Why Trump Won?
“the surge in inequality and the stagnation of wages”
from Peter Radford
I listened last night to Matt Dickinson from Middlebury college give a talk about the recent election. This is my synopsis:
- The election did not represent much of a change in voter patterns. Trump’s victory was based more on a tweak rather than a reconstruction of the voting patterns of the 2012 election. So this was not a revolutionary moment, marking, instead, a logical further step in a longer term trend. That trend was the steady shift of lesser educated white voters in old industrial areas towards the Republican party. Looking at the 2016 result we see this trend manifested in the very small margins of victory for Trump in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio. The entire election outcome hinged on about two hundred thousand votes in those states. The immense dissatisfaction with the economy within those few states was sufficient to put Trump into the White House.
- Conversely, the Democrats failed to stitch together a repeat of Obama’s winning formula. This is particularly true of the combination of the black and Hispanic vote. Prior to election day there had been heady talk of a surge in Hispanic voters whose activity was thought to be a counter-punch to Trump’s repeated criticism of illegal immigration, his advocacy of mass deportation, and the construction of a wall to keep illegal immigrants out. This surge turns out not to have been a factor. Instead a sizable portion of the Hispanic vote — which did rise slightly over 2012 — went to Trump, partially, as it turns out, because many legalized Hispanic voters resented their illegal brethren as much, if not more, than their white compatriots. As for the black vote: it remains a Democratic monolith, but was not as enthused, naturally, over Clinton as it was for Obama. The diminution in the black vote alone can account for Clinton’s loss in a couple of the rust belt states.
- Incredibly the Clinton campaign completely misread the national mood: it utterly failed to pick up on the devastation that neoliberal economics has produced in the ranks of ordinary families. Indeed, in stark contrast to Trump’s relentless economic populism, Clinton scarcely mentioned the economy at all. She mentioned the economy or jobs less frequently than any other post-war candidate. Instead she focused on whet she presumed to be Trump’s disqualifying personality traits. Unfortunately for her voters were prepared to accept Trump’s boorishness in exchange for his advocacy of economic change. In particular his attacks on free trade, which translate into economic fairness in the minds of displaced workers, were enough to motivate many more of them to vote than had before.
- The thought that the polls “missed” the result is wrong at the national level, where the outcome is almost exactly what most polls predicted, but is correct at the local level where there were too few polls to pick up the trends, especially in the rust belt.
- The non-poll based predictions of political science, based as they were on macro trends such as GDP and income changes, were startlingly accurate. This was a predictable result if we had simply focused on the economy and the resentment against the incumbency.
- The Democrats have declined sharply as a national force in the past decade. The loss of power is very sharp at all levels of government. They are now clearly in need of renewal. Yet their leadership remains eerily familiar.
- Lastly, with respect to the Democrats and renewal: if they focus on the loss to Trump as one of a consequence of bigotry, misogyny, or other rejections of progressive thinking they are doomed to miss the point. This was a result that hinged on economic misery and the perception of lost opportunity. This latter issue being paramount: voters did not simply vent about their own condition, which in many cases has begun to recover, what they resented the most is the thought that the constancy of improvement is gone and that further generations will live diminished lives compared with their own.
In this light allow me to sigh.
This message of economic turmoil and of the consequences of the combination of globalization and automation is one that I have been talking about for years. The evidence was there for all of us to see — especially in the surge in inequality and the stagnation of wages. That the Clinton faction missed all this is testimony to its incredible ignorance of the real world. The resentment vented in the election is not a rejection of capitalism as such, it is a cry for the reinstatement of social justice. It is a demand that the outcomes of hard work and endeavor ought to be shared and not simply concentrated in the pockets of the few who control the political agenda and who thus enjoy the privileges that such control confers.
That ought to be a Democratic message.
That a petty and brutish plutocrat understood this and Clinton did not is astonishing. Then again she was a child of the so-called “New Economy” so lauded in the 1990’s. That decade cemented in place the pernicious notions of neoliberalism and created a near consensus on free market ideology. Indeed it was the Clinton era that saw the apogee of neoliberal anti-social thought. Consequently the Democrats are no longer the party of the New Deal.
So what are they?