Now that the dust has settled there is time for reflection. A consensus seems to have been reached in the liberal media: the Democrats put Trump in the White House. The liberals have now accepted at least some of the responsibility. Backing Clinton was a mistake. She epitomised the political establishment – the opposite of what, as it turns out, the majority of Americans really wanted.
But is this not, yet again, a case of the liberal intelligentsia simply asserting their own moral superiority? “How could we let this happen?” they ask themselves. Now I hear many people asking the question “Who voted for Donald Trump?” as if it is inconceivable that anyone in their right mind would do so. They demanded explanations. They will have to face up to the fact that a lot of people are fed up of being told they should not be allowed to vote. America is a democracy. Somewhere along the gruesome campaign trail this was almost completely forgotten by many. I admit I am guilty of this too.
Nevertheless, social media is now awash with people from all across the world lining up to give their view about the meaning and significance of “democracy.” We must remind ourselves that, not long ago, something very similar happened but on a smaller scale in the UK. The High Court ruling that government should be allowed to trigger Article 50 without first consulting parliament provoked an outraged response from the right-wing. On the front page of the Daily Mail were the faces of three High Court judges along with the headline “ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE.” The prospect that MPs could potentially vote against “the people’s” decision to leave the European Union was all too much to bear.
What really puzzled me about this at the time, however, was the left-wing’s response and how incredibly shallow it was: “oh how little most people know about parliamentary sovereignty and democracy.” They completely failed to come to terms with how strange it must have felt for “Leave” voters to suddenly realise that their own parliament could vote against them. The question “what does it mean to be a democrat?” had become a matter of national concern. The left-wing thought that they had the answer in the form of parliamentary sovereignty. But I simply cannot not imagine that they did not themselves feel, at least in some way, that if a vote against Brexit in parliament would somewhat undermine the whole point of living in a democracy. There was ample reason to think that the question had not been answered. Perhaps it was not properly attempted.
When us sleepy Brits awoke on the 9th November 2016 we had an answer. It was as clear as day. It presented itself to us as the figure of Donald Trump. Here was the triumphant fanfare of the previously “silent” majority. For months we were being told by the polls that Clinton had the upper hand. They could not account for the simple fact that one of the great advantages of democracy is that once you enter the polling booth, you can vote for whatever you want. There is no longer anyone to call you a deplorable, or a bigot, or a racist, or a misogynist, or a homophobe. These words no longer have any meaning. You are voting for who you feel – yes, feel – is your best candidate. The greatest freedom of expression in a democracy these days is to be found in the polling booth.
There were, as always, deep-seated issues of racism and sexism at play in this election. Voting for Trump can, to some extent, be considered a racist act purely because of what he represents. This seems to be the view of the majority of African-Americans – it is now known that only 8% voted for Trump. Perhaps African-Americans have endured too much before and have had too proud a civil rights movement to suddenly want to vote for Trump. What about women’s oppression? Can voting for him be considered a sexist act? To say so would seem to defy the 42% of women who voted for him. This statistic is all the more baffling considering Trump’s outright misogyny. But when we should be asking these women why they felt it necessary to vote for a man who so clearly undermines them, the conversation is stunted by those who cannot resist the urge to call them ignorant of their own situation.
It is arguable that Trump’s victory represents, not a failure for democracy, but perhaps one of its greatest triumphs. For a long time we have been throwing the words “democrat” and “undemocratic” about without knowing where they will land, or whether they will stick. It has taken an earthquake shake up this mindless operation. This calls for a renewed understanding. Let me be clear, I despise Trump. I fear what is to come for America. I fear for all the women who he will undoubtedly betray. I certainly fear for Hispanics, Muslims, and African-Americans. But anyone who call themselves a “democrat” should remember this basic fact: in a democracy it is necessary to win over the hearts and minds of people who are in complete control of where the pencil ends up on the ballot slip. Furthermore, the issues of racism and sexism cannot be properly attended to if the conversation is shut down at the point at which someone appears to be expressing a view that does not register on liberal radar. Women will continue to vote for Trump while they continue to receive the usual spiel about sexism that they clearly feel is of no relevance to them. While freedom of expression is being squeezed outside the ballot booth it continues to exert its powerful influence from within.
Ollie is a blogger and philosophy graduate at UCL