America Is Broken
“Ok, so…” (Deep breath) “…why did you vote for Trump?”
“Because he’s going to make America great again.”
These first, tentative steps toward understanding the inner workings of the minds of my American ‘in-laws’ were taken at around 1am, after drinking several bottles of wine and eating close to my body-weight in turkey on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2016 (I’m technically a vegetarian, but sometimes I eat turkey… and bacon… and don’t get me started on chorizo). I, like many of us, felt that 2016 gave us little to be thankful for. It was the year of ‘fake news’ and the ‘post-truth’ society, in which a walking vuvuzela with a comb-over beat the most qualified candidate there’s ever been to become the 45th President of the United States. Even now, safely ensconced within the cosy blanket of 2018, I am in a constant state of anxiety about the environment, about Brexit, about the rise of xenophobia and homophobia both here and abroad, and sometimes I just want to give up and move to Canada, where Trudeau will take me in his arms and tell me everything’s going to be ok – he’s *got* this.
Back to 1am…
“…WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!”
After batting various issues back and forth for a while: taxes (he’s going to cut them), the wall (it’s not going to happen), education (illegals are coming in and getting a free ride!), and immigration (I don’t mind people coming into the country, so long as they do it the *right* way), it became clear that a vote for Trump (the man’s an idiot) was a roll of the dice. My partner’s parents – life-long Democrats – had voted for ‘The Donald’ because they were tired of the status quo. They wanted change. “America is broken” they said, “and he’s going to fix it.”
Right. Let’s pause here for a second. This “let’s shake things up” approach to voting seems to have been a feature of 2016. In the UK, the Leave campaign was victorious in the EU referendum in no small part because a large enough percentage of the population felt that the government/Establishment had failed them. While a significant portion of Remainers have been quick to brand Leave voters as ignorant, racist, Little-Englanders, this rhetoric further marginalises those who voted for Brexit in response to the economic and social disadvantages that their communities face. Leave-voting areas such as Boston, Castle Point, and Mansfield all suffer from lower than average income, education, and skill levels; and these disadvantages are further compounded by said communities lacking the resources needed to improve their situation.
While I won’t deny the role that anti-immigration fear-mongering played in the referendum result (‘Breaking Point’ anyone?), I can also see a vote to Leave as an expression of desperation. From my privileged position as a relatively-affluent, city-dwelling, liberal [full disclosure], I fundamentally believe that we are better off within the EU, and I don’t accept that leaving will fix any of the problems highlighted above. However, I do believe that the referendum result should serve as a wake-up call for our government; and maybe shaking things up is necessary.
Back in the US, an examination of 2016 voter data reveals that those living in rural areas and with lower levels of education and income voted overwhelmingly for Trump; however, this was only true if they were white. This is somewhat unsurprising, given Trump’s record on race-relations and his appeal to the American working-class. But what is surprising is that race trumped (ha!) income, education level, and even sex, meaning that his victory was highly dependent on the middle-class and well-off, rather than being the result of a “revolt by poorer whites left behind by globalisation”, as one might have expected. This statistic means that, far from being outliers, my partner’s parents are entirely representative of Trump voters: white, suburban, middle-class, and over 60. So why did this group vote for the so-called anti-Establishment candidate? Don’t they stand to benefit from the Establishment? Was the prospect of a female president simply too much to bear? Am I driving myself slowly insane trying to answer all these questions? (Yes).
I understand – intellectually – where they’re coming from. I understand the frustration of feeling ignored and unrepresented by your government, of hoping for change, of wanting better. But firstly, if you are a cis, white, straight, able-bodied, middle-class married couple in the States then TRUST ME the system is represent you! And secondly, the notion that Trump – a man so self-involved and volatile he makes a screaming toddler look considered and empathetic – could actually be the country’s saviour beggars belief.
Yes, America *is* broken, but not because the country has moved away from good, old-fashioned values [read: when men were men, and women dutifully popped out rosy-cheeked children whilst baking apple pie, and not ONCE did they complain] as the Conservatives like to make out – it’s broken because of the systemic refusal to acknowledge that the country was built on the foundations of institutionalised racism and genocide. It’s broken because the richest 1% of the population own more than 40% of the nation’s wealth (with the bottom 80% owning around 7%). It’s broken because the education system is failing to the point where adult illiteracy is as high as 30% in certain areas. It’s broken because old white men dictate the reproductive choices of young women. It’s broken because the right to bear arms is considered more important than the lives of school children. And it’s broken because 90% of the media that Americans consume is controlled by just six companies (GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS, if you’re interested)*. This represents the status quo, and yes, this does need to change.
I’m not arguing that Hilary Clinton would have been the antidote to all of these evils (she was the ultimate corporate candidate, after all), but would I have preferred to see her in office? FUCK YES OH MY GOD YES ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Nevertheless, the people have spoken, and Mr Trump won fair and square (if your definition of ‘fair and square’ includes a candidate losing the popular vote by over 3 million but still winning the election).
At the end of the day, I’m faced with the gloomy realisation that the electorate who voted for Trump did so because they saw something of themselves in him. Brash, aspirational, and unashamedly un-PC – this was a man who was unafraid to say what people were actually thinking. He was the embodiment of The American Dream and he was their peer. What better way to give the finger to the Establishment than to reject their most qualified contender ever in favour of the nation’s collective misogynistic, racist, unstable, yet (somehow) compelling uncle?
Trump - the man who publicly and gleefully mocked a disabled reporter – has taken the highest office in American politics with his chubby, little, pussy-grabbing hands. If there was ever any doubt about his agenda, his beliefs, or his temperament, the past year has only served to prove us naysayers correct: he has no interest in dealing with the issues that actually need to be dealt with – poverty, education, ingrained racism, gun control, and women’s rights. No. He’s too busy fighting slanging matches on Twitter. Actually combating these issues would upset the status quo, and the status quo suits Trump just fine.
*This is not an exhaustive list of why America is broken.
Article by Sarah Bradnum
VERVE "She Said" Contributor