Canada: Published in La Presse on 13 November 2016 By Michèle Ouimet. Original language: French // <i>Angry white men were a hot topic during the election campaign. They were the ones who largely elected Donald Trump on Tuesday.</i>
It is easy to generalize and say that Trump supporters are uneducated, misogynist, and homophobic, and that they dream of having it out with Muslims and other immigrants. But the situation is more complex.
I went to West Virginia during my trip to the United States in October. I only met Trump-supporting angry white men and women while I was there. I didn’t run into a single Hillary Clinton supporter.
West Virginia, a state that is 94 percent white, is suffering its worst crisis ever. Its economy depends mostly on coal mines, which are closing one after the other. By waging war on polluting forms of energy, the Democrats decimated the industry. Obama adopted new, lower carbon emission targets for coal-fired power plants: a 20 percent reduction by 2030. The results were quickly felt—more people were laid off and thrown onto the street.
Madison, a hard-hit mining town, looked almost apocalyptic. Businesses were boarded up; its main street was dotted with McDonald’s restaurants and other fast-food franchises. They are the only ones capable of surviving in this little town which is on its last legs.
I met desperate mining families, people falling through the cracks, unemployed people unable to retrain and enter other job sectors. Some seemed almost ashamed to say they were going to vote for Trump.
Supporting Hillary was absolutely out of the question because the Democrats “destroyed our state.” Trump promised that he would revive the industry. They believed him.
The voters of this long-Democratic fallen coal kingdom threw themselves into Trump’s arms: 69 percent voted for him, while 26 percent chose Hillary.
Not all U.S. states are like West Virginia. Quite the opposite, actually. Obama will be leaving the country in a relatively good state: unemployment below 5 percent, satisfactory economic growth.
So why are white men so angry? Where did this tsunami come from to destroy the polls and other analyses that blindsided us with their predictions of a Clinton victory?
How can we explain Trump’s triumph? What happened on Tuesday? Was it the visceral suspicion of Americans rejecting the traditional political elite? “We should add reality TV, social networks, and the emotional bond between Trump and his electoral base,” said Charles-Philippe David, president of a United States research center at the University of Quebec at Montreal.
Be that as it may, why vote for Trump, who lied through his teeth, promising everything and anything, a model misogynist, a racist who wants to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. a billionaire who boasts about not having paid taxes in years and who has often gone bankrupt? Why? Who knows? I’m just as stumped as you.
Now what? Trump’s party controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate — all of Congress. He’ll also get his mitts on the Supreme Court. One of the nine seats is vacant. You don’t need supernatural powers to know he’ll name ultraconservative judges.
Will Trump pursue his agenda? Build the infamous wall? Hunt down illegal immigrants? Wield a hatchet to free trade agreements? Challenge abortion rights legalized in 1973? Withdraw from the international coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria?
Will he be unpredictable, inappropriate, and dangerous? Or pressured by the burdens of responsibility, will he decide not to be an international hell-raiser and destroy Obama’s legacy?
“I don’t believe Trump will change,” said David. “Do you really think he’ll say, ‘Did you really believe everything I said during the election campaign?'”
It’s truly the stuff of nightmares. Who will stop this man? Who can oppose Trump when he controls all the levers of power?
“Opposition will come from within the Republican Party,” said David. “The moderates versus the radicals.”
So opposition will come from within his own entourage. There will be some lovely family squabbles to look forward to, fortunately for democracy.
Trump’s election is part of the backlash and the wave of populism spreading across Europe. The United Kingdom turned its back on the European Union in June after its notorious Brexit referendum. Yesterday, Americans had their own Brexit: backwardness, protectionism, anti-immigration, fear …
In an article published in La Presse, political scientist Jean-Herman Guay discussed the dangers of the alarmist refrain, “Everything is going wrong, everything is going very wrong.” The rise of extremism has spread far and wide thanks to this kind of scaremongering. Austria flirted with the extreme right, which nearly took power, and Marine Le Pen’s meteoric rise is threatening France’s traditional parties. Now this wave of extremism has hit the United States at full tilt.
These alarmists call for “extreme solutions” and a “radical, determined leader,” said Guay. Its roots are in, among other things, social media and “this post-truth world, where emotions are more important than arguments.”
Trump has made it his bread and butter. Half of Americans voted for him. They think things will get better. They believe in him, a man who shamelessly spouted bald-faced lies during the election campaign. And that’s the worst part.