Reconsidering the reasons behind Trump’s victory

I wanted to wait for a few days before in long form regarding the election. I know emotions have been running high and that this is a very difficult time for many of my friends. I have seen the pain, fear, anger and sadness that has come to the forefront following the nation’s decision on Tuesday. I realize that a lot of you have turned towards each other in search of comfort, catharsis and community. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this election, its ramifications and its causes. I haven’t slept much as I attempted to read, watch, and hear voices from all sides.

I have been a conservative leaning individual for the entirety of my life. My views have often been at odds with many of my peers, friends, professors and colleagues due to this fact. While it has never negatively affected me, it was a defining and differentiating factor of my time at Phillips Andover, at Colby, and now in New York. As some of you may also know, I have been warning of a Trump win for some time. Less frequently on Facebook, as I do not post often, but more commonly in individual conversations and political forums. I thought there were a number of underlying factors that would contribute to his victory. And I warned that many of my coastal, highly educated friends could not see it coming.

The major deciding factor in this election was economic. Look not just at the divide in recovery between the coasts and the center of the country, but also at the stagflation of wages and job death in the Midwest and South since the 1980s. While unemployment continues to fall nationwide, rural unemployment continues to hang well above the national average. As urban unemployment has dipped below the 5 percent threshold, rural unemployment consistently hangs a percentage point greater than in the metros. The further disturbing fact is that we have seen records lows in labor participation rates in recent years. While these rates sit in the mid 60s for urban areas, they are well below 60 percent outside of the metros. Rural workers have not seen the sluggish Obama-era recovery hit them to the same degree as it has hit the cities.

When people do not have another choice, they will vote what they think is in the best interest of their wallets. They do not think of overarching social issues, they think “How can I allow my child to have a better life than this?” It is not a vote against any one thing, it is a vote of economic desperation. Due to free trade deals like NAFTA, the Midwest, South and Rust Belt have been disproportionately negatively affected as they have seen their factories and manufacturing bases abandon them. Manufacturing will inevitably leave America as we transition towards a service economy. But these people have been left behind. Businesses made their logical decision to transplant facilities to areas of Mexico where regulations are lesser and workers are paid pennies on the dollar of what American Union workers make. And even though these jobs would have gone away over time, deals like NAFTA threw a Molotov cocktail through the windows of their factories. What do you tell a 50 year old person who has worked in one industry their whole life? Go through vocational training? No, their livelihood has been wiped from the map.

This was not some pure undercurrent of white supremacy that took these counties and people and flipped them to Trump. Trump did best in white counties that went twice for Obama. Do you want the classic example of this vote? Look at Macomb County, Michigan. Macomb is a northern suburb of Detroit and the traditional home to Detroit’s union employees. Macomb went for Obama in 2008 by nine points and in 2012 by four points. Trump won Macomb by 11.5 points. Why is Macomb the classic example of this? Macomb is the territory that was widely studied as home to the Reagan Democrats. Reagan Democrats were mostly low wage urban and suburban voters who were part of the dying middle class. They were union employees who felt abandoned by the Democratic party. Does that sound familiar? There are many examples where Trump’s biggest swings that led him to flip places like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were places where Obama won once, if not both times. This is not some simple narrative of racism. This was a populist wave that carried Trump and Sanders, when he was still around. These are people coming from areas where the median income is one fifth what it is in metropolitan areas. These are people who experience twice the suicide rates of those living in cities. These are the only people who have seen their life expectancy drop in the last 30 years.

Another major factor that led to this shocking upset was the “Shy Trump Voter” effect. While I know many friends have spoken of feeling “othered” in the wake of this election, this means of othering strikes both ways. It speaks to the disdain that the coasts feel towards the fly-over states. It speaks to the down the nose view major metropolitan areas take towards their surrounding landscapes. It speaks to the divide between the educated elites, and those idiots whose vote shouldn’t count in the same way. The chasm separating the coastal metropolitan states and the rest of the landmass has only been growing, and many have a hard time seeing across it. People from the Midwest, Rust Belt and South, and to a greater extent Trump voters, are assumed to be overly-religious, racist, xenophobic, homophobic and any other number of horrible things. Any one of the terrible things said by Donald Trump were immediately cast onto his supporters. And you wonder why they did not want to publicly voice their support?

This form of othering lead to the Spiral of Silence and the Bradley Effect taking place. The Spiral of Silence is that when people think their view is in opposition to the majority, they will refrain from speaking up for fear of isolation, exclusion or ostracization. Did any voter feel that effect as a Hillary supporter? No. But there were plenty of those effects put onto Trump supporters. So they remained quiet. The Bradley Effect refers to the idea that people will mislead pollsters or opinion takers to avoid seeming outside or counter-cultural. Both of these should sound familiar. There have been signs of these effects happening the entire time, and people chose to ignore them. The two easiest analogues are Brexit and the LA Times-USC poll that was repeatedly conducted. Brexit had many of the same undercurrents leading into it with othering of Leave voters, silent polling errors and similar divides between metropolitan and rural areas. The LA Times-USC poll should have been looked at by more people as more than a poll due to its nature and method. It did incorrectly guess a +5 margin for Trump and took much criticism for that, but the LA Times poll, due to its ranked choice and repeated audience sampling methods, was more accurately an enthusiasm gauge. And Trump held the enthusiasm gap by a mile.

One of the final pieces that fell in Trump’s favor was the Democrats promoting one of the most historically terrible candidates in modern political history, Hillary Clinton. Though this may not come as a surprise from the party that ran Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey. Let us be clear at the outset that I also believe that Trump was one of if not the most beatable candidate in electoral history. The way he acted on the trail, his comments and his personal history would have left him in the dust during any normal election were it not for Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton entered the race with so much personal and political baggage that it would have drowned any other candidate that was not buoyed constantly by the media and her party during the primary. This is a party with many inspirational and positive figures, including but not limited to Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. Any of those names would have made a mockery of Trump in the general election.

But Hillary Clinton is the one her party decided to promote. They went so far as to either outright collude with or give direct advantages to her in the primary over a candidate that drew legitimate enthusiasm from voters. She had lower voter trustworthiness than her opponent who was repeatedly caught lying in egregious ways. Her own personal baggage even negated Trump’s weaknesses at times. Her marriage to and repeated aggressive defense of her philandering husband may not stick to the minds of many in our generation, but it is remembered vividly by older voters. Beyond the seemingly obvious issues of the primary season, she is still remembered as someone who carpetbagged to New York in 1999 to win the Senate seat over a cancer-strickened Rudy Guiliani. 30 years of embattled public life combined with the negation of her opponent’s weaknesses played a major role in her failing to win this election. All of this contributed to the enthusiasm gap that sunk her. How many would honestly list her as their first choice within the Democratic Party?

Hillary Clinton, her surrogates, and her party should be supremely embarrassed that they found a way to lose this election. They entered the general election with massive advantages. The electoral map, the demographics and the money were all to their advantage. Think of the fact that Democrats are guaranteed 104 electoral votes (19.3 percent of the total college) just for showing up? There are ten states in the nation that account for 50 percent of the population. Only three of those states voted for any candidate by greater than ten percent margins. Those three states are California, New York and Illinois, and all lean Democratic by greater than 15 percent. Look at county breakdowns and see that that factor is determined by the major metroplexes while the surrounding areas vote Republican. And you wonder aloud why the popular vote skews Democratic? Look at the demographic margins between Obama’s elections and this one. Blacks and Hispanics make up greater percentages of the population now than ever before. Whites moved in the opposite direction. Trump did better with Blacks and Hispanics than Romney or McCain did against Obama. Hillary lost ground against a candidate who called Mexican immigrants rapists on day one. Look at the money spent. Break it down to dollars per vote, especially when you weigh in PAC involvement. It is embarrassing how much less money Trump worked with. These facts mean that Democrats should not be looking outward to blame why individuals voted for Trump; they should be soul searching about why people didn’t want to vote for them. How did they lose more Hispanics when their turnout was up? How did they lose a greater share of Blacks? How did they lose the unions for only the second time since FDR? How did Clinton do worse with women than Obama?

So while a lot of liberal elites want to sit back and belittle and undermine the votes of millions of individuals, maybe they need to consider some other factors too. Consider that Hillary Clinton was a historically terrible candidate, perhaps the only one Trump could have beaten. Think about the untouched economic areas that many voters are coming from. Think about the belittlement and the “we will handle it for you” attitudes they have put up with. They had a candidate who paid attention to that pain and spoke to it. They voted to show they still had a voice in this country that is polarizing towards either coast. And they really gave the old “F*** you,” didn’t they?

I grew up around these people and interacted with them all the time. I grew up in the agricultural Midwest. My mother’s family is from southern rural Illinois. My father is from the rust heap of American manufacturing known as Cleveland. They are not racist, bigoted xenophobes. They are individuals who simply want a better life for the next generation and have seen those opportunities stripped from them. They acted in their economic self interest to try to get back some of the opportunity they once had. They have seen the once beating heart of America abandon them and its shell rust around them as their incomes and life expectancy dwindle.

But you say no and unfriend them on Facebook. But consider that acting like that is what led to this election in the first place. The desire to purge opposing voices from your timelines and Twitter feeds led to the coastal echo chambers where Hillary had a 90 percent plus chance of winning the election. Perhaps these divides have become immeasurable chasms because people have refused to listen across them. And if people refuse to listen, these divides will widen even further.

So maybe it is time to reflect and accept the loss and learn to move forward in a positive way. Or I can guarantee that things will get worse for the Democrats in 2018 when the majority of the vast seats up for grabs are theirs. This is a deeply divided nation that needs to heal and be self reflective. The time for anger and division is over. But if large portions of this country continue to ignore and belittle other large pieces, the belittled pieces will continue to act in desperation. They will continue to strike out against this system.

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