In my last article, I predicted Trump would lose. I thought his declinist message and his blatant vulgarity would ultimately cost him too many votes. As Trump would say, “wrong.”
What are we to take from Trump’s stunning upset? Here are a few quick thoughts:
- The Democrats ran the wrong candidate. Remember when Bernie Sanders was saying he had the best chance to defeat Trump? That the polls favored him and not Hillary? Turns out Bernie was right. People were looking for a candidate who represented change. Real change. Bernie had that. So too did Trump. But Hillary was the establishment personified. Not only that, but she had extensive baggage that led to high negatives. Too many people just didn’t like her. Or they simply wanted a fresh face and a new approach — even if that face was Trump.
- The October surprise. Does Trump win without the last minute intervention of the FBI in the email follies? We’ll never know, but Hillary had the momentum prior to the letter issued by the FBI. That letter may have slowed her momentum just enough to allow Trump to win.
- All politics is local — or, at least, personal. The Democrats addressed global issues like climate change. The Republicans basically denied it’s happening. The Democrats talked about embracing immigrants and tolerating Muslims. The Republicans did neither. What the Republicans did was to emphasize personal pain. The pain of those who’ve seen their jobs disappear and their way of life suffer. The Republicans also played to nostalgia. Yes, America is in decline, they said, but we can make the country great again (by making it less inclusive, by keeping out the “bad” people, by being tough). That message proved appealing to so many Americans who see in Trump the possibility of returning to “the good old days” (whatever that may mean).
- “I won’t play the sap for you.” That’s a Humphrey Bogart line from “The Maltese Falcon.” Many Americans believe they are being played for saps by foreign powers. Trump recognized this. He called for tougher trade deals. He called for NATO and other U.S. allies to pay their way. He promised a new approach to foreign policy, one where enemies would be smashed even as Americans would avoid dumb wars like Iraq. Basically, Trump promised that America would no longer play the sap for the rest of the world. And the American people liked what they heard.
That’s my quick take. Lots of Americans truly wanted a change in course — a sort of reactionary revolution. That desire led them to downplay Trump’s sexism, ignorance, incivility, and vulgarity. (Of course, there were some who embraced Trump precisely for these qualities.) In essence, they simply had no patience for Hillary’s “politics as usual” message.
Finally, let’s not forget that Trump said the election is “rigged.” He was a sore loser even before the results were in. What kind of winner will he be? Much will depend on the answer to that question.
William J. Astore