I wrote this blog post for my elections and campaigns class. The assignment was to discuss the readings in an accessible way. I’d been doing this most weeks and succeeding. But the week after the election (it was due on Monday, November 14th) I was still processing. The readings were actually quite relevant to the election outcome and I’d had every intention of writing something insightful about them. That’s not what happened.
It’s been a month since I wrote this. I’ve been debating whether to post it. It’s still very much how I’m feeling, so I’m going for it.
When I sat down to write this, I’d planned to start with some pithy comment, with a good lead to hook you. But I don’t have anything funny to say. I haven’t got a snarky rejoinder. I’d planned to be punchy. But I can’t do it when I feel as though I’ve been punched in the gut.
I’d planned to discuss partisan polarization and how, as it helped Obama unite disparate Democratic factions, it helped Trump bring together Republicans. Americans feel attached to their party in fundamental ways that seem to smooth over internecine conflicts. As such, Republicans rallied behind Trump, who does not stand for traditional Republican values, because he was—for better or worse—his party’s nominee.
I’d planned to examine Trump’s insurgent candidacy and how it managed to set the agenda for the campaign. How it dominated the election cycle, forcing Clinton’s campaign off message time and time again.
I’d planned to use economic voting to help explain what happened this election. In its truest form, economic voting theory looks at markers of economic growth. In that way, we cannot explain Trump’s victory. All markers say that the economy is healthy and growing slowly but surely. Still, the lower classes are less sensitive to economic change; it’s hard to see change when you and your family are still struggling. It’s difficult to understand complex, longterm economic trends when you are worried about keeping your job, feeding your family, and paying your mortgage. And that feeling of worry, perhaps, begins to explain this election.
When I sat down to write this, I’d planned to set aside personal feelings and write like an academic or a journalist, with an objective slant. I’d planned to take a whack at explaining what many people—even people who supported Trump—thought was impossible: a Trump victory.
But I can’t do any of that. Because that feeling of financial worry, which we can all relate to, comes with something far less comprehensible: entitlement. White, working-class Americans feel entitled to have not just basic security but also a level of comfort and ease.
Of course they should have that. Every American should. But minorities, immigrants, non-Christians, LGBT people, and women don’t get that. Most of us can’t even expect it because those white, working-class Americans who supported Trump seem to think that security is a zero-sum game (that, for example, if minorities start to do better it must be at the expense of whites).
Please bear with me for a brief digression. I have a friend who sometimes works late shifts as a copy editor at the New York Times. She dresses conservatively—not that that should matter—and keeps to well-trafficked routes on her commute—also something that shouldn’t matter. She has frequently been harassed by men who have made lewd remarks and even stalked her several blocks until she was able to duck into a still-open shop or restaurant. On Wednesday, she said that she feels as though the country she loves has just taken one of those dangerous men out of the shadows and made him president.
I share that feeling. And I think many of us do.
We should all be entitled to a good job, a roof over our head, a hot meal on the table, a healthy family, and a happy life. I do understand why so many people feel that the economy had failed to secure that for us (and these people come from both sides of the aisle, judging by Bernie Sanders’ popularity). I do even understand why people might not believe that Hillary Clinton was the best person to restore to us that most fundamental dream.
What I don’t understand is why we all are not also entitled to feel safe walking home at night. What I don’t understand is why older, white, working-class men (and a shocking number of white women) think they are entitled to security when anyone who isn’t just like them isn’t entitled to it. What I don’t understand is why Billy Bush was fired from a glorified talk show and Trump was elected to the highest office in the land. What I don’t understand is why people didn’t think Clinton wasn’t the best objectively but rather subjectively. Put another way, I don’t understand why, when faced with the choice between an experienced, qualified woman and a reality TV star with a history of tax evasion and failed business ventures (not to mention racist, sexist, and all-around disgusting behavior), almost half the people of this great melting pot of a nation voted for the latter.
That said, things have been worse and we have struggled to right many of our past wrongs. We abolished slavery, we let the Irish apply, we apologized for atrocities of the Japanese internment camps, we desegregated the South, we gave everyone the right to marry the person they love, we elected amazing women to Congress just this year, and we are outraged by Trump’s victory. Now we must keep moving forward together to combat prejudice and entitlement. We must remain united for a common good, because this isn’t a zero-sum game. We really are stronger together.