Donald Trump is an unusual candidate. The election of 2016 was an unusual election. Many people on the liberal side of the aisle think of the election in racial and gender terms: To them, Trump’s win demonstrates a racial/gender divide in the United States.
I understand, but reject, that interpretation. Is America divided in serious ways along gender, racial, ethnic, and religious dimensions? Sadly, of course it is. Was Trump’s campaign heavily laden with misogynistic and xenophobic overtones? Sadly, of course it was.
Were these divisions and/or rhetoric why he seems to have won a majority of the votes in the Electoral College? Well, that’s not nearly as clear. Misogyny and xenophobia are not defined by the Electoral College.
Because Trump appears to have won the Electoral College but not the popular vote, his win is defined by geographical distinctions. If you moved a modicum of his electoral support from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to, say, California, Hillary Clinton would be the president-elect. But, of course, by moving those voters, one would not have changed the national level of misogyny or xenophobia.
Trump won because he put forward a “plan.” He had concrete (and, in my opinion, almost always asinine and simplistic) proposals for the American public. Build a wall, withdraw from NAFTA, get our allies to pay their “fair share” of defense ... these are “action points”: Clinton had (or at least trumpeted) none of these.
It’s not about white working-class Americans. It’s about promising something other than “let’s stay the course.” Clinton wasn’t really saying that, but I don’t know what she was saying other than that she “isn’t Donald.”
In the end, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin are getting older, not younger, from a demographic perspective. The “Democratic firewall” was predictably crumbling. Could Clinton and her team (or Trump and his team) have known it had crumbled enough to allow Trump to secure victories in all three of these states this year? Uncertain. This came down to minute differences in turnout, and I will say that Clinton’s team should have known that fact. However, to know that it would happen in all three states at once? No, I think that is an unlikely convergence of demographic forces, and it is unclear how to forge a firewall for the firewall in the interim.
That said, to suspect that one or two (or all three) might need a pick-me-up — a proposal to get the trains moving again — that is not too much to ask from the Democrats. The Democrats aren’t deserting the working-class voter, but they aren’t speaking to them either. They could have been more concrete about how the Democratic platform would help the swing voters in these states.
In the end, Donald Trump, possibly without meaning to do so, identified where the Democrats have gone lazy. Bernie Sanders saw part of this: His platform catered to the fears and desires of the working-middle-class (white) American. But in the end, Trump won the Electoral College the same way he won the GOP nomination: He tapped into a desire for “a plan.” Sanders was speaking to a vocal minority: a part of the electorate that was important, but not pivotal, in the general election. Trump, on the other hand, was, in hindsight, speaking to the middle of the electorate. He was (seen as) preaching a cure to the malaise felt by many.
As Hippocrates wrote: “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.”
Following Hippocrates, the Trump campaign ended up (at least being seen as) proposing extreme methods of cure: with respect to our involvement in international entanglements, with respect to jobs, with respect to the state of everyday affairs. And enough voters in the right states saw those as a cure for the extreme diseases they see plaguing their towns. The key word in the Hippocrates quote is “restriction.” The link with “draining a swamp,” where leeches breed, is too ripe to miss.
Will Trump’s “cure” live up to its name? I, for one, am dubious. But to believe that those who do are misguided is no less dangerous for democracy as believing that it will. In the end, democracy is about all of us sticking through it together, trying to piece together the way. I don’t suspect at this point that Trump has figured out the path, but I also know that putting the other options back on the table means that we have to seriously question whether this is a democracy after all.
In other words, Donald J. Trump is “on the clock.” And, to be clear, this job is salaried.