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The US votes: Deplorables, Expendables and other ‘Nasties’

15 November 2016

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Quentin Grafton is Director of the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy (CWEEP) at Crawford School of Public Policy. In April 2010 he was appointed the Chairholder, the UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance.

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We need to understand what Trump supporters voted for, and what it means for all democracies, Quentin Grafton writes.

The vote is in and over the next four years President-Elect Donald Trump will ‘Make America Great Again’. Or will he? The irony of ironies is that it is Hillary Clinton’s own words, not Trump’s over-the-top insults that may well have contributed to his victory, and her loss.

In her own words just two months ago, Clinton described half of Trump’s supporters as ‘deplorables’ who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic”. While Trump himself, condemned by his own words, could be accused of all of these ‘nasties’, it seems that there were enough Americans who were angry enough with ‘business as usual’ to vote for change, even if this made them deplorable in the eyes of Hillary Clinton and the elites.

Putting aside the despicable US Presidential campaign and the deplorable Trump, a much better way to describe many of the more than 50 million or so Americans who voted for the The Donald is needed. Whatever Clinton or anyone else thinks, it is very hard to accept that over half of American voters are truly deplorable.

As alternative name for Trump voters, how about the ‘expendables’? These voters are the Americans who are on low or minimum wages and who do not see a bright future for themselves, or their families. These are the working poor, those little thought about and frequently ignored. Expendables are scared about losing their jobs, fearful about terrorism, and do not see ‘business as usual’ America where the rich just get richer as doing much to help them.

The expendables include Clinton voters, especially African Americans and Hispanics. The expendables who voted for Trump did so because they understood the key messages behind his rhetoric. Trump said “We will build a great wall along the Southern border” and they heard Trump will stop illegal immigration to protect our wages. Trump said “they’re [Muslims] not coming to this country if I’m President” and they heard Trump will protect us from Islamic terrorists. And when Trump said “Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors” they heard that Hillary only cares about Wall Street.

Many of the expendables who voted for Trump would have disliked his over-the-top insults, his demagoguery and his ‘locker room talk’, but they also understood his key messages. More than anything, they wanted change. While many of the better off and more educated are in shock at Trump’s victory, many expendables will want, expect and demand something different to business as usual. Many of the expendables feel like that they live in a rigged economic system and they want Trump to fix it for them. In their view of the world, they have taken a bet on a coin toss, with the person tossing it declaring “heads I win, tails you lose” while it is still in the air. They want a different system and, thus, have gambled on someone who they think will ‘shake up’ the system.

The world view of the expendable was, no doubt, shared by many Brexiters who have similarly been accused of being idiots or racists. But many of those who voted for Britain to leave the EU did not do so because they are deplorable, but because they wanted change in an economy that wasn’t delivering for them. They wanted a voice, and to be listened to, and because they believed that Brexit will curtail immigration and, thus, in their view, give them a brighter future with higher wages and better job prospects.

Every country has its expendables – the forgotten poor or the older and often less well educated. Many expendables do not believe that they will ever be part of the ‘knowledge economy’. In July, almost 600,000 Australians gave their first preference votes for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation – a party which supports zero net migration to Australia and whose leader has expressed hostile views towards both Asian and Muslim migration. One Nation’s vote was highest in poorer electorates, and was three times higher in the most disadvantaged places than it was in the least disadvantaged places. No doubt, some One Nation voters are deplorable, but many more are simply the expendables. These expendables feel left behind by a world that is increasingly competitive and knowledge-driven, and they do not see business as usual, or even an innovation agenda, as speaking to them or their problems.

To those in the elites who stand in shock at Trump’s victory, and who have correctly judged that he is unfit for high office, think about the expendables and the ‘worm that has turned’. It is the failure of the elites to listen or even care that has led to Trump, against all odds, to beat the establishment candidate. These expendables are the people that many political leaders couldn’t give a toss about, who Hillary mocked, and who Trump courted.

While Trump has won the day, it is very hard to believe that he will deliver for the expendables. Whatever the rhetoric, it is simply not possible to go forward by stepping into the past. An alternative vision and actions are needed if the US, Australia or anywhere else is truly to be build a better world for all of us, including the expendables. As President Obama stated in his last speech to the UN General Assembly in September “…those trumpeting the benefits of globalization have ignored inequality”. In Obama’s words, the path forward “…starts with making the global economy work better for all people and not just for those at the top.”

Let us hope the inspiring rhetoric of Obama is transformed into deeds and real actions by all our political leaders and, most especially, by President-Elect Donald Trump.

This article was first published by Policy, the website of the Asia and the Pacific Policy Society and Crawford School.

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