Flying into Newark yesterday on our way to Cleveland, Ohio, you get a great view of the Manhattan skyline. The new Freedom Tower, the Empire State Building and all the others are still there. But when you get your feet on the ground, the sense of shock and the feeling that everything has been changed by the outcome of the Presidential Election are palpable.
For the couple of hours of what they call here a ‘layover’, the rolling news channels were all covering Trump’s visit to the White House. They were looking at the graciousness of his meeting with President Obama and daring to wonder if this might herald a new and post-election Trump. The rationale would be that ‘hard things are said during election campaigns but that was then and this is a new time’
But it feels more like a revolution. There is a real affinity with the aftermath of the Brexit result in the sense of bereavement and shock among those who would have found a vote for Trump impossible to contemplate. The election of people like Reagan and even the ‘hanging chads’ election of George W Bush didn’t produce this sense of loss.
The first explanations for the outcome have been about Trump’s cultivation of the white, ‘blue collar’ constituency – the sort of ‘left behind’ group which you can find in states like Ohio. Next people have suggested that Trump successfully presented himself as a political outsider and that Hillary Clinton unwisely responded by describing herself as the consummate insider – ‘nobody is more qualified to be President, etc.’ In this election, that may have been exactly the wrong thing to say.
But it’s more than that. If it was just that Trump had cultivated an ‘overlooked’ white working class vote – a constituency neglected by others and somehow left behind – the shock would not be as great because it would arise from an obvious political failure. And if it was – as I believe Brexit was in part – an incoherent rage at the failures of an entire political class, one might understand but regret the way it was expressed. The lady in the queue behind Alison said declared that ‘the last eight years have been unbearable – if, as some have suggested, it was an inevitable white backlash against Obama’s election, one could weep.
But what people are quietly pondering here is the reality that the people who voted for Trump were a much wider and more diverse constituency than the white, working class, ‘left behind’ vote. ‘How could so many women have voted for him?’ they ask. But that is what happened. In that sense it isn’t logical – because it is a sort of revolution where the normal rules of cause and effect which might satisfy the liberal mind simply don’t apply. So it’s a new time and the pathway ahead is anything but clear.
And there is one other affinity with Brexit. You may have seen those alternative voting maps which show the voting of younger people. And in this election too there may be a generational disconnect.
So when we go to the Diocesan Convention later today – much later because the jet lag woke us in the early dawn – I’ll be listening very carefully for the voices of those who voted for Donald Trump. And I’ll be doing that throughout my time here. I’m looking forward to hearing from them about the complex of issues and feelings which has brought this about.