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American Studies Notes on the Elections

Date:15 November 2016
Trump and Clinton
Trump and Clinton

I find the election result “deplorable,” as Hillary Clinton might say, for the confidence it will give groups like the KKK and others in articulating notions of white supremacy and other forms of hatred and prejudice. I am deeply concerned about the implications for the freedoms, rights and civil liberties of many U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.

I am, on the other hand, encouraged to see that groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have already come out with strong statements warning the president-elect against the kind of constitutional infringements he spoke so blithely about during the campaign.

All that said, I also think it’s important that we do more than just deplore that which we may find deplorable. On a professional level, that means that as American Studies scholars and teachers, we are going to have to explain it. That will take some time.

So, for the time being, I’ll just say this: What made Trump’s voters turn out for him and those who wouldn’t vote for Trump still not vote for Clinton, or even vote at all, is itself an important debate. It is one that will necessarily feature reference to the media, and to race, class and gender, as well as to the effects of globalization on states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. It should also, however, feature reference to the fact that the Democratic Party, like many parties of the center and center-left on both sides of the Atlantic, has for too long now done too little for some of those parts of the electorate that it purports to represent.

For that reason, I can’t help wondering whether one reason that Trump won was that the Democratic Party simply picked the wrong candidate. Unlikely as it might sound in a nation that is supposed to frown on such things as “socialism,” perhaps the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders really could have won, had he managed to win the Democratic primary. Or might any additional enthusiasm he perhaps would have generated in parts of the Upper Midwest have been cancelled out by weaknesses elsewhere? Either way, the regional differences in this election look very significant.


Dr. Tim Jelfs, Assistant Professor