The world watched amazed when Donald Trump pulled off a stunning election upset, defying polls that generally agreed he was not going to win. Everyone thought Hillary Clinton was destined to be the next President. After all, she had the support of the larger part of the media, the establishment, the business community… she even had the endorsement of the current President!
What we saw instead was the complete and utter repudiation of the established political system by a large, overlooked segment of America: The rural, blue collar worker.
Proven terribly wrong, the political pundits and talking heads licked their wounds and in short order started discussing the why and how of what happened. They spun plenty of theories: The fear of socialist boogeyman – the antitheses of the do-it-yourself Ayn Rand style Americanism, a strong evangelical movement with their traditional family values, the media’s unending coverage of Trump which supposedly proves airtime makes the difference… The list goes on.
I disagree with most of their theories. And, why wouldn’t I? If the political pundits where wrong in the first place, what’s changed since? Nothing.
What follows are the real reasons Trump won in my not-so-humble opinion.
The Decline of Civic Responsibility:
Only about 65% of the U.S. voting-age population voted last time around per the Census Bureau. When so much is at stake for the future of your country and so many don’t vote, that tells me a large part of the U.S. citizenry are either seriously disillusioned with their democracy, or, more likely, they are far too busy to vote. City life is a busy life!
Their rural counterparts did have time to vote, and, clearly, big media seriously underestimated their pent-up anger towards the status quo. The media’s coverage of Trump’s foibles drew the attention away from the real story – that being how so many rural Americans think their country is going in the wrong direction, and they are mad enough to throw the establishment – the rich, liberal, decadent, city dwellers – under the bus.
The Power of Really Listening
I think we can all agree that Donald Trump does not display most of the virtues of a good leader. But he does know how to do one thing well. He knows how to listen. He went out and heard the stories of the disenfranchised. When no one else could hear their voices, he got out there amongst them, spoke to them and reacted with them. He wore out plenty of shoe leather.
Trumps opponents either didn’t listen or didn’t care enough to understand their point of view. They were too far removed to comprehend how much discontent there really was. No matter how misinformed, uneducated, or wrongheaded we may think a person is, once you start to ignore and denigrate that person because of their beliefs or point of view, you cannot lead them. Steven Covey said it best: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
Barack Obama failed to connect with the rural populations. He spoke in a language they didn’t understand.
While Obama spoke about economic growth and job creation, rural Americans looked around their village and saw job loss and despair.
While Obama was talking about the global community and trade agreements, they’ve watched their plants, mills and grain silos shut down and fall into disrepair.
While Obama talked about market forces and bank bailouts, they saw neighbours losing their homes and they’ve been sweating and bleeding to make ends meet just so they can pay off their own bills and mortgages.
Trump came to their communities and reflected their anger back at them. Slick showman or not, he gave them a release valve, a way to strike a blow for the oppressed and knock the establishment on their ass.
With that much pent up anger, perhaps we need to credit Trump with helping rural Americans find a voice in a peaceful, law-abiding democratic process instead of a Hunger Games style revolution!
The Power to Stand for What You Believe
While I don’t agree with much of what Trump represents, I’d be foolish not to learn from his ability to hang on in a fight. Let’s face it; you and I would wither and die under the scorching heat of public ridicule and distain this man endured. But Trump hung in there. He stood his ground. He never gave up.
What are we willing to put everything on the line for? What do we believe so strongly, we’re willing to endure years of public ridicule?
Remember! Democracy Needs Your Voice.
Democracy is messy. Democracy is bedlam. It gives you the right to stand and speak out about what you feel is right even while I completely disagree with you and I too stand, speaking out.
No one pretends that democracy is perfect. Indeed, its greatest supporters have said just the opposite. Two years after millions died so we could live within free democracy, Winston Churchill, addressing the House of Commons in 1947 said, “democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Safe and secure in our own lands, sometimes it’s hard to remember most of humanity continues to labour under tyranny and oppression. Voiceless and hopeless, they die with the unrealized desire to have any kind of influence to better their world for themselves, for their community, or for their children.
If we the Free do not stand up, speak out, and take our civic responsibilities seriously, we risk the same fate.