There are two questions that voters in the US from the left of center are asking themselves: Who are these people who voted for Trump? And why did we not prepare ourselves at all for this conclusion? The word “devastation” only starts to approach the wide-spread feeling of the moment among those I know. We did not know how widespread anger is against elites, how deep the anger of white men is against feminism and the civil rights movement, how demoralized by economic dispossession many people are, how exhilarated people are by isolationism and the prospect of new walls and nationalist bellicosity. Is this the new “whitelash”? Why did we not quite see it coming?
Like our friends in the UK after Brexit, we are now skeptical of the polls: who is asked and who is not? Do people tell the truth when asked? Is it true that the vast majority of voters were white men and that many people of color sat this one out? Who is this angry and nullifying public who would rather be ruled by a mad man than a woman? Who is this angry and nihilistic public who blames the devastations of neo-liberalism and deregulated capitalism on the Democratic Party candidate? We have to think now about populism, right and left, and misogyny – how deep it really goes.
For better or worse, Hillary is identified with establishment politics. But what should not be underestimated is the deep-seated rage and anger against Hillary, partially the result of a rank misogyny and the revulsion against Obama, fueled by long simmering racism. Trump has unleashed pent up anger against feminists, figured as censorious police, against multiculturalism, viewed as a threat to white privileges, against migrants figured as a security threat. The empty rhetoric of false strength has triumphed, a sign of a despair more pervasive than we knew. But perhaps we are seeing a revulsion against the first black president coupled with a rage against the possibility of the first woman president on the part of many white men and some women. For a world that is increasingly mischaracterized as post-racial and post-feminist, we are now seeing how misogyny and racism override judgment and a commitment to democratic and inclusive goals – they are sadistic, resentful, and destructive passions driving our country.
Who are they, these people who voted for him, but who are we, who did not see their power, who did not anticipate this at all, who could not fathom that people would vote for a man with racist and xenophobic discourse, a history of sexual offenses, the exploitation of workers, disdain for the constitution, migrants, and a reckless plan for increased militarization?Perhaps we are shielded from the truth by our own isolated form of left and liberal thinking? or perhaps we believed in human nature in some naive ways. Under what conditions does unleashed hatred and reckless militarization compel the majority vote?
Of course, we do not yet know what portion of the population actually voted. But we are left with the question of how parliamentary democracy has brought us a rabidly anti-democratic president, and whether we now have to prepare to be more like a resistance movement than a political party. After all, at one Trump rally in New York tonight, the Trump supporters shamelessly revealed their exuberant hatred: ” we hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want to take our country back.”