The election is over, Donald J. Trump is now the President-elect of the United States and the inevitability of Hillary Clinton turned out not to be so inevitable after all. What went wrong?
As I had pointed out in previous posts for Africa on the Blog, African American support for Hillary Clinton has never been so great as mass media have imaged; this is particularly true when it comes to black millennial voters.
While blacks who showed up to vote favored Hillary Clinton over Trump (88% to Trump’s 8%), voter turnout among blacks was lower than it had been in previous presidential elections.
Lower Black Voter Turnout Had a Lot to Do With Successful Republican Efforts to Erode Voting Rights
While some people argue that this was due to the fact that Barack Obama was not at the top of the ticket this time, there is also compelling evidence that lower voter turnout for demographics that were likely to vote for Clinton reflects the effectiveness of Republican efforts to suppress black votes.
Most state governments in the United States are controlled by Republicans. State governments determine how accessible voting with be in different parts of the state. Polling places in African American neighborhoods, and in urban areas in general, tend to have long lines. Often people have to wait in line for hours before they can vote.
Ever since the Republican-dominated Supreme Court effectively gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which once assured that the voting rights of African Americans would be protected, state-issued IDs, which are increasingly required by Republican officials in order to vote, have been made inaccessible in counties with large African American populations — the state of Alabama is a textbook example of this practice.
To be sure, the Democrats have themselves to blame for the routing they experienced in the 2016. Democrats remain the minority party in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and have now lost the White House. As a result it is unlikely that Democratic Party appointees will be the majority on the Supreme Court for at least another generation. Republicans also control most of the governorships in the U.S., as well as state legislatures.
Attempts by some pundits to lay the blame for this on African Americans and millennials, for not turning out in large enough numbers to give the Democrats the victories they needed, misses the point. In addition to Republican suppression of minority voters, Democrats failed to deliver on an economic recovery, from the Great Recession of 2007-2010, in a way that could be felt by ordinary Americans. This includes black voters.
There Is Apprehension in the Air; Some People Are Already Fighting Back While Others Will Wait and See
While lots of people joked, after the election, about moving to Canada, that’s simply not in the cards for African Americans in the immediate future. It is more likely that people will wait to see how the Trump administration will turn out. Thus far Trump’s rhetoric toward African Americans has been a mixed bag; it has not been nearly as racially clueless as it has been toward Latinos.
Any movement to return to Africa is even less in the cards at this point. African Americans have been in North America for 400 years; their connections with the Motherland is symbolic at best. First generation Africans in America and non-native-born Black Americans, however, are another story. This population comprises about 12% of the total Black population in America. This population may find their status in the United States increasingly vulnerable, especially for recent immigrants and residents who are Muslim.
Right now, apart from a considerable number of protests, for most people there is a waiting game to see just what the Trump administration will do. At this point people are trying to distinguish between Trump’s words and his deeds. Many of his nominees, such as Stephen Bannon and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, for top posts in the U.S. government do not inspire much confidence. They have a history of engaging the politics of racial division, so stay tuned.
The Upshot in Brief
In addition to successful Republican efforts to erode the voting rights of African Americans there are 5 other points one must know in order to understand what happened in this election and what to anticipate in coming years:
Trump Does Not Have a Governing Mandate
1. Donald Trump, having lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.5 million votes while winning in the electoral college, where it really counts, does not have a mandate to govern. If he is wise, he will compromise with the Democrats and build consensus around any policy initiatives he pursues. In all likelihood he will not be wise, and he and the Republican Party will overreach, with disastrous results for the Trump administration, for the Republican Party and for the United States.
Clinton Did Not Demonstrate a Gut-Level Understanding of Widespread Economic Insecurity in the United States
2. Clinton was not effective in demonstrating a gut-level understanding of the frustration, alienation and anger many Americans are feeling about the economy and the status-quo, which translates to contempt for the elite. She never effectively connected with the anger of the millennials (black or white; male or female) and with displaced industrial workers.
Obama and Sanders’ Popularity with the Movement for Change was Non-Transferable
3. It was a mistake to assume that Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders owned the movement for change that voted for them. That movement’s voters and their enthusiasm could not be passed on to Clinton simply by an endorsement from Obama or Sanders. The movement is not owned by any one or two political personalities; rather, some political personalities have been more or less effective in tapping into this movement to boost their own campaigns. The movement remains diverse in its composition and independent of political “leaders”. The allegiance of the movement is non-transferable; it has to be earned. Members of the movement, informal as it is, have to believe that a candidate understands their plight and identifies with them. They did not get this feeling from Hillary Clinton.
White Male Working Class Identity Politics Is a Thing
4. Donald Trump tapped into the visceral anger and frustration with the economy and anger at the complacency of the elite. As much as mass media like to talk about black and female identity politics, there is also such a thing as white working and middle class male identity politics, which usually isn’t identified in this way. Donald Trump successfully tapped into white working and middle class male identity politics, and this boosted him.
The Vote May be Read as Yet Another Reaction Against Neoliberal Global Economics
5. Underlying all of the talk about identity politics, anger at the elite and frustration with the economy and the status quo, the underlying message of this election is that a good number of Americans — both Democrat and Republican, both left of center and right of center — are fed up with financial globalization, loss of national sovereignty, the effects of de-industrialization, neo-liberal economics, and neoconservative foreign policy, even if they don’t articulate it that way if you sit down and talk with them. They are fed up with the results, even if they cannot identify the cause. In this sense, the outcome of this election is not so much different from the Brexit vote last summer and frustration with rule by technocrats and bankers in the EU.