Brexit, Trump, Duterte (for Philippine readers) and many other examples around the world are showing one thing. It’s not that people are uneducated or stupid or don’t deserve democracy. It’s that people are angry.
Prejudice Wasn’t the Biggest Factor in Hillary Losing
Now Hilary Clinton just lost an election against a totally inexperienced opponent, who was endorsed by the KKK. It should have been an easy win. Yet from the outset, Trump’s unlikely rise to the Presidency of the (Not so) United States has been a mix of luck, freebies, and the strategic poisoning of political discourse.
The groundwork for such an extreme figure was laid after years of vile rhetoric (see Palin, Limbaugh, Beck, Huckabee, Gingrich, et al). Then Trump defeated Lyin’ Ted in a Primary Race Jeb Bush would have walked if he had any charisma. But Trump’s rise was first championed by the media for the theatre, and then for the economics. As media groups saw their advertising profits soar when covering Trump, they followed the money at the expense of genuine journalism. This gave Trump more than $5 billion worth of free coverage, a sum greater than the GDP of over 50 countries. This is covered well in Cracked here.
And into the main event of the Pay Per View, Hillary was leading for the most part. Yet we’re now all in shock, wondering what happens next?
Against this Particular Woman…
Now, the easy route is to call Trump supporters bigots and the like. They must be at least willing to put up with such blatant prejudice if they voted for the racist tangerine, right? Imagine facing soul-crushing discrimination throughout your life, fighting for Hillary to be the first female President in history and not just losing to a man, but losing to a misogynist with a litany of sexual harassment claims against him. It must hurt. It must be so frustrating.
But the first thing we need to understand is Hillary didn’t lose because of the bigots. They were always going to vote Republican. All Hillary had to do was keep the people who voted for an unheard of black guy last time out. Instead, some of the States that were major losses for Hillary were big wins for Obama four/eight years ago. As Tami Luhby writes for CNN, “While [Hillary] won the key demographic groups her campaign targeted, she under-performed President Obama across the board, even among women”.
It wasn’t the racists, the sexist, or the bigots that caused Hillary to lose (they certainly didn’t help). No, Hillary herself is one of the most unpopular Presidential Candidates of all time (along with Trump) and her loss to Obama should have offered lessons as to why. Much of the furore of Bernie Sanders’ supporters refusing to vote for Hillary, for example, wasn’t about gender. These were liberal, progressive Democrats (and further left) fighting for equality on a number of measures. Bernie was an outsider promising big reform. Hillary is part of the system, entrenched in the very inequality and injustice they were fighting against.
So some silver lining on this toxic cloud is that, in general, the US electorate did not vote against women, the US voted against this particular woman. It’s a small silver lining, I grant you that.
Hillary Represents Exactly Why People are so Angry
Hillary is part of the system that helped the top 1% get 95% of all new income gains. She voted for that. So it was somewhat cringe-worthy when she took Bernie’s rhetoric about fighting for equality and cited this statistic (now slightly outdated) in her campaign. She was part of the system that caused the mortgage house collapse and had thousands of families kicked out on the streets. She is part of the reason why people on Wall Street pay lower taxes. She voted for that. And while the general economy has improved, many of those families are still desperately struggling. This Guardian article is a great piece to look at how neoliberalism has caused the gross inequality dividing us. Clinton is very much part of the face of neoliberal economics.
Now a more nuanced and detailed analysis will show this isn’t the full story. Clinton sometimes voted against Wall Street and proposed other bills which didn’t catch on. But few people are going to finish this blog, let alone a detailed analysis into Clinton’s voting record. What we do know is she took home $1.8 million from speaking to 8 big banks. So to truly understand how difficult it was for some people, there’s a really, really good piece I really, really recommend you reading here. If you read nothing else, including the rest of this article, really, really read this to truly empathise with how others felt.
So you may be legitimately angry that Clinton lost to the annoying orange personified. But they are legitimately angry for bearing the brunt of levels of inequality not seen since the Great Depression. They are legitimately angry for seeing their towns and cities ripped apart, and being expected to vote for the same corporate politicians who allowed this mess.
Hillary is Terrible at Campaigning
Finally, Hillary is a terrible campaigner. Even Demcorats acknowledge this. Last time Hillary ran for President, she lost to an unknown black guy. This time she almost lost to Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist who only registered as a Democrat to run in the election. Hillary had the entire Democratic party behind her so much that the Democratic Party Leader had to resign because Democrats were trying to rig the game in favour of Hillary. And it was still pretty close. That’s how much even Democrat voters didn’t really want to vote for Hillary.
And once up against Trump, her campaign was largely about how horrible Donald Trump is rather than the issues people are so legitimately angry about. She fell right into the trap of making it ‘us’ and ‘them’ with comments like calling half of Trump supporters a ‘basket of deplorables’. She failed to unite people behind a positive message.
Having said all that, Hillary is CLEARLY still far better than Trump. If I was an American, I would have voted for her. But we have to understand why people disliked Hillary (and politics in general) to fight back. We have to understand what the root cause of these issues are. So we don’t continue to make enemies, but rather bring them over to our side. People are very angry for very legitimate reasons and no-one is empathising with them or building constructive alternatives.
And that’s why the comparisons between Brexit, Duterte, and the politics in other countries make sense. This feeling goes beyond the US election. Practically every country in the world has their example of Trump. Whether it’s Brexit, or here in the Philippines Duterte, people’s legitimate frustrations have boiled over and they are voting for an outsider to ruin the establishment.
Why Do Angry People Do Silly Things?
The Dictator experiment I think explains the reason why we’re in this mess quite well. In the experiment, two people usually participate. The actual sums vary, but for the sake of argument one person is given $10. They are then to make an offer to the second person from that $10. It could be share $5 each, keep all $10 for yourself, or any combination. The catch is that if the second person accepts that offer, they keep the money. If the second person rejects the offer, however, both get nothing.
Traditional economics will say a rational person would accept any offer because $1 is better than nothing. Yet typically any offer below $2 was rejected. People literally threw money away because they felt it was unfair. They felt it better to spite the other person than to receive an unfair deal. Rationality means more than self-interest, it also means fairness. Check out Daniel Kahnemann’s Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on this (among other great books).
If you look at the world we’ve basically gone past this threshold. The top 1% get roughly 90% of all new gains (depending on where you are) while most people’s wages are stagnating or declining in real terms. To simplify too much, 99% of people are being offered $1 while the person across them keeps $9 out of $10, and then lauds it over them. They’re then expected to survive on $1 while everything around them gets more and more expensive and the richer group cheer about how the economy is booming. And after years of growing inequality, people have had enough. They’re rejecting the deal and saying ‘screw it, let’s burn the whole thing down’.
So What Happens Now?
It’s going to be a very difficult few years for a lot of people and this is not a good situation for many throughout the world. People are legitimately worried about what comes next. But that next step isn’t to go and find someone else to blame to label and demonise a whole other group and reduce them to a single word. That’s the process that led to Trump in the first place. The next step is to figure out how we get out of this mess…
We need to acknowledge our current political system is woefully equipped for the modern world, and build a constructive outlet for the justified anger so many of us, from every single side, are feeling.
More in Part II.