This lengthy is Part One of a two part feature. We now know everything this campaign was not. Next piece, I focus on what it was. I will identify the major mechanisms at play which allowed for such a movement to take hold. Featured will be the most interesting question of the entire campaign.
Part One: Everything This Is Not
Sometimes the only way I can make sense of things is to analyze them the way I am trained to.
My last article, a humorous retelling of an Obama story, relayed that I am an MA candidate for History with aspirations of enrolling in law school or a doctoral program. At the risk of sounding pretentious, or downright immodest, I have been taught to observe trends, events and movements through a particular lens.
Imagine each discipline wearing a different pair of glasses. The lens I’m currently gazing through happens to purposely be tinted by American History. I tint the glasses even more to specifically observe societal, cultural and political history in America.
I do not want to provide a breakdown of why half of the electorate voted for Donald Trump. Yet, I feel a duty to do so. Our path to reconciliation and therefore unity begins with one courageous step: understanding. Although it may seem so, my purpose is not to berate the millions who casted their ballot for the conservative candidate. Rather, this piece is the first step on a long path towards progression. It just so happens we must take our first step in the name of comprehension. If it makes me ostensibly look like a jerk, so be it, but remember; the monster in the closet is only scary until we swing open those closet doors and see that nothing is there. Allow me to use my skills as an amateur historian — and my experience as a field director for a Republican State Representative candidate — to delineate why many Americans voted for the most enigmatic, polarizing human being this young century has seen. In order to do so, I must tell you everything this campaign is not.
Yesterday evening, I stood outside of my local middle school. It was a popular polling center and I was greeting potential voters on behalf of my State Rep candidate. One man, graying into his late fifties, recognized I was campaigning on behalf of a conservative candidate. He assumed I was also a Republican (I am not) and approached me to discuss his devil reincarnated, Hillary Clinton.
The man told me a story about his son, a navy officer. The son’s commanding officer had been charged and sentenced for sending classified documents, akin to Mrs. Clinton’s email dilemma. The man candidly explained that he was voting for Trump because “Hillary should be behind bars too.”
What’s the moral of the story? This voter wanted fairness. Lady Justice must put her blindfold back on and treat everyone the same. Anti-Elitism was the heart of his message.
Donald Trump sold many American voters on an idea: politicians and big businessmen should not be given special treatment under the watchful eyes of the Law. He constantly paraded Clinton’s scandals (or lack thereof) as proof that a select group of wealthy individuals get to take advantage of the working man while running around Washington D.C consequence-free. “Drain the swamp,” became a memorable refrain during the last two weeks of this election. Elitism had finally grown too dangerous and must be taken care of, or else.
This narrative is not only dangerous enough in itself once believed, but, it is also false. The question I pose: Why now? As an aspiring historian, I could not help but to think of the several examples of egregious elitist manipulation just in the most recent elections.
Ronald Reagan, a celebrated actor and national figure, had violated the Boland Amendment during the famous Iran-Contra scandal. Yet, he got away clean. In span of eight years we saw two separate Bushes prove that American royalty exists by attaining office, despite the younger being objectively unqualified. Name and money bought George W. Bush a presidency and yet, many did not gripe about elitism despite it blatantly spitting in our faces.
We didn’t gripe when Bush pardoned Oliver North despite him being in jail for his involvement in the aforementioned Iran-Contra scandal. A third Bush had a shot at winning the GOP nomination and we still did not gripe about elitism! My friends and readers, this was not about elitism at all. We have seen both Republicans and Liberals abuse their wealth and power for decades. This was an attack on Liberalism, masked as an attack on elitism.
The data backs it up. Let’s look at the trends. Firstly, Liberalism has become the new dirty word. To be Liberal is to be politically correct; another dirty term. To be Liberal is to be upper middle class with a degree from a prestigious New England or Californian university. To be Liberal is to get by in life just fine without experiencing a second of the working class struggle. To be Liberal is to retain job security in a country readying to for unprecedented minority advancement. To be Liberal is to have forgotten about the only marginalized demographic not mentioned during this campaign: white middle class 50 something-year-olds.
This election had a remarkable shift in demographics. Democrats used to be a party for the working man; uniting union workers under a common fight for higher wages and better benefits. That demographic now belongs to Trumpian Conservatism. Trump did not label himself the “Blue Collar Billionaire” in order to attract union workers. Conversely, union workers were attracted to him, affording Trump the ability to give himself the most oxymoronic, nonsensical moniker of all time. From the gold-plated Trump signs, to the fourteen million dollars in loans, Donald Trump has proven himself to be the very definition of elitism. He self funded his campaign.
In the not-so-distant past, we have seen three Bushes vie for the presidency, and two be successful; the very definition of political elitism. And it is just now that millions of voters are displaying a raging protest against the Establishment? I do not buy that. Logically, you cannot disavow Clinton for elitism while supporting Donald Trump. Make no mistake: this was an attack on Liberalism disguised as something else.
One of the women I volunteered with decided to open up to me a few weeks ago. She is in her mid-thirties, a mother and a wife. Her occupation: piano teacher. One night, she decided to confide in me how much she owed in student loans (around $80,000.) She actually calculated how much she owed every day in interest alone. An avid Trump supporter, she justified her support because Trump would “level the playing field.” He was going to bring back fairness and equal opportunity to the regular Joe or Josephine. Again, we have another false narrative supplied by Trump supporters.
Hillary Clinton is the equal opportunity candidate. At least, it would appear that way. She proposed subsidizing student loans. To do this she would tax the wealthy the adequate amount, as her four percent surcharge on multimillionaires suggested. In incendiary tones she advocated for closing unjustifiable tax loopholes and for the reregulation of Wall Street giants.
Mr. Trump promoted just the opposite. With rhetoric as fiery as Clinton’s, he stumped for lowering the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans. Less than a decade removed from one of the greatest economic collapses of all time, Trump remarked he would deregulate Wall Street and Big Business. The Estate Tax (Death Tax), our final backstop for clever, wealthy tax evaders, will be removed with Trump in office.
Speaking of tax evasion…While the aforementioned woman is struggling to pay off student debt, her beloved candidate avoided paying taxes for years. Hillary Clinton, at the very least, is a beacon for gender equality. Behind numerous sexual harassment allegations and the infamous audio tape, Trump has cemented himself as the antithesis of gender equality. No, this was not an attack branching off of the previously discussed elitism. The plain fact is that one of the wealthiest, most notorious U.S business tycoons ran on the premise of transparency, honesty and fairness while simultaneously hiding his tax returns, habitually lying and operating within the “1 percent.”
Us Americans may be misinformed or uninformed, but we are not blind. This was not an assault on fairness and equality; it was an assault on Liberalism. For good or for bad, many Trump voters have been persuaded to believe Liberals are the cause of their recent struggles. The issues of fairness, equality and elitism were twisted, albeit adroitly, by Trump and his team to pin Democrats as the ultimate scapegoat.
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