I have memories of almost every American presidential election since 1956, when I loved the way in which the word “Eisenhower” slipped from my tongue. I have followed most of campaigns closely, and have stayed up all night to see the results of many of them, including the memorable occasion in 1968, when I and two friends ( one now deceased) slipped out of our dormitories at boarding school to watch Nixon defeat Humphrey on a black and white television the size of a postage stamp!
Never though, have I experienced anything like Tuesday night. The polls seemed clear enough. Hillary would win, perhaps by a wide margin. And that was how the evening began. As usual the first results came from reliably Republican states like Kentucky, and then from left leaning New England states. It soon became evident, although no one actual spelled this out, that Trump, was doing a bit better than expected. But only a bit better. Hillary still seemed to be the favourite.
North Carolina was balanced by Virginia, and then Trump carried Florida, a necessary but not sufficient condition for his victory. Trump was still ahead in the electoral college. But for how long could this last? The numbers were leaking onto the web, but there seemed to be a strange reluctance for anyone to draw conclusions from them. It was as if the media really didn’t know what was happening, always the sign of a big, big, story, or else that they didn’t dare say what they were starting to suspect.
It was The Daily Mail web site that seemed first to break the spell. Trump had won. Gradually the disparate numbers formed into a strange pattern. There were two elections going on. There was the relatively conventional race in which the Republican nominee was doing well enough to create a tight result. And then there was the second more dramatic election taking place from Pennsylvania in the East to Iowa further West.
And it was this second election that was going to determine the winner of the whole contest. Something very odd was occurring; something outside the experience of the experts, and outside the data of the pollsters.
Hillary was facing a revolt among in areas she had considered her own, and had taken for granted. The first signs that something was afoot had appeared before the election, when even the pollsters began to admit that the Democrats were in deep trouble in rural Iowa- normally considered a swing state in which the strength of both parties is about equal. And then there was the flurry of campaign visits to Pennsylvania- which state turned out to be the key to the overall result.
Donald Trump’s victory in what has inaccurately been called the Rust Belt ( referring to its decayed industries) was one of the most remarkable electoral events in my lifetime. Trump simply had to win Ohio, and he did so by a decent margin. Indiana is traditionally a Republican state which he won easily. ( Obama’s victory there in 2008 was quite exceptional. ) Illinois is Democratic state, despite the legacy of Lincoln, and is out the reach of any Republican in a normal year. Minnesota is classic democratic territory and yet Trump came within one and a half per cent of carrying it. Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin are not normally considered fertile ground for the Republicans and yet Trump carried all three, which effectively knocked Hillary out of the race, as her wins in the classic swing states such as Nevada and Colorado were not enough.
What had happened? The answer seems to be that rural white voters, many of whom were evangelicals, flocked to the polls in overwhelming numbers to vote for Trump, or at least against Hillary.
The bulk of these did not have college degrees and have thus been depicted by the liberal media as being idiotic and bigoted country bumpkins.
It would be silly to pretend that there was no bigotry about the Trump phenomena. Trump is no saint, and he plainly attracted the votes of many sinners.
That confessed, one of the least reported and understood divisions in The United States is that between urban, and suburban America, and the America of the countryside, of the small towns. Urban America is liberal. Rural America is conservative.
Why is this? As a countryman, and as a conservative, I’m biased. Perhaps I’m not the right person to pontificate on the issue. But if pressed I would suggest that life in a town somehow predisposes the down dweller to think in terms of abstractions. Too many people mean that they all merge into, well, abstractions denuded of actual reality, envisaged solely as numbers. Reality can be avoided in the town, but not in the countryside where the connection between actions and consequences can never be avoided. “The cattle will get through that fence if it isn’t mended.” “I will get cold if those logs aren’t chopped.” “The pipes will burst in the winter if they are not lagged.”
It is I believe for reasons such as these, and of course the scandal of illegal immigration, rather than a dislike of black and Hispanic American that explains why the countryside in America tends to be more conservative than the towns, and why it backed Donald Trump is so sensational a fashion in this extraordinary election.
And it is for these reasons also why Hillary Clinton could not connect with rural America. Bill may be from Arkansas- which voted-of course- for Trump. But Hilary is a creature of the metropolis. One can imagine Hillary in church, but never driving a pickup.
But what of Donald Trump and his future? Will he serve his supporters well? He is a big beast who reminds me somewhat of the late Charlie Haughey. But he is certainly an urban figure too. It was perhaps indicative that the election parties of the two candidates were both within a mile of one another- in where else but New York City!
Trump was not my candidate, although his choices for the Supreme Court are likely to be much better than those that Hillary would have made. Nevertheless had I been an American citizen I would probably not have voted for him. He is wrong on many of the issues. He is wrong free trade. He is wrong about foreign policy. ( Let us hope that the talk about the super hawk John Bolton as Secretary of State is ill informed! ) Trump is also wrong about the need for a government industrial strategy- which seems to be what he was saying when he spoke ( otherwise well ) when the result of the election became clear on Wednesday morning. And plainly he is not temperamentally well suited to be President.
Will he betray his supporters? Does he really understand them? Will he really tackle the problem of uncontrolled immigration in a non-vindictive but effective way?
Does his business experience augur well for his country? Can he really “make America great?”
His inauguration three months from now will raise as many questions as it answers. I share some, but certainly NOT all, the concerns of my liberal friends. But in the meantime as Donald Trump begins to assemble his team, we must, like Hillary Clinton, in her eloquent speech of concession, wish him well.
Note. I am not now sure whether in fact Trump does favour an Industrial strategy. Here is certainly in favour of huge government infrastructure projects.