I’m deeply ashamed of the United States of America today. How could we have elected someone like Donald Trump to be our next President? I feel like I’m no longer an American, but rather a citizen of the Earth who happens to live in the U.S., at least for the time being.
Who are these people who voted for Trump, anyway? I don’t personally know anyone who told me he or she was going to vote this way. Trump voters are the dark matter of the electorate: you can’t see them, but by the mass of their large numbers they affect everything, warping the shape of the electoral space. You deduce their presence by observing their effects on the political system.
One reason I can’t perceive Trump voters is that I live in California, which went for Clinton almost 2 to 1. And most of the California Trump voters live in rural areas where I don’t run into them. The largest margins for Trump were in energy-producing states like Wyoming (70% to 23%), West Virginia (69% to 27%), and Oklahoma (65% to 29%). Voters in those states want to go back to full-scale fossil-fuel energy production. This will have disastrous climate-change consequences.
“Go back” is the Trump campaign’s mantra – “Make America Great Again.” But of course there is no real way back, and maybe a lot of things weren’t really so good in the good ol’ days, anyway. Per capita GDP – the value of the goods and services produced in the U.S., adjusted for inflation – is now about three times larger than it was in 1960. My parents scrimped and saved, did without many things we take for granted, and lived in a smaller house than most middle-class families would accept today. We wouldn’t want to go back to the economic lifestyles of the 1950s and 1960s.
Trump supporters reportedly feel that things are so bad in this country that they have little to lose by shaking up the system. Why do they feel this way? On the economic front, we’ve largely recovered from the 2008 recession. Even the poorest Americans live better than most non-Americans. And, as discussed above, we live much better economically than we did 50 years ago. Americans should feel that they are lucky to have been born or to have moved to such a wealthy country with so many economic opportunities.
It continually surprises me that the many have-nots do not use the ballot box to take some of the wealth from the richest 1%. This could easily be done by changing the tax code to tax the rich more and give the money back to the poor. Do they think that, with Trump as President, the path will be somehow cleared for more of them to be rich by making clever deals like Trump? Don’t they realize that those deals are a zero-sum game — whatever one person gains another person loses? We can’t all be like Trump because nothing would be produced and our economy would collapse.
“Make America White Again” is part of Trump’s platform, at least implicitly. He’ll try to do this by throwing out as many of the darker-skinned immigrants as he can and building a wall to keep them out. It’s a truism that this is a nation of immigrants. Even the native Americans immigrated from Siberia via the Bering Land bridge when it was still open, around 16,500 years ago. Successive waves of immigrants-the Pilgrims, the Protestants, the African-Americans, the Irish and Italians, the Middle-Easterners and Latinos-have kept the U.S. vibrant and growing. We can’t put the immigration genie back in the bottle, nor should we want to. Immigration brings new blood, new energy, and fresh perspectives. It keeps us demographically young.
Another way Trump wants the U.S. to go backwards is by re-instituting trade protections for non-competitive U.S. manufacturing industries. To bring back the U.S. steel industry we’d have to either make it globally competitive, which is hard to do when wages are so much lower in China, for example, or charge tariffs on imported steel to give U.S. manufacturers a domestic advantage in the market. Economists generally agree that free trade is economically beneficial, that the benefits to U.S. consumers of cheap, high-quality goods outweigh the disadvantages to U.S. workers of having to complete in the global markets.
Finally, and most significant, there’s the environment. To my mind, climate change is the most important issue facing the country and the world now. We’re at the turning point. If we delay taking action, it will greatly harm our planet for hundreds of years to come, hurting dozens of future generations. We’re on a path to 4 or 5 degrees Celsius of average warming, which will result in catastrophic changes, including many feet of sea-level rise, droughts in dry places, increased storms in wet places, devastation of the Arctic, the extinction of a large share of the species of plants and animals we take for granted, and much more. Global warming is vastly more important than terrorism or the economy, yet it received very short shrift during the election. Humans by nature are short-term thinkers.
Trump plans to dismantle the limited progress we’ve made via the Clean Power Plan, restrictions on fossil-fuel development on federal lands, and the Paris Agreement. We must resist him using every means at our disposal, including action in the courts and at the state level.
One of the commentators on the election-night news pointed out that it was very rare to elect a President belonging to a party that had just had two terms in power. It’s a dialectical process, and Trump is the swing of the presidential pendulum back to the right after it’s been on the left side for eight years. We can expect Trump and the Republican Congress to overreach in the next two years and we can plan to take back at least the Senate in 2018 the same way the Republicans took over the House two years after Obama was elected. Until then we just have to do the best we can to save the country and the planet.