A little over a year ago, as Barack Obama fielded questions about the possibility that a Republican candidate would undo the progress he had made on combatting global warming, the president told a reporter that he was “confident in the wisdom of the American people.”
It is a sentiment that has been echoed by all manner of political actors throughout the history of America: “Do not ever sell America short!” But this election raises serious new questions about whether we can/should trust the wisdom of Americans, even taken as a whole over time.
Consider that, according to a CBS News exit poll, about a quarter of Trump voters consider him not qualified to be President. In contrast, only five percent of Clinton supporters thought she was not qualified to be President.
The question those facts confront us with is this: how could about 15 million people vote for a man who they said was not qualified to do the job they were electing him to do?
And if one adds the 100 or so million people qualified to vote but chose not to vote for any Presidential candidate to the 60,000,000 voters for Clinton, Trump won only about 25 percent of possible voters in America. Given Clinton’s approximately 2 million vote margin in the popular vote, it seems to me that Trump has no more than a thin reed of a mandate to radically reverse decades of slow and painful process for America to adjust to a shrinking and changing world.
One man with whom I spoke five days before the election told me that he could not stand either candidate, but felt that “the system” could better contain Trump’s flaws. After all, he said, Hillary Clinton has been and is still the system. Trump’s voters, particularly those who believe he is unqualified or dishonest, clearly voted against the system that Clinton represented, as did, albeit in an indirect way, the 42 percent of eligible voters who stayed home on Election Day.
The standard “elite” line here would be to say that those non-voters are dopes, deplorable, or not nearly informed enough to make a reasonable decision. It would also be pointed out that Trump will be hard pressed to be able to bring back the jobs he has promised to bring back, his infrastructure plan seems more to benefit his friends than meet crucial needs, and that he has already begun to build his White House team primarily with loyalists and hard-liners. All that is hard to grasp, but maybe that is what it takes to get us elites off our butts.
Is it possible that a lot of his supporters never cared whether he was competent? Were they really electing him to do the job of the President? Or was Trump more a fantasy than a man, his victory little more than a symbol of his voters’ desperate desire for change? Were they still mesmerized and confused by his reality TV show?
Is it still possible that Trump may be a sign of a deep, well-kept secret wisdom held by the American people? Perhaps, we elites are blind to the fact that our system may, in fact, be fundamentally broken. Perhaps, by ourselves alone, we elites might never have seen that reality and the underlying wisdom of the American people was simply to wake us all up!
It may also be possible that Trump is proof of a deep, underlying bigotry in America. Or maybe his election is really a canary in our metaphysical coal mine, a sign that we can no longer count on genuine FACTS or TRUTH to guide us safely through history. How do we solve the dangers of fake news rampaging through the echo chamber of social media, propagating fiction as truth?
If there is good to be seen in this dawn’s early light, it may be that despite all the signs, the American people might yet turn out to be quite wise in a way that is not yet quite clear.
Hopefully we–all of America—may yet wake up and pull ourselves up by our legendary bootstraps to deal with our broken system, and emerge on the other side of the next four years without sliding into bankruptcy or autocracy.
Hopefully, the Stars and Stripes will still stream above the ramparts, though it may be full of rips and holes that must be quickly mended.