Let it be so now: Donald J. Trump, a white nationalist con man, possibly the least-ever qualified candidate in terms of integrity, temperament, or experience, is to be the next president of our United States. How? And what does it mean for the future of the Central Coast?
The technical explanation is relatively simple: The polls were off but not wrong, and the Electoral College benefited Trump by amplifying the voting strength of white, rural voters. The biggest deviations in the polls were in underestimating Trump’s support among those voters in rustbelt states, and undecided voters also broke toward him. But Hillary Clinton’s support among African-Americans in urban centers, and among millennials more generally, was lower compared to President Obama. Lower turnout in 2016 is one of the strongest explanations for the overall result; it hurt Clinton in the states where she most needed it. Indeed, national polling averages were within sampling error estimates, and Clinton won the popular vote by a wider margin than any other Electoral College loser since all the states have been voting.
But there is a more substantive explanation, the why rather than the how. Two sets of numbers, both of which are closely linked to the rural/urban divide, get to the heart of the matter and are reflected in our local politics. First, the numbers 8 million and 80,000. These are the approximate numbers of jobs created since the Great Recession that require a bachelor’s degree and those that don’t, respectively. In San Luis Obispo County, there is a disproportionate share of those lower-skill jobs (services, tourism), which lowers average wages, and people who are anxious about their family’s future are especially susceptible to demagoguery.
The next statistics, 1 percent and 92 percent, are the percentage of Fox News Channel viewers who are African-American and White, respectively. Fox News is news for white people, and they cater to their audience (not to be confused with Fox Broadcasting, which consistently produces the best black TV on any network). The fear feeding is seen in the content bias of their commentary and coverage (the faux new Black Panthers scandal, etc.) but also their commercial advertising (buy gold!). That same mindset is seen in our own right-wing populist movements. One need look no further than city councils or SLO County Board of Supervisors meetings for evidence of its corrosive effects. I have witnessed numerous accounts of Agenda 21 conspiracies, specifically the U.N. “goal” of appropriating rural property through local growth ordinances and enslaving white farmers in global resettlement camps or the claim that liberal elites are coming to siphon off Paso’s water through a secretive government deal.
So what now? How do we handle being on the precipice of an authoritarian regime? We don’t ignore the racist, sexist and bigoted policies Trump might attempt to implement, but we also need a renewed emphasis on the importance of hard work and the concerns of the working class, without regard to race. Locally, that means protecting our undocumented neighbors from racial injustice, for example, but also implementing housing, construction, and agricultural policies that bring back dignity and respect to small farmers and trades that provide meaningful work. We should be less concerned about what students wear to Halloween parties or political correctness, generally, and more committed to politics that will empower us all.
If liberals cared half as much about the inequity of the Electoral College, which punishes all Californians, or gerrymandering, voter suppression, and enforcing the Voting Rights Act, as they do about micro aggressions and academic safe space, we would be telling a very different story about the future of America today. The last serious attempt to abolish the antiquated and increasingly racist Electoral College was in 1969, when President Nixon’s plan for a popular vote/runoff system was filibustered in the Senate, an institution that similarly biases representation in favor of white, rural voters.
Similarly, liberals must protect our Muslim neighbors and all religious minorities from the bigotry that creeps up far too often in local political discourse. However, to chastise someone like Trump for his misogyny while turning a blind eye to the systematic degradation of women by many mainstream defenders of Islam is pathetic and disingenuous. I write this column on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The 2016 election is a wake-up call to liberals, who have largely cast aside concerns about the failures of multiculturalism at home and abroad. They should be at the core of American liberalism.
We can’t continue to write off widespread fear of Islam as sheer racism and stupidity; that just strengthens the hand of stupid racists like Steve Bannon, chief strategist for President-elect Trump. Liberals must retake the center of the American electorate with effective public policies and institutional reforms that embody political equality.
Michael Latner, a political science professor and Master of Public Policy Program director at Cal Poly, is a regular contributor to Rhetoric & Reason. Send comments through the editor at email@example.com.