Not sure what to say about the election

I’m disheartened, as are most people I know. And I’m not sure what to think. Trump did significantly better amongst Latino voters than one would’ve expected. He also won states that went for Obama, and in some cases probably won voters who’d voted for Obama. My FB feed is full of people saying the problem is that Hillary didn’t speak to people’s economic concerns. That she was the voice of the moneyed classes, and that people in the Rust Belt feel left behind, on an economic level, by America and voted for Trump as a fuck-you to urban elites.

I’m a little skeptical.

For one thing, who’s worse off in this country than black and Latino people? They voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. Trump voters tend to be better off than average. I mean yes, they don’t live in the highest-growth parts of the country (although Texas has been doing pretty well…) but they’re not the poorest people in this country. They may feel as if they don’t have their fair share of this nation’s income and wealth, but the fact is that they already possess an unfair share of that wealth.

It seems in this country that white pain and white worry feels more real to people than does the pain and worry of people of color.

So is this a victory for economic populism? Yes. But in America, economic populism has always been inextricably tied up with white anxiety and racial resentment. Trump is Andrew Jackson; he’s William Jennings Bryan; he’s George Wallace. Note, all of these figures aren’t exactly the same, but they all drew from the same well of support: white people who felt disenfranchised. None of their movements had any room for people of color, because in some way people of color were viewed as being part of the problem (I suspect that part of the reason many Latinos voted for Trump is because, according to Census data, half of all Latinos consider themselves white…)

So yes, I do think that Trump was elected due to racism, and I do think most of his supporters experience some level of racial resentment.

Now do I think that all of Trump’s voters are so racist that they’d never vote for somebody who wasn’t a hardcore nativist? No. Obviously not. Probably a bunch of them voted for Obama. They’ll vote for somebody who finds ways to assuage their racial resentments, either through coalition-building, redirection, or, as with Obama, the promise of a post-racial future.

I don’t know the answer. I do think that things will turn around a lot quicker than we might think. When Bush won in 2000, people said the Republicans had a permanent majority. Then Obama came in eight years later. Six months ago, people said the Republican party was finished for a generation. Now they control every branch of government. The pendulum will shift once more (assuming Trump doesn’t usher us into a fascist dystopia, which is a thing that does seem at least a little bit possible).

Speaking for myself, I think this is the first time I’ve ever seriously considered the possibility that I won’t live my entire life in America. I’ve always considered myself American. I’m proud and happy that when I’m abroad, people without question view me as American. And I’ve always felt, perhaps more as an item of belief than as a piece of reality, that I could go anywhere in this country and even if I’m not comfortable, nobody would question my right to be there.

But in order to hold that belief I’ve had to ignore this persistent uneasiness I feel whenever I’m in Trump country: when I’m in Maine, sailing with my parents; or when I visit a close friend in Montana. The looks and questions I get in those places have always seemed to say that I am obviously from elsewhere. Which is true. I’ve just assumed for my entire life that they were thinking, “He’s from California.” Now though I face up to the possibility that maybe they’re thinking, “He’s from India.”

I’m more fortunate than the vast majority of white people in America, and I’m not a person who goes around talking about white privilege and all that stuff. Plenty of white people lead hard lives. But for the first time I find myself wondering what those white people think of me. Do they want me here? Would they prefer me to leave? Can I ever be American in their eyes? I have never thought the Republican party was, in sum, so racist as to deny the Americanness of people like me. John McCain wouldn’t have. Neither would Mitt Romney. Even George W. Bush paid rhetorical heed to immigration and assimilation. Trump doesn’t. His comments about Gonzalo Curiel and about the family of Captain Humayyun Khan show me that to him there is only skin color, and I cannot help but think that most of his supporters share this belief. They might mix with Americans of color and smile at us and befriend us and do business with us, just as Trump did for many years. Hell, they might even vote for us! But in their hearts they view us having no true place in this country.

Oh well.

For myself, I’m taking Trump’s victory better than most people I know. I think it’s a terrible catastrophe, but the nature and extent of the catastrophe are unknown. We will simply need to wait and to remain vigilant. I honestly think nobody knows what is going to happen next.

And, you know, people still gotta live. For instance, today I woke up, same as always, and locked up my phone, and did five hours of work on my novel.

 

3 Comments on “Not sure what to say about the election

  1. As always, you’re a voice of reason, Rahul.

    Something that is being underplayed in my news feed is the role of the conservative media machine. It’s almost too obvious, but without the constant stream of vileness from Fox News in the last 8 years, the feelings of disenfranchisement that led white people to vote for Trump could have taken the form of Bernie Sanders’s campaign message. Trump worked the media and controlled how his rallies were covered like no one else, and to do that, he had to accept some conservative positions which are clearly against the interests of the same disenfranchised whites, presenting Obamacare as a failure and promising environmental deregulation. Of course, other positions, like the focus on immigration and law and order, were original and meant to tap into racist fears.

    At the moment, and perhaps because I don’t live in the US anymore, I am most terrified about the breakdown of the global order. The effects of domestic policies won’t affect people like us until deregulation, protectionism or tax cuts lead to another crisis. The justice system and the environment will suffer, but life will be largely normal for a few years. On the other hand, we can expect Russian aggressions in eastern Europe next year, and a vicious campaign against Angela Merkel who is the only one at this point standing up to Putin.

    • Yes, I really don’t know what will happen. One reason I think I’m less panicked than most people I know is that I actually can’t imagine a Trump presidency. I think they picture the worst possible Republican president. But Trump isn’t really a traditional Republican, and while it’s possible that he will deregulate, cut taxes, slash the social safety net, etc, it’s also possible he won’t. But he is also an insane buffoon, and that makes me concerned that he’ll find entirely new and unimaginable ways to fuck up. For instance at one point he recommended that the US default on its debt in order to force its creditors to pay less. That’s something which would destroy an unimaginable amount of wealth and would crash the global economy, permanently shattering America’s economic power. No other President would ever do this. But with Trump, who knows?

  2. It is also possible that the liberals have been too complacent and assumed that they really did not need to unite, organize or make a case. Remember the Sanders voters who said they will stay away from the polls? Perhaps this will be kick in the pants that will start a liberal revolution.

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