As the smog begins to thin we can see what’s up.
Here are some facts about the presidential election we must account for instead of spitting at it as racist, sexist, or classist (only). It is of course all of those things, but there is more going on as well.
- 12% of those voting for Trump also approves of Obama – about seven million people.
- Trump had 1.4 million fewer votes than Romney did in 2012; Clinton received six million fewer votes than Obama in 2012.
- The higher the education the more likely it was to be a vote for Clinton (58%/37% with post-graduate study, 49%/45% college, and then reversed with those who had some college or a high school degree).
- 18-44 year olds voted Clinton by large majorities.
- 58% of whites voted for Trump vs. 37% for Clinton.
- 54% of women overall voted for Clinton, but 53% of white women voted for Trump. Turn out among women was only 1% higher than 2012.
- Clinton took Manhattan by a whopping 87% and that reflects her strong performance in other big cities, while smaller and mid-size cities went for Trump.
- Trump did not do any worse among African-Americans and Latinos than Romney did, receiving a shocking 29% of the Latino vote. While the Latino vote was up slightly the African-American vote was down, in part due to voter suppression in key states but also because Clinton generated less enthusiasm than Obama.
(Statistics from FiveThirtyEight, New York Times, Young Black and Fabulous, The Guardian)
Of course this election was in part about race, “whitelash” as Van Jones called it. But this election was also about class, revealing division between socio-economic classes as great as between racial and ethnic cohorts. It was also about gender with the largest gender gap in history (12% both ways). We cannot focus only on one source of the division and ignore the others if we desire to be successful agents of change going forward.
We can point fingers at the White majority and shout “they’re racist,” but it gets us just as far as pointing fingers at lesser educated people and shouting “they’re stupid,” or at low-income folks and shouting “they’re lazy.” People live their lives and vote on the basis of what they believe is their self-interest, which is why 88% of African-Americans voted for Clinton. We need to change what they believe, their perception, not condemn and shame them.
The dog-eared old theory called “Force-Field Analysis” still holds, and it says that when forces for change increase an equal countervailing force against change will meet it. So we can fight to vanquish resistance and so bloody everyone in the process, or figure out ways to reduce resistance to the forces for change and so make room for progress. In other words, championing change without also finding ways to reduce the forces against change it will only maintain the status quo or produce violence.
Millions and millions of middle class, working class, and poor White Americans feel their opportunities have been diminished, their nation’s stature in the world harmed, and their children’s future grim. They perceive globalization as the cause, and cultural and racial diversity as a symptom if not also a cause.
The rest of us can point and spit our disgust at what we perceive to be racist xenophobia or we can figure out ways to de-couple, in their minds, race and ethnicity from the economic struggles we all face. The same is true about men and women. As long as men see the equality of women as a threat to their own social and economic status instead of an improvement for everyone, then some men will resist it. Condemnation and shaming will increase resistance rather than reduce it.
Our task is not to shout down and shame prejudiced worldviews among White Americans men and women, it is to convert the way they think and how they see the world – which clearly from the statistics, education has done quite well.
The Trump vote is symptomatic and we need to be listening even as we preach and work for change.
The large swath of White male America that voted Trump has indeed lost economic opportunities and vitality. But their losses are losses echoed across racial and ethnic boundaries, and organizing solidarity with them and reducing their sense of threat and competition from “others” is the key to progress. We need to find ways to convince them that it is not a zero-sum game in which they win and others lose, or they lose and others win.
The strongest, most powerful and dominant electorate would be one holding hands by class across racial and ethnic communities, and one that believes a rising tide lifts all boats. Once the grief and anger of this election have leveled off a little, we have hearts and minds to change.