Editor’s note: Last week, we featured the perspective of a Trump supporter on the election results. This week, our guest column is by Miranda Chang, who has been studying Political Communication at Lesley.
What Happened, America? It’s been a few days, and the idea of who represents our country is now slowly sinking in. As the shock resonates throughout the nation, it seems that people are finding different ways to deal with our new reality, where our country is going to be run by perhaps the most controversial man our country has ever seen become president. He expresses religious intolerance; he doesn’t want any immigrants in this country; he has no appreciation for diversity; he doesn’t pay taxes; and from what I have read, since he was born to a wealthy family, he has never really experienced what it’s like to be working class. For a country founded by hard working immigrants, many of whom were escaping religious persecution, this man does not seem to be an ideal representation.
So how do we cope? Some are demonstrating, some are practicing denial, some are searching for something positive, but above all, some of us are trying to understand how this happened. How did we go to sleep one night under the protection of a righteous and fair president (Barack Obama), and then wake up the next morning to the terrifying thought of a president named Donald Trump? I have narrowed it down to several possible explanations:
In our Political Communications class, we read a piece by advertising expert Simon Dumenco. You can find it here: http://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/hillary-clinton-wrong/306676/ It was a rather abrasive article about how Hilary’s advertising game killed her chances. While I disliked his tone, I found myself agreeing with his central point. “It seemed like every ad that Clinton and her allies released in the ensuing months was simply a variation on the theme that Donald Trump is a big jerk,” Dumenco wrote. I think that, because I was already siding with Clinton, the anti-Trump ads just confirmed my opinions, therefore I thought they were effective. However, in his article, he also talks about the “condescension” factor that her campaign managers didn’t seem to think about. “… there’s a condescension factor at play (are you saying I’m a bad parent if I support Donald Trump?!).” In comparison, the article discusses the fact that, Trump (when he wasn’t getting free media coverage) ran his advertising much more traditionally, simply stating what a “Trump America” would look like versus what a “Hilary America” would look like. Dumenco’s conclusion was that “Clinton, hyper focused on pointing out the obvious — that Trump is crude and unpredictable — let Trump define who she is to millions of voters.” I agree, to an extent, with Dumenco’s conclusion. There were a number of factors involved in the unfortunate outcome we experienced on Tuesday. Although I believe it is totally acceptable for Hillary to have released the anti-Trump commercials, I think her campaign should have been balanced out with more positive commercials about her own plans, and maybe even more traditional “my-world-vs-their-world” ads.
Then, there’s voter suppression. While voter fraud has repeatedly been shown to be exaggerated and nearly non-existent, voter suppression is very real. It come in many forms, overpriced government issued voter IDs, more voting booths placed in white neighborhoods, and of course, my home state’s infamous act of not accepting student IDs as valid forms of identification. A recent article in Vox.com by German Lopez, addresses the theory among Hilary supporters that voter suppression cost them. Lopez wrote, “Republicans passed a slew of new voting restrictions in several key swing states: North Carolina, Wisconsin, and so on. Along the way, courts and studies found — and some Republicans even admitted — that these restrictions would have a disproportionate impact on minority Americans who tend to vote Democrat.” More about the Voter ID controversy and voter restriction laws can be found here. http://www.vox.com/2016/8/4/12369778/voter-restrictions-id-laws-supreme-court But although the case can be made that this could have cost her some votes in a few states, it is most likely not the reason why she lost the election. After all, Hillary Clinton was defeated in some previously blue states that had no new voting restrictions, and she lost by wide margins in several of the states that President Obama had won. Thus, we can’t just blame voter suppression.
But let’s talk about the role of the media. By giving Donald Trump so much free air time, they helped to make him even more popular. Their coverage also made it easier for him not to spend any money on campaign ads, because his outrageous ideas could be seen and heard on every news channel and every news radio station (and repeated on many websites) every day. Of all the things that have been written about media’s influence in this 2016 disaster election, Chuck Todd, a former White House correspondent for NBC and currently host of “Meet the Press,” made a very interesting point that resonated with me. “The media made the same mistake as the 16 other GOP presidential candidates did when Trump rode down the escalator in June 2015, by focusing too much on Trump himself and too little on the Trump supporter.” In other words, the media did not understand the people who supported Donald Trump. The average Trump supporter wanted to see serious change, and he or she wanted to feel listened to. But Todd admitted that the media often had contempt for Trump supporters, or thought of them as bigots when many of them were just angry and frustrated by the economy and by their life. By not listening to them, many in the media missed an opportunity to understand Trump’s popularity.
Although I agree that paying more attention to his supporters might have been helpful, I think there is more to this idea. Instead of constantly replaying all these different clips of Trump saying radical, obnoxious, Trump-like things, the media should have focused on who his supporters were, why they went to his rallies; there should have been more interviews with his followers, and not just the people who said hateful things. Many of his supporters weren’t haters. They were just afraid and they wanted change. Trump’s campaign should not have just been defined by his scandals, but by the attitudes and beliefs of his base.
And that leads me to a final factor: the desire for radical change that drove so many of his supporters. A majority of Americans did want change. Perhaps in the blue states, it wasn’t as obvious, but elsewhere in the country, it definitely was. Many red state supporters of Trump were non-college educated, most were white, and most were conservative; but they all felt like they were not being heard and not taken as seriously as people in cities like New York or Los Angeles or Boston were. And as soon as Donald Trump strolled in with his message that he alone could fix it, they felt like this was their chance. Whether they really agreed with him, or if it was really just about shaking up the system, many believed we had an “evil government” and they believed only Donald Trump could make their lives better.
The problem with this view, of course, is that it only divides the country more. If the government is evil, if the mainstream media is evil, and if only Donald Trump is good, then what about those of us who don’t agree? Are we evil too? By placing an extremist in office – not to mention putting Republicans in control of the House, Senate, and (soon) the Supreme Court, this can make the other side (Democrats, moderates, liberals) feel excluded, just like people in the red states said they felt when they voted for Trump. I hope the Trump administration won’t pursue extremist policies, like he claimed he would when he was campaigning: trying to impose those kinds of views will only make people on the other side just as angry, and that will be bad for our country. As those of us who supported Hillary Clinton come to terms with this loss, and as we try to accept the reality of a Trump presidency, I believe American politics needs to find its way back to a more centrist position. If both sides do not find a way to reach out to each other and listen to each other, our country will continue to find itself severely divided.