Donald Trump’s Election Requires All of Us to Listen, and Have Faith in the U.S. System of Government


This is Part I of a special two part series on post-election mortum.  In Part I, I discuss what I think we are called upon to do in light of Donald Trump’s victory while also providing some level of comfort for those frightened by his presidency.  In Part II, I dig into the election results to see what I got right about the election, and more importantly, how I got the result so wrong.

My thoughts before the election are here.  Part I elaborates on many of the points I initially raised there.

Donald J. Trump is president-elect.

Much like me, you are probably stunned with this statement and are still unable to comprehend how this is so.

One thing is for certain, though.  What you witnessed last night was fury in ways previously unseen.

Consider: only 37% of the voters believed that Donald Trump was qualified for the presidency and only 34 % believed that he had the temperament for the office.  This is a stunning statistic.  In effect, many voters said they knew Donald Trump wasn’t fit for the office of the most powerful man in the world–and they didn’t care.

This can only be called a “scorched earth” philosophy of voting:  just throw a grenade into Washington, D.C. and see what happens, results be damned.  People were that angry with the status quo.

This explains why much of the criticism of Trump never stuck.  To his core supporters, the fact that he had almost certainly committed sexual assault, said reprehensible things about every minority group imaginable and never seemed to give a damn about facts were irrelevant.  The response to these flaws was a shrug and a “So, what?  Fuck Washington.”

If you don’t share this angry sentiment, it’s likely because you have not been suffering in silence in ways that the Trump supporters have been for the last twenty years.

And if you don’t know anyone who helps you understand the sentiment, you have become dangerously detached from a very large contingent of the American population.

You are not alone.

I am a Republican but I did not vote for Donald Trump.  I only know of a handful of people who did, and even then only as an anti-Clinton vote.  I do not know of a single person who shares the anger that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency.

Both you and I need to find a way to become reconnected with these people (or probably, connected for the first time), for the sake of the nation over the next four years.

And when engaging with them, to do so with some level of humility, empathy and appreciation–to do it in a way that I would need to when listening to an African-American helping me understand the racism he has faced while growing up as a black man in America.

Describing people who have very real, legitimate gripes about what has happened to their lives and the bleak future they face with words like xenophobe, sexist, racist or, to borrow a phrase from Hillary Clinton, deplorables, is extremely unhelpful.  It is akin to telling them, “you shut up and go back into the little hole you crawled out of.”

It is insulting and demeaning, and it is precisely the attitude that has led to their anger exploding.

America has a major problem.  What earlier this year looked like the Republican Party’s problem has become the nation’s problem.  It is now incumbent on the entire nation to say, “we hear you, we get it and we will do something about it.”

This is easier said than done.  While their concerns may be legitimate, kowtowing to populism is rarely the right answer.  In the era of globalization, banning immigration and withdrawing from free trade treaties are as unworkable as building a wall on the southern border.  But whatever the solution may be, the task is first for all of us to understand the problem, and that requires us to brave it and get out of our small bubbles.

Meanwhile, if you are frightened by the Donald Trump presidency, I urge you to have faith in the American system.

Whatever flaws may exist with the United States Constitution, one thing it ensures is the avoidance of authoritarianism.  The Constitution splits power between the upper and lower houses of the legislature, then splits it again between the legislative and the executive branches.

Under the American system, a president can accomplish very little on his own.  If you have been frustrated that Barack Obama hasn’t been able to accomplish much on his own even through the use of executive powers, I hope you can take comfort that the same institutional limitations will constrain President Donald J. Trump.

Also have faith in an unlikely source: the political party system.

The current party system traces its history to the rise of the Democratic Party in the 1830s.  The party was a brainchild of Martin Van Buren, who built a strong party apparatus as means to provide institutional control over the popular war hero Andrew Johnson.  The approach worked, for even under President Johnson, who was inclined to demagoguery, the American republic survived and even thrived.

Benjamin Franklin, when asked what kind of government the United States was going to have, famously responded, “A republic, if we can keep it.”

I have little doubt that America can, even in the face of President Donald J. Trump.

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9 Responses to “Donald Trump’s Election Requires All of Us to Listen, and Have Faith in the U.S. System of Government”


  1. 1 repropagatingthewave November 10, 2016 at 1:50 am

    Stunned certainly is the word. It’s frightening to know that there are people out there that are THAT angry or are that fed up with the status quo they reverted to “throw a grenade into Washington”. (well said)
    I personally am trying to justify this result on low voter turnout, and not a sign that nationalism has become a majority.
    Good read looking froward to II.

    • 2 joesas November 10, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      Repropagatingthewave,

      Thanks for the note! I was shocked with the level of anger as well, and I am deeply troubled as a result.

      I appreciate your looking out for Part II, although it will be much dryer and less inspirational…

      Joe

  2. 3 Caitlin November 10, 2016 at 9:32 am

    I never thought I’d agree with you so much on politics, Joe. I appreciate your perspective and do find it a little comforting that his power is limited.

    However, as a woman and an atheist, I absolutely have felt deep anger and frustration with the political establishment. Thanks to omnipresent misogyny — much of it justifed by religion — I’m not considered a full person in this country. I’m not allowed to control my own body, violence committed against me would almost certainly not result in a prison sentence for the perpetrator, and I’m paid significantly less for the same job than a man, among many other injustices, both cultural and legal.

    But despite this anger, I didn’t throw a tantrum and watch the world burn. Some of the people who voted for Trump have legitimate grievances, which they just exacerbated by spitefully electing someone who certainly won’t help them. I find it difficult to sympathize with people who, instead of trying to make the world a better place, decide to ruin it for everyone.

    • 4 joesas November 10, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Caitlin,

      Always great to hear from you.

      The reason I encouraged people to get to know Trump supporters is the same reason I need to hear from you about issues on women. I`m a man so I don`t know what it`s like growing up as, working as and generally being a woman. I`m almost certainly going to disagree with you on the cure (and even possibly the disease) but it would be important for me to gain a different perspective.

      I do think that you and Trump supporters have one key difference, which is that I think your views are fairly well represented by the Democratic Party while those of Trump supporters are not. As I wrote in my earlier post, these voters have traditionally been Democrats who felt the party didn`t speak to them anymore but who also couldn`t get on board with the Republican Party. It`s no doubt frustrating for you to not see any changes; it`s infinitesimally more frustrating if you feel that no one cares.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Joe

  3. 5 jon November 10, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I think this is a very good post. And everything here seems very logical. I have some concerns about the implementation

    1) Since you haven’t debated someone who is “angry”, I can say I have, mainly online. I have actually tried to find common ground and an understanding, and am met with outrageous roadblocks that we cannot overcome. I cannot accept that President Obama is a Muslim who formed ISIS for example. I cannot accept that crime is at an all time high. I cannot accept, upon showing the data, that any data coming from the the corrupt FBI or liberal media is lies. And on and on. I understand there is anger, but there HAS to be some responsibility of those who are angry to have a semblance of rationality.

    2) Republicans have control over all three branches of government. Its not a super-majority, but you have to admit it might seem a little scary for a democrat that the majority of the checks and and balances are held by the same party; a party that should have stood up to Trump and mostly didn’t (and when they didn’t, they were railroaded anyway). I am cautiously optimistic in “trusting the system”, but I don’t trust Trump for a second, and the Republican Party is going to have to prove to me that they can stand up to him if he threatens democratic principles. I “trust them” to do this only because I have no other choice right now. But I will hope for the best.

    • 6 joesas November 10, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Jon,

      I confess that I haven`t met, much less spoken at length with, the core Trump supporters the way you have. I`m not sure how you approached them, but if and when I get to engage with such people, I hope to avoid political issues like immigration (because having Mexico pay for a wall is preposterous), the Obama presidency (because he was clearly born in America) and the like, and just find out what`s going on in their lives. You and I are always going to have the upper hand over these people on knowledge, information and analysis–that`s the nature of being overeducated–but it doesn`t mean that their perspective don`t matter. I`m convinced that the reason we have gotten into this mess is because we haven`t the slightest idea what their lives are all about.

      On the checks and balances, I am much more optimistic. I have innate faith in the American system which has survived for over 200 years and through 43 presidents, some of whom were truly bad. Give it a chance, take a step back and take a deep breath. In eight years, I think you will come out with a greater belief in the American system.

      Joe

  4. 7 Tristan November 10, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    I’m certainly looking for some comfort too.

    I’m not even sure I would agree that Trump voters were generally just looking to lob grenades at the government. Focusing on the white working class, he’s the only candidate who actually made their issues his priority, whatever his background (though Bernie might have had a shot at their vote, had he won). Trump spoke their language, went to where they lived, and they turned out for him.

    Nevertheless, they did throw a grenade, whatever their intent. A fragile, narcissistic bully who has no respect for institutions or conventions is now about to become the most powerful man on earth. I agree that those institutions he has no respect for have some power to restrain him, but I don’t know whether it will be enough. The Republicans control Congress and Trump controls the base of the Republican Party. Opposition to his agenda is likely to lead to a primary challenge for whoever dares it. The Supreme Court is only as strong as the executive and the people are willing to heed its judgements. While the court has tremendous political capital, I do not have confidence that Trump as president would feel restrained by it.

    These institutions still ought to prevent Trump from wielding absolute power. We might see instead an angry and vengeful president, lashing out at those who would seek to hold him back, while the country slides into chaos amidst a series of constitutional crises. I don’t think this is an impossible scenario given what we know of Trump so far.

    If I have some hope it’s that his desire to avoid being seen as a failure will compel him to restrain his worst impulses. Also that the other major institutions, the military and bureaucracy, have a culture and momentum that would hopefully keep things together in the midst of everything, and that would simply refuse to obey a truly egregious order.

    For me to be more hopeful than that requires believing in a different Trump than what we’ve seen so far.

    • 8 joesas November 26, 2016 at 8:45 am

      Tristan,

      Great to hear from you as always.

      You are so despondent. Although I can see why, I urge you, again, to have some faith.

      Yes, Republicans control Congress, but most of these Republicans do not have Trump voters as base of support. I may sound like a broken record, but it’s worth emphasizing that the people who came out in doves to vote for Trump are not traditional Republicans. They may have been able to hijack the Republican presidential nomination process, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say they took the party over, too (although Congressional Republicans were certainly helped by the down-the-ballot effect)

      I also think that the institutional limitations are real. Trump came in with no political background and very little personnel experienced in politics. You’re now seeing the impact of that, which is Trump’s needing to tap into the Republican Party apparatus for appointments. Many, if not most, of these people are not Trump supporters; they are Republicans first. I think the GOP will become a greater check than you expect.

      Finally, I agree that his desire to be successful will tamper is temperaments. Governing is very different from campaigning. The former is far more grand, and the ship will be very hard to move, for better or for worse.

      Let’s see where we’re at in two years, then four, and compare notes. I hope, and actually think, that it will be closer to my version of “it will be all right” then your “all hell may break loose.”

      Hope you continue to check in!


  1. 1 Why Donald Trump Won: Decade-Long Struggle of the Democratic Party with White Voters, and Other Unexplainable Factors | The World According to Joe Trackback on November 11, 2016 at 7:14 pm

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