My take on the election: I do not believe Trump won because the United States is any more sexist, racist, or Islamaphobic than it was two days ago, rather I believe he won despite him showing all of these signs. He won because whether he realized it or not, the new political divide in the world today is not between right and left as we have known them for the last forty years, but rather between a globalizing elite and those who feel left behind by the new world.
The New York Times has an outstanding graphic which shows geographically which areas Trump outperformed Romney four years ago. It is very clear: he won the former industrial mid-west, in particular those areas with relatively fewer college graduates – in other words, the white working class. His racist and sexist attitudes probably cost him more votes than he won by them. Many of the haters would have voted for him anyways, many more were grossly turned off by them. The people he flipped were working class whites, former union people and a large portion of the population who normally don’t vote at all, in particular in rural areas. We see the same thing in Brexit and around the developed world.
The truth is the situation of poor, low-education, working class whites in America has become a disaster. And the truth is globalization has played a large part in that decline. These people are forced to compete with literally billions of new entrants into the global middle class, primarily in East Asia, India and yes Latin America. In their gut, the white working class know globalization has played a massive role in their prospects becoming so grim. When somebody comes along who tells them what they feel in their bones to be true, they think “finally, somebody who gets it and somebody who has the balls and will to reverse it,” and so they come out in sufficient numbers to propel him to victory (it only takes a few percent of the voting population to flip the election result in swing states, and thus the country).
Why did the pollsters and data wizards get it wrong? The only explanations I can think of are (1) many people weren’t willing to share openly their support for Trump with pollsters precisely because they knew Trump was so politically incorrect and they feared being stigmatized as racists and sexists by expressing their support, and (2) because modern polling techniques have some sort of systematic sample bias of primarily polling those who have been hurt less by deindustrialization (technology and communication habits, most likely).
The reality is this – Economics correctly states globalization benefits the country more than it hurts it, but there are populations which lose out from it. The solution, of course, is for the winners of globalization to compensate the losers so that we are all better off. This basic bargain hasn’t been implemented. The globalized elite have pocketed their gains and live in informational bubbles where they do not even encounter people who have lost from globalization. I find it telling that Trump supporters just knew Trump would win because everybody they knew supported Trump, and the same is true for Hillary supporters – they just knew Hillary would win because everyone they knew despised Trump and because Nate Silver was never wrong. But we live in different worlds. The failure of the left to insist on some form of compensation for those left behind by globalization as a condition for their support of it is a primary reason why Trump won. Why did the left not care? Because we had, consciously or not, labeled such people deplorables. Because some of them were haters and we thought they were all going to vote Republican (or not vote at all) anyways, we just wrote them off. We arrogantly called them “racist, ignorant white trash.” We also didn’t really know they existed because we live and travel in cities and fly over or drive quickly past their reality.
None of this is to say Trump’s stated policies will make their situation any better. In fact, I fear they could make us all much, much worse off. I think many of these people have been conned into supporting somebody who will not be able to deliver on his promises to them. Eventually that con will be revealed. Maybe these people know it is probably a bunch of false promises, but figure they have nothing to lose by trying it Trump’s way. But it is not enough for us to just wait for his failure to meet expectations to happen. Progressives need to find solutions for poor whites too. I am not saying globalization is entirely to blame. Technological advances in robotics also play a huge role. Most of the failure is actually one of policy support for the working class.
People on the left now face a challenge: we have been criticizing Republicans for putting party before country. Will we now do the same? There are parts of Trump’s agenda which are good, most notably his plans for massive increases in infrastructure spending (I am not talking about the Wall here) and his at least stated intention to do something about campaign finance (though his Supreme Court picks are likely to undo any progress here). But mostly, we need to start thinking of new solutions.
I think we can easily make the case that universal health care, universal pre-K, support for working mothers, free job retrainings and apprenticeships – in short, public support for the working poor – simultaneously helps the poor live middle class lives and keeps the cost of hiring workers low, enabling U.S. companies to compete globally. This is the case we need to make. Just labeling them all racists, sexists, and deplorables will not bring us any closer to solutions or any closer together as a country. We need to heal the divisions this election has laid bare. We can do that with compassion for our fellow citiizens who have communicated clearly they have been hurting and we haven’t been bothered to care.
As Kadampas, we need to remember our fight is with delusions, starting with our own. There is no creator other than mind. Everything that appears to us is mere karmic appearance of mind. This world is our dream, it is our responsibility to reconstruct it. How? Through wisdom, compassion, and pure view. We must resist racism, sexism, Islamaphobia, of course, but we must also resist the elitism and arrogance and uncaring in our own mind. We must also realize that samsara is the nature of suffering and is the nature of deception. We know political solutions will only take us so far. The real solution lies in us destroying the demons of self-cherishing, self-grasping, ordinary conceptions, and ordinary appearances in our own mind, then helping others do the same. We live in degenerate times. We must be sources of good.