A friend from Israel asked me a question that was at the same time both simple and ridiculously complex. “So, what did you think of the election?"
I side-stepped her question, mumbling something about how there wasn't enough time to give a good answer. The truth was that I was still in shock, still trying to wrap my brain around the election results. It simply did not compute. I analyzed the data, then reorganized my thoughts, then retooled my thesis. Then I started all over again. This is my best attempt at a written response to my Israeli friend. Please forgive anything I have forgotten, such as the impact of the alt right or the question of Trump's international business dealings or...whatever. There are just too many moving pieces to include them all. However, if you question any of the facts in my statements, please message me and I will back them up with references from reputable sources.
I think I speak for half of this country when I say that this election was an UNMITIGATED DISASTER.
There is no other simple way to put this. What is more important and more alarming is that Donald Trump is not the disease itself. To continue the medical metaphor, he is only a symptom of a greater sickness in our country.
To understand what happened, why it happened, and what it means, I need to break down the past year into three topics:
- The environment that lead to a Trump presidency.
- The danger of a Trump presidency.
- The possible future of a Trump presidency.
First of all, to understand U.S. (American) politics, it is important to understand that we are for all intents and purposes a two-party system (Republican and Democratic). In the past, this has kept our politics relatively centrist, since extreme political ideologies can never get a foothold in the U.S. at a national level. Second, our electoral college system is an antiquated system that gives each state a certain number of electoral votes more or less based on the number of Congressmen from that state. However, since this does not reflect the actual population of each state, and since in most states, the winner of a state gets ALL the electoral votes from that state in a presidential election, the system gives less-populated rural states more voting power than more populated urban states. The result of which is whichever party can mobilize the rural areas of the country wins the election. This is also why Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by at least 1.5% but lost the overall election.
Finally, there is documented evidence of voter suppression, disenfranchisement, and “gerrymandering” (drawing voter districts to favor certain groups) throughout our country that makes it more difficult for people of color, immigrants, and the poor to get their vote heard. Some states, such as North Carolina, have been in the news recently for actively making it difficult for African Americans to vote. Laws that were put in place a generation ago to prevent voter disenfranchisement have been recently struck down by our court system as “no longer necessary”. This can all be verified with documents, news articles, and academic analysis.
On this political backdrop, add lots and lots of voter anger. In fact, I would argue that “anger” was the primary emotion that drove this election. I have to tried to analyze why the anger was so different this election cycle than compared to any other. This is not the first time that the working class were poor, that young people were in debt, or that the government was seen as corrupt. However, this time around, the mostly-liberal Millennials (those born between 1982-2002) are struggling with college debt, making less than their parents did, and seeing the largest wage gap between our richest and poorest. The White Working Class are actually better off than they were a decade ago (with improved access to health care and an economy that is no longer in free fall), but they are still facing an economic recession and job losses in a world that no longer looks like the world their parents grew up in (the first Black president, acceptance of LGBT rights, and increasing numbers of Arabic and Spanish speaking immigrants). They have been told over and over by conservatives that all of their pain is due to the changing environment. So, as my son put it, those people who valued education and those people who didn’t value education were both angry because they were poor.
Republican obstructionism partnered with effective Republican messaging (slogans, sound bites, etc.) also played a huge part. Since President Obama took office 8 years ago, the Republican party has tried to undermine him at every turn. Remember that our economy was in shambles after 8 years of President Bush (again, this is all verifiable information). Obama tried to address our lack of national health care policy and our need for internal investment with the Affordable Care Act and economic stimulus plans. Most economists supported everything he proposed, and in the past, his policies would have been the very plans that Republicans would have supported. Instead, the Republicans, supported by an ultra-right “Tea Party Movement”, set out to block everything Obama tried to do simply to prevent his re-election. The final (and best) example was the Republican refusal to allow him to appoint a new Supreme Court justice in the final year of his presidency, something that had NEVER been done before by either party.
So, the only president in recent memory with impeccable academic credentials, an elegant speaking style, and absolutely NO scandals in his background was presented as an elitist, socialist (not true), Muslim (not an issue, but not true), non-American (not true) who is out to expand his powers, steal our guns, and let illegal immigrants run rampant throughout our country. And since the Democratic party sucks at communication, they were never able to convince rural America that the reason they were still stuck at the bottom was Republican obstructionism, not government in general. The Republicans, on the other hand, were GREAT at communication, and they told the American people that the reason their insurance premiums were going up, the reason there were no working-class jobs, etc. was all because of President Obama.
Now, add to this Hillary Clinton. On paper, she is an excellent candidate. She was a First Lady, senator of New York, and U.S. Secretary of State. She is fiercely intelligent, practical, and committed to governing. However, her enemies do not just dislike her, they HATE her. And, unfortunately, her tenure in the public eye is not without potential scandal going back to her husband’s presidency. However, despite all the scrutiny, despite the hours and hours of congressional testimony, despite a news media fascinated with every one of her missteps, she has never faced disciplinary action. Her supporters argue this is because there is NOTHING THERE. Her enemies argue that this is obviously because the entire system is corrupt and protecting her. If you actually review all her scandals with a discerning eye (the private email server, the Bengazi attack, Whitewater, etc.) you quickly discover that although she may be flawed, she has not done anything that her MALE counterparts have not done. However, as I said before, her enemies HATE her. When Donald Trump starting calling her, “Crooked Hillary”, I knew we were in trouble. It was exactly the type of schoolyard taunt that would catch on in the public eye.
Finally, the Democratic party failed to EXPLICITLY reach out to the White Working Class. Instead of appealing to the country’s appetite for “change”, they spent too much time explaining how good things actually were. Instead of countering Trump’s VERY effective slogan “Make America Great Again!”, she used “Stronger Together”, which just didn’t address the anger and pain. She presented herself as a candidate who “can get things done” and stressed that she would be the first female president. This was not what the rural population wanted to hear.
However, despite all of this, despite this economic backdrop, despite the anger toward an antiquated two-party system, despite the anger toward Hillary Clinton, despite missteps by the Democratic party, we honestly never thought Trump would win. It was too ludicrous.
First, he has absolutely no experience with public service, nor has he shown any interest in learning. Let that sink in. A man who has never been elected governor, senator, representative, mayor, city council, or even school board member is now at the helm of our country. The presidential debates made clear that he has little understanding of world politics, and he has no plan for the future.
Second, he is a bully, cheat, and a liar. Politifact, a non-partisan fact-checking organization rated 51% of his public statements as “false” or “pants on fire” (wildly untrue). [Clinton, in contrast, was one of the most truthful at 12% “false”/”pants on fire”.] Trump's business dealings over the past decades are filled with stories of the people he has cheated or refused to pay. He used money from his own non-profit charitable foundation to pay legal fees and buy personal items. His history of bullying extends from his love of firing people to his public rallies where he encouraged violence toward protestors, kicked out the press, made fun of a handicapped journalist, made claims of assaulting women, committed (and bragged about) adultery, and has heckled and insulted his rivals and enemies at every time with language that should NEVER have made it to the public stage. The Southern Poverty Law Center (a respected nonprofit organization that fights hate, intolerance and injustice) wrote about the Trump Effect in our schools, where teachers have seen a rise in incivility based on what kids have seen and heard during the election. It’s as if a spoiled 3rd grader was suddenly given a national stage.
Third, he is a bigot and a misogynist. Trump has fomented anti-immigrant, racist, antisemitic, and generally xenophobic attitudes throughout his campaign. He referred to Mexico sending over drug dealers, criminals, and rapists. He charged that a U.S.-born judge of Mexican descent should not be allowed to officiate over a case against Trump, because the judge could not be impartial, “because he’s a Mexican”. He was a vocal proponent of the discredited "birther" charge that President Obama was a Muslim, African-born candidate not eligible to be president. He has made statements pushing Jewish stereotypes and making thinly veiled comments about the world Jewish conspiracy. He publicly attacked the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who had died for his country, suggesting (or implying) that the reason his father, and not his mother, spoke publicly was that she was not allowed to speak. He has been supported by white nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan, and other hate groups and has only weakly disavowed their support. He has insulted women journalists and politicians using the coarsest anti-female language. And every time he said something even more outrageous than before, he would complain people were being too sensitive and politically correct, and his poll numbers would go up.
Fourth, he is a con man. Despite his shady business dealings, despite his refusal to release his income tax returns (suggesting he has something to hide), despite the fact he clearly took advantage of the economic system that he claims is the problem, despite his privileged upbringing, despite his complete lack of experience or understanding of how to govern, and despite a lack of an actual platform of ideas, plans, or details, he convinced nearly half of the country that he was the preferable candidate. The few unrealistic and ludicrous ideas he did espouse should have shown the country that he had no concept of reality. For example, Trump claimed that he would:
- Round up and deport ALL undocumented immigrants in our country (despite the impossibility of sheer numbers).
- Build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico long enough and high enough to keep out all illegal border crossings and get Mexico to pay for it (despite the enormity of the project and Mexico's stated refusal to be a part of this).
- Set up a registry for Muslims in our country (despite the national shadow of shame that still haunts us regarding the Japanese internment camps).
- Punish women for getting abortions (despite abortions being legal in our country).
- Appoint a special prosecutor for Hillary Clinton with the expressed goal of sending her to prison (despite the FBI clearly stating many times that she did nothing illegal or worthy of prosecution).
Finally, he is a dangerous, unpredictable, megalomaniacal authoritarian. He responds to any perceived slight with short, bitter, insulting statements on Twitter that bely a lack of tact, decency, or understanding of the world around him. He has consistently fought to delegitimize the press, calling into question actual facts and selling the idea that the media and the government are all out to get him. He foments violence and anger at his rallies particularly toward protestors and reporters, leads chants of “Lock Her Up!” toward Hillary Clinton, and generally has given white supremacist groups the confidence to increase their hate speech, vandalism, and violent attacks against anyone that does not fit their world view.
This is our new president.
What this actually means for the country is impossible to say. I have read too many pundits with too many theories. Will Trump dial back his rhetoric and follow a more conventional Republican party line? Will he dismantle our government institutions and send our economy into a new Depression? Will he distract the country from the real problems by encouraging anti-immigrant, anti-African American, anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, and anti-Jewish hatred? Will he become a one-term president when his followers realize they have been duped by a con man who had no plans to actually address any their concerns?
I don’t know. What I do know is that many of us woke up the day after the election and realized that half of the country did not care that their president was uneducated, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, and unhinged. The United States had long moved beyond the ability to find common ground, and it had lost the ability to compromise and negotiate. White supremacists were now feeling empowered to come out of the shadows, and the alt right was finding legitimacy. After eight years of progress moving us toward the best social policies already in place in the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia, many diehard patriots like myself are finding themselves for the first time thinking long and hard about whether it is worth fighting for the soul of our country or whether we should seek residence elsewhere. This is why the Canadian immigration site crashed after the election.
The next four years do not bode well for African Americans, who have been trying to get the country to address the disparity in police violence toward them. They don't bode well for Hispanics (from Mexico and South America), who will face increased prejudice whether they are citizens, green card holders, or undocumented workers. They don't bode well for Muslims, who will be considered un-American, nor for refugees fleeing Syria and other repressive regimes. And they won't bode well for the Jews, who will be blamed no matter what happens.
Why do I say the Jews will be blamed? Despite Trump’s “dog whistles” suggesting a Jewish world conspiracy, and Trump's statements that have empowered neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, alt right, and other white supremacists, Jews can’t even find safety among other liberals. Black Lives Matter, a grass roots organization committed to preventing police violence against African Americans recently added strong anti-Israel language to its platform, calling Israel an “apartheid state” and suggesting that Americans are “complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government.” Any support Trump gives to Israel will only increase anti-Jewish feeling on the left, despite Israel's strong ties with the U.S. across party lines.
In the end, I leave you with a snapshot of the two presidential candidates in their own words. Compare the final television ads for both campaigns. I ask, which ad reminds you more of Germany in the 1930s?
"We must fight against normalization of the unacceptable" - Christiane Amanpour