U.S. Elections 2016: What the Hell Happened?!
The whole world woke up stunned on Thursday due to U.S. election results, but if you were paying attention to the past 8 years, you would not have been surprised. Sarah Palin’s dog-whistling about “real America” and disdain for the media and liberal, East Coast, Ivy league- educated elites set the stage for Trump’s campaign. Palin spoke to and for a segment of White America that was becoming more and more discontent with the status quo. Poll after poll showed that white men especially felt that they were being discriminated against and persecuted. The global financial crisis that followed Obama’s second term and looming demographic changes deepened that sense of disenfranchisement, marginalization, and fear. Suddenly, just being white wasn’t enough to grant you access to the “American Dream”.
Even being a hard worker and well-educated wasn’t enough. Many millennial college graduates have ended up under-employed and unable to even aspire to those markers of success that were taken for granted during our parents generation. Rather than being married with a comfortable job and a low-interest rate mortgage before your 30th birthday, my generation is making less than our parents made, drowning in student loan debts, unable to pursue professional goals, postponing the financial burden of marriage and children, and many are still living at home with their parents due to the high cost of living in most major cities.
This election was decided by the white majority (white people are 77% of the U.S. population) who voted overwhelmingly for Trump. It may come as a surprise to you that I think White America’s anger is justified (only their anger, not their xenophobia, racism, and misogyny- that ish is just cray); however, they directed it at the wrong source. We- the immigrants, minorities, women, and people of color- have also felt left behind during the past eight years. My mother, a hardworking woman who often works double shifts as a nurse to put food on the table, lost our house during the the housing market crash- the banks were bailed out, not her. At more than 6.5%, the interest rates on my student loans are higher than that of my condo even as younger sister struggles to navigate a higher education system that has cut Pell Grants and government subsidized loans substantially, forcing more students to rely on private loans with crippling interest rates to pay for the astronomical cost of higher education. I watched policies crafted in D.C. turn developing countries like Haiti into a playground for the well-connected even as the average person suffered. Many of the well-educated and successful women of color I know are undervalued and underpaid at their jobs even as less qualified white colleagues advance up the professional ladder. A wave of drug addiction has gripped the country, leading some of the same politicians who'd pushed harsh drug sentencing legislation to now call for compassion as the face of addiction becomes white. Yes, the anger is justified.
However, White America looked around at the country's failing schools, debilitated infrastructure, high cost of living, crumbling social welfare system, and expensive health care and blamed it all on everyone else, not realizing that those same systems were failing the rest of us, too, in record numbers. In contrast, the rest of us looked around and recognized that capitalism- the entire system as a whole- had failed the average American while consolidating power in the 1%. For many of us, the record breaking amount of money spent on this election was further proof of the disconnect between politicians and the proletariat.
The Democrat were too smug to realize that the average American was suffering. They should have run a campaign that spoke to those universal fears of being left out of the American Dream, being one paycheck away from sleeping out on the streets, and being one hospital bill away from bankruptcy- the average American's reality regardless of race or education level. Clinton, so far removed from “real America” didn’t realize that her own people- white people- were not recovering from the destruction of the American social safety net even as the banks rebounded. Trump pointed the blame for this deterioration of American society at the Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, Jews, immigrants, etc., because that overly-simplistic explanation appealed to the most basic human urge to blame someone (anyone!) for the overarching failures of our government as a whole.
Equally as important, however, is the fact that no one really liked Hillary. There, I said it. It was hard to erase the Clinton legacy of destructive foreign and domestic policies that followed her or the gloss over her sense of entitlement to the Democratic throne. The Dems didn't realize that America as a whole had become anti-establishment, not just the Fox News Conservatives. Rather than putting forth a candidate that could really galvanize the base and bring the country together, they expected voters to simply be content with more of the same. Clearly, they grossly underestimated how fed up Americans actually are.
Overall, there is plenty of blame to go around: The Democrats failed to speak to the fears of majority, dismissing them as inconsequential. The average white voter failed to realize that we minorities have been drowning in this Titanic of America with them, not on the lifeboats with the 1%. These failures cost the Dems an election and cost the rest of us any prospect for a better future for generations to come.
Ultimately, once the dust settles, the majority of white voters will have to grapple with the fact that they actually have more in common with struggling, working class black and Latino families than they will ever have in common with the likes of the billionaire Donald Trump. Unlike the rest of us, white privilege means that they could vote for a bigot without concern for the consequences. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, needs to come to terms with the fact that stones have shattered their ivory tower, rendering the party irrelevant in its current state as long as the average American is drowning in debt and discontentment.
The current system that has pitted us against each other in over-simplistic terms – Democrat v. Republican, black v. white, rich v. poor- now reflects the vestiges of a superpower that sold its soul to white supremacist capitalist patriarchy in the most short-sighted move since…well, since Brexit. My hope is that the minorities and immigrants who have borne the brunt of the blame throughout this arduous election cycle will come together to pave the way to truly make America great. There is no America without us.