After a bitter and highly contentious 2016 election, the American people have elected Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, in an unexpected win for the non-establishment Republican candidate.
And in other news, the sky appears to be falling.
It’s no secret that Donald Trump’s “upset” victory has stunned not only Americans, but people all over the world. Conservatives in Europe, namely chief-Brexiter Nigel Farrage, embraced the election results, praising Trump’s win and arranging a meeting with the President elect. The day after the election, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed that, “The current US-Russian relations cannot be called friendly,” adding that, “Hopefully, with the new US president a more constructive dialogue will be possible between our countries.”
Not all foreign leaders have been thrilled about the prospect of a Trump victory, of course, although nowhere is the unrest greater than here in the U.S. itself, where anti-Trump protests in response to the election have manifested all over the country. In California, the apparent epicenter of the turmoil, CNN reported earlier today that an astonishing 8000-strong protest was underway in Los Angeles, comprised of angry Americans–many of them millennials–upset over Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, the LGBT community, and the environment.
Like many Americans, I followed the 2016 election very closely, as chronicled over the last several months in my weekly Middle Theory podcasts, culminating in four hours of live election coverage my team and I provided on election night. We were, of course, surprised by the results, although the “upset” didn’t have the effect of blindsiding us quite like it did so many others. Mainly, this is because I had been expecting what many elsewhere have called a “silent majority,” that would come out in support of Donald Trump during the general election.
The best evidence for this contingency of support for Trump had been afforded us by his record-breaking turnout during the primaries, which constituted an element among American voters that polls are least likely to recognize: those who are least likely to vote. As the results of poll after poll were presented in the weeks leading up to the election, indicating a likely win for Hillary Clinton, the polling agencies themselves made it very clear what demographic they were getting their figures from: the “likely voters” with a consistent voting history.
Nothing about this election was “likely” or predictable, and the primaries, again, had been a clear, early indicator of that. However, the record-breaking number of Trump supporters that came out in droves weren’t the only thing, looking back, that we can learn from the 2016 primaries.
Yes, “hindsight is always 20/20”, but during the Democratic primaries we were also seeing California and, more specifically, places like Los Angeles as a nexus of support for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, where the current Trump protests are underway (which many are now designating riots due to reports of property damage and general public safety concerns). Though some have argued that Sanders would have done no better against Trump in the general election than Clinton managed to do, one thing that must be recognized, and plainly so, is that the Democratic super delegate system did largely favor Clinton, and that this element had almost unquestionably given Clinton the edge she needed to clinch the nomination during a very close Democratic primary.
Although we’ll never really know how a Bernie Sanders campaign might have fared against Donald Trump this year, many right now are wondering if he couldn’t have at least performed better than Clinton did. Following the election, Quartz carried a rather poignant headline, which read, “The US election wasn’t about a Trump surge, it was about Clinton’s “likability” deficit“, which seemed to summarize the post-primary woes of the Clinton campaign: even clinching that nomination from her party hadn’t been enough to convince a majority of the American people that she was the best choice for the office of President. Yes, the media had chosen their candidate, and so had the political establishment; even former Republican presidents George W. Bush, and his father, George H.W. Bush, each put their votes behind Clinton, as did many other prominent members of the GOP.
And yet, none of this managed to turn the election in her favor, despite the wide expectations that her election would be a shoe-in on November 8th.
Following the election, anti-Trump demonstrations have taken place not just on the U.S. mainland, but overseas as well. One notable event, held outside the U.S. Embassy in London, reportedly featured angry protestors who waived signs comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. Such comparisons are inevitable, and are helped along in no small part by the president elect’s own history of questionable statements and proposed measures in relation to immigration, which have fueled allegations of racism.
The Washington Post, citing a popular online poster signed “by the people of Germany” which made similar comparisons between Trump and Hitler, recently spoke with German historian Thomas Weber, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Weber is an expert on Nazi-era Germany, and noted that most of these comparisons actually stem from outside Germany, since Germans today rarely would make such comparisons:
“For Germans Adolf Hitler is the symbol for all the crimes their country has committed,” Weber wrote. “Nobody can ever be as evil as Hitler was,” common thinking in the country goes. “Germans are worried that overemphasizing Hitler (while discussing Trump) would appear as apologetic and distract from the responsibility of German elites and ordinary Germans for the crimes of the Third Reich.”
Weber further cited an incident in 2002 involving Herta Däubler-Gmelin, then German Justice Secretary, who after comparing George W. Bush to Hitler was edged out of the German governmental cabinet (Däubler-Gmelin’s comments had been in relation to Bush’s entry into Iraq).
No, Donald Trump isn’t the next Adolf Hitler… and in likelihood he won’t ever be. Fortunately for Americans, even if Trump’s brand of politics were ever to come close to being anything that extreme, the same system of government that allowed him to be fairly elected would hopefully prevent the institution of a new “American Reich” as well. After all, we’ve made it this far without any overthrows or dictatorial take-overs (though arguably, there have been a few rather quiet attempts, if Smedley Butler and Thomas Jefferson are to be believed).
Yet even those who have supported Donald Trump would likely admit that the man is no saint. Controversies involving his “locker room talk” in the weeks that encompassed the televised presidential debates dogged him endlessly; they were overshadowed only by the lingering specter of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, which every few weeks would reanimate and ponderously drag itself along in her shadow, like those crumbling denizens of The Walking Dead. Each of the candidate’s numerous heresies were continually highlighted by the stark negativity of the overall campaign, ranging from Trump’s admonishment of “Crooked Hillary”, to Clinton’s own use of extremely negative campaign ads about her opponent.
And, in the end, the resulting air in our country is one of sharp division. Democrats have busily swept up the disassembled pieces of their campaign–and their party–rather than the glass shards of a broken ceiling as they had planned. Republicans, mostly skeptical and disheartened by the time election day rolled around, had largely been expecting the dissolution of their party as well; now they rally behind Trump in blissful, almost blathering unity. No less among them had been Speaker Paul Ryan, whose admonishment for Trump turned an about-face toward praise the morning after the election, with Ryan citing Trump as having provided the “coat tails” needed for Republicans to reclaim the house and senate in a political victory unlike anything the GOP has seen since the 1920s.
Despite the discontent many have expressed about Trump’s election, and social media hashtags that include things like “#NotMyPresident” amidst the anti-Trump rhetoric, many have also expressed a sense of acceptance rather than defeat. Hosting the first post-election edition of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, comedian Dave Chappelle gave what many have called an iconic statement at the end of his opening monologue, in which he described being invited to a BET-sponsored dinner at the White House:
“I looked at that black room, and saw all those black faces… and I saw how happy everybody was. These people who had been historically disenfranchised. It made me feel hopeful and it made me feel proud to be an American and it made me very happy about the prospects of our country. So, in that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck. And I’m going to give him a chance, and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one too.”
To ask the most disenfranchised American voters in this country to find acceptance in the results of this election may be no more easily done than asking the wind to blow a certain direction, or requesting that the Sun rise an hour earlier. The American political process can at times seem more like a force of nature itself, rather than a system of our own design. It can be volatile, and sometimes it can upturn our expectations, presenting us with all new questions about the lives we lead, and whether they will be able to continue on comfortably, and unhindered.
But whether or not one sees the result of this year’s political battle as desirous, what we still have is a system of government that allows for fair elections. This, in contrast to calls from Julian Assange and Wikileaks, who asserted that a Trump victory “would not be allowed”, seems to suggest that even in light of what many would call a ruinous political season in this country, the fairness of our electoral process has prevailed. Whether or not your candidate wins, it should come as an assurance to any voter that when an election allows for an unlikely result such as this, Democracy has prevailed in this country, and that remains of benefit to all people who reside here.
America has some tough times ahead, and that sentiment stands, despite whether one counts themselves among the “winning” camp in this election. Altogether, at the end of the day we aren’t just Republicans or Democrats; we aren’t Libertarians or Socialists, Independents, or anything else but Americans. This fundamental theme of unity was expressed especially during the speech given by president Barack Obama following Trump’s victory, where he said:
“[W]e all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens, because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far. And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on, as Americans, will go on. And I’m looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next president is successful in that.”
Life for Americans will go on, just as it has countless times in the past, during far greater periods of unrest and upheaval. No matter how difficult the circumstances may appear at any time, the fundamental reality that we today, as Americans, must recall is that we have come through much worse over the course of the history of this country.
With little doubt, we will once again prevail, and emerge together from this axial period of tumult as a nation, united.
Image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.