The American people were given a ridiculously difficult choice – but it’s important we understand the reasons why they chose Trump.
And if anybody had any further doubts about his appeal, despite him winning the election fairly comfortably, all you had to do was look on Facebook after his victory.
While scrolling through all the angst, one quickly realises that all the mourning of liberals was a big part of the motivation for Rust Belt Americans to vote Trump – they wanted to annoy the social justice warriors; they wanted to poke their fingers in the eyes of the elite – just as middle England flouted the expertise of London and Brussels when they took Britain out of the EU.
In fact, I heard this morning Stanford University is sending emails out to their students offering trauma counselling for their poor snowflakes as a result of Trump’s victory.
Honestly, the lack of self-awareness is stunning. This is the reason Trump won. People are tired of political correctness and being told what to think. This is how Trump’s serious flaws became political strengths. Every time he said something ridiculous or beyond the pale, it was one more differentiator between him and the ultimate politician, Hillary Clinton.
No, Trump isn’t Hitler
The first thing I want to get out of the way is this obvious point – Trump is not Hitler. He may be an uncouth buffoon lacking personal virtue, but he is not a Hitler. If you believe this, you are doing an injustice to those who fought against Nazism.
Before Hitler was elected, he openly shared his desire to exterminate Jews. He openly declared the need for war to extend the Third Reich. The people were not conned. They just did not care enough about Jews to resist him properly, and Big Business thought they could control him.
Trump has only said he would pause Islamic immigration (after a slew of lone wolf terrorist attacks from Muslim immigrants), and that he would enforce existing immigration laws. If that is fascist, then basically every second person is a fascist – including the Japanese and the Swiss who also don’t believe in opening their doors and culture to anybody and everybody.
He may indeed be vulgar and slimy – but to compare him to Hitler is just to obscure the real issues behind his rise.
So why has a man like Trump risen to the world’s most powerful office?
In short, Trump has managed to rise within the social fracture caused by the collision of two potent forces: the innate desire to have a country of one’s own in the midst of globalisation and mass migration; and the political correctness of financial, political and educated elite class who police a new political correctness more stringently than ever before.
The more these two forces collide, the more radical democratically elected leaders will become.
So we can keep ranting on Facebook like Hollywood celebrities about the bigoted Trump and his vile supporters, and we can keep watching the ‘epic takedowns’ of John Oliver and Trevor Noah on YouTube.
But as we revel in all our enlightened glory, we must also know that contempt for the politically incorrect is a major part of today’s global political crisis – and a chief reason for the rise of Trump.
Trump resonates with millions of working class Americans
If you cannot at least sympathise with Trump supporters, that might be a sign that you are out of touch with the reality of the millions of middle and working class people with whom he resonates.
And for most of these people, they see their identities being whittled away. Family life barely exists. Small towns are ghostly. Churches are in decline. Manufacturing all happens somewhere else. Only sports stadia, designed as postmodern cathedrals, offer any kind of communal identity – and that is superficial at best. Coastal elites describe the states in which these people live as ‘fly-over country’, a land of pain-killer addiction and bigotry and guns.
These people are ‘bowling alone‘ and their lives are ‘coming apart‘. And now such people are being told that things like patriotism and national culture are out of date at best and oppressive at worst. Clinton herself pines in speeches for international bankers for a world without any borders (which is great for the rich).
So when a Trump comes along, when a Nigel Farage of UKIP comes along, many people jump at their message – because they have a story to tell about nationhood, and they don’t use the same, PC language of the normal politicians:
Yes, Britain can be your home again – not a cosmopolitan branch of the EU.
Yes, America Can Be Great Again – not a fading superpower who loses all their wars.
It is fairly obvious why Trump speaks about winning all the time.
The US has not won a war for over 30 years. The last time they won a war it was in Grenada – that miniature South American island. People are desperate to win again – as a country and as individuals.
And economically, after the 2008 recession, the bankers and the coastal cities all came flying back – but wages for the middle and working class have stood still.
The trouble with the political establishment
But Bush, Clinton, Obama keep sending troops to the Middle East to die for bizarre causes. (Not many people know this, but Obama has troops in six different Middle Eastern countries currently.)
They keep telling the people that their free trade policies have worked.
No wonder people leap at Trump’s ‘America First’ doctrine. Who can blame them? It is the working class who send their kids to war – very few Ivy League kids would think of signing up – they might hear something politically incorrect in the barracks. And it is the working class who rely on manufacturing jobs because they really aren’t into becoming IT entrepreneurs.
When told by Obama and Clinton that they need to continue along the same political track, they look at their own lives and wonder if their leaders are even from the same country.
Meanwhile Trump is speaking their language. He tells them the country has lost its way. And that he is a builder who can physically fix the broken bridges and crumbling cities.
At its root, his appeal is similar to the appeal of the 2008 Obama. Remember hope and change? People want to be a part of something; and they want to shake up politics. Clinton simply does not speak to these desires. Trump does, and what’s more, he speaks to the anger and frustration and alienation the white working class feels.
Here’s an interesting fact – Trump won the election because he won counties and states Obama had previously won comfortably. There is such a thing as an Obama/Trump voter! Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had not gone Republican for a long time – but Trump won them. Romney, the decent and clean-living country club Republican couldn’t. But Trump could – because he speaks to the problems; because, like Obama, the one-time rookie Senator and anti-Hillary change agent, he offers a counter path.
And when folks describe the election results as a new 9-11, that just belies their naivety.
On 9/11, 3000 people were burnt alive by Islamic terrorists, most of whom hailed from Saudi Arabia – who just happens to be a big donor to the Clinton Foundation, who just happen to be a major sponsor of ISIS.
Nothing like that happened this past week.
There is a reason the arms industry and Wall Street gave money to Clinton.
This is not to say Trump won’t be co-opted by this establishment, but his slating of the Iraq and Libya incursions marked him as anti-establishment for a whole swathe of Americans who are sick of the establishment.
This is also the reason why I am not at all surprised that a smart woman of colour like South African academic, Rhoda Kadalie (who founded the University of the Western Cape’s Gender Equity Unity) says she is happy Trump beat Clinton. She knows Clinton is Wall Street’s candidate, and that the fact Clinton is a woman candidate represents only the façade of progress and change.
So when late night comedians continue to mock Trump and his supporters, or are shocked that people don’t like illegal immigration or free trade agreements or radical Islam – they help to alienate a whole swathe of voters who are then passionately mobilised by a rich celebrity who tells the establishment where to shove it.
Even Hollywood has no idea
When I saw this video below by Hollywood actors stumping for Clinton, I immediately knew they had made a profound mistake. The self-righteousness and inflated self-importance of the ad was only going to inflame the anti-establishment vote:
Now watch the Trump response – which highlights Clinton’s famous comment when she wrote off Trump supporters as ‘a basket of deplorables’:
These two videos sum up the election for me. Clinton and coastal America were simply out of touch.
What Trump gets right
Does this mean I think Trump will be a good president?
Who knows? Likely not, given his strange character. I’ve never been partial to casino owners. But to be honest, the American people were given a ridiculously difficult choice – and I do understand why they went for Trump.
As in the case of Brexit, people want to feel like they belong to a country – not to a global network of alliances and multinational corporations. That desire, as Aristotle famously noted, is more innate than any desire for abstract economic growth, or diversity or political correctness.
And the fact that people get mocked for wanting to preserve their culture, their businesses, and their national traditions, only makes the populist anger simmer even further.
I do think Trump has a few good ideas.
His desire to avoid conflict with Russia is important. Both countries possess vast numbers of nukes. Clinton comparing Putin to Hitler is really stupid of her. His willingness to say Islamic terror is a problem is refreshing.
Furthermore, here’s a newsflash, but countries need borders – just like your house at home has a door with a lock. Big business does not mind illegal immigration because it provides cheap labour. But a country that no longer has a border is threatening its social contract with its own citizens. There comes a point when too much immigration is unsustainable if a national culture, and a local workforce, is to survive.
And don’t tell me Christian nations have an obligation to support open borders. Yes, Christians should welcome genuine refugees. But to erase your border and encourage the decay of law and order is to invite social chaos. Does anyone think it is good for Mexico that they lose young people by the millions to the allure of big American cities?
Furthermore, Trump represents a scrambling of the old left versus right politics. He has said he will not cut welfare spending, nor will he simply leave healthcare up to the open market. This is new for a Republican. It spells the end of economic austerity.
I am also quite sentimental in that I find the fact that millions of American babies are aborted every year slightly disturbing. Now Trump is no pro-life saint, but when Trump asked Hillary whether aborting a nine month old baby was wrong, she said no. Sorry, that is more than I can bear – even allowing for political differences on the issue.
I also don’t like the idea of the world’s cultural superpower punishing its citizens when they don’t bake a cake or provide flowers for a gay wedding. By all means, stamp out any demonising of gay people. But why on earth punish somebody who quietly does not want to participate in a gay wedding – especially when at the same time to merely utter the words ‘Islamic terror’ is considered bigotry?
This political correctness is disturbing – because what else will citizens of western democracy be forced to agree with next? What ever happened to old school liberal freedom of speech? Of being tough enough to recognise there are people out there who don’t agree with your most cherished beliefs?
People who hold these politically incorrect views voted Trump because they are scared of Hillary and the big and fearful American state she would have had at her beck and call to punish the politically incorrect – which is starting to include most religious people (except perhaps Muslims).
The truth is there is a strange new puritanism that has arisen in the western world that would seek to exterminate all views and perspectives contrary to the left wing consensus of religious and sexual relativism. Call it the totalitarianism of tolerance. And all it does is invite people to turn to an outrageous reality TV star like Trump so they can fight back.
Now it may blow up in American faces. Trump may make some massive mistakes, and the establishment might still wrap its tentacles around him.
(Although I was comforted by his victory speech – as was Obama – which spoke of unity, peace, and putting people to work with an FDR-style, blue collar infrastructure plan – a very unusual speech for a winning Republican candidate.)
But if he does self-destruct (and no, it is not possible for him to suddenly nuke random countries), it won’t simply be the fault of those who voted for him. It will be the fault of a western culture that has structurally ignored the everyday concerns of ordinary people who lack the social and economic capital to benefit from a globalised, liquid modernity.
These are people who don’t care if their votes cause downturns in the stock market – because they don’t have a share portfolio. They also don’t care about the value of their currency – because overseas travel is just a pipe dream.
These people were told their concerns about political correctness and immigration could only be a function of their bigotry or stupidity. So Trump stepped in the gap and became the avatar of their rage.
Lessons from Trump, Aristotle, and Theresa May
The lessons should be obvious – particularly for us in South Africa, where so many of us find ourselves in a kind of elite bubble.
If you truly believe in democracy, you cannot simply ignore the traditional concerns of huge numbers of people – even if you find those concerns offensive. Democracy is about living together and talking and discussing the issues – not about taking issues and concerns off the table.
If you end the conversation even before it begins, people will find a way to force you to listen.
That way might involve a Trump or a Malema – or perhaps somebody even more radical if we don’t quickly learn the necessary lessons.
Both Brexit and Trump were driven by a kind of nationalism. Aristotle taught that a political community was a part of nature. He was right. Human beings have to belong somewhere.
Or as British Prime Minister Theresa May put it recently, “But if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”
Theresa May gets it – she is asking corporations to put workers on their boards, she is boosting local schools. She knows the times they are changing. And she is talking to people, not down at them.
More of May:
“Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators talk about the public.
“They find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal, your attachment to your job security inconvenient.
“They find the fact that more than seventeen million voters decided to leave the European Union simply bewildering.”
If there was a leader like Theresa May in the US – dignified, but not afraid to offend political correctness – there would perhaps have been no market for a Trump, for a human wrecking ball that threatens to smash the establishment.
Equally, in Europe there would probably be no right wing movements if people who questioned mass immigration and EU bureaucracy were not mocked as xenophobes. You can’t ignore large portions of the citizenry and their genuine concerns for too long before things start to get a bit radical.
In my ideal world, politics would be boring and very much in the background. We would draw our meaning from community, faith, work, art and culture – not political ideology.
Trump is obviously not a part of that boring world, and that truly bothers me a great deal. It’s not healthy for people to spend so much time getting worked up about politics and demonising their political opponents as though they were war criminals.
But until we start listening to each other, and put aside our new-fangled political hyper-sensitivity, politics is unfortunately not going to be boring any time soon.
There is a curse the ancient Chinese apparently used to speak over their enemies: ‘May you live in interesting times.’
There can be no doubt our politics are poisonous, and perhaps even cursed.
In the age of Trumpism, we are going to need some kind of political anti-venom.
Recognising the poison of political correctness, and the human desire for community and nationhood, may just be a start to brewing the anti-venom we need…
That’s part of what I want to do on this blog.
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