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Trump's Election: Reflection, Rejection and Speculation

John Peeler: Donald Trump has articulated and legitimized this deeply ingrained racism. Whether he now chooses to mitigate or exacerbate it will tell us whether we are headed toward proto-fascism, or to just another turn in the political cycle.

More than 52 percent of voters rejected Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton herself got more votes than he did. Never forget that.

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Trump's Election: Reflection, Rejection and Speculation—John Peeler

Yet he won the Electoral College. He will be the second consecutive Republican president to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. As Walter Cronkite used to say, "that's the way it is," in the world's leading democracy. So much for the supposed lock on the Electoral College that Democrats supposedly had.

It was a narrow victory. Just a few states shifted slightly toward the Republicans. Democrats voted in good numbers, but Republicans, especially the white working class, voted even more strongly. The national polls that showed Clinton leading were not wrong. The outlier LATimes/USC poll, that consistently had Trump ahead, was wrong. The polls that failed were at the state level, where most had Clinton ahead where Trump ended up winning.

Pennsylvania is a good example. The cities and suburbs largely went for Clinton, sometimes by big numbers, but the conservative rural and rust-belt areas carried the day. But in Union County, where I reside, the Republican majority was not extraordinary: 60 percent to 35 percent. Turnout was not high for a presidential year: 73 percent. Democrats won where they were expected to win: Lewisburg Borough (68 percent) and East Buffalo Township (53 percent). It was a normal election that tipped very slightly to the Republicans. That the pattern was replicated in several states gave Trump the victory. This was not an electoral earthquake.

The consequences, however, are indeed earth-shaking. With a Republican Congress, Trump will have at least one Supreme Court appointment. Rowe v. Wade could be in peril. Obamacare will be repealed, though Republicans will find that their constituents like many of its features. Trumpcare will look a lot like Obamacare, but with more uninsured. Obama, faced with Republican obstruction, used executive orders to enact many of his policies on the environment and civil rights, betting that a Clinton victory would keep them in place. All the executive orders can be repealed at a stroke of Trump's pen. The executive agreement with Iran can similarly be revoked. Iran will resume its push for nuclear weapons, and risk of a new war in the Middle East will rise. Taking a hard line on immigration (Build the Wall!) will become a central theme, raising ethnic tensions and complicating Trump's efforts to renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA. There is a risk of a trade war and global recession.

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Donald Trump has articulated and legitimized this deeply ingrained racism. Whether he now chooses to mitigate or exacerbate it will tell us whether we are headed toward proto-fascism, or to just another turn in the political cycle.

The visible theme of racial and ethnic animosity that drove Trump's campaign has deep roots. Liberals commonly think of the great reforms of the 1960s and 1970s as a fulfillment of the New Deal, but to many whites, North as well as South, civil rights laws, the War on Poverty, affirmative action, seemed to be singling out minorities for favored treatment while the white working class struggled with inexorable deindustrialization and declining prospects. This was in contrast to New Deal programs such as Social Security that were primarily for whites (FDR's compromise with segregationist Southern Democrats in Congress). Many whites have always seen this country as white, with tolerated minorities. Minorities were not to threaten white control, and were not to get ahead at white expense. Donald Trump has articulated and legitimized this deeply ingrained racism. Whether he now chooses to mitigate or exacerbate it will tell us whether we are headed toward proto-fascism, or to just another turn in the political cycle.

If a divisive racist appeal was part of his strategy, sexism was more like who he really is. He had no strategic reason to disrespect women; he did it because he really feels that way. Not that he isn't really racist as well, but he could actually win votes with racism, and he could only lose votes with sexism. He is the embodiment of what we used to call a male chauvinist pig.

Democrats and progressives now have a dual agenda. First, we must gird ourselves to oppose the many initiatives that Trump will put forward that will make our country and our world worse. We must stand for an egalitarian and free society for all, and stand for an environmental vision that can put the brakes on global warming (if it's not too late).

Second, we shall have to build bridges to the white working class that used to be the bedrock of the Democratic Party. Their economic interests will never be served by Trump's agenda, but it's been hard to get that point across amidst the racial and ethnic tensions and the culture wars.

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It's going to be a wild ride.

John Peeler

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