Well, that was a long night. The surprise of the result has still not worn off for me and I am still trying to digest the news and the future implications. One issue that will be of interest is why the polls were so wrong, with the one exception of the Los Angeles Times that was the only one that predicted a Donald Trump lead in the final days. Another topic of discussion will be how Trump ignored much of the conventional wisdom of campaigning and won anyway. But those are issues of interest mostly to academics and the media. The questions that concern me are what drove the Trump win and where the country goes now.
It is clear that this was a major anti-establishment vote. Trump was opposed by most of the major players in the political, media, and business establishments, even those that traditionally supported Republicans. Hillary Clinton could not shake off being seen as part of the establishment even within the Democratic party, not that she tried that hard, and suffered for it.
But what do the Trump voters want from the person they elected and how much can he give them? Trump’s message on domestic issues was inchoate and often contradictory. But there are some things that he repeated that stick out in my mind: building the wall with Mexico, deporting all the 12 million or so undocumented immigrants, jailing Hillary Clinton, cutting the deficit, repealing Obamacare, stopping (or at last drastically reducing) the numbers of Muslims entering the country, halting the refugee resettlement program, renegotiating the TPP and other trade agreements, and bringing manufacturing jobs that were shipped overseas back into the country.
His foreign policy goals were vague. Loosening the alliances with other nations and getting NATO allies to pay more was the main one. He may succeed there. He says that he will defeat ISIS but since they were already on the decline, that may happen over time anyway even if he does nothing. What he will do with the Iran deal could be the sticking point. It is also unclear what he plans to do to extricate the US from the general mess that it helped create in the Middle East. His audiences did not seem to much care about foreign policy issues and he seemed to bring them up mainly as examples of the incompetence of American negotiators, so even if he does nothing in that area, his supporters may shrug it off. On the other hand, his vision of making America great that so appealed to his voters was premised on dominating other nations and he cannot afford to look too weak.
It is on the domestic promises that his voters will expect him to deliver and the question is what they expect him to do, what they will settle for, and how long they will wait to get it. He appealed to them using the ‘strong man’ trope, as someone who by sheer force can sweep aside all obstacles to achieving his will. He promised them big things and they clearly expect him to deliver. Given that Republicans also control the US Senate and House of Representatives, he will have little excuse for not delivering on his promises. Given his penchant for saying what appeals to his audience at any time and then making up stuff to justify it, we can expect more extravagant promises in the future.
While I am a generally optimistic person, I see dark days ahead. What is of concern to me is that Trump campaigned with a strong streak of misogyny, nativism, xenophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, and racism. This does not mean that all the people who voted for him share those values but many undoubtedly were willing to at least give him a pass on them and some were undoubtedly attracted by that undercurrent. That latter group will feel validated by the results and this will likely lead to considerable ugliness especially in the near future, the way that immigrant groups were openly harassed in the UK following the Brexit vote by those who felt that winning the vote gave them the license to do so. In the US, the ugliness will extend well beyond immigrant groups and include anyone who was seen as opposing Trump, and the most easily identifiable ones are the people of color.