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The Lessons of America’s Election

STANFORD – Donald Trump’s surprise election as the 45th president of the United States has spawned a cottage industry of election post-mortems and predictions, in America and abroad. Some correlate Trump’s victory with a broader trend toward populism in the West, and, in particular, in Europe, exemplified in the United Kingdom’s vote in June to leave the European Union. Others focus on Trump’s appeal as an outsider, capable of disrupting the political system in a way that his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – a consummate insider – never could. There may be something to these explanations, particularly the latter. But there is more to the story.

In the months preceding the election, the mainstream media, pundits, and pollsters kept repeating that Trump had an extremely narrow path to victory. What they failed to recognize was the extent of economic anxiety felt by working-class families in key states, owing to the dislocations caused by technology and globalization.

But, as I highlighted two months before the election, those frustrations were far-reaching, as was the sense of being ignored and left behind – and it was Trump who finally made that group feel seen. That is why I recognized the possibility of a Trump upset, despite Clinton’s significant lead in the polls (five points, just before the election).

And an upset is what happened. Trump narrowly won states that Republicans had not won in decades (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania), and won big in usually closely contested Ohio.