How did Trump win the presidency of the United States? It’s a question a lot of stunned Democrats are asking themselves today. Just 24 hours before Donald Trump startled the world by winning the 2016 election, virtually every major election poll – including ABC News, Reuters, CNN, Fox News, NBC News and CBS News – had Hillary Clinton with a comfortable lead.
In full disclosure, it should be noted that the author of this article was as wrong as everyone else about who was going to win the 2016 election. It seemed inconceivable there were enough votes out there to put a demagogue like Donald Trump in the White House. And the pre-election polls seemed to back that up
According to CNN, Hillary Clinton apparently will manage to barely win the popular vote, but she lost the electoral college by a shockingly wide margin. So, all the polls, experts, and pre-election predictions were about as wrong as possible.
So How Did Trump Win?
Even though the rise of Donald Trump himself seems like a recent phenomenon – with him jumping onto the political scene in a big way only a little over a year ago – the foundations of the Donald Trump win yesterday were laid years ago and only reinforced in recent weeks.
The most obvious and immediate answer as to why victory for Hillary Clinton turned into defeat is that the letter from FBI Director James Comey regarding the so-called “Hillary Clinton email scandal” stripped away a good deal of Clinton’s support.
As reported by CNN, the letter was sent quite publicly to congressional Republicans only 11 days before the election, leaving Clinton with little time to recover from its effect. Certainly, this interference in the election process had an enormous impact on the outcome.
But this answer could be viewed as an easy way to dodge the underlying issues. What is it that made a large percentage of the American public so receptive to even the slightest suggestion of anti-Hillary Clinton news, while at the same time allowing them to ignore – or even embrace – the offensive things Donald Trump said and did?
Trump Tapped into Anger and Angst
Nineteenth-century German philosophers coined the word “zeitgeist” to describe the mood, mindset, and beliefs of people at a given point in history. Donald Trump – like other demagogues before him – seems to have very effectively tapped into the zeitgeist of rural and Rust Belt America.
Many white Americans have come to believe they are somehow under siege. And to a certain extent, there is some truth in this. Middle-class America – including whites, blacks, and Hispanics – is slowly disappearing, as are many of the good paying blue-collar manufacturing jobs so many families used to depend on.
According to NBC News, many people viewed Hillary Clinton as part of the establishment that allowed this to happen. The remarkable thing is Donald Trump – in many ways – is even more establishment than Clinton. But despite the fact he’s a billionaire, he managed to convince voters working minimum-wage jobs that he’s on their side.
Failure of Democratic Voters
When asking “how did Trump win,” it’s important to flip the question and ask “how did Clinton lose?” As obvious as it might seem, Clinton lost because not enough Democrats voted for her. This isn’t meant to sound flippant.
The simple fact is, many of the people who were expected to vote for Hillary Clinton – and who even said they were going to vote for her in the polls – failed to do so in sufficient numbers to clinch the election for her.
For instance, Hispanic voters were expected to come out in droves to vote for Hillary Clinton because of the highly inflammatory and racist statements Donald Trump had made – often referring to Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. But when the votes were tallied, these voters seem to have only turned out in significant numbers in Nevada.
Women were supposed to have voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. And while she did get the majority of the women’s vote in the 2016 election, the percentage wasn’t nearly as high as was expected – particularly among college-educated women. This just wasn’t enough to offset the huge advantage Trump had among men.
So the turnout for Clinton was simply too low. In this election, many Democrats decided to stay home and do nothing.
Edmund Burke once wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Rise of the American Xenophobe
The question of “how did Trump win” might also be rephrased as “how did Trump win the white vote?” Despite the best efforts of the Donald Trump campaign to pretend otherwise, a good deal of his support was based on racism and xenophobia. Trump even had the enthusiastic support of the KKK.
It often happens in societies under stress that they choose one or more minority groups to blame for all their troubles. In 1930s Germany, Jews, homosexuals, and Communists were all blamed for Germany’s economic and political problems, despite the fact they really had nothing to do with it.
The rising tide of racism and xenophobia in the United States has also chosen its targets. In this country and century, the groups supposedly responsible for the problems of white America are Mexicans, Muslims and inner-city blacks. Although Fox News and other right-wing outlets fanned the flame of such hatred, Donald Trump actually harnessed it to get to the White House.
George Orwell wrote, “If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”
How did Trump win? There is no simple answer. A confluence of factors, from manufactured email controversies to the paranoid rantings of talking heads on the right, made Donald Trump’s victory possible. But now the question is – with the White House and Republican majorities in the Senate and House – will Donald Trump do the things he has said he would do during the campaign? And will the country survive it if he does?
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]