Trump often emerges on stage from behind a dark navy curtain. That is a symbolically rich move, and it is a symbolism whose deeper meaning and importance throws others off, especially the likes of Hillary Clinton. This is the puppet master, the man behind the curtain, the campaign donor and buyer of favours and influence, who has suddenly decided to step out into the spotlight, and to not only be seen but to announce his role as a former puppet master, now turned rival. That has to ruin the whole show. The move is so deeply subversive, that one has to wonder just how many have truly appreciated its import.
Taking the bait, by agreeing to provide an explanation of why on several occasions since last September I have been voicing my always more certain belief that Donald Trump will be the next president of the US, is not the same thing as saying he should or should not be the president. The primary motivation in producing this is to argue against the self-satisfied misconceptions of status quo representatives, who “refuse to adapt to reality,” whose “explanations” take the dominant system for granted, and who write as if from the depths of a permanent static equilibrium. It is also written as an expression of surprise—surprise that so many in the US, even if a minority overall, seem to have understood so little about their own country, probably because again they take so much for granted and self-confidence has been fossilized as orthodoxy.
Here then are some of the major reasons why Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States, and arguments against commonly proffered reasons for his demise. The numbering below does not suggest any ranking—except for the first item in the list, which I would rank as my top reason.
1. New fault lines
First, anyone understanding the contest in terms of Republican vs. Democrat, men vs. women, or white vs. minorities, is already far off. The primary dividing line of this election is globalization, specifically neoliberal globalization, and more specifically: the plight of the working class in the wake of free trade. In more traditional terms if you like, the contest is Hillary Clinton vs. Sanders plus Trump—two out of the three remaining major candidates have emerged as a protest against trickle-down economics, free trade, the dominance of financial elites, and “the establishment” more generally.
2. Inverse Obama 2008
In many ways Trump is an inversion of the so-called Obama wave of 2008—as a wave breaks on the shore, what follows can look like a wave going back out to sea. Unlike even Obama in 2008, Trump conveys a sense of inevitability, of being unstoppable. He has said the worst one could say in an electoral campaign, and triumphed. One lesson here is that which the media helped to build up over many years, it cannot tear down in a few moments. Otherwise, everything has failed: campaign advertising by Super PACs, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars already; relentless demonization by corporate media aligned with the current regime; street protests by activists intent on disrupting Trump’s rallies; condemnation and ridicule from foreign leaders and media; denunciations by the patrician elites of the Republican Party; total renunciation by the national security and foreign policy elites of the same party—Obama did not face even a fraction of this, and still Trump is already the presumptive nominee, well before Clinton, and far before Obama at this point in 2008. Defeating Trump right now seems to sound as plausible as saying one can defeat the idea and symbolism of Coca-Cola.
3. “American Greatness”
Here I need to write bluntly and in very poor taste, to better match real, lived, individual experience and private thoughts (maybe not yours, but some, whether conscious or not). When immigrants came to the US in pursuit of the “American Dream,” who would they imagine as the better embodiment of that dream?
A) The small, spiteful, neckless old lady with the cruel face and the mysterious coats that appear to be hiding large urine bags (or a colostomy bag), someone with the kindness of a prison warden and a grating cackle that is a searing assault on every image of Cinderella and Snow White? Or,
B) The gleaming skyscraper, the golden luxury suite housing the square-faced, golden-haired mountain of Grade A Beef in a $10,000 suit standing under a chandelier that looks like glinting diamonds in sparkling champagne, who is otherwise soaring through the skies in his own massive jet?
If you are answering (a), then you do not understand the United States.
Put differently, when it comes to providing a contrast between hardship, loss, and suffering for the majority, and long-cherished images of American success, Trump stands to remind voters of the first part, and stands as an embodiment of the second part. When it comes to “making America great again,” Trump looks the part–and I think this is the only way he can continue to boast of his wealth and success in the face of sometimes rather desperate, very underprivileged voters.
4. Republican voters?
Trump is not simply leading “Republican voters”—that was not his strength, to begin with. You will hear or read many commentators saying that what Trump could achieve in a Republican primary contest is not the same thing as what he can do in a general election. Maybe—if this were just another of the preceding elections where the status quo was safe. The fact is that Trump won by bringing in voters who were neither identifying as Republican (many if not most of them being Independents), nor prepared to vote Republican, nor were some even considering voting (ever) until Trump. The fact therefore is that Trump has already been campaigning in a general election. The Republican contests have been the sites of the greatest voter turnouts thus far, and in some critical electoral states more have already turned out to vote for Trump than for Clinton. All of the excitement this time is on the Republican side, the side on which Trump needed to win in order to win the general election.
5. “Unfavourability” ratings
This notion has been the focus of an obsession among political commentators in the US, especially in the corporate media. The claim is that because Trump has a record-breaking unfavourable rating for a US presidential candidate, he cannot win. Imagine this perspective to understand why that simplistic notion fails to understand possibilities: one can find Trump to be rather gross and repulsive, both personally and even politically, and yet still vote for him because of agreement on certain issues of elemental importance. In response to Trump’s suggestion that the father of Ted Cruz may have participated in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I watched interviews with young Indiana voters who were explicit in their view that it was a stupid comment, should never have been said, and that they would vote for Trump anyway. In other words, one can view Trump unfavourably, and yet still vote for him. In fact, we can go much further: it seems that some will vote for him precisely because they see him in unfavourable terms, or because they know others view him negatively. For reasons unclear to me, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News seems to attract messages explaining this viewpoint, which he seems to have at least partially adopted as an explanation: Trump is a “bomb thrower,” he is a “disruptor,” he and his supporters will “blow things up”—a general revelling in chaos. In summary: “unfavourability” is not to be confused with “unvotability”.
Much has been written and spoken about Donald Trump’s “unfavourability” ratings with women—even though the consistent feature of his voter support is that it is evenly (almost exactly) divided between men and women. Less often do you hear the same about Hillary Clinton losing among men—to the same degree. Does that mean they are even? Some would argue, based on factual support, that as women are more likely to vote than men (by a small margin), then this favours Clinton. Others might note that in this election, 44% of US men are following this election “very closely,” while only 31% of women do, which may or may not be significant when generating the motivation to vote.
7. Young voters
Others have already commented that Trump will have great difficulty in attracting young voters from Bernie Sanders’ side. That may be true, but how much does that matter? Historically, and presently, youth voters represent the smallest of the voting groups in terms of age, and are those least likely to turn out to vote.
8. Minority voters
Before proceeding, let me ask readers to familiarize themselves again with the numerical significance of the concept of “minority”. It’s important to remember this, because again the appointed gatekeepers and opinion-shapers in the media almost seem on the verge of describing the US as a post-white, cosmopolitan, multicultural hybrid of total diversity, where one can still see “The Caucasian” but only in the Museum of Natural History. On more than one occasion, I have come away from a panel discussion on a cable news network thinking that without the support of black voters, a candidate is doomed. One might think that non-white voters are a majority or vast minority in the US. Instead, the US is still a predominantly white country, and leading among white voters means leading not only among the majority (71% of eligible voters in 2012), but among a group that is more likely to turn out to vote than others. In the 2012 presidential election, nearly 74% of voters who turned out were white, according to the US Census Bureau. According to another report by the US Census Bureau, in 2014 voting rates were higher for non-Hispanic Whites (45.8%) than for non-Hispanic Blacks (40.6%), non-Hispanic Asians (26.9%), and Hispanics (27.0%). It’s not clear how such news should depress Donald Trump.
Furthermore, the “dirty secret” of US politics is that racism and ethnocentrism, not to mention “me first” (anti-immigrant immigrants), are to be found in most sectors of the society. If Trump is successfully cast as anti-Latino, that might attract some black voters given the historical cleavages and rivalries betweens blacks and Latinos (a problem that affected Obama in 2008). If Trump is successfully cast as anti-immigrant, then that will attract some Latino voters on the US border with Mexico, as happened in Texas. Though currently small in number, Trump has already attracted some Latino and black voters.
Also more than once, I have heard political and media commentators (with the boundaries between each being quite blurred) express the view that Trump’s “anti-Muslim views” do not represent “American values”. Oh no? When did the US suddenly become a nation that adored Muslims, and so warmly welcomed them to America? When did the US become so pro-Muslim, that anti-Muslim became un-American? The direct answer is: it never happened. This is a liberal myth, spun for geostrategic purposes, using soft power to exploit potential audiences in the Arab and Muslim nations more generally. It is also a whitewash, intended to cover up the fact that Islamophobia continually reaches popular new heights in North America, to the extreme that even in the recent Canadian federal election the party leading in the polls immediately collapsed after its leader offered a mild defense of the hijab.
Mythical America is not coming out to vote in 2016, simply because it does not exist. It is now a standard feature of those comfortable with the status quo, who have benefited from the neoliberal world order, to regularly confuse what they think ought to be reality, with what is actually reality.
10. The Working Class
One of the most significant changes of this US election period has been a notable transformation in the dominant political vocabulary. In a country where for so long it seemed everyone was characterized as “middle class,” where the working class had somehow disappeared, suddenly “working class” has reappeared in the media discourse, even on Fox News. When it comes to white, working-class voters, Hillary Clinton is not only already failing in winning them away from Donald Trump, in some quarters she is being openly rebuked. Going back to #1 in this list, when it comes to the devastating social and economic impacts of free trade, there is now more open acknowledgment that this has bred the “angry white voter” who is more likely to support Trump. If anything, there is already evidence of Trump winning working class voters away from the Democrats, who feel discarded by the neoliberal Democrats, and even some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters have for months indicated a preference for Trump over Clinton. One poll showed 20% of Democrats moving to vote for Trump. Thanks to rare reporting that approaches near-ethnographic density, we have a picture of Trump strongholds that are off limits to the Democrats.
One of the most common “mistakes” made by analysts, schooled for generations in positivist and empiricist thinking, and indoctrinated by the ideology of “rational choice,” is to assume that voters vote based on “facts,” informed by extensive analyses of policies, statistics, and historical data, and using a cost-benefit analysis. That is not to say that the Democrats—least of all Hillary Clinton—somehow own “rationality,” and that voting for Hillary Clinton represents a “sane” and “rational” choice (or that it is even minimally “civilized”). That is also not to say that voters never rationalize and make instrumental calculations, based on the kinds of goals which they were taught to accept. What is instead being argued here is not only that emotion does play a large role, but also that some attractions and repulsions cannot be articulated in words (because words cannot contain or convey what our many senses experience) and are therefore beyond opinion polling. In other words, there are “primordial” realities that we need to understand, and which escape the grasp of the usual, “scientistic” explanation that is so prevalent.
12. The Unknown
In all fairness to the dominant commentariat, there has also been pervasive acknowledgment of just how much the experts and analysts have gotten wrong about this election so far, how unpredictable it has been, how much has been surprising and even unprecedented. Nothing suggests that the unknown has come to an end. While readers will find fault with much, if not every single point in this essay, they will still be left with the fact that much of the information and analysis has been produced by those whose methods, assumptions, and theories have been proven either flatly wrong, or are hobbled by important shortcomings.
Trump is one to say that he prefers unpredictability. He clearly relishes, and perhaps even cultivates his impact as an unpredictable force. This unpredictability is also greatly annoying to his competitors. Why?
Here is a person in line to become the president of the US, on his first run for any kind of political office. He has never so much as competed in an election for dog catcher, or mayor—and here he is after eliminating a packed field of otherwise likely presidential candidates.
The other, major side of the unknown is found within the mass of voters—regardless of demographics, statistics, historical ends, and so forth. Here I mean those who will never publicly admit to wanting to vote for Donald Trump, but who will do so anyway. Add them to those who have no idea why they will vote for Donald Trump, and will proceed to do so regardless. Add both of these to the many individuals who, in the curious spirit of pyromaniacs, cannot resist the deeply tempting question: “What if? Let’s see what happens, if Trump becomes president”. Even many of those who are committed to destroying Trump, will find it irresistible to at least consider voting for him, even if in their most private, fleeting of thoughts. This is similar to Baudrillard’s views on 9/11, that essentially we are all terrorists: that even those who most benefited from the new world order, directly or indirectly, secretly desired for the system to be destroyed—that no monster can be allowed to grow so big with power, without everyone at least unconsciously desiring its demolition. For some, Trump is the tool of such destruction.
Toward the End
Now that options are crystallizing and becoming less hypothetical for voters, now that emotions can finally begin to take a significant shape, expect all of the polls that predicted a victory for Hillary Clinton in November, to start flipping. Within the next two to three weeks, you will see her starting to collapse in the polls, and all summer she will be playing catch up only to be walloped in scathing debates in the autumn. Indeed, as I write this, Hillary Clinton is on CNN being interviewed by Anderson Cooper—almost all of the questions, the day after Trump secured his win as presumptive GOP nominee, are about Trump. Clinton is forced into a secondary and reactive position, of responding to Trump. That already underscores his stature as leader, and hers as something less.
We should remember that just over a year ago, it was widely anticipated that this presidential election would be a contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. In many of the most important ways, Bush was Clinton’s counterpart on the Republican side. He was among the first to be dispatched by Trump, despite Bush’s massive war chest of campaign funds and backing from powerful political and financial sectors of US society. I think Trump is right when he says that he has already beaten better candidates than Hillary Clinton.
At any rate, this essay is a rough draft of sorts, of why Donald Trump is most likely the winner of this US presidential election. It is obviously not a discussion of why, or why not, he should be the president, which would be a significantly longer and more complicated discussion.