50th St. Gallen Symposium "Freedom Revisited": 7–8 May 2020


Trump disruption – Why I am not surprised

During a conference session in Banff, Canada last June, the moderator asked an all-American crowd, "Who is here voting for Hillary?" Everyone raised their hand. When they were asked what chance Trump has of winning the election, the reply was almost none. The moderate answered, "That is the problem."

That same night at the dinner, I announced, "Trump will win." All 15 pairs of eyes looked at me with dismay and disbelieve.

I knew Trump would win from the very beginning. I was telling that to my American friends, my colleagues in South Carolina and people back in Bangladesh.

He won and challenged the very core of what we describe to our future generation to stand for.

And now we ask ourselves, what went wrong? How did we get here?

Before I dive deep in, let me tell you what may happen next.

Trump will create a good relationship with Russia, make the people who voted for him happy by restricting immigrants and decreasing rights of all sects of society, and win a Nobel prize. After all, latest examples show that a speech with promises can bring you the prize…

The reason I knew Trump would win was my interaction with the underbelly of America – the neglected white lower middle class.

I believe we, the people who believe in freedom of life, freedom of speech, and freedom of choice, have got this all wrong. Like that moderated session, we looked at people who only represented us. And we did not even try to listen to the side that we excluded.

So, when some analyst came up and told the media that Trump has a good chance of winning, they were mocked, laughed at and were told, "I don't think you seriously mean that."

The answer to the question, what went wrong, lies in the way we acted. We saw, yet we did not pay attention.

So what we did not listen to or pay attention to?

Basic statistics says that when you do an experiment you take a sample – a portion of the whole population. The sample that media or the majority of the analysts or the statisticians chose was too bias to even get close to the real picture. Like the moderated session. America is not only the coasts and the cities.

The People We Forgot

America is not only about hard-working migrants, Latinos, or people who find better lives or people who seek refuge. It's also about the remote California farmers or South Carolina cooks in cafes who will be happy for the rest of their lives just doing the things they do. They do not want you to change things.

Robert Reich in his 2004 book (Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America) explained it clearly: a big portion of the American middle class are content with what they have. They do not want change.

And we did not listen to them, the very normal Americans. A moderate democrat friend from New York pointed out:

“The shocking thing in this election was that so many Americans think in ways I did not know of, and the media is much less intelligent than I used to think. But maybe I'm also realizing that just because I'm growing up.”

The shocking thing in this election was that so many Americans think in ways I did not know of, and the media is much less intelligent than I used to think.
Election Countymap Vote 2016
County wise distribution, US election 2016 (Source: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/2016/countymaprb1024.png)

Our talks surround migrant issues – issues that make crispy headlines. We did not talk about the soaring meat prices or farming struggles that farmers face, organic farming or struggles with agricultural corporations. We forgot about them and made the whole thing about migrants, about Mexico, about women.

I predicted Trump will win when he first came into the picture. I lived in South Carolina for two years and I talked to people, who are mostly God-loving, change fearing, simple, routine people. Without any hesitation, they went for Trump. And they will until you can give them an alternative good enough to provide them the security they require. They voted for Trump not because he wanted to make America great again, but because they feared change. For them, change comes with more worries.

One South Carolinian once told me in 2015, "The land of opportunity is gone. You guys came and took all the opportunity." How you debunk that? How you guarantee they feel safe, politically and economically? Sooner or later, someone like Trump would have been in power. Because, the portion of the population I am talking about have begun to understand that they have little power over their lives and that they can create real disruption with their right to vote.

Though Trump will be taking over in January, the election results have saddened many and already created outrage and fear. And the fear is real. This election has divided the American society like no other, but it also shows hope.

They voted for Trump not because he wanted to make America great again, but because they feared change.
Millennials Vote US election 2016
This is how the future voted. This is what people aged 18–34 said in casting their votes. (Source: https://www.surveymonkey.com/elections/map)

As the millennials reject bigotry, racism and misogyny, I see hope. America needs to keep this generation engaged in the political process. Otherwise Trump is just only the beginning.