Friday, November 18, 2016

Understanding Trump: Categories of Language

When two minds independently come to similar conclusions, or to the same conclusion, it’s worth noting. Analyzing President Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, a theme emerged amidst the seemingly infinite volume of reporting.

In September 2016, The Atlantic magazine included an article by Salena Zito titled “Taking Trump Seriously, Not Literally.” Moving through various examples of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, Zito notes how the news media carefully parsed the candidate’s words and subjected them to “fact checking.”

The media’s scrutiny didn’t sync with the popular enthusiasm which met Trump’s speeches. As Zito writes,

It’s a familiar split. When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.

Whether Trump spoke of the border with Mexico or dealing with “Islamic State” terrorists in the Middle East, the voters responded to his sentiment and attitude, not to the specifics of any alleged “plan.”

Voters were not content with the rather spineless image which the Obama administration projected to other nations. The voters wanted a general feeling of a representative who would act in the interests of the average American, not an Obama-like figure who worked to cultivate a charm among foreign leaders.

Trump seemed to be someone who would work on behalf of ordinary Americans. Crowds cheered that feeling, rather than the details of particular policies.

When Trump talked about a “wall” on the border to Mexico, the news media went to work making calculations about physically building a wall; Trump’s listeners heard a metaphor - they didn’t know or care whether or not Trump would build a literal physical wall. They knew that he understood the concepts of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Separately, another journalist, Margaret Sullivan, writing in The Washington Post in November 2016, described an interview she had with Peter Thiel:

It’s a familiar split. When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.

Just as Obama’s supporters had reacted to slogans like “Yes We Can” and “Hope and Change,” Trump’s supporters embraced the concept of a president who would act on behalf of the ordinary citizen.

Voters perceived that the Obama administration had prioritized diplomatic relationships and climate concerns over safety and prosperity. Domestic violence and international Islamic terrorism left U.S. citizens feeling unsafe. The ongoing economic doldrums of the Obama era had left Americans with lower wages and a smaller net personal worth. Margaret Sullivan writes:

And although many journalists and many news organizations did stories about the frustration and disenfranchisement of these Americans, we did not take them seriously enough.

The voters wanted a change of leadership. They didn’t really care whether or not a wall was built along the Rio Grande. But they wanted someone who spoke, and who would act, with directness:

Again speaking of the news media, Sullivan writes:

Although we touched down in the big red states for a few days, or interviewed some coal miners or unemployed autoworkers in the Rust Belt, we didn’t take them seriously. Or not seriously enough.

Voters really don’t care about the nuts-and-bolts of some policy decision. Analysts for newspapers and television networks tend to wrestle with statistics, definitions, and technicalities. The average citizens simply want to know that someone is looking out for them.

That’s why the endless hand-wringing on the editorial pages and opinions shows didn’t bother the voters. Many who voted for Trump didn’t take seriously many of his statements:

A lot of voters think the opposite way: They take Trump seriously but not literally.

What voters embraced in Trump was a simple premise: that a government should act on behalf of its citizens. The ordinary citizens want government which will protect their lives, their liberties, and their property.

Obama had failed to create the impression that he was doing that. Hillary failed to create the impression that she would do that.

Trump signalled that he would watch out for American lives, liberties, and economic opportunities. The details might be fuzzy, exaggerated, inexact, or nonexistent. But the voters didn’t care about the details.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Who Voted for Trump? Who Didn’t Vote for Hillary?

Historians and statisticians will spend years analyzing the U.S. presidential election of 2016. The dynamics and demographics in that vote were unforeseen and manifested the beliefs of the citizens.

Elections are about perceptions. What a candidate “really” is, how that candidate “really” thinks or would act in some future hypothetical situation, is unknown and, to the average voter, unknowable.

Citizens vote, therefore, based on what they believe or perceive about a candidate. The surprise was that the U.S. voters believed different things about Hillary and about Trump than what the news media were telling them to believe.

While most newspapers and cable TV networks were telling the voters that Trump was a racist, and that Hillary was tolerant, it seems that the voters believed quite the opposite.

Trump actually got a smaller percentage of the “white” (European-American) vote than the Republican candidate four years earlier (Mitt Romney) had gotten. Apparently, Trump was favored by African-American and Latino voters.

Trump got nearly double the percentage of Black voters that the GOP had gotten four years earlier. As historian David French writes:

Would you believe that Trump improved the GOP’s position with black and Hispanic voters? Obama won 93 percent of the black vote. Hillary won 88 percent. Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote. Hillary won 65 percent. Critically, millions of minority voters apparently stayed home.

Comparing the 2012 election to the 2016 election, Trump, as the Republican candidate, gained African-American voters and Hispanic voters.

Millions of Black and Latino voters decided that Hillary was not reliable. They didn’t trust her; they didn’t want her in the White House. Although Hillary’s allies wanted to label Trump as “racist,” it turns out that, in the minds of many voters, Blacks and Latinos did not trust Hillary.

The Clinton campaign patronizingly assumed that Hillary would automatically receive the vast majority of the African-American and Hispanic vote. That assumption was a form of racism.