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Opinion: Four reasons why Donald Trump won the election

Working class Americans have been neglected by the political establishment, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

MANY WOKE UP today to a nightmare: Trump won. The misogynist, racist, clownish, militaristic Donald won. By all indications, this is going to be a big setback for progressives, for the United States, and, possibly, for the world.

However, we must understand the causes of Trump’s victory because it is the only way that such outcomes can be prevented in the future and his power as president kept in check.

Here are four key causes of Trump’s win.

Inequality and economic crisis: Trump’s electoral base is diverse but one main component is white working class Americans who have been neglected by the political establishment, especially since the 1980s. As both the Democrats and Republicans moved further to the right of the political spectrum, ordinary people have seen their wages stagnate, their work conditions deteriorate, and their personal debts grow. In fact, things got so bad that since the late 1990s, American middle-aged white males have seen their mortality rate increase as opposed to their counterparts in other developed countries where it dropped.

Divided America American Moments People queuing at a free medical clinic in rural Virginia Source: Jacquelyn Martin/PA

Therefore, all that needed to happen was for a charismatic candidate to tap into that resentment and deal with the media astutely, which Trump did very well. He opposed trade agreements whose purpose is to pit American workers against lower-paid Mexican and Asian workers and which move manufacturing jobs abroad. He defended Medicare benefits and Social Security and said he wasn’t so interested in military alliances like NATO.

Sure, that might be all lies. But at least he directly addressed people’s concerns, and that was enough. Bernie Sanders also did that, and both of them caused surprises that challenged the political and economic establishment which people are fed up with.

Republican Party racism: Of course Trump’s campaign was full of racism and nativism, as he trashed one minority after another. With the Republican party’s move to the right, its main goal today has become to enrich the rich further. But no majority of people is going to vote for that, so in order to attract a popular base, they’ve emphasised so-called “social conservative values”, like anti-immigration, anti-abortion, anti-gay and gun rights, and they’ve targeted those messages at the disenfranchised white working class. And of course, when you do that, it spreads beyond the angry white working class, and that’s why there are many other voters who have become convinced that their enemies are not Wall Street and the military-industrial complex, but Mexicans, black people, women, gays, etc.

Media: The media provided Trump with an amazing platform, covering extensively every single idiocy he said. Why? It’s not because the media wanted him to win—the media overwhelmingly supported Hillary. But because the media has become so commercial, it was more interested in generating advertising revenues with sensationalist stories about The Donald.

The CEO of CBS, Leslie Moonves, said exactly this earlier this year about Trump:

It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.

He called the presidential campaign a “circus” full of “bomb-throwing” and hoped it continued to be as such:

Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.

The Democratic Party’s liberal failure: In recent decades, the Democratic party has left in the dust the working class base they once were close to. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have pushed for trade deals that were bad for workers. The party moved closer to Wall Street. It kept intervening militarily abroad, for example through Obama’s drone wars, while spending astronomical sums on the military and on a nuclear modernisation program that will cost an estimated $348 billion (€317 billion) between 2015 and 2024 and $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Campaign 2016 Clinton Source: Matt Slocum/PA

But the Democratic party has remained in a liberal bubble. Liberals think our economic system is by and large fine (although it might be guilty of some excesses). So they don’t talk too much about fundamental economic issues, and they prefer focusing all their attention on “cultural issues” and empty statements about “equality”. During the campaign, liberals spent their time laughing about Trump’s hair, Trump’s mouth, Trump’s way of expressing himself, and made fun of Trump voters as uneducated red necks who only care about stock car racing and guns. Hillary called them “the deplorables”. Well guess what, the deplorables have won.

If liberals had spent more time talking about real issues, such as the fact that Trump’s tax plans are a direct gift to the rich, maybe the deplorables would have seen that Hillary’s tax plans were much better for them. But the liberal media was too busy making fun of Donald’s hair, or of his supporters.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille

Read more from Julien:

We need a strike at 4.27pm this Friday for women’s pay

The US football players kneeling for the national anthem are doing something important

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About the author:

Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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