Every poll predicted both a Clinton victory and that Democrats would regain control over the Senate. Instead, Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States and the Republicans control all branches of government.
David Fasenfest, editor of Critical Sociology and author of the forthcoming Detroit and new urban repertoires, explains why this came to be.
Exit interviews reveal some patterns that are instructive. Millennials, of which 55% voted for Clinton, did not turn out to vote in large numbers. 58% of whites, and surprisingly 30% of Latino and Asian voted for Trump. And while Clinton was the ‘break the glass ceiling’ candidate, over 40% of women voted for Trump. Whites without a college degree strongly supported Trump (67%), but so did Whites with a degree (49%), and so did about half of all those earning $50K a year or more. Trump collected about as many votes nationally as did Mitt Romney 4 years earlier. By contrast, Clinton received around 6 million fewer votes than Barack Obama received in 2012.
In the end, this was not an election about who could govern better, so what was this election really about?
The anti-establishment candidate
The answer lies in the primaries, and who garnered what sort of support. Throughout the Republican primaries pundits expected Trump to falter at each stage, and yet he soundly defeated all the logical establishment candidates. Trump was the anti-establishment candidate at a time when the Republican electorate were fed up with their establishment.
“Trump was the anti-establishment candidate at a time when the Republican electorate were fed up with their establishment.”
Bernie Sanders served that role in the Democratic primaries, and had a strong showing. One might imagine—rightly or wrongly—that it was the machinations of the Democratic establishment that prevented a similar anti-establishment candidate from emerging from their primaries. One way of seeing this election is that Trump defeated the Bush political dynasty of one party, and the implicit Clinton dynasty of the other.
The failure of the Democrats
It is about a half century since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan ushered in a new form of government, auguring what was to become a steady diet of anti-unionism, neoliberalism, austerity, smaller government and the evisceration of the social safety net. While Republicans pressed for more of the same in subsequent administrations, Democrats failed to protect or even advocate for working people and the poor.
“Democrats failed to protect or even advocate for working people and the poor.”
A Democratic administration oversaw the radical restructuring of the welfare system and deregulated financial institutions, and later administrations did little to support wages, protect jobs or promote the interests of working families. There were victories—for example, advances in recognizing gay rights, attempts at providing universal healthcare. But even the Affordable Care Act did more to expand the customer base of insurance companies resulting in massive mergers and increases in premiums and corporate profits.
The growing influence of the right
Trump’s victory comes at the heels of the vote for Brexit in the UK, the growing influence of anti-immigrant parties throughout Europe, and the increasing likelihood that right-wing parties can capture national governments in the coming elections. Concerns over immigration and a rising security threat in those countries informed the support for Trump by the US electorate.
Populations throughout the developed world are mobilizing against traditional political administrations. Populism from the left and the right has captured the energy of people tired of empty promises, of declining economic futures (real or perceived), and of business as usual which translates as governance for business. One might be excused for noticing with some irony that the US standard bearer for anti-establishment populism is himself a self-declared billionaire businessman, though one who has touted his distance from the traditional centers of wealth and power in Wall Street and Washington.
“This county will get change, but it remains to be seen if it is the change they expected.”
Americans now face an administration that will work to dismantle institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency, reduce business and banking regulations, and cripple departments like Education, HUD, and any other government agency that protects or promotes (however ineffectively) the interests of society at large. But at the same time this will not be a ‘traditional’ Republican administration. What little Trump has said points to changing trade agreements (promising to renegotiate or cancel NAFTA, and to block the TPP agreement), revisiting foreign policy, and pulling out of climate initiatives reflected in the recent Paris agreement.
The general public wanted a change. But the US is a divided nation and this is not the change all wanted to see. In the week following the election, demonstrations by mainly young people loudly proclaimed their objection to a Trump administration. This county will get change, but it remains to be seen if it is the change they expected.
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