Why Donald Trump won

Donald Trump has been elected to be the next U.S. president.[1] His Democratic Party opponent, Hillary Clinton, has conceded.[2] And on Facebook, I’m being accused of schadenfreude.

But to understand how I feel about this situation, one has to begin with the facts that 1) I haven’t been able to find gainful employment in fifteen years, 2) Clinton enthusiastically supported her husband’s policies when he was president that exacerbated the calamity I find myself in, 3) in those fifteen years, I have returned to school, finished a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, and a Ph.D., and it’s still only crickets in response to my job applications, and 4) there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to change that. I’m fifty-seven years old. Eight more years of Clinton presidency, neoconservatism, and neoliberalism would leave me sixty-five years old, still with no job, still with no savings, still with no pension, and still with no hope. I would then be eight years closer to when my mother has to sell her house so she can move into assisted care and when I will be homeless.

It’s apparent that a lot of people who supported Clinton think that’s just fine. The status quo is, for them, good enough.

But what’s also apparent is that I’m not alone, that a lot of working class whites have had their lives destroyed in a society that often seems to focus ever more on other subaltern groups while social inequality continues to widen.[3] What’s really going on here is something a number of critical theorists have pointed to. Yes, working class whites are mistaken in taking out their angst on other subaltern groups.[4]

But while members of those other subaltern groups talk incessantly about white privilege and male privilege, they too often fall conspicuously silent on the differences between rich and poor. And the rich play subaltern groups off against each other to divert attention from the role of the wealthy in social inequality.[5] While it may have become less acceptable, Trump’s campaign notwithstanding, to be racist or sexist, as a society, we have embraced a war on the poor, that scapegoats them, that holds them as examples of what happens to people who do not (or cannot) conform,[6] holds them to an entirely different set of legal standards than it does the rich,[7] damages poor individuals, their families, and their communities with incarceration,[8] and keeps them poor with an economic system that privileges the rich by allowing the rich the greater power to say no, leaving the poor entirely at the mercy of the rich.[9]

To be sure, many of the policies deployed against the poor also afflict non-whites, especially Blacks. And they do so especially at the intersection of poverty and race.

But when we presume working class whites to be racist or misogynistic or any of a number of other ‘ists,’ we in fact do the wealthy’s work for them by reifying the differences between working class whites and other subaltern groups. It is the division between all these groups that gives the wealthy their power and that is a power that they are determined to retain.[10] Trump’s election, then, should be understood not only as an insurgency in the primary campaign against a Republican elite that exploited social grievances and then failed to deliver, but as a backlash against 1) the Democratic Party that abandoned working class whites, 2) elites whose policies have exported well-paying jobs,[11] and, if they replaced those jobs at all, did so with poorly paid service sector work,[12] and 3) an ‘othering’ of working class whites that excludes them from social movements that they rationally should support.

Quite apart from all the doubts about Clinton as an individual, I also perceived in her campaign a smug self-righteousness. As I drove through Sebastopol today, I noticed a large sign that (wrongly) presumed the electoral outcome, emblazened with the words “Madame President.” But contrary to the hopes that so many women invested in that campaign, Clinton campaigned for the presidency not because it was past time for a woman to occupy the highest office in the land, or even because she could articulate well the fact that it was past time, but because, having lost to Barack Obama in 2008, she believed it was her turn.[13] This was also a smug self-righteousness that really, the status quo, with its glacial and non-threatening pace of change, would be good enough.

For folks in Sebastopol, I have little doubt that that glacial pace of change is indeed good enough. They are mostly quite well off. And for them, the election of a woman as president would be another milestone to celebrate.

But social inequality in this country has become a crisis.[14] For those of us on the wrong side of this injustice, Clinton’s supporters have forgotten something that I think Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”[15]

In my case, at fifty-seven years of age, nearing the end of what should be my working years, that glacial pace of change simply won’t do.

  1. [1]Tierney Sneed, “Trump wins in stunner,” Talking Points Memo, November 9, 2016, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/trump-wins-the-presidency
  2. [2]Lauren Fox, “Reports: Clinton Conceded To Trump Over The Phone,” Talking Points Memo, November 9, 2016, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/clinton-conceded-to-trump-over-the-phone
  3. [3]Michael Lerner, “Psychopathology in the 2016 Election,” Tikkun, November 3, 2016, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/psychopathology-in-the-2016-election-3
  4. [4]Scott Sernau, Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006).
  5. [5]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,'” March 15, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2012/03/15/we-need-know-how-it-works
  6. [6]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995).
  7. [7]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  8. [8]Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: New Press, 2011).
  9. [9]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.
  10. [10]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,'” March 15, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2012/03/15/we-need-know-how-it-works
  11. [11]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  12. [12]Scott Sernau, Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006).
  13. [13]Gail Sheehy, “The Women Who Should Love Hillary Clinton,” New York Times, January 29, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/opinion/campaign-stops/why-dont-boomer-women-like-hillary-clinton.html
  14. [14]Michael Lerner, “Psychopathology in the 2016 Election,” Tikkun, November 3, 2016, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/psychopathology-in-the-2016-election-3
  15. [15]Martin Luther King, Jr., actually included a quotation, “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” that he attributed to an unnamed “distinguished jurist.” Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations tentatively attributes the form, “[j]ustice delayed is justice denied,” to William Ewart Gladstone. John Bartlett, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 17th ed., ed. Justin Kaplan (New York: Little, Brown, 2002), 472; Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” University of Pennsylvania, April 16, 1963, http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

10 thoughts on “Why Donald Trump won”

  1. @benfell Thanks for writing this. I thought the race was mostly about the use of fear tactics to allow the candidates to make the case “vote for me or you’re stuck with him / her” … between the star of a once popular TV series and one of the most widely disliked #pollies of the past 50 years. I voted for neither and frankly thought she would win despite twentyfive years of scandals.

  2. @lnxw48 That’s a pretty common view and, frankly, it’s not at all wrong. The two-party system facilitates a “lesser of evils” mentality that focuses exclusively on the horrors of the other candidate and ignores the horrors of one’s own candidate. Which is, I believe, a major reason why candidates have gotten steadily worse.

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