America’s 72m "deplorables": where to from here?

John Kane-Berman writes on the aftermath of the US election

The American president-elect, Joe Biden, says he wants to “heal” the nation. Donald Trump, the man he defeated, is not going to be helping him out.

Mr Trump is contesting the outcome of the presidential election on 3rd November. According to The Economist, 86% of Mr Trump’s supporters regard Mr Biden’s victory in the election as “illegitimate”. This is precisely what Mr Biden, Hillary Clinton, and their fellow Democrats said about Mr Trump’s victory in 2016. Apart from spending the past four years trashing his presidency as “illegitimate”, they misused both the FBI and the impeachment process in their efforts to destroy him.

Mr Trump is not likely to forgive any of this. It therefore looks as if Americans – and the rest of us – can look forward to another four years in which the loser denies the legitimacy of the winner. But there is more to this than the obvious antipathy between Messrs Biden and Trump and their followers.

When Mr Trump hails the “greatness” of America and the New York Times simultaneously promotes the idea that that nation was conceived in slavery, you know that there are deep chasms in that society. Healing them will be impossible if Mr Biden’s party continues to kowtow to the ideology behind “black lives matter”, which holds that America is systemically racist.

The election was supposedly a referendum on Mr Trump, his behaviour, and his style of government. If this package is as terrible as his critics claim, then winning 72 million votes (almost 47.5% of the total) is a surprising result. Last time round Hillary Clinton branded the “illegitimate” Mr Trump’s 63 million supporters as “deplorables”. Since then the number of deplorables voting for Mr Trump has grown by around eight million. The question is why?

But for Covid-19 and his handling thereof, Mr Trump might well have beaten Mr Biden. Before the health crisis, the United States (US) experienced its lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. The tight labour market meant that lower-paid workers with lower levels of education enjoyed larger percentage increases than others. Median household incomes increased faster among Hispanics and blacks than among whites.

These trends help to explain why Mr Trump increased his support among black and Hispanic voters, even though Mr Biden once said that blacks who voted Republican could not really be black. Indeed, admitted The Economist - which excoriated Mr Trump’s “race-baiting and thuggery” - exit polls suggested that Mr Trump had increased his support among every ethnic group except white men. One survey showed that he increased his support substantially among Muslims.

Where does this leave us? There are now more “deplorables” in the US than in 2016 and they are also more ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse. How did Mr Trump both increase and widen his appeal?

His Independence Day speech at Mount Rushmore, discussed in this column on 20th July 2020, may provide a clue. That speech drew a clear distinction between the values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and those now being propagated by the Establishment: the mainstream media, various parts of social media, self-styled “fact-checkers”, academia, CNN and other television channels, the Democratic Party, Hollywood celebrities, cultural warriors, critical race theorists, power-hungry bureaucrats, some publishing houses, teaching unions, and climate alarmists. They pretend to be enlightened, but they are in reality intolerant, denying platforms on campus and space on their op-ed pages to anyone who disagrees with their views.

Some of the members of this Establishment are hard-line ideologues, others are mere fellow-travellers. Most of them are not accountable to anyone. They are not conspirators, but they share many of the same politically-correct assumptions. They think the job of the courts is to advance a left-liberal agenda. On violence, they usually condemn the Right but not the Left. They are happy to see the police “defunded”.

Some of the ideologues are to be found in business and among the donor community, although most of business goes along opportunistically, for example by putting employees through critical-race-theory brainwashing.

This Establishment is to be found on both sides of the Atlantic, typified in the United Kingdom by the BBC, and in various European capitals. They believe in democracy as long as it produces the outcomes they want. When it doesn’t, as when the Irish and other countries voted against the surrender of more and more powers to Brussels, they bully them into changing their minds. Or they manipulate treaties to hand more power to Brussels anyway. They have still not forgiven the British voters who supported Brexit.

For the Establishment, Donald Trump is a big problem. Like a great many people around the world, they despise him for the way he behaves and runs his government. They loathe him as a “populist”. He represents a threat to all those who believe that the elites who comprise the Establishment are possessed of greater wisdom than ordinary people – so much wisdom in fact that all alternative views must be discarded or “cancelled”.

Yet despite the almost universal loathing of the Establishment, Mr Trump garnered the second highest number of votes ever in a presidential election. Did the media campaign against him backfire? Did he get all those votes despite who he is, or because of who he is? Would a Republican leader with a different character have a better chance of winning back the White House in four years’ time?

Mr Trump was defeated at the polls and he may yet do himself in politically. Whether the populist revolt against the Establishment has been defeated is another story.

*John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.