Had it not been for the Electoral College, at this moment we would be discussing the plans for the incoming Hillary Clinton administration. That's right. She actually won the popular vote. Thus, once again, that institution created by the founding slave owners has risen from the grave and prevented our exit from the cemetery.
I begin there to put the election into context and to suggest that commentary needs to be quite nuanced. No, I am not trying to make lemonade out of lemons. But I do think that it is important to recognize that the Trump victory was far from a slam-dunk; the election was very close. One might not get that impression, however, when one looks at news headlines as well as Electoral College maps.
What are some of the conclusions we can arrive at from this election?
The election was a referendum on globalization and demographics; it was not a referendum on neo-liberalism:
It is critical to appreciate that Trump's appeal to whites was around their fear of the multiple implications of globalization. This included trade agreements AND migration. Trump focused on the symptoms inherent in neo-liberal globalization, such as job loss, but his was not a critique of neo-liberalism. He continues to advance deregulation, tax cuts, anti-unionism, etc. He was making no systemic critique at all, but the examples that he pointed to from wreckage resulting from economic and social dislocation, resonated for many whites who felt, for various reasons, that their world was collapsing.
It was the connection between globalization and migration that struck a chord, just as it did in Britain with the Brexit vote. In both cases, there was tremendous fear of the changing complexion of both societies brought on by migration and economic dislocation (or the threat of economic dislocation). Protectionism plus firm borders were presented as answers in a world that has altered dramatically with the reconfiguration of global capitalism.
The election represented the consolidation of a misogynistic white united front:
There are a few issues that need to be "unpacked" here. For all of the talk about the problems with Hillary Clinton-the-candidate and the failure to address matters of economics, too few commentators are addressing the fact that the alliance that Trump built was one that not only permitted but encouraged racism and misogyny. In point of fact, Trump voters were prepared to buy into various unsupported allegations against Clinton that would never have stuck had she not been a woman. Additionally, Trump's own baggage, e.g., married and divorced multiple times; allegations of sexual assault, would never have been tolerated had the candidate been a woman (or, for that matter, of color). Trump was given a pass that would only be given to a white man in US society. All one has to do is to think about the various allegations, charges and history surrounding Donald Trump and then ask the question: had the candidate been a woman or of color, what would have happened? The answer is obvious.
Also in connection with this matter is that for all of the talk about economic fear, there is this recurring fact that many people seem to wish to avoid. Just as with the Tea Party, the mean income of the Trump base is higher than the national mean (and was higher than the mean for Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters). Thus, we were not dealing with the poorest of the poor. Instead, this was a movement driven by those who are actually doing fairly well but are despairing because the American Dream that they embraced no longer seems to work for white people.
This is critical for us to get because had the Trump phenomenon been mainly about a rejection of economic injustice, then this base would have been nearly interchangeable with that of Senator Sanders. Yet that was not the case. What we can argue, instead, is that this segment of the white population was looking in terror at the erosion of the American Dream, but they were looking at it through the prism of race.
Hillary Clinton, as candidate, was flawed but we should be careful in our analysis:
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