Making Sense of America's Election
We live in an age when the nationalist strongman is ascendant. He takes authoritarian form in places like Russia and China, as well as democratic form in countries such as Japan, India, the Philippines and now the United States.
Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election has shocked both Democratic and Republican mandarins, who were convinced that he would mobilize more people against his candidacy than for it. In fact, this was a change election -- after eight years of a Democratic presidency -- that swept Republicans into power across the board, giving them unified control of the American government's executive and legislative branches. Trump will ride a tidal wave of popular support into the Oval Office, overturning Washington's established order.
American leaders of all stripes need to acknowledge that Trump's message had traction with a substantial portion of the nation -- including many blue-collar Democrats who crossed party lines to support him. Voters were willing to overlook his personal shortcomings, volatile temperament and lack of political experience in favor of his argument that Washington needed an outsider-businessman who could deliver radical change to a troubled nation.
Trump's election is a damning indictment of the alienation of America's political class from the concerns of average voters. A corollary of this trend is people's mistrust of governing institutions, and of political and economic elites. Voters have overcompensated for their sense of grievance and desire for root-and-branch reform by electing a political outsider who has never held elected office.
Trump's election is also a backlash against the legacy of President Barack Obama. Median household incomes grew by 0% during the eight years of his presidency. Political gridlock in Washington intensified, not only because of Republican obstreperousness but because Obama had strained relations with the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill.
Photo by Michael Vadon