I started writing this post last Wednesday, the day after Trump was voted in as President-elect. I never thought I’d write that – ever. Like many people, I felt sick to my core and still feel so very strongly about this watershed moment for so many reasons.
I also know my late Grandmother, a huge advocate of gender equality in New Zealand and once a local body politician in her own right, must be turning in her grave.
As a woman in particular, Trump’s election is a massive slap in the face for the progress I thought society had made in terms of diversity, gender equality and learning to respect and embrace each other’s differences.
Photo - Wix
So I needed to write and process my thoughts. But I had to take a breather after getting my angry thoughts onto paper – a bit like waiting a few days before you press ‘send’ on that emotional email you shouldn’t really be sending. So here is the calmer version – a few days after the dust has settled and reality has sunk in.
I’m not going to repeat the reasons why so many people, including myself, have been in shock and dismay at Trump’s election – these are well documented and you know the story. You also have a better idea now of why he achieved the unthinkable. While to me it does make more sense now, explaining the unthinkable does not make it okay for me.
The election’s historical significance is massive – it not only represents a shift to a Republican stronghold across the country, and a win by a complete outsider with no political experience, it is a huge backwards step for race relations, gender equality and minority rights in general. If Trump’s campaign rhetoric comes to fruition, America will rapidly reverse to an inward looking, protectionist country resembling the 1950s in terms of social values, acceptance of ethnic and racial diversity, and gender equality.
However, there is hope that a Trump administration will not achieve what he campaigned for – perhaps it was a big performance to secure the mass support and now he knows he must act more reasonably? Let’s leave Trump’s denial of climate change to another day, as that is something we can’t lose momentum on.
But taking the political and economic philosophies aside, which will continue to ebb and flow over time as they have always done, the impact of this election has far greater ramifications and meaning. It has undermined what so many people believed were fairly common, socially acceptable values and behaviours to live by, and would expect leaders to emulate.
One of my favourite mottos to work by was ‘assumption is the mother of all f%&* ups’. The election of Trump exemplifies my motto – the white working class rump of Middle America, together with a dash of stubborn Republican stalwarts, has effected this monumental f&%* up.
Many of us have a certain expectation as to how people should conduct themselves and treat each other, based on fairly basic tenets of human decency, courtesy and respect. I thought that most people shared a common view of what behaviours were fundamentally right and wrong in this world. Many of us assumed that these commonly shared social norms and values would ensure Donald Trump didn’t become President, as people would vote for right over wrong.
It turns out that we were so very wrong. We wrongly assumed people would take the moral high ground and make a values based vote. Instead, base instinct won. Donald Trump’s behaviour in the campaign and before, flouted these social norms and values, and the scariest thing is the huge number of people who condoned this behaviour by voting for him.
In becoming President, he has turned our collective belief system on its head by effectively normalising bullying, bigotry and endorsing divisive, disrespectful behaviour. The hypocrisy of electing someone who personifies sexism, bullying, racism and disrespect when we are at pains to teach children not to act like this, is well articulated by CNN analyst Van Jones.
Poster of the old New York. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko
Trump’s election reflects the desperation of so many of his supporters – they were so fed up with their lot in life that they elected Trump, despite his flaws, as the only way out of the establishment rut. What is so disheartening is that it took someone of such poor character to give voice to their plight and disrupt the political status quo.
Unfortunately for Hillary, the assumption that the ‘rust belt’ Democratic stronghold states would provide a buffer against Trump again exemplifies my motto. The Democrats wrongly assumed these working class states wouldn’t turn red – so gave little attention to some states like Wisconsin. Combined with low voter turn out, the result was unexpected.
Few people predicted the election result accurately – Mike Moore, the documentary maker being one; and closer to home, a sensible, intelligent Swedish friend of ours here in Sydney, who called the overall result last weekend.
What else is striking is the massive support Trump garnered from white females (53% voted for Trump). For these voters, prioritising basic respect for women and crushing a sexist narcissist, let along trying to make history by cementing gender equality, took second fiddle to trying to claw back the power of the white working class. As long as white supremacy rules, gender equality seems to fall by the wayside.
The fact is most of us underestimated the huge swell of white Middle America – ignored by mainstream parties for years, only to be woken by an outside champion in the form of Trump. Both visible and hidden Trump supporters demonstrated a huge protest vote against the establishment and the elite. They well and truly gave the middle finger to those they perceived to be responsible for the economic stagnation for Middle America.
It is also seen as a last ditch effort by white supremacists to reassert their traditional domination in a country which looks very different to what it did in the middle of last century. It has been described as a ‘whitelash against a changing country’ that puts minorities in an even more vulnerable, frightening position.
Finally, what must really rub salt in the Democratic wounds is that Hillary won the popular vote but because of the complicated mechanics of the American Electoral College, that wasn’t enough.
Could compulsory voting have made a difference? Over 90 million eligible voters didn’t vote in this last election. This means that approximately 55% of voting age citizens voted this year – the lowest point in 20 years and a turnout that a may have hindered the Democrats.
While we won’t know the exact answer, all I do know is that being forced to think and make a choice (even if you leave both candidates blank) seems to be a step in the right direction when so much is on the line. There is too much at stake in any democracy to walk away because it seems too hard, or to turn your back on the system just because you don’t particularly like the options.
Although Australia has compulsory voting, let’s not get complacent and assume a real Trump-esque leader won’t rise around these parts – because we just don’t know what is around the corner. So be active, assert your political voice. One vote really does count.
But for now, Trump as President-elect is what it is. The international community can only hope that many of Trump’s election promises don’t materialise, that he has some sound advisers and that the US political system can in some way work together to listen to all Americans and keep Trump in check.
What gives me hope is the dignity and determination of Hillary Clinton and her supporters to keep fighting for democratic values. Her reminder to little girls around the world never to give up and keep working towards equality in every sense of the word is both heartening and inspirational.
It is up to us to remind ourselves of what values we live by, and to actively teach our children those values, especially in the face of utter hypocrisy. And only then can we hope to spread humility, respect, inclusion and equality to others.