The following was written by John Hill, Ph.D., professor of History and chair of the History/Political Science/International Relations Department at Immaculata. Hill has taught at Immaculata since 1994 and has a broad understanding of the political landscape.
First, Wall Street is all that stands between America and a Trump presidency. As Donald Trump defeated a succession of mainstream or even not-so-mainstream Republican rivals, the financial industry turned with a will to supporting Hillary Clinton. Wall Street’s role rose from less than a third of her campaign contributions in 2015 to over half in March 2016. Clinton shrugged off criticism about this from her then-Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. General hostility to Wall Street may make it difficult for Clinton to rally the support of many Sandersites.
Future Democrats may not have the luxury of tossing some scraps to the Sanders constituency. People normally form their political views by the time they are 30. Then they live them out for the rest of their lives. Polls show that just over half of 18- to 29-year-olds do not support capitalism and a third claim to support socialism. That said, it isn’t clear what those polled mean by “capitalism” or “socialism.”
Second, the standard line among liberal political commentators is that Trump has rallied the uneducated whose lives have been disrupted by globalization. There is reason to doubt that this is the full explanation. While virtually all of the supporters of Donald Trump believe that their “beliefs and values are under attack,” the vast majority of Republicans also believe the same thing, according to the independent Quinnipiac University Poll. Thus, Trump isn’t far off what a lot of Republicans are saying, even if they don’t like the way he says it.
So, are Trump’s voters really angry over economic issues alone, or are cultural issues at the heart of this movement? What might people mean by “beliefs and values”? The Democratic Party has embraced gun control and marriage equality, while endorsing what conservative Republicans sometimes describe as a “secular sharia” that limits expressions of religious belief in public life.
In addition, the Quinnipiac University Poll reports that well over three-quarters of Trump’s supporters believe “the government has gone too far in assisting minority groups,” and believe that the U.S. has “lost its identity.” In the year after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, the share of people who thought race relations were bad swung from about 40 percent to about 60 percent, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll.
Similarly, the future of the 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States is a grave irritant in politics. Democrats endorse a “path to citizenship,” probably in hopes of turning them into Democratic voters. Republicans talk about deporting many or even all of them without any regard for the economic or humanitarian impact.
Third, it’s going to be a case of voters holding their noses and picking the least bad option. Gallup polls show that about half of voters have an unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton, while a whopping two-thirds have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump. Over half of people have an unfavorable view of both candidates. Among the supporters of both candidates, the desire to keep the other one out of the White House is a powerful motivation.
Why this deep hostility? The country has been living through an age of deep partisan polarization. Hostility toward Trump is also easy to understand. He says things that a normally polite person would not say. There are the company bankruptcies, the divorces, and the complete lack of government experience.
Hostility toward Clinton is more difficult to understand. She has an impressive resume that would guarantee an experienced president. Perhaps it is the effect of the controversies surrounding the Clinton Foundation, her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state, and her paid speeches to Wall Street groups after she left the State Department. Perhaps it is the prospect of the first woman president.
Race, class, and gender: three long-running divisions in American history. Two deeply unpopular candidates. One broken political system. Regardless of who wins, this election is liable to leave a bad taste in the mouths of most Americans. Worse, neither candidate looks like a healer.
(Statistical information provided by The Week unless otherwise noted.)