With Trump's inauguration just days away, I have been thinking a lot about our President- Elect. Having not voted for him, completely perplexed as to why anyone would, I wanted to know the reasons why 61 million Americans voted for him this past November 8. What I encountered was a series of reasons that I found both enlightening and alarming. Though a large majority of Trump voters did not think he was a particularly good candidate, they considered the alternatives, including a vote for Hillary Clinton, far worse. Many genuinely liked him and viewed his campaign promises and political platform as a fresh, vibrant, hopeful direction for the growth of the country.
A Washington Post post-election survey updated on November 23, 2016, invited Donald Trump supporters to share why they chose to vote for him. From a sampling of 1,600 respondents, with a wide demographic swath, here are what just a very few had to say:
“He was an outsider. He spoke truth about political correctness. He has great kids who stand by him...most important he is not a Clinton. If I weren't in California where my presidential vote doesn't count for much, I might not have voted for him. But, I thought, why not be part of sending a message to Washington?” - Rhonnie Enterline, 28, Sacramento, CA
“I am not one of Donald Trump's fanboys. The choice was not cut and dry. What finally decided the question for me was Hillary Clinton’s hostility to the rule of law as exemplified by her behavior and her promise to select Supreme Court justices willing to overturn District of Columbia v. Heller and Citizens United. Taken together, those two things meant her election represented an existential threat to the Constitution, its design for our government, and the First and Second Amendment. I concluded our country would not survive a Clinton presidency. That meant she had to be stopped cold. The only way I had to push in that direction was to vote for Trump, so I did.” - Jay Maynard 56, Fairmont, MN.
“I was literally undecided until I went into the voting booth…in the end, I voted for the economy, against Obamacare and against a corrupt government, just as I was planning to for Johnson. But I also voted for the people, because Trump was the clear choice of the silent majority I eventually became a part of.” - Kirsten Johnson, 31, Minneapolis, M.N.
As a Bernie Sanders supporter who voted for Hillary Clinton, the first thing that comes to mind after reading these and the other responses in the poll, is the incredible irony that comes with the realization that we, on the left, who believed (and still believe) in the revolutionary ideals of Bernie Sanders and wanted to see a fresh (anti-establishment) influx of change coming from this election, chose, out of default, to follow the establishment we didn’t even like and convince ourselves to vote for Clinton for the sake of keeping the party ideals of a nation stronger together. What is even more ironic is that some of the very same reasons we, who didn’t vote for Trump had for not voting for him, are the very same reasons those who voted for him (and against Clinton) chose to vote for him. It is a conundrum that has no answer, a dead-end evaluation, except that the realization, when focused, poignantly points us in the direction of unity. Yes, it is important to realize that, we the people of the United States, in the midst of this on-going, bitter, divisive, bewildering moment in our history, ultimately wanted the same things.
The second thing that comes to mind is to question the role the media played in this election. The media’s responsibility as the fourth estate has been, historically, well defined; its function is to be an unbiased voice and a liaison of reliable information between the public and its government. The press plays an integral part in the checks and balances process of the democratic system. Its responsibility is to investigate and deliver its findings to the public in a fair and equitable manner in order to counter corruption and keep politicians honest and accountable to constituents. But this is not what current news programs like CNN, CSNBC and FoxNews deliver to audiences. The press has been responsible for making or breaking governments; it cannot undermine the political and social power it wields. The creation, distribution and use of the media in the 21st Century is redefining itself in ways not yet fully understood, reasonably making mainstream corporate media channels search to find ways to adapt and compete with the new avenues taking viewers away from them; however, when the entertainment value of a news story is greater than the search for truth there is a problem with journalism.
Diane Maus, 61, from Suffern, NY wrote:
“I voted Republican for only the second time in my life. The media did the United States a huge disservice in covering this campaign. As I watched, I got the impression that voting was a formality. The commentary was all about how Hillary Clinton was set to get down to business once the pesky election was over. It was obvious watching the election returns on several networks that not one of them prepared for the possibility of Donald Trump triumphing. My vote was my only way to say: I am here and I count.”
In hindsight, it is clear the events encompassing the 2016 election had most of us, including Trump supporters, believing what mainstream media wanted us to believe. Almost every poll and prediction site said that Hillary Clinton would be our next President. How could everyone have gotten it so wrong? The inescapable fact is that we got it wrong because the media arbitrarily chose to report it that way.
So, now we have a new President-Elect. Those who voted for him believe he is a caring family man, an honest Washington outsider who “tells it like it is,” whom many Americans truly believe will buoy the dwindling middle class by creating jobs, stimulate the economy through infrastructure spending, and lead the country in a fresh direction, away from the political corruption they believe has plagued government for decades. What’s even more fascinating is that contrary to what the world and the 48.7% majority of American voters who did not vote for Trump might think, Trump supporters are very much aware of his flaws, including his misogynist behavior, his racism and divisive language, his crass and offensive remarks to minorities and marginal groups, his indulgence in exaggeration and half-truths, his political instability and inexperience in policy making, and his lack of experience in foreign affairs. As one CNN reporter on one of those infamous entertainment news roundtable discussions put it recently, these elements of his personality were “distasteful, but not disqualifying.” They voted for him anyway.
Erin Keefe, 22, another Trump voter from Manchester, NH, unapologetically put it this way:
“I am white, I am a woman, I am pro-choice, I am educated, and I voted for Donald Trump. The government needs to be run like a corporation, simple as that. Of course humanitarian issues are of concern to me, as they are to every American. His degrading language toward women bothers me, and his views on global warming are a problem for me. I do not 100 percent love Trump, but I am convinced he can lead this nation. I was part of the silent majority. My friends would bash those who leaned toward Trump and comment on how insane, uneducated and racist his supporters were. I was afraid to speak my mind....I voted for Donald Trump because he can create change for our country, economy and world.”
President-Elect Trump is a rich man, so rich, in fact, that he doesn’t want to get paid to be president, a conflict of interest, by the way, which goes against our founding fathers’ democratic principals, but of which Mr. President-Elect, seems not to be aware. (Though he has mastered the art of the tweet, using the 140-character social media platform as a bully pulpit to impetuously antagonize anything, or anyone, from General Motors to Kim Jong Un, he hasn’t yet mastered the art of googling a Wikipedia article on the Constitution—reference: Article II, The Executive Branch).
Currently, President-Elect Trump is also choosing to eschew daily intelligence briefings, continuing to downplay the validity of the intelligence community’s overwhelming evidentiary findings on the Russian hacking of the US government’s cybernetics networks and consequent link to their tampering with our 2016 election process. Trump seems loath to entertain press conferences, too, because, well, the press likes to ask questions. And, Mr. President-Elect, doesn’t seem to give a damn about the traditional liaison between the Executive branch and the press, a liaison put in place to ensure communication between a democratic government and its citizens and to keep corruption at bay within the system. Again, the incredible irony of a citizenry all wanting the same thing is not lost here: we longed for anti-establishment and change. It is said, “be careful what you wish for”; unexpected perhaps, but, this early in the pre-game, we are already getting our wish in spades.
Mr. President-Elect is an enigma and enjoys being one. He has a shadowy agenda he doesn’t like to share, and stands behind rhetorical phrases having nothing to do with the process of running a country and everything to do with eliciting the approval of his constituents through appeal to their emotions. Indeed, his commentaries and communiqués seem more like those of a cocky man-boy still in the throes of adolescence. That, for now, continues to be enough for his followers.
For the rest of us, we must remember that though the President-Elect seems like an unthinking buffoon, he is an obvious mastermind at manipulation. Though he appears to be unschooled in correct social and political protocol, Mr. Trump is not stupid, and assuming the position of Commander-in-Chief of The United States of America will make him an extremely powerful, influential man. It would be naïve to underestimate his powers of attraction.
Mr. Trump understands how to easily solicit the unchallenged support of his followers. Yet he keeps his cards closer to the vest than most poker players, and what we think we know about him is only what he wants us to know about him. What we don’t know (like his tax returns, his net worth, and what he says he knows about the Russians that we, the public, the press, the Senate, the House, the FBI, the CIA, The Department of Justice and every other Federal Investigative Agency do not) he keeps hidden, promising to make that information public “soon,” yet refusing to divest himself of that information. His family (including his ex-wives) and his followers are loyal to him beyond reason, spinning his actions into logic, even when his words prove to be documented lies or his self-control unmitigatedly fails and results in insult to others. He has an average IQ and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, but his most fascinating quality is his knack for identifying and operating to his advantage the social mechanisms and memes that influence people. Through his daring use of repeated affirmations and suggestions, Mr. Trump continues to succeed in severing established norms of thinking, (especially with regards to presidential traditions and government protocols), ignoring and displacing established methods with his own brand of postulations, insisting the public and the establishment go along with it. This insistence is already becoming an expectation and being tolerated into acceptance by the nation, artificially creating new paradigms by which we live our reality. These paradigms, once fully absorbed, will become our ‘new’ natural way of seeing the world. Many great leaders have been masters of crowd manipulation and diligent persuaders of thought: Julius Caesar, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King. So, too, have many great dictators: Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro. The ultimate success or failure of such maneuvers can only be interpreted by the ethics of its appropriation and its eventual outcome seen through the lens of history.
Presently, those of us seeing this for what it is, seem at a loss to do anything about it except continue to observe its trajectory and document the exceptional turn our reality has taken. In this manner, through the seeming passivity of the observer, we become a living witness to history. We are in unchartered waters now, knowing only one thing for certain: Mr. Trump’s game has rules of engagement about which no one, except he, is certain, and yet his game is one in which, for the next four years, all of us, will be participants.