Government and governance, Arts, culture & society | The World

11 November 2016

The election of Donald Trump took many progressives by surprise. Melanie O’Brien reports from New Orleans on what voters there made of the campaign and what people fear might come next.

The election of Donald Trump to the United States Presidency has hit the USA and the world like a shock wave. I confess that I had not believed it was possible, and had prepared myself to write a piece about the fantastic, ground-breaking, and motivating election of the USA’s first woman president. But as it turned out, instead of ‘fantastic’ as ‘wonderful’, that was ‘fantastic’ as ‘foolish’. I write this piece from New Orleans, where I am attending a conference. New Orleans is a progressive island in the Deep South, where I have seen ‘Clinton/Kaine’ posters on countless house walls, and spoken with many locals, all of whom are Hillary supporters.

There is a sense of despair and disbelief from people here, and it’s a shock shared on social media. Every American I know is horrified by the result and extraordinarily worried for the future, with people concerned for their trans child or their Muslim friends. Children fear being bullied in school because they are different, or that their friends will be deported. My US-based colleague, who is a Bernie/Hillary supporter, reported that her son cried about going to school after the election for fear of being bullied by the other boys at school, among whom only one other is a Hillary supporter.

During the election campaign, Trump incited racial hatred, mocked a reporter’s disability, vowed to build a wall between the US and Mexico, declared that he doesn’t believe in climate change, and had racist, bigoted incidents too numerous to mention here. He has been analysed as a ‘gaslighter’; a specific form of liar who repeats his lies in order to befuddle his listener to the point of doubting themselves. Studies have found he lies anywhere from four to 35 times a day, more than any other candidate. How on earth, then, did he get elected?

Germaine Greer once wrote that “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them” [The Whole Woman, 1999]. American women have certainly been given some idea now. The fact that Hillary Clinton lost the election to a misogynist who sexually assaults women (he has admitted he ‘grabs women by the p*#sy’) makes the loss even more brutal.


The breakdown of voting statistics shows the majority of women voted for Clinton and the majority of men voted for Trump. It also reveals that most of those who voted for Trump were, unsurprisingly, white, with 88 per cent of African Americans and 65 per cent of Hispanics/Latinos voting for Clinton. This election has been described by some as a ‘whitelash’; white men of America seeking to ‘take back’ their privilege that they somehow feel they have lost under Obama’s leadership, which sought more equality for minorities and provided Obamacare to support lower income families.

Even though the majority of women overall voted for Clinton, many white women’s votes went to Trump. While most young people voted Clinton, a majority of white young people voted Trump. This is, really, the only logical answer to how Trump was elected. He is certainly not there to support those with lower or even middle incomes. For those who think that Trump is ‘an agent of change’, someone to upset ‘the Establishment’, here’s a newsflash: Trump is ‘the Establishment’! He is the white, rich, entitled elite.


Many scholars are concerned about Trump’s election. Genocide scholars are worried about: the genocidal rhetoric that flowed from Trump throughout the campaign; the divisive nature of his attitude towards minorities; and his support for racially motivated hate violence, which all reek of pre-genocidal culture. Political scientists are concerned about global security, particularly having an unstable man with his finger on the nuclear button encouraging other states like Japan and South Korea to build nuclear weapons too. Economists are concerned about the global economy and individual country’s economies, with the global markets nose-diving as soon as the election results were set, although rallying in the days after.

It is difficult to say where the world will go from here. Leaders around the globe have not stepped up to the plate and shown real leadership by expressing concern over Trump’s victory; instead the majority have made placating, congratulatory statements and spoken of inter-country cooperation. This is very worrying. The world needs to let Americans know that they will not conciliate a bigoted, misogynistic President, nor cooperate with outlandish policies that risk global security. China has even jumped on the bandwagon, seeking to use Trump’s win as evidence of why democracy is bad and authoritarian rule is good.

What remains now is for Americans to ensure they continue the fight to uphold equality, tolerance and human rights, and to reject violence, hatred, misogyny and bigotry. Do not ‘give Trump a chance’; continue to protest for the entirety of his term. He has already made clear what he intends to do in his first days in office, and they are not actions friendly to human rights, healthcare or the environment. Perhaps it is time for a system change, so it is no longer the case that someone who wins the popular vote still loses due to the Electoral College system, or that almost 50 per cent of eligible voters do not cast a ballot.

There is still a chance this result could change. Americans, all Americans (including those who ‘protested’ by not voting), can lobby their electoral college voters to apply the popular vote, and vote for Clinton on 19 December. This may not work, however, and if not, Americans must lobby their congress and senators to make sure they do not support policies that weaken the economy, risk national or global security, take away affordable healthcare, increase carbon emissions or remove rights of women and minorities. They must speak out against racism and violence. Remember that in fact the majority of Americans did vote for their first woman president, and hope that this American tragedy turns around in four years’ time.

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O'Brien, Melanie. 2016. "“Shock, Despair And Disbelief” - Policy Forum". Policy Forum.