Don’t count on itby Gillian Peele / November 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
The entrails of Donald Trump’s victory in Tuesday’s presidential election will doubtless be examined by analysts for some time to come as commentators seek an explanation for the unexpected result. Although no single factor generated Trump’s success, three elements were powerful determinants of his victory.
The first was the extent of the anger in parts of a deeply divided America; groups which felt forgotten by government and marginalised by the globalisation of the American economy, as well as fearful about the future of a society where demographic change threatened their view of the country’s identity and their place in it. Here Barack Obama’s enthusiastic campaigning for Hillary Clinton and the speculation about a Latino surge may have reinforced the feelings of alienation, especially on the part of many white working class voters.
The second element was Trump’s ability to appeal to this constituency by tapping into fears generated by immigration, terrorism and economic uncertainty and by his ability to project himself as the outsider, promising change which involved a revolt against government and a cleansing of the Washington “swamp.” The third factor was the underestimate of the unraveling of the Democratic coalition, as evidenced by Clinton’s failure to enthuse fully important groups who had turned out for Obama, some of whom had backed Bernie Sanders in the primaries. These groups included millennials and African Americans as well as white working class voters.
Putting together a coalition of voters to win election is one thing, governing quite another. The constitution with its separation of powers places enormous constraints on any president, and the polarisation of American politics in recent years has made the system of checks and balances more difficult to operate. Trump comes to the White House with the advantage of a Republican House and Senate. Even if the Republican Party in Congress contains critics of Trump, this will give him leverage at least for the first two years of his presidency. And with one immediate vacancy on the Supreme Court, Trump is well positioned to shape it for the foreseeable future.