Life After 45

Let us celebrate the return of honesty and the arrival of a woman to the White House; but, to those with who we disagree, it’s time to stop saying how could you, and instead ask why do you?

And breathe.

America, you really had me going there. On election night I was plagued by flashbacks of Brexit and Trump’s 2016 victory, as I saw the incumbent President build an unassailable lead in Florida, and seemingly take control of Pennsylvania, Georgia and the Midwest; as the unfathomable became the likely.

No matter what people will say about the eventual margin of victory and the confidence they always had in mail-in ballots turning the result in Joe Biden’s favour, this was too close. The former Vice President is set to win by less than 50,000 votes in each of Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia, worth a total of 63 electoral college votes combined. Yet again, Trump exceeded almost every pre-election prediction of him and came oh so close to achieving a second term in the Oval Office.

Just because he didn’t win this time, doesn’t mean left-leaning politicians, public figures and voters alike, didn’t make many of the same mistakes they did four years ago. 2016 saw – with Brexit in June and Trump in November – two surprise victories for populism. Cries of racism flew in to explain these results, and while it is crucial to acknowledge and combat the racial prejudice which continues to run rampant on both sides of the Atlantic, it was always an oversimplification of the referendums.

Crucially, in 2016, citing bigotry deflected any blame away from the losers. It stunk of the snobbish attitude that had already turned so many voters away from the Democratic Party and Remain campaign. It failed to address the Left’s own arrogance, complacency and inability to convince many ordinary people that they could help them.

I’ve seen the same absolving of blame during the week which has passed between the 2020 election and now – my social media filled with posts labelling the 70+ million Americans who voted for Trump as disgusting. Given how ghastly the man himself is, and has been as President – recall only his detainment of immigrant children, response to the Charlottesville protests, impeachment, handling of Covid-19, relentless attacks on the media, incessant lies, divisive rhetoric and sheer lack of dignity (which has again been on full display this week) – it would be easy to agree; to throw this blanket of bigotry across a group of Americans exceeding Great Britain’s entire population.

But the people we follow on social media tend to be a reflection of who we are. I, a privately educated student from a large city, follow and am followed by people who I know, with similar backgrounds to my own. Young, urban and University educated has never been the demographic of Trump, nor Brexit for that matter, and therefore it turns into an echo chamber of shock and sadness each time these referendums come around. Instead of realising that we’re childless, 20, and clueless to many of the world’s harsh realities, most go the other way, their views emboldened.

This week, as I saw more and more posts branding each and every one of Trump’s supporters vile and obtuse, I grew increasingly frustrated. I could not help but think that this exact behaviour – dismissing those outside our selective circle as lesser – was part of how we got here in the first place.

As much as we may wish otherwise, people vote for themselves. As is their right. As is their choice. Perhaps there is no more intelligent a vote than a vote purely for oneself. While I, and many others who I know, are privileged enough to prioritise issues other than our next pay-check when considering our political candidates, the amount of self-righteous, wealthy adolescents I’ve witness label over 70,000,000 Americans as racist and uneducated is absurd.

It needs said that a vote for Trump was never a vote for oneself. The only person ever served by a vote for Trump, was Trump himself. Every decision he has made over the last four years has been dictated by a single, sickening question: what do I get out of this?

Yet through deceit, Fox News (which extended beyond the realm of objective, right-wing reporting, and almost undermined the democratic process with their five year circle-jerk of the orange man) and two phenomenal Presidential campaigns, Trump convinced people he would make their lives better. While I hoped more voters would see the hollowness in his assurances, the Democrats, to so many poor Americans, still appear a party of the elite; rich urban dwellers who look down on rural America.

I don’t think this is true, nor do I think it’s entirely false.

For this election was less about race or Covid or guns or abortion, than it was about money. The people who voted for Trump are people. It’s sad it needs said, but too many seem to fall for the caricature Trump supporter, and forget they’re just people. Some are intelligent, some are stupid; some are racist, some are not; many are scared and most are desperate.

And in this desperation – for their voices to be amplified and their dissatisfaction made known – they turned to Trump; or, conversely, away from the Democrats. We all know how vocal and fervent Trump’s base is, but we’re still talking about one of the least popular Presidents in American history. Not everyone who voted for Trump loved him. Many simply could not bring themselves to vote blue.

I could postulate as to why, but I’d be wasting both of our time. I can say with certainty however, that declaring them all racist is not the answer.

*****

So what says the data? What I find interesting, when looking at the maps and demographics from this year’s election, is not what we already knew from 2016, but what changed? To me, there are two telling takeaways:

The first is that America is no longer a country of North vs. South, but Urban vs. Rural. It had been trending this way for some time, and 2020 – in Phoenix, Vegas, Reno, Atlanta, Columbus, Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Raleigh – proved to be the year where cities, not states, decided an election. This may sound obvious, but it represents a seismic shift in the way we must look, and then predict, American politics. Because, as equally as many Southern cities went blue, many voters from the northern countryside, who were the key swing voters in years gone by, stuck red. It is now when looking at America through the scope of City vs Country, not North vs. South, that we see a nation divided, and witness its palpable polarisation clearest of all.

Secondly, as America has become a more racially diverse, higher University-educated country, the Democrats should, in theory, have gained popularity. Both these cohorts have historically favoured their party, yet the Dems have not been able to take the stranglehold on the country many predicted they would in the post-Obama era. Before last week, we already knew the vast majority of Trump’s supporters were white men. Though they were still his biggest fans this time around, he lost ground with white men and made inroads on every other race and gender group. Much has been made of the Trump’s success with the Hispanic community in Florida, but he also improved with female and African American voters across the board. Instead of belittling these voters, or accusing them of enabling an ‘enemy’ of their own, we must look at why they were willing to overlook Trump’s track-record and vote for him anyway.

We must not stop saying, ‘how could you?’ and ask ‘why did you?’ Why were so many compelled to vote for a man as abhorrent as Trump? Why – after Brexit and after Trump 2016 – has the left side of politics yet again failed to demonstrate that they offer a solution?

If we can’t stop the finger pointing and figure that question out, I seriously fear for the future success of the political ideology I believe in.

*****

I watched John McCain’s 2008 concession speech last night. It was a much-needed reminder of what differing opinion should look like, and how far from the centre we have fallen over the last decade.

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