The state of votes
A sweep of anti-establishment votes
A meagre victory, complex explanations
Justas Kidykas | 2016. November 16. 19:00
Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of the United States of America. A lot of people across the Atlantic or in Europe are still unable to fully digest this sentence. Yes, it has been a disappointing and upsetting outcome, but I do not think it was as unpredictable as some were claiming. Electoral victory for Trump can be mostly explained an expression of a protest vote by the American people.
The whole election campaign did not stress upon the exact policies desired and planned for the future of the US, nor were the professional characteristics and experience determining factors of the electorate’s choice. It was a gruesome election about people’s sentiments and frustration, and about the power of symbolism. And these processes clearly highlighted how fractured and divided the society is. And it is not happening just in the United States: the outcome and people’s reactions have been quite similar during the Brexit referendum and even during the last Lithuanian parliamentary elections, where the Peasant and Greens Union (the "Green" has nothing to do with pro-environmental policies!) has won with a landslide majority, claiming that the people desire a break from Lithuania’s establishment parties.
These trends represent and embody an increasing global disconnectedness between the people and the establishment, a gap in education that still reinforces class struggles, a huge social cleavage between the people in urban and rural areas, and a divide between the 'losers' and 'winners' of globalization and the technological advances that reshaped our economies. A vast number of voters had chosen Trump simply because they see Hillary Clinton as being the epitome of the establishment has been strangling the US for decades. These trends must be better understood both by the elites and by the people who cannot accept Trump being the next president of the US.
Throughout the election night and during its immediate aftermath, I have been noticing numerous instances of direct apathy in the social media towards the Trump voters and a slight arrogance amongst the leftist libertarians. However, I believe that blaming the ones that voted for Trump and making a wrong choice and ruining America is simply self-defeating. You may always go out, pinpointing various factors that determined the undesirable outcome: anything from the low turnout among the young people and a complex electoral system, to the media’s role in creating and exaggerating the Trump phenomenon or even Clinton’s email scandal, and how has the presence of post-fact rhetoric and misinformation overshadowed rational and subjective expertise, but the societal trends cannot be ignored. Yes, I do personally believe that some values and beliefs Trump stands for are completely immoral, but we have to recognize that, regardless, 59 million people have voted for him and their voice is as legitimate as those, who had refused to vote for him. This part of the demographic has been angry, frustrated and feeling left out by the elites, and Trump has been simply able to mobilize and empower these people, as well as enhancing the rhetoric of social conservatism that has been becoming quite prevalent in Europe in the past years. Unfortunately, some values are just not universal regardless of our perceptions of them. The international community has not been able to socialize and enshrine tolerant and liberal beliefs, while those beliefs have often been perceived as being forced from above. Yet, simply because we hold some people who do hold ignorant and immoral beliefs, does not automatically give us a right to discredit them and claim that they do not represent America. Doing that just further ruptures society.
This is not just a problem in the US. It is a tender issue throughout all of the contemporary Western democracies. We have simply taken democracy for granted and assumed that liberal and well-informed societies will always bring the most rational outcomes.
But let's not overreact. Trump's victory is a political earthquake that is going to create ripples all over the world, but it is not the end of the world. Yes, we have seen a surge in xenophobic and racist attacks, but we have to remember that the media is going to be much more attentive and sensitive about such incidents. Yet, I believe that the rise of such violence is only momentary. After the Brexit referendum, there was a surge of discrimination against immigrants as well, however things have already settle down, and I believe that the same will happen in the US (unless, Trump continues with an inflammatory discourse, yet his first week as a president-elect gives hope that he is going to reduce his rhetoric). Not only that, I am genuinely convinced that Trump does not know how hard the presidency job actually is. As soon as he realizes how complex and tiring this vocation is, he will have no choice but to rely on his advisors and take other opinions into account. And we can already see the glimpses of that if we look at the current disarray of his transition team. And also, let's not forget that he will also have to appeal to those people that did not vote for him. Unhappy voters did the right thing going out to the streets and protesting against Trump, as they do have the right to express their concerns, yet we must refrain from any violence.
There is going to be a huge uncertainty regarding the future of the US, but there was (and still is) a strong uncertainty about Brexit as well, but the UK has not collapsed. However, the social tensions did not disappear.
I have had the opportunity to attend a few local meetings/debates in Sheffield and I saw people shouting at each other because of their different beliefs and thoughts, people being angry because they feel being shut down and ignored by the mainstream public opinion, and people feel disappointed in their country and how it has reacted to the referendum. It is important to express your voice but we must be careful about other’s beliefs as well.
Hence, I would like to make a call to fellow Americans: don't alienate the Trump voters. There must be a social dialogue and a better understanding of them, because otherwise we are just damaging the pillars of democracy and the unity of our society. It is a global crisis of democracy and its consequences might be vital to our future, but I am convinced that we will able to find a common dialogue. So, let's not look down but think how can we make this better and how can we revamp the backbone of democracy. And even though, I have not been a staunch supporter of Hillary, I believe that her slogan is more important than ever. We need to be stronger…together.
Arthur Davis | 2016. December 02. 19:00
It is true that the outcome of the US election was predictable. It is true as well that people are fed up with the political elite. But just because Donald Trump won on an “anti-establishment” ticket does not mean he won solely because of it. If we take a closer look at the result, we see that Trump’s victory has far more to do with the peculiarities of the US electoral system and the paucity of good candidates.
Because, let’s face it: Trump didn’t win the majority of votes. Hillary Clinton beat him by a good two and a half million. And yet Trump comfortably won in Electoral College terms. In fact, for the second time in recent history, the peculiarities of the Electoral College system have thrusted into the White House a Republican President who lost the popular vote. In reality, nearly every US Presidential Election in history has been won on the margins, with a difference of more than 10% in the winning vote share being extremely rare in modern times (the last example being Mondale’s disastrous loss to Reagan in 1984). This means that, as in many other elections, it’s all about the “swing voters” who switch sides from election to election. And these people represent a fairly small proportion of the overall population.
Nonetheless, we are prone in the wake of surprising election outcomes to exaggerate the importance of the result. Let’s start by taking the example of Brexit: as a Brit, this issue is close to my heart. I always knew that I lived in a fairly Eurosceptic society and that the general sentiment towards the European Union was a negative one, especially in Kent, where I grew up. Many parts of the UK are like this. And yet, come the referendum result on the 24th of June, the entire liberal left was in shock: how could this happen? How had Britain become so intolerant, racist, xenophobic, small-minded, short-minded (and all the other names under the sun) over the course of one night? Many were shocked by the results. But I knew the vote could have gone either way. Imagine if Remain had fought a better campaign, and had beaten Leave to gain 52% of the vote share, I imagine the next day much of the left-wing media would have been declaring that Britain as a nation had buried the European hatchet and could now move on together. They would have said that unity triumphed over discord and that no longer was Britain the outsider of Europe. (This is exactly what happened in the case of the Scottish Independence Referendum, even though it also was lost by a very small margin). And yet, really, we can’t tell very much from the Brexit outcome, apart from the fact that Britain as a nation has no clear mandate either way.
And it’s exactly the same in the US Presidential Election. If Hillary’s votes had been scattered differently, she would have won the Electoral College seats she needed to propel her to the White House. But she didn’t. That doesn’t reflect people’s sentiments towards her as much as the unfortunate outcome of a peculiar system. We have become far too consequentialist in recent years, and it shows. Too often we presume success to be congruent with victory. In this case, for example, we presume Trump won because people believed in him, and not because all the other factors were lined up in his favour. Let’s take a look at some of these factors.
We’ve already noted the importance of the Electoral College. What else can explain Trump’s baffling victory? For sure, people are fed up with a political elite who seem not to listen to their voters and who too often veil their real intentions in euphemism and passivity. And many of the votes we have seen in 2016 reflect this fed-upness, no doubt. But it would be wrong to interpret this election result as some revolutionary wave washing over Western democracy (if we can even call it democracy). Trump, despite being the “anti-establishment candidate”, was by no means popular. He was so unpopular, in fact, that he lost in the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, a hated figure in large swathes of America, with a lack of political integrity to rival her husband’s and evidence of government corruption stacked against her. It’s pretty hard to lose to that. And what’s more impressive is that it is extremely rare for either party to keep hold of the presidency for more than eight years in a row , yet despite that, she managed to win the popular vote by a comfortable margin. Just imagine if another, better anti-establishment candidate had been able to stand, such as Bernie Sanders. He knew how to tap into anti-establishment sentiment in a constructive way, and had he secured the Democratic nomination, I have no doubt he would have trounced Trump in the election, both by avoiding the ridiculous gaffes which will (or at least should) haunt Trump for years to come, and by moving beyond the realm of rhetoric and name-calling. That is the real tragedy of all this, that the lax US election financing rules forced Bernie Sanders to fight the Clinton juggernaut, backed by gargantuan funding from big business.
So let’s just consider once more the absurdity in the following kind of reasoning: Trump wins with 46.2% of the public vote and it’s a political earthquake that rocks the establishment to its core. Obama wins in 2012 with 51.1% of the public vote and it’s business as usual.
It seems that, nowadays, we are inclined to offer neat explanations for everything that goes on around us. Trump wins because America turned racist. Brexit happens because Brits hate Europe. But it’s not that simple. And if we take a more critical look at exactly what happened in the US Presidential Election, we see that Trump’s victory was actually a rather meagre one. So, not only is there hope of a Democratic victory in 2020, but there’s hope for a rather convincing one, and, if we’re lucky, we might just see Bernie Sanders finally make it to the White House.
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