This is the first of a series of posts on the 2016 election outcome. This post explains why Trump won and provides some reflections on my own journey. The next piece will be prospective on Trump’s foreign policy generally and then one directed towards the Australian government specifically. Over the past 12 months I have been among the most persistently accurate of all pundits and forecasters. Accordingly, I’ve earned the credibility to berate, but rest assured it’s with positive purpose.
First, to the elites – this result is your fault. 2016 is not an election, it is an uprising. The elite has utterly failed the vast majority of the US population, and this was the inevitable consequence.
The reason Trump did so well is not because of racism, xenophobia or ‘the basket of deplorables’. It’s because Obama’s presidency (and Bush’s before him) has been a total failure. During Obama’s first term of office 95% of all new income gains went to the top 1%. Meanwhile, median household incomes fell over the same period. Moreover, social mobility in the US has ossified. Inequality has not been this severe since the 1920s, not even close.
So Trump is right – the American dream is dead. The Obama years has seen the greatest redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely rich. The top 1% now controls over 35% of net worth; the bottom 80% (around 250 million Americans) has just 12% between them. All across America jobs have fled, wages have stagnated, with a majority of Americans believing that their children will be worse off than themselves.
The US population was never going to put up with this injustice in perpetuity. To illustrate, consider the result of the New York State Republican primary. Trump won every single electoral district in the state of New York, except one, his own. He lost Manhattan because it contains some of the richest zip codes in America - the 99% vs the 1%.
This phenomenon isn’t only, or even principally, limited to Republican voters. Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed socialist, beat Clinton in 23 states in the Democratic primary. As I noted early on, had he become the nominee he would have beaten Trump easily. Had Elizabeth Warren run instead of Sanders, she would have become the first female president of the United States. It is the worst condemnation of America's elites on both sides that, despite the collapse of the American social contract, they actually believed the people would stomach another Bush vs Clinton election.
The past months have seen a veritable army of elites come out and endorse Clinton, some breaking with long tradition to do so while neglecting to appreciate the direct contribution they’ve made to this crisis. Instead they have droned endlessly about ‘decency’ and ‘temperament’, and nothing whatsoever about what government is there for – to serve the people and make their lives better.
Most of the people I’ve sparred with over the past 12 months have been friends, esteemed colleagues and those I’ve studied and admired. Virulently challenging them has been lonely, like being caged in Versailles listening to the masses outside while those within dismissively mock their vulgarity.
To my fellow elites, you were wrong and it is time to re-examine your thinking.
Trump’s victory is not to be feared. The status quo was simply unsustainable. Historically, great powers have resolved these contradictions only one of two ways: revolution or war. Trump’s election is actually a great testament to the robustness of American democracy. This revolution, which is what it is, has occurred peaceably. And despite what elites think, had Trump lost, America’s future (and the world’s) would have been more uncertain and more alarming, not less. The trends in American life that gave rise to Trump’s candidacy were accelerating the American state towards an abyss. With Trump’s election, there is at least some hope of renewal.
If you are left in any doubt as to merits of my admonitions, there are others who clearly understand the issue. I’ll leave you with this utterly timeless four-minute clip of filmmaker Michael Moore speaking in the Midwest just days before the vote (warning: NSFW language):
It’s time to make America great again.
Photo: Getty Images/Brazil Photo Press/CON