Before polling day, a Trump victory was inconceivable. Who would actually vote for Trump? Only a few stray Facebook commenters who have considerably fewer ‘likes’, if social media were anything to go by. As it turns out, however, the more accurate answer to that is ‘more than 59 million Americans’.
When the results were announced, the reactions were varied, ranging from ironic statements and memes, to more aggressive responses such as name-calling and anti-Trump protests. Then there are those who worry about what this means for the U.S. as a nation, and for the rest of us as a globalised world. They wonder about the implications of this in regards to anti-immigrant sentiments, the infamous glass ceiling, and the Asian stock market.
These outraged, dissatisfied responses are completely justified and understandable – we do need to address why Trump’s victory is problematic in many ways. However, the running assumption that Trump’s presidency will be ultimately damaging is rather one-sided, for it sidesteps the belief held by those 59 million Americans when they cast their vote.
There lies the crunch: why was this an unpleasant shock to only one half of the nation? The sensation of growing, horrified disbelief is, perhaps, not unfamiliar to Remain voters. No one thought that it would actually happen – and then it did. The fact that these outcomes are ‘stunning upsets’ is an indication of how disengaged we’ve become with those whose political stance diverges from ours.
One part of this is the media we consume: most media outlets have an almost stubborn reputation of being either overtly libertarian (e.g. The Guardian) or overtly conservative (e.g. FOX News), which subsequently influences our choice as active audiences in selecting and interpreting information.
This polarisation of political affiliation also occurs through the process of establishing and maintaining our respective social ‘bubbles’ (which makes sense given how exhausting it is to exchange arguments with certain unresponsive or stubborn parties). However, it is precisely these discourses that are necessary for actual engagement between differing ideologies.
“Trump himself has often demonised and criminalised the Muslim, the Mexican, the female ‘Other’ – now we must be careful not to do the same with our own ‘Other’, i.e. the Trump voters”
There is not much point in doing nothing beyond objecting to the election’s outcome. You may not want to live in a world where Trump wins – but you do. And so does the rest of the world, including those 59 million Americans. It has been acknowledged that this victory is, in fact, a ‘repudiation of the establishment’, ‘the ultimate protest vote’, but there seems to be much less concern about understanding this anti-establishment sentiment from the direct perspective of those who voted for Trump.
Trump himself has often demonised and criminalised the Muslim, the Mexican, the female ‘Other’ – now we must be careful not to do the same with our own ‘Other’, i.e. the Trump voters. We have to realise that Trump has managed to play the underdog card effectively, and try to understand how he became the champion of that ‘Other’. It is no longer a lack of engagement with the youth – which was arguably one of the factors that led to Brexit – but a lack of engagement with the Trump voters, the whites without a college degree, the rural voters, that induced Trump’s unexpected win.
How Donald Trump won: follow our live US election results map as the final counts come in https://t.co/0QKL6CbqPI pic.twitter.com/TkcggHdN9t
— Financial Times (@FT) November 9, 2016
In our own bubble, it is all too clear why Trump as president will have terrible implications; the question remains, is the ‘Other’ aware of this? If not, why not? If so, why did they vote for him anyway? We cannot afford to dismiss the appeal of Trump’s rhetoric if we want to arrive at a compromise that can reasonably accommodate every ‘American value’: Democratic, Republican or otherwise. Nor should we marginalise or mock opinions of which we are less fond.
This is not to say that we should embrace certain ideals as being conceptually solid, or socially acceptable, or sufficiently informed. There is, however, a need to acknowledge their existence and prevalence, and consider the best approach in addressing them. Among those in our bubble, there is a tendency to write these off almost as an absurd joke or laughably outdated thinking, but these are the very real opinions of millions who make very real decisions.
So we must re-evaluate how we raise social awareness and educate the masses about the plight of those who suffer from discrimination. All those satirical TV sketches, snappy videos, and one-minute news segments, covering concepts such as micro-aggression, Islamophobia and gender identity – are they shifting paradigms in a significant manner, or are they simply a masturbatory self-reinforcement of ideology? There is nothing wrong with the latter – after all, we are entitled to express ideas without necessarily having a profound objective, and more often than not even those in our respective bubbles can stand to be a little more aware.
However, to experience a discernible change in the ideological landscape, we have to ensure that our voices are reaching those who disagree with us, and vice versa. What are their plights, and what do they hope to get out of voting for Trump? We need to create a discourse that bridges demographical gaps, that does not exclude those who are different in terms of education level, political orientation, place of birth, social class and generation.
“This also serves as a sobering reminder that just because everyone on Facebook agrees with you, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the nation will”
For those of us watching from the sidelines, this also serves as a sobering reminder that just because everyone on Facebook agrees with you, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the nation will. There may be certain political figures who are so unabashedly and pervasively disliked that it is hard to fathom anyone voting for them (in no way referring to the lovely politicians of my own country, obviously), but it can happen. So maybe it is time for you to examine your political interests, reappraise your own bubble, and consider communicating beyond this sphere.
I know I will.
Yee Heng Yeh
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Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.