There are many interesting political narratives to be explored in this predictably contentious US election. Pollsters once again proved to be entirely out of touch with the American public and some 70 million people voted for the man the media has spent four years treating as a hostile agent. And so, I find myself, again, pushing back on attacks on those 70 million Trump voters. I refuse to see such a huge number of people as a homogenous group of bigots, racists, and selfish idiots. In my opinion, Trump is the symptom, not the cause.
Once again Democratic voters took to social media to express incredulity that anyone could possibly vote for the ‘Orange Facist’. They called half of their nation “monsters” and called for any family or friends who voted for Trump to ‘unfriend’ them immediately. The ever-widening chasm between those who vote for Trump & those who see him as an existential threat now seems an impassable gulf.
Typically, news articles have already been published blaming white supremacy and patriarchy for the actions of 70 million Americans. These lazy anti-analyses seek only to reaffirm the existing hatred certain sectors of the US have for those they see as more stupid and morally inferior to them. In fact, Donald Trump increased his vote with all demographics except white men suggesting that the tired identity politics narratives are based not in reality.
Setting aside the Presidential candidates both of whom offered little more than personality politics and ‘at-least-I’m-not-the-other-guy’, one of the most interesting aspects of this election was the outright rejection of the orthodoxy of the Left/Right positioning of the Democrats and Republicans. Regardless of history and policy, this election provided examples of how class affiliation is changing and further supported the notion of a Democrat Party who speaks to an increasingly elitist, academic, media, Hollywood-driven set rather than the working class.
We can look to two states in particular to illuminate the working class rejection of the Democrats despite a retention of classically leftist values. California and Florida couldn’t be more different in their approach to this election. The Californians remained true to form and obedient to the media in voting convincingly for Joe Biden, while in Florida Trump won the electoral votes. There has been substantial interest in the support Trump received from Latino voters and a frankly quite racist backlash against Cubans who were particularly pro-Trump.
However, it is in a couple of referenda that we can see the stark discord between Presidential vote and the traditional politics associated with each Party. In Florida, voters were asked to vote on whether the state should increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2026; an issue primarily affecting the working class and platformed due to activism for workers’ rights. Despite voting for the Republican candidate, Floridians solidly supported an increase to minimum wage. This hardly denotes a population of selfish morons who vote against their best interests. By contrast, the Biden-loving Democrat-voting Californians voted against providing Uber (and alike companies) drivers with employee status. They were given the opportunity to support workers over profit by preventing capitalist gig-economy companies from exploiting workers as “contractors”, and they chose to back capitalism.
It seems that it is no longer so simple as to position voters according to values and policy-support on the Left/Right spectrum and expect them to vote for the Party that purports to occupy that space. It isn’t even relevant if the Parties themselves have shifted in politics, though that is perhaps something worth exploring. What is interesting here is the behaviour of voters and how that behaviour reflects conflicts between their values and their voting habits.
While the Republican Party will need to spend time reflecting on who they are post-Trump, Democrats equally have a lot of soul searching to do. Primarily they need to question why so many working class and poorer Americans saw a Republican candidate as a better option than the Democrat. They need to realign their priorities to better reflect the actual concerns of Americans. Exit polls showed that COVID-19 was usually only third on the list of issues the American people were most concerned about. The economy topped the list.
Support for lockdowns and COVID-19 hysteria appear to be a uniquely elitist position as for most Americans working from home is simply not possible. These people have either lost their jobs due to lockdowns or they have continued to work through them in service jobs. They’ve been the ones on the frontline at most risk of infection and receive none of the intended protection of the lockdowns but most of the worst consequences. Trying to get on with their lives as best as possible, they’ve endured the narratives of “COVIDiots” and “red-neck” non-compliance to mask wearing and other restrictions. Is it really surprising they don’t want to vote for the guy promoting more intense restrictions and ignoring disastrous economic outcomes for the working class?
It is vital that we look beyond the crass and unlikeable nature of Donald Trump. He is a polarising figure and will be remembered as a spectacularly chaotic President. Painting each of the 70 million Trump voters as supportive of every statement and action he has made and as if they’re clones of him and his worst failings, is unfair and unhelpful. While there are many rabid Trump supporters who are as entitled to their fawning over Trump as those who salivate over the flawed and senile Joe Biden, the ‘shy Trump voters’ that pollsters ignored came out in droves. These are people who most likely saw each of Trump’s flaws and still saw him as a lesser threat than Biden. It is this that Democrats must reckon with.
It seems Joe Biden will win the Presidency, but it will be a sour victory for Democrats. Expecting a landslide against Trump, they instead experienced somewhat of a backlash themselves. It should not have been difficult to beat a candidate so thoroughly maligned by media and elite institutions, but the result of the election is exceptionally close. If they are to unify the country, Biden and the Democrats must address the sentiment coming from working class and poor Americans. Ignoring them once more in favour of divisiveness in the form of identity politics and name-calling will only result in more hostility.
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