Ross Douthat reflects. In the end, Donald Trump spoke strongly about immigrants. Muslim, Hispanic or otherwise. He said many disgusting things about women, veterans, the disabled. He acted like a drunk frat boy when he wasn’t acting like a stereotypical bigot and sexist. And yet he won. Well, he didn’t win. Hillary lost. And lost big. A candidate with everything going for her, with every establishment institution behind her, and she lost against a caricature of one of the worst candidates in American history. How?
Well, here’s a thought. Trump unified Americans. Apart from his personal attacks and hard line against immigration, Trump seldom spoke to, or against, ‘demographics.’ There wasn’t much he reached out to, in name, regarding women, or blacks, or whites, or LGBT. A couple times he spoke to black voters, he did assure the LGBT community after Orlando. But most of the time it was Make American Great Again, Make America Great Again, Make American Great Again. It was bring back jobs for Americans. It was put America back on the map. It was make America strong. It was stop letting America be pushed around.
On the other hand, Hillary continued apace with the Democratic tendency to see itself as a large tent under which endless demographics can mingle. And she spoke accordingly. When she wasn’t wining and dining with her corporate billionaire and celebrity millionaire friends, she was speaking to this or that group, for this or that group, and often against this or that group. When she spoke to the LGBT community, she slammed her basket of deplorables. She assured women that she would fight the sexists and misogynists who were all around us. To blacks, it was protection from those rascally racist white people, cops especially. Everywhere she went, she assured any and all groups that she was for them, and if need be, against those others. Not others overseas mind you. But other Americans, just down the street, across town, likely with a Trump/Pence sign in the yard.
And somewhere, despite the post-Cold War push to end nations and embrace a global world order, enough Americans were hurting, bothered, and even yearning for a little unity, that they walked away. Many didn’t vote for Trump. But they saw the contrast enough to know they didn’t want the old ‘Not our country, sure as hell not your country, but my country when it finally lives up to my standards’ form of modern patriotism. From protesting the national anthem, to being assured that terrorists will probable only kill other Americans, to being comforted to know that you needn’t worry about those suffering economically if you’re doing well, many seemed to get the sneaky feeling that this growing division between me and the other 300 million Americans who don’t matter as much is destined to fail.
Again, this is not to say Trump never reached out to different groups, or that Hillary never spoke of America’s greatness or needs. When he did address the concerns of various Americans, however, Trump promised to look out for their needs by standing against Washington insiders (from both parties), corporate elites and foreigners. Hillary, as often as not, promised to look out for their needs by standing against Republicans, corporate elites, and fellow Americans.
In the late 1970s, you didn’t have to guess if we were floundering, since the press was leading the charge to point out all the ways in which America seemed to be unraveling. My Dad was a train engineer. Believe it or not, train engineers make good money. Or at least they did. Long hours and not always safe, it was a good living. And since by then Dad had seniority, no matter how bad the economy, he still had work. That means, for all the inflation and unemployment, we were OK.
And yet, my parents were upset. They were upset because their country was hurting, even if they weren’t. They were upset that Americans were hurting, even if they weren’t. They were outraged at the Iranian hostage crisis because fellow Americans were in danger, even if they weren’t. For too long, we’ve accepted a general approach to our country that twists the Golden Rule around to say ‘do unto others, as long as you don’t do unto me.’ Is terrorism inevitable? Sure. Once they began striking on American soil, most said it was bound to happen. But take heart! The odds of being killed by terrorists are worse than being hit by lightning! Huzzah!
What’s that say? That says that it’s almost a mathematical certainty that if terrorists strike, it will be some other dumb, schmuck American family that gets devastated, not mine. Not me. And that’s pretty awesome. New smartphone. Latest apps. Legalized pot. Hey! That’s what makes Americans great. If someone I never knew gets killed? It’s a shame, but I can live with that. Same with the economy. If you’re doing fine, awesome. Those who aren’t? Eh. Sure we should probably help out, but why worry? Some are probably just pissed because they’re losing their privilege.
A far cry from the late 70s. Or even the mid 80s. When Reagan ran for reelection in 1984, the economy was growing in leaps and bounds. And yet, the media made sure we never forgot the plight of those being left behind. Until all Americans were enjoying their share of the prosperity, we could never be happy with the economic turnaround. Even then, the media emphasis was on reminding us that it’s never about us, but always about our fellow Americans.
How different than now, when being assured that terrorists will probably only kill other Americans, so no need to worry, is meant to help us keep things in perspective. Subtle, I’ll grant you. But subtle in a monstrous way. And I can’t help but think as Hillary continued her message to this or that demographic, Trump’s message that Americans need to be great again, and the only enemies are those who threaten that (including those millionaires and billionaires firmly entrenched behind Hillary’s candidacy) resonated. He may have been a billionaire among gullible peasants. But Hillary’s insistence on pulling away from the gullible masses to fraternize with the billionaires and millionaires, while promising that she would help us against those other Americans, ultimately fell flat.
As a Christian, how does this square, putting America’s interest so far ahead of others? How does setting aside the foreigner for our national interest line up with the universal call of the Gospel? I would say about as badly as the tendency of elevating the cause of the foreigner and wayfarer at the expense of my own neighbors, as long as it isn’t me. For just as I am called to love the foreigner, so I am called to love all who are my neighbor. And that includes the fellow down the street with a Trump sign in his yard. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn enough that in the future we’ll be able to find ways to concern ourselves with all people, foreign and domestic, caring about their concerns and sufferings, seeking to reach out across the board. Who knows. We’ll see I suppose.