america’s payback-is-a-bitch vote
Unfortunately this has been a banner year for conspiracy theorists, bigots, and right wing populists preying on people’s fears and misfortunes. From the mess that was Brexit, to gains in European parliaments, to last night’s election of Trump, they’ve beat the polls and outwitted the experts with a trick as old as time when the future looks uncertain: find scapegoats and mobilize your supporters against them. And in America this feat was well aided by the economic collapse of the rural Midwest and a full eight years of a media diet composed largely of hate and outrage, half of which lied every third time it tried to report anything, and a major part of it ran by foreign content aggregators reposting fake political outrage click-bait. And if I were a political writer instead of focusing primarily on science and technology, here’s where I would make the grievous mistake of concluding that Trump voters have been brainwashed. But this is not what happened at all.
Blaming social media or technology for Clinton’s loss is just as ridiculous as blaming it for the supposed death of dating and propagating hookup culture when that was never a real thing, statistically speaking. The media didn’t do this. Facebook and Twitter didn’t do this. People did it. People chose what they wanted to see and eagerly spread it. You can blame WikiLeaks and the hordes of Russian trolls and hackers who infest the internet, eager to make the rest of the world look like fascists with an irrational hatred of Russians, and against whom Putin supposedly stands as a bulwark. But that too is so terribly misguided, it should be smacked down the instant it rears its ugly head. People believed what they wanted to believe and they scanned leaks, and listened to conspiracy radio to find evidence for what they already were certain was true, and with a candidate as shady as Clinton, they found just enough to grab onto to stay angry. There are plenty of people who want to attribute her loss to misogyny, but considering that she won the popular vote, that’s definitely the wrong message to take away.
Now there are many reasons to dislike Clinton. She sabotaged her own party just because she felt is was her time to be president against every sign to the contrary. Like Epic Rap Battles of History’s rendition of Trump so eloquently put in rhyme: “And you almost lost the primary to a socialist Jew / What do the American people gotta Yankee Doodle do / To get through your face that they’re just not that into you?!” She called out the actual neo-Nazis, white supremacists, bigots, and xenophobes who fell in love with Trump and were quickly embraced and retweeted by him, but then went on to cast all of his supporters as such, giving strength to his argument that the losses of many rural Americans were the expense of “liberal elites’” gains, and that elite just sees them as inconsequential yokels who need to get with the program. She played right into his politics of divide and conquer despite her oh so hollow slogan, while regurgitating wonkish policy at campaign stops. Again, it was not the fact that she was a woman, it was who she was and what she came to represent for Trump voters and yes, her liberal detractors.
In a bizarre twist, she was seen as a continuation of Obama’s foreign policy of swift interventionism, a policy that he inherited directly from the GOP’s He Who Shall Not Be Named, i.e. George W. Bush, the very conspicuously forgotten president whose brother was loathed by Republican voters almost every bit as much as Clinton, while supposedly being a sure bet to win the presidency just last year. Despite the Republican Party never coming across a bill to allow a tax haven or a tax cut we couldn’t afford that it didn’t love, its refusal to do anything to stem outsourcing, its approval of almost all major free trade treaties its voters blamed for the loss of manufacturing jobs, these are now cast as the policies of the supposedly Marxist Democrats, which is a major head-scratcher to put it mildly. Even though these were Republican policies, the president-elect outsources his businesses whenever he can, the fact that outsourcing is responsible for just 12% of all the manufacturing jobs lost, and no plan proposed by any politician (if they even had a plan) tries to deal with the rampant automation of millions of jobs that’s behind so many small town woes, we’ve entered Bizarro World when it comes to facts.
This sad state of affairs leaves us with two takeaways, neither of them even remotely positive. The first is that Clinton has no idea what she was doing, no idea what’s really going on with the economy, and even if she did, she lacked the skill to communicate it to make her platform about education, job training, and bringing the post-industrial economy into small towns, while Bernie Sanders spoke directly to those afflicted by rural economic woes and had the folksy manner a lot of people really liked, only to be snuffed by her stream roller of a political machine. The second is that rural America bought hook, line, and sinker into the life-is-a-zero-sum-game worldview so popular in far right literature that holds any advancement for anyone but them to be possible solely at their expense. Minorities and gays gaining rights was spun as taking rights away from them, and wealthy coastal cities and regional hubs’ growing economies were cast as robbing them of businesses. So for a large percentage of Trump supporters their vote was not pro-Nazi, pro-Alex Jones and conspiracy theory, or pro-sexism. It was a “fuck you” to all those they believed robbed them and fattened themselves at their expense.
Seizing on Tumblr PC police posts, aggressive tweeting about privilege that desperately tried to explain how people who were having trouble making ends meet and finding work were actually cheating minorities and women out of a fair shot at life, and condescension of the wealthy aimed at them, the populist right developed the mentality that they were under siege from existential enemies. Liberal identity politics, it seems, have overplayed their hand and tossed the kind of neo-Nazi douchebros who use the word “cuck” in a political discussion plentiful ammo to seem reasonable and provide the necessary patina of evidence for their zero-sum rights argument. You can’t malign people and expect them to still support you even if your causes are noble. They could have ruminated on their privilege while knowing they can pay next month’s rent and the fridge is full, not on an empty stomach in a rapidly shrinking town they remember once thriving. Social change is slow. Remember that next election cycle.
Obviously there are many things we need to do to bridge the huge divides between urban and rural America, and we even know how to do that. But what worries me is that this “fuck you” vote has left the people with whom we’ll have to work taking Trump’s election as an excuse for their theory of zero-sum rights and economics, and to set about “vindicating” themselves with oppressive backlashes to punish all those uppity “others and invaders” for the temerity to disagree with them. After all, the man they have chosen is known for pathological narcissism which leads him to exact swift revenge in response to any slight, no matter how small, and his second in command is obsessed with demonizing gays with such unholy zeal that finding out that he has a Grindr account wouldn’t be a big surprise. And any outreach will be quickly stunted by their now canon view that instead of being left behind by global macroeconomic forces, there was an intentional conspiracy to harm them, cripple their way of life, and leave them for dead.
And so they’ve chosen to believe that the party for which they vote, a party that ushered in the modern era of semi-regulated banking, globalization over union protests, and extraction economies for struggling red states that try to compete in price with China and India, really has their best interests at heart, and truly wants to protect their way of life, and all they needed was a loud, angry reminder of their grievances in humanoid form, which is Trump. So yesterday, to spit in the face of all those they believe wronged them, they let Trump grab America by the pussy. Why? Because he’s famous and knows about business, even if it is mostly how to bankrupt it…