American election couldn’t be repeated in Canada? Think again!

A lot of ink has been spilled in the aftermath of one of the most memorable elections in recent American history, and a big part of the Canadian reaction has focused on how shocked and surprised we are that Donald Trump managed to win.  While the outcome was surprising, given polls that suggested a Clinton win was imminent, it is worth noting that progress never takes as straight a path as some people would like.  Further, the outcome shows the importance of talking to people about their situation, something it seems the Democrat campaign struggled with.

As the results became clear, many social media feeds were filled with accusations of racism and sexism levelled at those who voted for Trump.  While both of these phenomenon played an important role in the election, it is too easy to suggest they were the reasons behind Trump’s victory.  In that assessment the role the Democrat campaign played in the outcome is barely considered, but it should be.

One unique aspect of the American electorate is that very few people are independent or swing voters.  Most of the time many states are foregone conclusions and elections are won by moving this small group in just a few jurisdictions.   In the rust-belt states that carried Obama to victory, Clinton was not the unanimous choice in the Democrat primaries.  When the party went out of their way to foil Bernie Sanders’ bid for the nomination, the election may have already been lost. 

Bernie Sanders popularity in the area was rooted in his ability to speak with working class people about their situation in post free-trade America - something that Donald Trump was able to tap into as well.  Whether their solutions would address the problems isn’t as important as the fact that the voters felt they were being listened to.  It is clear that Hillary Clinton wasn’t able to connect with these voters in the same way and her campaign made the dangerous assumption these states would stay Democrat.

Consider also the role of social media in the campaign.  If you log onto Facebook you will see a feed that is tailored to show you items that might be of interest to you.  Add to that the fact that you are likely interacting with friends who in many instances share most of your beliefs and values, and it becomes clear that few of us are engaging with people who think otherwise.  In this echo chamber it becomes easy to be entrenched in a viewpoint and not even consider how someone might legitimately feel otherwise.  Discourse is limited and societal differences become more entrenched. 

Celebrity too played a role, as it did in our most recent election.  Donald Trump had already saturated American media long before he entered into politics.  He was an established brand and when he made outrageous statements in the campaign, it was treated as just Donald being Donald.  The media only reported on the incidents and didn’t dig into many stories and certainly not his policy musings.  The prominence of this ‘infotainment’ has a lot to do with the decline of hard news and ultimately we are all the poorer for it.

The rise of Donald Trump is disturbing in so many ways, especially to Canadians who feel that we are immune to something like this.  We aren’t, but we could inoculate ourselves a little more by taking the time to listen to those we don’t fully agree with and engage in a discourse that focusses on our common path which far outweighs our differences.