By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
The headlines scream, “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House” and “Obama orders review of Russian Hacking during Presidential campaign.”
I don’t doubt that the Russian Federation employs hackers and PR people to influence public opinion and even election outcomes in other countries. So does the United States of America. But I am skeptical that anything the Russians did caused Donald Trump to be president.
It wasn’t like Trump was a Manchurian Candidate, a stealth plant in the US body politic who would only be operationalized once elected.
Trump was in plain view. He had all along been in plain view. His hatred for uppity or “nasty” women, his racism, his prickliness, his narcissism, his rich white boy arrogance and entitlement (apparently even to strange women and other men’s wives), his cronyism and his fundamental dishonesty were on display 24/7 during some 18 months of the campaign, and it wasn’t as though he were an unknown quantity before that.
Americans voted for him anyway. Slightly more Americans voted for him than for a respectable person like Mitt Romney. No Russians were holding a gun to their heads. And they knew, or should have known, what they were getting.
By a “black swan” fluke, a few tens of thousands of the Trump voters were distributed differently, state by state, than the McCain and Romney voters; and in some key states like Michigan Sec. Clinton did not do as well as Obama had, even if she was beloved in California and New York.
One of the cleverest things Trump said during the campaign was directed to African-American voters, asking what they had to lose by challenging the status quo and voting for him. It was a trick, of course, and they have everything to lose, both because the Republican Party’s economic policies aim to help rich people at the expense of workers and most African-Americans are working class, and because the GOP since Nixon has connived at attracting a white racist constituency, and succeeded.
But despite the dishonesty of the quip (which did not fool African-Americans one little bit), that kind of thinking appears to have been widespread. In some states, as many as 14 percent of the white working class deserted the Democratic Party compared to the previous two elections, and, worse, 21 percent of white working class voters who used to vote for Obama just stayed home. They weren’t being irrational. Things have been bad for them and they haven’t participated in the recovery after 2008 the way the stock market has. Their death rates have even increased.
Nor did any Russian hacking related to Wikileaks, if that is what happened, prove decisive. Clinton’s own polling people found the big turning point was when she called Trump voters a “basket of deplorables.” Americans don’t like being talked down to, and had already gotten rid of Romney for the same sin. The spectacle of Clinton taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to give a speech to the people who put them out of their homes in 2008-9 also turned many of them off so that they stayed home, while another section of them decided to take a chance on Trump. He will screw them over, but from their point of view, they worried that she might have, as well. Trump was promising to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs via protectionism, whereas everyone understood that Sec. Clinton’s first instinct was to do TPP and send more jobs to Asia.
So it was Clinton’s public persona and public positions that hurt her and depressed Democratic turnout in places like Detroit and Flint, not anything in Wikileaks (can anyone name even one newsworthy email?) Or on the other hand it was Neofascist disinformation campaigns like spiritcooking and pizzagate. It wasn’t anything as rational as a Putin sting.
No, America had its eyes wide open. The Republican Party, the usual 61 million, voted for Trump, despite his vulgar talk and vulgar style of life. Since the GOP is mostly the party of Protestant whites plus about 40 million Catholics who think they are white, nobody over there too much minded the racism against minorities. There were some defections among the white Protestant married women from the GOP (either stay-at-homes or aisle-crossers) and there were some defections among the white working class from the Democratic Party. But those two may well have just cancelled each other out.
The GOP voted for a champion of the business classes, which Trump will be, in spades. And that is what everyone should expect. There is nothing surprising about it. The GOP wins nationally when it can add to its base of small and large businesspeople and farmers and exurbanites, and Trump managed to attract a few tens of thousands of other sorts of people in the districts where it happened to matter.
Russia doesn’t enter into it.