Trump’s victory was a whitelash: we must face up to the factors behind his election

On my newsfeed, the reaction to Donald Trump winning the election was not so different from the online reaction to Brexit: shock and multiple ‘how did we all get it so wrong?’ posts. The polls got it wrong, and in part this is to do with people not admitting to supporting Trump. A large part of many people’s shock at the election result is down to the way social media – which, for many of us, consciously or not, informs a large part of our perception of the world – functions. Most of the people you know are likely to come from relatively similar social background to yourself, making you likely to have similar views on social issues. The people we choose to follow on social media are people whose opinions and political ideologies we agree with. It’s all too easy to create an echo chamber of our own ideas online.

 Mainstream media outlets were almost unequivocally united against Trump and in favour of Clinton. In the political climate that facilitated his victory, this wasn’t necessarily helpful for Clinton; for his target audience, this just cemented their view of him as an ‘outsider’ out to ‘change the system’ and of Clinton as a figurehead of the political establishment. It was a lose-lose situation: this election was fought on the basis of populism and a rejection of the political establishment, so in many ways Clinton was the wrong candidate for this fight.

There’s a lot being said about Trump’s victory being a revolt against the political elite and neoliberalism, and to some extent it’s true. Trump was most successful in poor, white, rural areas in the Midwest, where there are few job prospects, opiate use is skyrocketing and people feel that their once thriving industrial communities have been neglected by party politics. There is evidence for this in the exit polls; whilst the statistic being cited by many is that those under $30,000 and between $30,000-$49,999 were the only two economic groups that supported Clinton, at 53% and 51% relatively, the statistic is not enough in itself.

 America’s lowest income bracket always votes Democrat, and in this case especially, people of colour (who, excluding Asian Americans, on average have significantly lower incomes than white Americans) will have swung the vote toward Clinton. This is particularly due to black women, 93% of whom voted for Clinton and whose incomes average lower than the national average. So in the exit polls around income, the important thing to look out for is net vote change – between 2012 and 2016, 16% of voters under $30,000 income bracket swung away from the Democrats and towards the Republicans; the net change in the $30,000-$49,000 bracket was 6%. Looking at exit polls around race (58% of white people voted for Trump) shows that this lower income shift towards Trump was down to white Americans.    

 That 54% of American women voted for Clinton is entirely down to women of colour. 93% of black women voted for Clinton, whilst the figure for Latino women was 68%, and other non white women at 61%. 53% of white women – who at 36% of the country’s electorate, are the largest demographic group – voted for Trump. This speaks volumes about an election that could have inaugurated the country’s first female president: for millions of white women, white supremacy trumped their doubts about a man who brags about sexual assault, and whose policies will disproportionately affect women of colour. The face of the Trump campaign for so long has been of the angry white man but, in fact, white women are equally responsible for his win.

 Whilst it is true that some of white America voted for Trump as an attack on the political elite that Clinton represents, this is not enough in itself. It is not the whole picture. This was an election that from the outset was about ‘getting your country back.’ It was a whitelash. From the beginning, it sought to divide people into those who ‘belong’ in the USA and those who don’t. People don’t vote for a racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, homophobic candidate unless they are, at best, passively indifferent to the communities Trump attacks, or at worst, using their vote to actively espouse those views. 58% of white voters are complicit in inciting the hate and violence that has already begun.

 The narrative of the Republican victory as a challenge to the political elite and neoliberalism must recognise this. More than ever, there will be attempts to silence discussion around America’s inherent racism. If we are to understand what led to Trump’s win, we have to understand the intersection of America’s white supremacy problem and misogyny, together with the effect of neoliberalism and globalisation on America’s forgotten communities. We must understand what got Trump into the White House if we are to fight it effectively.  


Image: Gage Skidmore

By Clea Skopeliti

Former Comment editor and History & English Literature student. Twitter @cleaskopeliti96

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