By Sarah Herbert
When walking down the Pennsylvanian suburban streets, one will encounter a competitive array of political front garden signs. One house with 5 trump signs in a row, the next “killary for prison”, the next few for Clinton and Kate Mcginty (running for Pennslyvania’s senate seat). Quite frankly, I don’t think these neighbours were friends.
With Pennslyvania being a close battleground state, the bitter division and polarised ideas I witnessed put the national situation into perspective. The brave ones may put their support on display, but speaking to Americans quickly reveals this election as a hush hush topic, a taboo. One lady told me, “I tell everyone I’m voting for Clinton but I’ve voted Trump”. This stemmed from her fear she would be labelled racist, sexist and all the other baggage that comes with supporting The Donald.
My sense, is that the wave of Trump’s support comes not so much from the white working class but the lower middle class and small business owners who feel they have been pushed down — reverse social mobility on a large scale.
They harness a desire for change that goes beyond dry questions of policy. Of course, it is important to remember the mass and depth of feeling behind this movement is too vast and complex to comprehend fully; generalisations are of course all that can be used.
The parallels with Brexit become apparent. Of course, the debate in Britain was about more than the technicalities of the UK’s relationship with its neighbouring states. But the people’s suspicion of globalization, and their concerns with the levels of immigration, and seeing more threats than opportunities in the way society and the economy were changing, draws obvious relation between the two movements.
The notion that only a lunatic would vote for Brexit led the Remain campaign to overplay its hand: its warnings of economic, political and even military catastrophe became so overblown that voters simply started to laugh them off. Something of the same thing can be seen here. The main consequence of Clinton’s memorable description of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables” has been the spawning of the “Proud To Be A Deplorable” T-shirt industry in many shops in America. Meanwhile, the media Trump-shaming I witnessed on networks such as CNN, I predict has not made any of his backers any more reluctant towards their affection for Trump.
Never underestimate the power of the people, especially Americans. Under influence of British media, I had no question that Clinton was in the lead (with polling comprehensively supporting this), and that Trump support came from the angry ‘uneducated’. But returning from the states, my interpretation could not have changed more. This is not just a vote for the president, but a movement made of totally different groups united by disillusionment with the elite — together begging for change.