No one, except Donald Trump himself, predicted a Donald Trump victory – making that the first time in this whole, disgusting electoral process that he was right about something.
Like most politically-minded folk, I watched the U.S. presidential campaign with morbid fascination. I read hundreds of think-pieces about Trump and whatever his “appeal” was. A few stick; he says it like it is (he doesn’t, but he says it with conviction and doesn’t sound like a politician, so close enough); Washington needs an outsider (true in the political sense, and reinforced by Bernie Sanders popularity / Jeb Bush’s abject failure); he’s a man of the people (not true by any definition); Americans, in particular white Americans, are drawn to an authoritarian figure in times of great change (hard to argue after watching the campaign); he’s not politically correct (true… and Americans, as we all know, don’t like to be told how to think, act, or behave).
Trump, curiously, may be a very small part of the equation that led to an deluded, racist old man to the White House. The rise of the “alt-right” and the straight-up fabrication of news has played a huge part and will continue to do so for politics (and society) going forward. Trump’s campaign manager and chairman of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, is a conspiracy theorist, and likely the next Chief of Staff. His wildly popular site makes claims hilarious to those who check their sources or… have common sense… but it resonates with a portion of the American electorate. Somehow. Take a look at a few examples.
Bannon and people of his ilk live in a post-fact world, and there have been countless pieces of journalism chronicling this new phenomenon and the countless problems it presents. It played a huge role in vilifying Hillary Clinton, who while not an ideal candidate was nothing like the monster she was made out to be. However, while these sites could tear down Clinton, they could not build up Trump; Americans knew of his countless indiscretions, and simply chose to ignore them.
That fact is the hardest to explain. Somehow, American voters thought that either Clinton was worse than Trump, or they liked his message more than they disliked his countless transgressions. I don’t know which is more disturbing.
Because of this judgement, America – and indeed the world – has become a much more dangerous place.
Canada & America
As long as I can remember, the difference between Canadians and Americans has always felt minimal. Canadians don’t love guns as much, were always a little more left leaning, and prefer hockey to other sports. But last Canadian election, the Harper Government’s late attempt to drum up support with the niqab citizenship issue drew near universal condemnation and hurt his support. Trump’s countless prejudices and racist/sexist rhetoric left his support largely unchanged, and brought racism back into the mainstream (or at the very least emboldened racists, whose views had been pushed to the fringes of society). Pictures and reports coming out of the U.S. since paint a disturbing picture, as children – surprise, surprise – have taken to this. It’s legitimately heartbreaking to see that Trump has given these thugs an outlet, but he has – intentional or not (and for the record, I would say it was unintentional, as he has proven time and time again that he is not a man who considers his behaviour and its consequences).
Canada is not a perfect, place, free of racism and sexism. But the levels that undoubtedly grip much of America are hard for many of us to understand.
Even before election day, Trump’s cavalier attitude towards decorum and decency has made hate much more acceptable and open in the United States. It’s as if all those faceless commenters on YouTube and news websites are no longer ashamed to live in the shadows.
Preaching to the Converted
A lot has been written about the echo chambers that exist in modern society. You don’t like a view point? You can tune it out.
There were countless takedowns of Trump, but who cares, really? We already knew he was a bad guy with dangerous ideas. It just made those on the left hate him more.
I think it’s been understated how the “mainstream media” (whatever that is, exactly) has actually emboldened Trump’s cause. As pieces and coverage of Trump got more insulting (because, well, he got worse), the same questions kept arising: who could support this guy, and how stupid are these people?
While valid questions, repeatedly making fun of someone for holding an opinion and making them the butt of every joke emboldens them. If I was a Trump supporter and watched The Daily Show go to a Trump rally and laugh at their ignorance, am I really likely to change my vote?
And while the mainstream media is far more accurate that partisan pages on either side of the political spectrum, they’ve hammered away with a certain incredulousness at Trump support. No one likes to be told they’re stupid, especially if they are.
— Cal Perry (@calmsnbc) November 11, 2016
Trump: The New Hitler?
Trump’s rise and its parallels to Hitler’s are numerous and difficult to ignore, which has sent shockwaves throughout America and the world.
There is one big difference though – Hitler was a serious man and meant what he said. Trump is not a serious man and has no actual ideology or plan (as far as we know).
His most appalling ideas – like mass deportations and tagging Muslims – sounded more like a racist, cranky old man spit-balling than a dangerous ideologue who wanted to return to an all-white America.
“He doesn’t really mean it” and “he doesn’t really care” is all America has to hold onto.
Did Trump even want this?
Watching Trump’s acceptance speech was a strange experience. Here he was – the greatest underdog to ever win the Presidency, which he told us he was going to do all along – and yet he was strangely subdued. He thanked people, talked about repairing America’s infrastructure (?!), and credited Clinton with running a tough race.
I don’t think he wanted to win. Trump is a craven narcissist who did this for attention, but he had no plan to actually succeed; he just wanted to further his brand. Now he sits in the world’s most powerful office with no plan and no idea what he’s actually doing. He’s made a lot of promises and he’ll finally have to answer the question most of us were asking all along: how?
So, it’s all going to be okay, right?
I really like the website Wait, But Why. The site’s founder, Tim Urban, wrote an article shortly after this election telling the world things are going to be okay.
I hope so. But I doubt it.
Best case – best case – America and the world becomes a worse place. Extremism will be on the rise, and racial tensions will worsen (they already have). Perhaps Trump’s motley crew of sycophants will move the country back a generation or two, but it will survive, and learn a valuable lesson (assuming it’s not underwater by then, as Trump doesn’t believe in climate change).
But if Trump means any of the things he says, America is staring into the abyss. It’s a scary thing to even consider. The Republicans, in control of all levels of government, have proven they are soulless, power-hungry opportunists who don’t actually stand for anything.
I’ve never felt scared for the future before, and I’m a white, middle-class Canadian man.