Trying to explain Trump to Europeans

I just recently returned from a trip to speak at an American Studies conference in Strasbourg, France. I also lectured in Frankfurt, Germany, and did some interviews in Paris. In talking with people mostly academics, I found it hard to explain how Donald Trump could have been elected president of the United States. I had not predicted this myself. It is actually embarrassing to have to discuss Trump as president, given the awful and dishonoring way he has performed as president. Every week, not only is there more scandal attached to him directly and indirectly, but his horrendous tweets including the latest involving his misogynous view of women cannot be defended.

No American president has ever acted this way. Europeans think very little of him and are in shock that he is the so-called leader of the free world. But the fact is that elections have consequences, and in retrospect we are beginning to see some of the problems in the election. At one panel at the American Studies conference, there was discussion about the turnout in the election. According to some of the findings of the voter turnout, it appears that what did not help Hillary Clinton was that part of her key base simply didn't vote. This does not dismiss the fact that some of us who supported her like myself can now see that her problem was that she could not position herself as the candidate of the future and a new beginning. This allowed Trump to fill the void. Bernie Sanders would have been a stronger candidate along these lines. However, some of the figures in the voting pattern reveal that perhaps the most significant result was that African Americans did not turn out as much as they did in 2012. Their vote went down some four percentage points. That was enough to hurt Clinton, especially in the Midwest states such as Wisconsin and Michigan which she lost. Latinos by comparison did their job. Over a million new Latinos voted in the election, and most voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. It also appears that many millennials did not vote or voted for a candidate in a third party such as the Green Party, which also hurt Clinton in those Midwestern states.

It is embarrassing and literally scandalous to have Trump as president, but in the end people still need to go out and vote, even if it's to elect perhaps the lesser of two evils. In the case of Trump, he without question represented the "evil candidate" option, as we are seeing today. The Republican effort to cut medical insurance for many Americans is evil and has to be opposed. But in the end it was not that more whites voted for Trump, according to this panel that I attended — because the overall white vote did not increase from 2012. The key was that the Obama coalition, especially of African Americans, did not vote in the numbers that they should have. This should be a lesson for 2018 if Trump is to be thwarted. 

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