To paraphrase former President Gerald Ford at the end of the Watergate crisis, “our long national nightmare of a presidential campaign is over”. And the tradeoff that the American people have made is to accept the gamble on a politically inexperienced, often vulgar and undisciplined, and multi-flawed narcissist in exchange for finally ridding the nation of what is arguably the most corrupt self-serving political machine in U. S. history. A worthy bargain in my view. In addition, four to eight more years of assertive progressive rule would have so entrenched the federal Leviathan in every corner of civic and personal life as to make this country unrecognizable.
How did this happen? As for the defeat of the Clinton machine, the critical mass of over 25 years of cronyism, political webs, sinister private/public networks, well-documented lies, topped off by the recent e-mail dumps and foundation “play for pay” conflicts took its toll–the country finally had enough of the Clintons.
And the Trump phenomenon? I don’t want to say that I was among the first to notice, but I wrote of the “Trump wave” over a year ago, being prompted by a series of articles by William Galston about the demographics and underlying economic and social issues driving the Trump movement.
In one article, he noted that much of Trump’s support grew out of what he called “an angry, disaffected U. S. white working class that, for the first time in decades, has found its voice”. He also noted that xenophobia, nationalism, and bigotry are dominant tones, which tempts many of us to turn away, but he cautioned that this would be a mistake because underneath these noises are real problems, many of which are tied to the failure of government to provide a sense of prosperity and economic security.
This is the crowd that I had previously identified as the key to any realistic political consensus in America and about which I have suggested on a number of occasions that the political party that finds some answers that capture their allegiance can stay in power for several decades.
In another article, Galston reported the results of a survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, which identified with more precision the sources of Trump’s support. Some highlights: 55% of his supporters are white working class, compared to 35% for the rest of the Republican field at the time; the most likely demographic group to support him is composed of men ages 50-64 with no more than a high school education; this group is the most likely to believe that immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers; 30% believe that immigrants strengthen the country compared to 51% of whites with college degrees; and possibly most striking, 62% believe the country has changed for the worse since the 1950s, only 42% believe that America’s best days are ahead, and 68% believe that hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people. All of this evidence has of course now been validated by numerous additional surveys, not to mention the election results themselves.
It seemed to me that these findings confirmed anecdotal evidence that had been pretty obvious for some time. It reflected the frustrations of mainly white working class men who no longer recognize their country. This formed the core of the sentiments to “take our country back!” and “make America great again”.
In describing this phenomenon, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, in a Wall Street Journal article the day after the election, has a slightly different take on the progressive emphasis on the income inequality that threatens the body politic. He thinks that the critical gap is not an income gap, but a “dignity gap”, that the country is separating into a nation of economic winners and losers, the latter of which are predominantly working class men, and he cites data that show the percentage of working class men outside the workforce having increased to 22% from 10% since 1965. This, says Brooks, is producing significant problems beyond economics created by a life without the dignity of work. Trump spoke to and resonated with these people in a way that none of our elites, from the right or left, has done.
For those who wonder about the Obama legacy, it is now pretty simple–the Obama legacy is Donald Trump. And he comes to office with legislative majorities that have resulted in the Republican Party being the national ruling party. How ironic it is that only a few weeks ago, the conversation was about what seemed almost certainly the post-election Republican collapse and the necessity for the GOP to be completely rebuilt from the ground up. No doubt it will be a different party transformed by the Trump ascendancy, but it is now the Democrats who must totally reorganize and soul-search.
At the end of the day, Daniel Henninger said it best: “What we learned on November 8, 2016, was that voters looked past or through all the atmospheric debris of this campaign and focused on what mattered–the direction of their country, its economy, its politics, and the state of the culture.”
The country has many problems, but there are numerous opportunities for revival. The incoming President will need all the help he can get, as he soon will learn.
Let us pray.