their disappearing manufacturing and mining jobs. There are those who hold strong religious or moral convictions and couldn’t bear the idea of a liberal Supreme Court; and those who feel that everything they know is being swept away by a cosmopolitan, globalist, multicultural tidal wave and that while they don’t want to deport all the Muslims per se, they do not want to lose the white privilege they have held for so long.
A third and final group to consider is those who didn’t vote: those (hopefully not too numerous) who wouldn’t vote for Hillary because she was not progressive enough; those at the political centre who felt she was too left-wing (or too female…) but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Trump either; and those who couldn’t vote because the time cost of voting is too high. This is a broad swathe of people with very different motivations, with no silver bullet alteration that would have led all of them to change their behaviour.
The second question is, what happens next? How much damage can be done by a President Trump and a Republican congress? My biggest concerns relate to climate change, the ideological direction of the USA, and the globalization project more broadly. It is alarming that the stated position of the incoming leader of one of the world’s largest energy consumers and greenhouse gas emitters is that climate change is a fabrication, or at the very most a wildly exaggerated phenomenon that we don’t really need to worry about. The pace of political development to combat climate change is already too slow relative to the environmental changes we are seeing, and we do not have the time to delay any action by four years (at least).
Ideologically, it has felt in recent years that the USA was on a path to becoming a society that could embrace and encourage true diversity. We have seen more women in the upper echelons of power structures, from the Federal Reserve to the Supreme Court and even the presidential race. The voices of people of colour have become louder, demanding that the country take note of the structural racism that they continue to struggle against on a daily basis. Gay couples finally won the right to marry. And yet today it seems that, for far more of the population than any of us had wanted to believe, this is not the direction they want to see the USA going. Even if not all of those who voted for Trump are as racist and sexist as he is, they were insufficiently repulsed by him to withdraw their support. For those who are members of the minority groups he has threatened, this is a cause for genuine fear.
The movement away from globalization is also a serious concern for me. The economic benefits of trade are clear, although it is equally clear that not enough has been done to ensure they are shared. But beyond that, I had hoped that increasing interconnectedness would over time bring about a more global sense of identity and a sense of shared responsibility and mutual obligation to citizens of other countries. The “my country first” mentality that Trump directly endorsed in his acceptance speech makes this a more distant dream.
But what happens next is not only about what Trump does; it is about what other Americans and I do in response. Increased political engagement is vital – we must vote in the midterm elections, and put pressure on our congressional representatives (Republican and Democratic) and state and local governments. We can also continue to vote with our wallets and feet. Concern about climate change and global responsibility can be manifested through conscious consumerism as well as giving support in the form of either money or time to relevant action groups. We must also stand up and be counted in the defence of those for whom Trump’s victory is a direct threat to their right to live in the USA free of persecution. Democracy – the rule of the people – is about more than ticking a box once every four years, and now more than ever we must step up to that responsibility.