A month before the US election, I predicted a Trump victory over Hillary Clinton. Here’s Part 2 of my reasoning:
4. The clarity effect; people voted for simplicity.
I can hardly remember what Clinton said. In contrast, we remember Trump’s slogans far more vividly. He distilled his message into simple points, like “Build the Wall” and “Make America Great Again.” His simple (perhaps simplistic), ‘grade-school’ (primary school) language resonated with the average American audience—rather than Clinton’s flowery, conceptual and intellectual rhetoric.
Studies by Carnegie Mellon measure the and conclude that ‘eloquence is trait valued by debate team coaches but not necessarily needed for the White House.’ The researchers also tried to measure “the degree to which the candidate changes their choice of words from one speech to another.” The result appeared to confirm the perception of Hillary Clinton as a chameleon.
His lines are memorable, even if for the wrong reasons. From a rhetorical standpoint, simple is impactful.
5. An underdog effect; people voted for the trampled.
Trump’s ultimate victory was amazing, but his primary win over his fellow Republicans may have been even more so. Amidst all the bad press and the back-and-forth mud-slinging between him and 14 other, more established rival politicians, the people still chose Trump as the Republican nominee. Even when Republican heavyweights like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz and the Bush family repudiated and deserted him, and his indiscretion with women surfaced, he lost little popularity.
Why? Because people love underdogs, especially one who can (again, rightly or wrongly) see the establishment for what it is. Clay Shirky, one of the world’s social media experts and professor at New York University (NYU), calls this the ‘insurgent vs incumbent’ effect. Trump’s role as a disruptive ‘insurgent’ caused him to be underestimated by the ‘incumbent’ represented by Clinton and the mainstream media.
These upper-class, college-educated elites failed to understand the feelings of average people in the street, and were trapped in a ‘bubble’ of their own thoughts and ideas. As such, their predictions of Clinton’s victory went completely awry.
6. The economic effect; people voted for jobs.
Traditionally ‘blue’ states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida went for Trump, turning ‘red’ decisively swinging the election in his favour. Why?
Because people reacted to job loss and income inequality, turning the election into a referendum about jobs and the economy. Many former Democratic voters decide that Trump could do a better job because he is a businessman and not a politician.
As Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, put it: “At its very core, people were talking about security. Security from terrorism, national security, health-care security, economic security.” She pointed out that about 7 percent of the country are job creators, another 7 percent are job seekers (or the unemployed); but the vast majority are jobholders.
According to Conway, Trump gave voice to the jobholders. He articulated the issues of trade and illegal immigration through an economic lens, asking: “What’s fair to the American worker?”
7. The rebel effect; people chose change over the status quo.
One of Trump’s best arguments has been his repudiation of Clinton’s 30 years in public service and politics. Trump declared in effect: “If she had wanted to do something for you, she could have done it. But she didn’t.” That was a poignant point.
A vote for Clinton was thus a vote for the status quo; one for Trump would bring change. And the American people wanted change. The former Singapore Ambassador to the United Nations, Professor Chan Heng Chee, rightly observed: “There is a whole group of people who are left behind, who want radical major change in America.”
Many Americans want to give Trump a chance; as the logic goes, Clinton had hers for the past 30 years, and not much has changed for the better.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not endorsing his policies or rhetoric. What I am doing is analyzing the social and psychological elements in elections.
I support Professor Tommy Koh’s perspective as Singapore Ambassador-at-Large: “Having lived more than 20 years in America, the lesson I’ve learnt is that campaign rhetoric is campaign rhetoric, it doesn’t necessary translate into policy.” We are already seeing signs of a shift in President-elect Trump, in the selection of his cabinet.
He claims that he will be a President for all Americans. Let’s hope and pray that he can deliver!
What’s Next for Trump—and Us?
People from different communities, such as Hispanics, Muslims, Mexicans and refugees have an understandable and legitimate fear of division and bigotry under a Trump administration.
That means it comes down to each one of us to start the healing process. I have two children living in the United States—my daughter Meixi (a PhD student in Seattle) and my son, Shun (a musician and US citizen in Boston).
Unsurprisingly, they have very different perspectives. Meixi was upset and perturbed—because she had been volunteering with and tutoring a group of refugee students from African and Middle Eastern countries in a community center in downtown Seattle. Her students were frightened that they might be deported, and her compassion drove her to join a protest march in Seattle. Her aim was not to protest against the election result, but to demonstrate her solidarity with the disenfranchised. She truly loves her students.
On the other hand, Shun spent time in conversation with Republicans. On one occasion, he had a beautiful four-hour talk with a truck driver from Texas, who was a staunch Republican supporter. They shared about coming together and loving those who differed politically from themselves.
That’s my message to everyone, be they Trump supporters or Clinton loyalists. Don’t wait for Trump to do what is right, or lose heart because Clinton lost. Get out there and show love for all. Reach out to those who are fearful. Love those who are on the other side. This is the only message worth living and dying for.
In their small ways, Meixi and Shun are doing the right thing. This is the time to love our enemies! It must start with us!