There’s a temptation to blame voter-ID laws, the Electoral College, the erosion of empiricism. There’s a temptation to blame the press in general for hammering it into voters that Trump is ill fit but not really listening to them. Or Facebook: in the middle of the night on Tuesday, David Remnick pointed out that the alt-right and the nationalistic press are given a huge voice from Facebook, which also doesn’t filter out false news stories. Or Julian Assange for leaking emails in successive dumps that became empty proof of Hillary Clinton corruption. Or to say that education of the white working class has stagnated and led to discontent without knowledge, compounded by the fact that the press was trying to be their teacher. These are all contributing factors, but I would argue that now, when we’re trying to come to terms with this, we need to try to resist blame, to keep in mind a broader perspective.
The broader perspective is that we have to trust democracy. It’s not that nothing was broken about how millions of rural voters in the middle of the country received knowledge. The lines of communication were clearly jammed, if virtually no poll saw this coming. But we can’t respond to the vote as though it is the result of something breaking. We have to pay attention to what it honestly reveals about this divided country: a deep frustration with political insiders, and a conservative desperation to slow cultural change. One lesson to be learned is how powerful the message of change is. It appears now that many people who voted for Obama voted for Trump. Even if Hillary had won the electorate (she did win the popular vote), we would still be reckoning with this. In that sense, democracy worked.
I will never swallow the racism that launched Trump’s success. But we’ll have a much healthier time if we resist thinking about the white working class as a misinformed lumpenproletariat, and respect them as a truly discontented class, whose feeling of disenfranchisement we will have to reckon with over the next four years. As well we should: if the coastal, college-educated elites had no idea this would happen, we’ve been living in our own hopeful world.
If you’ve ever been to the n+1 office, you’ll have seen the poster hanging on the door: Utopia in our time, it says, in red, with a block cut image of a dolphin. A few weeks ago, emails were going around about what slogan we should put on a new poster. Eventually we landed on Want Something Different. The poster is like a fragmented optical illusion, slightly disorienting and futuristic. This phrase, want something different, is one I’ve been hearing a lot this morning: that the Trump voters wanted something different. It’s funny to reflect now on the optimism and longing with which n+1 put forward that statement. The longing is still there.