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People protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Miami, Florida, U.S. November 11, 2016. (JAVIER GALEANO/REUTERS)
People protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Miami, Florida, U.S. November 11, 2016. (JAVIER GALEANO/REUTERS)

John Irving: The ‘great beast’ has spoken Add to ...

I was on a book tour in Germany in November, 2012. My wife, Janet, and I were in Munich the night of the Obama-Romney moment of happiness. Given the time difference, we went to bed without knowing the election results. About 5 a.m. – there was a predawn light – I woke up to the sound of singing. I got out of bed and looked out the window. Our hotel was near the university; there were lots of students around. I saw German students singing in the street. I went back to bed.

“Turn on the TV,” Janet said.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “Those students aren’t singing for Romney.” Well, that was a different election night from this past one.

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My father is a historian. In lamenting this year’s U.S. election results, my dad recited to me what Alexander Hamilton called the voting public – a “great beast.” It seems the “great beast” has spoken, again. But please keep this foremost in mind: In 2012, Romney got one million more votes than Trump; most revealing, Obama got 6.5 million more votes than Hillary. Who were those 6.5 million Democrats who didn’t show up for Hillary? Stay-at-home crybabies for Bernie? Indifferent African Americans? The 29 per cent of Hispanics who voted for Trump? The women who didn’t “trust” Hillary, or whose husbands didn’t? Trump’s supporters didn’t win this election. Those Democrats who didn’t vote for Hillary lost it.

To begin before Trump – long before, because Marcus Aurelius, the only Roman emperor who was also a philosopher, died in 180 AD – the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius has more to say about this U.S. election than the media have said, or will ever say. I’m thinking specifically of what Marcus Aurelius wrote about anger in politics – namely, “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.” Trump’s supporters embody “the consequences of anger.”

This election was a collision course between the desire for change – in the minds of many uninformed or misinformed voters, this meant a childish desire for any change, even a change for the worse – and the understandable but unsophisticated instinct to blame the status quo, or “the system,” for everything. The U.S. was evenly divided between two disparate and extreme choices. In the minds of many voters: a vulgar, narcissistic outsider or a close-mouthed, secretive insider. As Marcus Aurelius also wrote: “The twining strands of fate wove both of them together.”

How “evenly divided” is the U.S. as a country? They’re still counting the popular vote. As of this writing, Hillary leads by only 395,000 – once again giving rise to the recurrent idea of doing away with the electoral college. As for the path the U.S. has chosen to go down – isolationist, misogynist, and xenophobic – remember that Trump will have a Republican House and Senate supporting his Supreme Court nominations. Trump will take the country backward, even farther backward than the Reagan years. Women’s rights and LGBT rights will be overturned, or they will regress. One way the Republicans can suppress women’s rights and LGBT rights is to relegate these rights, which should be universal, to the states – disastrously, to allow individual states to make these important legislative decisions. Roe v. Wade could well be overturned, Planned Parenthood defunded; in the name of “freedom of religion,” and to placate the Christian Right, affordable access to contraception will be denied. These are a few domestic issues that will get immediate attention; the new justices appointed to the Supreme Court will control the rights of women and sexual minorities for a decade, or longer. Internationally, I don’t know where to start. The world doesn’t need another obdurately anti-global superpower.

In July, Michael Moore – the ever-faithful bluesman for the woes of the Rust Belt – warned us where Trump was going to win this election. The four blue states in the Rust Bowl of the Great Lakes – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – is where Hillary lost it. The telltale signs of her undoing in the Rust Belt could be seen in the primaries; Bernie made Hillary look beatable there. These poor people were Reagan Democrats; they were lied to by Reagan’s trickle-down economics, and now they’ve been taken for suckers by Trump. But the working and out-of-work people in the Rust Belt were intent on paying the Clintons back for their support of NAFTA. Michael Moore called Trump the Rust Bowl’s “personal Molotov cocktail.” Well, yes – well said, and largely true – but that doesn’t let those millions of Democrats who didn’t show up for Hillary off the hook.

It’s too easy to point the finger at Trump’s voters. Okay, they are selfish, bigoted, and hateful – and they’ve been duped. I used to have Republican friends who called themselves “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.” This U.S. election offers no hope for the future of “socially liberal.” About 50 per cent of American voters just turned their backs on “socially liberal.” Yet the Democrats who didn’t vote for Hillary – for whatever reason – they’re the ones who gave this election to Trump. They are not unlike those Democrats who refused to get behind Humphrey in 1968; those Democrats gave that election to Nixon.

At 2 a.m. Wednesday, in the Trump headquarters in New York, there were robotic-looking yahoos in “Make American Great Again” baseball caps; they were chanting for Hillary to be jailed. Do they live in Venezuela? Is Trump their Hugo Chavez? As I’ve said too many times since this election: Munich or Berlin, in the 1930s, must have looked a lot like the U.S. now.

I thought the Bush-Gore fiasco – I mean the way that election ended, in Florida – was devastating. Not compared with this. And I wrote campaign speeches for Geraldine Ferraro, when the Mondale-Ferraro team spectacularly lost to Reagan. That’s how good my speeches were! Naturally, most of what I wrote for Ferraro to say was censored. “Oh, she can’t say that!” the mavens in the Democratic National Committee told me, repeatedly. Of course, someone in the DNC had asked me to write the speeches in the first place. Ah, well – Alexander Hamilton was only half right. The “democratic process” – namely, the way election campaigns are run in the U.S. – is as much of a “great beast” as the voting public.

I was saying last May – when I was on another book tour in Europe – that this election was in the hands of the Democrats to win or lose. At that time, of course, Hillary and Bernie were competing against each other. As a former Vermonter – since 1967 – I’d voted for Bernie many times. In fact, I had never not voted for Bernie. If Bernie had won the nomination, I would have voted for him again; I believe most or all of Hillary’s supporters would have voted for Bernie, too. But, even back in May, I worried how many of Bernie supporters would support Hillary – if Bernie didn’t win the nomination. Not enough, it now appears. My fellow “liberal” Democrats, the ones who didn’t show up for Hillary – the 6.5 million who voted for Obama, but were absent in 2016 – those Democrats are to blame. Not only did Romney (in 2012) get more votes than Trump. In 2008, McCain got more votes than Trump. And I wonder about the protesters who are demonstrating in the streets, decrying Trump’s win. How many of the protesters didn’t vote for Hillary?

How reassuring is it that Trump himself won’t be making most of the key decisions? Ah, well – after Trump built his hotels, he usually didn’t stay around to run them. And we know he let a lot of his properties slip into bankruptcy. Maybe there was more to be gained by writing them off? In the White House, the Republicans Trump will surround himself with aren’t comforting: Giuliani, Christie, Gingrich – to name only a few possible horrors. Those 6.5 million Democrats who voted for Obama, but not for Hillary, better support the next Democratic candidate for president – next time. Meanwhile, we can only hang on to what sanity remains around us, and to those we love.

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