“You have not converted a man, because you have silenced him.” –John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn
“What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here. Elmer Gantry shows up looking like Boris Johnson and just says whatever shit he can make up to convince the masses that this is their chance! To stick to ALL of them, all who wrecked their American Dream! And now The Outsider, Donald Trump, has arrived to clean house! You don’t have to agree with him! You don’t even have to like him! He is your personal Molotov cocktail to throw right into the center of the bastards who did this to you! SEND A MESSAGE! TRUMP IS YOUR MESSENGER!” –Michael Moore
I did not vote for
Lex Luthor Donald Trump. I did not vote for the Democratic nominee, either. No matter who won, I was bound to be disappointed. But the Republicans won, and the world could be so much worse. I realize the people who wanted or expected Hillary Clinton to become president are devastated by the stunning upset a woman whose rise, yet again, was deemed inevitable. President Obama (who also triumphed electorally over Clinton while getting fewer votes) went so far as to describe the prospect of a Trump election as “a personal insult” that would essentially repudiate his legacy.
His legacy is so repudiated by a country that still approves of him, at least in polls. But his voters were not #WithHer.
As hard as it may be for some to grasp or accept, white working-class voters reportedly hold—note the present tense—a more favorable impression of the black guy who’s leaving office than the white woman who used to work for him but failed in her bit to succeed him. That is a dynamic those blue-collar whites share, like Tom Hanks’s Doug on Black Jeopardy, with the black and Latino Americans who rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney but voted for Trump. Nate Cohn noted this development in The New York Times before the election, when even Trump’s campaign still believed he would lose:
On their own, Mr. Trump’s gains among [white voters without a college degree] have been enough to cancel out four years of favorable demographic shifts for Democrats among Hispanic and well-educated white voters.
He has even won supporters among some of the same white voters who backed Barack Obama in 2008. It suggests that Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama might have a little more in common than you might think—at least from a political standpoint.
Overall, however, Trump’s margin among white voters was almost identical to Mitt Romney’s in 2012. But notwithstanding iterative episodes and accusations of racism, sexism, or other types of bigotry, early reports indicate the president-elect won appreciably better margins among almost every key Democratic demographic than previous Republican candidates. Trump improved seven points on Romney’s showing with black voters, eight points on his showing with Latinos, and nine points with Asian-Americans. Perhaps most saliently, Trump did 11 points better among Latina women than Romney, outshining his increase among Latino men. Trump even managed to do slightly better among immigrants (i.e., naturalized citizens) than with Latinos or Asian-Americans overall.
It gets more interesting from there. College-educated whites were one of the few demographics to vote relatively less Republican for president in 2016 compared to 2012—largely, but not entirely, balancing out Trump’s gains among non-college whites. Trump actually performed better among college-educated minorities than minorities without college degrees—an inverse of the breakdown with whites. Among Latinos in the crucial swing state of Florida, Trump even outperformed against Clinton relative to congressional Republicans against Democratic opponents. He lost non-college Florida Latinos by 42 points but their college-educated peers by only 27. He won Cuban-American voters by five points. This relatively strong Latino showing was instrumental to Trump’s victory in the Sunshine State
The data would suggest that millions of nonwhite voters in the least white presidential electorate in American history presumably did not consider Trump or his campaign particularly bigoted, or they did and voted for him anyway. Similar analysis would apply to the vast heartland sea of blue-collar whites who, again, voted for Obama twice before opting for Trump this time around. Likewise, Millennials went more for Trump than Romney, and Clinton’s margin among women was virtually unchanged from Obama’s in 2012.
To argue, given the data, that Trump beat Clinton because his supporters are hateful bigots is to say, in effect, that racism attracts young, nonwhite, and pro-Obama voters, and that women are largely indifferent to sexism. The hard truth of the matter is, as Nate Silver notes, Hillary Clinton would have won the election had the electorate voted only two points less Republican than it did. But nonwhite Americans instead voted at least seven points more Republican, amounting to a four-point (at least) swing overall, and so we have President-elect Trump.
You might as well blame the “coalition of the ascendant” for President Trump as ornery whites. Of course, analysts and politicos living in the simulation of a world imagined by insulated and contemptuous elites would never do that.
The available numbers paint a rather sobering picture for the Democrats. In 2012, Obama won voters who approved of his presidency by a larger margin than Clinton. Likewise, a few more Americans said their financial situation had improved in 2016 than in 2012, but Obama bested Clinton among those voters by 21 points. A plurality of 41 percent both years said their financial situation hadn’t changed. But those voters chose Obama by 18 points; this time, they broke evenly between Trump and Clinton. Even voters who wanted to maintain or expand Obamacare (more on that soon) shifted from Obama to Trump by nearly 12 points. These data help flesh out the electoral finding that many voters, particularly blue-collar whites, who believed in or identified with Obama decided that Trump was a better choice than this year’s Democratic slate. What that says about the Republican and Democratic parties will assuredly be the subject of ongoing debate. But there’s more.
Had Clinton performed as well among blue-collar whites as Obama in either of his elections, it would not have mattered that so many nonwhite voters chose Trump. But the divide between the more rural, less-educated, flyover America and the more coastal, urbane, gentrifying America is essentially becoming a sociopolitical wall. Dave Wasserman noted that Trump won 76 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel and only 22 percent of counties with a Whole Foods—a thoroughly predictable image of the profound electoral divergence between college-educated and blue-collar whites. It’s worth noting that this divergence has been growing steadily since 1992, but the margin spiked substantially between Obama and Clinton.
Perhaps one of the most revealing reasons so many voters chose Obama and Trump is the only of four qualities on which Trump bested Hillary: change. A large plurality of Americans voted for the candidate they determined could “bring needed change.” This meant Barack Obama in 2008, and most voters were willing to stick by him in 2012. But in 2016, “change” voters went for Trump by 69 points, notwithstanding that Clinton won handily on experience, judgment, and empathy. The large minority of voters who saw their lives worsen over the last four years backed Trump by 59 points. Voters agreed with Democrats that their nominee was better suited to the rigors of the presidency, whatever their views on the issues, but they rejected what she and the Democratic Party stood for as agents of a toxic status quo. And that made all the difference.
Much has been noted about the fact that Trump voters are wealthier, on the whole, than Clinton voters, and many people, especially on the Left, think this proves that Trumpism is just some noxious mix of racism and xenophobia, divorced from economic concerns. But the devil is in the details. We already know that Trump flipped the script on white support for Republicans—where previous candidates did better among more educated whites, Trump traded that position for huge margins among whites without college degrees. Obama won voters without college degrees by four points in 2012, while Trump won them by eight this time, for a 12-point rightward shift. (The opposite shift occurred with college graduates, though it was smaller.) That has socioeconomic implications for Trump and Clinton’s political coalitions.
Trump only won middle-income and wealthier households by just two points. By contrast, Romney’s margin was four times larger. This makes sense if you put together two aforementioned facts: Trump hemorrhaged (without entirely losing) traditional Republican strength among college-educated whites—the second-wealthiest demographic in the country—and actually did better among educated nonwhites (black, Latino, and Asian) than non-college minorities. (Perhaps educated nonwhites are beginning to converge, ever so slightly, with their white socioeconomic peers.)
Clinton won by 11 points among poorer voters, because nonwhites are disproportionately poor and vote disproportionately Democratic. But that margin is a full 11 points weaker than Obama’s performance against Romney. If you filter income by race, which the exit polls declined to show for whatever reason, available evidence strongly suggests that support for Trump among whites correlates mightily with income, even as the inverse is true for nonwhites.
In the end, it’s not the voters’ fault that Democratic candidates failed to appeal to them. To paraphrase the campaign of Hillary’s politically unique husband: it really is the socioeconomics, stupid.
Wealthier voters, especially more affluent whites, moved strongly away from Trump, in keeping with the general revulsion toward him and his supporters from elites. But he won anyway, because poorer whites and minorities overall moved even more strongly toward him or just stayed home. While we were talking about misogynistic recordings and the umpteenth instance of racist ramblings, middle-Americans voters were agonizing over their families’ economic security, with little time or inclination to fret overmuch about iterative outrage that probably struck them as a sideshow.
Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” comment was so damning precisely because it viscerally captured everything Middle America—including, as noted above, plenty of blacks, Latinos, women, LGBT, and Asian-Americans—loathes about elites: the moralistic contempt, the smug liberalism, the social justice redlining in colleges and among media elites that seems almost tailored to mock and exclude them, the insidious beast of political correctness that hides behind a false flag of empathy. Conventional wisdom holds that electoral victories require voters be inspired to vote for something and not just against something else. (Just ask John Kerry.) Clinton, a poll-tested synecdoche of establishmentarian elitism, flipped the script; voters were more driven to oppose her than support Trump, and that proved enough.
As a former Bill Clinton adviser told the Huffington Post, “Hillary Clinton in many ways represents a world many people in this country would like to move on from.”
In that regard, this black woman probably speaks for millions of Trump supporters in her celebration of the election night results:
By contrast, the Donald is, as Michael Moore semi-presciently warned (tedious liberal straw men aside), the revenge of the underclass. His election is the fruit of seed of resentment planted around when Obamacare squandered and poisoned the considerable goodwill with which Democrats came to power eight tempestuous years ago.
Apropos, Trump’s triumph is a defeat for the people who dismiss Obamacare’s manifold losers and even insult them, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias does, with demands for a more financially crippling mandate. The plurality of voters who believe the ACA went too far broke for Trump by 70 points. Obamacare premium hikes were particularly large in the critical states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona, and Minnesota. To a somewhat lesser extent, rate hikes were also onerous in Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Clinton and Democratic Senate candidates underperformed in each of these states, ultimately losing almost all of them. (She eked by in Minnesota, but that was never supposed to be close.) Recalcitrant leftists are, even now, bemoaning the Republican victory as supposedly ruinous for the beneficiaries of Obamacare. But most Americans disapprove of Obamacare precisely because its benefits have been overstated and its considerable costs manifestly ruinous. This is, in the parlance of social justice, the lived experience of American voters, which underscores why Obamacare is unworthy of retention.
The illusory genius and belligerent condescension of progressive wonks and social justice warriors, of which Obamacare is but the easiest example, has put the Democratic Party in its weakest national position in generations. Not so long ago, Democrats mocked the GOP as a regional party. Now, nearly half the states are under unified Republican control, while one-third of the House Democratic minority in Congress hails from California, New York, or Massachusetts—three far-left enclaves that together account for only 20 percent of the national population. Meanwhile, in West Virginia—a state that went for her husband twice—Hillary won 53,000 fewer votes in the 2016 general election than she earned in the 2008 Democratic primary. This is a telling illustration of the Democrats’ post-Obama collapse in the Rust Belt. But the cataclysm extends far beyond that:
Progressives may have succeeded culturally and socially in shutting down various lines of thought or legitimate concerns about issues—from immigration to gun rights to campus sexual assault to energy policy to the toxic mythology of “cultural appropriation” to
segregated “safe spaces” to the deplorable plight of blue-collar whites—as so many flavors of bigotry. But silencing or driving from polite society one’s detractors—or patronizing/insulting them with obnoxious celebrity leftism (thanks, famous actors!)—isn’t the same as convincing them. To the contrary, when Donald Trump came along and promised to upend the sententious, omnipresent repression of the silencers, the silenced proved willing and able to seize an opportunity, even though they dislike, distrust, and are otherwise concerned about that opportunity.
Against such a backdrop, it’s not surprising that the final polls seem to have featured something of a Bradley-style effect, where some voters who intended to (and did) vote for Trump declined to say so to pollsters. In my own networks, I lost track of all the black, brown, LGBT, women, etc. voters who leaned toward Trump and kept quiet about it, in part because of escalating hypocrisy and opprobrium from the eternal soapbox of the “tolerant,” “empathetic” and “inclusive” who seem increasingly anything but. For a case in point:
There has been a proliferation across social networks of grieving Clinton supporters threatening to sever ties with anybody who backed Trump. This is exactly the wrong lesson to take from an election that upended your whole perspective on the country. If your response to the reality of people deeply disagreeing with you is to demand special privileges and retreat into a bubble—or, as the satirists of The Onion cogently put it, a “fanciful, wildly inaccurate mental picture of the country”—you’re likely to find the real world is not moved by those who refuse to engage it. Trump and his voters won the election without you (or me) and your echo chambers. You have no support to withhold and, without Trump-aligned friends, no way to influence a Trump presidential agenda that is not beholden to your approval.
As many of my friends—including a large combination of progressive and conservative opponents of Trump—pointedly observed, the obnoxious virtue-signalling and fanatical accusations about the supposed bigotry and “deplorable” character of Trump supporters is a large part of why a lot of people voted for Trump. In my own networks, countless Trump skeptics, many of them minorities, voiced this notion explicitly, and some even changed their votes accordingly. (To be honest, I thought about it.) That Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s showing with nonwhites and maintained his showing with women suggests the bipartisan elites’ (me included) preoccupation with incidents of bigotry and other ills in Trump’s campaign only managed to sway upper-income whites. To put it bluntly, nobody else—of any race or demographic—cared enough, except for those who were largely voting for Clinton anyway, and many went toward Trump.
This doesn’t mean that the nastiness of the 2016 campaign should be forgotten or swept under the rug. A lot of people, on the progressive Left and now-defunct #NeverTrump conservative Right, have many legitimate qualms with the president-elect. However, no amount of
rioting protesting, recycled aspersions, or vituperative slanders against one’s political opponents is going to annul Trump’s ascent to the White House or GOP control of the entire federal government and thorough domination at every level below it. (Though such reactions are likely to speed the process of reconciliation between #NeverTrump and the #TrumpTrain.)
The election is over. The know-nothing hoi polloi have humbled their know-everything betters. Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States, and the policy priorities of GOP voters remain traditionally conservative, not trade- or immigration-obsessed. Through whatever pain and grief this historic upset must have caused them, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, and Minority Leader Pelosi, among other prominent Democrats, have all committed to accepting and working productively with President-elect Trump. Even the left-wing partisans of The Huffington Post have dropped their long-running anti-Trump editorial note in favor of a “clean slate” going forward.
I fully expect progressives to renege on any promise of comity ahead of the next cycle. Indeed, things that Democrats used to call “obstruction,” “treason,” and “terrorism” (like dissent, executive restraint, filibusters, opposition to an imperial presidency, etc.) will suddenly be patriotic again! but for now, their leaders are largely taking the mature, responsible step toward reconciliation, as opposed to vandalism, extravagant whining, anti-election violence against an electoral loss (remember when such behavior was a threat to the Republic and legitimacy of constitutional norms?), child abuse, or peddling sophistry against the established rules for national elections. The time for theatrical hyperbole and partisan absurdities—up to and including the unsubstantiated invention of a hate-crime wave in “Trump’s America”—is done.
President-elect Trump hasn’t done anything yet. Given his oleaginous approach to issues throughout the campaign, he almost certainly will ignore more than a few of his political promises, as all politicians do. The time will assuredly come to oppose and protest this or that proposal, from left or right, based on your political priorities. If Trump actually tries to discriminate against Muslims, start a trade war, dismantle NATO, or somehow impose white nationalism, take him to task (peacefully). And when he does or proposes good things, acknowledge, congratulate, and encourage him. (Even for a politician, Trump seems unusually susceptible to Pavlovian conditioning around his popularity.) But if his detractors instead cry havoc continuously over the mere fact of his presidency, they will hemorrhage legitimacy with an electorate that has already heard it all before and decided against them. Nobody benefits from that, except Trump and his already-winning coalition. His voters have apparently calculated that a Trump administration won’t be as awful as his critics have long inveighed. The easier people make it for them and others to affirm that calculation, the more successful Trump’s presidency will be, for better or worse.
America is still a shining beacon on a hill that empowers its citizenry to succeed freely and live safely. We are still the freest, most prosperous, most hopeful nation in the history of Earth. We remain that mighty superpower who, through the might of our valor and determination, defeated imperial fascism and saved the entire Old World of our forebears from a thousand years of darkness. Perhaps this glorious experiment will end, and the Dream will die as assuredly as all men must. But that is not today, nor will it come next January. If the presidency of Trump is enough to fell the Republic or irreparably corrode its vigorous constitution, then we were already at the end of all things, and this is the credits rolling. Otherwise, as President Obama and Secretary Clinton dutifully noted, we owe the president-elect an open mind, and we ought to work as hard as we can to ensure America is always great.