Saturday, November 12, 2016

In the tragic tale of Trump’s election, apathy is the true villain

(A piece I wrote for a local paper, but was kicked at the last minute, then died of old age.SPECIAL NOTE: I understand there are many, many more issues related to Trump's election, and particularly what led to the results. No need to point them out.)

By Roger Malone
I’m a member of a secret Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. It can’t be found by doing a search, and you can only join by invitation, sort of like the Illuminati, but much less powerful or cool. Until the wee hours of Wednesday in Zagreb, the page was filled with inspirational stories and pictures of women in pantsuits, Hillary Clinton’s campaign uniform.
Then the bottom fell out, and against all expectations, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America. There he stood, a racist, misogynist, xenophobe – the list of ugly labels seemed endless– thanking voters for making him what many people call the leader of the free world. I sat in my darkened living room in Zagreb numb, watching an America I didn’t recognize.
Postmortems of the results will be written for decades. My short instant thesis: the Republican voters – particularly less-educated white guys – trained for decades to focus on social issues like abortion, gay marriage, and gun rights, suddenly realized GOP leaders had stole their economic wellbeing. Trump, with all his many obvious failings, promised change, and these carefully trained voters could not stomach voting for a Democrat.  I know other factors vie for supremacy, but ultimately president-elect Trump was created by decades of Republican programming.
But change comes with a price, and no one – maybe not even Trump himself – knows what the ultimate price will be. After spending more than a year recklessly insulting immigrants, women, the disabled, judges, his political rivals of both parties, and many others, the reality show actor suddenly became a statesman. He gave an acceptance speech that hit all the right buttons, congratulating Clinton for a good fight, promising unity, and so forth. So, is this now the real Trump? Who knows? As a product of working class parents, I’m not holding my breath. He lied consistently on the campaign trail, and old habits are hard to break.
Whatever the price, it will be paid in the United States, in Croatia, and the rest of the world. One joke making the rounds is that his wife, Melania, is Slovene, and a Trump administration would push Croatia to accept Slovenia’s territorial claims in the Piran Gulf. If it only stopped there. The specter of a global recession has been raised, which could devastate Croatia’s climb out of recession. Efforts to combat climate change could be set back, and the US commitment to NATO has been called into question.
In meantime, life goes on. For the moment, tree-hugging liberals like me will have to turn to faith for comfort. We must have faith that our democratic institutions, particularly the courts, are strong enough to rein in the excesses of Trump’s apparent instincts. Faith that even though Republicans control Congress, some level of reason will prevail and establishment Republicans will not be entirely powerless. Faith that the weight of the office of US president will sink in and President Trump (there, I’ve written it) will be a different person than candidate Trump. Faith that progressive Americans have learned a lesson and will start mitigating the damage by electing a new Congress in just two years and a new president in four.
The biggest leap of faith is perhaps my last point, because the true tragedy of this week’s US election is that Americans just could not be bothered to act. The 2016 vote was the most important US presidential election in a generation, if not longer. Yet only about half the eligible voters in the United States cast a ballot. Early numbers suggest voter turnout was about 54 percent – roughly in line with that of Croatia’s last national election, by the way.
More than 100 million Americans could not take time away from chatting on social media, shopping, playing computer games, discussing football, or doing something equally important. Granted, some of those who didn’t were stopped by voting restrictions. And the strange habit of holding elections on Tuesdays, a work day, is also a problem, though somewhat eased by early voting opportunities in many states. But in key states, Clinton lost by less than 150,000 votes, often by much less.  Trump won the election with 1 million fewer votes than Mitt Romney received in 2012, and Clinton lost the election with almost 6 million fewer votes than Barrack Obama got in 2012.
The hidden villain in this election is American apathy. And the ugly truth is that turnout this week was on the high side compared with that of US presidential elections since I started voting in 1980. This was not good enough, especially in an election with so much in the line. And there’s always something important on the line in an election.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Pantsuit Nation would be celebrating today if those 100 million voters had gone to the polls Tuesday. They could have all voted for Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate who didn’t know Allepo, couldn’t name a single world leader, and wanted to eliminate the minimum wage. But, you have to have faith.
[Follow Roger Malone on twitter at @ExpatinZagreb or at]