On the day before the election well-respected, non-partisan website fivethirtyeight gave Trump a less than 30% chance of winning. Defying all expectations, logic, and political norms, he won somehow. The question is: Where do we go from here?
Trump ran on a platform of national populism. What does that mean? Dictionary.com defines populism as “various, often antiestablishment or anti-intellectual political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and appeal to the common person rather than according with traditional party or partisan ideologies”. Basically, that means that the Donald ran on an ‘us vs. them’ platform, pitting normal Americans against the political elite.
Populism isn’t new to America, and definitely not new to contentious elections in 2016. Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan ran on a populist message, and so did Ross Perot and Bernie Sanders. In June, the British population voted to leave the European Union, which was heralded as a precursor to a chance that Donald Trump would win the presidency, because the British vote also had the message of ‘us vs. them’.
Unlike Bryan and Perot, Donald Trump actually won. Overall voter turnout was down from 2012, and exit polling showed him winning fewer white voters as a percentage and a larger percentage of minority voters. Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin all went to Trump unexpectedly, and that won him the victory. He won on the backs of Americans who felt left behind. For example, some of those people felt like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) destroyed manufacturing jobs and ruined the economy (there aren’t many, if any, credible studies showing that NAFTA has been a net harm to the US). Trump blamed the Washington insiders, people from “the swamp” as he dubbed it towards the end of the campaign.
His message of draining the swamp and taking on Washington insiders has run into a problem: governing. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has been announced as Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign CEO and the head of Breitbart News, will be his Chief Strategist and Senior Advisor (a position that has no actual job description and which Trump has described as having equal footing as Chief of staff). Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and John Bolton are the frontrunners for the Secretary of State slot, and all of them are very much establishment insiders.
Donald Trump has also gone back on other campaign promises already, saying that he is willing to keep some parts of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Acts (Obamacare) – such as rules regarding pre-existing conditions and letting kids stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26 – after he already signed a pledge to fully repeal Obamacare. The Wall? That’s going to be a fence in some parts. Deporting all the illegal immigrants? He pledged to deport 2-3 million illegal immigrants, about the same number as Obama has deported.
He has kept some promises, but over his entire career in the public spotlight he has held pretty much every single position on every single issue of note. He has been pro-choice and pro-life, for and against the Iraq war, for and against marijuana legalization, and for and against single payer healthcare, just to name a few issues.
We don’t know how Donald Trump will govern, and that is both interesting and frightening. As John Oliver pointed out, he either lied about every single position he has or meant every word he said, and which one is more frightening? Would we rather have a president who will keep on a national-populist message and govern completely unlike every expectation and possibly do irreparable harm to our political system, or did we just elect someone who lied about everything who is a complete loose cannon? We have to ask ourselves that question, and focus on getting good honest people elected to the state government and the House of Representatives and the Senate during the midterm election.