A remarkably diverse array of “explanations” of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory have been aired, representing both the conventional political spectrum and well beyond.
Let’s start with the conventional mainstream media “explanations”:
#1: Trump was elected by intolerant Americans, i.e. “deplorables” who are intolerant of immigrants, Muslims, women’s rights, gays, etc. while being overly attached to firearms and the Christian religion.
This sort of broad-brush slander is emotionally appealing to those who lost the election, as it enables the losing party to claim the high moral ground. (It’s also classic propaganda, a topic Chris addressed in a recent series.) But it overlooks the many Progressives who voted for Trump but did not dare announce their choice to their hysterically intolerant Democratic loyalist friends. For example, consider this female voter’s account: Liberals Should Stop Ranting And Seek Out Silent Trump Voters Like Me.
Another "explanation", though satisfying in terms of self-righteousness, has no credible explanatory value.
#2: Trump didn’t win the election, Hillary Clinton lost it.
This “explanation” constructs a narrative from polling data: African-American voters did not turn out for Hillary in the same high percentages as they did for President Obama, a surprising number of higher income households voted for Trump, etc. If Hillary had drawn the expected percentages of voters, she would have won.
This “explanation” explains nothing, as it ignores the larger issues that drove voters to vote or not vote.
#3: The unprotected Americans (to use Peggy Noonan’s term) who have seen their incomes and security decline in the age of neoliberal globalization voted for Trump to reject globalism, unfettered immigration and free trade.
This narrative is ably dissected in this 5-part series from Spiegel.de: Inequality, Market Chaos and Angry Voters: A Turning Point for Globalization
In the U.S. media, this narrative is typically characterized as a sports event: the “losers” of neoliberal globalization struck back at the “winners.”
This explanation draws upon well-established economic trends: sharply rising inequality, the hollowing out of the Rust Belt and rural economies in “flyover” America, etc.
#4: Trump’s victory is another manifestation of the global revolt against elites.
Defenders of the status quo—broadly speaking, neoliberalism’s financial “winners” and the ruling elites—are quick to equate outbreaks of populism with the dreaded scourge of fascism. In the defenders’ accounts, the rightist, nationalistic populism of the 1930s led directly to fascism.
The article titles in the December 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs summarize the conventional characterization of populism as reactionary and dangerous–never mind that populism can also be leftist (look at the anti-globalist movement) or largely apolitical:
- Populism on the March: Why the West Is In Trouble
- Trump and American Populism: Old Whine, New Bottles
- Populism Is Not Fascism, But It Could Be a Harbinger
There are few if any positive words for populist movements in these essays, and precious little recognition of populism’s potential to upend a grossly corrupt, inefficient and self-serving global elite—an elite that richly deserves to be cashiered.
While the mainstream media grudgingly admits that the ruling elites paid little attention to soaring income and wealth inequality, or to globalism’s “losers,” the answer to defenders of the status quo is the usual grab-bag of policy tweaks that leave the ruling elites and their media apologists firmly in charge.
#5: Trump has been set up as the fall-guy for an economy that is teetering on the edge of recession or even depression. The coming recession/depression will discredit Trump and the populist/nationalist movement, setting the stage for the neoliberal globalists to return triumphantly to power in four years.
While many of us wouldn’t put such nefarious scheming past the globalist elites, this doesn’t quite align with the reality that virtually everyone, mainstream or alternative, left or right, dismissed Trump’s presidential campaign as a media-circus sideshow staged by a narcissist.
Since virtually no one expected him to win when he entered the race, why would globalists support him when their candidate, Hillary Clinton, was a shoo-in? Rather than pick him as a fall-guy for an economic depression, the claim that he was picked by globalists as an easy target for defeat (another alternative media narrative) makes more sense.
But the reality is nobody could predict Trump’s victory, and theories based on the idea that he was set up as a fall-guy presume the globalists rigged the election for their candidate (Hillary) to lose. Why install a “dangerous” populist when you could install your candidate?
#6: The Clinton campaign was a “quiet coup” of corrupt elites intent on solidifying the merger of private-sector/philanthro-capitalist pay-for-play and government functions. A “counter-coup” staged by elements of the Deep State (i.e. the unelected permanent government that remains in power regardless of which party is in office) foiled Clinton’s quiet coup.
As farfetched as this might sound, Clinton insider Sidney Blumenthal accused the FBI of staging a “coup” by reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails.
While I didn’t use the inflammatory word “coup,” I have outlined the possibility that more forward-looking elements of the Deep State concluded neoliberalism, neoconservative intervention (i.e. endless wars of choice) and institutionalized pay-to-play corruption threatened the security of the nation and had to be thwarted at the ballot box: Why the Deep State Is Dumping Hillary.
While there is little public evidence of this power struggle—the Deep State doesn’t operate in the public gaze—there are plenty of circumstantial clues that the Deep State is not a monolith of neocon neoliberalism.
Conclusion (to Part 1)
Can we summarize these narratives (some competing, some overlapping) in any instructive fashion? I think we can roughly divide them into three categories:
- Moral claims: the neoliberal “progressives” are morally superior to the “deplorables” and so the neoliberals (the remarkably intolerant “tolerants”) deserved to win on moral grounds; alternatively, the pay-to-play Clinton camp is ethically bankrupt and its claims to the moral high ground are hypocritical.
- Elite machinations: insiders either set up Trump as the easy-to-beat opponent or as the fall-guy for the coming depression; alternatively, the Deep State was split into two camps, the neocons who backed Hillary and the insurgents who saw Hillary as a threat to national security.
- Structural economic/social issues: rising wealth/income inequality and the decline of the bottom 95% finally had political consequences.
In Part 2: Why The Ruling Elite Are Becoming Frightened, we examine a hybrid argument that synthesizes each of these categories in a single narrative that explains well what is likely truly going on: The masses have (finally!) reached the point where the pain of maintaining the status quo now exceeds that of breaking it. A People's Coup has been set in motion, of which the election of Trump is just an early example of the unexpected and jarring surprises that lie ahead.
What will this coup look like? Will it succeed?