We all knew this day would come. The day after the 2016 US Presidential Elections. We knew there would be one group of people greeting this day either in excited jubilation, or, at the very least, a sigh of relief. We knew there would be another group of people who would face this day in disappointment or even dread. There is a third group, those who couldn’t care less, but since they are indifferent, it is unlikely they would even read what I have to say. This letter isn’t for them. It’s not even for the celebratory group. It’s for you who are scratching your heads in stunned disillusionment wondering how in the world America ever came to this.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to see many of my FB friends from Europe and Oceania expressing their stunned disbelief at the election results. Just yesterday, I was reading a Time magazine article that said, of the world’s nations, only Russia and China were supportive of the idea of a Trump presidency. The article, a compilation of submissions from Time’s correspondents around the globe, was refreshingly candid about why different groups felt the way they did – and the reason was almost always cultural. The Russians and Chinese, accustomed to authoritarian leadership, respected Trump’s “take charge” attitude. Europeans, who lean toward socialist democracy, identified with Clinton’s left-leaning politics, although there were pockets of Trump supporters among the far right European groups: the National Front in France, the Independence Party in the U.K., and the Dutch Party for Freedom. The one region with a marked divide in support was, not surprisingly, the Middle East, although the divide was different than you might think. While Jewish Israelis and Arabs throughout the region were strong on their support of Clinton, Israelis with dual American citizenship gave Trump a slight edge because of his open support of Israel and his endorsement of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Time, Nov. 8, 2016)
To be honest, I didn’t see Donald Trump having a snowball’s chance in perdition of victory, not even during the day yesterday. As the numbers came in, I could not allow myself to indulge in more than cautious optimism. But for weeks now, I haven’t been able to get 1980 out of my head. There were just too many parallels. We had an ineffective liberal president in the Oval Office who only paid lip service to his favored special interest groups and ignored the rest of America. We had a long-shot non-politician as the Republican candidate being lambasted as a loose cannon who would start World War III the instant he got his finger on the nuclear button. For the first time in ages, there was a vocal movement to vote third party. And until just before the election, the polls were showing a significant projected margin of victory for the Democrat. Even Iran’s feeble attempt to threaten American voters is a parallel – over the U.S. Embassy hostages in 1980, and over the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal in this election. If you are too young or were too uninterested at the time to have followed the 1980 election, I highly recommend you read up on it. You’ll be amazed at how similar it sounds to the last 18 months or so.
There is one other parallel to 1980 that I have only alluded to so far. I did that on purpose because, dear reader, it answers your question. You want to know how Donald Trump got elected? It happened because, just like in 1980, the Democrats attempted to disenfranchise what one of the election night commentators (I forget which; I bounced around so many different news outlets last night) called “John and Mary Q. Public.” These are people who usually either don’t vote at all, or don’t normally vote as a bloc. Despite what the media has been trying to tell you (remember, on August 28 of this year, CNN’s Chris Cuomo openly admitted “We couldn’t help [Hillary Clinton] any more than we have.”) (Morefield, 2016), John and Mary Q. Public transcend race and socio-economic status. They are the nameless, faceless Americans who just want to make it through the day and from paycheck to paycheck. Under normal circumstances, they don’t care about politics or politicians and only want to be left alone to live out their lives as they see fit. They are what Richard Nixon called “the silent majority,” and usually they are just that – silent.
Only one thing awakens this sleeping giant and gets them to the polls – anger. And the usual source of that anger is the feeling (regardless of whether or not it’s justified) that they’re being denigrated by one party or the other. This year, I have had the privilege of having frank discussions with voters of all races, tax brackets, ages, and education levels. If there is one thing people particularly resent, it’s being told that “Because you’re an X, you must support Y.” Even today, my stomach was churning at being told that “college-educated women supported Clinton.” (Full disclosure: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and am currently working on my Master’s Degree in Public Administration.) Uh, I didn’t support Clinton. Nor did many other college-educated women I know. And among us, not a single one appreciated it being assumed that we did. But I digress.
Back to John and Mary Q. Public. Over the past 8 years, they’ve seem their lives become more difficult. One, or perhaps both of them, either lost their job between 2008 and 2010, or had their hours/pay reduced. Then came the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Where they once had adequate health care partially subsidized by their employer, the ACA took that away because to continue to offer health care coverage to their employees would bankrupt the company. Or perhaps they had private insurance coverage that, again, while not ideal, was manageable. Or they decided that, for whatever reason, they couldn’t or wouldn’t purchase health care coverage and take the risk that they wouldn’t need it. It was their freedom to choose, and the ACA took it away. To add insult to injury, the ACA put the universally-despised Internal Revenue Service in charge of verifying that all Americans have health care coverage, lest they pay penalties when they submit their required annual tax returns. When it became clear that Americans were opting to pay the fines because it was more affordable than the premiums on the Obamacare plans, the government increased the fines. On October 24, less than three weeks before yesterday’s election, it was announced that premiums for ACA healthcare plans would soar another 22% on average, compared to an average 7% increase the year before. Let me say that again: a 22% increase on average. In Arizona (a state whose election results are still unconfirmed as of this writing), the average premium for next year will increase by a whopping 116%. (Luhbi, 2016) And so many underwriters of Obamacare plans have opted out of the program rather than go bankrupt that many Americans only have one choice of healthcare plan. Where’s the freedom in that? Where’s the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”? When people can’t support their families because they’re forced at legislative gunpoint to feed a bloated governmental Jabba the Hutt, they’re going to take action, especially if the party in power adds fuel to the fire by providing free health care to favored special interest groups but not to them. This isn’t a race thing or an immigration thing or an anything “thing.” It’s simple human nature to want to provide basic needs for your family. When your government tells you that others can get special treatment but you can’t just because you don’t have a coalition or a lobby or a non-governmental agency presenting you as a victim, you’re going to be upset and justifiably so.
Please understand that I’m not talking about the truly needy: the destitute, those who cannot provide for themselves because of physical or mental impairment or the very young and very old without families who can provide support. John and Mary Q Public understand that. Despite what you may have read during this election cycle, they’re not stupid. But they are fed up. They’re fed up with members of special interest groups being provided food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare all for free while veterans and those receiving Social Security get shafted. They’re tired of being told that they can’t display the American flag in their own country because it “might offend someone.” They look back to a time (that many remember, or at least heard about first-hand) when 18- and 19-year-olds took up arms, fought and sometimes died for the sake of freedom in places like Normandy, Sicily, North Africa, Italy, Germany, seas and islands throughout the South Pacific, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Then they see 18- and 19-year-olds at home clamoring for “safe spaces” because someone scrawled a candidate’s name in chalk on a college sidewalk. (Seriously, is this current generation of young adults so collectively sheltered and spoiled that none of them realized all you needed to make that scrawl go away forever was the contents of their ever-present water bottle?)
I’ve left out several things on purpose: the allegations of racism, of misogyny, of inappropriate language caught on a hot mike, of lawbreaking (or, at least, egregiously bending) and of sexual scandal. Despite what many would have you believe, there’s enough to go around on both sides. Neither candidate was squeaky-clean. Not everything said about either candidate was true, nor was everything said about either candidate false. And dang it, if there’s one thing I’m sick of, it’s the inevitable litany of accusers who are silent as the grave on some wealthy public figure for decades until lo and behold, this figure is leading in the polls and gaining momentum among the undecided public. Then, as soon as support dries up and goes away, so do the accusers. This has happened for at least the last three elections (probably for longer) and enough is enough. I don’t believe in coincidences and this pattern has happened far too consistently for me to give the benefit of the doubt. I’ve also decided not to mention single-issue voters – those who choose a candidate solely based on their stance on religious freedom, abortion, immigration, foreign policy, the Supreme Court, what they look like, etc. These are people whose vote was decided long ago and are not germane to this discussion.
Finally, what John and Mary Q. Public were thinking was this. On one side, we have four more years of what’s been going on the last eight. President Obama said that a vote for Clinton was an endorsement and continuation of Obama’s legacy. Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and all the other candidates offered themselves as alternatives. Even though Bernie Sanders gave Clinton and Ted Cruz gave Trump their endorsements, many of their supporters could not stomach voting for the person whom they saw as denying their candidate a “fair chance” at the nomination. Like John Anderson did in 1980, the third party vote wound up tilting the Electoral College vote for the Republicans. In the last Presidential Debate of the 1980 cycle, Ronald Reagan famously advised voters to ask themselves “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign team famously paraphrased Reagan’s question into a statement: “It’s the economy, stupid.” How ironic that in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s anticipated coronation was halted by the same sentiment. John and Mary Q. Public decided that no, they are not better off now than they were eight years ago (whether it was because of the economy or any other reason that mattered to them).
So to my friends both here in America and overseas who are disappointed and dismayed at the outcome of the election, believe me when I say that I’ve been in your place. I was there in 1992, in 1996, in 2008, and again in 2012. The last election was the worst for me; I honestly didn’t believe that America would survive another four years of Barack Obama’s policies. I was wrong. For those of you who think that America cannot survive four years of a Donald Trump administration, I have every confidence that history will prove you wrong, too. Don’t despair. Get involved. Start caring about your government, not just the White House, but your Congressional delegation, too. Your Governor, your state senators and representatives, and your local governments. Attend city council and county commission meetings. Our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. And guess what – you ARE the people. But if you don’t do something, someone else will. Remember that. Don’t let discouragement turn into disinterest – let it be your motivation to do better next time.
And for all those who can’t understand how America can be Germany in 1933 all over again, it’s because we aren’t. We’re America in 1980. God bless us all, and God help us all.
Luhbi, Tami (October 25, 2016). Obamacare Premiums to soar 22%. CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2016/10/24/news/economy/obamacare-premiums/
Morefield, Scott (August 12, 2016). CNN’s Cuomo comes right out and admits it: ‘We couldn’t help Hillary any more than we have’. Bizpac Review. Retrieved from http://www.bizpacreview.com/2016/08/12/cnns-cuomo-comes-right-admits-couldnt-help-hillary-377744
Time Magazine (November 8, 2016). What the World Thinks About the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Retrieved from http://time.com/4560936/election-2016-europe-china-russia-middle-east/