US & Canada

US election 2016: America's front-porch revolt

Trump supporters hold up signs Image copyright AP
Image caption Few, apart from his supporters, expected the surge in support for Donald Trump

Donald Trump, in his uncharacteristically gracious victory speech, said that "the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer". Forgotten? They weren't forgotten. They were dismissed, disregarded, and despised by America's elites, all of whom got their comeuppance in Trump's staggering victory.

Nobody saw it coming. I didn't, and as a conservative who lives in deep red America, I don't even have the excuse of being a coastal urbanite cut off from the wilds of Trumpistan.

Maybe I didn't see it coming because I put too much faith in polls. Maybe I didn't see it coming because I spend too much time reading and listening to the media, and not enough time on my mom's front porch. And maybe I didn't see it coming because even though I generally favour Trump's nationalistic, populist vision, I could not imagine that voters would trust a man as reckless and as volatile as he with the presidency.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption The Republican nominee defied pre-election polling to claim swing states

But here we are. And I know that the coming days are going to see a furious outpouring of spite from the same elites Trump just thrashed. They will call Trump voters racists, fascists, bigots, haters, and so on. They already have been doing so for quite some time now - and it has blown up in their faces. I'm no Trump fan, but it's hard to resist taking satisfaction in that.

Rise of the undesirables

During the decade-long debate over same-sex marriage, I often argued with other journalists about our openly slanted coverage of the issue, which amounted to cheerleading for the pro-gay side. Don't we have a professional obligation to tell the other side of the story? I would ask. Well, came the reply, do you think the media had an obligation to be fair to the Ku Klux Klan during the Civil Rights struggle?

It was just that simple for so many journalists. We pride ourselves on being realists, but in fact we have a fatal weakness for construing the world as crude morality plays. This left many of us in no position to understand why people might resent the Obama administration ordering public schools to open up locker rooms of the opposite sex to transgender students, or why white people might see the Black Lives Matter movement as a racist and illiberal response to the problem of police brutality.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Trump won Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania

The people who run newsrooms agonise over diversity. They will go to any length to increase racial, gender, and sexual diversity, but care nothing about viewpoint diversity. In one newsroom where I worked the only religious conservatives besides me were the African-American secretaries. Nobody there thought this was a problem. To the contrary, they believed that religious conservatives, among other undesirable demographic categories, were the problem.

But yesterday, these undesirables, Trump's forgotten people, made their voices heard. If they believe that news coverage is - what's the word? - rigged against people like them, well, they're more right than wrong.

Will this catastrophic failure of the media cause soul-searching and, dare I say it, repentance? Forget it. To do so would require the press to face up to its worst prejudices, none more deeply held than the belief that its members are on the Right Side of History.

For all that, I believe he will be a disaster as president, and that America is entering into a dark and tumultuous period. The forgotten people will learn the hard way that politics cannot fix the worst of our problems, nor can a blowhard reality-show billionaire. And then the real trouble begins.

A confession

Yet I have to confess my own fault here. In the summer of 2015, I sat with my elderly, working-class parents at their rural house, watching Trump's rally in Mobile, Alabama, carried live on Fox News. My folks watched it because they were eager to hear what he had to say. I watched it for laughs. Having worked for five years in the New York media, I was wise to Trump's ways. It would take a while for the rest of America to catch on, but surely it would.

Image copyright AP
Image caption He inherits a country that is deeply divided

My folks thought Trump made a lot of sense. "Give it time," I told them. "He's going to destroy himself, just watch."

On Election Night, after voting, I took my mother to dinner (my father died later in 2015). She voted enthusiastically for Trump, and said she thought he would win this thing. I did not cast a presidential vote, because I couldn't bear either Trump or Hillary Clinton. But look, I told her, Clinton has this election won by a mile.

My mom is a widowed grandmother and former school bus driver who knows nothing about politics. Her son is a conservative pundit who writes about politics and culture for a Washington magazine. And yet - and yet! - the little old lady from the middle of nowhere got it right. For better or for worse, plain people like her just changed the history of the world.

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