This Election Was All About Race, But Not the Way We Thought

Politics Features Donald Trump
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This Election Was All About Race, But Not the Way We Thought

Through early voting, it looked as though this story was to end with the bad guy’s chickens spectacularly coming home to roost. Election Day 2016 would be the culmination of a tale in which Donald Trump, from the first minutes of his presidential campaign, sowed the seeds of his eventual downfall, spouting a message of intolerance towards minorities that the United States would ultimately reject. As reports last week revealed the Latino early vote was way up—by over 100% in Florida!—and with almost every major poll showing a narrow Hillary Clinton win, it appeared this election was set to be about inclusion triumphing over marginalization in a new, more diverse America. After an anxious 18 months, the relief would be enormous, the sense of cosmic justice immensely satisfying.

That isn’t what happened on Tuesday. Instead, hate and prejudice won out. Not all Trump voters will have thought they were voting from such a foul place—for many, a Trump vote was simply a way of signaling dissatisfaction—but the Trump package was never just about being ‘anti-establishment.’ His campaign had some vague ideas, but was defined most clearly by racism. This election year, America was given a bad choice, but not a tough choice. It will forever be to white America’s shame that it selected unstable and ethnocentric over the relatively unthreatening More Of The Same. Trump’s win is a white triumph. The most prominent beneficiaries of this victory are not anti-establishment types, but white supremacists, David Duke’s KKK, and “angry young white men who think rap music and Cinco de Mayo are a threat to their way of life” (thanks, Aaron Sorkin).

Those who voted Trump in ‘protest’ don’t get to act innocent. They saw what Trump stood for, as we all did. A protest vote for Trump by white America was a vote from a place of privilege; a place where it was OK to risk Trump’s Hispanophobia, his Islamophobia, his veiled anti-Semitism, because white America was never going to be affected in the first place. Some pundits are trying to break this result down by class and by wealth, painting a picture of a working-class revolt, but the poorest in society voted for Clinton, while the wealthiest and most privileged voted Trump.

This was no working man’s uprising. It was a “whitelash,” as CNN’s Van Jones put it, a final desperate bid by white America to seem relevant in a country whose racial makeup is rapidly changing. It was white lawmakers putting down the minority vote through strategic voter suppression efforts. Instead of a Latino surge, it was a show of force by white America that decided this election. In the end, it was all about race, but not in the way we thought it would be.

Political defeats can leave callouses on the soul. Each time it gets easier to tolerate the pain, but there’s also a risk of losing something in that hardening. We might become cynical, lose interest, or give up on ideals that appear unrealistic in such a seemingly severe world. (Take it from someone who railed against Britain’s Tories, backed Bernie Sanders and voted to remain in the European Union.)

It might not feel right now like optimism will survive long in this dark new reality, but there are reasons to be positive today. For one, unlike ours here in the UK, there’s a time limit on this fuck-up. There’s no coming back from our vote to leave Europe, America, but in four years you can go back on this decision. And there’s good reason to think that you will.

You can imagine Trump—a man who’s had less political experience than a local government intern on their first day, remember—will along with fringe Republican extremists like Mike Pence do enough damage in four years to have voters looking for an alternative by 2020 (maybe someone talking about the problems Trump has been talking about, but with actual solutions). Note that Trump already lost the popular vote this year, only winning key states by tiny margins with white voters out in full force. In order to hold onto his current level of support for 2020, Trump will have to actually do a good job as president. Even if he does, the demographics simply don’t favor Trump or his gloating cabal of Putinist fascists going forward. It all comes back to the race factor.

All the Latino, African-American and Asian-American voters that white America so fears saw what white America just did. They are here, and they are growing. They will live through four years of uncertainty and increased intolerance, and in 2020—backed by an ever-expanding band of predominantly liberal younger voters—they will return with a vengeance. The stats show that Trump’s America does not represent a vision of things to come. This is a sad, scary time, but we are not seeing the future of the USA here—we’re witnessing its past thrashing in the death throes.

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