For those who didn’t support him – and for quite a few who did – the day after Donald Trump’s election as president was like the moments after an explosion, silence except for a faint ringing in the ears. That is an understandable and appropriate response. Something did explode. It was the combustible anger and frustration of working class whites, mostly men. And with that, presidential standards fell, the political establishment shook, the nation’s allies and foes felt the ground shift and millions worried about the disruptions and reversals to come.
Trump made bold promises. He would double economic growth, deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, build a wall on the nation’s southern border, cut taxes, increase defense spending, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, defeat ISIS, improve care for veterans, get tough with China and Iran and generally make everyone prosperous and everything “great” and “beautiful.” As to how he would do all that, he just said, time and again, “Believe me.”
Most voters didn’t and don’t believe him. He lost the popular vote. And even his supporters knew Trump is prone to bombast and breaking agreements. But they knew he would deliver on one pledge. He would bring change – jarring change. And no doubt many voted for him as a protest vote, to rattle the political establishment. They didn’t, however, think much beyond that. Now the nation and the world will see what they have wrought.
Trump’s surprising election wasn’t entirely his own or doing. Ultimately the Democratic Party and its nominee Hillary Clinton helped give the White House to him. The party avoided directly addressing the economic pain and fears of white men despite the alarms raised by its Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Instead, it engaged in identity politics, focused on gay rights, immigrants and the first woman president. Clinton, while eminently qualified and full of detailed plans, was a lackluster candidate who never really made it clear why she wanted to be president.
In all likelihood Trump will not improve the lives or ease the frustrations of the white, rural voters who made him president-elect. To their shouts, he was an echo, not an answer. What he will do is what Republicans do: Cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and reduce regulations.
Notably absent after a major presidential upset is a winning side full of joy and expectation. Many prominent Republicans had renounced their party’s nominee. Republican congressional leaders distanced themselves from him. Trump’s voters had the satisfaction of “sending a message,” but it’s unclear what the message is beyond “We’re mad” and how that anger will be translated into policies at home and relations abroad.
Trump’s acceptance speech set a positive tone. For the nation’s sake, we hope his presidency will, too.