Why Trump Made Sense in 2016
The website for information on how to migrate to Canada crashed Tuesday night; it was apparently overwhelmed by the amount of traffic. I suspect that was about the time folks began to realize that Donald Trump was on his way to becoming the 45th president of the United States. Trump’s victory was a shock to most people. There’s talk of the apocalypse around water coolers nationwide.
Brace yourself, folks. This election was merely a tremor. The real convulsion, the one that could shake the republic to its foundation and cause it to crash down upon itself, will come in four, or, perhaps, eight years. We’ve a narrow window to save ourselves if we can.
Although it will take a long time to sort through the data on this week’s election, this much seems clear: Trump’s victory depends in large part on his success in courting the votes of working-class white people — in particular white males. People of color, Latinos, and others not cut from a vanilla cloth tended to vote for Hillary Clinton.
I’ve a confession to make. I voted for Trump precisely because he is white male. I decided to do that thanks to two people: A family friend in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and state Sen. Gary Winfield.
It was a stunning sort of rhetorical move. All at once, my views were held to be illegitimate, and questionable, simply because of my accident of birth. Had I leveled a similar claim against a woman, a black person or a Hispanic, I would be called a misogynist or a racist without any sense of irony at all.
Not long thereafter, I appeared on a panel about policing and the use of force. The discussion took place not long after one of the shootings spawning the Black Lives Matter movement. After I spoke, Sen. Winfield made a comment to the effect that sometimes white folk needed simply to shut up and listen.
It was a rude slap in the face from a man I had once admired.
Both comments stung, and I started to read discussions about race, gender and politics through a different lens. It appeared suddenly that being a white male was suspect in the eyes of many. The same folks seeking equality assumed they could achieve it by marginalizing me.
That’s a long way from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that we would one day see beyond the color of skin to the content of character. I refuse to apologize for being white or male.
Then silly season descended on college campuses. There’s talk of safe spaces, marginalizing, and endless discussions of diversity for diversity’s sake. There are rumblings about reparations for past injustices; not to mention what we owe the world. I watched Hillary Clinton give a speech reminding her audience about what white folks owe to others, and I knew at once, I would never vote for her. She was a racial panderer, an identity politician.
The meaning of the Trump victory, or at least of my vote for Trump? If one group plays at identity politics, then I’ll play it, too, even if only on the defense. Donald Trump knew how to play that card.
In Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus has a harrowing discussion with his children toward the end of the book. “Don’t fool yourselves,” he said, talking about racism, “It’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it. I hope it’s not in you children’s time.”
The day of reckoning has come. We are Atticus’s children.
Demographic change will result in a nation in which Caucasians are a minority by 2040. That fact more than any other explains Trump’s appeal. White folk are scared and unnerved. In a world of growing economic inequality, asking the white working class to sacrifice more to include others in a dream few can realize feels confiscatory. Trump struck back.
Although he won the election, he did not win the hearts and minds of the country. Despite my vote for him, I awoke to news of his victory chastened. He harnassed fear, and anger, calling the bluff of minority groups playing at identity politics by harnassing that very strategy on behalf of a vanishing majority.
That sleight of hand barely worked this election. Indeed, it appears as if the popular vote was tilted in Clinton’s favor, even if Trump captured enough votes in the Electoral College to become the next president.
Four years from now, Trump’s base will be that much smaller; sooner or later, it will no longer be possible for a white man to appeal to race and win.
So Trump supporters ought not to gloat. No one should celebrate this most dismal of elections. Two candidates a majority of folks don’t trust bathed in mud and asked for our support. I chose my candidate based on the lowest of possible denominators; I suspect many other voters did likewise.
We need to recalibrate our politics. Whatever happened to talking about integrity, or visions of the common good? It’s as though we’ve run out of capital in this country and are retreating to our tribes because there is nothing left in common.
There is no future in such a world, or at least not a future that is not bloody, violent and rife with the sectarian tension common elsewhere in the world.
White, black, brown, male, female, straight, gay, transgender, disabled — the list extends to idiosyncratic infinity in a world without a spiritual center — there has to be more to politics than our individual identities. What became of discussing the soul?
Donald Trump’s victory, the victory of a man without apparent qualities, is a paradoxical invitation to reassess what makes life worth living. We became caricatures, so many of us, in the last election. God save us if we don’t become people of character before the next one.
I don’t fear the fire next time; I fear the earthquake that this week’s tremor portends.