I knew that Hillary Clinton wasn’t the perfect candidate, but that didn’t lessen the sting of Donald Trump’s election win. Clinton earned my respect during the three televised debates by her calm demeanour in the face of Trump’s sinister insults and bullying behaviour.
It is painfully obvious that Democrats miscalculated the inroads made in rural America by the alt-right in recent years. In particular, they did not understand the sheer wrath of displaced workers who lost jobs in manufacturing and heavy industry in the past two decades. Trump cleverly exploited their anger by promising to tear up free-trade deals signed by previous administrations and to restore prosperity to the Rust Belt states whose voters were key to his election win. His strategy was guided by Brietbart.com talk radio host Steve Bannon whose Internet news site of the same name is the leading source of hard-right alt-news in the US today.
Manufacturing doesn’t explain the whole picture in the election shocker. Florida is not a manufacturing state that saw factory jobs move overseas. Despite this, the state gave Trump a narrow win over Clinton in the popular vote. Democrats themselves failed to appreciate the despair of those who lost jobs in manufacturing as a direct consequence of free trade deals, the most notable of which was the NAFTA agreement that was negotiated under Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Voters who switched to Trump may have bought into his bluster about the Democrats being the root of their problems by enacting free trade agreements, but they fail to grasp that conservatives are equally in favour of globalization. These policies are central to neoliberal economic theory that is embraced by both political parties. By pledging to tear up NAFTA and other trade agreements Trump stoked the emotions of those displaced by neoliberal economic policies while convincing them that Democrats are responsible for their misery.
A closer look at the vote results by county shows a stark rural-urban divide with Trump capturing the rural vote in both Florida and the Midwest Rust Belt states that were critical to his win. This pattern points to a second plank of Trump’s platform in which anger was stirred among rural voters that Clinton had a secret agenda to roll back gun ownership rights.
Any close observer of the US election campaign knows that Trump consistently played on alleged mishandling of emails by Hillary Clinton. In exploiting this angle Trump was assisted by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who for the past four years has been hiding out at Ecuador’s embassy in central London. A Swedish prosecutor has been seeking to question the WikiLeaks founder on rape charges, which Assange claims is tied to a conspiratorial effort by US politicians to surreptitiously extradite him to the US to face charges of leaking state secrets. Assange became an unlikely Trump collaborator in lashing out at Hillary Clinton because she was at the helm of the State Department when WikiLeaks intervened by dumping the classified documents.
In the election post- mortem some have suggested Trump pulled off a landslide win. This is hardly the case as it is clear even before absentee votes are counted that Clinton won the popular vote by about 200,000 votes. What Trump managed to do was to beat Clinton to the 270 Electoral College threshold that determines the winner of a US federal election. With Clinton’s lead in the popular vote estimated to reach upward of 1,000,00 votes after all results are tallied, a movement is gathering online to persuade Electoral College representatives to switch their vote from Trump to Clinton in states she lost. An online petition seeking this outcome has been signed by 4.5 million people.
The effort to persuade Electoral College voters to switch to Clinton when they meet on Dec. 19 is backed by Robert Reich, a prominent UC Berkeley economist who served as an adviser to Bill Clinton. Reich, who has a large Facebook @RBReich following, cites Trump’s “danger to the country” and “moral turpitude” as reasons why voters in the Electoral College should consider the extraordinary step of refusing to automatically endorse the GOP candidate who scooped seats in battleground states. There is no federal US law that compels Electoral College voters to support the candidate who won their State. While 29 states impose a misdemeanour fine on Electoral College members who switch their vote, 21 states have no law of any kind that directs them to vote for the winner.
Hillary Clinton underestimated the grievances of those adversely impacted by globalization and failed to connect with rural voters who saw her as the symbol of “big government” who was plotting to roll back gun laws. Trump, aided and abetted by Julian Assange, accused her of nefarious collusion with establishment interests. For desperate voters in the Midwest, a promise of reclaimed prosperity led them to a Faustian bargain that has incalculable implications. This should give pause to Electoral College members who meet for a decisive vote on December 19.