Last night Americans voted their conscience. This was not an election about ideology, values, and policy. It was an election where the populist majoritarians of this country, i.e. apolitical Middle America and the white working class, were overcome with a feeling. A feeling of exuberance that a boorish billionaire will give them their country back, remake it in all of past its glories, and rescind the deviation of Obama’s hope and change platform. They voted for Donald Trump, a man who promises to resurrect the past and undo the burden of a globalized economy on the common man. It is a vote that transcends politics but will inevitably widen the festering wound of partisanship, the new governing norm of American politics. Both Democrats and Republicans will have to construct new ideological platforms that will end up putting people into groupings based where they fall in terms of class division and culture war. From there, a new party may or may not emerge.
Donald Trump is an attitude. Unfortunately, Trump is also a symptom of the relative decline of American power. Under Obama, most Americans felt that the primacy of American power was intentionally subdued. They saw an America unwilling to be a leader when it came to issues like the Syrian War and Russia. Jobs were lost and income insecurity became a new norm for most Americans. Civil strife between African-Americans and the police turned into an aptitude test on civil society. The nature of our political institutions came under question due to both the real and perceived criminality of America’s financial and political elite. Economic anxiety and a perception of lost status duly imparted a feeling of betrayal in Middle America. Thus, the personal loss and distress in Middle America begotten the belief that American institutions hold no value. They believe D.C elites having done nothing to help the their situation and at worst have accelerated their declining socio-economic status.
Donald Trump cleverly understood the development of a new political undercurrent in the American electorate: the apathetically non-political but egregiously frustrated average American looking to make America (but mostly their lives) great again. Our institutions are not broken, nor did they fail us. People voted their feelings in a political culture that is ill defined due to its short history. Most Americans cannot collectively reflect on history and its ills due it the innate construct of America as a new experiment of 17th and 18th Century European Enlightenment ideals. America is a grand Republic but it is also an idea. With that idea comes immense responsibility due to the illusive nature of rationality, equality, and justice. Donald Trump’s anti-political politics and outspoken admiration for authoritarianism will bring each of these things under the threat of being abrogated. Sadly, modern democracies do not have enough protections in place to dissuade angry majorities from voting based on their feelings.
So what happened?
A resounding victory for the onset of Western Illiberalism. A growing intolerance towards governmental checks and balances, minority rights, and the rule of law is likely to take form as the nascent political platform of the New Nationalists (proponents of Trump). Hillary Clinton was too marred in scandal and her own presumptuousness to gather enough coalition votes. Hillary is an ideological figure in an age of transformation and instability across the world. In times like these, people hold close to what they know (kinship) and/or hold the reset button (political change). Trump provided both: nationalism and political outsider. She was unable to tap into neither the pulse of American disaffection toward the ruling elite nor the heartening dissatisfaction of American’s stagnant economic mobility. It’s also very possible that many liberal/Democrat leaning independents (the apolitical Middle America) decided to veto their vote and sit this one out due to volatility and ruthlessness of the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Whatever the political prognosticators point to as reason for Hillary’s defeat, what is clear is that America has entered unchartered political territory lead by a man who mirrors a wounded mammoth. There exists a new political minority in America, those who saw a status quo establishment politician as more palatable to lead in this dangerous post-Cold War period, those that have been pushed into the periphery by collectivized and democratized aggression toward the intelligentsia and Obama era policies. Imbued in democracy is the element of change, but this time we are experimenting with a political change agent. With the election of Donald Trump, the seat of the American presidency is prone to become a personality. Henceforth the era of the strong man?