Donald Trump is now showing exactly why he had to be defeated. Well after the votes have been counted, with no evidence of anything but the usual minor glitches — none of which is sufficient to dent Joe Biden’s margin of victory — the President of the United States is doing what he did for four years: sabotaging American democracy because of his pathological narcissism. Trump remains what he has long been — a purely destructive force, a vandalizer, not a builder.
But Trumpism? It did far better than anyone expected. The polls were off — again — missing Republican strength. Down-ballot, many Republicans seriously outperformed their nominal leader. During a health crisis and a recession, the GOP made real gains in the House and is likely to hold the Senate, effectively checkmating any progressive ambitions Biden might have had. The rural turnout was huge, responding to Trump’s boisterous series of big rallies as the campaign ended.
This result is the moment that Trump’s core message was seared into one of America’s major political parties for the foreseeable future, and realigned American politics. Neoconservatism is over; globalization as some sort of conservative principle is over; a conservatism that allows for, or looks away from, unrestrained mass immigration is over. What was cemented in place this week is a new GOP. They’re nationalist, culturally conservative, geared toward the losers of capitalism as well as its winners, mildly protectionist and isolationist. It is a natural response to the unintended consequences of neoliberalism’s success under a conservative banner. And it speaks in a language that working-class Americans understand, devoid of the woke neologisms of the educated elite.
And this is where I think I have been wrong about Trump’s appeal, and where I think I’ve misunderstood why otherwise decent people could support such a foul disruptor of democratic norms. Many of them simply didn’t take Trump’s threat to our system seriously. They deal with Trump’s kind of rubbish all the time in their daily lives. The writer Jamie Kirchick believes that everything Trump says makes sense if it is preceded by the words: ‘And now, Donnie from Queens, you’re on the air.’ Many were, in my opinion, wrong to be so cavalier, as we are seeing in Trump’s unique and dangerous recalcitrance in accepting the results. But I don’t think most were malignant extremists, or unaware of the hideous personal qualities of Trump.
And they enjoyed economic rewards that, absent the COVID recession, might well have swept Trump to victory. One of the more revealing results from the polls this year came in the answers to the core question made famous by Ronald Reagan: ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’ In previous campaigns to reelect the president, Reagan won a landslide with only 44 percent of voters saying that they were; George W. Bush won with 47 percent saying it; Obama with 45 percent. For Trump, a mighty 56 percent of voters said they were better off now than when he took office — and yet he still lost. That tells you something about Americans’ understanding of how unfit President Trump turned out to be.
This election was also an unequivocal rejection of the woke left. The riots of the summer turned many people off. In exit polls, 88 percent of Trump voters said it was a factor in their choice. On the question of policing and criminal justice, Trump led Biden by 46 to 43 percent. For the past five years, Democrats have been telling us that Trump and his supporters were white supremacists, and yet he increased his black, Latino, gay and Asian support: 12 percent of blacks — and 18 percent of black men — backed him, along with 32 percent of Latinos, and 31 percent of Asians. The gay vote for Trump may have doubled.
Why? First off, many saw a more complicated picture than ‘Trump is a racist’. Many African Americans, for example, were terrified of ‘defunding the police’ and pleased to be economically better off, before COVID-19 hit at least. Many legal Latino citizens, to the perplexity of leftists, do not want continued mass immigration and are socially conservative. Some Asians see the woke as denying their children fair access to education, and many gays just vote on various different issues, now that the civil rights question has been resolved.
Obviously a big majority of non-white and non-straight voters still backed Democrats. But 55 percent of white women voted for the misogynist Trump, compared with 43 percent for Biden. Among white women with no college education, arguably those most vulnerable to the predations of men, Trump got 60 percent support. And look at California, one of the most leftist states in the country, and with a majority of non-whites. The initiative to allow public institutions to discriminate openly on the basis of race decisively failed after months of unceasing propaganda about ‘white supremacy’ and the need to counter it.
Pollsters, once again, missed a huge swath of ‘Shy Trump’ voters. Eric Kaufmann, one of the most astute political scientists writing today, noted that the polling under-counted educated white Trump voters, perhaps used to keeping their mouths shut in mixed company: ‘The exit polls show that Trump ran among white college graduates 49-49, and even had an edge among white female graduates of 50-49! This puts pre-election surveys out by a whopping 26-31 points among white graduates.’ The threat of wokeness alienated educated white voters, caused them to lie to pollsters — and led more of them to vote Trump than anyone expected.
The clarifying truth is that America remains a very closely divided country, growing further apart culturally and socially, exploited by extremists on right and left, and yet still fundamentally sane. The American people do not want a revolution, but they also realized they do not want Trump as head of state. They removed the nutcase, defanged the woke, showed up to vote in vast numbers, and gave us a constellation of forces in Washington that pleases no one. And that’s OK.
America is a vast and complicated place — and its political representatives mirror this rather accurately. That’s democracy working, not failing. In such a country, there is a place in the center for compromise if Americans can unwind the hysteria and polarization that the far left has fueled and Trump has exacerbated. We now have a President-elect, voted for by the sane center, with little personal ambition ahead of him, deep relationships within the Senate that he will desperately need, and with a check on his left flank. There are deals to be done. There is politics to engage. And we’ll get there if we can use this moment to listen to each other, especially those whose opinions we have spurned, and whose identities we have feared. Trump will refuse to let go — ever. But he has been removed. The Republic will survive, battered and bruised, but it will survive. And with a little grace from all of us, it can also begin to heal.