Everyone I’ve talked to so far about the election has been in complete shock. In my neck of the woods, the idea of voting for a regime presiding over more than 230,000 deaths due to disease, escalating authoritarianism and political violence (I wrote a whole article on this), possibly one of the largest transfers of wealth to the ultra-wealthy in history during one of the worst recessions in US history, a degradation of the office of the presidency as well as our political institutions, and some of the largest and deadliest forest fires in recorded history is rare, like Mr. Clean with hair. Nearly 70 million people disagree, and at the time of me writing this article the outcome of the election is far from clear. How could this have happened?
The first thing people are probably going to point at is the electoral college. I would add that the first past the post or “winner take all” system is also a major factor. Despite a 3.5 million vote lead in the popular vote, Biden could lose the election due to a difference in a few thousand votes in four key states. This isn’t something I want to get into too deeply since I expect it will later be done to death and I already addressed the ideas I have for the most part in my article on voting third party. Needless to say we would not be having this conversation if the voting system were different, but the voting system doesn’t change the fact that over 20% of the total population of the United States actively decided they wanted four more years of Trump.
For me, the most troubling part of this election is how Trump has managed to not only maintain but in some cases expand his base of support. I don’t know anyone personally who claims to have voted for Trump, and among the people with whom I have any sort of contact, I imagine I could probably count the Trump supporters on one hand. It feels more than ever like there are two parallel universes colliding with each other, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand where people are coming from without assuming the worst. Even if Trump loses the election, these people are going to continue to influence the destiny of the United States and the world at large. If we fail to understand them, there’s not much of a chance we will be able to create any sort of positive change or even return to a place of stability as a country.
It turns out that ideologically, Trump’s support is actually quite diverse. The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group puts them into five main groups: American Preservationists, Anti-Elites, Free Marketeers, Staunch Conservatives, and The Disengaged. These factions are almost diametrically opposed on key issues like wealth inequality, immigration, and even political compromise. What tends to distinguish Trump voters from other groups is increased rates of identitarianism and a feeling that their financial situation has been worsening. I believe this is indicative of what NPR’s Domenico Montanaro called “the biggest story of the election” in 2016. Democrats have cratered in support from working class whites, many of whom supported Obama in 2012. This appears to be the trend in this election as well. I tend to agree with Martin Kettle’s assessment that the Democrats failed to address voters who felt marginalized, ignored, and cast aside in favor of racial minorities and immigrants while their own communities languished in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
I’m going to be honest. It’s pretty pathetic to lose working class voters to a billionaire who spent his administration cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans and funneling trillions of dollars to his ultra-wealthy friends. I don’t think a party that alienates workers that bad even has a right to call itself left-wing. In my opinion, more so than any lapse on the part of the American people, this election is a sign of how miserably the Democrats have failed to inspire enthusiasm among the people to work toward a future where all people are accepted and given the tools to pursue their own happiness. The idea that the majority loses when minorities win is ridiculous, and the Republican Party shouldn’t be able to use that idea to win over votes. We live in the most powerful country in the world, and if people feel left out, we should do something about it.
As I addressed in my article on third parties, the American people actually agree on a lot. Most of the polarization we’re seeing now is due to partisan politics rather than any sort of fundamental disagreement between people. I am going to keep hammering this over and over as many times as I have to: the American people need to talk to each other. I wrote an article on representation recently, and I think the conclusion I came to there is just as apt here. Inclusion is an asset. When we fight for the rights of one group of people, it makes the world better for all people. The more we learn to see each other complexly, the more difficult it becomes to hate each other. Unity and understanding is a panacea for white supremacy and other forms of extremism. Even if Biden wins, it’s not enough for our country to stabilize and heal. If anything, our work has only begun.