3 Reasons We’ll Come Out on Top … Eventually
I abhor Don Trump and his policies, but there is a silver lining to his victory
In his most recent documentary, Into the Inferno (2016), German director Werner Herzog explores the practical and spiritual implications of one nature’s most captivating natural phenomena: volcanoes. In one scene, Herzog peers nonchalantly into the crater of an active volcano as it hurls bits of magma into the air, remarking:
“It is a fire that wants to burst forth and it could not care less about what we are doing up here.”
Much the same could be said about the spirit of this year’s election. Not unlike candidates in previous referendums, President-elect Trump played into and often perpetuated long-standing fears many older Americans have about changes, both real and perceived, to the economic, demographic and political dynamics of the country.
Impervious to reason and lacking integrity, Mr. Trump has put forth a series of of policy proclamations that, on paper, make him a dreadful choice to lead our country. From free trade to women’s issues, the preliminary agenda of the next president poses an existential threat to many of the policies and ideas I hold dear. So, why did I breathe a sigh of relief upon learning of his victory?
1. Voters must be allowed to get Trumpism “out of their system”
The popular sentiment that fueled Mr. Trump’s campaign is not without historical precedent. Indeed, Trumpism is a textbook example of the form of populist-style nationalism that is endemic to democracy. It can be the result of legitimate grievances — such as the plight of the mostly poor voters courted by the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela — or fueled by the media and political parties, like the anti-internationalist members of Joseph McCarthy’s “coalition of the aggrieved” in the 1950s.
Whatever the motivation, these movements tend to fail pretty miserably. Unlike in Latin America, where decades of failed populist nationalism have once again driven voters into the arms of neo-liberalism, the collective memory of the rich-world electorate doesn’t include many flirtations with the likes of Mr. Trump. In fact, the mainly white Gen Xers and Baby Boomers that make up the next president’s core constituency are some of the most likely to benefit from the successes of neo-liberal policies such as free-trade and immigration.
This dangerous disconnect is in large part a result of the Balkinization of the media. The facts-optional approach of Mr. Trump owes its existence to the misinformation propagated on talk radio and social media. One need not look further than research by Phillip Klinker, a professor of government at Hamilton College. Klinker found that asking someone if they think President Obama is a Muslim is a better predictor of their support for Don Trump than inquiring about their party affiliation.
This is why a victorious Hillary Clinton would have only exacerbated the problem. Even if she did continue the generally successful policies of Pres. Obama, as many predicted, only 50% of the country would ever find out. The other 50% would remain stuck in the comments section, their anger stewing by the day as the list of scapegoats grows even larger.
If Clinton had won, the next batch of Republican candidates would have to adopt even more extreme policies to convince seething right-wing voters of their nationalist, anti-establishment credentials.
Much like the volcanoes from Into the Inferno, the anti-liberal sentiment that pervades much of America cannot be contained. There is no alternative than to allow for its cataclysmic release.
2. The damage to the GOP will be permanent
Many Democrats and independents rejoiced after Don Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries seemed to lead to a rift in the Grande Ole Party. Some analysts predicted a landslide victory for Clinton and forecast the end of the Republican Party. Ultimately, however, most of Mr. Trump’s conservative critics rallied around the candidate.
This is clear in places like Utah, a traditionally red state with an overwhelmingly religious electorate and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.
Many thought the state’s Mormon voters, who made a name for themselves for their warm embrace of Middle Eastern refugees, would find Mr. Trump’s moral failures unacceptable and instead cast their ballot for Evan McMullin, a third-party candidate and fellow Mormon.
Nope. Almost 46% of the electorate voted for the Republican candidate, with around 28% and 20% choosing Clinton and McMullin, respectively.
But if president-elect Trump attempts to live up to his campaign promises of banning Muslim immigrants and building a wall along the southern border, things will be different.
Remember — voting for Mr. Trump, as difficult as it was for some Republicans, was greatly facilitated by the alternative: a similarly disdained Hillary Clinton, complete with her own ethical flaws (and liberal agenda).
When push comes to shove, will Republican lawmakers really appropriate money for a border wall? Will Paul Ryan or John McCain support a ban on Muslim immigrants? Will GOP militants stand by as a President Trump jeopardizes the independence of the fed, as he suggested in the past?
Partisan allegiances are deeply rooted in this country, but I’m inclined to think the answer to the above questions is “no.”
3. The election is a sign of democratic strength
While it’s true that our broken campaign-finance rules and increasingly hyper-focused news media have undoubtedly dealt a blow to democracy in the USA over the last few years, Mr. Trump’s victory, in its own unfortunate way, sends the message that ordinary people still call the shots.
I realize very few people awoke this morning thinking, “Yum, democracy,” but things must be put in perspective. The campaign of Hillary Clinton had more cash and enjoyed the support of most business leaders and establishment politicians, not to mention the current administration. In countries without solid democratic institutions, a Clinton victory would have been inevitable, regardless of the will of the electorate.
When Mr. Trump hinted that the election might be “rigged,” he was widely criticized by people from both parties. This is because, on top of its obvious purpose as a cheap tactic to strengthen the anger of supporters, the statement was perceived as being simply too ridiculous to be true.
An editorial in the state-run People’s Daily newspaper characterized the outcome of yesterday’s election as evidence of the “dark side of so-called democracy in the U.S.”
What other endorsement do we need?