The morning after the election, I woke up to Trump’s America.
I’d had a fitful sleep the night before. I’d watched the results from Hawaii, one of America’s bluest states, where our friend had organized a house party to ring in the predicted victory of Hillary Clinton and the continuation of local hero Barack Obama’s legacy. The first polls on America’s East Coast would be closing in our early afternoon. We’d see a clear outcome by dusk and go home happy.
But we lost our swing as the sun went down. Donald Trump started with an early lead thanks to some victories in the Bible Belt and Great Plains. But OK — they almost always go Republican. And, not to worry, the Northeast states mostly went blue. As soon as a few of the “battleground” states turned our color, as polls predicted they would, Clinton would leapfrog to victory.
But then more southern states started going red. Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana — sure, lost causes to begin with, right? Wyoming, Montana, Idaho — so deep red that the networks called them right after their polls closed.
But then Ohio fell. And Florida. And Georgia. I remember our cheers when Virginia went blue, then our shrieks when North Carolina canceled that out. Then the nor’easter: Maine and New Hampshire became too close to call. Even when the West Coast states came in and put Clinton in the lead, that too began to erode. After California, the Democrats had nothing left in the tank.
At that point the TV networks began to doomsay. MSNBC’s polling geek spent more than a television hour on incoming votes from rural and urban counties in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The dominoes were falling the other way. And then, stunningly, Trump’s victory in the “rigged” (Trump’s word) Electoral College became a mathematical certainty.
By the time the cameras turned to Clinton’s victory bash and showed delegates slinking out, I had too. Back home, I watched as Clinton conceded even before all the networks had called it for Trump. I felt betrayed. And insomniac.
JBC has commented on previous U.S. elections (“Hailing the tail end of Bush”, Dec. 2, 2008), so let me tell you: I searched for a silver lining to all this. I found none.
Maybe Trump won’t do all the nasty things he said he would on the campaign trail, but praying for a non-negative outcome doesn’t inspire hope.
Or can we look forward to Trump getting impeached as his past misdeeds or future missteps catch up with him? Possibly, but with both the Senate and the House now in Republican hands, who will vote in favor? Even if they do, then in comes Vice President Mike Pence, who is even more doctrinaire.
But discounting the hacking of electronic balloting to convert Clinton votes to Trump ones (not impossible, since the FBI oversaw that, and they came out partisan in the final week of the campaign), there is only one conclusion to draw: People, despite the polls beforehand, preferred the guy.
Voters actually went for Trump’s simple message delivered with a New Yawker’s brashness, enjoying the “You’re fired” reality-TV excitement over Clinton’s boring policy-wonk substance. Or they really disliked a female leader who has wielded power in questionable ways (and is, remember, still married to Slick Willie). Or they loathed having a black man in the White House. Or, like Brexiteers, the disaffected just wanted to throw a spanner into the system and see how elites handled it.
For even after all Trump’s bashing of minorities, Trumpsters transcended color lines. Even in Hawaii, where less than 23 percent of the state is non-Hispanic white, 30 percent of voters went for Trump. Some minorities were voting for the racist.
Whatever. In the end, voters like these elected a person with a reputation for narcissistic corruption (even spending funds from his charity foundation on a 6-foot self-portrait), reneging on promises both informal and formal, obsessive fits of pique against his critics, and so on. This is a man who has never held public office and who (despite promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C.) is expected to delegate his duties to politicos. And these politicians will avowedly undo much of the progress towards recognizing diversity and spreading tolerance that has been made in America over the past eight years.
In sum, an Atlantic City shyster has become president. And the movie “Idiocracy,” where charismatic pro wrestlers get elected to the highest office, is one step closer to coming true.
Since JBC is a column about human rights and activism in Japan, let’s take a moment to talk about the election from a comparative perspective. There are parallels between what just happened in America and what has happened in Japan since 2012.
In their campaigns, both Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appealed to naked nationalism — vowing to make their countries somehow “great” again by appealing to a halcyon past. Both have pointed to threatening outsiders (both international and domestic) as reasons to militarize. Both come from privileged backgrounds and feel they are entitled to power. And to keep it, both are prepared to be unrepentant bullies.
Both have encouraged cultures of hatred towards foreigners, and encouraged (if not presided over) policies that targeted religious minorities and criminalized nationals of specific countries. Trump has railed against Muslims and Mexicans, among others, while Abe’s camp has targeted North Koreans, the Chinese and Japan’s Muslim community as terrorists and criminals.
Both also faced leftist oppositions with rotating political dynasties. America’s Democrats kept on trying to put in a Clinton or Clinton-approved nominee. The Democratic Party of Japan, until its demise and rebranding under Renho, kept the hackneyed leadership of Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan and Katsuya Okada on speed dial. Both leftist parties had trouble deciding whether they were pro-business left or socialist left, driving away numerous supporters who felt unrepresented and rejected.
And when fighting the leftists in power, both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Republicans created government policymaking gridlock. Yet both the LDP and the GOP were eventually rewarded with majorities in both branches of the legislature. Ironically, their obstructionism and unwillingness to compromise resulted in gaining real power.
In neither country does this dynamic result in constructive or productive incentive systems in government. Polarization encouraged voters to make stark choices in what is more naturally a political spectrum. And, alas, the dominoes wound up falling towards the intolerant, bigoted side.
But let’s bring the focus back to the latest country in real decline. For Americans, you might argue there is an equivalency to Clinton and Trump — that Hillary is as much of a crook as Donald, and that people just wanted a change candidate. Except that voting for an anti-establishment candidate offering no clear policy alternative (even the vague ones, with a little thought, clearly work against most voters’ interests) isn’t how thoughtful contrarianism is supposed to work.
Or you might argue that the Democrats, once again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, got what they deserved: By putting their thumb on the scale and locking out Bernie Sanders, who spearheaded the other disaffected populist movement of this election, the left gambled on Clinton and lost.
But there’s something special about Trump’s victory that I doubt would have materialized had Clinton won: the meanness. For example, even after CNN called it for Trump, their panel of Trumpundits kept up the attack and added crowing to their tone. Then, when leftist protesters took to the streets, Republicans decried their divisiveness and sour grapes — even though Trump himself had threatened not to accept the results if he didn’t win, and had lawyers ready to challenge things in court.
There’s even a crassness to the crowing. Days after the election, I saw a (white) Trumpster in front of the Hawaii State Capitol relishing his victory, waving a Trump sign and giving drivers the finger.
But it goes beyond rubbing noses in the mess: Spray-painted swastikas and white-power slogans are appearing in public. At the time of writing, more than 200 reported overt cases of hateful harassment and intimidation have occurred not as protest (after all, the haters won) but as emboldened expressions of underlying bigotry once taboo outside the alt-right internet. The reaction has gone from simple smugness to inflicting pain and suffering on the losers — because thanks to all the hate rallies posing as Trump campaign stump speeches, now they feel they can.
Dividing people for divisiveness’ sake alone has become the way to win elections. And in a society as easily cleaved as America’s, that only accelerates its decline.
Therein lies a silver lining, of sorts: The Republicans can never again claim to be a party of principles. Exorcised are the ideological ghosts of American Conservatism, be they William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan or even commentator George Will (who very publicly left the party in June).
Even the traditional conservatives of the Christian, Mormon and evangelical right threw in their lot with a thrice-married serial philanderer and masher who worships at the Temple of Mammon. Despite claiming to be the party of morals, the party of the right in America is morally bankrupt and their power base is now mob rule.
All that remains are people who see the naked pursuit of power as a self-justifying end in itself: the Karl Roves, the Rience Priebuses, the now late-middle-aged “greed is good” Reagan Youth generation of the 1980s. To them, an election is a matter of gaming the Electoral College.
Remember that Republicans have lost the popular vote in six out of seven of the past presidential elections. Yet they retain an inordinate amount of power. If the system is as rigged as Trump claims, then it’s clearly in his side’s favor.
In conclusion, I lament most about this from the perspective of an educator. And I wonder if I’m doing my job.
I have taught writing and critical thinking for decades: differentiating reliable sources from rumor and lies, calling out logical fallacies and false equivalencies. Or, in this case, seeing that someone’s email scandal and apparent misuses of power in a complex world do not have equal weight with someone who sees righteousness in tax evasion, cheating on contracts, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, bullying, fraud, incitement to violence — and, above all, getting his way through any means necessary (and settling old scores when he doesn’t).
I look at what precedent Trump sets for my students. I remember the few (there seems to be one in every class) who take every opportunity to game the system, cutting corners without making the effort and doing the honest work necessary for a good grade.
To many of them, a college education is something they pay for, and as paying customers, they’re entitled to a good grade. I always told them that this kind of attitude won’t get them very far. After all, cheaters never win.
Wrong. Now they can even be president.
Debito’s latest book, “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination,” is out now. Twitter @arudoudebito. Your comments and story ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org