Donald Trump’s inauguration has been taken as a call to arms by millions across the world who fear the newly minted President threatens to wind back the clock on the hard-fought progressive victories of the past century.
The fear is that Trump’s victory signals the rise of a brutish new nationalism, epitomized by Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, mooted deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants and vulgarian asides about the fairer of the two sexes.
Yet fresh post-election polling suggests prophecies of a 21st-century throwback to the days of uber-nationalism and retrograde chauvinism are overblown.
A survey conducted by the University of Chicago run AmeriSpeak polling group has found that Trump’s views on race, immigration, and women barely rated a mention among his voters.
Instead, Trump’s views on the economy and jobs were the leading reason for his appeal, winning over 19 percent of voters surveyed. This was closely followed by ‘he could change things, shake things up’ at 17 per cent, and ‘he tells it like it is’ and ‘he is not Hillary Clinton’ both at 16 per cent.
By contrast, Trump’s views on women attracted 1 percent of voters, immigration just 3 percent, and race a flat zero.
The takeout is that Trump was not propelled to the Presidency by feeding the prejudices of 63 million Americans who attended the polls on November 8 eager to put the Presidential seal on his trademark vulgarity.
Instead, Trump won by channeling the disaffection of those who thought so poorly of the economic and political status quo, a radical shake-up was a risk from which they had little to lose. They were driven by revolt far more than racism.
Anti-Trump critics have been quick to argue that even if Trump’s hard-headed stance on immigration or callous mocking of a disabled reporter weren’t the source of his appeal, his win still gives tacit approval to ideas that have no place in a modern, civilized society.
Yet as one wily Australian television host put it, while Trump’s supporters took him seriously but not literally, his detractors did precisely the opposite.
For the millions still reeling from Trump’s November 8 upset, an abiding commitment to fighting climate change, expanding and emboldening minority rights and allaying the plight of refugees are non-negotiable hallmarks of any right-thinking person.
The AmeriSpeak survey teaches us that these are not concerns to which Trump’s supporters are indifferent, or even opposed. Rather, they were secondary to the bread and butter issues like economic security and confidence in Government that Trump’s voters deemed to be in fast decline.
Whereas Trump’s detractors view the President’s stance on borders, black lives matter, and Islamic terror as a barometer for the moral health of society at large, his supporters are more transactional. They voted with their hip-pocket, not their heart strings, opting for the candidate they felt was most attuned to the issues that touched their daily lives.
For Trump’s critics, the lesson is that fanning fears his Presidency heralds a second coming of Nazism could well be unproductive. As satisfying as high-handed denunciations of Trump and anyone morally bankrupt enough to have voted for him may be, it’s an exercise in moral vanity that’s sure to only sharpen the divide the last several months have laid starkly bare.
The better approach would be to meet Trump and his supporters on their own turf. That means engaging with the sentiment thick on the ground that life in America is getting worse not better and that politicians are more interested in feathering their own nests than doing anything about it.
These are all areas on which Trump’s anti-globalist, trade-sceptic agenda is open to fair-minded criticism. It’s time we heard some.