For some people, November 8, 2016 is one of the greatest days in American history. Others may very well see it as a day that will live in political infamy. The 2016 presidential election is over, and Donald John Trump has been elected as the 45th president of the United States of America.
If people are being honest with themselves most people save for a few like Michael Moore who had predicted the real possibility of Trump winning the presidential election more than a year ago did not see this coming. The American political establishment, large swaths of the American public and the entire world were shocked and stunned by Trump’s triumph. While Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, Trump carried the electoral college that ultimately determines who wins the presidency.
When it became clear that battleground and bellwether states were consistently dropping into the GOP column, what was once seen as intense enthusiasm rapidly dissipated in many liberal circles and unhinged delirium in conservative quarters. When the initial shock settled, many individuals, both inside and outside the media, engaged in fierce Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning, afternoon and evening quarterbacking. Various scenarios and theories were bandied about as to how such an outcome could have possibly occurred. While the truth is that there are likely many reasons as to why so many people, specifically White people, voted for Donald Trump, I would argue that some of the more rational ones are:
Through various periods in our nation’s history, charismatic politicians espousing a populist message have sporadically emerged onto the political scene garnering the support of those citizens who feel disenfranchised or left behind. Both Trump and Bernie Sanders tapped into the intense populist tsunami that was raging throughout the nation. Both men fervently discussed economic marginalization, were critical of outsourcing jobs, Wall Street, unchecked globalization, neo-liberalism and other factors they saw as contributing to the demise of many working class people. The major difference was that Trump tinged his message with a dangerously high level of jingoism and nationalism.
Racial, cultural and gender resentment
When W.E.B. Du Bois stated in his classic book The Souls of Black Folk that race would be the definitive issue of the 20th century he was spot on in his analysis. His prophetic message still rings true today in the early 21th century.
To be blunt and to keep it real, the Trump campaign engaged in a blatantly racist, sexist, shameless, divisive campaign. They preyed upon and exploited the fears of Whites who were fearful and resentful of immigration, affirmative action (despite the fact that White people, especially White women, are the biggest beneficiaries of the policy), multiculturalism, gay marriage and other issues that are often seen as anathema to a number of racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic members in this group.
The fact that the alt-right and well known White nationalists like David Duke and Steven Bannon of Brietbart.com either praised or were active members of his campaign was alarming in and of itself. Many male members of this group were likely resentful of the prospect of a woman becoming commander-in-chief. By no means do all people who supported Trump harbor such viewpoints—likely most do not—but a sizable number do. It is notable to point out that the majority of Whites across age groups from senior citizens to millennials voted for Trump. CNN commentator Van Jones said it best that Trump’s victory was due in part to a whitelash.
The news media
While there seems to be some remorse in some quarters of the press, the fact is that the mainstream media largely contributed to Donald Trump’s success. His antics, theatrics and often unpredictable behavior became a lucrative engine for many segments of the media in that it afforded them the opportunity to generate megabucks in advertising revenue. They would often let him go off on tangents about various topics without challenging him to verify his statements as they required of other candidates. It is also probably safe to say that the press was largely unprepared to cover a presidential candidate who was already a professional media celebrity. He was able to successfully manipulate much of the press core. There are others.
Despite winning the popular vote, Hillary Clinton’s negatives (as were Trump’s) were still considerably high for a candidate running for public office. Moreover, her political enemies were able to paint her as a person who was seen as polarizing, secretive, untrustworthy, lacking in integrity, etc. The FBI “October Surprise” that turned out to be a false alarm by director James Comey certainly did not help soothe largely negative perceptions and suspicions deeply ingrained in the minds of many of her detractors and even a few allies. She simply carried too much baggage from her past history.
Despite all the drama, the undeniable truth is that the 2016 presidential campaign was, indeed, one of the most surprising, exciting, unpredictable and, at times, jarring elections in American political history. It will certainly be one that will be discussed for, likely, centuries to come. It is definitely one for the history books!