If you voted Trump, don’t expect too much. If you voted Clinton, the world is not at an end.
Candidly, I was 80% shocked and surprised, and about 20% merely reflective. What created these stats for me was last week’s blog, What’s the noise really all about?--a blog that defined populism and that has now become predictive of Trump’s success. Populists believe in their own virtue—and that they are being mistreated by a small circle of elites. Added to that belief is the view that “if we work together, we can overthrow those elites.” That just happened in our election. What’s unique is that Trump’s win is the first time populism has elected a president--even though populist ideas have impacted voting throughout American history.
American history of populism
This morning I rechecked the history of populism and gained a number of fascinating insights...
1840s and ‘50s…The Know-Nothings, native born protestants who reacted to the influx of Irish Catholic and German immigrants. Chose former President Millard Fillmore as their nominee, and he only won 21.6% of the vote.
1880s and ‘90s… A response to the unfettered capitalism of the Gilded Age. In 1892 Populist presidential candidate James B. Weaver won 8.5 percent of the vote. But it was downhill from there.
1930s…The Depression, which saw the meteoric rise of Huey P. Long and others who responded to the power of major corporations. Many of their ideas about expanding the role of government were put in place by FDR.
1950s and ‘60s…Populism took a hard right turn, reflected in Joseph McCarthy’s attempt to imprison “lefties.” In the 1960s, segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace played the working-class hero, snarling at "pointy-headed bureaucrats" and liberals. He ran for president in a third-party but received only 13.6% of the vote.
2008 to 2016…Financial crisis created an explosion of anger against Wall Street and Washington. It is reflected in the Tea Party’s anger at large government, immigration, and etc. Trump took their nativist anger and has become the first populist to gain presidential election.
Note: this is a white, nativist success. The election is ironic because Trump’s a member of the financial elite. Remember that populism is always first and foremost about who’s in control. Class, economics, race, immigration, and ETHICS are secondary.
Three very important things to remember:
This is a Washington loss, not a Republican win. In fact, both Democrats and Republicans actually lost the election. What Trump and his followers reinforced again and again was the need to “drain the swamp” (code language for Washington). Both parties have ignored labor and American workers for years and they’ve both now gotten their comeuppance. Both parties deserved it. Washington has done far too little for the Republic.
BTW: political consultants got shot in the ass. All of them, including the journalist and media, were way off the mark. Now Washington and (former) power people are going to pay the piper. The Trump win is going to revamp our way of doing politics. Even though painful to half the electorate, it’s not all bad.
The constraints upon the presidential office are very tight. A lot of Trump’s promises are pure fantasy. The courts and legislature have a terrific amount of control over presidential decisions. Worries about nuclear bombing are misplaced. Though profoundly narcissistic, he’s not brainless. He will have to deliver on at least some of his promises. Since there’s already bipartisan agreement, I suspect his comment about infrastructure needs will pay off quickly.
Context is far, far more important than personal disposition. Pop psychology reigns with both the public and the media. Both are unaware that context is always more powerful than individual psychology. Trump the deal-maker is not Trump the president. He’s going to be shocked, like every president, by the demands upon his life and time. He’s going to see the implications of every little decision very quickly and that context will reshape his identity. This is not wishful thinking. . . it’s fact. Even flaming narcissists get their comeuppance too. And the context is going to deliver that message to our next president. It’s feedback he’ll have to listen to.
When all is said and done about Trump and this election, you can still sleep well.But watch him like a hawk! Democrats and Republicans have a lot of work to do. The politically astute will never want this to happen again. This election is an argument for civic engagement.