Of course Donald Trump is frightening. We’ve become used to eight years of relative sanity across the border and expected at least four more. Now we’re suddenly faced with the pack of incompetents, war fanatics, white nationalists, race-baiters, liars, in-laws, aged reality stars, and political has-beens. Guys who own fake news websites that cater to anime Nazis are moving into the White House.
Donald Trump, a pseudo-tragic Gatsby-esque emblem of the American Dream, is already out of his depth before even taking office. By all accounts, the President-Elect has no idea what he’s supposed to do as President, and is asking Obama which Republicans he should be hiring. He’s backtracked all of his major policy planks, making himself more moderate on many issues than the establishment people he rallied against. Who knows what he’ll get up to?
Nothing new, at least. He’s not that different from any other Republican, save for the anti-elitist tone. Let’s look at his team, for example.
In order to get anything done, he’ll have to go through Congressman Paul Ryan, his bitter enemy and Speaker of Congress. Ryan has repeatedly asserted that poverty comes not from economic exclusion, but a “culture of laziness” among “urban populations”. The lazy African-American is about as stale of a racial trope as one can find, but that doesn’t stop a respectable Republican from deploying it.
The Former Governor of Indiana and current VP-designate Mike Pence defended “conversion therapy,” a medically unsound process of psychological torture intended to turn non-heteronormative people “straight”. He also signed one of the infamous anti-trans “bathroom bills” into law.
Policy guru Newt Gingrich, a former Republican House Speaker and 90s-era party hero who came second in the primaries in 2012, provides another example. He’s as “establishment” as they come, but he still recently argued Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and proprietor of alt-right news site “Breitbart,” couldn’t possibly be an anti-Semite because he worked in finance. Anyone even slightly familiar with Nazi propaganda should know exactly what he was implying there.
Bannon himself is no party insider, being the kind of man who takes endorsements from outright fascists as a sign that he’s doing something right. However, it’s pretty indicative that there’s more Republican angst over which washed-up pundit gets the State Department than his appointment as chief policy advisor. So when people ask, “Is Trump a Fascist?” the answer is, “Yes, and so are his colleagues!” The only difference between Trump and the rest of the Republican Party is that they dog whistle, whereas he just shouts.
This isn’t the end of the world, though. Despite the hopes of the far right, the Trump victory wasn’t a paradigm shift towards a new era of white nationalism. The voter breakdown will show that this was a deeply conventional election. Parties rarely hold the White House past two terms, so the odds of some Republican winning weren’t bad anyways. Trump kept a hold on all the standard Republican states and gained narrow victories in the “Rust Belt”, which is the more unusual part. One could blame his unexpected victories in the economically decaying industrial states of the American Midwest on a variety of things. It should be noted, however, that these states voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and mostly swing Democratic. After eight years of that, the factories were still closing down, and wages were still stagnant. People from these areas felt increasingly alienated. A display to these people that they were being consulted and supported would have granted the Democrats the Electoral College margin they needed.
Hillary Clinton didn’t do that. All reports show that her ground-level organization was disastrous, with local campaign groups underfunded to pay for ads, which yielded questionable results. Clinton herself did badly in these states during the primaries, and seemed unable to navigate the political landscape. Although she gained the endorsements of labour leadership, she never won over rank-and-file union members that do the vital footwork during normal Democratic campaigns. Clinton herself notably never visited Wisconsin, an easy win after years of suffering under union-busting Reaganite governor Scott Walker, for the whole of the campaign. Similarly, the Clinton campaign received plenty of support from civil rights heroes such as John Lewis, but never prioritized proper outreach until the last couple weeks when the inevitable victory suddenly didn’t seem so assured.
The Clinton campaign seemed to assume that minority and working-class people would always come out for the Democrats, because they were their natural party. Clinton never stopped to question why they supported the Democrats in the first place. President Obama himself chastised her for this approach, saying that “I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated it, but because I spent eighty-seven days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall.” Clinton, who did not win Iowa, has likely never seen a fish fry. She likely never will. The results were apparent enough – a drop in African-American, Hispanic, and working-class support did her in. By attempting outreach to Republican voters and ignoring its own core constituencies, the Clinton campaign doomed itself.
The results of the election speak for themselves. Hillary Clinton ran one of the worst campaigns in recent history against a deeply incompetent, standard Republican that didn’t particularly know what he was campaigning for and lost. For all the noise from the Clinton camp – blaming the Russians, the “white working class”, Sanders-leaning Democratic leftists, millennials, the intelligence services, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, Fox News, or pure racism – the results were simpler than that.
Secretary Clinton lost working-class communities that Democrats have won every election since 1992 through a mixture of tone-deafness and incompetence. She spent too much time making sweeping demographic assumptions, trotting out celebrities, and telling us to use emojis to explain college debt. By contrast, she spent too little time doing the actual basic political work of talking to voters, particularly in the hard-hit deindustrializing towns and declining rural communitiesof the Midwest waiting for a bold new economic vision.
Because of how the American senate works, the Democrats are likely to get pummeled in 2018 during the midterms, as for the most part Democratic seats will be up for grabs. However, if we have any luck people will rapidly tire of their pack of typical Republicans and we’ll see a return to sanity. It isn’t as if they even won the majority vote.
Until the next round of elections, there’s nothing we can do but get really salty on social media, pat ourselves on the back for being such an enlightened society (never mind the mistreatment of our aboriginals and Afro-Canadians, the industrial collapse of Southern Ontario, or Canada’s status as arms merchant to the Middle East), and engage in a really productive bout of prayers for a moderately competent American centre and left. The election’s over, and the wild ride otherwise known as the 45th Presidency begins.