After the initial shock and hysteria of the Trump victory, I have had some time to reflect. My final conclusion is that in general terms the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections were pretty normal, with nothing out of the ordinary.
Let’s start with what we know about U.S. elections:
- Americans are tribal and vote based on demographics rather than adherence to political ideals
- Americans are complacent and apathetic; hence voter-turn out tends to be low
- Because political parties are basically just branding, as such, they focus on fringe issues to differentiate themselves from each other. With a two-party system, this means that the partisan/sectarian split tends to be very close to 50-50% of the population
- Because of the above, there are very few swing voters and the key to winning elections is not swaying voters, but getting more of your sect to the polls (ie, rallying voters) than the other team.
- Because of changing demographics in favor of Democrats, the Republicans have an interest in making it as difficult as possible for certain parts of the Democratic constituency to vote.
- The incumbent party generally loses the presidential election after two terms.
Now let’s look at this year’s facts and how voters behaved:
- Obama currently has the highest approval ratings of any exiting U.S. president in recent history
- The economy is performing relatively well, with low unemployment in states like Michigan where Hillary lost this year, but Obama won in 2012
- There was low voter turnout
- There was low voter turnout for Hillary
- There was low voter turnout for Trump, with Trump receiving lesser votes in this election than Romney did when losing to Obama in 2012
- There was almost no media coverage of the issues, 32 minutes in total on the three major networks.
So what do the combination of what we already knew and what we’ve seen this year tell us? That this was a pretty normal election. Here’s why:
- Contrary to what you may be hearing, Americans are not angry. Otherwise, we would have seen large turnout, as we did in 2008. The economy is doing well, and Americans overall like the sitting president. But neither Obama nor Biden were on the ballot, so in theory there was no continuity candidate.
- Without getting into a discussion as to why or if justified, Hillary was an unpopular candidate. She didn’t persuade Democrats to vote for her in 2008 and wasn’t able to articulate a new reason to vote for her in 2016.
- There was no discussion of issues, which doesn’t really matter anyways because Americans vote based on sect, not policies. So it didn’t matter that Donald Trump – the New York City Playboy conman with entitled, gelled-back haired offspring– was the picture of everything Republicans have always hated about the Northeast.
- It was consistent with our history that the Republican party (non-incumbent) candidate would win after two terms of a Democrat in the White House.
So put aside the alleged changing political dynamics, racism (there’s always been racism, heck, our country was founded on it), and Middle America’s political revolt and anger. Obama would have likely won by a landslide had he been able to run.
Twenty-five percent of voters, some 90 million people, didn’t show up. Trump did worse than Romney who lost big. Hillary was a horrible candidate because she was unable to rally Democrats. Americans continue not to give a damn and are increasingly more sectarian. These should be the stories of the day.
The fact that Trump was able to empower racists, xenophobes and anti-Semites is anecdotal, a negative externality of the campaign. Something to be ignored by White Privilege.
Our take away could be that the victory of a highly incompetent cheat and race-baiter who got a nudge from the FBI Director means that America as meritocratic and post-racial is pure myth. But being able to keep the fiction alive . . . that, my friends, is White Privilege.