There was nothing clear about the result of the U.S. election by the early hours of Wednesday morning. The only thing the incomplete voter tallies illustrated was that four years of U.S. President Donald Trump were not an aberration.
Tens of millions of Americans who had lived through an administration marked by chaos and calamity voted in favour of another four years of it. They saw a guy who was elected on a promise to drain the swamp yet ran the White House as if it were permanently Take Our Kids to Work Day – and still decided to lend Mr. Trump their support for one more term. They witnessed a president who threatened to dispatch the army against his own people, who oversaw and defended the caging of migrant children and who has abdicated responsibility for controlling a pandemic that has killed 230,000 Americans – and still voted for him in numbers that rendered the presidential race remarkably competitive, despite pollsters' predictions.
An aberration would have been assiduously corrected by an electorate chastened by its four-year flirtation with a deranged reality-TV star. But Trumpism – according to 66 million voters and counting – appears to be less a deviation from the culture of America than a reflection of it. That’s something with which the U.S. will have to grapple, regardless of who next occupies the Oval Office.
It may be several days yet before the final votes in key battleground states are tallied and recorded, meaning several days before we know who will become the next president of the United States (legal challenges notwithstanding). But within a couple of hours of some polls closing on election day, it became evident that the landslide victory for Democratic candidate Joe Biden that some Democrats and pollsters had trepidatiously predicted was not going to happen. Indeed, the margins by which Mr. Biden was expected to take certain states did not materialize; polling gave him a slight advantage in Ohio, for example, though Mr. Trump ended up winning the state by more than eight points. Polling also gave Mr. Biden a two-point lead in Florida, though Mr. Trump took that state by a greater margin than he did against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Results on Tuesday also showed Mr. Trump made significant inroads among Hispanic voters. The Republicans had dispatched a well-coordinated ground game to reach them, and the President had warned of Mr. Biden’s plan to usher in a socialist revolution, a tactic that resonated among Cuban- and Venezuelan-Americans in south Florida, for example. Mr. Trump also surprised by flipping a couple of small Hispanic-majority counties along the Texas border – Zapata County, which Ms. Clinton won by 33 points, and Kenedy County, which she won by eight – something that can likely be attributed to his strict border control measures, not despite them.
White suburban moms who have turned on Mr. Trump might struggle to understand why Hispanic Americans in border towns would vote for an administration that has made harsh treatment of Central American and other asylum seekers a matter of federal policy. But those new Trump supporters are surely voting for his policies – the security measures and the emphasis on fair and controlled immigration – despite the cruelty of their enforcement. Indeed, it reflects a type of cognitive dissonance you hear over and over from a certain type of Trump supporter – one who may not care for his misogyny or profane language, for example, but will endorse him anyway because he’s good for the Supreme Court.
From a Canadian perspective (people in Canada overwhelmingly reject Mr. Trump), it may be unfathomable that so many Americans would vote for a second Trump term. But Mr. Biden’s extremely understated election campaign, combined with Mr. Trump’s exceptional ability to tap into America’s id, render the closer-than-expected election day margins somewhat less of a mystery.
A country that has progressively become more divided (Congress can’t agree on a way to get desperately needed aid out during a pandemic), more paranoid (a QAnon supporter was just elected to the House of Representatives), more ruggedly individualistic (wearing a mask has become a partisan debate about freedom) and more institutionally callous (see “caging of migrant children” and “killed 230,000 Americans” above) doesn’t see the man who embodies it all as a meaningful aberration from cultural norms. That’s the view of roughly 66 million Americans who cast their vote for Mr. Trump anyway. Trumpism is here to stay, no matter who ends up occupying the White House.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.