It is quite unfortunate that, much like Brexit, misinformation and propaganda significantly influenced the decisions of many ordinary Americans, who only wanted better lives for themselves and their families. Rust Belt voters are responsible for electing a man who not only displays a lack of intellect and tact, but also chooses to exploit the concerns of rural whites who feared of the excesses of multiculturalism, immigration, and trade liberalization.
Ironically, the voters who are most shielded from the effects of two out of the three previously mentioned phenomena are these rural, white manufacturing workers. Rarely do they have to worry about multiculturalism or immigration due to the fact that an overwhelming number of America’s rural communities are populated by non-Hispanic whites, according to the 2010 Census. Urbanites are more likely to face the effects of a rapid influx of immigrants and the problems associated with assimilation and integration, while much of rural America is increasingly falling victim to rapidly evolving automation and technology. Thus, the white rural electorate that resides in the Rust Belt has largely been duped by the narrative that there will be a foreign takeover of the country; instead, it looks as if the economic prospects for them is a natural consequence of international trade and technological progress. An overwhelming size of Trump’s voter base believes that the most concerning issues facing the United States are the economy and terrorism, both being roughly equal in importance. So, while the economy is important, immigration and terrorism constitutes a large portion of the calculus of many Trump supporters. Rural America is especially attentive to matters concerning immigration and jobs, which is why Trump managed to outdo Romney in many rural communities throughout the Rust Belt. Clinton’s support in rural America hit a new low for Democrats, capping in at 29%, while Obama managed to garner 38% of the rural vote in 2012. If the Democrats want to mend the cultural and political gaps between the cities and the countryside, then they must take into account the real and visceral grievances that the countryfolk have, such as job loss, drug epidemics, and the seemingly disappearing future of the manufacturing sector.
A very similar dynamic occurred in Britain this past summer; voters who resided in the countryside of Britain, Scotland, and Wales overwhelmingly voted for Brexit, while city-dwellers, including those who lived in London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, voted decisively against the bill. The urban and rural divide is indeed very similar in America, as rural voters in both the Republican and Democratic primaries voted primarily for both Trump and Sanders over the other establishment candidates. This results shows that despite the divide appearing to be caused by economic problems and in response to the perceived drawbacks of international trade, immigration, and multiculturalism, there is also widespread discontent with Congress and the establishment factions of both parties. The approval rating of Congress has been consistently below 20% since mid-2011. According to a PRC poll, 62% of Americans view the Republican Party unfavorably, while the Democratic Party only suffers from a 50% disapproval rating. These ratings may explain why Republicans were far more eager in this election to overthrow the establishment. Similarly, only 15% of Britons trust their politicians, indicating that there is widespread resentment against the status-quo that ultimately was voiced in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.
Furthermore, concerns about the potentially adverse effects of globalization and liberal trade policies have not been properly attended to by the majority of the Democratic establishment. The hypocrisy of the Democratic Party surrounds the fact that it overwhelmingly focuses on improving the social safety net for low-income households, rather than for much of the white working class, which is increasingly suffering at the hands of globalization. The neglect of millions of manufacturing workers who lost their jobs and futures catalyzed the creation of a candidate who zealously campaigned against the globalists and interventionists. In sum, Trump’s success stems from his ability to exploit the most alarming concerns of white Americans, including the effects of globalization, immigration and national security policy—all of which have been heavily scrutinized under Obama’s administration.
While there is an economic argument against immigration, much of Trump’s argument is visceral, rather than fact-based. Trump posits that many of the Hispanic immigrants from Mexico are merely criminals and possess an inherent threat to American culture. Likewise, he says that many of the Muslim immigrants attempting to enter the United States are not inclined to assimilate into American society and that they may possess leanings sympathetic to radical Islamism. The fear of a foreign takeover in the United States appears far more threatening to white, working class voters, since they reside in fairly homogeneous cities and towns that are far less likely to be affected by mass-immigration. The white voters who interact least with other cultures, religions, and races have indeed voted for a candidate who caters to their most instinctive and primal fears.
To expand on an earlier contention, the Democratic Party has been fairly complicit in the rise of Trump. Considering that much of the white voter base prioritizes issues related to the economy and national security, many Democrats are more focused on simply upholding the politically correct ethos of American society. Simply questioning the associated problems of multiculturalism or illegal immigration can occasionally be shut up by mainstream liberals who claim that such sentiments are either xenophobic or just plain bigoted. The best solution to countering such fact-averse attitudes is by encouraging open and transparent dialogue, grounded on facts and statistical evidence. Allowing people to voice their fallacies or standpoints on the most pressing and sensitive political issues is necessary, and it is equally conducive to allow even the most hateful opinions to stay afloat. The only way to dispel hatred and fear is through education and tolerance, not the creation of spaces that forbid various forms of political dialogue. Now, one can counter this approach by saying that we live in a world where the majority of people gravitate towards their own confirmation bias. Furthermore, social media is creating filter bubbles, which effectively makes people even more ideological and narrow-minded. Despite this fateful trend, social media executives, like Mark Zuckerberg, are taking measures to combat misinformation and filter bubbles by changing algorithms, appointing public editors, and improving the user interface. This can set a very positive and effective precedent for other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Tumblr, which also suffer from the same problems.
White Europeans are increasingly aligning themselves with similarly bigoted and extreme populist platforms, which only goes to show that this is not only an American problem. The growth of globalization and the erosion of national borders have harmed rural workers worldwide, the unrestricted flow of Muslim refugees has ignited the most hateful sentiments throughout Europe, and assimilatory policies have largely been ineffective throughout France, Belgium, Germany, and Britain. The main predicament right now surrounds the quest for a panacea for right-wing populism. Perhaps we are witnessing the collapse of the neoliberal world order, which is troublesome for advocates of Western hegemony and the spread of liberal and secular values.
Sadly, the worries of minorities across the country are confirmed: the shadowy forces of white supremacy are rising yet again. Trump has indeed utilized white nationalism and socioeconomic instability to garner political power, and American liberals have done nothing but spout the tenets of identity liberalism. Simon Jenkins mentions in his recent column that “The apostles of identity liberalism have fallen into Mill’s trap. They see authoritarianism in others, but not in themselves. They see discrimination in others, but not their own. In guarding their chosen tribes, they fail democracy’s ultimate test, of tolerance for the concerns of those with whom they disagree. Someone else is always to blame.” With this being said, the only path forward for this country is to embrace solidarity, and to strive to understand the humanity within all of us. Freedom, civil rights, and tolerance are not going to fade away anytime soon so long as we, the American people, continue to stand by the very principles that our country has advocated for: pluralism, humanism, and unity with all marginalized peoples.