Backwards - where America goes next
Farai Chideya asks a poignant question on the FiveThirtyEight podcast today: "What's going to happen to the people in the little black hamlet outside a white trailer park"? As a result of Donald J Trump's propulsion to the White House, people feel "permission to act" aggressively to one another and we "no longer seem able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes". Yet she and the other podcast contributors, who otherwise did a marvellous job of covering the election, end their analysis upbeat that America will somehow find a way through the divides and bitterness. I disagree.
In the short term, the Democratic Party is as crushed as the UK Labour Party, defeated by the same social and economic conditions, and by their own timid response. The Democrats have allowed Trump to create a new base for the Republican Party. He has brought in non-college educated whites and it is difficult to see how the Democrats win that group back without a more progressive message that is somehow elevated above the concerns about immigration and race. That is entirely possible, if their next candidate is more able to articulate such a message, as opposed to stand on stage with a bunch of celebrities in the days leading up to the vote - one of several Clinton missteps (along with ignoring Sanders as running mate).
Clare Malone points out that while nationally women voted in higher numbers for Clinton, those without a college degree opted for Trump, which indicates that class is arguably driving the election results, followed by race and then gender, and perhaps in that order. Trump ran on a "grievance ticket" that spoke to the concerns of middle-to-low income families in the rust belt.
Yet I believe the hurdles are even higher still. The Trump victory says just as much about the constitutional weaknesses of the US system of democracy and of systemic failure. Clinton won more votes than Trump, yet lost due to the anachronistic electoral college. Voter suppression is back thanks to the overt power of the US Supreme Court and the way the constitution allows that institution to be composed - judges are appointed by politicians rather than by an independent body. To that end, the Supreme Court has struck down key elements of the Voting Rights Act, which has given a free hand to states that want to introduce racially driven voter ID laws and withdraw funds for polling stations in minority neighbourhoods.
I do not share the presumption that America "shall overcome". From 20th January 2017, the US will have a Republican Party in charge of both Congress and the White House, and with the gerrymandered House and Senate races favourable to them in 2018, the country is likely to see the most sustained shift towards conservatism for a century. Make no mistake, American democracy is under assault and it will take another movement akin to the 1960s civil rights marches, aligned with smart politicians able to speak to a wider audience, to arrest the backwards steps that America is about to undertake. What that movement will look like and how it will inspire whites on low incomes remains to be seen. It may not even be possible.