In her book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild writes about the “deep story” underlying the recent transformations in American politics.
A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Hochschild describes the phenomenon in these words: “The deep story of the right, the feels–as–if story corresponds to a real structural squeeze. People want to achieve the American Dream, but for a mixture of reasons feel they are being held back, and this leads people of the right to feel frustrated, angry and betrayed by the government. Race is an essential part of this story.”
We could easily add misogyny as another narrative component that is as integral to this story. And it is this deep story that seems to have played out in the stunning outcome of the elections in the US.
The result has left pollsters and media analysts red-faced, with many of them asking ‘what happened’ in a bewildered way. These luminaries spent days and months picking threadbare America’s political fluctuations; the trends, and the mood of its people. Yet they utterly failed to anticipate the unprecedented results. The post–mortem now underway gestures towards a dark and uncertain future that the world’s most powerful country seems to be headed towards.
The Republican nominee Donald Trump – a real estate tycoon and rank outsider to Washington’s political system – has defeated the experienced politician and veteran Democrat Hillary Clinton. She, who could perhaps have broken the ultimate glass ceiling in the patriarchal power structure has won the popular vote, but lost to her adversary in the Electoral College. That the very notion of an Electoral College renders democracy somewhat meaningless is a pertinent point, but also irrelevant at this moment. For now, Trump’s victory seems to have propelled America to a political, economic and social trajectory that gives one plenty of reason for anxiety.
The deep disquiet over Trump’s victory is not simply to do with his status as a greenhorn politician whose image, till now, has been mainly that of a swaggering, overconfident aspirant for the presidential office. There is enough cause for apprehension about his inexperience in governance and politics. But that does not explain the fear and anxiety currently sweeping across large swathes of America at the prospect of a Trump presidency that could last for up to eight years.
There is good reason for anxiety. The President-elect has emerged as a rallying point for the different varieties of bigots who, till his emergence as a forceful, hate-spewing candidate were hovering in the background. While the Republican Party has always provided a platform for misogyny, racism, and a love of guns, Trump has harnessed these forces in a unique way. The scary symbolism of America’s first African-American President being followed by a President endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan speaks volumes for the tragedy many are anticipating will unfold in the coming days.
KKK leader David Duke even tweeted last night that: “This is one of the most exciting nights of my life. Make no mistake about it, our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!”
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) November 9, 2016
These lobbies that have solidly backed Trump, no matter the level of offense he has caused – repeatedly – throughout the campaign. They have asserted themselves more and more in the months leading up to the polls and are now hoping to deepen already existing sentiments of racism and misogyny. No matter how much Trump may (for appearance’s sake) now appeal for unity and call for bridging the deep chasm within American society, he has successfully unleashed the genie of hatred against a whole range of people – Muslims, Latinos, women, LGBTQ people – who are fearing years of targeted torment and surveillance.
While white poverty and alienation from the mainstream might provide one explanation for what happened, there are no simple answers at hand. The racism and sexism of voters has to be understood alongside years of failed policies, economic devastation and unfulfilled aspirations. That post-mortem is yet to happen. And it is now too late to realise that these questions should have been asked months, if not years ago.