So it’s been just two weeks since the event the Mary Beards of the 22d Century may well label the Fall of the Republic. After two centuries, the US has managed to elect its first proto-autocrat. Not a Hitler, nor even a Mussolini (who was reportedly well-versed in the writings of Socialist philosophers). Perhaps a Berlusconi. How did this happen? There are many theories out there, but almost all of them suffer from a too, too simplistic view of a complex systems problem.
The proposed reasons fall into three categories: (a) apolitical hatreds (racism, misogyny), (b) manipulated electorate (mainstream media, Facebook, voter apathy/suppression), and political discontent (class revolt, reaction to big government).
Some commenters emphasize simple racism — the choice between multiracial democracy and white supremacy. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie does this, despite admitting that not everyone is racist all the time.
T. R. Ramachandran, president of a web-presence software company, produced a pages long and well-researched tweetstorm analyzing the data on various causes. His conclusion was that it was primarily, not exclusively, a racist/sexist cause, with very little economic underpinning.
There are two kinds of manipulation theories — government and non-government. The idea of government manipulation is based on the fact that many states implemented various voter suppression laws, designed to make it hard for Democratic voters — the poor and minorities, mostly — to vote. I haven’t been able to find anything current on that conjecture, but I do note that overall turnout was not as low as first reported. In fact, 2016 may have equalled 2012 in percentage of eligibles voting, and Clinton won a solid majority of the popular vote, just not in the right states. The key question is, did it suppress enough votes in key states to make a difference? We won’t know that for some weeks yet.
The non-government side of the manipulation argument turns on the actions of the main-stream media (MSM) in covering click-inducing trivia at the expense of real issues, and in treating the actions of both candidates as equivalent — Clinton’s email problems getting far more time for far longer than Trump’s actions, actions (racist remarks, sexist remarks, failure to release tax records) that in past campaigns would have spelled political death. It also includes the extremely lopsided coverage, that gave Trump almost $2 billion in air time, when he spent only $10 million on advertising.
Of course, were the bogus news sites and fake news stories circulated on Facebook. It can be argued that these were only echo chamber amplifiers, and that those who read and believed the stories had already made up their minds.
Then, too, I would personally include the decades-old smear campaign by the GOP against the Clintons. Many people said they disliked Hillary Clinton personally. To the extent that that is not a reaction to an ambitious woman (and I have personally seen this kind of reaction by women, against ambitious women in the workplace), I’d say it’s the result of the ongoing double standard in press coverage. Although he attributes it to other factors, Michael Moore has pointed to one result:
“90,000 Michiganders voted for every office and every ballot proposal on both sides of the ballot — and refused to vote for president.” …and Clinton lost Michigan by 11,000 votes.
The final manipulation, of course, was the stab-in-the-back on-again-off-again announcements about the FBI non-investigation of Clinton’s emails by Director Comey in the final week of the campaign. Given that Comey was originally a Republican appointee, kept on to show bipartisan dedication to justice for all, it’s likely that his actions were a deliberate attempt to sabotage her campaign.
The political discontent argument, what one might call the peasant’s revolt, has supporters that range from Michael Moore (writing pre-election, and post-election), to Glenn Greenwald’s post-election essay in The Intercept and Joan Williams somewhat more thoughtful post-election essay in the Harvard Business Review, with some support from post-election press interviews. You could even factor in Allan Lichtman’s forecasts here.
The TLDR version of this is, the White Working Class is hurting, and has been hurting for decades and neither party has done anything about it. The Democratic Party has given up on blue collar workers as part of their base, and the GOP has given up on democracy in general. Finally, the WWC had enough, and voted to throw an electoral Molotov cocktail into the works. They weren’t voting so much for Trump as against the current system.
My view, as a General Systems Theory person is, All Of The Above.
The Peasant’s Revolt seems to be the heart of it. In 2008 and 2012 we voted for Obama because we wanted change, and we didn’t get it. Part of that is the obstructionist tactics of the GOP, they should only burn in Hell, who looked at a country that they had just plunged into what could very easily have become a second Great Depression and decided that their overwhelming priority, at whatever cost to the country, was to make Obama a one-term President. But part of the lack of change can be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party and Obama himself. After what the banks and Wall street did to destroy the economy and the lives and livelihoods of the middle and working class, there should have been lawsuits, there should have been criminal charges, there should have been people taken out and shot on the tarmac.
There was nothing. There wasn’t even much in the way of relief for those bilked out of their homes and life savings. Meanwhile, Obama was pressing for even more in the way of trade agreements which, rightly or wrongly, the WWC sees as a threat to their jobs. All Democrats were disappointed (OK, all Democrats who were not millionaires). And Clinton was seen as more of the same.
Meanwhile, on the periphery, you had the whites of the Old Confederacy voting GOP, because yes race and misogyny. Race because Clinton was going to be a female continuation of that man in the White House, who they saw as, well, uppity.
On the other hand, Ramachandran’s claim that economics wasn’t a factor because voters didn’t know what the candidates economic positions were doesn’t keep economics from intruding. Economics played a role because even the well-off WWC faced a bleak, uncertain future, and so did their children. People said that Trump would make things worse, and the response of the WWC was, how will we tell?
So what did the election process look like? In the beginning, there were two candidates who beat the populist drum and told the WWC that somebody finally cared — Sanders and Trump. Sanders (who really cared) had the bad luck to be up against possibly the best prepared and most qualified Presidential candidate of the modern era. Trump (who couldn’t care less) was up against a band of light-weights who got trampled because they were one-dimensional caricatures of what a GOP candidate might look like, and none of them were agents for change.
So, the message from the voters was, we want change, and if we can’t have change we can believe in, we want change that will scare the monied elites out of their greedy ways. It’s the electoral equivalent of burn, baby, burn, and it’s going to go on for four more years, unless he gets impeached before then. And the consequences will be incalculable.