Indulge me for a moment. A few months ago I wrote in a newsletter that I was having mood swings about the US election, because it did not seem like there was emerging a candidate that would crush Trump decisively. This isn’t an "I told you so" (well, it is a bit), it’s an indication of just how long I, and I would wager a lot of the world, has been anxious about the 2020 elections.
Here’s what I wrote in March of this year:
With the US election gearing up, I am braced again for disappointment. It doesn’t look like there is a strong candidate who will crush Trump in 2020, and it seems like the Democrats are about to repeat all the same mistakes of 2016. But still, somewhere deep down, I cannot help but think of Trump as an aberration, rather than a culmination. It’s becoming clear to me that writing on Better Politics is a struggle between these two impulses; belief that the good will prevail, and a clear-eyed realism that life, often, is just more complicated than that.
And life was. Trump lost but wasn’t crushed. His voter profiles stayed the same but also changed dramatically in other ways. In some ways the good prevailed, but in others, it became clear that the toxicity runs deep both in the mechanisms of US democracy, and in its tolerance for Trump’s behaviour.
I published an article this week about what happens in a democracy when there is little potential for transformative change, in an effort to understand why tens of millions of people would vote for Trump. The challenge is to do so without discounting or minimising the real racism and xenophobia that underscore much of Trump’s vote.
Since the article was published I have received moving, sometimes anxious messages from people who know Trump supporters intimately, and are frustrated at the binaries. They know these people are complex, struggling with a lot of competing concerns, and in the day to day, are kind and caring to their fellow man. It is hard to try and acknowledge people’s humanity while also getting one’s head around the fact that good people can exist in fundamentally racist regimes, and so act in ways informed and normalised by that racism.
What the US elections, this year and in 2016 have done, is expose the tension of being a political participant in a flawed democracy. From a Better Politics perspective, the challenge is how to morally assess such behaviour without denying people’s humanity, or giving them a pass for their behaviour.
The good may still prevail, but like I said in March, it’s just more complicated than that.