I’m disheartened, as are most people I know. And I’m not sure what to think. Trump did significantly better amongst Latino voters than one would’ve expected. He also won states that went for Obama, and in some cases probably won voters who’d voted for Obama. My FB feed is full of people saying the problem is that Hillary didn’t speak to people’s economic concerns. That she was the voice of the moneyed classes, and that people in the Rust Belt feel left behind, on an economic level, by America and voted for Trump as a fuck-you to urban elites.
I’m a little skeptical.
For one thing, who’s worse off in this country than black and Latino people? They voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. Trump voters tend to be better off than average. I mean yes, they don’t live in the highest-growth parts of the country (although Texas has been doing pretty well…) but they’re not the poorest people in this country. They may feel as if they don’t have their fair share of this nation’s income and wealth, but the fact is that they already possess an unfair share of that wealth.
It seems in this country that white pain and white worry feels more real to people than does the pain and worry of people of color.
So is this a victory for economic populism? Yes. But in America, economic populism has always been inextricably tied up with white anxiety and racial resentment. Trump is Andrew Jackson; he’s William Jennings Bryan; he’s George Wallace. Note, all of these figures aren’t exactly the same, but they all drew from the same well of support: white people who felt disenfranchised. None of their movements had any room for people of color, because in some way people of color were viewed as being part of the problem (I suspect that part of the reason many Latinos voted for Trump is because, according to Census data, half of all Latinos consider themselves white…)
So yes, I do think that Trump was elected due to racism, and I do think most of his supporters experience some level of racial resentment.
Now do I think that all of Trump’s voters are so racist that they’d never vote for somebody who wasn’t a hardcore nativist? No. Obviously not. Probably a bunch of them voted for Obama. They’ll vote for somebody who finds ways to assuage their racial resentments, either through coalition-building, redirection, or, as with Obama, the promise of a post-racial future.
I don’t know the answer. I do think that things will turn around a lot quicker than we might think. When Bush won in 2000, people said the Republicans had a permanent majority. Then Obama came in eight years later. Six months ago, people said the Republican party was finished for a generation. Now they control every branch of government. The pendulum will shift once more (assuming Trump doesn’t usher us into a fascist dystopia, which is a thing that does seem at least a little bit possible).
Speaking for myself, I think this is the first time I’ve ever seriously considered the possibility that I won’t live my entire life in America. I’ve always considered myself American. I’m proud and happy that when I’m abroad, people without question view me as American. And I’ve always felt, perhaps more as an item of belief than as a piece of reality, that I could go anywhere in this country and even if I’m not comfortable, nobody would question my right to be there.
But in order to hold that belief I’ve had to ignore this persistent uneasiness I feel whenever I’m in Trump country: when I’m in Maine, sailing with my parents; or when I visit a close friend in Montana. The looks and questions I get in those places have always seemed to say that I am obviously from elsewhere. Which is true. I’ve just assumed for my entire life that they were thinking, “He’s from California.” Now though I face up to the possibility that maybe they’re thinking, “He’s from India.”
I’m more fortunate than the vast majority of white people in America, and I’m not a person who goes around talking about white privilege and all that stuff. Plenty of white people lead hard lives. But for the first time I find myself wondering what those white people think of me. Do they want me here? Would they prefer me to leave? Can I ever be American in their eyes? I have never thought the Republican party was, in sum, so racist as to deny the Americanness of people like me. John McCain wouldn’t have. Neither would Mitt Romney. Even George W. Bush paid rhetorical heed to immigration and assimilation. Trump doesn’t. His comments about Gonzalo Curiel and about the family of Captain Humayyun Khan show me that to him there is only skin color, and I cannot help but think that most of his supporters share this belief. They might mix with Americans of color and smile at us and befriend us and do business with us, just as Trump did for many years. Hell, they might even vote for us! But in their hearts they view us having no true place in this country.
For myself, I’m taking Trump’s victory better than most people I know. I think it’s a terrible catastrophe, but the nature and extent of the catastrophe are unknown. We will simply need to wait and to remain vigilant. I honestly think nobody knows what is going to happen next.
And, you know, people still gotta live. For instance, today I woke up, same as always, and locked up my phone, and did five hours of work on my novel.