Well, that was an interesting 11 months.
Especially the presidential election; that went in a few unexpected directions
I’ve been away from this blog for a little while in part because 2016 was such a wild ride. I’m going to say upfront I did not expect Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination or the presidential election, I was also surprised by the “Brexit” vote to support leaving the EU.
I also wasn’t ready for the apparently endless punditry from what feels like everyone, or the uncomfortably large amount of it which was and is just screeching tantrum translated into very short, poorly connected words like, this. It’s been a dark time for the American commentariat (this is my favorite analogy for the last six months) and I’ve been absent for too long but I’d like to begin my return with what I believe is some novel or at least unmentioned post-election analysis.
This was clearly an unusual campaign with a lot of factors, some of which were long-standing issues such as American businesses outsourcing jobs overseas and others more…unique to 2016. There has already been oceans of ink spilled on this election and trying to interpret what in God’s name happened and why, with some of the conventional wisdom actually being true. Among the worthwhile conclusions was the fact that this was an “angry” change cycle, motivated in large part by the economy.
Additionally, after many years of dishonest posturing from Democrats and increasingly from Republicans, for many Conservatives and others frustration on immigration, especially illegal immigration, finally boiled over. On a related note Trump did appeal to a large number of working class and/or “ethnic” white voters who are, or were, either Democrats or Independents.
There isn’t really any new insight to offer on these well-worn arguments, but I think there is one aspect of the 2016 election that most coverage has missed.
One of the enduring facts of American politics and life, as Michael Barone noted in National Review some months ago, is that “identity” or one’s racial, ethnic and religious background is often a determining factor in an individual’s ideology, beliefs and worldview, and a very good barometer of voting preferences.
Trump’s paternal ancestry is German and consequently his surname is identifiably Teutonic, a demography which has in many ways been under-represented politically, and culturally, for decades despite being “America’s largest single ethnic group” as described by The Economist. In the ethnic politics of the US this background is important and was probably a factor in Trump’s victory, especially in the “Blue Wall” states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all heavily German, even if it seemed to go against some pre-2016 historical precedents.
Trump’s identification with the most numerous ethnicity in the US and one that’s especially prominent in the democratic-leaning states that he “flipped” on his father’s side (his mother’s Scottish background probably helped as well) could help explain his success in the mid and upper west.
Additionally, as many people have noted Trump has a very distinctive speaking style which is considerably more blue collar and “tri-state area” than most politicians on the national stage, and this despite his very un-proletarian background. This fact made him more appealing to working-class voters generally, and especially “white ethnics” or Reagan Democrats of that occupational background as well as a decent number in higher income brackets; his “populist” political stances largely did the rest for lining up many of these voters.
To quote a telling passage from Michael Barone’s piece that I linked to above “Trump is likely to do well in next week’s Northeastern primaries from Rhode Island to Maryland, if only because most Italian-Americans live within 100 miles of New York City.”
If you need a brief summary for this post, it’s that Trump probably owes his victory to the fact that he’s a German who talks like an Italian (as well as a Scot, even if he isn’t Swedish).